I was at a networking event a few weeks ago and at one point in the evening I was introduced to a group of three small business owners.
It turned out they were all ‘sole traders’ who had launched their respective businesses about six months ago (in different industry sectors).
We started talking about our businesses and I mentioned that whilst I certainly wasn’t a ‘sole trader’, prior to relocating to San Francisco to sit amongst our team and to work alongside my cofounder (who had moved over from Australia 2 years earlier) I had spent over a year working on my own in Sydney.
At that point one of them turned to me and said, “we were just discussing how isolating it is, and how sometimes it’s almost impossible to stay motivated“.
I actually couldn’t have disagreed more and my expression must have shown it, since they all looked at me as if I had just landed from another planet.
At first I thought they might have asked me to leave their little gathering. But then when I spent the next 10 minutes literally talking through how I had personally stayed motivated, one of them thanked me and suggested I should write an article on how to stay motivated for anyone working as a ‘lone wolf’ – her words, not mine.
So here it is.
1. Get up early and go for a walk
My alarm goes off every morning at 5:15am, and by 5:30am I am out the door … no matter how dark or foggy it is outside. I go for a 75-90 minute walk slightly varying the route each day. I choose not to listen to music since I find I can gather my thoughts and start to plan my day better in silence.
A morning walk energises me and from personal experience, if for whatever reason I don’t walk, then by 3 o’clock in the afternoon I feel absolutely shattered, totally unproductive (and usually a bit on the grumpy side).
2. Don’t spend all your time working at home
Isolation isn’t healthy – not for a ‘lone wolf’ and especially not for a ‘social animal’ (meant in the nicest possible way for any recruiters reading this!). When I was on my own back in Australia, I had a desk in a co-working space where I would spend at least three (sometimes four) days every week.
I would work from home on days when I needed silence whether I needed to get a block of writing or planning done or if I needed to make a series of confidential phone calls. But sometimes, just having other people working around me would get me back in the groove.
Besides, it’s interesting to watch the goings on of other businesses and to just feel the energy of other people running their own businesses.
You should definitely consider renting a desk in a co-working space.
3. Find your ‘third place’
Even though I would split my time between my home office and the co-working space, I remember when my cofounder moved to the USA, I quickly learned that I also needed a ‘third place’ where I could work … but more importantly where I could feel inspired to work.
For some it might be a local café or perhaps a public library. For me, it was the lobby café of either the Westin, Hilton or Sheraton hotels in Sydney. I would be surrounded by dozens of people having business meetings so for me it was also slightly ‘aspirational’. It was a great place to re-group between meetings and of course to meet clients. Selfishly it was also a nice feeling when I would sit down and they would bring over my regular lemongrass and ginger tea before I had even opened my laptop.
4. Set tasks, prioritise and take action
Every morning on my walk I would think through what the day might entail. The list would form in my head so as soon as I sat down at my desk (whichever desk it is), I could make a list and prioritise what needed to get done.
Quick tasks are easy to just do, while tasks that might take some time I actually block into my calendar. That way I am treating those tasks like an actual appointment – something that needs to get done at a certain time and within a certain period of time.
5. Get out there and see customers
I am definitely more of a ‘people person’ than a ‘lone wolf’. I also get very frustrated if I have to spend all day sitting at my desk in front of my laptop.
When I was working on my own in Sydney I would make a point of having at least one meeting (ideally two) every day. While I would be working very closely with my team (on the other side of the world at the time), our working relationship was typically very much “Skype and type”.
For me the human face-to-face contact with clients, alliances or referrals would help ‘keep things real’. It’s amazing how re-energised you feel after a half hour meeting away from your desk.
6. Pick up the phone and talk to people
In this day and age it’s very easy to hide behind technology – to spend all day sending and receiving emails, connecting with people on LinkedIn, commenting on blog posts etc.
If you want to feel really motivated, make sure you have real conversations with real people as opposed to engaging in email banter where it becomes very easy to misconstrue what is actually being said.
Here’s a tip … at the end of each day look at the number of ‘sent items’ in your email and then at the number of dialled calls on your phone or Skype account. That will give you an idea of how many real conversations you’ve had.
7. Find a ‘bragging buddy’
While we sit beside each other today, when I was back in Sydney, I was incredibly fortunate to have a cofounder who was happy to listen to me share even the smallest of wins. As soon as I would finish a great client meeting, I would send him a text. Or at the end of the day I would send him an email with a few highlights.
If you work entirely on your own, try to find someone in a similar situation to you and see if you can talk to them a few times a week (even just for 5 – 10 minutes), or perhaps meet them for a coffee … just to brag. If you don’t have a sounding board to share the highs and vent about the lows with, the isolation will take its toll.
8. Attend networking events (for the right reasons)
This blog post came about as a result of me turning up at a networking event recently. I have never believed in the need to be a serial networker where the sole reason for attending a networking event is to try to get rid of as many business cards as possible. Honestly you may as well just take your box of business cards and drop it in the recycling bin.
Go to networking events where there’s a chance you might be able to forge long-term, trusted referral partnerships where you find yourself advising or referring to others as much as they advise and give leads to you. Also if you walk into an event with a friend or colleague (safety in numbers), get outside your comfort zone and split up to meet new contacts. And don’t hang around with the same group of people every month. Mix it up a bit!
9. Hold yourself accountable
This is different to the idea of the ‘bragging buddy’ mentioned above. You won’t be able to take your business to the next level if you don’t hold yourself accountable.
If you’re not open to working with a mentor, coach or advisor, then you need to diligently report to yourself (as strange as that may seem). Set yourself daily, weekly or monthly goals (yes … KPIs) and regularly reflect on how you measured up against the objectives you set for yourself.
10. Think big!
Not every sole trader has a vision of building an empire. But it’s still important that you actually articulate the vision for your business. A vision is a totally separate document to a business plan. In the vision you need to think long-term and articulate where you see yourself and your company growing over the next x months, year and beyond as well as how you see yourself developing personally as well as professionally along the way. For example if you see yourself becoming a thought leader in your space, think about exactly how are you going to do it?
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Oh and one last thing … as I was leaving the networking event, one of my new friends came back up to me and asked: “But what about about putting on a suit or at least a shirt and tie every day? Surely that would make you feel more professional and help you stay motivated?”
I happened to catch my reflection in a mirror hanging near the entrance to the bar. I hadn’t shaved in over week. I was wearing a RecruitLoop t-shirt, jeans, and runners.
Actually … not at all!