One of my new favorite things is interviewing people for my Wordslinger Podcast, which gives me an excuse to talk to anyone about anything. The show focuses on story—how it impacts our culture, our career, and our lives.
That's the tagline. But what it really means is that I get to chat with people every week and find out exactly what story they're telling themselves and the world, and how that story shapes them into who they are.
A lot of the people I interview are "free range humans" (to steal a term from Marianne Cantwell). Essentially, these are the folks who have figured out how to have the ultimate voice in their careers. They decide what they do for a living, how they do it, where they do it, and when they do it. Most of the time, this means working for yourself, which can be trying but almost always amazing.
I'm blessed to have a free range career. I've had the occasional "day job," but for the most part, my career has been a series of days spent writing books or talking to clients about all the ways I can help them craft a story that defines their success. Often, I have clients who ask me how to reach their own free range career.
There are a lot of ways that can happen, and the one you use depends on your own personal tastes and preferences, as well as your comfort level with certain technology, marketing tactics, and workload. But there are some general rules of thumb that you can use, right now, to help you craft the story of your own success.
Help someone get what they want
It's one of the most over-looked tenants of business, but the rule is "make something someone wants." It sounds too simple ... and that's the problem. It's the kind of thing that prompts you to say, "Well, duh."
It's so simple, though, that many entrepreneurs miss it entirely. They focus instead on the really cool thing they're creating, and all the awesome things it can do, and all the money they can make from it. By the time they get around to asking, "Does anyone really want this?" it's usually a question that answers itself with a checking account balance of zero.
If you want to own your career, a good place to start (the only place to start) is with determining how you can help someone else get what they want.
I call this the Zig Ziglar principle. If you've followed my work for any given length of time, you can probably quote along with me:
Choose your own identity
All businesses have two major components: They meet a need and they tell a story.
We addressed the first half of this above. But even if you've figured out a way to meet a pressing need for your customers, it won't amount to much if they've never heard of you. That's why it's important to tell your story through marketing and promotion.
Marketing is the conversation you have with your customers and your audience. It's the verbalization of the story you've crafted for yourself and your business. It isn't the only form of storytelling in a business, but it's the one you've been exposed to most often, usually without even realizing it.
Good marketing means you understand exactly who you are and what you have to offer, as well as how your product or service meets a specific need for a specific audience.
Determining who you are, especially as a free range human (read that as "an entrepreneur"), starts with crafting the synopsis of your story. In other words, you need a mission statement.
This doesn't have to be anything complicated. In fact, the simpler you make it, the easier it is to fold into your story.
For example, my mission statement as an author reads:
Notice how personalized that statement is? First person pronoun, my name to make it specific, three adjectives that describe the type of noun I want to be, and it's all present tense, because I want to be that person now, not later.
I also have a list of "personal definitions" where I define every term in that statement, so I know exactly what I mean by every word of it.
I write that statement as an affirmation, fifteen times every day. It helps me to burn it into my subconscious, to make it an indelible part of my psyche. It's also something of a trigger, in the mornings, getting my brain into writing mode.
You don't have to have just one mission statement, by the way. I currently have two. The second focuses on helping others to craft their own stories and achieve success, however they define it. That's one of the reasons I'm writing this post.
Which leads to my final bit of advice ...
Reach your customers
Once you've determined how you can help meet a need, and you've determined exactly who you are and how you relate to your customers, it's time to take action. Guys like Seth Godin and even the late Steve Jobs would say that it's "time to ship."
Of course, all this assumes you've identified your customer, and how to reach them. There are tons of ways you can do this, but there's a basic rule you can observe that is guaranteed to help you find your target market:
Again, that sounds overly simplified. And if I'm being honest, it really is as simple as it seems.
If your target market is golfers, focus your marketing on publications and events that have their attention. If your market is indie authors, look for popular venues where those authors spend their time. If your market is people who need personal trainers, focus on finding places where they're looking for someone like you.
That's it. Simple. Meet a need, define yourself, and go where the customers are. Beginning, middle, and end. Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" played out in a free range career move.
Of course, there are nuances upon nuances in everything I just wrote. But those are the bits that you build and refine as you answer the questions posed above. "What do I make? Who am I? Where are my customers?"
Building a career that's extraordinary happens when you have a commitment to crafting and telling your story, your way. You really do have all the power, here. You can define who you are as an entrepreneur, and live a pretty amazing life. I've seen it over and again. You will too.
Here's where you start.