The Hermit Entrepreneur's Toolkit
We all know what passes for gospel in our brand-driven, always-on culture: “Network your way to the top.” “Just say yes.” “Get out there!”
But what if you stopped all that networking? What if you distilled your business development to the bare minimum and still managed to grow your company? What if -- instead of getting out there --you could simply stay in?
I'm much more comfortable in my home office than I am selling to a room, yet I own a successful business forwhich I am the primary sales driver. My business requires me to network, schmoozeand take lots of meetings. It means I regularly fly thousands of miles on my own dime to meet a potential client or give a talk. And it means I must keep a robust social media presence even as sharing makes me incredibly self-conscious.
It’s enough to make me want to hide in the bathroom.
Over the years, I'vedeveloped a formula that allows me to play to my strengths and nourish my introversion -- to focus less on the outcome of “success” and more on the everyday. I never will be relaxed on flights or stop getting anxiety attacks before a meeting. But I’ve grown a business that can sustain the real me. I call myself a “hermit entrepreneur.”
What’s a hermit?
Being a hermit is a lifestyle choice. It’s different from being an introvert. 58003
Let me emphasize that: Accept limitations. Ambitious people can get frustrated, seeing others succeed as they grow slowly. You might feel wildly jealous or even ambivalent about your choices when you see a former colleague score a massive success. If you want to be a successful hermit, you have to accept you won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg.
I love being a hermit entrepreneur. I find my natural equilibriumat home,with my family and my animals and my garden. It'swhere I feel safe. But I am also very ambitious. I’ve structured my business so I literally can be at the United Nations one day and digging in the dirt at home with my kidsthe next. I usually work two or three days a week at home. The other two or three I spend "out in the world," selling, speaking, schmoozing.
Ready to stay home?
Here are my essential levers to grow your business, land new clientsand do the work you love while keeping business development, travel, networking and extracurriculars to a minimum.
Own your niche.
It’s easier to compete when the pool is smaller and your expertise is greater. You can control your category with less effort, and your clients will come to you for exactly what you offer. That’s less selling for you -- and clear-cut expectations from them. When you’re a true expert in a true specialty, peopleseek you out. Thisincreases your value in the marketplace and demands less asking from you. It also gives you permission to say no to projects outside your expertise. That's a smart move because those are the "opportunities"most likely to cause undue stress or cost overruns.
Former TV producer Ana Florescreated the "hyper-niche company We All Grow Latina, a powerful online community focusing on Latina social media influencers. By "owning that we are unapologetically about the Latina woman’s experience, she’s created a powerful business, unlike any in the marketplace. She explains it this way: “With platforms and apps bombarding us all the time, the natural instinct is to compete with influencer marketplaces that are all about reaching everybody. But I think there is much more of a need for expert voices.”
Develop a digital franchise.
Creating "evergreen" online content -- stories with a long shelf life --is the easiest way to generate a passive business stream. Susan Mcphersonspecializes in helping create social-good campaigns for companies. 58003 This audience livesat the core of her business, and her Twitter chats became sought-after destinations for CSR leaders.
Know your pipeline.
You want to grow slowly, not come to a halt. Keep a pipeline documentthat records every proposal or strong indication of interest in a new project. 58003 You'll be able to scan quickly and spot patterns. For example, you might discover you have $250,000 in business-development prospects but only $25,000 in your bank account. Time to get moving and close some business!
My own pipeline document extends years back. Itnot only shows me potential new clients in play but also allows me to review my winrate over time. I want to know how many contracts get closed and how many warm leads simply die.
Follow the “10 touches” rule.
My husband, an experienced entrepreneur, taught me this one. You can incorporate it in your workflow, too:Every week, reach out and connect with 10 people in your network. Think about past clients, colleagues, friends, mentors. The "touch" can be a phone call, a lunch, a coffee. 58003 It’s another way to drive business your way, make contacts, stay in the loopand network (all without leaving the house).
Doing what you love isthe simplest way to love what you do. It’s amazing how your shyness can disappear when you’re selling something you really believe in. That something might actually be a someone.Helping people find new jobs isa wonderful way to forge strong connections.
Be ruthless ... with your time.
The wealth of experts in this information age means you could go to a conference or industry event every day. But is that a good use of your travel schedule? Reflect on the trips you've made and the resources you've expended to get there.Which conferences brought new relationships that paid off? Which were simply ego boosts? If you absolutely have to attend, be sure you book tons of meetings to maximize your time there.
Identify your “superconnectors.”
Your superconnectors are people who have referred you a lot of work, introduced you to great opportunities or provided an authentically warm introduction to other amazing people. A yearly event, organization or exceptional newsletter can function in a similar role. Map out your networks and find out who (or what) your superconnectorsare. Then, make sure youtreat them very well! Most of your future work will come from these sources because they help expand your network and drive new business leads.
Recognize notall clients are equal.
part of growth is choosing clients who will allow you to maintain boundaries while earning your living. This isn'tabout “reaching scale" -- it's aboutprofitability and sustainability. You need a cross-section of clients who can speak for you. Think about your client mix in terms of public perception and business development:Vanity clients. These are the big names youcan brag about. They give you instant credibility in the marketplace and increase your company's value. When you work with a vanity client, you mustfocus on providing fantastic service. Do that, and income will follow from the other clients they bring to your door.Nothing is better business development than a happy big-name client.Long-term clients.Thingscan get a little stale in a long-term relationship, and your eyes occasionallymight wander. But you're always there for each other -- in part because these usually are multi-year retainer contracts. You have deep ties across organizations and institutional memory of shared experiences or client preferences.High-margin clients. You'll never brag about these clients (if you're smart). They pay really well, are low-churn and offer a cash infusion in uncertain times.And of course, good work is always great for word of mouth, so make sure you give them your best effort. You never know who knows whom.Just-for-the-love clients. Would you do the work for free because you love this client'scause or brand? Maybe you just really want the experience. 58003 These clientsare a lot of work to set up and often come with a high turnover rate. Even so, you can't afford to dismiss them entirely. They can lead to long-term work or positive referrals.
Still wondering about proportions?For me, the ideal mix is 50 percentlong-term retainer clients (each with a current contract of six or 12 months) and another 40 percentin short-term engagements (projects lasting six weeks to three months). I save10 percent for pro bono work, just for the love.
You must plan your growth carefully -- and thentell the people around you. Share withyour team members, advisers and spouse/partner the strategies you've selected. This helps them get comfortable with your expectations and smoothes the way for you to adjust your life accordingly.
Everyone’s boundaries are different. For example, one of my colleagues likes to keep her work correspondence strictly during the 9-to-5.I've learnedI need several hours alone each day. If possible, I take that space in the middle of my day.I don't mind if that means clients are emailing me after hours or we talk on aSaturday.
Being a hermit has meant sacrifices, less success relative tosome of my peers and a slower path. ButI love it. I’ve made a life for myself that I can earn enough money to sustain.Honestly, that's my real version of success.