Maybe you’ve seen the TED talk given by Alex Honnold, a guy – actually the only guy – to have ever completed a free-solo (i.e., no ropes) ascent of “El Capitan,” a 3,000 foot, vertical cliff in Yosemite National Park.
As a person who has trouble comfortably ascending a ladder to clean leaves out of the gutters, I can’t begin to understand how one climbs a half-mile-high rock wall, knowing that one mistake and it’s all over.
What if you sneeze? Or get a cramp? Or (unlikely) some kind of giant bird lands on your head?
I wish Alex no misfortune. It just seems to me that given the risks involved in his profession, this is not a man who is likely to pass from natural causes.
I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn, then, that when it comes to running my business, I take the exact opposite approach: There is no single thing that can happen – or not happen – that can cause everything to come tumbling down at once.
And while it may not be edge (or even middle) of your seat TED Talk-worthy, it strikes me as a pretty good formula for sticking around as a “free solo” for years and years.
Some specific recommendations:
- Try lots of things.
One of the things I like most about working alone is that you don’t need to convince anyone else before taking action. You don’t need a proven idea, you just need an idea.This newsletter, for example. I started doing it back in 1999 because I liked writing and email was cool. And even though today, it has evolved to become the main engine of all my marketing, at the time I had no evidence to suggest it was worth the effort or money involved.
Are there things I try that don’t go anywhere? All the time. A few years ago, for example, I put on an all day workshop that was incredibly successful, except for the fact that not a single person showed up. (On the bright side, I arrived home with lots of sandwiches.)
But it doesn’t matter. While often ego-deflating, few things you attempt will be fatal. As long as you keep trying new stuff, some of it is going to work.
- Offer many different products and services.
If you’re just starting out, there’s no better strategy than a narrow focus on one specific thing. That allows you to get really good at something and develop a reputation.But there’s risk there too. If that one thing flops or fades – for whatever reason – it’s a long way down.
So over time, I’ve tried to assemble a mix of things: live webinars, prerecorded programs, books, coaching, consulting, affiliate programs. They tend to wax and wane independent of each other, so the pendulum never swings too far in either direction.
- Try lots of things.
- Work with more than one or two clients at a time.
About 15 years ago, I had one huge client. At one point, they accounted for 70% of my monthly income. The money was nice, but it was like having a job: One change in their strategy, budget or whatever, and it could all end quickly. For the four years I worked with them, I was never able to relax.
Today, I work with 12 – 15 clients at any one time. Partly because I like the variety, but also because I love knowing that nobody has the power to push me all the way off the cliff.
Here’s the bottom line. Every solo and small business professional I know has a pretty clear understanding of what they sell, how much they charge and, if hired, how they will go about doing the work.
That matters, of course. But what people don’t seem to give much thought to is the system they are creating in terms of how the various client and project pieces fit together.
Put another way, there’s a big difference between climbing a 10-foot wall and climbing a 3,000-foot wall. In any given moment, the actions you take may be exactly the same – but the risks involved are anything but.
I want to get to the top of the cliff as much as you do. I’m just not willing to try it without a whole lot of rope tied around me.
- Have you ever had a giant bird land on your head? Send photos.
- What’s the highest thing you have ever climbed (extra credit if you were doing it illegally)?
- How many clients do you prefer to work with at any given time?
Share your comments below!