Company of One
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the “company of one” model can be laid out in a similar fashion: “start small, define growth, and keep learning.”
1 Defining a Company of One
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Sometimes “enough” or even less is all we need, since “more” too often equates to more stress, more problems, and more responsibilities in both life and business.
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company of one is simply a business that questions growth.
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handling problems with the resources currently available.
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Although it can require a little more ingenuity, solving problems this way can set a business up for long - term stability, since less is needed to keep it afloat.
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The word “intrapreneur” points to one example of a company of one within a larger organization.
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It was a hackathon that led to the creation of Facebook’s “Like” button,
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If you’re a company of one, your mind - set is to build your business around your life, not the other way around.
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To this day, this strategy is considered what it takes to be a success in business — solving problems by adding “more” to the solution.
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So a company of one is not anti - growth, or anti - revenue, and it’s not just a one - person business either
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A company of one questions growth first, and then resists it if there’s a better, smarter way forward.
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the four typical traits of all companies of one: resilience, autonomy, speed, and simplicity.
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Being or becoming a company of one has a lot to do with resilience: the capacity and fortitude to recover quickly from difficulties
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resilience isn’t something that only a select few are born with. It can most definitely be learned.
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The first trait that resilient people have is an acceptance of reality.
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The second characteristic of resilient people is a sense of purpose — being motivated by a sense of meaning rather than by just money. Although purpose
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The last trait of resilient people in a company of one is the ability to adapt when things change
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companies set up ROWEs (Results - Only Work Environments), in which employees don’t have set schedules, all meetings are optional, and it’s entirely up to employees how they spend their time working.
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As a society, we’re gradually starting to view “work” not as a single place of employment, but as a series of engagements or projects.
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achieving control over a company of one requires more than just using the core skill you are hired for. It also requires proficiency at sales, marketing, project management, and client retention.
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Whereas most normal corporate workers can be hyperfocused on a single skill, companies of one, even within a larger business, need to be generalists who are good at several things — often all at once.
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Companies of one work best under constraints — because that’s where creativity and ingenuity thrive.
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Companies of one question their systems, processes, and structure to become more efficient and to achieve more with the same number of employees and fewer hours of work.
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Another aspect of speed in a company of one is the ability to pivot quickly when a customer base or market changes.
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For a company of one at any size, simple rules, simple processes, and simple solutions typically win.
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mean simplifying rules and processes,
2 Staying Small as an End Goal
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A study done by the Startup Genome Project, which analyzed more than 3,200 high - growth tech startups, found that 74 percent of those businesses failed, not because of competition or bad business plans, but because they scaled up too quickly.
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The Kauffman Foundation study also illustrated that almost 86 percent of companies that succeeded in the long term did not take VC money.
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Companies of one instead focus on stability, simplicity, independence, and long - term resilience and rely on starting small and becoming as profitable as possible, without the need for outside investment.
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For companies of one, the question is always what can I do to make my business better?, instead of what can I do to grow my business larger?
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Starbucks was opening hundreds of stores around the world but decided that it could scale faster by adding sandwiches, CDs, and fancier drinks to its offerings. This rapid expansion ended up diluting the Starbucks brand, and in an equally rapid contraction, the company was forced to close 900 stores. Subsequently, Starbucks returned its focus to doing its one thing — coffee — better.
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WordPress, the software that powers 26 percent of all websites on the internet, closed its gorgeous San Francisco office, not because the company was out of money (it’s extremely profitable) but because employees were barely working at the office, opting instead to work at home.
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there is one way that envy can be useful: as a tool to recognize in ourselves what we truly value.
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if I’m envious that you make more money than I do, then I need to recognize that making more money might be important to me, work toward figuring out if that’s truly the case, and then, if it is, determine how I can best make more of it.
3 What’s Required to Lead
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Autonomy can also be badly abused. The problem is not so much employees taking advantage of perks like flex hours or remote work, but leaders assuming that they need to give less direction. A leader’s job is to provide clear direction and then get out of the way.
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In saying no to anything that doesn’t fit, you leave room to say yes to those rare opportunities that do fit — opportunities that align with the values and ideas of your business.
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The more you get to know yourself, what your triggers are, and what personally drives you outside of external motivation, the more you can optimize a healthy role for yourself as a leader.
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As leaders, our job is to be self - aware and to check in on ourselves regularly.
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when people take the time to thank their contractors, employees, and coworkers, they become much more engaged and productive.
4 Growing a Company That Doesn’t Grow
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growth as a one - dimensional metric for success is useless in the absence of real reasons for it or ways to support customers once they’re acquired.
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user growth would cost more than user retention.
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the number of renewing customers was a far more important metric for success (and far cheaper) than the number of new customers acquired.
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Most companies grow for four reasons: inflation, investors, churn, and ego.
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adding a new customer costs five times as much as keeping an existing one.
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Ego is the final reason most companies want to grow.
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Most of the time, in fact, waiting until everything is totally perfect can only hurt or delay your launch.
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true “need to have” is whatever will make your idea fall apart if you don’t have it.
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In short, start small. Start with just the smallest version of your idea and a way to make it happen.
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Companies of one aren’t anti - scale; rather, they’re aware that they need to determine which areas of their business need to scale and when it makes the most sense to do so.
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without business introspection, scale and volume could be chased as vanity metrics rather than as accurate measures that determine profit.
Part II: DEFINE
5 Determining the Right Mind-Set
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In a thriving economy people gladly buy products that align with their values, and in a downturn they spend less and do business with companies they respect and trust.
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Your purpose is the lens through which you filter all your business decisions, from the tiny to the monumental.
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John Kotter and James Heskett report in their book Corporate Culture and Performance that purpose - based, values - driven companies outperform their counterparts in stock price by a factor of twelve.
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You can’t fake your purpose. Your gut and your customers simply won’t let you.
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While purpose is based on a core set of values held by a company or even a business owner and shared with customers, passion is simply a whim based on what we think we enjoy doing.
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passion came after her hard work — as a result of it — not the other way around.
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“courage” and “passion” sound better and more romantic than “skills” and “viability tests.”
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Passion doesn’t precede mastery, but follows it.
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If you’re engaged by your work — for the independence it allows, for the sense of completion when you’re done, for its contribution to making the world a better place — passion is likely to follow.
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Opportunities are just obligations wearing an appealing mask.
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they always come at a cost
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No matter how hard you try, you can’t scale the amount of time in your day. And since you can’t somehow buy more hours, you need to find ways to use those hours better.
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A Microsoft Research study found that attempting to focus on more than one priority at a time reduces productivity by as much as 40 percent, which is the cognitive equivalent of pulling an all - nighter.
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Companies of one need to become adept at “single - tasking” — doing one thing for an extended period of time without distraction.
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for every interruption, it takes an average of twenty - three minutes and fifteen seconds to fully get back to the task.
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Making yourself available eight hours a day on a chat leaves you no time to do focused, deep work.
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create a “stop doing” list
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your ability to focus drastically diminishes after fifty - five hours a week.
6 Personality Matters
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Personality — the authentic you that traditional business has taught you to suppress under the guise of “professionalism” — can be your biggest edge over the competition when you’re a company of one.
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while skills and expertise can be replicated, it’s damn near impossible to replicate someone’s personality and style.
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Your human characteristics are the way your brand speaks and behaves.
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personality even creates and affects company culture.
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don’t confuse the personality of your brand with “acting the part” — instead, the idea is to showcase those aspects of who you naturally are as they relate to building fascination with your intended audience.
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attention can be instantly lost when trust is broken.
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According to best - selling business author Sally Hogshead, the answer lies in developing fascination — an intense captivation and focus on a person or business.
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the key is to unlearn being boring.
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it’s easy to forget or lose interest in information, it’s much harder to forget strong emotion.
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You can do this by allowing your business to have some aspect of your own innate personality or quirks.
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Fascination in a product or service builds an emotional connection, and emotional connections hold attention.
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Fascination is the response when you take what makes you interesting, unique, quirky, and different and communicate it.
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taking a stand is important because you become a beacon for those individuals who are your people, your tribe, and your audience.
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Products can be changed or adjusted if they aren’t functioning, but rallying points align with the values and meaning behind what you do.
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because we can’t please everyone.
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Guy Kawasaki, the well - known marketing specialist and venture capitalist, also thinks that we shouldn’t be afraid of polarization. Large companies search for the “Holy Grail” of products that appeal to every demographic, socioeconomic background, and geographical location, but this “one size fits all” approach rarely works and often leads to mediocrity
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To be a polarizing company of one, you can look to three strategies.
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The first is placation: trying to change the minds of the so - called haters, those individuals who don’t like your product.
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The second strategy is prodding: by intentionally antagonizing haters, you may sway neutral customers into becoming supporters if they agree with your polarizing stance.
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the third strategy is amplification: singling out a characteristic and leaning heavily on it.
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People can copy skills, expertise, and knowledge, which are all replicable with enough time and effort. What’s not replicable is who you truly are — your style, your personality,
7 The One Customer
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nine out of ten Americans were willing to spend more with companies that exhibited great customer service.
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loyal customers, on average, were worth up to ten times as much as their first purchase.
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only 4 percent of customers actually voice their dissatisfaction to a business: a whopping 91 percent of dissatisfied customers simply don’t ever return.
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puzzling that some growth - centric companies care more about new customer acquisition than retention or customer happiness.
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As companies of one, we are very much in the people - serving business. It’s critical that we listen to each of our customers and take full ownership in making sure they are pleased with our service level and then successful in their own lives.
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70 percent of buying experiences are based more on how customers feel they are treated and less on the tangibles of a product
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If customer happiness is the goal of customer service, your support center can become the main source of referrals. Referrals are a powerful way to gain new customers
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the kind of customer service that builds reciprocity: your customer gets something unexpected and then feels the need to help your business, not only by remaining loyal but also by telling others.
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The first step in treating customers empathetically is listening to their needs; with this knowledge, we can drive innovations or new product ideas.
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If your customers feel that you are taking care of them, then they’ll stick around and they’ll tell others.
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Some companies view some customers as too small to matter, especially when it comes to success. But if you take this shortsighted view, you may wrongly assume that your customer’s situation or size won’t ever change.
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it’s equally important to be transparent outwardly with your customers. That doesn’t mean sharing everything, but it does mean being open about your company’s relevant highs and lows, as they could have an effect on your customer relationship.
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If your business has been treating customers empathetically, they’ll tend to be more understanding when things go wrong — but only if you immediately work to fix or resolve issues.
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The first step is apologizing like a real, empathetic human, not a corporate PR - sounding robot.
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doctors who are transparent about errors and offer apologies to patients are actually sued far less for malpractice than doctors who deny wrongdoing and defend mistakes.
8 Scalable Systems
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When growth in profit, customers, or reach is needed, however, companies of one can look to simple and repeatable systems to facilitate scale, with no need for more employees or resources.
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The Need / Want model is growth based on realized profit, not growth based on potential profit (the model adopted by most startups or VC - backed companies).
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A / B tests let a company test a few variations of a small subset of a list, see which variant performs best, and then send the winning variant to the rest of the list.
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a company of one can scale its connection with customers without actually scaling its business.
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the majority of connecting can be done en masse. A perfect example is email marketing.
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With an average return on investment of 3,800 percent, according to the Data & Marketing Association, email marketing is a valid model for scaling without scale.
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Using personalization and segmentation in connection channels like email is key. You want to send the right email, to the right person, at the right time.
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Working for yourself doesn’t necessarily mean working by yourself. Even if your company of one is just you, there are still times when you’ll need to collaborate with others
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But collaboration is a double - edged sword: technology allows us to easily connect with each other in real time, but at the expense of focused, deep work.
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Real - time messaging can turn into all - day meetings, every single day, with no set agenda.
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Real - time collaboration can be very useful when a whole team is required to brainstorm or solve a problem together, but it can also be completely distracting if it’s expected most of the time.
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Hackathons work because they are focused collaboration, not 24 / 7 “be available at all times” collaboration.
9 Teach Everything You Know
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To stand out and build an audience as a company of one, you have to out - teach and outshare the competition, not outscale them.
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This approach has several positive outcomes.
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The first is that creating a relationship with an audience that sees you as a teacher sets you up to be perceived as the domain expert on the subject matter.
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The second benefit of out - teaching your competition is the chance to show an audience the benefits of what you’re selling.
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The third reason teaching works is that by educating new customers on how best to use your product or service and showing them how to get the most out of it or how to be the most successful with it, you also ensure that they’ll become long - term customers and tell others about their positive experience.
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The final reason teaching works for a company of one is that, except for certain proprietary information — like your unexecuted ideas, business strategies, or patentable technologies — most ideas or processes don’t need to be kept under lock and key.
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The purpose of the copyright is not to protect the idea
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but to protect the execution
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At the core of many massive, profitable, global companies is an old idea executed exceptionally well. Facebook is just a better MySpace, and both are essentially digital meeting places.
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Taxis take people from point A to point B. Uber / Lyft just figured out how to make this service more convenient.
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these days, more and more consumers are demanding honest and straight information about products, so they can make their buying decisions at their own speed.
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As a company of one, what you teach people about your product can and will set you apart. So, for example, if you sell mailing list software, be sure to teach your clients about the importance of email marketing.
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what we’re talking about is creating an environment where customers respect and value your opinions because you’ve demonstrated consistent competency by educating them.
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They don’t worry about whether someone will steal their innovation for a product, a service, or a book — they just work at executing and sharing ideas faster and better than anyone else, in their own unique style and with their own unique personality.
Part III MAINTAIN
10 Properly Utilizing Trust and Scale
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In some industries, like airlines and cell phone providers, trust either doesn’t exist or is routinely broken. Cost pressure and consumer preference for the lowest price have forced these industries to cut costs to the bone, even to the detriment of how they treat their customers, which has created a huge lack of consumer trust.
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A trust - based company of one begins with creating something that genuinely solves a problem;
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there are three aspects of trust: confidence (“I believe what you say”), competence (“I believe you have the skills to do what you say”), and benevolence (“I believe you’re acting on my behalf”).
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the power of recommendation — or word of mouth — lies in its ability to create trust by proxy.
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If your good friend tells you that a product is worth buying, you’ll listen because you trust your friend;
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while 83 percent of customers are willing to provide referrals, only 29 percent actually do so.
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Incentives are another way to evangelize users, but they can be tricky. Sometimes offering cash incentives reduces trust
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Word of mouth can also be incentivized through the scalable system of segmented automation
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No company or product is too good to not have to consider and utilize marketing.
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Where companies of one can use their focus on betterment over growth in marketing is by focusing on a specific niche instead of a massive market.
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In recent years, large corporate business has focused its marketing and promotion efforts on collecting “vanity metrics” — like social media followers, subscribers, or clicks. But those metrics don’t always correlate with sales, profit, or reputation. That is, they don’t measure engagement or trust — they simply show how many people took some form of marketing bait.
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Having 100 passionate fans of your business who are eager to buy anything you release is exponentially more effective than having 100,000 followers
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The more specific you are with who your products or services are for, the more you can build trust with that particular audience.
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you don’t need Super Bowl ads. Instead, as a company of one, you can be more effective by writing guest articles for websites and blogs, creating incentive programs for existing clients,
11 Launching and Iterating in Tiny Steps
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As a company of one, you need to reach profitability as quickly as possible.
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So getting your product or service released as soon as possible, even if it’s small, is both financially wise and educational, since a quick release can also serve as a perfect learning experience.
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the lower the number, the quicker you can reach it. So it’s important to scale up your timelines and focus on core features only,
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A company of one begins quite small (one person, no office required) and spends only when profits allow it. Growth is much slower because it’s incremental from zero
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finding a simple solution to a big or complicated problem is your strongest asset as a company of one.
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Your ability to problem - solve with simplicity will keep you and your skills relevant in any market.
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There are three elements to the psychology of simple, according to Harvard professor George Whitesides: predictability, accessibility, and serving as a building block.
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Being predictable means that simple products are easy to instantly understand.
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Being accessible means being honest:
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Finally, to serve as a building block is to build on an existing and understood concept
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By starting out small, a company of one can put all of its energy into solving problems for real people rather than into growing large enough to maybe solve problems for people one day.
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Instead of developing a product, which can take a lot of time (and sometimes cash) to develop, new founders can start almost immediately by offering their product idea as a service first.
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most launches aren’t massive successes. Yes, they can be slightly profitable (if everything goes right), but often things don’t pay off as quickly as we hoped,
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Launching isn’t a onetime, singular event, but a continual process of launch, measure, adjust, repeat.
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Jim Collins, best - selling author of Good to Great, studied 1,435 companies over a forty - year span. He found that every great company that’s very profitable and successful started out as simply good enough to launch. These companies focused on one thing and let go of the rest.
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Many companies try to be foxes, doing everything for everyone or launching products full of bells and whistles, but successful companies that thrive over the long term work at a single task and master it. You still need a varied skill set to build a company of one, but your focus on serving customers needs to be singular.
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Companies of one need to continually iterate on their products to keep them useful and relevant to the market they’re intended to serve. So launch quickly, but immediately start to refine and improve your product.
12 The Hidden Value of Relationships
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it’s much easier to sell to people with whom you’ve already built a relationship because they know that you actually care about them personally and their betterment.
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In this kind of relationship, selling doesn’t have to be pushy. It’s based entirely on a cultivated friendship.
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you are seen as a trusted adviser, not a shady or slick salesperson.
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Smaller businesses tend to want to act like larger companies, which is curious, since many large businesses these days are trying to act like smaller ones.
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To create an audience of people who are keen to support your business by purchasing from you, a real relationship is required first — one that includes trust, humanity, and empathy.
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is not the same as growth - hacking. In fact, the overall concept of this entire book is antithetical to that practice.
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A company of one finds its true north by working toward being better, not bigger, and the way to do that is to build long - term relationships with its audience and customers.
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real connections are built when companies share a simple message, repeatedly, through their actions.
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three types of capital.
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The first is financial capital,
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The second is human capital, which is the value that you (or your small team) bring to the business
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The third type of capital required is social capital.
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Social capital works because it fosters reciprocity. The more you share, provide real value and help, and connect with others, the more they’ll want to help you.
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Abraham Maslow had it quite wrong in his pyramidal hierarchy of needs when he specified physiological needs and the need for safety as humans’ most basic needs.
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Instead, in Lieberman’s estimation, belonging and connection, which Maslow defines as psychological needs, are our most basic need and should be at the bottom of the pyramid, because humans are wired to connect with each other.
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it’s important that you maintain the relationship over time, even with customers who haven’t financially supported your business in a while with a purchase.
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Consistency and longevity are key.
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just because you might work for yourself doesn’t mean you have to work by yourself.
13 Starting a Company of One — My Story
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what exactly we can do to go from zero to start for a company of one.
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The daily slog is what separates wannabe business owners from those who make it a reality.
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This is how lots of people start businesses every day: knowing how to do something well (their craft), but without an existing group of people eager to work with them.
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I’d start by finding a single person to offer my knowledge to. Then another. And another.
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consider two questions: In the beginning, can you reduce any of your expenses so that you can do less work to be profitable each month? And how likely is it that you’ll get the number of clients or customers you need each month to be profitable?
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how you spend your time. Every day you spend developing a product is a day you aren’t really making money from it, unless you’ve done preorders or crowdfunding.
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having legal systems in place right from the start is important. You need to ensure, first, that your business entity is set up properly for the country and region you’re operating from, and second, that your business is removed by one layer from you personally.
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The reason for having a business lawyer — and one who’s on contract, not an employee — is not so that you can sue everyone, but so that lawsuits rarely happen.
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Another factor in how much you pay yourself is how much time off you’d like.
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Alongside a salary and a runway buffer, I truly think companies of one should invest as much money as they can save up in passive investments like index funds.
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The benefit of a company of one is that you can build your lifestyle around it, optimizing for both profit and your own happiness.
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You will have the freedom to enjoy the benefits of having figured out how to make “enough.”
Afterword: Never Grow Up
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you can focus on building something that, in effect, is too small to fail. You can adapt a small company of one to ride out recessions, adjust to changing customer motivations, and ignore competition by being smaller, more focused, and in need of much less to turn a profit.
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The truth is, very few startups last for a long time. Most of them don’t even last a few years let alone fifteen years,
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When they grew, many of them simply became too big to succeed. Big companies can find it so much easier to fail, with their higher burn rates, the rampant acquisition they require to hit profitable status, and their huge teams full of people you hope are pulling their own weight, but who knows? There are too many people on them to know for certain.
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There’s a point — and it’s different for everyone — where you realize that having more won’t affect your quality of life. When your “enough” happens, it should be liberating
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There’s only one rule for being a company of one: stay attentive to those opportunities that require growth and question them before taking them.