Thursday, November 15, 2012

Do business success tips work?

When you run a small business, there is no lack of chirpy articles on how to succeed. But do they work? Just for fun, I decided to take one of them (from a recent Forbes Magazine series, linked here) and hold it up against my own 15 years of successful self-employment.

It's actually not a bad article, and the author has great credentials. But your mileage may vary. So let's compare its "seven habits of highly effective freelancers" with my reality:

1. Start early
I am a serious night owl, and always have been. Sure, I'll get up at 6 AM sometimes - in fact, regularly - to deliver a kick-butt keynote speech or workshop somewhere. But people should work at their peak times, and mine is decidedly late evening.

Besides, late hours have their advantages. Tomorrow I have a teleconference with a new client in Germany - at 2 AM. Next week I stay up late again to do a webinar for Australia during their daytime. Like a chain convenience store, I'm always open.

2. Always be pitching
I don't know about you, but people who are always pitching annoy the crap out of me. My own clients seem to like the fact that I never, ever try to snocker them into giving me more work, and I strongly suspect that "pitching" them would drive more than a few away.

So how do I get business? Above all, through word-of-mouth from other satisfied clients. And through marketing, which is not the same as pitching. I publish books, write articles, give talks and webinars, and generally pester no one.

3. Create your space
There is a perfectly good desk somewhere under my piles of paperwork. But I know exactly where everything is, and I can't see where this has hurt my income any.

4. Diversify yourself
OK, this one I do agree with. Most successful self-employed people I know do multiple things for a living. And I think it's cool being a writer/speaker/psychotherapist/whatever-else-I-feel-like-today. Being a "mutt" with diverse interests is one of the hidden keys to success.

5. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
Better known as "talking yourself out of projects with fixed budgets." Google Phil Jackson this week - who reportedly lost the chance to coach the Lakers again after making a series of demands, despite being the best coach in recorded history - and see what being a tough negotiator gets you.

I'll give the author this much: gently exploring options or pricing is OK in my book, and I do it too. But quote-unquote negotiators are generally a pain in the ass. I've seen people lose jobs, consulting gigs, and friendships because they focus too much on negotiating and not enough on taking the gig.

6. Mingling, baby
Touching base with friends, colleagues, and clients sounds great. But this tip talks about how you should "wade into the  revenue stream every day." Does this mean you are pitching again? If so, go back and re-read my comments on tip #2.

7. Get a life
I didn't realize mine was missing in the first place. Enjoying what I do for a living is a big part of that.

So what is my formula for business success? Um, apparently stay up late, wait for customers to come to me, have a messy desk, and do very little negotiation. I can see why Forbes probably won't come calling on me for an article anytime soon. But seriously, here's my success tip: Do what you love. Be really good at it. And live a life that fits who you are. Then all the other stuff will fall into place.

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