Entrepreneurs, business owners and others who work for themselves enjoy the autonomy that comes with independence but knows that there is a downside — feeling alone. It’s not uncommon to go several days or more without having a meaningful, face-to-face conversation with another adult.
This is especially troublesome when you need someone to listen to ideas or offer advice on an aspect of running your business. The freelancer or independent contractor must complete the paying work, of course, but also handle marketing, HR, management, bookkeeping, planning for retirement and more.
The result is a worker who has succumbed to stress or worse, fear of making a career-altering mistake. In this situation, it’s tremendously difficult to reach your full potential. You’ll feel stuck or trapped by the anxiety of uncertainty. The distance between you and your goals — and your discouragement — grows.
This is the entrepreneurial dilemma—how to keep covering all the bases and grow your business when you’re out of ideas and don’t know where to turn for help or can’t afford to pay for it? In this post, we’ll show you how to cultivate a personal advisory board of trusted, talented allies who can offer guidance, reassurance, and direction.
Anxiety and Fear
Let’s begin by looking at exactly what is so detrimental here. I mentioned anxiety, yes, but that anxiety is motivated by fear:
- Fear that you’ll make a costly mistake
- Fear that ignorance will be obvious to a client or co-worker
- Fear that you’ve missed something important
In the years that I spent working independently, I experienced all of these things and more. I often told myself that “If I was a professional, I’d know how to do this.” The fact was I didn’t.
The cure for ignorance is education. When you don’t know how to do something, a class or workshop can provide the information you need. That takes time, however, and time isn’t always in abundance. The result is feeling stuck.
Today I realize that all of this OK and that the help I needed was free, accessible, timely and simply waiting for me to ask. Here’s how to find it.
Assemble a personal board of directors
You became an independent worker for the autonomy, flexibility, or the chance to work for yourself by doing something you love to do. If you’re dealing with fear elicited by having to manage all the other aspects of this life, you’re in great company. You can’t be fantastic at everything. Fortunately, you can bring those skills into your professional life and conquer that fear in the form of other people.
I recommend assembling what I call a personal board of directors. In other words, a group of smart, experienced people whose opinions and knowledge you trust and respect. These folks, when carefully chosen, can provide the direction, advice, sounding board and even social support that so many independent workers lack. When identifying people to serve on your personal board, be sure to include the following types:
- Find people who have the skills you lack. This was a huge one for me. I’m good at doing the work — writing — but lousy with marketing myself. Other than publishing to social media every now and then, I didn’t have a lot of direction. So, I spoke to a person who excels at that type of thing, and who didn’t mind sharing her knowledge with me. When filling this role for yourself, list any skill areas that need support and consider how might be a good fit.
- A critic. It would be a great disservice to fill your board with cheerleaders. While a little encouragement is a good thing, you absolutely should find someone who is not afraid to point out bad ideas. Personally, I’d rather have a friend or trusted advisor tell me “that’s a bad idea” than “hear” it from the market via my bottom line.
- Someone you currently/have worked with. This person is familiar with your current work habits, as they’ve seen them up close. As such, they may make suggestions about what you can do better.
- Someone you aspire to be. When I started writing online, I took a chance and reached out to someone how had been doing it successfully for some time. Fortunately, he was eager to talk and share what he had learned. Today we’re good friends.
- A person who is older than you with invaluable real-world experience. A mentor who is several years your senior will have the skills and insights you lack, as well as much greater experience. You need all of those things, and getting them from a real in-person professional who has done what you want to do is tremendous.
Once your board is assembled, take advantage of those relationships, keeping the following in mind.
Since you’re not paying your board members, look for other ways to reciprocate. This could be as simple as a coffee date every now and then to sending leads their way. Time is the single most valuable asset we have, and it’s a tremendous act of generosity to share it. Let your board members know that you appreciate their time.
Your board will change and evolve over time. Once, for example, you get those marketing skills up to snuff, you may rely on that particular board member less and less. Likewise, as your business or work expands, you may talk to people not yet on the board. Schedule reviews every six months or so to see if you’re talking to the people you need to be talking to.
Finally, remember that a personal board is not meant to be in place forever. Instead, that group can accelerate your learning curve, alleviate that fear we discussed earlier and build the confidence and real-world skills that you can do all of this independently and successfully.
Responsibility for your own business, or even your professional life, includes knowing when you need positive reinforcement and when you need to make yourself accountable to someone other than yourself.
It’s a powerful act of leadership to ask for help. By taking the time to spend on yourself as described here, you’ll have more time, confidence and skills to achieve the ideal future you want.
If you want more personalized help, take a few minutes to complete our Productivity Quiz. In just a couple of minutes of your time, we can help you identify the areas to focus on for winning back your time and give you tips and strategies to help you get unstuck and on your way towards your goals.
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