The Company Of One
The Company of One is Paul Jarvis’ vision for small, independent, and sustainable businesses. Jarvis sets out five character traits people need to lead these creative businesses.
Growth. It’s the unspoken assumption – that what makes a business idea worth pursuing or what makes a product worth developing is whether it will grow. Because not growing, not getting bigger all the time, adding employees, moving into larger spaces, and so on, means you’re kind of failing.
Paul Jarvis doesn’t think so.
I first heard of Paul Jarvis through his online course about MailChimp, called Chimp Essentials. It’s not an expensive course. It doesn’t feel like the pillar of some sort of empire. It isn’t heavily marketed. You don’t feel hustled into a big sale when you sign up.
But it is a great course.
It’s exactly the kind of course you need if you’re stuck with a mailing list and unsure how to use it. Which, of course, is where I was. In fact, it’s where a lot of people seem to have been, because when I mention the course, it’s surprising how many of my peers have also taken it.
From them I kept getting a recommendation to take a look at Jarvis’ book, The Company of One: Why Staying Small Is The Next Big Thing for Business.
The Company of One
According to Jarvis, when you start a business, you don’t have to buy into the idea of growth. Not only can you choose to stay small, it might be that staying small will be better for your work and for the kind of life you want to lead.
The Company of One is built around the skills of an individual – an artist or creative, a maker or tradesperson, even someone who works in a larger organisation. They build around themselves the infrastructure of a company, but focus on staying small, staying on the coal face of the work, and staying true to their values.
This doesn’t mean they work alone for ever. The Company of One relies on collaborators. Who you work with is more important than having people work for you.
And the work isn’t freelancing, being hired by the hour. This is always a huge limitation for solopreneurs, because hours don’t scale. The Company of One focusses instead on products and services that can be offered in larger numbers (especially things like courses).
For Jarvis, staying small, nimble, agile, and free to locate your work within a larger vision of the way you want to live is far more liberating than chasing growth.
Leadership Traits For The Company Of One
Jarvis identifies five ‘leadership traits’ you need to run a Company of One. He uses the term leadership because, even if you work alone, you’ll need to bring people with you. Clients, customers, collaborators and contractors will look to you to set a direction and steer a course.
- Psychology: The ability to understand yourself and others; insight into how circumstances affect behaviour.
- Communication: The ability to communicate well in a variety of formats, but especially in writing.
- Decisiveness: The ability to break big decisions down into smaller, more manageable decisions; managing your energy and commitments so you can be at your best to make hard decisions.
- Focus: The ability to stay on task, evaluate options quickly to avoid distractions, and say no to prevent being pulled in directions you don’t want to follow.
- Resilience: The ability to act wisely and apply your knowledge within a context of uncertainty and when inevitable challenges arise.
“The truth is, much of business is a guess.”
Navigating Away From Solipsism
Perhaps the biggest danger of working alone, of being a Company of One, is disappearing into your own mind. Philosophers call it solipsism, the idea that only your own mind is real, and outside reality can’t quite be trusted.
It becomes too easy to create products that have no audience when you don’t interact with anyone during the development of your ideas.
“You need to know how and why people make decisions about your products and services.”
– Paul Jarvis
The way Paul Jarvis sets up the Company of One avoids this by pushing the focus outward. The leadership traits shift your focus onto other people and the outside world. And while the idea of the Company of One is built around your skills and talents, it puts those skills in relationship with the people you’ll work with to make them happen.
Being a Company of One doesn’t mean you can’t continue to work in the company of other amazing people.