Saturday, October 4, 2008

It Takes a (Virtual) Team

In my dream of being a freelance writer, I could picture myself conducting interesting interviews, attending stimulating meetings, and sitting alone at my computer for many hours, doing what I love most. That was as far as my dream went. If I ever gave a thought to how I would manage finances, client relationships, or the myriad details of operating a one-person business, I don’t remember those things being part of my fantasy.

I confess that I made the same mistake many creative people make: I believed that if I could earn a living as a writer working for someone else, I could do the same thing working for myself. It’s a flawed concept in that writers and artists and people who bake the best cookies in the world may be masters of our respective crafts, but that is only one-third of the equation.

If I had taken courses in how to run a small business, I might have learned that earlier, but, alas, I did not. I just plunged in and began without having any idea of what I was doing. At first, I was very lucky, landing great corporate clients an earning nice fees. It was a heady experience, proving that I had made the right decision.

It is 20 years later (amazing!), and here is what I have learned, with the help of a dog-eared little book called The E Myth Revisited by Michael E. Berger. The E myth is exactly what I believed when I began: if I could do something well, I could run a business doing it. I was, and am, what Berger calls a “technician” — not too glamorous a label. To be a successful businessperson, I also had to be a manager (to run the business) and an entrepreneur (to dream big dreams and grow the business). In other words, every one-woman band really has to be a three-woman band. If I’m not strong in all three roles (and who is?), I must hire people who are. Right. At those times when I was barely scraping by, hiring two other people wasn’t a very realistic idea.

Fortunately, one learns or one perishes. Some years are better than others; some things are more fun to learn than others. I will never like accounting or collecting money. On the other hand, I have grown to love marketing, especially Internet marketing. I have continued to expand the other two sides of my virtual team because I know that, while I’m busy turning out prose, someone has to let the world know I’m here, buy stamps, send out invoices, file the endless reams of paper I generate, and dream those big dreams.