#167: Elaine Pofeldt on Creating a Million-Dollar One-Person Business

Before we get to this week’s episode, I wanted to let you know that I’m about to work with a handful of new freelance writers to get their business off the ground and land their first paying client.

If you’d like to join us, send an email to [email protected] … put “FIRST CLIENT” in the subject line … and I’ll reply with all the details.

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This is an exciting time to be alive.

The opportunity to make a great living as a self-employed professional has never been better.

Changing economic trends, shifting attitudes toward self-employment, cheap technology, and the ability to leverage talent from around the world have all combined to make this opportunity possible.

I’m proof that this can work. I run my high-six-figures coaching and training business out of my house, and I have a team of seven amazing professionals — all of them independent contractors — who live all over North America.

My guest today is going to go deep into this topic. Her name is Elaine Pofeldt, and she’s the author of a wonderful book titled The Million-Dollar One-Person Business: Make Great Money. Work the Way You Like. Have the Life You Want, which was recently published by Random House.

She’s also one of us — a seasoned writer and journalist who specializes in small business, entrepreneurship and careers. Elaine’s work has appeared in Fortune, Money, CNBC, Inc., Forbes, Crain’s New York Business and many other business publications, and she is a contributor to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

As a senior editor at Fortune Small Business, where she worked for eight years, Elaine was twice nominated for the National Magazine Award for her features and ran the magazine’s annual business plan competition.

In this interview, Elaine introduces us to some of the people behind these million-dollar solo businesses and describes how they built them without hiring employees or creating nightmare jobs for themselves.

I think you’ll find this chat inspirational, and I bet you’ll walk way with some good ideas of your own.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us how you got started as a writer and where you are today

Elaine Pofeldt has always loved writing. She studied journalism, interned at newspapers after graduation and then spent about eight years as a street reporter.

When she tired of covering tragic stories, she landed a job at Women’s Wear Daily. After that, she joined Success Magazine and then the Fortune group, eventually landing as a senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine.

About 11 years ago, she left that job to work as a freelance writer. She had four small children and wanted more control over her time.

In 2015, she wrote an article that profiled five entrepreneurs who had reached $1 million as a one-person business. The article “How Bold Entrepreneurs are Breaking $1 Million in One-Person Businesses” took off and eventually led to a book.

What do you mean by a non-employer business?

Today, there are about 24 million non-employer (one-person) businesses in the U.S. About 36,000 of those businesses break $1 million.

A non-employer business is a solo business. It’s a business that’s run with no employees.

You’re still considered a solo business even if you have virtual assistants and contractors that aren’t employees (i.e. they’re not on your payroll).

Some solo businesses have hundreds of contractors!

What are these hyper-successful solopreneurs doing differently?

Many of them leverage automation and outsourcing.

Automation. They use automated tools, such as mobile phones, Facebook live streaming, mobile payments and automated mileage tracking, to extend what they can do.

Outsourcing. They outsource and delegate tasks to contractors and freelancers, such as shipping services and back office services.

Can writers get to this income level WITHOUT building a team of employees or creating a very complex business?

Many of these successful solopreneurs scaled their businesses by building on what they were already doing. They bring in contractors and offer premium pricing.

Pamela Grossman: Pamela’s company is called In the Present. She runs a marketing and production studio in Atlanta. She built a $2 million business by using contractors from around the world.

Adam Bornstein: Adam’s company creates marketing content for premium clients. He only accepts three to four clients at a time and provides a high level of service to each.

Writers underestimate what they bring to the table. The ability to create content is an important part of being able to scale a business.

How have some writers built businesses based on information products?

Brian Dean: Brian’s company is Backlinko. He was a freelance writer who wrote a popular post about how to rank in Google. In writing that post, he learned a lot about SEO. Based on what he learned, he created a training course that he sells for about $900.

Justin Goff: Justin is a copywriter who teamed up with an ex-military fitness trainer. Together, they created an exercise plan called The 31-Day Fat Loss Cure.

Platforms such as Teachable make it easy to scale your course. Clickbank, MasterClass and Udemy are similar.

Creating courses takes a lot of work. But if you know an area of your field really well, it can be an opportunity to create passive income.

Do you have any other examples that writers might want to explore?

Some successful solopreneurs have used a hybrid approach to build their businesses.

Meghan Telpner: Meghan started out as an advertising professional. When she became sick, she studied nutrition and started blogging. After four years of blogging, she started to sell information products. Today, she offers courses and has started the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. She’s also branched into business coaching.

In all of these businesses, writing and marketing is a key component. We already have these skills as writers, which gives us an advantage.

What are some practical next steps people should follow if they want to grow their solo business to this level?

Look for clues. What do people come to you for? What advice do they ask you?

Which areas would you want to monetize? Which areas would you NOT want to monetize?

What would be the Rolls Royce, premium version of your current services?

Who would your product/service help? Where’s their pain? How could you be useful? How would you bring fun and enjoyment to their life?

Try to marry what people want/need to what you would enjoy doing.

Elaine has some exercises in her book that can help you with this process.

Writing as a way to express yourself is fine. But it’s not a good basis for a business.

Tell us a bit about your book, The Million-Dollar One-Person Business

The vast majority of businesses in the U.S. are one-person businesses, but most of them get no recognition. Elaine wanted to show their struggles, successes and potential.

A one-person business can touch a lot of lives.

How can listeners learn more about you and the book?

Elaine’s book: The Million-Dollar One-Person Business

Elaine Pofeldt’s website


By the way … whenever you’re ready, here are 4 ways I can help you grow your freelance business:

1. Grab a free copy of my new book for writers who are NEW to freelancing.
It’s called “The 3 Magic Levers: How to Get Your Writing Business Off the Ground and Land Your First Paying Client.” — Click Here

2. Download a free copy of my book for ESTABLISHED writers/copywriters.
You’ll discover how to quickly and predictably reawaken dead leads, generate new client opportunities and convert not-yet-ready prospects into freelance writing clients. — Click Here

3. Join our “Get Better Clients Academy”
You’ll get a personalized action plan based on where you are today in your business. Plus all the tools, scripts, checklists, cheat sheets and templates you’ll need to escape feast-or-famine … grow your income … and land clients who love and respect you. — Click Here

4. Get your website DONE!
If you’ve been struggling to get your website done … or if you’re not happy with what you’ve got today… let my team and me build you a beautiful website for your writing business. We’ll do all the hard work! Email me at [email protected] … put “WEBSITE” in the subject line … and I’ll reply with the details.