Is a full-time role the best way to monetize your skills? I bet it is not. This post will explore an unspoken alternative you may not have considered - solopreneurship.
What Is Soloprenuership
Solopreneurship is about treating your brain as a product and building a one-person company with a predictable, sustainable, and competitively defensible growth model. This requires identifying the following:
Product-market fit for your brain on the market
Unique value positioning for your brain
Growth model to acquire, monetize, and retain customers
Sound familiar? Because it is - starting your solopreneur journey is like starting any other business. So, you can use the skills you learned at your job to help grow you.
If we assume the brain is our product, every solopreneur will have to discover their brain’s product-market fit (PMF). Identifying problems on the market that you are uniquely positioned to solve based on your experience and skills.
PMF signals include:
Strong demand for specific expertise in the market
Ideally, in ‘fast moving waters’
Lack of supply of expertise in the market
A solution that can be offered outside of the traditional full-time engagement
Personal story: I grew up to become full-time growth operator in B2B within product-led growth (PLG) model. I noticed a large number of companies were seeking my expertise (with rapid speed of PLG category growth), major supply constraint of people with my expertise, and openness to alternative engagement modes.
My market problem: Lack of understanding around B2B PLG in scaling companies.
My initial solultion: Advising companies to operationalize PLG.
Unique Value Positioning
Generalization is your enemy
Full-time roles push us to become generalists. A kitchen sink of knowledge that can solve any problem thrown our way. But on the path to solopreneurship, generalism is a hidden trap. How will you differentiate yourself on the market if you are a little bit of everything? Unique positioning comes from specificity in knowledge, so focusing on specific industries, growth motions, or business models is necessary.
My positioning: I help B2B scaling companies stand up predictable and sustainable Product-led growth model.
The growth model for every company, including solopreneur, has to create predictable, sustainable, and competitively defensible answers to the following:
How To Acquire?
Acquisition needs to solve awareness, consideration, and intent cycles. All while identifying correct channels and lowering entry friction. You have three options:
Build your independent brand and acquisition engine
Partner with 3rd party (say, VC) to hook in their distribution
Rely on your existing network to generate WOM
My journey: I began my solopreneur journey by relying on company brands of my previous FT roles and Reforge to help with distribution, but ultimately pivoted to building my own brand to expand my reach and earning potential.
I approach acquisition with freemium strategy: ungating all of my knowledge and frameworks on LinkedIn (and now substack!) to acquire an audience, then generating leads from companies that want help operationalizing the knowledge.
You can never ignore a network when building a solopreneur business. Word Of Mouth (WOM) loop is crucial for every solopreneur. So investing in high-value and impact contracts that will boost WOM is crucial to keep healthy acquisition.
How To Monetize?
The goal of any solopreneur is to build a portfolio of monetizable services. This assumes that traditional full-time roles are not optimal for monetizing your skills. Options include (but are not limited to):
I started with advising and reforge course creation, slowly layering paid workshops, paid public speaking, interim exec positions, and substack content subscriptions. My adjacent use case is influencer sponsorships that i’m still exploring.
Start With Advising!
Many solopreneurs start with advising. If an operator's role is that of a coach and a player, advising is all about coaching. Advisors are not accountable for outcomes - they coach an internal team on an initiative, using their previously acquired knowledge and skills to help internal teams make better business decisions.
Why do companies hire advisors?
Advising does not compete with traditional full-time positions. Instead, they augment full-time roles. Advising addresses the issue of when it might be too soon to hire specialized experts, too costly, or when the company chooses to invest in the development of in-house talent by providing them with guidance from advisors.
My story: When I was Interim CMO at Miro, I ran content, enterprise marketing, community, and partnership teams that I was missing expertise in (growth marketing is my jam!). I hired advisors: a VP of Marketing @ Hubspot to advise my content lead, a VP of Marketing @ Atlassian to advise partner and community teams, and a VP of Marketing @ Dropbox/Salesforce to advise my enterprise marketing lead. This enabled me to scale in areas I lacked knowledge, gave us additional data points, accelerated internal learning, and empowered my teams to execute confidently.
Advising compensation ranges anywhere from $100/hour to $4,000/hour, depending on the brand, area of expertise, and scarcity of supply. The advisor's potential is much higher than that of a full-time role.
Comp can be all equity, cash/equity split, or cash only.
My favorite configuration is cash/equity split, so I can make a living with cash (i’m not financially independent), yet have long term incentives with the company through equity ownership.
The best advising contract structure is as follows:
Long-term (6 month+) engagement to have the ability to see initiatives through
A specified area of focus (say, activation)
Accountable internal person, who is the primary contact
Monthly retainer-based agreement (with pre-purchased meeting hours)
Weekly sessions to minimize the catch-me-up time
I highly encourage everyone in their current full-time roles to explore advising opportunities, even if solopreneurship is not the objective. Advising offers a wonderful way to ‘try before you buy’ potential new job opportunities or to become more strategic in your current role by being forced into a coaching role.
Next time a founder or hiring manager reaches out with a full-time role, say: ‘I’m not available for full-time at the moment, but would you consider advising help?’
Designing authentic activation and engagement journeys that amplify your knowledge is important.
Activation consists of set-up, Aha!, and habit-formation moments. How far will you allow clients to get before triggering monetization? Ideally, past Aha! to increase your perceived value, increasing your price.
I go one step further and keep certain use cases in forever-free mode with my freemium content strategy on LinkedIn and Substack
Why did I choose the freemium strategy? I believe frameworks are cheap and easy(ish) to create. The challenge lies in effectively applying these frameworks and discovering genuine, localized implementations that foster business growth. So I ungated all of my knowledge and monetize on companies that benefit from guided implementation.
Healthy and productive engagement is highly desirable for every solopreneur. Limiting factors of any solopreneur are personal time and context switching.
Context switching is especially hard - in the full-time role, you deal with the same product, customers, market, and internal team while constantly changing problem statements. As a solopreneur, all the variables change with each engagement, so fixing as many as possible is important.
I stay squarely in B2B PLG for scaling companies to minimize context switching.
Every solopreneur should have a Northstar metric that measures value exchange.
Personal value: learning opportunities and monetization.
Company value: business growth.
My Northstar metric is insights per minute with my client: for me and them.
One of the biggest advantages of solopreneurship is the flexibility of designing a job that uniquely fits your superpowers. And purposefully avoiding everything that you hate doing.
Core Frequency of Engagement
Although some modes of engagement are one-time (i.e. workshop), identifying the core frequency of engagement for recurring projects and maintaining them is key. Ongoing engagements can be daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
Career optionality is everything. So instead of setting goals of a certain title, shoot all the way to unlock alternative ways of monetizing your skills.
Together, we can take back the power in the market and diversify employment options that better fit our individual needs for ourselves and future generations.
Cheers to building fulfilling, meaningful, and unique careers🔥!
Elena's Growth Scoop is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Brilliant, Elena! Thank you for consolidating your thoughts into this single newsletter and breaking down the path to solopreneurship by growth levers.
As I read this, two questions came to my mind:
1. ‘Start with Advising’ - what do you recommend to acquire the first couple of clients if someone doesn’t have a distribution channel like Reforge?
2. How easy was it to hiring advisers for areas that were not your core expertise when you were CMO at Miro? I always struggle w impostor syndrome ‘shouldn’t I know all of this as a leader’ ‘would the CEO tell me: ‘that’s what we hire you to solve instead of spending add’l money to advisors’
I love how much you overshare. It's as if you crack open the black box.