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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Bus-proofing your business… because stuff happens

No one likes to think about worst-case scenarios; we all imagine that we will live an accident-free life and our business will run smoothly until we retire. However, just as we buy insurance while hoping we never need it, we should look at our business operations and imagine what would happen if we suddenly became incapacitated by injury or illness or if you got hit by the proverbial bus. Who would notify your clients, pay your bills, and put your business on pause? Does that person know who your clients are or how to log into your email account?

In addition to estate planning, we solopreneurs need to plan for the unlikely situation in which someone who isn’t familiar with our needs to step into our shoes. The following are thoughts on how to write up instructions for where a family member, trusted friend or colleague could find everything needed to put your business on pause or, in the worst case, close it down for you.

Fill out this checklist (click here for an unannotated version) and give a copy to two people who might be called upon to help in an emergency, keeping in mind that a trusted colleague or good friend may be more familiar with your business – and the issues of a solopreneur in general – than a family member.

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The Public Speaker’s Secret Weapon

Eyes Behind Red Curtains On Wood StageAlthough I’m pretty comfortable speaking in front of a crowd now, I wasn’t born that way. In fact, I remember being absolutely terrified for at least the first few dozen presentations I gave. I managed to get the terror under control but it took many years before I discovered the secret weapon that has completely turned around my experience speaking in public.

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Killing the Task Monsters

I’m a great list-maker. I have to-do lists everywhere; they have been compiled carefully, organized strategically, color coded and tagged. But when it comes to actually getting all those listed things done, it’s another matter. Some I can get done right away, and virtuously check that item as DONE. Others I look at, think “ugh, that’s going to take time”, and skip over, day after day. Pretty soon, they become big ugly Task Monsters, glaring at me reproachfully, daring me to take them on.

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Stability vs. steady income

aesopAs a child, I read Aesop’s Fables avidly; I like getting my life lessons from animals rather than humans, I suppose. One fable that caught my attention way back then was The Dog and The Wolf, the TL;DR version of which is a well-fed dog offered to help a scrawny wolf get regular food from his master. The wolf listened but noticed a bald spot on the dog’s neck where the collar sat. Goodbye, said the wolf. There is nothing worth so much as liberty.

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Handling scope creep

Scope creep, the phrase that strikes fear in the heart of every consultant…

We have all had that experience, where we carefully plan out every aspect of a project, estimating the necessary time and resources and even adding in a safety margin, only to have our client ask for “just a little more” work or “just this little addition” to our deliverable halfway through the project. All of a sudden the expected work load has doubled, for no additional income.

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What I learned at summer camp

group of happy kids roasting marshmallows on campfireI just got back from my annual trip to solopreneur summer camp, otherwise known as the AIIP Annual Conference. I always come away inspired and challenged, ready to try out new ideas and approaches.

This year’s conference focused on pivoting as a strategic approach—something that we solopreneurs do continually as we adjust to our clients’ changing needs and pain points. We were lucky enough to have Jenny Blake, author of Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, as our keynote speaker and Anne Caputo as the Roger Summit Award speaker. Their talks sparked rich hallway and mealtime conversations about how we can remain nimble and responsive while staying grounded to what our clients value the most. Here are some of the insights I brought home with me.
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“Busy” is a four-letter word

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a nice column by Elizabeth Bernstein on the use of “I’m busy” as a point of pride. (It’s behind the paywall at wsj.com/articles/youre-not-busy-youre-just-rude-1489354275. Seriously, consider a subscription; it’s a great newspaper. You may not always agree with the editorial page, but the reporting is high quality and neutral. These days, we need to support real journalists.)

According to Bernstein, studies have found that “busier people are perceived as having a high status. ‘We place a high value on hard work and rewarding effort, which is really rewarding activity and not necessarily achievement,’ says Woody Woodward […] Bernstein encourages us to stop using “busy” as a positive description but, instead, to focus on what specifically is eating up our time—and, just as importantly, to own our free time as rightfully ours.

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