It is a wonder to me that I’ve been self-employed in my own business continuously since 1989. That’s over 30 years!* During that time, my business has pivoted and evolved several times. Along the way I have turned to full-time or part-time employment to earn more money, while continuing to work my business. It has always been a one-person business — just me doing stuff and getting paid for the work I do.
In the beginning, I was a sole-proprietor, conducting business in my own name. It was seven years before I first registered a business name, and another eight years before I organized my business as a separate legal entity — a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC.) To this day, Oakley Studio, LLC remains a one-person business, and I do not anticipate hiring employees.
In the beginning it’s natural to think of yourself as a business person, and identify strongly with the work you do. A business arises as an expression of who you are and how you want to spend your time. Only later do you recognize your business has it’s own identity. It becomes a “brand” that stands on its own, with it’s own character, purpose, and values.
Separating the “I” and “me” from the business came slowly for me. It was only after the incorporation that I began to view my business as having a life of its own, apart from myself. It’s that distinction between “myself” and “my business” that leads to the “we” in a one-person business.
A business is a wonderful thing to have, if you stick with it, make a go of it, and grow the business. It is a constant learning process in which
- You find out who you are, as a person, separate from your business.
- You discover where your greatest expertise lies.
- You realize what it is you most love to do.
- You learn how to find the best fit in the marketplace.
- You recognize when it’s time for the next step in your business.
Me and My One-Person Business
For years I’ve used “I” and “we” interchangeably. One day I was delivering my elevator pitch to a friend and business owner, Michael Herrick. At the end of it he said, “It’s ‘we.'” Michael heard the uncertainty in how I was perceiving my solo business — the mixed use of “I” and “we” — and wanted to help clarify it for me.
He pointed out that even though I operate a one-person business, I am entitled to “‘we‘ speak” because I am not my business. My business is separate from me. So “we” is a better way to represent the two when I talk about the business. It is not like the “royal we” (me, myself, and I) but rather a “corporate we” (me, and this business I have built.)
So when you hear me talk about my business, though I may still sometimes say “I” to refer to the work I do, I am also regularly using “we” to refer to the ongoing work of my business. This really makes a lot of sense, the more you think about it.
Rare is the one-person business that does not rely on the work of others. My business does not operate in a vacuum — it is tied to strategic partnerships that I have assembled and moored my business to. The “we” in my business not only refers to my own expertise but to the other entrepreneurs, technicians, innovators, designers, developers, artists, and clients that I work with to make my business a viable and useful enterprise. It is this larger “we” that makes my business a platform that other businesses can build on.
* The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that some 20% of U.S. small businesses fail within the first year. By the end of their fifth year, about 50% have closed. After 10 years, only around a third of businesses survive. Here are more business statistics from smallbiztrends.com.