Doing what we don’t wanna do

From both my own experience and that of people I coach, one of the biggest challenges for solopreneurs is keeping ourselves motivated and focused on doing the important things, even if they’re not the things we want to do.

When I hear myself saying “I know I should do such-and-such, but …”, I stop and ask myself what is keeping me from doing that thing. As a one-person business, I don’t have a boss to hold me accountable and the consequences of non-action aren’t as immediately painful as doing something that’s way outside my comfort zone. Here are a few of the things that help me move from “I know I should” to “I did it!”

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Simplify, simplify, simplify

One of the biggest challenges of a good info pro or researcher is to know when to say when. If we have five hours to spend on a project, we want to spend the entire time gathering information, evaluating it, seeing what’s missing, gathering some more, looking for more missing parts… you get the picture. Then, when our time’s up, we pull all the information together, slap on a cover letter explaining all the approaches we took and why we’re including what we have, and then proudly send it along to our client.

This, of course, does a huge disservice to most clients. If they wanted information overload, they could Google it themselves. Clients ask an info pro or researcher to help answer a question because they have confidence we can not just find the best information given the time frame (and budget, if applicable) but distill it down to something that enables the client to take an action, finish a project, complete a presentation, or otherwise move on to the next step in their work.

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What does a “value-added deliverable” look like?

Infopreneurs know that their value lies not just in what information they find but what they do with the information before they send their deliverable to their client. We often talk about the need to create value-added deliverables, but what exactly does that mean? Isn’t everything you do added value, just because it took your skills and expertise to find the information?

Actually, value-adding is more than “merely” finding the information. It means transforming it into something more. One metric I use to evaluate a deliverable:

  • If most of what my client reads is my own writing, I’ve provided added value.
  • If most of what my client reads is others’ writing, I’m providing little value.

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Seven Traits of Thought Leaders

It’s always more effective for a solopreneur to attract clients rather than chase after them. Cold calls and cold emails are usually unwanted, most likely not immediately relevant to the recipient, and often filtered as spam. Building a reputation as a respected expert in your field, on the other hand, can be an efficient way to attract clients who need, value and will pay you for your services. Following are seven traits that successful thought leaders develop.

Be curious. Read news sources that cover trends in your industry and reflect on what impacts new developments will have. Attend conferences; the conversations and serendipitous meetings enhance your credibility and expand your horizons.
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Are you really hearing your client?

Quick—think about the last time you interacted with a client. It probably felt pretty straightforward. Your client tells you what they need, you talk about any details, and the conversation is done. I recently had an experience that reminded me that every client interaction comes with layers upon layers of assumptions that we often miss.

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Where will AI show up next?

Ever since I posted in LinkedIn about the impact of artificial intelligence on the information profession, I’ve started seeing AI everywhere. And, as predicted, it’s not taking over our jobs – it’s automating something we didn’t realize we could automate. AI in Google Mail is already sorting the spam from our inbox and suggesting content as we compose messages. I’ve noticed this as I started using the Google Messages app, and it’s definitely strange. Here are three recent text conversations and Google Message’s prompts:

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Outcome-oriented taglines

As I was driving the other day, I passed a panel truck for Panorama, a local company that handles landscaping and maintenance services. Their tagline?

Enjoy life! We’ll manage the details

Like my favorite tagline from The Cleaning Fairies, We give you your weekends back, and Old Dominion Freight Line’s Helping the world keep promises, it focuses on why their clients would use them, not what they do or how they do it. Landscaping, housecleaning and trucking are three service professions that can be seen as commodities, just as many solopreneurs can feel like they are competing with the cheapest alternative on the web. By focusing on their commitment to their customers’ outcomes, they’re able to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

400 hours to profitability

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, advocated the principle that it takes 10,000 hours of what he called “deliberate practice” to become an expert in your field, whether it’s programming, performing music, or playing basketball. Subsequent studies have called his premise into question and, in any event, not all of us aspire to become the next Bill Gates, Yo-Yo Ma, or Michael Jordan of our field.

However, I believe that a version of this metric applies to infopreneurs, both those just starting their business and those who are pivoting to a new market or providing a new service. Based on hundreds of conversations I’ve had with fellow infopreneurs, I believe that it takes 400 hours of work to get a business to its first paying client or its first client in a new field.

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Procrastination: last best moment or stubborn toddler?

Procrastination has so many negative connotations; it’s often seen as an indicator of a lack of self-control or inability to manage your time. As someone who <ahem> does some of her best work under deadline, I have learned to distinguish between strategic procrastination—what I call finding the last best moment to address something— and simple avoidance of something I just don’t want to do, when my inner two-year-old wants to stomp her feet and say “you’re not the boss of me!”

Here are the clues I look for when a deadline looms and I’m still not working on the project.

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Constantly reinventing ourselves

Having seen Hidden Figures and read the book it was based on, I can’t stop thinking about Dorothy Vaughan, one of the African-American “computers” (mostly female mathematicians skilled in complex calculations) at NASA. When she was faced with the prospect of being replaced by a newly installed IBM computer, she taught herself and her staff how to program in FORTRAN. Rather than bemoan this disruptive technology, she gained the skills she needed and made her whole team more valuable to NASA.

While most of us aren’t responsible for getting astronauts into space and back home safely, solopreneurs also have to adjust when something new and unexpected enters the picture.  If we don’t, we may sit up one day and realize that we don’t have the kind of schedule that lets us enjoy our family, or we never seem to have enough money, or our usual clients just aren’t sending us as much work as they used to.

These situations usually arise because we are no longer aligned with what our clients most need, value and will pay for… we are focusing on the HOW of what we do rather than the WHY.  Here are some prompts to help you start thinking differently about yourself and your business.

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