When I first embraced soloism, I delighted in the fact that I had no one to manage, and no one to be the boss of me. But I’ve realised that my businesses function much better when I actively use my leadership skills and step into the role of a leader, and my clients and I are happier too.
After spending a few months thinking about it, I’ve identified four key areas where it feels most critical for me to actively take a leadership position, each of which would probably be a department in its own right in a corporate organisation:
1. Strategic direction: Lead your business to success
When you’re head down in the thick of it all, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your business is running you, rather than the other way around. And the uncomfortable truth is that for many of us, being a small business owner has turned out to mean running as fast as you can day in and day out just to keep up – and never feeling like you’re making lasting progress.
But as the captain of your own ship, you’re responsible for everything that goes on in your business, and everywhere that it takes you.
So where do you want to go?
Either you make the decision to get on with the vital tasks of choosing your destination, plotting the course and hoisting the mainsail, or you throw caution to the wind and go wherever it takes you, often feeling at the mercy of forces outside your control.
2. HR: Lead yourself to stretch and grow
In the absence of a boss, who’s looking after your professional development?
Many soloists find the personal and technical skills that should help to grow their businesses stagnating – all because there’s no one to push them in directions that make them uncomfortable.
But the only difference between a comfort zone and a rut is the perspective that you view it from, so every now and then it’s important to take the initiative and push yourself to try a new approach, even if it involves some discomfort to start with.
Hint: Being accountable to someone else can be critical to success here, so consider hiring a coach to help you maintain momentum if necessary.
3. Operations: Lead your clients to safety
When your clients decide to buy from you, they don’t just want what you’re going to deliver, they want to know that they’re in good hands, every step of the way.
For example, I realised recently that one of the things about working with me that makes my clients feel safe is that these days I turn up to our engagements ready to take the lead.
That wasn’t always the case; in my first few years of soloism, I didn’t want to seem pushy or imposing, so I bumbled around cursing the fact that I kept attracting clients who weren’t better organised.
It only dawned on me (very slowly!) that if I wanted every project I worked on to be seamless and stress-free, it was going to be up to me to make it so.
Since then, bit by bit, I’ve developed systems and processes that make the lives of everyone involved easier by managing workflows, plotting timelines and keeping things on track.
Where initially I’d thought implementing these processes would come across as bossy, it turns out my clients love it. They’re relieved when I front up saying, ‘I’ve got a system for us all to follow’, not only because it’s one less thing for them to do, but also they can relax knowing I’ve been down this road many times before, and know the traps to avoid and which shortcuts are worthwhile.
4. Customer inspiration: Lead your clients to a future they can’t imagine yet
One of the most frequently asked questions in marketing is ‘Who’s your ideal customer?’.
But let’s switch that up a bit. What if, instead of thinking about your dream customer, you focused on what your dream is for your customers? What are your hopes and aspirations for them?
This isn’t about setting up false expectations; it’s about opening your clients’ eyes to possibilities they haven’t conceived of yet.
This type of leadership is a great way to showcase your technology or expertise, but I’ve found it to be particularly powerful and rewarding when it involves helping your clients feel better about themselves in some way.
For example, my coaching clients often come to me saying ‘I’m no good at marketing’, and beating themselves up about not having mastered that particular skill set. By helping them arrive at a strategy that feels authentic and attainable to them, I’m leading them to find new levels of confidence in themselves and their business, and quietening their inner imposter at the same time.
Where have you found it important to use your leadership skills in your business? Please tell us in the comments, and don’t be shy about taking the lead and going first.