It's Time to Take a Look in the Mirror
by Chris King

During the past few weeks, I have attended two seminars, both featuring excellent and inspiring speakers. Even though both of the events were technology related - the first a launch of a Microsoft product and the second an all day symposium geared to technology communicators - I came away not only with exciting tech information, but also with a new goal. It is called "Looking in the mirror and reinventing myself." In this article, I will share what I mean by this, and you will find out if this is something you might want to tackle, too.

"Regularly reset your defaults."
I know that this sounds like he was talking about software settings, but the speaker was referring to us. Just like computer software, we tend to have one way and only one way of performing different tasks. We get comfortable, especially if they are working (we have all heard the old cliché ad nauseam that "if it isn't broke, don't fix it"). Well, I have news. As the speaker pointed out, "Being very competent isn't enough."

In these competitive times, we, as free agents, independent professionals and freelancers need to develop an edge. So, it is time to investigate your defaults and reset at least a few of them. The presenter suggested the importance of developing specialized expertise. Ask yourself what skills and expertise you now possess that can be pushed to new and more specialized levels. What would you like to know more about? I find that learning, just for the sake of learning, is not enough. It is important and much more rewarding to study something that excites me. It is also easier to sell clients on a new project that we are passionate about.

"If you don't like change get out of the freelance living business."
I have substituted the words "freelance living" for the speaker's word, "software." If you and I haven't realized or accepted it yet, every day brings about change. Change in the way we do business. Change in whatever field(s) we work in. Change in attitudes - of the clients and others in our lives. Change in methods of communication. Change in the tools we use (yes computers are part of this, but also telephones, etc.). Because I have many careers, I have started looking at each separately and working on ways to change and come up-to-date. Just coming "up-to-date" isn't enough, however, we need to get ahead. And that segues into my next paragraph topic.

"Look in the mirror and reinvent yourself." This was the final message shared at the all-day symposium for technical communicators. "It is time for a reckoning," said one of the motivating speakers. She stressed asking ourselves how we can get ourselves onto the leading edge. We need to revisit our skills to discover how to solve problems from a whole new perspective. (Sound familiar?) I suggest it is a good time to reevaluate where we are, where we are going and how we can make 2006 the best year yet.

For ideas you might use, here is my list of ways to reinvent and upgrade myself:

  • What new skills do I need to learn? In the area of web development and design I will become an expert on databases, how to set them up, use them, and deliver Active Server Pages. I will also work toward becoming an expert on Macromedia's new Studio 8 (I have it, but am just starting to play with it).
  • What new defaults will I set in my areas of comfort? I teach eight to eleven fitness classes a week, and tend to follow the same format - the rationale is that the students like to know what is coming next. I am not going to make drastic changes that will throw them off, but I am adding some new sections for variety and to keep us "on our toes" so to speak. There are also other tasks that perform daily in a comfortable way. I will start making note of different and more efficient ways to approach these.
  • How can I reconsider my financial picture in a better and more sensible way? After receiving a "tongue lashing" from my tax preparer for not "charging enough" for what I do, I have revised my billing structure. I realize that if I don't value my work enough, others won't either. Again, as long as we are comfortable, it is easy to bypass hearing clients say they can't afford what we are charging. Then, it is time to find new clients.
  • How can I upgrade my marketing and what I am marketing? Marketing is the area that so many of us avoid, but is necessary if our businesses are to thrive. Know what you do well and do it (I love the networking), but decide to pursue the techniques that aren't quite as easy (for example, following up, making appointments and proposals - not as comfortable for me).

That's a start, anyway. They sound like goals, and they are. And, now that I have written them down for all of you to see, I have to pursue them!

Now it's time for you to take a look in the mirror. How are you going to reinvent yourself? Let me know. I love hearing from you!

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