Have you created an AND or an OR business?
You can’t be more than one thing! Find your niche and stick to it! If this advice is as constricting to your business dreams as a size too small pair of Spanx worn to an all you can eat buffet, perhaps you need to look at an “AND” business.
Like many entrepreneurs, my career path can be described at its best as a neat portfolio career with a clear trajectory, and at its worst as a mad mishmash of random passions with a career path as straight as the one chosen by drunken university students lurching to the next toga party.
I am the sort of someone who is interested in loads of things and can’t see myself settling down with just one interest, to have and to hold for this day forward, forever and ever, Amen.
Which is why all the advice on finding your lane and sticking to it, and dominating your niche is as constricting to me as a size too small pair of Spanx worn to an all-you-can-eat-buffet.
Multiple interest careers have a name
Emilie Wapnick described my sort of personality as multipotentialite. In a different generation, I may have been described as a Renaissance Man (even if I am a woman). I prefer to see myself as a person with wonderfully eclectic and eccentric tastes.
The problem is that the world thinks of careers and businesses in terms of OR and not AND. I want both.
I can remember a well-padded, lavender-scented Great Aunt, wearing her going-out Osti frock, asking me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I would often reply, “I want to be a teacher, and an opera singer and a pilot.”
This was usually met with chirrups of consternation:
“You can be ONE thing. You can be a teacher OR an opera singer OR a pilot. You certainly can’t be all three.”
“But why not?”
“Because you can’t. That would be silly.”
Fast forward a few years, and my Great Aunt was replaced by my school career counsellor, who asked the same question, and who had the same level of consternation when I would reply with “I want to be a psychologist, a podiatrist and a nun” (In my defence, this was during my Sound of Music phase when I would drape a towel over my head and sing multitudinous choruses of “Climb Every Mountain”).
“You can be ONE thing. You can be a psychologist OR a podiatrist OR a nun. You certainly can’t be all three.”
“But why not?”
“Because you can’t. You can’t be good at more than one thing at a time.”
“So that would explain my A+ grades in English, Science, Art and Religion then.”
I would sigh, and then feel like I just didn’t fit into the mould society had prepared for me for the world of work. I didn’t know there were alternatives or any other way of being. Work meant a j-o-b, and that meant doing one thing until you died.
First taste of freedom
So, I went to uni to study psychology. But while I was there, I added in Employment Relations AND the History and Philosophy of Science AND Computing AND Law because no-one told me I couldn’t. There was no “OR”, only “ANDs”. It was the first time when no-one cared and tried to make me tick just one box in life.
But the halcyon days of uni ended, and so I took my triple majors and returned to the world of “OR” and not “AND.”
The straight jacket of a j-o-b
I ended up working for over two decades in human resources and employment relations in large organisations. I loved it, but found my soul was slowly dying without my “ANDs”. It was like dancing the Cha Cha backwards in overtight shoes.
I tried to find ways of sneaking in my developing passions of computing and writing in the same way that mums sneak in bites of hidden chocolate when the kids are not looking. But snatches of my other interests were not enough to satisfy my yearning for more “ANDs”.
Eventually, my soul cries became overwhelming, and when a crisis triggered my abandonment of the world of corporate human resource management, I looked around for options.
And that is when I started my solopreneurial business.
A business based on “ANDs”
I started my business with “ANDs” purely because I had no idea what I was doing and wanted to see what would generate enough to pay the bills.
Three slightly disparate skills were merged – HR consultancy AND life coaching AND spiritual development. (In my defence, this was during my alternative phase when I wore tie-dye kaftans and permanently smelled of incense).
Over the last decade in my business, my ANDs changed and morphed as my interests changed and morphed, and my business morphed with it.
I discovered being a solopreneur meant that I didn’t have to live an “OR” life. I could live an “AND/OR” life.
As long as I did these different passions well and explained what I did in a clear manner, people didn’t really mind. The world did not end, and my Great Aunt and school career’s counsellor were wrong.
My current ANDs have now settled into two main camps, loosely held together by one key thread. Each camp has its separate website, but the core DNA is the same across both.
In one camp, my human resources/employment relations has a home.
It is there where I put on my uni lecturing hat. I teach business students about the mysteries of persuading people and employees to take action in pursuit of business goals and objectives.
It is in that camp where I turn complex employment relations law into simple and tangible actions through my HR manuals for micro and small businesses.
In the other camp, my computing/psychology/writing has its home.
It is there where I put on my web design/online marketing hat. I teach small business owners about the mysteries of persuading people to take action to deliver business goals and objectives.
It is in that camp where I turn complex marketing and online concepts into simple and tangible actions through my blog posts and guest posts.
Find your unifying thread
Remember I mentioned a thread? Even the person with the most eccentric and eclectic interests has a thread that runs through their interests.
The trick in small business is to find and follow your thread. Don’t try and sew a pattern that isn’t yours.
My thread? Making the complex simple and helping people to take action in pursuit of their goals.
Life as an entrepreneur can be about finding and living your ANDs. It can be about finding your thread, and it can be about breaking out of the traditional moulds of work.
What are your ANDs?