Solopreneur Isolation Syndrome

{Note: I am now blogging at my brand-spanking-new site, SteveWoodruff.com. Just click here to subscribe to the new feed. Bonus - you can also sign up at the same time for my astonishingly brief  yet brilliant e-newsletter, Clarity Blend (see sample), and when you sign up, you’ll get a free download of my helpful new e-book, Make Yourself Clear: Six Steps to De-fogging Your Direction and Your Message.}

I was speaking with a fellow consultant earlier this month, and the subject wandered over to one of the difficulties of being a solopreneur/small business owner.

AloneIsolation. Ever feel alone out there, hacking your way through the weeds? Yeah – join the club.

Now, neither of us would go back to working for others, and we’ve freely chosen the paths we’ve taken. So this is not a lament. It’s just a fact of life. It can get pretty lonely out there when you’re not part of a (localized, physically present) team.

As a solopreneur, I love my alone time, and I also get energized by meetings with clients and partners. I enjoy the intellectual and social stimulation of the occasional conference. I remain in active contact with many colleagues and friends via social networks.

But, I think the issue is more than just physical isolation. From what I see, it’s the continuous weight of having everything on your shoulders – alone.

It’s. All. Up. To. You. 

In a larger company, you can fulfill a certain role while others fulfill theirs. There is concentration and distribution of effort. Shared effort, shared resources, shared direction; and lots of things get done without you driving them or even knowing about them.

For the solopreneur, it’s all up to you. Apart from some things you can outsource, this plane goes nowhere unless you are the pilot, flight attendant, baggage handler, fueler, ticket agent, and air traffic controller. Every day. All day. That gets wearisome. And sometimes, you feel so overwhelmed that you just want to crawl under the covers and take a nap – right?

“Hmmm…I think the dog needs another walk.” “I wonder what’s new on Facebook?” “Time for another Starbucks run!” It may look like a form of escape, and…well, truth be told, it often is. Because building a business in isolation is a heavy load.

And for the small business owner who has some employees but often has no peers to talk to, there is a similar kind of loneliness – plus all the dynamics of supporting and driving a team (one reason why I plan to remain solo!) As I talk to a growing number of folks in that category, my eyes have opened to the need for coaching and peer support. We each carry a lot of weight that family, friends, employees, and clients often cannot understand.

And then there’s the paperwork. Don’t get me started on that topic! (by the way, you might want to check out what MBO Partners has to offer on that front).

I really wonder  how many promising businesses we lose to isolation burnout.

So, what’s the solution?

I’m not sure there’s a single solution, but the starting point is this: just as cash flow is vital to your ongoing success, so is (peer) relational flow. Whether you find your support network locally, virtually, or by a combination of the two, make it a priority to de-isolate. Independence is a good thing, but cultivating a level of interdependence may be the key to remaining sane. We all need fuel, and we all need to fuel others. Periodic breakfasts with people like Brian Moran; regular lunches with some of my pharma clients/partners; brainstorming meetings with Joe Cascio; Skype sessions with far-flung people in my network – these are all ways that help keep me energized. Doing the work I love fulfills me – but in the downtimes, in the business development efforts, in the reversals – it can get discouraging.

But maybe there’s something else that we can get better at doing. Let’s look at our twitter-streams, and see the many connections that we know are solo – maybe we need to more purposefully reach out and ask folks how they’re doing. How they’re REALLY doing. We tend to assume that everyone else is doing just great – but if you’re ready to throw in the towel today because of loneliness and isolation, then it’s a safe bet that 5 other people you know are just trying to keep up a brave front (while crumbling inside), too.

I’m happy to be a solopreneur. I love the freedom to chart my own course. But let’s not be in denial – there can be a downside as well.

So – how are you doing? Really doing? Let’s keep each other company on the journey!

photo credit: Brian Auer via photopin cc

 

The One Indispensable Ingredient for Success

Initiative.

Show me a person with limited abilities and experience, but the willingness and drive to take prolonged action, and I’ll show you an eventual success.

On the other hand, show me someone with immense talent, stellar education, and little initiative, and I’ll show you a coulda-been.

Initiative is the great un-equalizer.

Initiative isn’t the only thing you need. But without it, you’re adrift.

Make it happen.

One Great Idea

small_4728884645All you need is one great idea.

Well, maybe that’s not ALL you need. You need to be able to execute on that idea. And, you need a network of resources and supporters to help you along the way.

But, if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, it starts with a great idea. A way to meet an unaddressed need. A product nobody’s produced yet. A role as a new intermediary.

And you don’t have to be a fountain of dozens of business ideas. You just need one.

An idea + courage + a great network is a wonderful formula for success.

What’s your idea?

photo credit: diegodiazphotography via photopin cc

The New Intermediation in Publishing

This week, I attended the O’Reilly Media Tools of Change for Publishing conference in NYC (well, specifically, the Author [R]evolution Day on Tuesday). It was well-attended and the buzz was palpable.

Clearly, the industry is being thoroughly disrupted by technology. Publishing is undergoing rapid disintermediation, AND rapid new intermediation. <—(click to tweet this)

ARday tweets

Self-publishing, and assisted publishing without the help of traditional publishers, is flourishing, and we’re in the anarchy phase of it – a ferment of new ideas, platforms, and approaches, with old standards and procedures falling by the wayside while new rules are being written on the fly. It’s exhilarating and confusing.

As a relative outsider to the industry, but someone who is committed this year to pursuing long-form (book) writing, I came to the conference to see what the various options are. What I came away with was a resounding reinforcement of my message about the new intermediation.

In an introductory post on the topic I opened up the idea of the many potential business opportunities that exist by thinking about The New Intermediation. My Ugly Graphic below depicts how this works:

Intermediary1

In a second post, we discussed the opportunity of Curation (filtering and delivering information) in the networked world; and then we also glanced at another manifestation of the new intermediation: Matchmaking. Those are general opportunities; now let’s turn to see how this is working in the specific sector of authoring and publishing. Instead of being forced to take the traditional route of the legacy gatekeepers (publishing houses), there is a flourishing new set of alternatives evolving:

  • Assisted, rapid self-publishing: SlimBooks has an interesting approach to this.
  • A la carte, author-controlled selection of services and revenue-sharing: The crew at NetMinds (including the dynamic Tim Sanders) is doing a fabulous job pioneering this approach.
  • Re-defining the role of the agent into a publishing sherpa: We heard a great talk by Jason Ashlock on this subject. He even used the term “radical intermediator”!
  • Iterative, progressive writing: I really like what Peter Armstrong and the Lean Pub team has come up with, and am strongly considering using this platform (I am a big fan of iterative thought development).
  • Crowdfunding emerging authors: some have used the Kickstarter platform for this, but Pubslush is a focused platform for authors.
  • On-line story sharing: Wattpad gets 14 million visitors every month.
  • Analytics that authors can tap: Bookigee, led by Kristen McLean, is breaking new ground.

So, let’s take the drawing above and adapt it for one instance –  an author looking into alternative ways to get a book to market:

Intermediary Publishing

(the above is not an either-or intermediary approach – could easily be both-and). I’m sure you can see other examples – for instance, intermediaries between authors and Big Data (Bookigee); between readers and authors (Wattpad), etc.

Amazon has been the classic case study of a disintermediating technology/business force, but many others are evolving. These are exciting days, with loads of new opportunities for both authors and new intermediaries. What other entrepreneurial services can you envision that would serve this community? And what tools/platforms/approaches do you recommend for others to consider?

Additional resources:

O’Reilly Media’s Best of Tools of Change collection of articles (free download)

NetMinds’ article on Choosing Between Traditional and Alternative Publishing

Guy Kawasaki’s new book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book (Amazon affiliate link)

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Recently on Connection Agent blog:

De-fogging Your Business (or Career)

Claim Your Market[place]

The Business Opportunities of The New Intermediation

{Note: I am now blogging at my brand-spanking-new site, SteveWoodruff.com. Just click here to subscribe to the new feed. Bonus - you can also sign up at the same time for my astonishingly brief  yet brilliant e-newsletter, Clarity Blend (see sample), and when you sign up, you’ll get a free download of my helpful new e-book, Make Yourself Clear: Six Steps to De-fogging Your Direction and Your Message.}

I’ve been consulting with a company that has a tremendous opportunity to grow through the differentiation of its offering. They stand between a huge pool of unstructured “stuff,” and a business need to make that stuff intuitively useful (even beautiful). This type of creativity is a rare gift.

Many companies and people have lost work due to the internet-driven trend of disintermediation (the removal of no-longer necessary “layers” in the business chain – think about what Amazon has done to entire swaths of the publishing/book-selling business). But there are whole new business models on the other side of that coin – people and companies who can step in between two parties/needs and provide value.

These are The New Intermediaries. And, for an entrepreneur, this is a model ripe with opportunity.

A new intermediary provides value by creatively translating “stuff” into strategic business value. <<–(click to tweet this)

For example – the client I described above specializes in creating intuitive visual design. Now, if you can look into a vast sea of poorly-structured information and create an information design presentation that advances business goals, you have added tremendous value as a specialized intermediary. How many of us have experienced corporate on-boarding that was slipshod and poorly structured/designed?

This business problem needs a specialized intermediary (apologies, in advance, for the Ugly Graphic!):

IntermediaryDesign

The above is one particular expression of a generalized New Intermediation structure, which we can generically portray this way:

Intermediary1

The new intermediary has enough of a foot into the big pool to understand the possibilities and extract the core value (think of an experienced digital marketer who can talk to programming geeks), but also has a foot in the strategic business world and can see the market application (that same marketer discussing potential applications with the CMO). This intermediary is a filter and a translator and an interpreter between two worlds.

What is an on-line curator of information? Exactly – a new intermediary. The internet (and social media) has created an explosion of “stuff,” but also there are tremendous opportunities that come with the enhanced ability to build and cultivate networks. Social networking can be a mechanism to enable business intermediation.

In fact, I launched my Impactiviti business 6+ years ago based on this concept, though I wasn’t really thinking so much about the generalized potential of the model. I create partnerships with the best outsource vendors for training and marketing development (out of a vast pool of providers), and then I “matchmake” my pharma clients with the optimal providers – helping clients more efficiently choose vendors, while helping vendors more efficiently gain targeted business opportunities.

IntermediaryImpactiviti

A major enabler of this business model, from the get-go, was digital technology for networking and communication.

The intermediary has to have solid domain expertise and a trusted reputation to be effective. Bingo – only the top people and companies can do this. And, hey, isn’t that what we want – business growth opportunities for those who have earned differentiation through competence and trust? When I do Clarity Therapy with professionals looking to gain a clear direction for their future, it’s surprising how often we quickly identify a potential opportunity involving new intermediation.

I’ve scribbled down some other applications of this model somewhere in this vast pool that is my desk – I’ll dig it up this week and post a few other suggested ways people can carve out this role for themselves. I’m thinking that a lot of people in their 30′s, 40′s, and 50′s who have built up a strong base of knowledge and credibility can find themselves a nice niche as new intermediaries and role their own. What do you think?

In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

I don’t remember who said it to me first, many years ago, but the advice has always stuck with me:

Not all business is good business.

What does this mean? Simply this: there is business you can take on that will likely hurt, not help you.

We are all tempted to take on certain clients and projects because of one overriding factor: Revenue. I’d like to suggest that you make each of those decisions based on a different factor: Purpose.

Here are examples of business that may NOT be good business:

  • Taking on a project with a client who is hard-nosed, and/or cheap, and/or indecisive. There is such a thing as a bad client. Avoid – let some less wise competitor suffer.
  • Taking on a project that has very poor definition, and in which you cannot seem to get more information. This will become a moving target of scope creep that will frustrate you for months on end – guaranteed.
  • Taking on a project that is a good bit out of your sweet spot, with an existing client. Don’t endanger the relationship with a high-risk-of-failure attempt to keep all the client’s dollars to yourself. Short-term gain often equals long-term loss.
  • Taking on a project or client that moves your company and its resources into a direction that you really don’t need to pursue. Rabbit trails waylay any kind of focused growth and dilute your message.
  • Taking on a project or client despite warning bells of good judgment and conscience. Don’t let dollars delude you into ignoring your better instincts.
  • Trying to compete in an area where you are just one of many potential suppliers, and your offering cannot rise above a commodity level. Find a more narrow niche that you can dominate.

Over and over again, as I’ve counseled small business owners and consultants, I’ve heard the tales of woe that result from pursuing or taking on not-good business. The best way to avoid this trap: have a clearly-defined purpose and highly-focused offering (including the clients you wish to pursue) so that you have a solid basis on which to say no. Otherwise, you’ll dilute your efforts by chasing (ultimately) unprofitable revenue. And that’s a game at which nobody can win.

What would you add to the list? Put your lessons in the comments!

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Do you need a clearer purpose and message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Following Your Passion: A Story

>> Using Words to Say Nothing

(alt) Leadership

For years, I’ve promoted the notion that there have to be better business structures than the status quo of traditional corporation. I don’t have a problem with capitalism or corporations per se – there has historically been a lot of value in those approaches and structures.

But note the key word there: historically.

Everything we see around us – every product, system, and approach – was designed for a past need. Does this mean we need to embrace all of these things for our present and our future? No. I don’t accept that.

I believe in high-quality, focused collaborative human networks as a superior way to unleash individual talent, find needed resources, refer targeted business, and grow professionals without the unnecessary superstructure of a hierarchical corporation (I call this approach the “co-operation”). I don’t just believe in it; in my business, I practice it.

Others are creating new alternatives, including this extremely interesting employee-ownership approach by John Lewis Partnership in the UK.

So, instead of a single-source view of leadership that involves scarcity, competition, and climbing a hierarchical ladder, we need to consider new approaches to business that will involve new (alt) leadership styles. What will they be?

That will be the subject of our discussion this coming Tuesday (April 24) during #LeadershipChat, 8 pm ET on Twitter. It is important that we not only question legacy approaches to leadership, but as Lisa Petrilli does here in her post, begin to prime the next generation with the tools to move forward based on new assumptions. See you on Tuesday night for The Fastest Hour on the Internet!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Leaders and their Flagrant Fouls

>> How to Gain Influence – the hard way

The En-visioners

Two books that I’ve read lately have renewed my appreciation for an amazing gift possessed by a relatively few number of people.

Of all the abilities we might see in our children and colleagues and friends, this one, if present, ought to be steadfastly fanned into flame.

Steve Jobs (I highly recommend his biography) had it. He could en-vision how things could/should/will be. He had a grasp of ideals, overlaid on the current reality, and the indisputable gift of “seeing” a solution to move from point A to point B.

He was a dreamer-doer.

The amazing geniuses who created our earliest computers (new book: Turing’s Cathedral. Very techie, and very interesting!) understood, conceptually, how such a machine would work. There were massive calculation challenges facing them – many brought on by the need to win a war – and the most remarkable thing for me, reading the account of their efforts, was how firmly they envisioned what the computer would do – and how it would work – before the technology parts and pieces were available. They foresaw it, planned it, invented it – took their vision and theories in hand and brought it to life.

This gift does not require an IQ of 222 (though that certainly won’t hurt!). It’s a way of seeing, and a compulsion to “make it so.”

The en-visioners are our world changers. They may not fit easily into our school-factories, because they are driven by creativity, not conformity. And they don’t just invent objects – we need to encourage our young en-visioneers to create business models, networks, social structures, charitable approaches. We need to give them permission – no, encouragement – to step outside of the status quo. The next Apple, Avon, or Amazon will be the result.

Who are some of the en-visioners you see that are in the process of changing the world? List them in the comments. And, more importantly – who are the 8- and 12- and 15- and 20-year old’s who are right now seeing the future? Let’s nurture these kids and set them loose to make a better and richer future for everyone!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> We Do This (and this, and this, and this…)

>> Fearing Obsolescence? Four Questions for your Future

Fearing Obsolescence? Four Questions for Your Future

I was sitting by the outdoor fireplace last night, talking with a long-time friend (who is about my age) regarding his desires to start something new. Like many of us who have worked for others over many years, he’s looking ahead and wondering if there isn’t something he should be building for himself.

He was also facing the dilemma that more seasoned professionals often face as they pass the mid-point of their career and start looking at the late-stage: will my skills become obsolete? Am I expendable? If this current position is eliminated, can I be marketable? These questions can be particularly acute if you’re in the ever-evolving technology field.

He had passion about one very different direction, but during our discussion, it was quite difficult to see a business model there. It was too big a side step, without much established expertise, and it would require changing long-standing business models that would prove extremely resistant. There are things that we often really WANT to do (I have several), but for which there is just not an evident business model. And it’s different looking at that challenge in your fifties, than it is when you’re 24.

So we settled on a few questions, which actually began to tease out a pretty promising direction:

  1. What is core expertise have you deeply developed over the last (20+) years?
  2. What can you do that a young hot-shot just starting out can’t do, with their lesser experience level?
  3. What skills do you possess that transcend a given technology, platform, or market sector?
  4. What existing pain will business money-spenders gladly pay to get rid of (and you know how to solve that problem)?

He mentioned something he was quite good at – a problem that, with his experience bridging both the technology side and the end user/business side, he could solve for just about any company. An “evergreen” problem that would require a smart consultant to solve, irrespective of the particular platforms in use. Suddenly, an experienced professional who was worried about obsolescence began to look like a really smart guy who could help solve a thorny problem that exists everywhere. Not by trying to do something brand new. But by identifying a “hidden” skill that is absolutely not a commodity.

If you’re thinking of being a later-stage-in-life entrepreneur, it’s tempting sometimes to look far afield and make some huge leap into uncharted waters. But the fact is, the channels you’ve been successfully navigating for years probably have the best possible opportunities awaiting you. There are people with lots of money to spend who need a smart, experienced resource to come in and fix problems that a twenty-something can’t possibly understand. Obsolescence? – pfffffft. You may be perfectly suited to take a big leap forward – on the same trails that you know far better than anyone else.

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How the Exit Door Can Improve Results

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Role Your Own

Manager. Associate Director. Senior Director. Vice President. The business world is full of titles, all nicely arranged for you in various hierarchies.

All waiting for you – compelling you – to fit in.

Architect. Engineer. Doctor. Writer. Teacher. Pre-packaged job descriptions, with pre-ordained responsibilities.

Pick one. That becomes your identity.

The legacy business world waits for you, with already-defined boxes and labels and roles. The structures are all there, if you want to sell your soul to fit into someone else’s plan for your life. Just step right up, into the machine.

Or, you can call a timeout. Who says this is your destiny? Do you HAVE to run someone else’s race? Can you define your own role?

Yes, you can.

We often operate under the false assumption that the work world, as historically understood, and as presented to us, is some immutable and fixed rule. Nobody consulted you when all these structures were built. And it’s likely they won’t ask for your input to change them. Organizations exist for themselves and their own goals, not for yours.

It may well be that, for a time, as your skills develop and your business acumen grows, you will find your career path inside a pre-existing organization with its titles and hierarchies and roles. I certainly did, and most of us do. But after a while, you realize that you’re a cog in a machine. If your work is to be built around you, then only one person can make that happen.

You.

Here’s the first step: stand back and question what you see. Realize that every organization, every role, was created and defined for some past need. It may not be appropriate for present (let alone future) needs, and it may not be designed to fulfill you and maximize your effectiveness.

Disengage your mind from every assumed work structure around you and say, “Maybe this or that is good. Or maybe it’s not. For me.”

Don’t start with the past. Don’t start with someone else’s present boxes. All of those assumed structures, titles, hierarchies, definitions, career tracks – they didn’t come from you, did they? They weren’t expressly designed for you, were they?

Start with your own declaration of independence. I’m going to role my own. Even if I have to work in someone else’s company for a season, I’m going to design my professional career around me, what I believe, and what I have to offer. Whatever that means.

Now the adventure can begin…!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Is Your Sky Blue?

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Is Your Sky Blue?

Why is the Dilbert comic strip so popular? One reason is because there seems to be a thousand kill switches on awesome in workplace (go ahead, click on the link. I’ll wait…).

It’s very likely that you have some major awesome locked up in your mind and heart and character and abilities – and, if you’re like most people in the workforce, it’s being inhibited more than expressed.

That, and the general economic instability, has forced many more people to look at traditional work within traditional organizations and ask, “Why am I doing this?”

Why, indeed! I came to that crossroads almost 6 years ago and decided to venture out on my dream of creating a business built around my awesome. Which is being the Connection Agent.

When I sit down in counselor mode with other entrepreneurs, small business leaders, or people in the midst of career change, I pretty quickly turn the conversation to my 2 “blue sky” questions. Because they reveal what is really going on in the DNA of the person, regardless of past titles and roles.

“What have you done that made you feel like you were right in your sweet spot?” and, “If you could do absolutely anything for a career, that lined up with your abilities and desires, what would it be?”

Often, there is a long pause – as if we struggle with permission to answer such questions! We’re not supposed to be able to pursue our ideals, right? That’s for the 0.001%. The rest of us need to just settle for what we get and make the best of it.

That’s a crock, people.

You gaze at the blue sky because it’s your mirror. And once you have a clear idea of who you really are and where you want to go, that’s when you make the most important decision of your professional life – to take control and begin moving in that direction. Your direction.

Not having a blue sky in front of you is like driving your car with no destination. The best GPS system in the world can’t get you to a non-existent end point.

Much of my work is with the pharmaceutical industry, where layoffs have been relentless for the past handful of years. While it’s painful to see, I am also convinced that a massive amount of undeveloped talent is being unleashed. I talk to a lot of these folks, and when the corporate shackles begin to fall away, a new freedom arises – the permission to dream. The end point is allowed to shift from the next rung of the corporate ladder, to something much more important.

I’m no naive idealist – I know that it can take years to turn blue sky visions into reality (I’ll tell you my story sometime). But here’s the memo – no-one else is going to do it for you. You can work for someone else’s agenda, or you can pursue your own direction – that direction where you can make your unique contribution to the world. It may be inside a company, it maybe building your own company, it may be on your own – the barriers to entry have never been lower and the tools for business-building have never been greater.

There’s a reason I go to conferences like SOBCon and, this year, Blissdom*. The people that organize these events are blue-sky dreamers and practical builders, who attract other like-minded souls into supportive communities. Entrepreneurs – doers – good people – gather, and blue sky together, and make things happen. If you want to map out your own future, you need to be around others who will inspire and support you along the way.

*(I’m just hoping I can survive the hormonal imbalance at Blissdom – the XY chromosome delegates will apparently be vastly outnumbered!)

Hope to see you soon – maybe with a cup of coffee and a blue sky overhead!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Are You Having A Nice Conflict?

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Search My World with Google – so what?

So, Google has now introduced a new feature in search, whereby you not only search the public web, but can view results from your Google+ network.

Good on ‘em. I hope they keep experimenting, keep evolving. Some stuff Google has tried has failed; other approaches have taken off. Google’s DNA has this feature: no status quo. Push forward.

This new feature  will stick if it provides long-term value. If not, they can just turn it off (and you do have a show/hide switch to toggle if you wish).

People may be tempted to moan that Google is monkeying with their main “search” brand by introducing personal results. But Google isn’t primarily a search engine anymore. They’re an information, aggregation, communication, and experimentation company.

Keep pushing the envelope, Google.

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Not All Business is Good Business

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Be Your Own Boss, Barefoot-style!

For quite some time, I’ve interacted with Carrie Wilkerson (The Barefoot Executive) on-line, and it’s our privilege to welcome Carrie this week as a guest host on LeadershipChat (did you know that LeadershipChat is now on Facebook? <—Join us there to extend the conversation!).

Carrie has recently released a book called, not surprisingly, The Barefoot Executive (Amazon link), and it’s a winner. Of course, part of the reason I loved this book so much is that we’re both on the same wavelength, desiring to see more people find professional fulfillment by starting a business and becoming their own boss.

Another thing that I appreciate about this book is its straightforward simplicity. The chapters are brief, to the point, and include practical examples (plus transcripts of video lessons that are also available on-line). Carrie has a cheerleader personality, and her encouragement shines through in the book, but there is also a very realistic, step-by-step approach being advocated. Nice combination.

My video review of The Barefoot Executive is below:

Carrie has plenty to share with us on Tuesday night, January 10 (8 pm ET) – just hop onto Twitter and follow the #LeadershipChat hashtag (hint: it’s easier when you use a chat client like Tweetchat.com). Join me,  my lovely and talented co-host Lisa Petrilli, and a whole host of smart and engaging people as we discuss the topic of Being Your Own Boss. Look forward to seeing you then!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Not All Business is Good Business

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Business Love

Who ever created the dividing love between the business and the personal?

I get it, of course – the two realms aren’t the same – but I’m not sure we can completely maintain hard and fast distinctions on every level.

Because in our families, our communities, our companies, and everywhere else in the world, we’re rubbing shoulders with…people.

If people in the business realm exist to be used – if they are a means to profitable ends – then, of course, we can limit our caring. And, let’s face it – we work and do business to make money. When I network and present and consult and write and connect others, long-term and short-term business goals and strategies are woven throughout all of it. I’m not in the least embarrassed to admit it. Ultimately, whatever else I may earn in the business realm, I have to earn revenue primarily.

Or, to put it another way, it’s not about the Klout – it’s about the Ka-ching.

But this other, more personal drive keeps weaving itself in, dis-allowing me to treat people as business objects. And I see this drive in many others as well. When we interact face-to-face, there is a caring that goes beyond some anticipated short-term revenue gain.

It’s that pesky, inconvenient, hard-to-suppress, human, real, and amazing thing called love. You know – caring about others on a personal level that goes beyond today’s subscriber numbers and tomorrow’s paycheck.

I’m not talking about the whirl of romantic emotions or the carnal pleasure-seeking of one-night stands, or mere emotional sentimentalism. Love is an instinct to care about others – never fully pure, of course, but there nonetheless. Something we’re taught to suppress in that realm called “work”.

In the midst of our transition from a nation of farms and smaller businesses to the depersonalized landscape of huge companies where people are cogs in a great machine, we have tended to lose the connection of love and business. We’ve drawn a line between the realms, perhaps because it is so easy to be hurt in the world where getting ahead and winning are Job 1.

But now we are re-entering an era of entrepreneurship, where, as Mike Henry, Sr. put it in a phone call yesterday with Lisa Petrilli and me, we each have a factory on our desks. And lo and behold, love seems to be sneaking back into business.

Because we are what we always were – people. Maybe the machine robbed us of something important in our work. Maybe some of this dehumanization was a defense mechanism that we can and should outgrow.

Maybe – just maybe – love and business can be woven together.

I don’t fully understand how it all works, but I’m determined to explore it. Who’s with me?

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Business Identity Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

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Rejoice in Inefficiency!

…if you’re an entrepreneur, that is. Because therein lies opportunity.

During a brand therapy breakfast today with a friend (who is between jobs), we talked about the particulars of his marketplace, and why the current  sales process was so prone to failure.

Huge and growing client need. Available (tech) solutions that can only get better. And a sales success rate that is appalling. It all adds up to gross inefficiency – and amazing opportunity if he can come up with a way to bridge the gap.

Millions of dollars are sitting there for the person who can crack that nut. And no-one on either the client or the provider side can likely catalyze this particular change. The problem needs a creative entrepreneur. Not to create a new product. But to re-imagine the process into a win-win.

This guy knows enough from both client and provider perspective – and has enough industry contacts – that he could potentially pull something off. How about you, in your industry?

Yes, we live in a time when jobs are being lost. But I guarantee you that whatever industry you are involved with is rife with inefficiencies. And 99.5% of the people will only moan about them, without the imagination and initiative to find a creative solution.

Inefficiency = Opportunity.

The 0.5% who rejoice in inefficiency have the chance to win. Be in that group!

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Know Your Verbs!

As a professional, here is the view I like. —>

A fallow field.

If it’s already built, if the framework is designed and the system is in place, I don’t belong.

I need to create new things. I used to wonder about serial entrepreneurs, before recognizing that, in fact, I am one. Ooops.

Others would never flourish in the face of the unstructured environment that excites me. And that’s fine, because we need people across the entire range of skills, from pure creativity to repetitive tasks, and everything in between.

That’s why you need to know your verbs. What are those actions that describe you at your peak of effectiveness?

For me: Analyze, Envision, Create, Connect, Communicate. Operational stuff? – ugh. Number-crunching? – umm, no. Toll-taking? – kill me now.

I want to look at what isn’t, and figure out how to create something new. Give me the fallow field.

Now, I’ve done plenty of work in the past that was outside of my ideal verb zone. And I highly value those with a whole different suite of verbs than mine – if we were all like me, there’d always be something new – and nothing else would get done!

So, what are your verbs? Can you narrow it down to, say, 3-5? Feel free to share them in the comments. Those verbs may well provide the clue to your future professional path!

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Announcing the Connection Agency

With a talented close-knit group of trusted collaborators, I’ve been working on something behind the scenes called the Connection Agency. We’re just now emerging out of stealth mode. But before I say more about the CA, I want to point to a very crucial part of the “why?” formula.

The boom of networked communications has opened up an amazing array of opportunities for individuals who are knowledgeable, connected, and trusted. Welcome to the new intermediation.

We talk often about how on-line networks are bringing about radical disintermediation (removal of the “middleman” – think about what Amazon is doing to the publishing and book-selling world). But what we need to see is that new intermediaries are needed, particular when it comes to knowledge curation, resource-finding, and person-connecting. eHarmony provides an example of how technology can intermediate to make matches more efficiently.

When I started my Impactiviti business 5 years ago, it was actually a “trust agent” business model – even before that term was coined by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. I “matchmake” my pharma/healthcare clients with personally selected, trusted and excellent outsource suppliers; and I work on a referral fee basis with those partners. It’s an intermediation business built on trust, reputation, knowledge, and new efficiencies (in fact, this week, I met with 2 high-caliber individuals for brand therapy sessions and encouraged them to adopt a form of that model in their respective spheres).

And here’s a wonderful little secret: there’s not much competition. We become so used to the inefficiencies, dishonesty, and incompetence baked in to our current work models, that few see what an astonishing opportunity awaits a network connector who can create and grow a new ecosystem, with character and virtue and proven capability at the center.

But the business need exists in ALL sectors, not just pharma/healthcare. So we’re evolving a model of an organic network of trust agents who will refer their trusted clients and suppliers across the network to “matchmake” needs – while splitting referral fees. The Connection Agency is a way to help entrepreneurs who work by old-fashioned, trusted handshake values to multiply value through the power of social networks and the universal need for trust-referrals.

The CA is a work in progress. It is, by design, a slow-grow evolution with a very long-term goal – a transformation of how business can get done when the purpose-built network is the heart of the business, not some add-on. We’re figuring it out as we go along and you won’t see a lot of noise about this network, because we’re focused on a high-quality, high-trust, high-touch business that, by design, is very selective.

Will the CA succeed? My current business experience as a solopreneur says, Yes! Scaling it to a network of people is a huge challenge, but I  think we can do it. And I/we will value your support, your input, your recommendations, your referrals – this is, fundamentally, a team effort. The adventure begins…!

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Let’s Kill Some Giants

I recently had the opportunity to read through Stephen Denny‘s new book (pre-release copy), Killing Giants, which takes up the theme of effectively designing your business and marketing to take on the “big boys” in your marketplace.

Stephen is an experienced marketer who spent over 20 years working with major brands before launching out on his own. I ran into him several years ago on Twitter and have always enjoyed his thoughts. He has been a regular contributor to LeadershipChat and he will be talking about his ideas on leadership with us this week (see below).

This book’s a keeper. And not only because I am a fellow entrepreneur and status-quo rattler, but also because the format of the book makes it easy to digest. See ordering information for Killing Giants at the bottom of this post. In the meantime, here’s my video review:

Stephen will be our guest this week on LeadershipChat, where we will discuss Leadership and Decision-Making (Tuesday, March 29, 8 pm ET, #LeadershipChat on Twitter). Please be sure to read the preparatory post written by my talented co-host, Lisa Petrilli (To Kill a Giant: Leading David against Goliath)

Want to know more about those 10 Strategies? I thought so. Here’s a sneak peek at the Table of Contents:

Order Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry wherever you buy books:

In the US: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BAM! | Borders | Indi Bound | 800 CEO READ

In the UK: Amazon | Waterstones

In Australia: QBD | Emporium Books | Angus & Robertson | Big W Entertainment | Boomerang Books | Booktopia

In New Zealand: Mighty Ape

In South Africa: Loot

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The Pace of Success

All of my marketing instincts perpetually whisper in my ear – “go wide, go loud, build big!” Create an audience. Reach as many as fast as you can.

Yet everything I’ve learned whispers in the other ear – “go deep, go slow, build quality!” Create a tribe. Build a vision and a direction that will reach plenty of people over time.

I’m slowly learning to decrease the volume on the first, and listen more closely to the second. Remind me if I forget. Subduing old instincts that are constantly reinforced by our marketplace is not so easy!

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Book Review: The New Small

I’ve been reading through Phil Simon‘s latest book, The New Small, and it’s a keeper.

There’s a revolution going on in small businesses these days, and it is being enabled by low-cost, high impact new technologies (note: I have built my business on the approaches Phil outlines, so this is not just theory!). Phil outlines the Five Enablers in this volume, and gives a series of case studies showing how progressive and nimble businesses have employed things like cloud computing and social networks to advance their goals quickly.

Here is my video review of The New Small:

Learn more about Phil, and The New Small, here at his website (www.philsimonsystems.com). I met the guy for lunch, where he handed me the book – he’s a high-energy, engaging, likable fellow with some important perspectives.

For two weeks, I struggled to identify the stylistic difficulty I was having with the book. I’d read a chapter, put it down feeling a bit overloaded, stymied at every attempt to put into words why that was so. Concept, message, author – liked them all. Content – solid. Finally, it came to me – the book felt overstuffed, like a suitcase that had 30% too many items of clothing in it (ever done that?). It was packed very tight, and didn’t have an easy flow for this reader. This is purely an editing and writing style issue – and, it may be more of a personal reflection than anything else (plus, I’d rather get a book that had too much to say than too little!)

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Book Review: The Entrepreneur Equation

I have had the privilege of reading through Carol Roth’s about-to-be-released book, chock full of very valuable advice for anyone thinking about starting a new business. The Entrepreneur Equation is a must-read if you’re looking at becoming an entrepreneur.

My video review is below. This is a no-nonsense, highly practical reality check from a gal who knows her stuff. Highly recommended.

It’s also quite well-written, and funny. Because that’s who Carol is. You can pre-order your copy here.

(btw, I am a huge advocate of taking ideas and distilling them down to their core essence – yes, I’m a bit OCD about that. One of the coolest items in this book is the “Cheat Sheet” section in the back, where Carol gives a 1-3 sentence summary of each chapter. You can only do that when there is clarity and cohesion of thought…good job, Carol!)

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My Declaration of Independence

I’ve been blogging for over 4 years now, and have been increasingly active in many branches of social networking – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, video-blogging, etc., etc. (although, without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect has been meeting people and developing long-standing relationships and collaborations).

However, as with any new venture, especially one where the rules are being written on the fly, it’s very easy to fall into two very common patterns:

  1. Follow the leader(s)
  2. Go big

I’m not making a blanket condemnation of either of these practices – those instincts aren’t all bad. I fully “get” emulating those who are skilled and successful, and as a marketing guy, I appreciate scale. But it can become bondage over time. To the point where you don’t follow your own instincts, your own vision.

That’s why, as we kick off 2011, I’m declaring my independence.

No, I really don’t care about maximizing my RSS subscribers and Twitter followers. No, I really don’t intend to make sure I have a singular blogging/writing focus. No, I actually don’t want a massive audience that will create inordinate demands on time and attention. And, no, I don’t care to align myself with social media “influencer camps” of either popularizers or detractors.

I’m going to do what I’m meant to do – to live out my identity as the Connection Agent.

I’m bending everything to my main goal, my primary mission – to create the highest quality network of honest, competent, pay-it-forward people who want to change the way business gets done. Who are ready to build, together, an organic tribe of folks ready and able to bring back an environment where a handshake and a recommendation are the foundations of business – and, who are fully invested in creating a platform of cooperation/collaboration that will outclass and outperform the legacy structures of corporations.

Where social networking is a means, to a far more important end.

That vision has grown continuously in my mind and heart, and I’ve made a successful test case of it in the pharma/healthcare space over the years since I started my company Impactiviti. But it’s always been my intent to take the model and expand outward, and help provide a format whereby talented entrepreneurs and people with unfulfilled talents can create their own businesses without the inefficiency and compromises that throttle so many who should be succeeding wildly.

Yes, I will remain very active in social media. I might even once in a while write an SEO-friendly headline like The Top Ten Reasons Why Twitter and Facebook Are Like Mashable Beets. But, overboard with all the standard Guidelines to SM Success. There’s something far more important to build.

And I – we – are going to build it.

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You’re in a Museum

Look around you – what do you see? The businesses, the tools, the structures, the systems, the products, the solutions….we see all this and we think, “this is what is.”

But, in fact, what is exists because of what was. All of these things were created to address past problems, prior issues, old needs.

You’re in a museum.

In fact, when you look turn and gaze at all that surrounds you, what you see is not some fixed series of boundaries set in stone – not unless you let it be so. What you see are the best attempts to deal with the past.

Of course, many structures are put in place to address enduring needs, and cannot be cast overboard entirely as so much ballast. But even those often need improvement or adjustment.

You don’t have to fit into other people’s corporate structures, expected roles, and hand-me-down expectations. You may choose to, for a season – but why decide to set down your roots within those walls when you can invest in present and future needs?

Yes, it’s comfortable to conform to a niche that was built by someone else, for some other reason, at some other time.

But museums are dusty places that seek to preserve the past. Here are several questions – think of them as new contact lenses – to get you thinking in different directions:

    1. What is actually not working?
    2. What is missing and should be created?
    3. How could this be better?
    5. What do I want to leave behind as a legacy?
    6. How can ideal become real?
    7. What would I REALLY want to make happen if there were no limits?
    8. Why? And, while we’re at it – why not?

In other words – question the status quo. You don’t exist to support it, and certainly your purpose isn’t merely to perpetuate it. Learn from the past, keep what is sound – but beyond the front door of the museum is where your creative juices will flow. Relics are inside. Opportunities are outside.

Things are the way they are for a reason, but some of those reasons are bad, some are in need of adjustment, and some are well past their expiration date. Just because you grew up with video rental stores on every other street corner, doesn’t mean you should be buying into a franchise peddling VCR tapes.

It’s much scarier fun plowing in new fields, and much more rewarding making the pie bigger!

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The _____ and the Restless

I like restless people.

By that, I don’t mean people who can’t settle down, concentrate, and get things done. That may call for ADHD medication, or at the very least, some maturation in self-discipline!

What I mean is that I am attracted to folks who ask questions. Who don’t assume the status quo. Who not only think different, and see different, but want to make things different. And can’t abide waiting around for others.

You may be younger, older, male, female, black, white, liberal, conservative, rich, poor – the key thing is, are you restless? If so, you can’t sit still. You are purpose-full. You prefer to brainstorm new realities than whine about current limitations.

Add focus and drive and smarts to restless, and such people get things done.

Restless people succeed (well, usually!). Restless people start restless companies that succeed. Restless people look at a nine-inch diameter pie and say, “Why can’t this be twice as big a pie and a bunch more people share it, and then make their own pies?” Restless people build movements. And they do so with other restless folks.

I’m more restless than I’ve ever been. How about you?

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Roll your own Future

I enjoyed reading Geoff Livingston‘s blog post today, Confessions of a Start-up Junky. One of the things I admire about Geoff, which shines through in this post, is that he is aware of who he is (and is not), and tries to design his business environment according to his strengths.

Very smart. This is a lesson best learned young.

For close to 20 years, one of my primary functions was Sales. I succeeded, but steadily came to one important conclusion…I’m not a salesman. In fact, I was speaking just recently to a pharma professional considering the possibility of taking an entrepreneurial direction, instead of staying within a big pharma company. I asked this person what percentage of his/her day was actually spend doing something truly productive. The wide-eyed silent response spoke volumes.

One piece of advice I’d give to any professional still developing his/her professional identity – Read the book Discover Your Strengths (it won’t hurt to read its precursor, First Break all the Rules). Take the StrengthsFinder on-line assessment or a similar tool to help you identify your true strong suits. Sit down for a couple hours and do a total blue sky exercise (What would I REALLY love to do if there were no barriers)? Sit down with a trusted friend/adviser and bounce ideas around. Gain as clear an idea as you can of where you truly excel, and where you’d like to take that.

Then work toward it. You may well be in a “mis-match” of a role or company. Fine – learn and grow all you can, build your opportunity network, and craft a future that will maximize YOU.

You might not be a start-up junky like Geoff, or a company builder/author like Deirdre Breakenridge, or a pastor/social media chaplain like Jon Swanson. But if you’re only operating at 25% capacity, then you’re robbing the world of your talents.

Take the challenge to shape your own professional future. As Geoff puts it in his post, “I always love winning when I’ve been told it’s unlikely or impossible. When I receive resistance from naysayers, it only fuels me. To me, success comes from personal commitment to achieving a goal as opposed to what other people tell me I should be or can achieve.” Exactly!

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