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

 

When Your Market Says to Pivot

pivot roadI’m all for a well-thought-out go-to-market strategy. But I’ve often advised consultants and other small businesses to leave your directional map at about 80% – and let the market inform you about the remaining 20%.

Why? Because you WILL pivot, to some extent – and your customers will show you where and how.

A recent example from my experience – I’ve been doing Clarity Therapy sessions for a variety of individuals and companies for a couple of years now. Typically, these are one-day intensive sessions, with a few months of minor follow-up.

I did not, however, anticipate performing any kind of ongoing business coaching. I saw Clarity Therapy as an event, not a long-term process. Until clients starting asking for more. A lot more. And a wealth of helpful lessons from past experience began to come to the surface.

Turns out that being an outside voice giving perspective on overall business structure, specific creative offerings, client account management, and staffing (plus identifying resources via networking) is a much bigger need than I realized.

The most interesting revelation of all: how lonely it is to be a small business owner or solo consultant. I mean, I knew that, right? I AM one. But it didn’t really occur to me how important it is for us to have an outlet, a peer, a mentor, a friend – who can come alongside for the long-term and help get a business to a new level. There are short-term and one-shot needs, but clients are saying to also think about the deeper, longer haul. Bonus: that approach actually suits me quite well. I prefer those kind of business relationships.

Truth is, there’s a lot of stuff we just can’t say to customers, employees, colleagues, even family members. It’s frustrating, and the lack of a healthy outlet and fresh perspective clogs our mind and heart.

So, I now find myself offering business coaching for people and businesses seeking to grow and needing outside advice and encouragement. It’s not really a change of direction, just a natural extension that I didn’t anticipate.

How about you? How have your customers caused you to pivot? I’ve seen a number of my social media people evolve over time and it’s pretty fascinating. What’s your story?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

Intermediation Biz Opportunity: Curation

In this introductory post, I opened up the idea of potential business opportunities that exist by thinking of The New Intermediation.

Briefly, we need to see that there are huge needs at the intersection of loads of “stuff,” which need to be translated into strategic business directions and deliverables. Graphically pictured:

Intermediary1

Now, let’s consider one of those new intermediation roles: Curation.

In this case, the Big Pool is information. We live in an age of information overload (getting exponentially worse), and no-one in an important business role has the time to keep up with it; let alone know how to filter, process, and assemble it into a strategic roadmap.

Enter the curator. Filter, process, assemble, deliver/present.

IntermediationCurator

In the early days of social media and blogging, first-movers got into the curation business by assembling information resources and making money by advertising, or by selling subscriptions. Nowadays, there’s a ton of on-line noise (including information-assemblers), but there are still many opportunities to add value by curating targeted business information for an audience that needs it, and is willing to pay for it.

A curator may make money directly by selling the information, or, by selling some other valued service that becomes known because a free (or low-cost) curation service drives awareness and credibility. This latter approach is one I followed in establishing my pharmaceutical consulting practice.

In ancient times, Reader’s Digest was an example of curation. In more recent days, Marketing Profs is a great example of an on-line version. But this role can also be adopted by a solopreneur with deep domain knowledge and experience. If you know where to find things in the deep pool, AND you are aware of the related business intelligence needs, you can become a valued intermediary. Opportunity knocks!

What are some other examples of curation intermediaries (people or businesses) that you know of or rely on?

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?

5 Books for Business-Starters

I’m about to hand over a book to someone I’m coaching on his career direction. This made me think: if someone was considering starting their own business, what books would I recommend as “required reading” before taking the plunge?

Here’s a handful:

BooksPurple Cow, by Seth GodinDifferentiate, or don’t bother

Enchantment, by Guy Kawasaki - Develop yourself and your people skills above all

The Entrepreneur Equation, by Carol RothDelineate how your idea will actually turn into a successful business

Amazing Things Will Happen, by C.C. ChapmanDream and then do

The $100 Startup, by Chris GuillebeauDon’t wait: opportunity surrounds you.

Each of these books is practical, straightforward, and approachable. In combination, they provide an excellent mix of the idealism and realism that are both required for entrepreneurs.

>>Your turn – what would be on your recommended reading list for new entrepreneurs?

(note: links to book titles above are Amazon affiliate links – which means if you buy from Amazon through following this link, I might earn a few shekels!)

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

>> Cattle Disguised as People

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

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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:

>> Breaking Free of Powerpoint

>> Trend Currents in Social Media

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Twitter: @swoodruff | @ConnectionAgent

Leadership at 2 am

On LeadershipChat this week, we’re discussing the things that keep a leader up at night.

My lovely co-host, Lisa Petrilli, has written an excellent post that gives the corporate/executive angle: Four Priorities Keeping CEOs Up At Night. I urge you to read her thoughts as we prepare for the Tuesday night on-line discussion.

I’m a solopreneur, and generally sleep pretty well through the night (now that our kids are older!), but as someone who is seeking to lead in a different sphere than a corporate hierarchy, there are definitely things that can cause tossing and turning. Perhaps you can relate.

1. Focus – A person working on their own, or in a small business, seeking to lead him/herself, clients, and partners, must first and foremost learn how to keep their eyes on the ball. The great trap of those in a more entrepreneurial environment is often distraction rather than disruption. Interrupted sleep regularly involves trying to decide between three divergent paths, each seemingly legitimate – and without a very sharp and clear focus, the leader can ping-pong back and forth between options, unable to set a firm direction (shameless plug for one my services: that is why a Brand Therapy session, where you identify your professional DNA and direction, can be so critical).

2. Isolation – This is a major problem for leaders at every level. Without a supportive and wise group of peers and/or colleagues, leaders can lose plenty of shuteye carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, with no mechanism for gaining perspective. Fortunately, social networking allows people to find like-minded leaders and to create a web of support and wisdom that can prevent the turmoil of isolated leadership. A few choice words from a different angle can sometimes resolve a conundrum that has interrupted a week’s worth of sleep.

3. Weariness – Those leading new or small endeavors are constantly creating, constantly pushing forward, leading every moment – and this can wear down our resiliency and lead to to very restless nights. Sometimes, the relative structure of a corporate environment, where you’re pulling only some of the weight in a more defined area of responsibility, sounds quite appealing – and, indeed, for some, it may be the right option. But for those looking to break new ground, the unrelenting nature of the  yoke we have chosen to shoulder can wear us down. When everything seems to depend on you – that’s a lot of pressure! And I don’t have a good answer for this one. Still trying to find equilibrium here…(suggestions??)

So, what keeps you up at night? Tonight at 8 pm ET, let’s discuss! You’ll find the LeadershipChat community to be very warm and supportive, people who are wrestling through the same things you are, and coming together to support one another (see point 2 above).

And, to make your chat experience even more enjoyable, try out ChatTagged, a custom-made Twitter client for helping manage your on-line chat interactions!

(Image credit)

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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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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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Five in the New Year

ny-eve-nyIt’s 2009 (and a beautiful morning here in Boonton, NJ)! And, I’m convinced, it’s a year when many are going to seize the future, thumb their noses at all the bad economic news, and create new careers for themselves.

With that in mind, I thought I’d pull together the year’s first Five in the Morning post with a handful of my posts from 2008 encouraging the networking and entrepreneurial spirit. So….

Do you have an Opportunity Network? (from MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog) – The old corporate safety net is gone. But the new safety network, and the new opportunity network, is here for all of us to weave ourselves into. My faith has grown the longer I’ve participated, that “If we build it, (opportunity) will come”…

Personal Branding – What’s your value-add? (from MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog) – You don’t have a brand worth a nickel unless you are clear in what value you have to offer. That’s true of personal branding, corporate branding, political branding, and whatever other type of branding du jour we’d like to dream up…

You – Projected (from my StickyFigure blog) – My feeling is that if a concept is valid, we should be able to distill it down to a very few words that capture it well. So, with personal branding, here is my take. Two words. You – Projected

I’m Pursuing (Niche) Domination (from MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog)  - What is niche domination? It’s creating, or moving into, a market cavity narrow enough that you can become the big fish, and expansive (or expand-able) enough that you can make a living dominating it…

Be Prepared – Like, Right Now (from my Impactiviti pharma blog) – Your future is in your hands, and you need to be prepared to take the reins at any time. In fact, even if you are gainfully employed, you need to take the reins right now. Let me suggest one simple word for each of us…

But what were my most popular posts of 2008? The StickyFigure Spoofs, of course! And, to launch 2009, here is the latest (or earliest): Social Media Maven named new Head Coach of Detroit Lions.

BONUS – If you haven’t tuned into Rick Liebling‘s Smart People / Smart Ideas series, it’s a good one. Here’s the recap from 2008. You can follow Rick on Twitter @eyecube

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(Image credit)

My Value-Add

If you’ve subscribed to my blog(s), followed me on Twitter, met me in person, or all three, you’re probably…well, a very gracious and patient person! So who is this Steve Woodruff dude, anyway?

Being somewhat analytical, and having undergone decades of compulsive self-examination over the decades (including trying to understand my unique professional strengths), I’ve decided to try to narrow down my core strengths – my value-adds – to some key terms, as an adjunct to a post I’ve written for MarketingProfs Daily Fix.

So, for what it’s worth, here goes:

1. I am an aggregator. I am very curious, like to pull together lots of information, map out the big picture in my mind, and then put it together in some kind of sensible way. This can have strange manifestations – for instance, when I go to a shopping mall, I almost always walk through the entire thing. That is a weird thing, I know. But it can be useful too – see this Marketing Bloggers portal.

2. I am an opportunist. I always look for what is not there, and try to figure out how to make things better. I am wired not to be content, but always to look for improvement – a good trait for an entrepreneur, an occasionally problematic one for a husband and father!

3. I am a planner, a strategic thinker, a designer/builder. I don’t do random.

4. I like to help people, in my own way, which usually has more to do with figuring stuff out (consulting, counseling, branding, finding resources) than feeling-level stuff. I do wish I could take an empathy pill sometimes.

5. I’m a connector, which is somewhat bizarre considering my native introversion. Whatever – nothing makes me happier than helping people by connecting them with the right people/resources.

6. I’m a communicator. Best at writing and public speaking; still overcoming my awkwardness in large crowds and unstructured environments. My strongest gift in communications is clarity. However, I envy great storytellers and hope that that little muscle will grow with time.

7. I’m a curious learner and thinker. This blog (StickyFigure) explores branding, marketing, business, social media, and related themes. My Impactiviti blog covers pharmaceutical training, communications, and marketing (that’s my paying business). My personal blog (Steve’s Leaves) has various rants and ruminations about parenting, philosophy, politics, personal stuff, wine, and whatever else. And if there was time, there are lots of other areas I’d like to explore and share!

8. I’m loyal. Persistent. Stubborn. Principled. Call it what you will. I don’t believe leadership is shown by giving up or giving in.

To sum up – give me a fallow field, and say “It’s yours – create what you will and maximize it.” I don’t need a lot of help or guidelines. Just a chance to make something.

And, taking all those things together, I’ve created my own business – as a consultant/connector, helping pharmaceutical clients and vendor-partners find each other. I make money by creating win-win business connections – and I grow my business and brand by networking and by writing (blogging, newsletter, etc.) Seeing a market opportunity, I created the business model, and, by the grace and blessing of God, persisted to make it a success. After 20 years of working for others, it was time to build a business around me – my own personal/professional brand. And 2 1/2 years later, I couldn’t be happier.

What about you – what is your value-add? What are the key terms that define your personal and professional value to the world? Where can you maximize your success – within someone else’s business, or by creating your own?

(P.S. See how my friend and colleague Jane Chin identifies herself here with key terms)

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Turning Points: How I became a Consultant

It was on I-80 Eastbound. On the way home from a little father-son getaway with my fourth at the Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos. After a day of water-sliding, a professional epiphany at 60 miles per hour.

For 9 1/2 years, I’d worked with a small company doing sales/marketing/biz dev in the pharmaceutical training field. Enjoyed it, saw the company grow, but came to recognize that I had fundamentally different perspectives than the owner on many business approaches. Though we got along in a pretty transparent relationship, there was the constant sense that we were pulling in different directions.

Suddenly, driving home through the Poconos, it came to me. I wasn’t going to change. He wasn’t going to change. It was time to go our separate ways. If I was going to fulfill my professional desires and drives, and add maximum value, I had to “create it myself,” and not vainly hope that someone else would conform their business to my ideals, or custom-create the perfect position for me.

And what I had found I enjoyed most, over the years, was not selling. It was consulting. This, after almost 20 years in sales! But now, I was finally ready. I had the knowledge, the desire, the network, and ability to market. Gradually, a niche business consulting approach emerged in my thinking.

Giving what amounted to 7 months notice, we de-commissioned my role in the company, and after 10 years, I launched out as a consultant providing training strategy and expertise, as well as a unique vendor-client “matchmaking” service. I long believed that the best chance for business success is by defining, creating and occupying a unique space, and this was my chance.

The first year was hard. After 9 months, I began really questioning whether this thing was ever going to get “wheels up.” But then business steadily picked up, and now, I am dependent only on pleasing my clients, not on fulfilling someone else’s agenda. Wonderfully liberating.

How about you? Where was your professional “turning point” that started you on your course? Write it up on your blog and share the story!

(Image credit)

(this post was inspired by Director Tom (Tom Clifford), who did a Twitter post about writing up the 7 minutes that changed his life in the direction of becoming a filmmaker [once his post is up, I'll link to it]. Tom suggested a series called Turning Points – so, here we are! Readers are encouraged to write up their own, and I’ll link to any that participate!)

Here is CK’s take on her career…

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