One of our corporate clients just e-mailed to give us his "highest praise." He said that he is most pleased because our work is memorable. In a good way. That's a huge compliment in the competitive consulting/freelancing arena we live in. It's also a nice affirmation to receive while we're on the road and in some tough-to-get-work-done situations. Like now, when we're on the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Not a bad office for now...
Working virtually isn't always easy, and it can be a long road to earning feedback like that. A couple of months ago we wrote about hitting a rough patch (while in New York City) when we unexpectedly had to bring our "A" game in order to earn a client's business. It wasn't pretty, but everything worked out. We got the client.
The best path for us to take when things get ugly hasn't always been as clear as it was on that bumpy day. Thanks to a lot of failed experiments, we have a pretty good handle on how to thrive through the good and bad.
As we said in that post, the project we were competing for was right in our pocket, so we knew we had to fight for it. Back when we were getting started in the virtual HR arena, making money was of primary importance. We didn't have the luxury of being terribly selective and – at the same time – we were trying to get a grasp on what was and wasn't in our pocket. No easy task.
A "I'll do anything for money" approach doesn't sustain itself forever, and – if it does – it's the super-highway to burnout. Additionally, tough periods are what often break people (with great ideas) who are building something new. Given that, we knew we had to find our sweet spot as soon as possible upon getting our business up and running.
We're routinely asked about building a virtual business that has moved beyond that constant-stress-case phase. We hear variations of "I know someone who does virtual work, but she is always stressed" all the time.
First, you have to be in your wheelhouse. To repeat the critical foundational advice we've written about before:
1. Play to your natural strengths and talents. Real success – fulfilling success – is fueled by knowing yourself. If you’re not playing to your natural strengths, you’ll know it because you’ll feel out of sync (as many people do).
2. Remember, passion is important because it energizes you. When you have a true passion for your work – or anything – you can’t get enough of it. Unfortunately, many people have a passion for their work but remain unfulfilled because it doesn’t also play to their strengths. Wondering why your venture (that you’re so passionate about) isn’t thriving? Examine whether or not it also plays to your natural strengths.
3. Know what differentiates you. What sets you apart from others with the same strengths and passion? Why you?
No matter what, it’s also important to follow your own path. Too many people see a successful model and think they can simply duplicate it. Don’t follow someone else’s dream and don’t muck up your reputation by engaging in things that don’t align with the intention behind your work. It makes you look desperate (which, even if you are, is a card you never want to show).
Only when the above is under control can you truly know what you do and do it well, helping you to avoid becoming a 24/7 ball of stress.
In our case, we had double the work. We had to do all of the above individually in order for us to each plug the "best of us" into our virtual work. It can seem daunting, but it's well worth it. Having done that heavy lifting, it means that we can lean further and further into our strengths, passions and differentiators.
For instance, we regularly redefine our niche in the HR/Career Development arena, stripping away work that is not what either one of us is great at. Again, the ability to fine tune your domain doesn't happen instantly, but you should always have it as a goal. It's good for you and your clients. Recently, we made a change which requires our corporate clients to make final edits to our work in-house. That's great for clients because it better ensures that the "voice" of our work will better match the rest of their collateral. Of course it's also positive for us, because it allows us to pursue more of our in-the-pocket work without having to get bogged down in nit-picky editing and proofing.
By knowing what we do best and always refining it, we are able to quickly assess whether or not a potential job is something we should pursue. And, hopefully, be told that it's memorable.