All posts by Walter

Solopreneuring and Security

Neil Matthews is an interesting bloke. I say that because he’s from the UK. I “met” him several years ago when I had a technical issue with a WordPress installation and hired him to fix it… which he did from across the ocean. That experience was the epitome of “solopreneuring” and “globalization.” Neil recently explained his passion for solopreneuring. While our businesses are very different our issues are very similar. His post started my wheels turning when he asked readers to share their reasons for not building a team (of employees). What follows is an expanded and edited version of my reply.

My last official “job” ended nearly 30 years ago when I realized that no organization was going to share my commitments and passions. Tom Peters was making a ton of money and fame from his book “In Search of Excellence” and somehow I came to the conclusion that it might be easier to stop searching for excellence and start creating it.

I also came to realize that independence was/is an important value for me but that independence is also about security and less about bosses and freedom. Shortly after I started, a young fellow bought me lunch because he wanted an informational interview. He spent most of the time whining about his bad boss and the company that employed him. I started whining along with him about my similar situation. We really got into a sympathetic groove and it was quite a while before he looked at me and said, “Hey, wait a minute! You work for yourself.” I assured him that was less true than he thought. You don’t go “out on your own” for the freedom–at least not in the short-term. It’s real easy to swap one bad boss for a lousy situation where all of your customers become your boss.

He was one of many people who’ve said over the years that they envy me but they can’t live without the security of a paycheck. I sorta have to chuckle. For employees security is a  bit of an illusion. A solopreneur may actually have more security.

(By the way, notice that I’ve not said “self-employed” — a familar term but it still about being an employee.)

Bill Gates has been quoted as saying that he constantly reminds himself that Microsoft is never more than two years away from failure. We can certainly debate whether or not practice reflects his thinking, but he’s at least aware that a major screw up or cataclysmic event could wipe out Microsoft in two years. I’m not sure how the Microsoft Payroll system works, but assuming it’s weekly, most of his employees are one week away from “losing it all.”

As an old retailer, I remember well the truism, “Volume covers a multitude of sins.” When you’re on the way up and customers are beating down your doors you can afford to screw up. Growth and success creates another illusion of security.  More customers, more employees, more divisions, more products… go, go, go!

A solopreneur has to question that logic because the very nature of solopreneuring is… well, solo! A solopreneur understands that his “more” options are limited and that’s a good thing. There are other ways to build security (and the independence that goes with it). The good news is that the opportunities for solopreneuring are better than ever. The better news is that solopreneuring prevents “collective dumbness” whereby a group of reasonably intelligent people come together, engage in group think, and make really bad decisions.

Let’s remember, a solopreneur is not truly working for herself. But a solopreneur better know exactly what she is working for and better have a plan for getting it.

Have you got what it takes to engage in some solopreneuring? (You may not have to – or want to – quit your “day j0b.”  We’ll explore this in the workshop sponsored by P.V.A.E.C. on Tuesday, March 6th at SeDoMoCha in Dover Foxcroft. You can register online or call 564-6525. The cost is only $10… and it will be fast-paced and fun!

When I Was Their Age…

I was going to start this by wondering if you could stand another post about dictionaries… and then I realized, it really isn’t! The background is that I recently wrote an article for The Dictionary Project Newsletter and have had several nice comments on it. It was some of the comments that made me realize I didn’t just write about dictionaries–I wrote about the relationship between schools, volunteers, teachers, students, parents–that wonderful conglomeration of people who make up the community.

And in a strange irony, I had a short but wonderful conversation today with a third grader who recognized how a quilt is like a community… you find lots of different things and put them all together to form a pattern that is both many things and one thing.  It also ends up being quite colorful and pleasing to the eye.

So in a larger sense, I wrote about communities and expectations and communication and working together. To see if you agree, check out “When I Was There Their Age…”


Okay… now how bad is that? They’re are differences between there, their and they’re! And I really do know what they are!  Technology got me on this one… because I made the mistake, saw the mistake… but the automatic send happened before I could edit out the mistake! So there’s another advantage of subscribing to this… the odds of seeing my mistakes are higher! (For those who didn’t get the emailed version, I made the mistake in the title too.)

Ask Somebody!

For a number of years I’ve been conducting dictionary presentations with third graders. There’s a point at which I ask the kids, “What do we do if we come to a word we don’t know?”

Historically, the kids have pretty much unanimously replied, “Look it up!” (The pile of dictionaries behind me is probably a clue that helps them with the answer.)

Well, this year I was a bit surprised to hear a few kids say, “Ask somebody!” This in spite of the prominent pile of dictionaries.

And then today I learn about a project whereby Amazon.com has hired some folks from Quorus–a service that is adding a “social dimension” to online shopping. Say you are shopping for a gift and are having trouble deciding. The Quorus program would allow you to “discuss” the purchase (online) with other members of the family both in real time (chat) and offline.

Imagine being able to ask all of your friends online, “Will these pants make my butt look big?”

As if to reaffirm this trend, when I was getting instruction regarding my newly aquired SmartPhone, the representative pointed out that “the best thing to do when you are looking at an ‘ap’ is to see what the reviews (other people) have said about it.” Yep, that sounds like “ask somebody” to me! Instead of researching the developer and the features of the ap, I’m supposed to count stars I guess. (Actually, I do read reviews–but that’s only one component of the research.)

Surely we could spend days discussing the ramifications of this trend.  I’ll bet if we involved Madam DeFarge she’d opine, “It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times.”

My relationship with technology is at times tenuous, although I confess I have personified my GPS and will occasionally argue with her, but often rely on her. “Greta says that I’ll be arriving in 45 minutes…” In practice, I’ve asked Greta (her last name is Garmin) how long the trip will take. So far, I remain convinced I’m still smarter than she is.

Let’s set aside the question of whether or not this is all good stuff. (Personally, I like seeing kids looking up things in the dictionary instead of asking somebody. I also still have arguments with Greta when she tries to make me take a turn that doesn’t make sense. Suffice it to say, asking somebody is not a substitute for using our brains.)

One of the questions this does raise… Where are we going to learn the social (media) graces? To wit, if I bump into you at the bank in Dover Foxcroft, I’m probably not going to show you a picture of what I had for breakfast. For that matter, if you invite me to lunch, I’m probably not going to whip out my (yet unnamed) SmartPhone to ask people what looks good on the menu.

Whaddya think?

Don’t say, “I’m not sure, let me ask somebody.”

2012 — Keep going!

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

We have Winston Churchill to thank for that pearl of wisdom. There’s also a Yiddish Proverb that suggests “Bygone troubles are good to tell.” Good stuff to think about as we prepare to end one year and begin another.

Many people will attempt to wax eloquent on occasions such as this–odd, in a way because all we’re really doing is changing one digit at the end of the dates on our calendars. But it is an opportunity to reflect on the past, present, and future. I can’t resist some attempted eloquence myself.

Shall I enjoy sharing some bygone troubles? (Did I just hear a collective groan?) Let’s understand the wisdom is not in sharing the troubles. The wisdom (and joy) is that those troubles are past! I’m typing this on a new laptop with the latest software versions.  I could, I’m sure, share a number of troubles I was having prior to this–some were amusing, all were frustrating. There were days when I was sure I was experiencing hell.

“You can’t do that unless you have the current version of Internet Explorer.”

“You can’t install the latest version of Internet Explorer unless you have Windows 7”

“You can’t install Windows 7 on your current machine because…”

Perhaps someday hell will be defined as having obsolete technology. I’m happy to report, however, that those troubles are “bygone,” at least for a few months until newer and better starts arriving. I’m told that three years is now about the maximum life expectancy of most technology.

For some reason, all this reminded me of the black-capped chickadees I enjoy watching at the feeder. Science tells us that these little wonders store (cache) food, but only remember the locations for about 28 days. And you thought you were having long-term memory problems? As I recall (I encountered this bit of information some years ago), the chickadees are constantly growing new brain cells and, of course, creating new memories.

It might be tempting to wish for the chickadee’s ability–imagine starting over with new memories every month or so? Talk about bygone troubles! “Hey, I’m going through hell right now but in 28 days I won’t remember it!”

The obvious problem is that you won’t remember the good times, either. But where would we be without the memories of our adversities? Perhaps it is time to remove some of the value judgements we quickly place on things that have happened, are happening, or may happen. There was one task I faced with the upgrades that I truly dreaded–partly because it had caused me great pain during past upgrades. I put it off until the last possible moment. My fingers shook a bit on the keys and mouse… but I did it without a hitch.

“Keep going…” is a great slogan for a new year. I think I’ll make it mine. So I suppose I can offer the traditional “Happy New Year” greeting… but my real wish for you is that you’ll keep going!

Course and Class Schedules Posted!

You can use the tabs at the top or the page listing in the side bar at the right… to review at least three categories of courses I’ll be offering in 2012. Of course there’s the usual real estate licensing courses–a section unto themselves. Courses offered through PVAEC tend to overlap, but there’s plenty of excitement and opportunities. The “You Can” series developed as a collabaration between UMaine Extension and PVAEC includes plenty of “self-sufficiency” skills from backyard poultry to food preservation. Of course I’ve already announced my “Cash as a Crop” course

We’re also starting a “Solopreneur” Series… courses geared for folks who are or want to work alone and run their business single-handed. Of special interest may be a short course that will get you started with your own free WordPress Blog–much like this one!

All of the courses could also fall under the heading of “Personal Growth” — why not take on a new challenge in 2012?! If you have a special interest that’s not covered, let me know… we’ll see what we can do!