Running Through Hallways on Fire: Here’s a Fire Extinguisher

When Redhead Writing needed to grow from a part-time, one-woman show into a full-on consulting firm, something became infinitely clear: I needed to stop running through hallways on fire.

I was on fire…running from one fire to the next, trying to be everything to everyone. Ultimately, I threw myself into the pool, dried off, cooled down and today, I’m watching a business grow.

Want to know how I did it? Today, I’m telling you. There are no $69.95 lunch seminars to attend. There aren’t any weekend workshops or eBooks that will share my secrets for a nominal fee. It’s a simple process – anyone can do it – and maybe you’ll find some value in doing it as well. If not, you can tell me to stick it and delete my blog from your reader. (By the way, have you subscribed?)

Pro Tip: Refuse to Be On Fire.

Earlier this year, I met Shelly Kramer at a conference where we were both speakers here in Denver. She said something I knew yet could never verbalize: collaborate – don’t compete. If you don’t know her, she’s the mastermind behind Kansas City’s V3 Interactive Media. I like her. She’s straight-talkin’, no bullshit havin’ and an absolutely brilliant collaborator.

There’s enough business to go around and (by all that’s holy) you don’t do everything. I’m not a web designer, code monkey, graphic designer, SEO firm, direct marketing agency or publicist. Knowing this but not knowing how to verbalize it, I finally had a label for how I’d intuitively built my business to where it is today:

I called the guy.

There’s a guy who does my taxes. Another who fixes shit in my house. There are a couple I call when my car makes weird “ka-thunk” noises. And there’s one guy in my life who I call more often than any other. While that one isn’t an employee, there are days he deserves to be on the payroll.

They all have roles. And they each carry a fire extinguisher.

When growing my business, I aligned myself with several web designers, SEO firms and graphic designers. These are people who had clients who needed what I do and my clients need what they each have to offer. Instead of bearing the burden of running around all day and putting out fires, I found people to do that for me so I could focus on the business of MY business: online strategy, copywriting and social media consulting.

In five simple tips, here’s how to stop running around like you’re on fire and build your own fire department:

  • What You’re Doing vs. What You WANT to be Doing – A Jack of all Trades is a master of none. While I fully admit that baptism by fire is a powerful learning tool, if you keep yourself on fire, you’re just going to burn yourself out.
    • Say THIS IS WHAT I DO. And do that. And only that.
    • Understand that your working knowledge of the things you DON’T DO give you a competitive advantage. This knowledge allows you to do YOUR job in a way that it helps the team you build to do all of the OTHER jobs that make your client efforts a success.
      • For example, while I am not a web designer, code monkey or SEO firm, my knowledge of search engine algorithms, pay-per-click practices, CSS, HTML and user interface design are all assets that these professionals appreciate. It makes their work easier, and thus, my job easier as well.
  • Talk to Potential Competitors – And stop competing, you petty little school children. It isn’t prom and you’re all not trying to ask the same person to prom.
    • Two heads are, indeed, better than one in many cases. Collaboration makes you smarter. Period.
    • Would you rather work on 10 mediocre accounts or on five hugely promising accounts that excite you every morning and every night?
    • It’d be pretty cool to have your clients say, “WOW!” If you can do it on your own, you can product twice as much WOW with more than one thinking cap.
  • Be a Pimp – Build a stable. In my industry, I have four web designers, two SEO firms, multiple social media and marketing alliances, five freelance writers and perhaps five PR specialists. Your industry may be different. There’s a fit for every client and I don’t delude myself into thinking that one of the above will be a fit for all of the below. The following are three reasons you need a stable of alliances:
    • Personalities
    • Budgets
    • Availability
  • Stop Giving Away the Cow – You’re the cow. People hire you because they want the milk. Your milk. While a bovine-kinky-cliche analogy, it’s very true. I recently got a smackdown on this from a colleague. I sounded something like:
    • ME:  “I thought I was helping – the clients appreciate that.”
    • HER: “Yeah. They need to hire you for that caliber of advice.”
    • ME: “Shit – you’re right. May I have another?”
  • Bounce – You’re not an island. I am fortunate to have built a network of alliances where I can ping someone and say, “Can I bounce something off of you?” Sometimes that other perspective is invaluable. It keeps you from taking a client, prods you to take a client you wouldn’t have otherwise, confirms a suspicion, reaffirms your gut. And then – there’s the occasional bitch slap. And those, my friends…those are priceless and don’t come from keeping to yourself. They’re how we grow. Go out. Bounce. Get slapped. Awwwyeah.
13 comments
Erroin Martin
Erroin Martin

One of the secrets of most successful business people, entrepreneurs, and millionaires is that they do not do everything themselves. They know when to hire the talent they need to fill the gaps. It is tough to learn that lesson when you start out on your own. I think there is a since of pride and a "I can do it by myself!" attitude that comes out when one first starts. I know I've done it and I am possible still on fire in some regards.To follow up with Shelly's question as to why people still act this way... stubbornness, pride, and hubris that comes from prior successes.If you need a sarcastic world travelled business coach Erika, I'll join your stable. Lord knows I need to be pimped at times!Erroin@Erroinhttp://www.vongehrconsulting.com

Erroin Martin
Erroin Martin

One of the secrets of most successful business people, entrepreneurs, and millionaires is that they do not do everything themselves. They know when to hire the talent they need to fill the gaps. It is tough to learn that lesson when you start out on your own. I think there is a since of pride and a "I can do it by myself!" attitude that comes out when one first starts. I know I've done it and I am possible still on fire in some regards.To follow up with Shelly's question as to why people still act this way... stubbornness, pride, and hubris that comes from prior successes.If you need a sarcastic world travelled business coach Erika, I'll join your stable. Lord knows I need to be pimped at times!Erroin@Erroinhttp://www.vongehrconsulting.com

wagnerwrites
wagnerwrites

I've been headed in this direction for a long time; it's finally starting to pay off. As usual, you said it the way I wish I could have said it. So I'm just going to email this to all my homies. I mean "colleagues."

ShellyKramer
ShellyKramer

I love this so much, Erika. And not only because you said nice things about me (which is always flippin' cool). But because it's so true. And because it's a lesson I worked a long time to learn. In addition, I spend more time on a weekly basis than I'd care to trying to teach my clients this same thing.I don't know why it's so hard for people to get this message. I really don't. I would never crawl under my car and think I could fix the ka-thunk noise by myself. Nor would I ever, ever, ever do my own GD taxes - I SUCK at numbers. And I don't cut my own hair or roof my own house or fight my own legal battles. There are professionals who do that way better than I do - and I suck it up and allocate the resources and hire them. They keep me from doing shit badly the first time on my own, and then having to pay someone to come back in and clean up after me.And the collaboration part ... brilliant! I do so love working with people who are smart than me (and that's not hard to come by). Not only do I learn from having the opportunity to work alongside them, I bring my clients and prospective clients infinitely MORE value by virtue of the collaboration than not. And, just like you and I have seen since we started collaborating (w00t w00t to that, btw), we attract more clients with a wider variety of needs because together we are strong enough and smart enough and skilled enough and have enough time to properly take care of those needs.Besides, doing it all alone is lonely. And boring. And dangerous (let's be honest - more heads + more brains + more resources + working smarter = greater chance of success any day of the week). So I'm all about collaborating. All about teaming up with brilliant people (like you) who bring major shizzzzz to the table (in a good way) and all of it means that when it comes to producing great results for my clients, I'm the hero. Because I was smart enough to build a team. And besides, fire extinguishers are heavy and make a HUGE mess. And it is no DAMN FUN to be on fire. Sooooo, I vote, consistently for doing all we can to avoid having to use them!Well said, my fine friend. Well said. And I am so doggone glad to have met you and to have the opportunity to collaborate with you because YOU make ME better. Always.Shelly Kramer@shellykramerhttp://v3im.com

Deetells
Deetells

Create, Connect, Collaborate.....my motto, usually works! And you're right, your services are of extreme value to your clients, even more valuable when you have created a team that you respect, trust and employ to offer their area of expertise to the project. Bottom line to the client-RESULTS, this is why they hired you and in turn will refer you! Keep up the amazing work!

The Redhead
The Redhead

HAH! Thanks, for stopping by, Rich :)

The Redhead
The Redhead

Isn't it amazing what we find needs changing when we're tired of cleaning up messes?

The Redhead
The Redhead

Great word - community. Such an undervalued aspect of building a successful business.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl! And it's so true - more brains equal more wins in the long run...

cheryl
cheryl

"collaborate-don't compete" is so undervalued & misunderstood. i am always amazed when i see someone (in business & in life) operating under the strategy, "in order for me to win...you need to lose"...and how many valuable opportunities are lost in the process.

wumpie
wumpie

This post is a great reminder. I know this stuff, but I always sink back into my bad habits of doing it all myself, giving away the cow and not forming alliances with competitors. Additional benefit to putting out the fire: you're not working in isolation, you're part of a community. Thanks lighting a fire under me.

mgerwing
mgerwing

Thanks for the post. This is good advice that is easy to let slip over time. As a solo-practice, I love the independence but can too readily take on everything myself (as an ego-maniac architect I think I can do everything better) and then watch as the shit repeatedly hits the fan (very messy indeed).Thanks

Rich
Rich

Cool. Lemme know if that one guy doesnt pick up the phone...:)

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