Solo Entrepreneur: Jim FairSolo Entrepreneur: Jim Fairchildchild

One-person companies are earning upward of $1 million in revenue annually. How do they do it? With high-speed Internet connectivity, mobile apps, automation, and a little help from their customers.

As the first one-person business to make the Inc. 500 — Inc. magazine’s annual list of the fastest-growing private companies — Jim Fairchild does no marketing, has no Web site, works out of his home, answers his own phone on the first ring, and is resolute that he is going to remain solo for the rest of his professional life.

“I made the decision years ago to work out of my home when my kids were small, and my wife decided to home school them. I wanted to be part of that,” said Fairchild. He had a business partner at the time, but bought him out and for years has been the sole employee of Coggin & Fairchild Environmental Consultants, in Elgin, Ill. He made $3.6 million and was No. 121 on the Inc. 500 list in 2006.

How does he do it? By keeping things simple, leveraging relationships with other companies that he uses to build specialized virtual teams for specific contracts — and knowing which technologies are necessary for running his business, and which ones would just distract from his core business of cleaning up contaminated ground water and soil for corporate and governmental clients. Although he physically handles the testing and monitoring work personally, he pulls in contractors as needed to do the heavy lifting of actually cleaning up sites.

Much of his work is for companies that must obey environmental regulations — both from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as numerous state and local jurisdictions — and all that data is posted on the Web.

But because Fairchild is constantly away from his office, he needed mobility to have ubiquitous access to this information. For simplicity’s sake, he didn’t want to carry around different devices for different purposes. For that reason, he now leaves his laptop at home, and traded in his cell phone for an iPhone.

He creates, signs, and sends his contracts over the Internet, and uploads any documents — including complex technical specifications — as needed from either his iPhone or his office computer. “I keep everything electronic, so I never have to print anything out or file any papers,” Fairchild said.

Fairchild used to feel he had to hide the fact that he was a one-person enterprise working out of his home. “That’s why I kept my partner’s name on the company even after it was just me,” he said. Now, however, it doesn’t seem to matter. “There’s so many people doing this today that no one blinks,” he said.

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