No entrepreneur is an island—and that goes for the solopreneurs too. The fact is, scale-able owner-operator businesses and solopreneurships rarely function without teams, even if they’re just small teams of contractors. And the success of these businesses is the result of a leader who delegates and communicates effectively.
I think there’s no doubt that we're going to see a spike in freelancing and solopreneur businesses in a post-COVID economy. This model makes sense in conditions where businesses want to avoid the expense of full-time staff and there is an influx of skilled workers with something to offer the market. And if you’ve had a solopreneur business for years, you may have even become busier since the pandemic hit. With that being said, now is the time to scale in a smart, systematic way, and that might mean making your first hire or better managing your current contractors.
When it comes to small businesses, we often focus on the role of marketing and sales in securing success. We talk about the brilliant marketing campaigns and the stirring thought leadership. We give credit to well-managed sales programs and well-honed strategies. Because, of course, it goes without saying you can’t expect growth without robust marketing and sales.
As I’m someone who helps small business owners to create businesses that can meet their lifestyle — ones big enough to serve their needs yet organized enough to minimize their workloads and stress levels — I can say that when it comes to securing this type of success, communication as a skill is underrated.
I work with “solopreneurs” with small teams and small agencies with teams of 3-15 people. I love it when these businesses experience a healthy balance of growth and operational harmony, with less turnover and higher client retention. These are businesses that the owners love because it supports the owner's desired lifestyles. And I can say that this type of success tends to go along with the following communication traits.
These business owners see their business as a teaching tool.
They actually enjoy working with team members to help them progress in knowledge and skills acquisition. They talk about wins and losses like a coach does, with the intention of helping everybody to learn what works well and what needs to be changed or improved.
A team leader who happens to be a great teacher finds opportunities to satisfy their team members’ natural curiosities. For example, they might approach a performance review as more than just an occasion to learn what their team member is struggling with and instead use it as an opportunity to discover what they’d like to learn and what motivates them to succeed.
These business owners know the importance of repeating key messages.
Nobody retains the message perfectly after hearing it only once. That’s why business owner-operators repeat meaningful messages to their team.
Research conducted by Tsedal Neeley and Paul Leonardi confirms the value of repetition. These researchers shadowed 13 managers, recording communication they sent and received over 250 hours. They found that one of every seven communications contained repeated messages—and that managers choosing to repeat important messages tend to have more efficient and smoother projects.
These business owners celebrate victories.
Have you had bosses who couldn’t pause to savour the wins? The ones so focused on constant achievement or so driven by fear of failure that the pace never relents? Working under a cloud of “never being enough” isn’t exactly motivational, is it?
Solopreneurs who own businesses they love don’t run teams like that. Instead, they celebrate what’s worth celebrating. They remind everyone about why their work matters. They express the ways in which the team is spectacular.
These business owners share critical information about their business.
Transparency. They live by this quality. They are transparent about the business direction and performance. They communicate their own hopes and aspirations and mistakes and concerns.
Buffer is a great example of a radically transparent business culture, one in which salary information is shared openly. According to Quartz, this strategy has strengthened the company’s ability to work as a team.
5. SHOWING UP
These business owners are present for the team.
What do I mean by being “present”? I mean being empathetic, emotionally available, and attuned to what the team is experiencing. Rather than bulldoze teams with their strong wills, they show up with plenty of support to give. And that’s genuinely inspirational.
I like the way Kevin O’Neill, managing partner and co-founder of executive search firm Acertitude, says it: “Presence is the embodiment of the vision and the motivating force to keep people engaged to achieve individual and collective goals.”
These business owners know how to say thank you and mean it.
It takes a certain level of humility to really practice gratitude with and for team members. Solopreneurs on the way to becoming entrepreneurs who have businesses they love have plenty of that. And it pays off.
In fact, businesses with cultures of recognition are more productive. Team members who feel appreciated are more engaged, and according to a Gallup study, business units with engaged employees are 17% more productive.
These business owners invest sincerely into building real relationships.
They know that it's the people and the relationships that make it all work. They have a genuine love for their clients and team members and invest themselves into spending time with both. That’s what makes for happy, healthy, engaged teams.
As the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which followed 724 men of different economic statuses to learn more about happiness, puts it: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
These business owners don't avoid the tough conversations.
Look, all is not well 100% of the time in even the most idyllic teams. Deadlines are missed. Goals go awry. Behaviour slips.
Great business owners own their mistakes and aren’t afraid of confrontation. Or, if they are afraid, they do it anyway! And they do it with style: maintaining emotional composure and ensuring the communication they deliver is objective, clear, and actionable.
You can have a highly profitable business without killing yourself. When you focus on building internal capacity that fosters collaborative and client-focused teams, that elusive work-life balance comes within reach.
Businesses that generate enough profits while allowing for lower-stress workloads are marked by fantastic communication. Starting with the leader. In my work, I’ve seen it time and time again.
The 8 traits I’ve listed and described above are common among leaders who drive genuine success in a lean team and sustain a healthy profitable business. But even if these qualities aren’t all naturally occurring in you, it’s possible to develop them. And that just might be your ticket to creating the business of your dreams.