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Scale up.
Don’t burn out.

Written by Maari Casey on January 10, 2024

Building a million dollar one-person business
without loosing your mind.

When building a one-person freelance business, you can get to the point where you feel like you’re stuck on a treadmill. When your business model is built on exchanging hours for dollars, you will inevitably max out on available time. Your business has reached the point where it doesn’t feel sustainable. It’s time to look at scaling. 

Scaling is one of the biggest challenges for a service-based business, and for a single-person business, it can feel insurmountable. In order to build more than just a side hustle – that is, to build a business that makes money while you sleep – you have to build smarter.  

I wanted to build a million-dollar one-person business and still have time to enjoy my life. That is still the goal. This year, we at Unco are going to talk a lot about scaling, focusing on how to build your business through optimizing your money, your workflow and processes, your business model, and more.

Maari’s scaling story:

When I started freelancing, I just wanted to make it work. I simply wanted to cover my bases and focus on other priorities in my life for a while. Within the first few years in business, I got married, had children, helped care for my mother, bought a house, and took control of my health. I was grateful for the flexibility that freelance afforded me. Then I realized I’d hit the plateau. I couldn’t work any more hours; in fact, young kids and childcare costs forced me to cut down on my hours, and thus my revenue was cut along with it. It was then that I started to look at ways to scale my business so I could work less and make more. Sounds a little ridiculous when you think about it, but that’s what I set out to do. I needed to stop trading hours for dollars. 

How much was my time worth? That was the first step in optimizing and scaling for me. There were so many more things competing for my time than ever before. In my 20s I had PLENTY of time to spend working, but now that I had a family of my own, plus the hours I spent caretaking, my time was more limited. And, frankly, much more valuable. 

I estimated how much time I could realistically focus on work after considering how much of my time was needed for my non-work responsibilities. It was close to half of what I had been working- 20ish available hours per week. That meant my hourly value needed to more than double to stay at the same pay scale. 

How could I actually make that happen? Step one for me was cutting clients that were on the lower pay scale but higher demand scale. That was an easy first step, basic math. The problem was even though I was working fewer “hours,” my business wasn’t growing. Eventually I was going to have to work more hours, even at the higher rate, if I wanted to make more money. Then I’d be back on the hours for dollars treadmill again.

That brought about the next question: What if it wasn’t just me doing all the work? 

Six to twelve months into this new focus, I started exploring how I could do more delegating and subcontracting in my business. I had 5 years of experience at this point and had built up a good client base. I had also topped out on my time. After turning down my 4th job in a month due to time constraints or required skills outside my skill set, I realized I was leaving money on the table. This is when I started experimenting with subcontractors, building a team that worked while I wasn’t. (I’ll cover some of the lessons (good and bad) I learned from that first project in a future blog. Lots to unpack in that lesson!). All in all, it was the first pin that dropped in getting me closer to building my million-dollar one-person business. 

It’s commonly talked about in the “future of work” space that freelancing has three different stages. The first 1-3 years are where you are just trying to figure it out. Then years 3-6 are where you are really building out your business. Finally, years 6-10+ are where you are discovering how to scale your business. 

Freelancing has grown up in a big way over the last 15 years. The industry now has several “freelancers” in their 40s and 50s, like myself. We “old folks” will pave the way for freelancers at every stage of their business journey to see that there is a long-term plan to build a career and business that you can work and grow your entire life. It’s possible to build a million-dollar one-person business. What about a multi-million, or even a billion, one-person business?! With the growing number of automations and the booming AI industry, the opportunity to do this is more on the table than ever before. A BILLION-dollar one-person business?! Seems nuts, and also seems almost possible. Maybe it will be you.

Here are a few things to determine if it’s time to look at ways to scale your business: 

  • You are turning down work
  • You have exceeded your goals
  • You have consistent sales
  • You have a repeatable process
  • YOU WANT TO STOP TRADING HOURS FOR DOLLARS!