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

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