Stay Competitive as a Nonemployer

Stay Competitive as a Nonemployer

Solopreneur Adrian Miller explains how she's used her small solo status to reap big rewards in the marketplace. With a little bit of ambition and a lot of persistence, she says you can do the same.

By Matt Alderton

More than 20 years ago, Adrian Miller left the teleservices industry. Tired of taking orders from someone else, she craved professional independence and creative autonomy. She wanted to be self-employed.

The product of Miller's resignation is Adrian Miller Sales Training, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based company of which she is president, founder and sole employee.

Fast, flexible and feisty, Miller's been competing with larger companies for more than two decades with just two hands and one brain. Despite the inherent challenges of being small, she's used her size to seize success.

MasterCard Small Business caught up with Miller recently to ask her how she exploits her solo status. The answer, she told us, can help nonemployers transform self-employment from a small handicap into a sizable competitive advantage.

MasterCard Small Business: After 20 years in business, why are you still a nonemployer?

Adrian Miller: The word I use when I talk about why I left advertising is control. That's still the operative word for me. I have control over what I produce, how I produce it, whom I produce it for and when I produce it.

MCSB: Don't you need a "team" in order to truly compete with larger companies?

Miller: Rather than have full-time salaried employees, I align myself strategically with people who can augment what I do — experts in marketing, branding, promotion — and bring them in if and when the project requires it. I'm also aligned with other trainers so that when my own training workload is too intense, I'm able to refer to people that I work with extremely closely. For me, it's valuable being able to align yourself strategically with more excellent and expert talent than you could ever afford to have in-house as a small business.

MCSB: Being able to work with top talent sounds like a strong competitive advantage. What other advantages does being a nonemployer give you over other larger companies?

Miller: Any business will have peaks and valleys. As a sole proprietor you can ride out the valleys in a more secure fashion than if you had a very heavy payroll.

In terms of responsiveness — deciding what you want to do, how you want to do it — you make that decision on your own.

In terms of flexibility, it's very, very hard for large companies to turn on a dime. They have a lot of things they have to take into account, especially in terms of personnel. Sole proprietors don't have to deal with that at all.

MCSB: Larger companies have strengths, too. Why should nonemployers monitor them in order to stay ahead?

Miller: All prospects have become shoppers. It's, therefore, much harder to sell in this day and age: The competition is enormous. You can't exist in a vacuum. You can't put your head under the ground and not know what people who are in your space are doing.

Luckily, it's much easier these days to stay on top of what your competition is doing. The Web has leveled the playing field tremendously. If you go online with a little bit of ingenuity, you can see what the competition is doing and how you may have to differentiate yourself.

MCSB: Anyone can Google their competition, but what are your favorite offline strategies for competitive analysis?

Miller: Small businesses should be able to dazzle. If sole proprietors can't dazzle with customer service, then they should close their doors. I'm 100 percent behind that because one of the core areas to differentiate is not in good customer service, but in truly exceptional, knock-your-socks off, they-would-not-think-of-doing-business-with-anyone-else customer service.