You’re independent - but not alone. Succeeding solo means making sure you’ve assembled the right people around you. There are other professionals who will help your business stay on track: you definitely need a lawyer, an accountant, and a tax professional. But often overlooked is your team, your support network. Who will keep you accountable? Inspired? Who will be honest with you? Who will encourage you on the (inevitable) tough days? As you look down this list, you should be able to put a name next to each role. It’s that important!
You know who I’m talking about. These are the people who are always in your corner, totally believe in you, and are your biggest fan. Need a little boost? Can’t wait to share good news? Want to show off the latest project that you totally crushed? Your cheerleaders are down to celebrate and have never doubted how smart, talented, and capable you are.
Often overlooked, a challenger is not your adversary. They’re not trying to pick a fight or get in your way, but they want to make sure that you’ve really thought things through and are only looking for holes because they want you to succeed. The yin to your yang, the look to your leap, these are the people who may say slow down when you want to speed up or ask why when you’re always asking why not? These people are not easy to find, and not always easy to listen to. You don’t always have to do what they say (or ever do what they say) but you have to take it in and take it seriously. You’re never going to get to that next level if you don’t have a great challenger making sure that you’re at your best. These are the friends who tell you the tough truths, even if you don’t want to hear it. They’re sincerely invested in your success and know how smart you are – and see how you could be even better.
If you only have cheerleaders, it’s easy to get stuck in an adulation echo chamber. If you only have challengers, you may feel like you’re always climbing uphill. Push yourself to grow from your challenger, and make sure your cheerleaders give you the boost you need to get all your awesome shit done.
Your champion is more than a cheerleader – they’re a professional reference, they’ll stick their neck out for you, they’re a few steps ahead of you and are reaching a hand back to make sure that you get the opportunities and support you deserve. They see your potential and will do whatever they can do make sure that you’re pushing yourself and on the right path. This person totally gets you and is determined to help you succeed. They are no replacement for your own gumption and hustle, but they love to make connections and sing your praises so that everyone knows how great you are.
This person has the ten-thousand foot view of your career. They help you zoom out, problem solve, and level-up. When you’re getting in your own way, are feeling a little lost, or need that shove into your next move, your coach helps you strategize and see the big picture. You have a lot of information that they don’t have, since you’re up close to the action and in the thick of it, but you also have a lot of unnecessary details and distractions that may be clouding your view. There’s a reason sports teams watch old game tapes and have people on the sidelines to help set the direction. As a freelancer especially, it’s easy to think that we have to be our own coaches. Your coach might be able to help you frame a difficult conversation with a client, realize that you need to raise your rates or work less, or help you figure out where you’re missing out on opportunities. Instead of getting lost in the daily grind or the big dreams, your coach helps you figure out the next play – and the three after that – to make sure that all your hard work is getting you where you need to go.
If a name didn’t immediately come to mind for each of these people in your life, take a moment to reflect. Have you had coaches in the past but are without one now? Who do you invite as a sincere challenger? If you’re finding gaps, go after these folks and ask them specifically for what you need. Hire a career coach! Ask that friend to be your go-to when you need a boost. Tell your mentor how much their support has meant and ask if you can continue to use them as a reference (your champions need a little gratitude and appreciation and they’ll be right by your side). Tell your friend or colleague that you need their perspective and challenge. Notice which of these people you reach out to most, and which ones you tend to avoid.
Being a successful independent means so much more than delivering outstanding work. You have to manage your time, relationships, and career on your own. After you make sure you have a good accountant and a lawyer, make sure the rest of your team is in place.
Chances are, you have been each of these roles for other people in your life. Sometimes all in the same conversation! If you aren’t already, be mindful of how you can be generous in relationships and really lift up and propel those around you.