Turning the Corner

At a tweetup in NYC this week, I had the joy of talking to a fellow entrepreneur about how her business had finally turned the corner and begun to really take off. She and I had talked late last year and she was right on that borderline at the 3-year mark – “will this make it? Or do I need to get another job?” I knew she both needed and wanted to make it on her own.

Five years into my business adventure, I’ve been right on the edge of that bubble, too – more than once. Really wondering if this Impactiviti/Connection Agent business was going to fly. Now, as more and more business comes through the accumulated time and effort of network-building, it’s amazing to look at that corner – in the rear-view mirror!

My mission is to help entrepreneurs. And one of the biggest difficulties we all face is getting to, and around, that corner of steady work and profitability. Have you gotten there? Can you give hope to others by sharing your success, and perhaps a vital lesson or two you learned getting there? You could do so in the comments; but even better, perhaps – write it up on your blog, send me the link, and I’ll post it here.

It can be a lonely path. Let’s help kindle the hope and confidence of our fellow entrepreneurs, in the best way we can. There’s nothing better than a success story!

UPDATE: Here is a great video story from Carrie Wilkerson, The Barefoot Executive

Great perspective here from Anthony Iannarino, on the role of client acquisition in turning the corner.

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Believe

While talking about career transitions and social networking this week, one individual asked me (and here I’m paraphrasing) what was the one thing to do above all others in building an opportunity network.

The answer that came out surprised even me at first. It has nothing to do with tactics, or specific social platforms.

I said to Sara that you have to believe. You need a gut-level conviction that building a network is the most important professional endeavor you can undertake.

And I do believe that. I think I gave it lip service for much of my career, because networking equaled schmoozing in my mind, and frankly, I am not a schmoozer. But it was the early days of LinkedIn that opened my eyes to the potential power of networks – and the massive advantage of a hybrid approach marrying digital technology to personal relationships.

Each step along the way – blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – has grown that belief. But it has been getting past the pre-meeting stage which digital tools facilitate, and getting eye-to-eye, mind-to-mind, and heart-to-heart with people that has utterly convinced me. When friends are made, and opportunities opened up, and lives changed through these connections – well, it’s awfully hard not to believe.

You’ll read a thousand blog posts about the tactics, or the higher-level strategies, of using social networks. There’s a ton of noise about specific tools. I’m going to point you to the one thing that is foundational and drives the rest.

Believe. And if your faith is a little shaky right now, feel free to borrow some of mine. I have a lot of stories to tell – and so do a bunch of other people I can point you to.

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Burning Initiative

Glancing over at my Tweetdeck columns right now, I see the faces of many friends and professional colleagues. There’s an astonishing diversity in this group of digital networkers, but when I think about the common ground among those to whom I feel closest, there is definitely one thing each possesses.

Burning initiative.

Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Knowledge is easily obtained, and superficial appeal is a make-up kit and sound-bite away.

My people make things happen. They’re not into the status quo. They see what is, dream what ought to be, and take action.

I see, on my screen, Tom Martin, who is constantly pushing the marketing/social media envelope, and who works as a solopreneur and change agent. I see Lisa Petrilli, who could easily land a job in a big corporation, but who is pursuing her own, more revolutionary, vision. There’s Jason Falls, and there’s Jay Baer – two thinkers and doers who are not afraid to try out new things and push, over months and years, to make a difference.

I spot Dave deBronkart in my Twitter stream – ePatientDave who took the bull by the horns when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. My pharma co-conspirator Sally Church, who takes the arcane world of clinical research and brings it into the social world. And Geoff Livingston, who will puncture the balloon of just about any status quo, and continually seeks to do something about it.

I could go on and on, but the point is – no matter how smart you are, or what title you’ve been granted, 90% of the game is initiative. Preferably burning initiative, hot and steady, over the long haul.

It might be a thrill to be called a guru, or to be a best-selling author, or to put “award-winning” as your first name. Maybe none of that is so bad, but to be a catalyst, to be someone who makes the pie bigger for everyone, to be a change agent in a positive direction – isn’t that what matters most? Or am I just an idealistic dreamer?

We’ve all been called many names (only some of which can be reproduced on a public blog!). I mostly gravitate toward people with the title Catalyst, Initiator, or Revolutionary. If you’ve got the fire, let it burn and take some initiative!

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Introvert Networking: Start Here

My good friend and LeadershipChat co-host Lisa Petrilli has a valuable series going on her blog about Introverts Guide to Business and Leadership – she and I share a common bond over this topic since we are both professionals who seek to both leverage, and transcend, our native tendency toward introversion in our professional efforts.

Her post this morning (The Introvert’s Guide to Getting Noticed in Business) sparked a thought about how introverts can successfully build a deep and strong network.

Here’s your starting point: Make Your Own Rules. Specifically, use social networking tools and approaches to change the game to your favor.

You know the standard “rules” that come to mind when you see the word “networking,” right?

  • Walking into a crowded room and wondering how to fit in, and who to talk to…
  • Trying to join in to or strike up a conversation with people you’re not sure about…
  • Exchanging business cards without really knowing why…
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

There are crowded social parties, artificial networking meetings, noisy industry conventions; and you, as an introvert, look at each of these with some level of trepidation. Because the networking “rules” you’ve operated under – the outgoing are the winners, casual chatter is how bridges are built, the more contacts you make the better – none of that fits you. No wonder it doesn’t feel natural.

So – change the rules. Here’s how:

Use digital social networks to “pre-meet” people. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other networks give you the opportunity to build bridges and engage in one-on-one small talk without those crowded environments so that the beginnings of a relationship are already put in place. Then, find a format to meet that person one-on-one – either over coffee, or during a larger gathering.

How did an initial core group driving pharma social media – who have since, with many others, become great friends – find each other? Twitter and blogs, opening the door to live meetings and collaborations. —>

(hey, Brad, we’re overdue for lunch…)

Introverts tend to prefer a more intimate, in-depth, “safe” environment to get to know people. As Lisa states in her post, we prefer to go deep with a smaller number of people. Using social networks, you can meet new people, AND build deeper ongoing relationships, through the relatively safe and controlled environment of exchanged on-line messages. And, you can be far more targeted and strategic than walking into a big room and hoping you find someone with whom you have common ground.

Digital social networks allow you to find common ground right now, without uncomfortable events, and to start to build a relationship that can later blossom in an ongoing way. Everything you need to find the right people in a targeted way is available through these amazing digital platforms.

And here’s the not-so-secret secret – most people really want to have someone who knows them as an individual. People respond to the introvert way – deeper communication, one-on-one caring, thoughtful planning. Plus, if you take the time and trouble to “feed” the people in your network (something many introverts do quite naturally) with information and connections you discover – you’re golden.

The fact is – introverts have a tremendous advantage. Just toss out the old rules and make your own. Take it from me, the naturally-introverted Connection Agent. If you network your way, you win!

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Being a Guilt-Free Solopreneur

Sorry, Inc. Magazine, but I don’t feel at all bad about having no employees. Not. At. All.

From the above-linked article:

Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, said in a statement, “Far too many founders are choosing jobless entrepreneurship, preferring to remain self-employed or to avoid assuming the economic responsibility of hiring employees. This trend, if it continues, could have both short- and long-term impacts on economic growth and job creation.”

Why shouldn’t people avoid the economic “responsibility” of hiring employees when our governmental system of burdensome business bureaucracy provides every disincentive to do so?

It is my stalwart intention to remain a solopreneur. And here’s the point missed in the Inc. article – in these days of networked communications, it is so easy to automate certain tasks and outsource others, that often there is simply no NEED to hire employees.

On the other hand, my purpose in the role as Connection Agent is to facilitate MORE employment by MORE people who can become solopreneurs based on their best abilities, through the multiplying power of trusted referrals.

I don’t want to manage people. I want to help them succeed through organic networks.

We should welcome this development, and encourage guilt-free solopreneurship. Self-employment is a liberating trend, not an economic negative!

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Friends Matter

Totally overwhelmed.

That’s how I was feeling as last week went on. Big plans and dreams got even bigger after brainstorming at SOBCon. Moving current business forward while exploring new avenues of creating value. Upcoming conferences. Writing. Trying to get a house sold so we can move. Family logistics. And on, and on.

Then my friend Jane Chin stepped in. Not only did she respond to a private post with a very perceptive note, but she offered to be a sounding board on a phone call, taking a half hour out of her very busy life to focus on me and my needs. Jane is part of my “Inner Circle,” a group committed to helping each other out on every level.

She asked the right questions. Gave wise and practical advice. Set me straight. Helped return “overwhelming” to “manageable.”

We can use all kinds of fancy terms like “network graph” and “ecosystem” and “six degrees of separation,” etc., etc. There’s a certain small satisfaction to page views and followers and rankings.

But when the rubber meets the networking road, it’s friends that matter! (& thanks, Jane!)

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