ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Business and Employment»
  • Small Businesses & Entrepreneurs

How to Run a One-Person Business

Updated on June 30, 2012

Four Dees to Succeed

Practice these Four Dees and drive your business to the top!
Practice these Four Dees and drive your business to the top! | Source

One-Person Business: Run it, or Run Away?

I've been running my own business since 1993. Most of that time, it has been a one-person operation. At my largest, though, I had a team of four part-time experts working with me.

At the worst, I got burned out and sick, and I found myself hating to do the things that I really love most. And that's the worst feeling in the world. I'm writing honestly here, to help you avoid the mistakes I've made, and to find and manifest success, as I have. That way you can run your business well, instead of wanting to run away from it.

I'm the kind of person who likes to become expert at everything I do. So, I haven't just run a business, I've learned all about how to run a one-person business and written a best-selling book on how to run a small business, The Ultimate Guide to Project Management for Small Business. My project management expertise brings a lot of insight into what makes a one-person business succeed.

I've had a lot of fun learning from my successes, and from my mistakes, as well. I hope you'll enjoy an overview of the crucial factors for success in a one-person business.

By the way, have you heard the latest buzzword? If you run a one-person business, you are a solopreneur.

Key Success Factors for the One-Person Business

Here is a list of the key factors for success in being a solopreneur. The list is important, because 95% of all new businesses fail, and the rate for solopreneurs is even worse. And, even if you stay in business, you can easily burn out if you're not careful. I know - I've been there, and recovered. Please learn from me before you learn from the school of hard knocks!

Some of these subjects are big enough for an article of their own. If the topic interests you, follow the link.

When you've taken care of these basics, you've cleared a path to success. Your personal life won't interfere too much. You'll be relaxed and able to be in the game, doing your best. You'll have a plan - in fact, five plans - so you won't wander around wondering what to do. At that point, you'll be ready to sit down and run your business. That's what this article is all about.

Where is your business today?

Which of these best describes where your business is today?

See results

Work on Your Business, and in Your Business

Working in your business means doing the day-to-day work that brings in customers, delights them, gives them what they want, and brings in the money.

It works for a while, but if all you do is work in your business, you'll be out of business pretty fast. Something will go wrong, and you won't see it coming. Or your competitors will be working on their business, getting better, and you'll be left in the dust.

Working on your business means improving your business. It means solving problems, doing better marketing to get more customers at lower cost, improving products and services, and figuring out ways to work smarter, and making them happen.

If all you do is work on your business, you'll have the best business in the world - and you'll be out of business in no time, because you never got to work and made any money.

The solution is a healthy balance of working in your business to make money and working on your business so you can keep in business and make more money.

Decide, Delegate, Do, Deliver

The way to run your business is to make sure that each week, you do all four of these "Dees":

  • Decide. Don't delay decisions. If a problem needs to be solved, solve it. If a person is waiting to hear from you, get in touch. Delaying or avoiding decisions can put you so far behind that you run out of cash before you know it.
  • Do. Don't spend all your time planning and thinking. Do whatever the heart of your work is. Do work for clients and get paid. Do marketing and sales, and get new clients. Track your productive work hours in a time sheet, and put in the hours.
  • Delegate. Don't do everything yourself. If you're really small, you may do 90% yourself. But have a bookkeeper update your books. Get a techie to do your web site. If you're doing well, invest in an administrative assistant or virtual assistant. And, when working with this person, give them clear instructions and have them work alone. Don't let them interrupt you, and make sure they deliver good results.
  • Deliver. Don't spin your wheels. Finish what can be finished, and deliver it. And don't forget to include an invoice!

Let's take a closer look at each of the 4 Dees to Do to run your one-person business, having fun and enjoying the success of making your dreams real.


Quite simply, the solopreneur who delays key decisions will find himself out of business very fast. No decision is worse than a bad decision. If we make a decision - good or bad - we live with the consequences and move forward. If we don't decide, if we waver and avoid and delay, then the worry about the decision wears us down - whether we know it or not.

Decision-making is a process. That means that it is a logical series of steps. Here's a good decision-making process. Take a break between each step. If the step was a big one - if it took a lot of energy, then get a good night's sleep before the next step.

  1. Clear your head. Talk out, or write out, all your worries or concerns. Just dump, without even trying to name the problem, much less solve it. I go for a walk and talk aloud. It helps to get moving. It helps to have a sympathetic friend who will listen, but not a problem-solver. Problem-solving comes later.
  2. Define the issue. What is the decision to be made? What is the problem to be solved? What is the opportunity you might follow up on, but seems too risky?
  3. Consider alternatives. Very few issues are just yes-or-no. The more options you develop, the more creative you are, the more relaxed you become. You'll make a better decision that way.
  4. Set criteria. Don't just pick the alternative that feels right. Instead, focus on what matters. Are you trying to reduce risk? Increase income? Reduce cost? Pick one, and choose the alternative from step 3 that gets you what you want.
  5. Use intuition. Okay, this is the opposite of step 4. But if you don't feel comfortable with the decision that is logically right, don't do it. Check in. If fear is holding you back, then set fear aside and decide. But if it is a genuine intuition, then either look deeper to resolve the conflict between logic and intuition, or go with your intuition.
  6. Sit with your decision - for a short time. Recheck facts and intuition, or just play with the idea, or sketch out what things will look like when the decision is in place. Then confirm your decision, or change your mind. But only do this once!
  7. Put the decision into action without delay. So you've decided what to do. Now do it!

When you follow this process, you don't avoid decisions. You also don't get into paralysis by analysis, which is endlessly worrying about a decision without taking action. If you've been avoiding decisions, or caught up in paralysis by analysis, then make a list of decisions that your business needs you to make. Then pick one, make it using the 7 steps above, and put it into action.


Doing means getting products or services to customers, making them happy, and getting paid. Since you're a solopreneur, that's actually a lot of different activities. We can look at it as two ordered lists. In fact, think of each list as a pipeline. If you keep these two pipelines flowing, your business will succeed.

The Product or Service Pipeline

  1. Develop products. Manufacture, or purchase, products. Get them ready for the customer.
  2. Deliver products to customers.

That's a pretty short pipeline. Now, here's the big one:

The Customer Pipeline

  1. Reach customers in your target market.
  2. Market to those customers, bringing them into your business.
  3. Sell to those customers.
  4. Serve those customers, in sales or service delivery, and delight them.
  5. Get paid.
  6. Keep them coming back for more.

Doing, or working in your business, means doing the work of flowing products and customers through those pipelines, which brings a flow of money into your bank account.

But what if one of those pipelines isn't working? What if you don't know how to get enough customers in the door? What if a supplier dries up, and you can't get a crucial component of your product? In that case, you need to step back and work on your business. Name the problem, decide what to do, and get things rolling again - better than ever.


Each afternoon, I take time to delegate. I'm a morning person, so I'm up doing my own work before anyone else. But, when I take a breather, I make a phone call, or I send an email, or I sit down with someone, and I make sure they are on track.

I delegate to self-managed people. I work with focused professionals who know how to do their job. As a result, I don't fall into the micro-management trap. I tell people what I want. They go off and do the work. Then they deliver. Come to think of it, I follow people who do the four Dees: They decide to work for me, they accept the delegation, they do the work, and they deliver.

It doesn't matter when I meet with members of my team. I used to do it first thing in the morning. I would get them rolling, and then start my own work. That's a good approach if you do your own best work after 10am; get the conversations out of the way early. The key is brief, focused meetings every day or two, or, for very self-managed people, a good status and progress meeting once a week.

Of course, it isn't always perfect. Sometimes they have a question. Sometimes, they get stuck. Sometimes, we misunderstand one another, and I don't get what I want. That's why I take time each day to dialog with them. A short call, talk, or email keeps us both on the same page and keeps the work rolling forward. That way, work rolls to completion without delay.

In small business, I call delay the deadly dagger of delay™. Tiny delays eat away at our time, our cash reserve, and our success, until we're bled dry.

That's not a pretty picture. Avoid the deadly dagger of delay™. How? By Deciding, Delegating, Doing, and Delivering, of course.

Deliver Delight

Delivery is all about the customer - and is the key to your success. Our goal should be to delight the customer from first contact all the way through the paid bill. There is no better marketing than a customer who is happy, who comes back, and who brings friends. And, no matter what you think of the customer, always act as if they could do that. I don't care if you run a highway rest-stop in Utah, and a guy pulls in and says, "I just want a burger before I fly to Australia for the rest of my life." Treat him as if he's going to bring all his friends. You never know. Maybe he's a franchise expert, and his deal in Australia is going to fall through. Then, when he comes back to the US, he remembers your wonderful service, and decides to franchise your burger joint. Stranger things have happened - even to me.

Treating everyone as special is a great way to bring delight to your own business life. It's also a surefire strategy for business success.

Business is about a lot more than making money, especially in a one-person business. It's about doing what we love to do. It's about sharing our favorite product or service. It's about making customers happy, and making their lives better. And it's about being happy ourselves.

In fact, nothing makes me happier than sharing success with my customers! I hope you are delighted with this article, and come back for more.

Money Matters, But It Isn't All

If money isn't the point of it all, then what is the point of money?

For the solopreneur, money can obviously be a source of stress. Starting our own business is a gamble, 19-to-1, odds against. You're in very rare form if you're running your own business and you've never had money troubles.

The best way to handle this is not to become focused on money. Money is the golden egg. The goose is your business delivering products and services to your customers. Take good care of the goose, and she'll start laying again. The golden eggs are the measure of the health of the goose.

Money is the measure of the health of your business. It is the measure of how well you are working in your business and on your business. Keep going with both. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, GKerosi. I'll be happy to answer any questions here. And if you like what you see, please share it!

    • gkerosi profile image

      Geoffrey Kerosi 4 years ago from Nairobi

      You are welcome Sid I am in consultancy business. Will read all your hubs to find out more about project management.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, G. Kerosi. Keep reading - I've got more than a dozen hubs on one-person businesses, leadership, and project management to help you out. What kind of business are you in.

    • gkerosi profile image

      Geoffrey Kerosi 4 years ago from Nairobi

      There is plenty of useful information in this hub. I will do all I can to practice these ideas in my businesses.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Good to hear from you, Tim. Do keep us posted on your success. Sorry this took so long to post - it got lost in the wrong folder.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Hi that Grrl! Thanks for your wonderful comment. In my family, I'm alone in running my own business, and it's easy to feel misunderstood. Given you mentioned burnout and keeping on track, you might want to check out my hubs on stress management and time management for the one-person business owner, and my hubs on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

      Enjoy your self-determination and freedom!

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      Small biz has become a tradition in my family. Myself, as a freelance writer, my brother as a real estate guy, my sister has a playground for kids and my little sister is a consultant (sort of). For me the biggest issues are burn out and keeping on track with the biz side. I'm great at creating and PR. I'm not so great doing it all myself. But, I keep going.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, Katrine! I agree on all points. Success to you and your business!

    • profile image

      KatrineDM 5 years ago

      This is a great advice Sid. I think often the hardest part is trying to figure out what kind of business to run. What sort of products/services to offer. Deciding on niche. It pays to do a thorough research to ensure there is a market for what we are planning to offer. Also a proper planning and having a vision is crucial. Thanks for all these tips.

    • timthechirpinbyrd profile image

      timthechirpinbyrd 5 years ago from Newport News, VA

      Hey Sid, I most certainly will. Thanks again.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Hi Tim: Happy to help! Keep me posted on your challenges and successes.

    • timthechirpinbyrd profile image

      timthechirpinbyrd 5 years ago from Newport News, VA

      Very helpful. I'm the type who likes to do everything. This article has put a better perspective on starting my business. Thank you.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Yes, staying in balance and preventing overwhelm is a constant challenge. Thank you, AA!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      MsDora, thank you for your good wishes. Delight to you!

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

      Concise and clear advice to keep from getting overwhelmed running your own buisness. Thank you for sharing.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 5 years ago from The Caribbean

      All sound advice. I especially like the Deliver Delight section. Thanks you for sharing such meaningful advice. Continual success to you in your business! You deserve it.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Hi Donna - thanks for stopping by! Keep an eye out here - I'll be writing more on one-person businesses and how to decide if taking the plunge is right for you.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Happy to help. The free stuff will probably be all you need, and, when it works, you can buy the program if you want. Also, they occasionally offer big promotional discounts.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Useful ideas. Someday, I hope to work for myself. I will refer back if I decide to take that plunge. Thanks.

    • bridalletter profile image

      Brenda Kyle 5 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

      Thank you sidKemp. I looked up Stompernet. Looks very worthwhile, just very pricey for the the memberships. The free info and blog is worth reading. Thank you for that additional direction.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, BuyaBiz. I agree completely. I'm a big fan of planning before we go into business. You might take a look at my article "A Project Management Plan: The Key to Success for Launching a Small Business."

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, BridalLetter:

      Social media is, indeed, essential for many businesses. We can apply fundamental methods using this new Internet tool, as you can see in Marketing for the Solopreneur One-Person Business. And you might want to look up Stompernet. One of the founders of that SEO training program took his wedding and party favors business into 7 figures!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, Spartacus - keep growing and learning to greater success!

    • BizVT34 profile image

      BizVT34 5 years ago from USA

      Good advice. Of course someone might also want to add in "think it thru before you dive in". I've seen way too many people make financial commitments (and lose the money) to start a biz only to find out they have no idea why they wanted a biz in the first place. First bizs often fail for a reason, here's a hub i did on starting a biz like you've done it before

    • bridalletter profile image

      Brenda Kyle 5 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

      Learn social media too, I don't know how any one person or big company can do without it. Helpful article! Congrats on your book.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 5 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very practical and well developed hub! I truly appreciate the 4 D's. I'll definitely do well to reread and review your hub from time to time.