Why Are More People Going the Solo Consultant Route?

According to a recent Freshbooks survey, I say it’s all about control.
That was the number-one factor among those who have chosen to go the solo route.

In this sense, “control” meant a few different things:

Mostly, it meant WHEN you work. Not surprising, as we see countless companies continue (stupidly) to chain workers to desks even though technology has made it easier than ever for us in the comms/marketing field to do our jobs anywhere.
Also: How hard you work. Lots of people in the comms world complain about the amount of work. 60-80-hour workweeks are commonplace. And people are getting tired of it.
Also: Professional development. People want more control over what they learn and how they learn it. In other words, I want to go to go X conference to learn more about X–and my company won’t pay for it. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that over the last 20+ years.
Finally: Where you work. Again, tech has enabled us to work when we want, and where we want. For some reason, companies still aren’t getting this. Which is why we have more people going solo now.

Fulfillment and finances were the other two big reasons for why people go the solo route. And, just 4%, surprisingly, went solo because of a previous negative work environment–I found that surprising (maybe people weren’t being completely honest?).
The control piece isn’t surprising. I’ve found that to be a chief satisfier for me, too. But, you really have to dig into the data in this survey to get at what’s really going on here, because it’s more interesting than what Freshbooks lets on.
Let’s start at the top: Control is the chief reason people are going solo–followed closely by fulfillment and finances. But, if you look at the data around the realities of today’s solo, it tells a much different story.
For example:

72% of solos said they expected to earn more money as a solo. The reality was only 55% said they did. That’s a huge gap and it can’t be too fulfilling to not be earning as much as solos thought at the outset.
64% of solos said they expected to have less stress as a solo, but only 55% said that was a reality. Truth is, solo life IS stressful–just in different ways from your previous day job. Yes, you may have marginally less stress, but you still have stressors–demanding clients, juggling competing needs and new business.
75% of solos said they expected to work harder as a solo. And 60% said this was the reality. That’s still a big number! And they’re right, being a solo is a lot of work! It’s not about taking 3-hour breaks in the day to go see a movie. I would argue it’s the opposite–it’s much MORE work. Think about it. In your former job, you were most likely asked to do the actual work (planning, tactics, measurement, etc.). But, as a solo, you have to do the actual work PLUS: new business, all admin work, all tech support, and a host of other smaller tasks. This is one of the hidden secrets of the solo work–it’s not less work, it’s much more.

My take on the solo trend: I really think it boils down to two things–people going solo because they want to work where and when they want; and people going solo because they want more control about the kind of work they do.
For me, it was definitely a mix of those two when I made the decision 10 years ago. I wanted to work more in social media and digital marketing. At the time, in my role at Fairview, I wasn’t afforded that opportunity. So, I made an opportunity. I also wanted more control of my schedule with a growing family. I wanted to walk my kids to school. I wanted to show up at every concert and soccer game. And, I wanted to volunteer in my kids’ schools. None of that would have been possible if I were working on the agency or corporate side.
As always, if you’re thinking about the solo route, go in eyes wide open. Yes, it is a lonely existence. Yes, it is a ton of work. Yes, it is stressful. But, you do have more control of your schedule and what you work on, and who you work with. As with all jobs, it’s all about trade-offs–which ones are you willing to make? That’s the question you really need to think about.

According to a recent Freshbooks survey, I say it’s all about control.

That was the number-one factor among those who have chosen to go the solo route.

In this sense, “control” meant a few different things:

  • Mostly, it meant WHEN you work. Not surprising, as we see countless companies continue (stupidly) to chain workers to desks even though technology has made it easier than ever for us in the comms/marketing field to do our jobs anywhere.
  • Also: How hard you work. Lots of people in the comms world complain about the amount of work. 60-80-hour workweeks are commonplace. And people are getting tired of it.
  • Also: Professional development. People want more control over what they learn and how they learn it. In other words, I want to go to go X conference to learn more about X–and my company won’t pay for it. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that over the last 20+ years.
  • Finally: Where you work. Again, tech has enabled us to work when we want, and where we want. For some reason, companies still aren’t getting this. Which is why we have more people going solo now.

Fulfillment and finances were the other two big reasons for why people go the solo route. And, just 4%, surprisingly, went solo because of a previous negative work environment–I found that surprising (maybe people weren’t being completely honest?).

The control piece isn’t surprising. I’ve found that to be a chief satisfier for me, too. But, you really have to dig into the data in this survey to get at what’s really going on here, because it’s more interesting than what Freshbooks lets on.

Let’s start at the top: Control is the chief reason people are going solo–followed closely by fulfillment and finances. But, if you look at the data around the realities of today’s solo, it tells a much different story.

For example:

  • 72% of solos said they expected to earn more money as a solo. The reality was only 55% said they did. That’s a huge gap and it can’t be too fulfilling to not be earning as much as solos thought at the outset.
  • 64% of solos said they expected to have less stress as a solo, but only 55% said that was a reality. Truth is, solo life IS stressful–just in different ways from your previous day job. Yes, you may have marginally less stress, but you still have stressors–demanding clients, juggling competing needs and new business.
  • 75% of solos said they expected to work harder as a solo. And 60% said this was the reality. That’s still a big number! And they’re right, being a solo is a lot of work! It’s not about taking 3-hour breaks in the day to go see a movie. I would argue it’s the opposite–it’s much MORE work. Think about it. In your former job, you were most likely asked to do the actual work (planning, tactics, measurement, etc.). But, as a solo, you have to do the actual work PLUS: new business, all admin work, all tech support, and a host of other smaller tasks. This is one of the hidden secrets of the solo work–it’s not less work, it’s much more.

My take on the solo trend: I really think it boils down to two things–people going solo because they want to work where and when they want; and people going solo because they want more control about the kind of work they do.

For me, it was definitely a mix of those two when I made the decision 10 years ago. I wanted to work more in social media and digital marketing. At the time, in my role at Fairview, I wasn’t afforded that opportunity. So, I made an opportunity. I also wanted more control of my schedule with a growing family. I wanted to walk my kids to school. I wanted to show up at every concert and soccer game. And, I wanted to volunteer in my kids’ schools. None of that would have been possible if I were working on the agency or corporate side.

As always, if you’re thinking about the solo route, go in eyes wide open. Yes, it is a lonely existence. Yes, it is a ton of work. Yes, it is stressful. But, you do have more control of your schedule and what you work on, and who you work with. As with all jobs, it’s all about trade-offs–which ones are you willing to make? That’s the question you really need to think about.

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