For many solopreneurs, the idea of building a business team is anathema. Creative control is one of the driving forces behind the decision to go solo. Freelance writers, designers, producers, and marketing consultants—I’m looking at you. I’m also looking at me. And I’m looking at me looking at you. Meaning I speak from experience.
For most of my career, I’ve been a solopreneur. First, I was a freelance graphic designer and climbed the ranks to become an art director. When print media began to decline, I found solid footing in marketing as a consultant. After 10 years of marketing work for a variety of clients, I felt the pull to develop my talent and skill as a writer. I authored and published a book, and began to freelance as a copywriter and ghostwriter.
For more than 20 years I’ve been a consultant of some kind: a crackerjack creative, deft digerati, and marketing mercenary all in one.
To be honest, at first I liked wearing All The Hats. I took courses relevant to my career to keep my skills sharp and up-to-date and to acquire new tools, but eventually, I began floundering. Business suffered. Income declined. I spent a few years spinning my wheels without gaining any traction, and wondered where I’d gone wrong. Finally, I decided to spend a year soul-searching to figure out what needed to change to get back on my A-game. The answer was so obvious I couldn’t see it from within my one-woman show.
I had no team. I had isolated myself into oblivion.
Changing the game.
Imagine a football game where one team consists of only one player while the competition has a full component of players. As the solo team, you’re running downfield, passing and catching…to yourself. This is what I discovered I’d been doing with my career and business. I simply could not compete.
Times were lean and I fell into a scarcity mindset that felt like running with cement boots on the field. My first reaction was to suit up with body armor to protect myself from impact. But that wouldn’t change the fact that I was still one player against many. I needed teammates and a coach. And this wasn’t football, it was life; hardening the f*ck up and running defense wasn’t going to win new projects. I needed the precise opposite. I needed to be more vulnerable and that meant asking for help.
Solopreneurs, micropreneurs, and overachievers, please allow me save you time and spare you from the headache that accompanies wearing All The Hats: ask for help. Take at least some of the damn hats off. Find a few quality teammates. (This is also great advice for startups at any stage.) This might mean finding people to whom you can outsource tasks. Maybe it’s hiring a virtual assistant. It could even be joining a new professional group or starting your own.
“Don’t you think they’re the same? Love and attention?” —Sister Sarah Joan, from Lady Bird
I know many people hate networking, but for me, it’s been my number one recruiting medium for my team. Whether through actively connecting with others on LinkedIn or at industry events or happy hours, I’ve been able to draft several quality connections in the form of trusted advisors, coaches, and mentors—all of whom wear one (and only one) hat at a time. The advice I’ve received from these influencers hasn’t always been palatable, but it’s been effective. And here’s the real kicker: it’s effective because it comes from a place of love.
A team called community.
What does love have to do with business? Not much if you’re a member of the business-as-usual good old boys’ network. One look at the sociopolitical climate in Washington and it’s obvious. But change is in the air. Business-as-usual is changing.
Numbers don’t lie, and I won’t tell you they don’t matter; they do. But success is about more than numbers, and feminist and humanist values are beginning to infuse business strategies more and more each day. In leadership roles, women tend to engender a sense of community, which is inherently teamwork-driven and collaborative. We simply can’t afford heartless business practices anymore. The growth in the number of B-Corps and not-for-profit startups over the last few years is evidence of this.
The emergent brave new business world is one where community matters as much as commerce.
Leaning into community, I find myself less tormented by anxiety and stress. I’m more focused and productive. I search for solutions instead of running on a hamster wheel of worry. And here’s the best part of having a team powered by love; everyone wins. We all win because the more love and support we give, the more love and support we have.
Technically, I’m still a solopreneur, but I’ve built a core community of supporters, freelancers, advisors, and resources who sustain me in my challenging moments and celebrate my wins. And although I’m a huge proponent of not wearing All The Hats, I’ve decided to give myself one new hat to wear. I have recently been promoted to CGO, Chief Gratitude Officer. As CGO, I have one job. To promote my community and express my appreciation and heartfelt thanks for their loving presence and support.
I now start my week each Monday morning, writing out a handful of heartfelt notes to my community before I even check email. This might seem like a crazy thing to do when you’re running a business and are faced with a never-ending To-Do list, but I can assure you, it is anything but self-indulgent. It’s a powerful way to start your work week sharing thoughtful words of genuine appreciation for others. It is an act of love that puts a positive spin on the days ahead, an act of sustainability for both yourself and others.
But don’t take my word for it. Try it for a few weeks and see for yourself.
You can thank me later.