Not many people break $1 million in a one-person business. Laszlo Nadler, whose startup appeared in this blog last year, blasted through that milestone in 2015. This year, the father-of-two, based in East Brunswick BC -1.33%, N.J., is on track to break $2 million at his Amazon store Tools4Wisdom—and still has no employees. Tools4Wisdom sells planners that help customers focus on their big-picture goals, instead of simply plowing through a daily to-do list. “I’ve just passed the threshold where the business is significantly taking off,” says Nadler, who came up with the idea in 2012, while still working as a corporate project manager.
Many people fear running a solo business because of the lack of steady paychecks and the need to buy healthcare, as a Deloitte study released earlier this week showed. Those are serious considerations.
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom for the self-employed. There are 2.6 million Americans who are bringing in six-figure revenue in what the government calls “nonemployer businesses”—firms whose owners are the only employees—and a small but growing number who are joining Nadler in breaking the million-dollar barrier and beyond.
In the most recent Census data, 33,624 non-employer firms brought in $1 million to $2.49 million in revenue in 2014–an 11% increase from 2013 and a 45% increase from 2009. Another 1,991 firms brought in $2.5 million to $4.99 million, and an elite 365 firms brought in $5 million in revenue or more. (For context, about 24 million of the 28 million small businesses in the U.S. are nonemployer firms.)
I believe we’re only scratching the surface of what one-person businesses can accomplish. As smart entrepreneurs follow the lead of pioneers like Nadler, more will embrace practices that add to their firepower, such as hiring contractors, using sharing-economy services, and automating repetitive processes, efforts likely to bump up their revenue. Many, like Nadler, embrace the idea of “lifestyle design” and prefer to keep their businesses ultra lean to allow time for other passions in life–while still profitable enough to allow them to live without financial stress.
Laszlo Nadler and his family
I caught up with Nadler last week to find out how he set himself up to double revenue in one year without adding staff. “I worked on many variables,” said Nadler, a thoughtful, bespeckled entrepreneur given to sketching elaborate mind maps whenever he has a big idea. Here are some of the strategies he shared.
Let “purpose-driven curiousity” drive you. Every day, Nadler asks himself: How can I grow my business today? What strategies are the top 5% of successful companies implementing today—and how canI implement them?
“I’m not copy and pasting them,” he says. Instead, he asks himself how other companies’ approaches apply to his business. “Often the answers lead to immediate strategies for my business,” he says.
One example: Nadler has found infomercials to be an extraordinary trove of information, even though he doesn’t use them to sell his wares. He transcribes successful ones to study why they are effective and asks: What is relevant that I can leverage for Tools4Wisdom? One thing he has observed: “They are not telling you buy, buy, buy,” says Nadler. “They use highly selective texts.”