When I was laid off by the Chicago Tribune five and a half years ago, I lost my desk and my byline, but also the community of smart, curious and generally wacky people who had surrounded me in one way or another for more than three decades.
Not just surrounded me. But supported me, encouraged me. Gave me answers to knotty questions that came up. Opened doors for me to new avenues of thought, new perspectives on the world. Told me stories, listened to my stories.
And gave me the feeling that, no matter what I was doing for Mother Tribune, I wasn’t alone.
That’s the message at the core of Sue Reardon’s Rocka Million: A Manifesto for the Gutsy Micropreneur.
As you might guess from Sue’s last name, she’s a relative, my sister-in-law. But, regardless of family ties, hers is a book with great advice for anyone who is freelancing, consulting and/or attempting to get a one-person business off the ground.
I wish it had been written five and a half years ago. I certainly would have looked into finding the sort of coworking space — and coworking community — that Sue writes about.
“Turn to a fellow coworker”
Sue, who has opened her own coworking space in LaGrange called Suite Spotte (suitespotte.com), writes about the benefits of sharing an office with other freelancers and micropreneurs:
If you find yourself stuck on where to go next on a project or not sure if the direction you’re taking makes sense, turn to a fellow coworker to get an opinion or brainstorm an idea.
Debating the virtues of the latest Apple product, tech startup, or industry merger with a fellow coworker broadens your perspective. Not an easy thing to accomplish when yours is the only opinion you usually hear.
Sue notes that, according to Alex Hillman, the co-founder of a successful coworking site in Philadelphia, a good coworking space is “like a gym membership for your brain.” You’re surrounded by people who share your values, interests and goals.
It’s also good — from the standpoint of how you’re perceived and how you perceive yourself — for a solo act to work out of an office rather than from from a kitchen table or a coffee shop corner:
People perceive your business as bigger and more “real” when you work from a professional office…Imagine pitching your proposal to your clients in a real conference room with a smart board and video conferencing capability, rather than the 2×2 table in the southeast corner of the café shared with the crying baby and the blaring Grateful Dead ringtone.
In addition, working out of an office means that, when you leave work, you leave work. You don’t just walk out of one room in your home and into another.
A million dollars in annual revenue
Sue has written Rocka Million for people who want their one-person business to be more than a job. Which is to say, people who want to take the risks and reap the rewards of an entrepreneur.
Ten percent of micro businesses (1-4 employees) generate $1 million a year in revenues — or, as Sue puts it, “a rockin’ million.” And that, she says, is within the reach of a motivated micropreneur who follows her call to arms in the book, her Manifesto:
• Play to your strengths.
• Fear is fuel.
• Build a strong reputation.
In a way, stressing your talents and collaborating with others are two sides of the same coin. Sue recommends that freelancers, consultants and micropreneurs focus on doing what they do well. The other stuff? Do what big companies do — outsource it or find a collaborator with the needed skills to handle the other part of the work.
Building a strong reputation may seem like a no-brainer. But I’m afraid it gets overlooked sometimes in the press of ambition and profit.
Ultimately, your reputation is the sum of your ideas and your work approach. Another word for it is trust. If people trust you, they will recommend you and they will hire you. Otherwise, they won’t.
Fear and excitement
I laughed out loud when I came to one of the paragraphs in Sue’s section on facing and employing fear as a spur to do a good job.
A former CEO mentor of mine [she writes] once told me that before he walked into a high-stakes meeting, he’d lose his lunch in the restroom. It was how anxiety hit him. After this occurred before several critical meetings, he saw it as a sign that things were going to go well because he was prepared for whatever happened.
Why did I laugh?
One of the stories I told my children ad nauseam as they were growing up was about Bill Russell who, for my money, was the greatest player in NBA history. He played center on the Boston Celtics for 13 years, two of which he was also the coach. And, during that time, his team won the NBA championship 11 times. No professional sports team has ever amassed such a record of success in such a short period of time.
So Russell was extraordinarily successful. But, as I told my children many times, before each game, he would go into the bathroom and throw up. Nerves.
Like Sue’s CEO friend.
I don’t vomit when I’m anxious, but, like many people, I get butterflies. When I’m speaking in front of a group, my knee will start to shake seemingly out of control.
Over the years, I’ve come to understand that this fear leading up to or at the start of an interview or a lecture or something else daunting isn’t simply fear.
It’s also excitement.
My mind and body are keyed up and ready for the challenge. That’s a helpful thing to recognize.
Another is the advice that Sue gives:
Take action. Fear subsides with action. Action builds courage. Courage leads to momentum. Momentum leads to success.
Patrick T. Reardon