How I Built a Professional Community to Grow My Business

We all need support these days. If you can't find a good community, build one.

It's also only €1.09 on the French and German sites as well. If you've been on the fence about buying this book, now is the time. It's nearly free :-) Once you do get a copy, please leave a review on Amazon. I'd love to know what you think. Thank you again!What's Becoming Forever Employable? It's a 10-week live online program designed to help you future proof your career. Our first cohort just started and we're looking for our second cohort. In this hands-on course you will spend direct time with me and your small cohort of motivated professionals learning how to plant your flag, build a content platform, grow a network and audience and start to drive a steady stream of inbound work, speaking and other opportunities to you. If getting started on building your professional reputation has always been one of those "I'll get to it sometime" things, now is that time. Take a look at the program and then apply directly.

Hey folks -It’s been 5 years since I became self-employed. I remember at the time, it was right around the holidays in late 2015, I was terrified. The company I’d help found had just been sold and I wasn’t going to transition over to the new owners. I planned to strike out on my own and give the entrepreneurial life a real go. I had a financial runway of about 6 months should everything go to hell immediately but I’d been fortunate enough to build my practice and learn how to run it inside the safety of my former company. I knew the work. I knew how to sell it. And I knew how to deliver it. It was time to try it out without the assured paycheck every 2 weeks.There was a lot to lose. My kids were 9 and 12 years old and, along with my wife, the four of us lived comfortably in the suburbs of New York City. I felt a ton of pressure to maintain that reality for them. As I started down my entrepreneurial path I realized there was way more to learn than I’d anticipated. I have a tendency to jump out of the airplane and build the parachute on the way down. So I jumped and realized, very quickly, that building that parachute was going to be far more complicated than I expected. I need insurance to run my business? Why do I have to offer workplace compensation for a business of one? How do you run payroll? Did I pick the right kind of corporation type? Where do I find an IP clause for a contract?These questions might seem obvious, and they do to me now of course, but at the time I was unprepared to answer most of them. The good news was that I wasn’t the first person to do this. I began pinging my friends, acquaintances and other practitioners I respected for answers to these and many other questions. It turns out that many of them struggled to answer them when they started out and, in some instances, were still looking for good answers when I reached out. I wondered if there was a community we could join where we could ask these types of questions and receive honest, practical insight into improving how we ran our respective businesses. I began to look online. There was Google. It helped but finding answers specific to my needs was tough. There was Quora which was also helpful but the kind of personal endorsement from practitioners whose opinions I valued was missing from there. I tried groups on LinkedIn and pinged my Twitter community as well. All were helpful but none provided the kind of support I needed to learn how to run my specific type of business.

It dawned on me then that perhaps the most effective way to find this kind of supportive community was to build it myself. I’d never done anything like that before but figured it was worth a shot. I launched a Slack group using their free tier service and invited about a dozen folks to join me there. They were coaches, consultants, trainers, facilitators and mentors—all individual contributors working in my or related fields. The group launched with (and maintains to this day) only three rules:

  1. You must be a self-employed consultant (focused membership constraint)

  2. Anything that happens in the group stays in the group (confidentiality)

  3. Don’t be an asshole (trust and safety)

That group is still in existence today. In the nearly 5 years of its life it has taught me an immeasurable amount about how to run my business as well as how to build and maintain community. On a daily basis we ask questions, share experiences, vent, offer collaboration opportunities, coach each other and make each other laugh. We teach each other how we did something that worked or how to avoid something that didn’t work. We help promote each other and we function as a sounding board for new ideas. Inevitably, when life happens, we’re there emotionally for each other as well. And, I’m proud to say, that last year, for the first time in our existence we managed to get about 50% of the group together in person to spend a few days skiing and hanging out together.

Community building and management is incredibly hard work. I had no idea how to do it and I’m not confident I’m much better at it today. What I do know is that, based on the longevity of the membership in the group, the group brings tremendous value to its members. We’ve learned how to curate the conversations in ways that drive a high signal-to-noise ratio. We’ve learned what the approximate right size is for the group and we’ve learned the hard way, how to deal with members that don’t work out.As with anything, we’re still working out the kinks. Diversity continues to be an issue and one we’ve been actively working on for a few months now. Politics inevitably seeps into the discourse posing questions about what to do when conversations and differing points of view clash. In addition, we’ve been exploring how to democratize management of the group. Since its inception it’s been “my group.” We’re experimenting with models that broaden that responsibility to the community and I’m hopeful that we will begin to implement a new model this year.

I know that my business wouldn’t be where it is today -- launching into its 6th year after 5 years of YoY growth -- without the support of this little group. I know that the likelihood of me finding a group like this is very small. So I encourage you, as you set out to build your next step or pursue the path you’re on, to seek out folks in your situation and adjacent ones as well. Start the community you want to be a part of. Share the information you have and ask the questions you need answered. Over time and with greater trust, the conversations will grow and bring not just business success but new friendships, collaborations and opportunities you never expected.



New on the blog:I wrote a piece on the impact IT security has on productivity and collaboration, especially in a distributed world and how it breeds Shadow IT.I also was lucky enough to get Michael Bungay Stanier to let me interview him for a Forever Employable story. 30 mins video here worth every minute for every aspiring coach, author and consultant.

What I'm up to:I've been speaking at several online events, conferences and meetups. It's been amazing to meet audiences from all over the world often multiple times in the same day. While the pandemic has many negative implications, the ability to work with people in 6 different countries in one day is a nice perk. I've also been leading several in-house trainings and keynoting corporate events. Interested in having me speak at your event? Let me know!Public events coming up:Lean UX & Product Discovery for Agile Teams - March 2021 cohort is on sale now . In addition, we regularly offer this class in-house, in a private version to companies. We can focus specifically on your teams' needs and challenges in your unique context. Ask me anything about that.I'm also co-teaching a live online Professional Scrum with UX certification course with next week!I'm equally thrilled to host a free webinars with two of the latest authors from Sense & Respond Press:January 27, 2021 - How to use OKRs for your personal and career development with Natalija HellesoeFebruary 3, 2021 - Hiring Product Managers: 3 steps to change how you think about hiring in 2021 with Kate Leto

 What I'm liking at the moment:

Listen: Jane's Addiction's amazing second record Nothing's Shocking -- Yes, I know it's over 30 years old. But have you listened to it lately?! Holds up so well and it rocks pretty hard too. And, omg, if you've never listened to this record, well, you're welcome.

Watch: The Expanse Season 5 (Amazon Prime) -- I'm a Star Trek guy but one thing that's always bothered me about the Star Trek universe is how clean everything is. The future of humanity is equal, perfect and free from so many of our current vices. The Expanse fixes all of that. This near-future sci-fi drama now in it's fifth season is gritty, dirty, real and what I imagine the future of humanity will look like as we expand into space. If you're looking for a new binge, this is a great one.

Read: The Practice by Seth Godin -- I've been a more recent convert to Seth Godin's work. I've known of him for a while but in the last couple of years have really started tuning in. I bought his new book and cruised through it in a matter of days (I'm a slow reader so this is a big deal for me). It's filled with short, motivational nudges to get out there and ship creative work, build a reputation, learn, pivot and grow your professional self and your craft.

As always, if you want me to work directly with your company on training, coaching or workshops on the topics of organizational agility, digital transformation, product discovery and agile leadership, don’t hesitate to reach out.Like this newsletter? Forward it to a friend.


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