- How long have you had your own business?
- Is it hard do to?
- What qualities do I need?
The first question is the easiest to answer. In my case, it’s 25+ years.
As to the difficulty of starting a business, well, this requires a long answer, which I will cover in the book I’m writing. Today, for some reason, I’ve been dwelling on the latter question: What qualities does someone need to be a successful independent? Here’s the list I came up with:
Passionate about a niche
I don’t think you can succeed as a wishy-washy generalist. “Hey, I’m a writer and I can write anything.” “If you’re a member of the human race, you’re my ideal consulting client.” No.
The people I know who’ve established a niche – especially a niche they’re passionate about – seem to be the happiest and the busiest. They're doing work they love and they’ve built a successful brand that people know and remember.
When you’re passionate about a topic, you’re naturally more likely to keep up to date, to connect with others in your field, and to share knowledge with clients, prospects and colleagues. Bonus: If you’re smart about publishing great content in your niche, clients will find you.
Not afraid of their own voice
This doesn’t mean that the successful independent must be a great speaker (although this can help). What I mean is that you can’t be afraid of your own ideas. People are more likely, in my opinion, to hire someone who speaks with conviction and behaves confidently, but not arrogantly.
Especially in the early years, owning an independent business can be challenging. You have to establish your niche, find clients, keep those clients happy, and always be on the lookout for new business. It’s too easy to fold up and go home. But here’s the thing: Successful people don’t give up so easily.
If you’re someone who often mutters, “Well, with my luck, it will probably rain for the picnic…” you might not be a candidate for the independent life. In my experience, the glass-half-full types who hang out with other glass-half-full types are more likely to reach the peak of their profession.
Along a related line, a recent Harvard Business Review article by my friend Kare Christine Anderson makes a brilliant point: What captures your attention controls your life. In other words, “consciously changing what you pay attention to can rewire your brain from a negative orientation to a positive one.” So if you want to be a successful independent, think like one. (Just like the advice to think like a thin person if you want to lose weight.)
Years ago I knew someone who was successful as a typesetter, but was not able to adapt to changing technology when his craft became as obsolete as the buggy whip. If you’re over 40, please resist the urge to say things like: “In my day, we did it this way.”
A few months ago I heard a woman (younger than I) utter: “Well, I’ll leave that social media stuff to the kids.” How many opportunities did she kiss goodbye with that close-minded statement? Plenty.
Sure, I loved what I could do with my first fax machine, but today we’re light years from 1990. Adapt or die.
I know there are other keys to indie success. Which top traits would you add to this list?
Related content: The June 2012 issue of CW Bulletin, published by IABC, features several articles on strategies for independent communicators.