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It’s Just Me: Solo, and Proudly So

January 18th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I passed through my early days of entrepreneurship with plenty of rookie insecurity.  One vestige of that era was how in my public-facing prose (such as in contracts and on my website) I’d write things like “We’re committed to the success of our clients’ business ventures.”, “we’ll get back to you within 24 hours”, and references to “our development team”.

I was using the word “we” when the word “I” was far more appropriate, as if the fact that it was just me was some dirty little secret to be guarded.  I had it in my head that, in order to be taken seriously, I better project the air that my company was bigger than it was.

In other words, I was in the “We” trap.

Nowadays, I’m super content and proud to be the product of JPL Consulting: I’m it, it’s just me.  I’m not trying to sell an ethos, a corporate culture, a team backed by a method for finding/growing/retaining talent, or anything else that larger development shops pride themselves on.

It’s just me.  You either dig me as a partner who can do your project or you don’t.

The other week a prospective client was hitting me with all kinds of great questions about how I work, and one of them was “Do you have anyone else that would be working on our project?”  Despite the intuition that they might like to hear that their baby would be in more pairs of capable hands than just mine, I replied proudly that it’s just me, that I’m able to handle elaborate projects from start to finish all by myself, and that things go massively faster for it.

To my surprise she was distinctly happy to learn as much, and cited how she and her partner have worked with consulting firms where they liked their initial contact, but once they signed a contract their project was handed off someone else who, in their estimation, wasn’t nearly as good.

That I was their agent for the project, period, was good news.

This makes sense: with any consulting firm that’s organized sensibly, the person you talk with up front to get your project rolling is going to be the strongest person that the firm can offer you.  They are the closer.  If, when you’ve signed on the dotted line (effectively saying yes to that company with confidence that they can handle your project), it’s someone else who actually executes your project, chances are good you won’t be as impressed.

By contrast, in a one-man shop, the one who sells you on their ability is the one you get.

If you have a good impression of me as I take you through the upfront consulting/sales process, then it’s good news that I’m the one who will be actually living up to my words1.  Accountability is in a nice tidy little package, and there’s no one else that the buck can get passed to.  Sure it sucks if I get hit by a bus, but even that has a workable plan to it.

To solo operations everywhere, I say this: you can either put on the facade of being bigger than you are, ashamed to have not yet built your empire with hoards of underlings, or you can grow yourself to the specific reason people are excited to work with you, and proudly tout as much in your conversations and prose.

Your call.


  1. This, incidentally, eliminates the cliche of sales people making promises that can’t be fulfilled.


This is Programmer for Hire, a series of essays and explorations on the art of being a great programmer doing on-demand custom software development.

  1. January 20th, 2012 at 09:59 | #1

    That’s an interesting perspective. As someone who is “just me, solo” as well, I’m also in the “we” trap – feeling a little awkward when putting verbiage on my site. I don’t think the royal we suits me, but it seems to be what people do. Nice to see someone bucking the trend. :) I don’t know if I’m going to rush to change the text on my site just yet, but I’m definitely going to mull this over.

  2. April 17th, 2012 at 02:13 | #2

    I have been back and forth, me vs. we, I can really relate to this. Often websites have some kind of “bios” page. These bios are hard to resist reading…hobbies, Twitter accounts, blogs, dorky haircuts, etc. Sometimes you think, what a great group of people, I like this company. Then again, I’m starting to think these bio pages are really a distraction from what you’re selling, especially as your team gets larger. It’s nice to know who you’re dealing with but sometimes the product is way more compelling than the people who made it. Of course it depends on your target market and what you’re selling.

  3. Rajesh
    January 18th, 2013 at 10:51 | #3


    Interesting as always. May I ask, how do clients usually find you? I understand most programmers read blogs, but is that the case with businesses as well? Is it referrals and repeat customers or do you sign up on freelancer sites and hope your profile shows up?

    • John
      January 18th, 2013 at 16:25 | #4

      Hi Rajesh, thanks for the kudos!

      The overwhelming majority of time it’s a matter of personal connections or close referrals, and my clients tend to be long standing ones. On occasion people who’ve read this blog reach out to me about projects, though that’s a rare path. Back in ’06 I was signed up on a few of the freelancer sites, but I found the experience back then to be fairly soul draining for very little reward.

  4. KimM
    January 20th, 2013 at 18:43 | #5

    I just found your website—and love your blog! Honest commentary, from experience. A real support to read; thank you!

    • John
      January 20th, 2013 at 19:37 | #6

      Hi Kim, you’re most welcome! Glad I could provide useful nuggets by my shared experience.

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