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.

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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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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How to be a GREAT contractor or subcontractor

I may be a one-person business, but that doesn’t mean I’m alone. In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of being a one-person business is that I benefit from the cross-fertilization that comes from contracting and subcontracting with fellow infopreneurs. I subcontract out specialized work I can’t do myself, and I work as a subcontractor for a number of businesses that bring me in for my specialized skills. Over the years, I have learned a lot about what is involved in being a good contractor and subcontractor. Here are my rules for successful contracting and subcontracting.

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Getting to ‘Yes’

One of the most common traps I see new infopreneurs fall into – and I’ve done this myself, too! – is equating a prospect with an actual, paying client. We meet someone at a networking event or have a phone call with someone we met through social media. The person sounds interested in what we do, accepts our business card, and maybe even says “Yeah, we could have used someone like you that one time.” They may attend a webinar we give or download a white paper we wrote. We end the encounter confident that the person will be calling us shortly with an assignment, but then we never hear from them again.

In my experience, failure to convert interest into engagement is often caused by some combination of the following factors.
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Getting something from nothing

One of the things I often talk about with infopreneurs I’m coaching is the importance of knowing how to make something out of nothing. We may have thought the project we took on would be easy to handle, and it turns out the resources we thought we could use didn’t pan out. Or we thought there would be plenty of information on a topic and we find out that, nope, no one’s talking about it. In these cases, we have to be able to tell a story about what the lack of results tells us.

So, when a project results in far less than either my client or I had anticipated, I ask myself these questions:
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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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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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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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