July 18, 2018

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Succeeding as a Solo-Preneur

In my work as a coach, I speak with many Firm Owners and Solo operators and my experience has been that most people who go solo tend to fall into one of two groups. The largest group of those who try it tend to fail within about 12 months. The main reason seems to be that they feel isolated and are not self motivated and disciplined enough to take consistent action on the critical aspects of their work.

The perks
Being a Solo Recruiter has a good amount of attractive perks; low overhead, lots of freedom, ability to choose where you work, no employee hassles, no dress code, no boss and full fees. These and many other perks entice a significant amount of people in our business to fly solo or at least to consider it. I have spoken to a good number of owners of firms who have often talked about how easy and apparently less stressful the idea of going on their own would seem. Not having to deal with employee issues, hiring headaches and training new recruiters seems like a much easier path. In many ways this is true but it is only true for a small group of very independent mavericks that tend to thrive on their own.

The pitfalls
Along with a good number of perks, going solo has an equal amount of possible pitfalls; no steady paycheck, limitless distractions, possible isolation, taxes, administrative tasks, start up costs, lack of feedback and lack of support. Many people who excel as individual recruiters in an office foolishly believe that they can go on their own and have the same workload but gain the benefit of keeping 100% of the fees. This is partially correct but it is also true that in addition to your regular workday as a recruiter, you will have many other tasks to handle as well. Bookkeeping, supply purchasing, technical support, billing, administrative tasks, emptying the trashcan are all now in your hands. There is a big difference between being a big biller in an office with administrative support and doing the same thing on your own. To be a solo operator and not see yourself as a business owner but rather as simply a recruiter is the kiss of death.

Are you a Solo-preneur?
In my work as a coach, I speak with many Firm Owners and Solo operators and my experience has been that most people who go solo tend to fall into one of two groups. The largest group of those who try it tend to fail within about 12 months. The main reason seems to be that they feel isolated and are not self motivated and disciplined enough to take consistent action on the critical aspects of their work. Often times the business aspects of being a one man show; building a website, getting the proper insurance, handling taxes etc. are more work than what they were expecting. They end up spending less and less time on the phone and more time handling minor business details that may be more urgent but less important.

The second group however seems to thrive on their own and would not trade their new business for the world. This group tends to be focused, independent, non-conformist, self-motivated, disciplined and they love being a free agent. The same pitfalls exist for this group but they see them as a challenge that is worth overcoming for the benefit of being their own boss. Many people in this group will keep working this way for the long term. The pride of charting your own course is a major perk for this group.

Thriving as a Solo-preneur

Strategy Vs Tactics
As a solo operator you have two important functions: hands on moneymaker and CEO. The hands on part is the tactics of what you do (recruiting, marketing calls, follow up etc.). The strategic work of your business is the broad planning and development work (mission statement development, new markets to explore, tax planning, marketing strategy etc.) that is critical if you want to have a strong business. This balance is not easy to achieve and scheduling time for both is probably the best approach. For example you may schedule your normal recruiting duties from 8:30AM till 3PM, then from 3-4:30 you handle the strategic and operational tasks (mailings, sending invoices etc.) and do your planning from 4:30-5:30PM. Even better would be to hire a part time researcher or assistant to do many of the routine tasks for you.

Guard your golden hours
Golden hours are the prime calling hours in your day. Generally, this is the morning hours when you are fresh and have a planner full of calls to make. As a solo operator, your number one ally (or enemy) is time. You must guard your golden hours ruthlessly and create an environment that is as free from distractions as possible so that you can bang out a good amount of calls before 12:00pm. The only way to do this successfully is if you have planned your calls out the night before and execute the plan at the scheduled time. You have heard of the phrase, "eat the crust first" well in this case the crust is generally marketing calls so do these first and then you can relax a bit knowing you have gotten a strong start to your day. Do your industry reading and web site touring at the very end of the day.

Watch your attitude
You may have heard of the book, "You Can't Afford The Luxury Of A Negative Thought" but that phrase is doubly important if you are working on your own. In my work with Solo Recruiters I find that they are often feeling guilty and stressed about how much they are not doing on a daily basis. These feelings tend to have a paralyzing effect on them and eventually they end up procrastinating or avoiding important tasks. So… lighten up a bit. If you are banging your head against the wall, take a break and go for a drive or take a walk but do something to interrupt the negative spiraling.

Realize that you don't have to always do "your best". If you did your best every day that would mean that you were making more calls today than ever before and you would have to do even more tomorrow. You don't have to make your "best" sourcing call ever, just make the call. Better to keep an even keel and do consistently good work than to get stressed and hung up on always doing your "best".

It's not always easy to stay motivated so give yourself little rewards to keep fresh. If you generally go to Starbucks right before work, change this around and say that you can go to Starbucks after you complete your 20th phone call. Set activity goals for the week and if you hit them by Friday at noon, take a half of a day off and go to the beach.

Don't be such a loner
Isolation is a major obstacle to working solo so you must pre-meditate how you are going to overcome this. One obvious idea is to get connected with other recruiting firms or solo operators who want to do split business. Join a split network if it has members who serve your same client base. You can also get involved with some of the local or national recruiter associations to get support and feedback from your peers. Meet with your clients and take them to lunch. If you are not in an office that is conducive to meeting with candidates, take a half of a day to schedule 30-minute mini interviews with several of them at a local coffee shop. Hire a professional business coach if you need more support than you are getting from other sources. If you go this route, make sure that you hire someone who understands the recruiting industry.

Become a Guru
One powerful way to create a thriving solo practice (or any recruiting desk for that matter) is to become the expert in a narrow niche that you feel passionate about. By doing this you go from a "sideshow one man band generalist" to a "competitive boutique niche specialist". Specialists are more likely to secure retainers and negotiate higher fees as well. You can choose a niche based on Industry or the specific position title but it must be fairly narrow in order for you to become the expert. For instance "IT" is a broad category, "Software developers" is narrower and "Java Developers" is very narrow. The main point is to pick something that has a promising future and that you are actually excited by. You will do much more work and do it better when it is something you really enjoy. You could become the expert in recruiting "Senior Managers for Amusement Parks" or "Executive Directors or Non Profit Companies". Your marketing efforts then take on a new level of enthusiasm because you are talking to people in an area that you feel competent and interested in. This expresses who you are as a person and this congruence is felt by your prospect. You'll probably make more placements and definitely have more fun doing it. Mark Twain said it this way, "The law of work does seem utterly unfair- but there it is, nothing can change it, the higher the payment in enjoyment the worker gets out of it, the higher shall be his pay in money also".

Keep your overhead costs very low
This point is extremely important and there are many good ways to do this while at the same time having a "Big Company" presence and aura. Having a first rate website is a one time cost that will give you credibility with clients and candidates. If you are going to stay small then rent an inexpensive executive suite or set up a professional home office. Don't get into long term leases or commitments that you cannot get out of quickly. Think scalebility; can you increase or decrease this service easily when the market shifts? Don't skimp on marketing materials or necessary technology but do your homework and when in doubt, wait. Be pro-active and create financial reserves for the lean times.

Hire a researcher
OK, so this isn't exactly a "Solo" idea but it is an excellent path for many micro operators and has several benefits. First of all, it allows you to focus your work on "money activities" and to funnel the lower level tasks to your researcher. You have probably heard of the 80/20 rule, which says 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. With a researcher you can focus on the 20% and virtually nothing else. Well trained Researchers can do a large variety of tasks including; reference checks, sourcing calls, Internet research, recruiting and candidate development. This also cuts down on the isolation factor for you the owner. Researchers can start out as part time and be paid a modest hourly rate plus bonus potential. If you intend to be a big biller without hiring recruiters, the best bet is to hire one or more researchers who can support you in accomplishing more.

If you have any questions or comments about this information please contact me at and I would be happy to elaborate.

-Gary Stauble
Gary Stauble is a professional coach who specializes in assisting Firm Owners and Solo Recruiters in making more placements with fewer struggles. His free monthly e-zine, "Creative Recruiting" is designed to help you to attract new clients, work more efficiently and still be home in time for dinner. Subscribe today at or via email to For more information or to schedule a complimentary session call 408-847-5049.