I am approaching the end of my first full year as a full-time career coach and speaker. I can’t believe it! Time flew by so far. Not only was it so different than running a business part-time, I have learned exponentially more about the struggles and triumphs of business! It has been an amazing journey and I look forward to what the next year will bring.
As I reflected on what this year has taught me, I realized that much of the dialogue I was having with myself was about how to do the work more efficiently and effectively, how to identify (and pursue the right) revenue streams and how to identify and leverage my professional advantage(s) while keeping my sanity and faith in the fact that the effort I put forth is or will be paying off.
So, I experimented with my skills and deferred to the things I liked to do. So, I experimented with my skills and deferred to the things I liked to do. Small Business Week takes place April 30-May 6 and was created to highlight and celebrate the importance of small business owners. To support this cause, I have partnered up with QuickBooks whose goal is to provide easy-to-use, invoicing software to small business owners to allow them the time to focus on what matters most, their business (P.S. I use this software myself and it is a lifeline!).
Below I share two of my competitive advantages and how I leveraged them in the hopes that my reflections will give you some ideas.
Competitive Advantage #1: I LOVE to network.
Making connections is the best way to promote your brand, test out your business idea(s), gain customers/clients and find other ways to grow your business. It is imperative for me to market myself, not just do the work I want to do. I’ve accomplished a great deal by integrating into the community, but these efforts are springs that add up to a marathon. I move between making my community feel smaller to widening it as I research and learn more about what I am capable of achieving and exploring in what direction(s) my business could go so that I am ultimately successful. Business ownership certainly allows you to study yourself very closely and honoring those discoveries takes time and patience but let others be your guide. So I…
- Researched what groups exist in your area that are related to your interests. I took note of the local Chamber events, perused MeetUp groups for young professionals and business owners, attended human resources organization mixers, Association for Talent Development events, affiliated with women’s organizations and other volunteer organizations. I then attended at least one event for each (sometimes more) to meet people. It takes time for people to recognize you in your own community. I was persistent and present. You can be too.
- Volunteered at large-scale organization events and fundraisers. I figured that I could meet cool people, potentially find friends since not only was I new to full-0time business ownership, I was also new to the area. Secondly, I wanted to know who were the “who’s-who” in the region. Gathering information and knowledge about your community can help you feel connect but also engaged. This is important to business success but also life. to find potential friends b. to see what individuals were the Who’s Who of my area.
- Invited individuals to meet with me for coffee. I found it valuable to reach out to some individuals one-on-one. For example, there was a company I admired and wanted to learn more about so I reviewed the staff list and identified a young professional to whom to reach out. We met at Starbucks one day and ended up talking for quite some time about business owners, freelancing and other life experiences. We remained in touch and recently decided to expand our conversations about business to other young, female business owners. What started out as a relationship based on business molded into a friendship which still serves us professionally. My outreach and ambition in this regard encouraged others with whom I met individually to introduce me to others in their networks and so my network continues to grow. I pay it forward by connecting my contacts with them as well.
Competition Advantage #2: I LOVE to speak.
Public speaking is a critical and necessary skill for a business owner. I market myself as a career coach and speaker so the majority of what I do revolves around educating others. My primary goal is to help mid-career professionals in their thirties and forties navigate their careers and anchor their futures. Essentially, I want to help them decide how they want to proceed professionally. I help some change careers, others secure promotions, make more money or conduct some professional planning (aka where do I want to be professionally in the next 3 years).
As such, I love talking to people in front of large groups, one-on-one, virtually or in person. So, this past year, I decided to take Angela Lussier’s Speaking School for Women while simultaneously listening to her podcast, Claim the Stage. As a result, I honed this skill, learning the business of public speaking and secured twice the number of speaking gigs and more that were paid than I had in previous years!
I share this example to reinforce the importance of professional development as a business owner. Pick a skill every quarter or every half year to improve upon; you never know what you might learn about yourself and where it might help you grow your business! Since my experience was so positive and because I care about others’ abilities to speaking up, advocate for themselves, share their stores and change the world, I became trained as a club leader to launch a Speaker Sisterhood Club this summer in the Lehigh Valley, located in eastern Pennsylvania. These clubs are places and spaces where women can share their voice in a safe space and learn public speaking best practices. Not only will this become an additional revenue stream for me but it will also allow me to support my target audience in a way that is relevant to my primary business’ goal.
To played with this skill further, I have been practicing my speaking skills by experimenting with Facebook Live. It comes easily to me to create valuable video content about topics related to professional development, share information about my life as a business owner and offer resources to my audience. It is a free way for them to know what I am doing and for what I stand. I encourage you to view one of my videos here and try it out for yourself. My friend, Sandra Costello, has tried Facebook Live too and you can see one of her videos here as well.
Lastly, I leveraged Twitter more regularly for a couple of months as an experiment to grow my number of followers. I posted resources on topics related to my business, interests and skills regularly (e.g. mid-career professionals, public speaking, women and work, productivity, business ownership, etc.). As a result, I increased my number of followers by almost 100 people and was asked to participate in several Twitter chats, gaining even more exposure. This helped me stay top of mind and expand my networks beyond my immediate community.
Disclaimer: Not everyone loves speaking but it can be helpful to practice speaking up, whether it be virtually or in person about your work and what you care about. Find a way that works for you. People connect with more deeply with you when you share your passions and, despite how intimate or public your venue is, that is how you create customers, clients, followers and even friends, especially when solopreneurship starts to really feel lonely.
I encourage you to sit down with a pen and paper and reflect on what your competitive advantages are.
- What do you gravitate towards naturally?
- On what have you been spending your time?
- What activities have you been feeling less than enthusiastic about? Think about your experiences in business thus far, what has been working?
- Have you pulled any financial reports to see where most of your money is being earned? On what activities? Have you been tracking the metrics on your social media sites?
Those are just a few questions to get you started. There will always be more but choose one or two that jumped out at you first and spend some time on them. I encourage you to experiment for as long as you can but then take some time to focus on one thing for a while and then go back out and experiment, experience and explore. This malleability is intrinsic to entrepreneurship; it keeps you honest. I know it has for me.
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