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Building a team as a business of one

Without a doubt, starting my own business was the best professional decision I’ve ever made. Build a client base of rewarding and exciting clients? Check.  Create a work-life blend with more flexibility for my kids? Yep.  Freedom to choose which projects I say yes to and which I say no to. I’m getting there.

As my business has evolved, I’m confident my “business of one” format is right for me. Yes, it affects how quickly I can grow, caps income and has meant I’ve had to turn prospects away due to capacity. Equally it’s kept me crystal clear on delivering work I’m proud of without having to juggle endless HR, admin and office politics and, indeed, the pressure of having salaries to meet.

The catch? In between the client meetings, events and networking, you spend a lot of time on your own.  A lot of time.  There are countless desk-bound days where I won’t see another person after the school-run.  Adjusting to being on my own was a steep learning curve; not having that trusted set of colleagues around to bounce ideas off, sense-check a pitch or walk into a room of strangers with, took a while to get used to. 

Identifying and accepting loneliness as part of the mix of running your own business was a real shift for me.  There’s lots of advice around the practicalities of working for yourself – be it creating positive habits to separate work from home life or getting your VAT in on time – but the emotional side?  Not so much. What do you do when your client abruptly ends your working relationship due to budget cuts? When you’re floundering with your own marketing strategy and not clear on where the next three months are taking you?  Or when you want to celebrate a success?  

For me, the key has been building up my own personal team of go-to colleagues, advisors, and work friends. It’s this small group who are happy to meet for a coffee with no agenda, share advice when you hit a crossroads and will call on you when they’re stuck too. Here’s how I was lucky enough to find my virtual team:

Networking – Networking for me has always been about relationships, finding a great photographer to be able to recommend for my clients, or SEO partner to team up with.  As Holly Tucker from Not on the High Street says “Make friends, not contacts”. It’s so true.  A pool of great “business friends” makes for far more trusting and rewarding relationships than the biggest LinkedIn network ever well.  It elevates your game as a partner, not “just a freelancer” and boosts your own ability to refer well.

Coaching – Investing in yourself as a business of one is vital.  You are your brand.  Training and development opens up new skill sets, ideas and learning forums.  There’s a reluctance to invest in coaching as small businesses but in my experience, the content, connections, conversations and simply getting away from my laptop has meant I can serve my clients and my business in a more complete, creative way.  

 

Social networks – Facebook groups and Twitter have really helped me find a wider tribe. Taking time for industry Twitter chats or online Q&As can connect you with other likeminded colleagues, helping you build working relationships offline too.  Identifying relevant groups opens you up to a world of supportive colleagues who are happy to share resources, tips and advice and give you the opportunity to give back.

Partners – Look at the people around you who are helping your business – be it your website designer or accountant. Don’t forget they’re here to help you, guide you and share ideas about how to grow your business and create the working life you want.

Co-working space – A total game-changer. On low-energy days, getting out of your gym kit and spare room into a grown-up, fun and energetic environment works wonders.  Taking the time to give back and have that coffee with someone wanting to pick your brains or help them out can help you grow your network in a really organic way – collaborators, clients or friends.

 

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