The toughest thing about working for yourself is the lack of perspective. Three practices will keep you at the edge, learning and pushing forward.
A Singular Perspective
The biggest danger in working for yourself, particularly as a consultant, is talking to yourself. Without perspectives from others that self-talk can swing quickly from entrepreneurial delusion (Everything’s fantastic) to pessimistic catastrophe (Never Gonna Work). When you are absorbed in a single project or worse with nothing to do between projects, it is easy to lose connection to others and the perspective (& learning opportunities) that interaction provides.
In my experience, three practices can help you with much needed perspective. Put together, these practices not only help you to remain in touch with the commercial opportunities and needs of your clients, they also stretch you to find new opportunities for your business.
Always be Hustling. Write it down. Say it to yourself. Do it.
Some people don’t like the word hustle because it can connote the con and the swindle. What I like about the hustle is it demands street smarts and effort. The hustle isn’t passive. You have to be out building networks, connecting with new and existing people, finding their current problems and working to solve them.
The hustle reminds you that the solution you will deliver is the one that the client wants to buy, not the one you walked in to sell. The hustle keeps you open to new ideas, new opportunities and new solutions. The hustle takes creativity, innovation and nous.
The hustle is one more call, one more meeting and the right amount of never say die. The hustle treats ‘no’ as a signal to learn more and work harder. The hustle is the best antidote to both delusion and catastrophe. Whichever you are in, there is still need for the hustle.
Work Out Loud
Working out loud in your networks is a great way to build your business. Closed intellectual property atrophies. You can’t test the product fit or market fit of a secret.
Working out loud is not just sharing. Much of what I do, I share here. That has value to enable people to see my work and to judge my ability to contribute to solutions. I rarely get calls about what I blog. I get calls because I blog and people see my capabilities and think that they might help.
More valuable than sharing out loud are the situations when I actually work to solve my problems or client problems out loud with peers. Working out loud has developed my practice areas, reshaped my products, introduced me to collaborators and extended my networks to new clients. Working out loud on my solutions with trusted peers and referral partners has sharpened my efforts and ensured I am delivering what clients need. I have saved so much time and effort by avoiding reinventing the wheel and developing to a market need as a result.
The concept of flow developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes a state of optimal experience. In flow, you work as if time stands still and you have deep focus on the work at hand. It occurs when the rising challenge of our work matches to our rising ability. Flow comes when we push ourselves to work at the edge of our capabilities.
Some one once told me ‘If you don’t reach for the edge, you will never know where it is’. When your work depends on selling your expertise, there is a temptation to sit in the comfort zone. We are tempted to sell only what we are 110% capable of delivering. We sell what we sold yesterday.
Flow pushes you to use your client’s problem and your client’s constraints as an opportunity to do more, to do better and to learn. Pushing yourself to this edge gives you valuable feedback from the real world beyond your bubble.
We can all benefit in our work from stepping outside the bubble of our usual experience. The three practices of hustle, working out loud and flow help us build the capabilities and the information we need for success in our work.