When Stacy Berman was a 23-year-old trainer at a popular New York gym, she decided she wanted to have her own business.
She began taking her clients out into Central Park to exercise outdoors, combining her love of martial arts with effective body-weight workout moves, including burgees, chin-ups and press-ups.
The young woman continued seeing clients through the gym, but began building up her classes in parks across the city, until she reached the point that she could afford to quit her job, and then to hire freelancers to help her.
By 29, Stacy had made her first million.
The now-famous trainer now owns a second business, selling healthy and organic protein shakes. She is one of the hugely successful, solo entrepreneurs who inspired business guru Elaine Pofeldt's new book The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business.
The freelance journalist decided to write about the phenomenon after discovering that the number of single entrepreneurs and duos hitting seven figures in the US had risen by a third between 2011 and 2014.
Pofeldt wondered what the secret to building an "ultra-lean" success story was, and why so many solo entrepreneurs were now achieving exceptional results — with the golden million mark far exceeding the average one-person business return of $49,000.
"I posted about it and asked readers if they were in that category to write to me," she tells news.com.au. "I wrote a post about five of them three years ago, and it went viral."
The success stories covered all kinds of industries. "I had one who ran a babysitting business, a person with a spy-cam store, a fitness trainer with network of contractors," Pofeldt says. "I starting exploring phenomenon of what they were doing differently."
The answer, it seems, had much to do with the clever use of automation and outsourcing, which are more easily available than ever.
"They don't spend time on menial tasks," says Pofeldt, who has a bookkeeper and saves three hours a week with an app that arranges her calls. "For scheduling appointments, they use a scheduling app, instead of emailing back and forth 11 times.
"They look at their business systematically. They don't do everything themselves."
As "non-employer business" owners, these individuals don't have anyone on their payroll, but that doesn't mean they don't outsource — to freelancers, accountants and web designers.
This frees up their time to focus on what they do best. "They utilise time very wisely," Pofeldt says.
Many run e-commerce stores that use Amazon for fulfilment, such as Perfection Promo owner Harry Ein, who made $4 million from his garage selling promotional merchandise to companies.
"He outsources the back office jobs — invoices, paperwork," says Pofeldt, who has written about finance for Fortune, Forbes and CNBC's website. "He goes out and does the selling."
She said "most of these ideas are not new", but has noticed that most people don't outsource even though they know they should.
That's why Pofeldt decided to collect up "powerful examples" that show how effective such changes can be. "They can show us all how to run a business better so we manage our time better and are not in a scramble," she says.
"A lot of freelancers are in a precarious financial situation — and they don't need to be."
The entrepreneurs she met had all sorts of education levels, from several degrees down to not completing high school. What they had in common was "thinking smarter about business".
She says it took different lengths of time to reach the first million, too. Camille and Ben Arneberg, who created Amazon store Willow and Everett, got there in one year. Others were 10-year overnight success stories. "I don't think it really matters as long as it's sustainable," Pofeldt says. "The majority are somewhere in the middle, they take three or four years."
And despite the stories we hear of people working day in and day out without pay, it isn't just about working harder, she adds.
"Often in the first year or two, there's a season of imbalance where you are working harder," she said. "I didn't find anyone doing The 4-hour work week. But what they did differently is they put systems in place so they didn't have to keep doing that."
She cites the example of Colin and Angie Raja, who made their first million and quit their corporate jobs from selling boxing equipment for women.
"They not only automated everything but documented the processes so they could hand them off to a freelancer.," Pofeldt says.
"Most people don't document how they do things. I realised how important that was. If it doesn't work out with one freelancer, you don't have to explain everything all over again.
"That doesn't mean you don't talk to them, it just makes it a little simpler.
"That sounds boring maybe, but it gives them a lot of freedom. Now, they're taking lot of time away from the business, stepping back and thinking about strategy."
Pofeldt advocates making time on a regular basis to look at what you're doing and plan for the future. "Budget time every week for strategy — time on the business, not in the business," she says. "Once you're in the rhythm, it's really helpful.
"You can get caught up in non-profitable projects ... you only made $200 — 'Was that the client I should have been spending time with?' Sometimes answer is yes.
"Get a trusted friend or adviser to talk about the business. Businesses are very unique, mine isn't same as another freelance writer. It's not cookie-cutter, ask them for advice.
"You could have them interview you about processes. Are they efficient? Are you doing your accounting in Excel or using Quickbooks, Freshbooks or Xero? They can help pinpoint things you might not be doing.
"It's also important to get out and meet other entrepreneurs. It can be hard to justify the time but it pays off."
So how do you get started? Pofeldt recommends going for it as soon as you can, rather than waiting too long trying to find capital to start.
"Get confidence by executing your vision," she says, "It's exciting when you sell something. That first sale, all entrepreneurs remember it.
"There are different ways to do things — with e-commerce, you can use stock shipping, you don't have to pay for shipping until you've got orders."
She advises putting in some of your own cash, even if it's just a little of your regular pay cheque each month. It shows investors that you are excited about your company, and helps them to feel inspired too.
"If you're inventing a product, there might be a longer runway, but you can build confidence by setting little milestones," Pofeldt says. "Call the product designers; next week, have a prototype.
"A lot of businesses start with very little money, especially service businesses. A lot of the time, all you need is a laptop and phone."
That was certainly true for Stacy, who says one of the best tips she can offer is simply to "get out and do it".
"I just started and if I waited 'til I raised X amount of capital and had a financial plan, investor deck, marketing deck, I probably wouldn't be where I am today," she tells news.com.au.
"Even if you fail at the first endeavour, or first 10, you always learn very valuable information you can use the next time.
"When you start out small doing it, you typically make your biggest mistakes then, when you have a small audience. You grow as the idea and knowledge grows."
Stacy says that, while a cliche, being passionate will keep you going. She also believes outsourcing was key factors, with her freelance PR team getting her national press early on that saw her membership double overnight.
"One thing I would highly recommend, once you get to a certain point in growth, is find people who can fill the weaknesses, the spaces in.
"As the sole owner, the things I'm good at, I'll take. The things I'm not good at, I prefer to contract out.
"I got out there and did it. I learnt on the way."