The Accomplished Solopreneur
Saturday, September 23, 2023
The Simplest Solopreneur Business You Can Build
In this article I’m looking at the simplest solopreneur business you can build. By adopting this model, we’re eliminating (or substantially simplifying) a lot of the moving parts that make up a business.
How business works
I’ve always maintained that if you want a successful business (and have a life), you have to get 11 elements right. These elements are the Tornado Method. Over the last 5 years I’ve worked with enough solopreneurs and small businesses to know that you do, indeed, need to get all 11 right.
This is what the top level of the Tornado Method looks like:
Even a cursory glance at these 11 elements will show that there’s a lot of moving parts. Add on to that the fact that you have to do most (if not all) the work yourself, it’s no wonder we struggle to build a business.
But some business models are just easier than others.
The simplest business model
Over the last year or so I’ve been following Justin Welsh on LinkedIn. He’s built a following of almost 500,000 people (maybe more by the time you read this), and regularly talks about the revenue he receives from his products - literally in the millions of dollars a year.
His business consists of the following:
- Two online courses: The LinkedIn OS and the Content OS priced at $150 each.
- Marketing on LinkedIn: multiple posts per day (compelling reading)
- Online sales and course delivery: via Kajabi
To understand why his business is so simple, let’s walk through the 11 elements of the Tornado Method, from the bottom up.
Team, culture and personal effectiveness
I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect Justin now works on his own with perhaps a couple of VA’s. I don’t know what his early entry into the market looked like in terms of how much he worked, but I suspect there was a lot of heavy lifting and long hours to build the courses.
Today, Justin often writes about his lifestyle and how “easy” it has become. He’s pretty private, but you can spot a personal picture here and there on LinkedIn.
He got this bit right.
In the Tornado Method, the Business Model element is a simplified version of the original Business Model Canvas. The key elements in Justin’s business model are:
- Ideal Customers: Individuals who are frustrated with the 9-5 and want to escape the corporate rat race.
- Value Proposition: Freedom to live how you want. Freedom to put family first. Freedom to own your story.
- Channels to market: LinkedIn, weekly newsletter
There’s a bit more to it, but this captures the essence.
Justin’s brand is simplicity itself. Colours are primarily black and blue, his logo is a simple word mark (”Justin Welsh”) and overall presentation is simple and to the point.
Justin’s brand messaging taps into all the frustrations we experience working for large corporations. This shows up in his website copy, marketing messages and newsletter.
Justin has 2 products priced at $150 each. This is a “no brainer” price that makes it easy to buy. He has also offered Purchasing Power Parity where he gives discounts to students in countries where $150 is a lot of money.
At this price point, Justin clearly relies on volume sales. As far as I can see, there is little or no support or community, but I’ve not found this to be necessary. His products are really high value (I purchased the LinkedIn OS over a year ago). Combine that with an affordable price point, and sales are easy.
Marketing and Lead Nurturing
Now we move up into the Revenue Engine part of the Tornado Method, and this is where things get interesting.
Justin’s marketing is primarily on LinkedIn. He also has a weekly newsletter which does a lot of the lead nurturing, and tons of testimonials on the product pages of his website.
There are two reasons this works:
- Justin focuses on one channel to market and has demonstrably mastered it. LinkedIn has over 900 million users and some 137 million visit it each day. He posts every day, sometimes multiple times a day, practices what he preaches (interacting with comments and posts) and the experience he has built over the years clearly shows.
- The number of testimonials (social proof) on his website sales pages is staggering. Testimonials are one of the most powerful ways to help potential buyers over their hesitations.
This success obviously didn’t happen overnight. But a few years of laser-like focus has paid off.
Sales, Delivery and Follow Up
Justin’s courses are sold and delivered online via Kajabi. The important bit is this:
Sales and delivery are completely automated and require no human intervention. This frees Justin up to spend most of his time on marketing.
As far as I can see there is little follow up, but again, I haven’t found this to be a problem as the courses are self-study and well crafted.
How much work is it to build this and run this?
Crafting your Building Blocks (Business Model, Brand and Product Ladder) is something you do once and tweak every now and then. I don’t know how long it took Justin to build the courses, but I don’t think they’ve changed, so it was a sunk cost. No more time spent there.
Similarly, setting up the sales pages, online sales and Kajabi bits and pieces are a once-off job. After that it runs on autopilot.
As Justin has explained himself, he now spends most of this time marketing. There’s some work every week to get the newsletter out (via ConvertKit), but that’s all it takes to now run his business and generate high six or even seven figure income each year.
Here’s how all of this translates into time and effort:
- Building Blocks (Business Model, Brand and Product Ladder): High effort and time to create the courses but once it was done, no more time required.
- Marketing: Where he spends most of his time to run his business, 2-4 hours a day 5 days a week.
- Lead Nurturing, Sales, Delivery and Follow Up: All on autopilot or eliminated.
This sounds a bit like heaven — build some stuff, then crank the Marketing engine to generate more revenue. He’s shown how it can be done successfully.
Is this business model for you?
I’m pivoting my business to be primarily online products and courses, similar to Justin’s business. But I have a few added elements (like a support community, office hours and so on) that take more effort to build and run.
And I’m happy with this.
I target a slightly different demographic (people who are making or have made the jump into solopreneurship) and are struggling with overwhelm and making their business work. My interests are also different — I love working 1:1 or with groups to help solopreneurs deal with problems.
Again, I’m happy with this, even if it means more work to build and run my business.
This is a great business model if…
Justin’s business model is great if you want to sell online courses. It’s relatively simple to build and run (not necessarily easy), and if you get the marketing right, you can generate very respectable income. In my books, Justin is one of the top solopreneurs in the world.
If this is what you want to do, then studying what he’s done is a great place to start.
Why some people fail to get it right
Justin’s business works because he found a very real pain point (frustration with corporate life) and gives people a way out. His marketing is exemplary, and his discipline to keep at it year after year has paid off.
Most people fail at similar efforts because of three reasons:
- The problem they’re trying to solve isn’t compelling enough.
- They don’t express the problem in terms their target market identifies with.
- They don’t market consistently, well enough over a long period of time.
Solve these problems, and you’re well on your way to success.
But it’s not for everyone
There are some very valuable lessons to be learnt from Justin’s business model (for example, how well he markets on LinkedIn), but every type business requires different moving parts.
If you’re a consultant, for example, you will require different types of marketing, and lead nurturing is a lot more important and time-consuming.
And that’s OK, because we all have different skills and interests.
Bottom line: choose the work you do with care. If you’re passionate about what you do, solve a real problem, and care deeply about helping people, you can make any business work. But take the following key lessons from Justin’s business model:
Good luck with your business.