Comparisons are wasteful

I don’t have a business degree. I don’t even have a design degree. What I do have is a knack for storytelling, and a keen ability to figure out what I need to learn in order to solve almost any problem I encounter. And if I can’t learn what I need, I know who to ask in order to get the problem solved.

My journey in business has been tempered by this contrast. On one hand, I know that anything life throws me I can handle it–and have. On the other, I spend hours worrying about this lack of “education.” I worry that I won’t be able to prove myself, or that people with business degrees somehow have an advantage that I don’t. I daydream about returning to school, partially because of this feeling that my education is inadequate, partially because I feel that people are secretly judging me, and partly because I really enjoyed the structure and accountability of school.

But what I’m beginning to realize is, all of that is bullshit.

In five years of running a small design studio, the only people who have ever judged me for not having a degree were people I didn’t want to work with. And everything I’ve needed to know about running a business I’ve learned by doing, or by knowing who to ask.

I focus on the word “I.” here because it should be clear that I am not you–just as I am not all the others that I waste time comparing myself to. While healthy competition is healthy, comparison is wasteful. As a business owner, and as a human, it’s not up to anyone but you decide who you are. Others can lend perspective, and it’s wonderful to get that perspective, but if the goal of your life is to be like them, whose life are you actually living?

Perspective: why no business should be involved in social networking

The problem is that for the last couple of years, experts have continuously preached that the success of a business is dependant on participating in online social networking.  They will try to convince you that you need a Facebook page, that you need to regularly update your Linked In profile, that you should post articles to a myriad of resource sites, and of course let the world know you are doing all this by Twittering at least 5 times a week.

What every expert has forgotten to share with you (or just don’t know to) is that this is not social networking.  There is in fact nothing social about it.  You are not trying to make friends, get in touch with old school chums, or keep tabs on the ex.  You are trying to grow your business.

So maybe it’s time to stop referring to all this as social networking and start seeing it for what it really is: social marketing.

This morning I came across a fascinating perspective on social media in business from Marc Gordon, a marketing consultant from Toronto. His assertion, which I consider to be a correct one, is that many businesses who engage in social networking online make the mistake of thinking that they’re “networking” when what they’re really doing is marketing their business through social media channels.

In my experience, though, social media is really about blending the two worlds: both networking and marketing.

Perhaps it’s because I’m in a relationship-based business where clients are buying our personality as much as our talent and expertise, but I find that I get the most success out of online networking by carefully balancing personal and professional.

For example, in an average day I might tweet about a project that the studio just launched or share a blog post (such as this one, for example), but I’ll also make comments about the weather, or a new recipe I’m creating, or share a bit of snark about something that I find ridiculous. It’s all part of the relationship I’m building with the people who connect with me, and it all feeds into the overall strategy.

Does this approach work for every business? Not necessarily. Major brands, like Starbucks and Whole Foods, may find it easier to keep their social media activity related to specials and information about the industry, as well as responding to consumer comments. It makes sense, and it’s more than likely why people are following them in the first place. But for smaller firms, especially where part of what you’re selling is the experience of being in a room with you, this approach is not only extremely common, but it’s extremely effective in helping you do what you’re online for – build relationships with people who are interested in who you are and how you can help them.

Getting back to loving what is

Over the last several months, there have been a number of important shifts happening in my business. Some are perfectly normal and comfortable and leave me wondering why I haven’t always done things this way; others, quite frankly, scare the bejeebus out of me. Through all of it, I’ve found myself caught up in wishing – feeling like I need to overhaul my office, my internal processes, even the way I market the studio. This morning, what I realized I hadn’t been doing at all was taking time to actually appreciate what I’ve spent the last five years building. And I wondered: hokey as the thought may seem, what would it look like if I spent less time constantly wishing things were different, and spent some time simply loving what is?

As independent professionals, we spend a lot of time learning. We read books, articles, blogs, all by people calling themselves experts, all proposing some new way that we need to do things in order to succeed. But how often do we really listen to ourselves? How often do we sit back, really look at where we are, and trust that we know what to do? And frankly, when everyone who owns an independent service business (and trust me, I count among that number) is writing all these articles trying to prove that they’re an “expert” in something, how do we figure out who to listen to and who to ignore?

I’m beginning to think the answer lies in shutting down the noise – at least for a little while – and going back into ourselves. I think we need to start with what we do know, and then worry about what to add to that knowledge. I think that we need to trust that we’re enough.