Columns Opinion Your Views — 27 March 2014
My View: Supporting the solopreneur economy

By Bill Reagan

Self-employed workers go by a variety of names: solopreneurs, independent contractors or consultants, freelancers and even lone eagles. Whatever you call them, this segment of the economy is expanding, particularly in the Washington area.

Economic development consultant Erik R. Pages of EntreWorks notes that there are several categories of solopreneurs. Some have no choice and are self-employed because their sector of the economy has shifted from traditional employment. Others are entrepreneurs who enthusiastically operate as sole proprietors. A third category is made up of freelancers, who work on projects such as web design or filmmaking.

Certain industries — like real estate, childcare, personal care and services, and photography — are dominated by solopreneurs. Many attorneys, accountants, physicians and consultants also fall into this category. Researchers estimate that freelancers comprise 20 to 30 percent of the labor force and, as a consequence of the Affordable Care Act, their numbers likely will grow.

Pages extols the many benefits of the “1099 economy,” a term derived from the tax form for independent contractors. A solopreneur has the opportunity to completely structure his or her working environment and concentrate efforts in the areas of his or her choosing. Many solopreneurs enjoy the flexibility that comes with being self-employed and take pride in what they accomplish using their specific expertise.

There are challenges, however. Self-employed workers have to manage their own insurance and retirement. They face dry spells between engagements, so they need to be able to create a solid financial plan to see them through.

They also must serve as their own marketing and business development departments.

This brings up the question of how to best support these independent operators. They are an important part of our local economy, but they represent so many industries and business types that there is no one size fits all approach to providing resources. There is no reliable source of data that shows exactly where these self-employed workers are located and who they are, so it often is up to the solopreneur to ask for the help that they need.

Thankfully, there are private support programs and websites tailored to solopreneurs. They offer insurance and retirement plans, guidance on administrative processes, training, advocacy and connections to work opportunities. Private sector co-work, presentation and meeting spaces are becoming more prevalent as well.

Alexandria has several of these spaces available to rent on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

The Alexandria Small Business Development Center has long included solopreneurs in our monthly roundtables and other educational programs. Many already use our services, but we are launching a renewed effort to support this segment of the local business community. We are working with solopreneurs to better understand their needs so that we can provide the most relevant and useful resources.

If you are interested in participating, please reach out to the center.

- The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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