You’re not the boss of me… until you are

Having been self-employed for 30 years, I have had lots of chances to talk with people about the benefits and drawbacks of being an infopreneur. One aspect that most people appreciate is that I’m my own boss — I set the rules and no one tells me what to do. It’s why I have never cultivated local clients; they have the entirely reasonable expectation that I’ll be available for in-person meetings, and I would rather not get dressed up and meet in person when a call could do just as well.

The secret, though, is that our clients *are* our bosses; it’s just that we have a more equal relationship than an employee would have. I’ve talked with a number of colleagues in the Association of Independent Information Professionals about their work hours and policies about what constitutes a “work day”. Their answers showed me how much we factor our clients’ needs into our schedules, whether they’re the boss of us or not.

Some infopreneurs keep a strict Monday-through-Friday, 9am-to-5pm schedule, just like more traditional employees. They like having the predictability of their schedule, they like having their weekends free, and they are often more available to respond to rush projects. Even those who work less than a 40-hour work week often prefer to keep regular office hours, to ensure they can also schedule time during the work week for their other commitments.

Other independent info pros prefer a more, er, fluid relationship between their work and the rest of their life. They appreciate the flexibility to take a weekday off to go on a hike, avoid the crowds at the art gallery, or get together with friends who also have flexible work schedules. Yes, that means they may be working in the evening or on the weekend, and they may not be able to respond immediately to a client’s call or email; they consider that a fair tradeoff for the freedom of scheduling work around their non-work activities.

So, while you may not be the boss of me, my choices will determine what kinds of clients I have as my sorta-kinda bosses.

The real power of word-of-mouth referral networks

As most solopreneurs learn, the most powerful and effective way to attract good clients is through a strong word-of-mouth referral network. Using techniques like marketing vignettes to help people describe us in the most effective way possible, we can connect with far more prospective clients than traditional advertising and marketing. Recently, Marcy Phelps (Marcy Phelps & Associates) and I were talking about the importance of word-of-mouth referrals and she reminded me that her word-of-mouth network is good for more than just getting new clients.

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Client Dating 101

How is a solopreneur like someone in search of his perfect mate? Well, they are both looking for contacts; they both need to present their best attributes to the “market”; and they both need to use a number of approaches to identify and connect with prospective, um, clients. Both want a long-term relationship, although the solopreneur isn’t asking for monogamy; she plans to cultivate a number of devoted clients rather than One Perfect Love.

So, what approaches should solopreneurs take in their search for the ideal client(s), similar to the tactics of the singles searching for love?

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Are you a flash in the pan or strategic?

If your value as a consultant lies in having an up-to-the-moment operational skill with today’s hot application, you will never remain an expert. Organizations will eventually hire or build internal expertise, and your advantage will be fleeting. You will always be chasing the next shiny object.

If, on the other hand, you are known for having strategic insights, for being focused on your client’s outcomes, and for being flexible and creative, your expertise will never become outdated. Your clients hire you for your wisdom, not your oh-so-current skill set.

There will always be other people who are familiar with bleeding-edge technology, but no one stays at the bleeding edge for long. When you’re known for your thinking skills, your value increases every year.

Meaningful Metrics: Measuring what matters

There are dueling aphorisms about business metrics:

“What gets measured matters”
“Not everything that can be counted counts”

As solopreneurs, we have to determine for ourselves how to measure the success of our efforts. Most of us know that a robust word-of-mouth referral network and consistent thought-leadership activities help keep new clients coming, but it can be difficult to measure the effectiveness of a wide range of marketing activities. And it’s tempting to measure what we do rather than what the outcome of that activity is. Having the right metrics means you are getting useful, relevant feedback as you are working toward a goal, so start with the outcome you want and work backward from there.

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Speaking for fun and profit

I recently spoke at an AIIP virtual event with Marydee Ojala on “Public Speaking For Introverts: From No Way to Speaking for Pay”. (AIIP members can watch the recording here.) The questions that we discussed got me thinking, so I’m taking this chance to expand a bit on my thoughts. And keep in mind that public speaking need not be in person, although it’s a lot more powerful that way; my answers below apply to virtual presentations as well.

What do you wish you knew when you first started speaking publicly? It took me several years to realize that it’s not about me… it’s about the audience and the event organizer. My goal is to give people a tangible skill or insight that they didn’t have before. If the audience feels that they learned something that they could put into practice immediately, then they’ll be happy they attended my talk and the event organizer will be happy that the participants are happy. And, remember that the ultimate client in a speaking engagement isn’t the audience—it’s the person putting on the event.Read More

How to attract and keep GREAT clients

I recently wrote a Coach’s Corner column for AIIP about how to manage difficult clients and, as I was writing it, I realized that I have had very few difficult clients over the last 25+ years in business. What’s my secret? I’m certainly not perfect, but here are the approaches that have helped me attract and keep so many clients I respect, admire and look forward to working with.

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The New Year’s resolutions your business wants you to make

One of the standard jokes of solopreneurs is “If you hear me talking to myself, don’t worry—I’m just holding a staff meeting.” While there’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of being a one-person operation, we sometimes get complacent in how we run our business. This year, I decided to give my business a voice in setting my New Year’s resolutions, as a way to think more expansively about what I need to add, drop or change in 2020. Here are a few of the pieces of advice my business is showing me:

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Help—I still don’t have any clients!

The solopreneurs I coach and mentor, especially those in their first year of business, often tell me how hard it is to figure out how to measure success, how to best spend their time, and how to turn interest into client engagements. While each business is different, a few pieces of advice apply in almost any B2B solopreneur.

First, make sure you know what your prospective clients need, value and will pay you well for. If you haven’t conducted at least a half dozen informational conversations, in which you were able to learn what your market needs and how your prospective clients talk about that need, then you need to invest the time and energy into these essential conversations. See my blog post Making Yourself Irreplaceable for lots more resources on how to conduct insightful informational conversations.

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