You can build a team to help yourself get to where you want to be. This works whether you’re working independently, or if you’re part of a firm and you don’t think you’re getting the marketing support you need to build your profile. Here are the advantages of the team approach:
- You’re able to focus your time on tasks that add the most value – particularly billable work you do for clients (the revenue comes in really handy)
- You can put your strength where you have your core skills (for example -- if website building and maintenance isn’t something you’re really good at, do as I did and find someone who is -- hi, Andrea)
- You don’t waste time climbing a learning curve that someone else has already climbed
- You get a good stream of ideas of best practice, new tools, new priorities, from working with other people
- If you work with the right people, and tell them that you want honest feedback on your ideas, they’ll tell you when you’ve hit a home run – and also, when you’re significantly offside (to mix sports metaphors)
- And I don’t know about you, but I really like having other people along for the ride – friends are great to have, but you also need people who have a professional interest in helping you succeed
Bartering for service: get results without spending
It doesn’t have to cost money. You can sometimes barter for the services you need. A classic example of this is a proofreading and review exchange, which gives you the quality control and reality check, without spending the money.
To do this, you build a relationship with someone who you can count on, and who has a good grasp of the language you’re using. Set an agreement that you’ll send that person a given number of articles, blog posts, emails, speech texts and other content, and this person then reviews what you’ve written. You do the same for them. There’s no need to be geographically close, in the same country or even in the same time zone.
The upside is that you avoid a number of stupid mistakes in grammar and spelling, and you’re not putting out content that will have your ideal client scratching their head and saying “Whaaaaat does that mean?”.
The downside is that your counterpart may not respond quickly, if they have a crisis in their own work, and can be expected to put their own billable work first. And, you might select someone whose attention to detail may be less than optimal. For these reasons, I recommend paying for these services, unless you’re absolutely broke.
I’d also caution you away from bartering for complex services like website development, graphic design, social media and ghostwriting, in that the services you need likely won’t mesh well with the services you’re able to offer. It’s too hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison of value.
If you’re a business consultant and need a website, for example, you might create what you think is an amazing business plan for a website developer, who will develop a site for your business in return. However, the developer might think that the plan you’ve created is unworkable, and you might find that the website you got in return is equally bad. The result is tears, screaming, bad feelings and small claims court summonses.
A mastermind group – community building
Another “free” way to get the support you need is to join or build a group of likeminded professionals who share advice and ideas. I’ve been part of two such groups, and they were good as long as they lasted. I hear of independent professionals who have become fast friends with members of their group, which has lasted for years, and that sounds really great.
Meeting in person has good value in that people are more likely to be fully “present” in a mental sense if they’re also present in a physical sense. But then it’s hard for everyone to be ready at the same time, particularly if a client or personal emergency intrudes. Online meetings can be easier to attend, and you can find members from a wider geographic reach.
Mastermind groups work best if there’s a leader who keeps discussion on track and on time. There are many business coaches who lead a mastermind group, and members pay for that service – my experience is that these groups tend to be less long-lasting, but the meetings are more productive.
Putting out requests via your online groups and in-person networks, describing the kinds of members you’re seeking, is the best way to build a mastermind group. You may be able to join an existing group, or start your own.
Building your virtual support team
If you’re building your profile as a subject matter expert, you simply cannot afford to get held back by stupid things like typos in your blog posts and articles, a website that looks like you built it yourself, and being absent from social media. So I’ll first tell you who you need on your team, and then give you some ideas on where you can get them.
For much of my time in business, I’ve had someone I pay to coach me through decisions and help decide priorities. A good coach knows how to ask the right questions to help you develop your own answers. For that, a certified coach with experience working with business professionals is what you need.
Since I’ve been building an online business, including extensive use of social media, I’ve been relying on Heather Prestanski for advice on the business as well as technical matters. She has a team of people who mess with Facebook ads, pixels, split testing, lead pages and other stuff. I understand these issues well enough to know what they can do, but I don’t want to get into the weeds.
In finding a coach, think through your career and business objectives, and build a clear image of where you want to be in five or ten years. Talk with colleagues about coaches they’ve worked with. The coach you choose to work with is a highly personal decision, so you need to book a sample consultation, which you should be able to get at no cost (otherwise, walk away) to see what the chemistry is.
A proofreader is someone who checks your manuscript to be sure it’s free of grammar and spelling errors. You need a detail-obsessed geek who understands the difference between “lie” and “lay” and why “alternate” does not mean the same as “alternative.” I’ve put this first as a must-have because it’s impossible to proof-read your own writing. You’ll always miss stuff that will show up after it’s published. Sure, most word processing systems offer spell-checking functions, but they won’t always alert you when your using the wrong word (did you catch that glitch in this sentence?).
If your writing is basically acceptable, and other people agree, it could be that all you need is a proofreader to get your ideas into shape. And as I pointed out earlier, you may be able to trade services with a friend or colleague – provided you’re willing and able to catch the errors in their writing.
If you can spill your ideas onto a computer screen in semi-coherent form, but not in a way that does you credit, you can benefit from a “copy editor.” In this context, “copy” journalist jargon for the text of an article or blog post. A copy editor takes your ideas and rearranges them to put them into a coherent form – they’re your ideas, just expressed in a way that helps your readers.
GhostwriterA ghost is a professional writer who starts from a blank computer screen. You talk, they record or take notes, and then the ghost creates the text of your article or blog post based on what you’ve said, for your review and correction as needed. A ghostwriter can help you corral your ideas into shape for a speech, too.
Having earned a substantial part of my income through ghosting articles over the past 15 years, here are my thoughts on how to work with a ghostwriter:
- Have a clear idea of what results you want – for example, do you want to show your ability to help your clients deal with a new technology, regulation or law? (This is called “newsjacking” and you can learn more about how to make it work for you, in post #67). Or, maybe you want to display your resourcefulness through a case study (see Post #71 for more on that).
- Have the statistics and facts you need for the article ready when you’re being interviewed.
- Remember that the ghostwriter is a writer – don’t expect them to know what you know. You’ll need to explain it, but that’s a good thing – the ghost will ask you the same questions that your reader will be asking, and this means your article will be more comprehensible to the people you want as clients.
- I think that the best ghostwriters are people with journalism backgrounds – they’re skilled at taking complex ideas and making them understandable through analogies and comparisons (Note that I happen to be an ex-journalist, so I’m just a bit biased).
- Be prepared to correct any errors. Don't assume that the ghost knows anything about the subject. The first draft is a draft, nothing else – my clients always come back with changes. It could be due to an error I’ve made, or something they thought of afterwards.
- Remember that it’s YOUR article, and needs to say what you want it to say. If the ghost comes out with a tone that isn’t you, ask for changes so it is you.
- Don’t load your article with insider jargon because you think it makes you sound more intelligent. Good writing involves taking complex ideas and explaining them in everyday language.
Website developer and managerSome business professionals have their main online presence through Instagram, iTunes, LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. I think that’s important, because these platforms help you reach out beyond your current network.
But you don’t own those platforms, you don’t control them. This means that you may suffer if the corporations behind them:
- Decide to make changes to the platform (as LinkedIn loves to do)
- Downgrade them (remember Google+? MySpace? Didn’t think so)
- Suffer financial reversals (Twitter is circling the drain financially, and never has found a revenue model that works)
- Kick you off the platform (it takes a lot to get kicked off Twitter, but alt-right hatemonger Milo Yiannopoulos made it happen)
So, you need someone to design your website. Possibilities:
- Do it yourself using platforms like Wordpress – either with a free or paid template. This solution is best if you just want a limited footprint online, an online brochure, and are prepared to put time into web development. My experience is that this option is always more time-consuming than you expect, and the results are less impressive than you want.
- Find someone in a low-wage country: You can find someone in the Philippines or India, or some other country with low-cost but skilled labor, to do it remotely. This option is getting better, and may be suitable for you if all you need is a credible brochureware site.
- Find a professional web developer in a developed-world country – who will cost more in the short run, but produce a more effective site with more capabilities. I went this route because the Thought Leadership Resources site is more than an online brochure – it’s a resource with over 70 blog posts and other content. It’s evolving into an e-commerce site too, offering one online course so far. I rely a lot on Andrea Dubravsky of AD Webcom for keeping this site effective and current.
Many people learn more through graphic images than they do through text, and you need to accommodate that. Also, graphics bring life to a screen or the pages of a text document, and that adds to their appeal.
I wrote a post on how to work with a graphic designer (Post #31), which I co-authored with the graphic designer I’ve worked with for the past couple of decades. Carolyne Wagland of Gravity Art & Design has a wonderful way of taking my ideas and personal style and rendering them in images (see some of her infographics here). She came up with the logo for Thought Leadership Resources too.
A good graphic designer, as with a good ghostwriter, can take your ideas and express them in the way that you would, if you could.
Finding the help you need
One of the best ways to find people who can help you reach your goals is through asking colleagues whom they’d recommend. This means you have some understanding not just what a potential service provider can do, but how they do it. The downside is limited selection – your network only goes so far.
Another way is through one of the many service sites that connects freelancers and agencies with potential clients – two of them being Fiverr and Upwork. I find that it’s important to not just read the reviews and count the number of stars. Most clients will feel some pressure to provide positive comments back. It’s more informative to see how many times a service provider received repeat engagements from the same client – that’s a much stronger indicator of service quality and the level of satisfaction.
It may take time for you to develop the support network and team you need, but with this kind of support you can go sooooooo much further than you would on your own.