Behind the technology of 'solopreneurship'

"You live life. We do the numbers." So proclaim Crunch, a UK based company that offers ‘a new way of accounting’ for freelancers, contractors and small businesses.

In many ways, Crunch have summed up the impact of technology on our personal and professional lives. We want to be more productive and efficient than ever before, but we don’t want to spend all day doing it. At least, not the boring parts. 

With the explosion of Software as a Service (SaaS) tools, enterprising individuals are able to create and deliver value in a way that, even a few short decades ago, would have been inconceivable without abundant human and financial resources.

Yet, when you ask people how technology has transformed business and entrepreneurship, most will come back with some vague notion of 'the internet'.

So how exactly are these enterprising individuals and 'solopreneurs' using technology to build profitable businesses as one-man-bands? What strategies do they use to combine technology with their own creativity, and how has it changed their lives? 

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The Tech Buffet

Lydia Lee is a business coach at Screw The Cubicle, where she spends her time teaching people how to quit their unfulfilling day jobs and make money doing something they actually care about. As a coach, the abundance of technological tools enables Lydia to diversify her offerings and deliver value in multiple formats for different target markets.

"Being able to offer my skills and deliver my work in different formats has helped me make more money and keep more of my time (end the trading dollars for hours cycle). For example, I have one-to-one coaching/consulting programs, group classes I run virtually, self guided courses that do not require me there, and live retreats for an in-person experience at a higher premium. Being able to do all this helps to scale my business and reach more global clients at different price points and needs by using technology to deliver these various formats."

Lydia’s example is becoming increasingly common as tools grow in sophistication, and as enterprising service professionals learn to harness them to deliver value that detaches their earning potential from time and space.

Read: How to start a business in an industry that doesn't exist

Software is integral to Lydia's business model, and leveraged at every stage of her sales funnel. She can create a blog, podcast and YouTube channel to attract visitors, ConvertKit to automate her lead generation, a Facebook group to grow a tribe of followers and nurture relationships, Buffer to schedule a regular social media presence, Skype to communicate with clients one-on-one from all over the world, and Teachable to create online courses that generate passive income. 

The eradication of boredom?

Patrick Walsh is the founder of PublishingPush.com, where he provides PR and marketing services for independent authors and publishing houses. For Patrick, the value of technology is eliminating the necessity to do repetitive and time-consuming tasks manually, freeing him and his team to concentrate on the human element of the business.

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"My fascination over the years has been automation. I want myself and my staff to be focused on only the most important tasks. I don’t want them to have to be doing boring repetitive work. As a small business the more I can automate the more I can scale and compete with larger organisations. Ultimately I want my employees spending time on creative tasks, liaising with clients and building the business.

"I use tools like Crunch to automate most of my bookkeeping and accounting. Take photos of receipts and they do the rest. Everything is always up to date. The only manual part of this process is entering a new client into the system."

Tools like Crunch free up the most valuable of resources for a small business: time and money. Among Patrick’s other favourites are Trello, for streamlining project management, and AdEspresso for monitoring Facebook marketing campaigns. AdEspresso’s tagline, 'Why not get more money from your Facebook Ads with less work?' is equally as revealing of the zeitgeist as Crunch's. 

A seamless concoction 

The true power of technological enablement comes to the fore when tools aren’t used in isolation, but in combination. Zapier leverages the flow of data between apps to help you to create logical 'if…then' sequences between your multiple tools. 

If a customer purchases your book on Gumroad, then Mailchimp will store their details in a specific segment and send them your tailored thank-you email.

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If a prospective client completes your questionnaire on Typeform, then you’ll receive a notification in your customer service Slack channel.

"All tools pass data between one another," says Patrick. "The goal being to eliminate the need for any manual data entry. It also ensures no customers are ever lost in the system. Being pushed from step to step ensures with a glance I can check everything is progressing as it should."

A well streamlined and seamlessly integrated set of tools and apps can replace the work of multiple employees, enabling single individuals to create and deliver value on a scale that would be unprecedented even at the start of the 21st century.

More technology, less humanity?

But there is a caveat to this story. The more I looked into the role of technology in enabling solopreneurship, the more I began to ask myself another set of questions: does more technology mean less humanity? If software can displace human labour, how does that redefine the role of human input in business? 

Read: The time-saving tech that helps us run our businesses

Whilst this is a subject to be mulled over in depth in its own right, I wasn't surprised to see that Lydia and Patrick had a lot to say. For Lydia, technology can’t replace the value of one-on-one human connection that’s vital for solopreneurs in startup mode, and she warns against an over-reliance.

"We shouldn't rely on technology to do all the dirty work for us, we need to get in the trenches at times and start those conversations, like a human, and technology doesn't do that for us. Use technology where it matters to help with systems and processes, but don't disregard the impact you can make when you can be intimate and personal with your customers as well."

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For Patrick too, technology doesn’t usurp the role of human interaction.

"Technology can’t replace excellent customer service or the personal touch during the sales process. Customers still want someone on the other end of the phone. Someone to shake hands with when required on larger deals. It can’t build amazing relationships with media outlets or create compelling stories."

You could argue, it would seem, that more technology creates more humanity by opening up greater opportunities for people to focus on the parts of the business that require a uniquely human touch.

J.K. Rowling once said that the most important thing to understand when creating her fantasy world wasn’t to establish what magic could do, but what it couldn’t. Saying that technology makes it easier to start a business is a bit like saying a hammer makes it easier to build a treehouse: it’s true to some degree, but you still need to know where to put the nails.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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