A post of mine back in mid-October, Tips for Home Based Business and a New Book, was inspired by an interview I’d caught on breakfast television. One of the people interviewed was Sam Leader, a co-author of the book I’m reviewing here. I’ve been meaning to review it ever since then, especially as Sam was kind enough, after reading my blog post, to send me a complimentary, autographed copy of the book (that’s taken care of the transparency bit – oh, and I’ve also been invited to submit some articles for their website – I think that covers it).

In Flying Solo, How to go it alone in business, Robert Gerrish and Sam Leader have produced an amazingly concentrated and at the same time very readable compendium of advice, wise counsel, tips and hints for what they call ‘the soloist’.

Having spent a lot of time around the arts world, I tend to immediately think of a ‘soloist’ as the person in a choir or orchestra who gets to perform solo pieces. Robert and Sam re-define the term and hazard a prediction that a day will come when the musical meaning will take second place and the dictionary definition will read:

soloist n. 1. an individual who runs their own enterprise. 2. a performer of a solo, esp. in music.

and above it will appear

soloism n. a system of individual enterprises run by individuals

The authors then provide a neat list of the features by which you can identify business soloists:

  • They are self-employed.
  • They mostly work alone, although occasionally in a partnership or small team.
  • Their income is reliant on their capacity to make it.
  • Their past experiences contribute in some way to their current direction.

They go on to identify two categories of soloist: the independent professional and the micro or small business owner.

Another set of distinctions I found particularly illuminating was the categorization of soloists as:

  • Born soloists
  • Soloists by Design
  • Accidental Soloists
  • Circumstantial Soloists

Hmmm, which am I? Soloist by Design, but with a touch of the Circumstantial, I would say.

These are just a few examples of the distinctions and thought-provoking lists in this book.

The book’s eight chapters are neatly divided into three sections:

  • Thinking Solo
  • Acting Solo
  • Staying Solo

The section on Thinking Solo is really valuable. The authors make it very clear that anyone going solo needs to understand just what they are doing and how this way of doing business will clash with a lot of old assumptions among friends and acquaintances, and even with conditioned thinking in the budding soloist’s own worldview, potentially sabotaging the soloist’s dreams of success. Examples include:

  • You’ll only be productive if you work long hours
  • Most small businesses end quickly in financial ruin
  • It is important to wear a suit to work

This first section includes an excellent workout, the Change Your Thinking Makeover, which is in itself truly worth the price of the book – and more (that phrase sounds such a cliché, but just this one item really is an excellent self-coaching tool among many excellent resources).

As someone who coaches people on, among other things, creating an empowering vision,. I always feel there are special challenges for a home based business owner or other soloist to be able to have and “own” a truly big vision which is also grounded in reality. As in “How can I really develop a vision of a successful, lucrative international business from the modesty of my home office?”. So I was truly impressed with the clarity and practicality of the chapter on The Power of Vision.

There is also practical advice on developing a game plan and especially on gathering a support team. As the authors point out very clearly, flying solo does not mean you don’t need help and support! Far from it.

Marketing – or as the chapter heading in this book puts it – “spreading the word” is something we all have a bit of knowledge about these days. And no doubt we all have our own theories about what works for us and what doesn’t. There is good, practical advice here on developing an ‘elevator statement’ and on developing referrals.

At this point was thinking, this is great stuff, can there be more? So I flipped through the book (I re-read it carefully later ) and realised that the answer was decidedly yes, there is more – and then came to the bibliography. Aha! Now I could see that one of the reasons I’m liking this book is that Robert and Sam read good books and have incorporated seamlessly into this one the thinking of several leaders who have very much influenced my thinking about personal growth, business and marketing, outstanding thought leaders like Stephen Covey, Jim Collins, Timothy Gallwey (one of my absolute favourites for his The Inner Game of Tennis), Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and Ricardo Semmler.

These latter parts of the book, that I re-read after skimming, include lots of very helpful material about how to work on your business and how to stay on track.

All in all, this is an excellent book for the solo professional or business owner or for anyone thinking about going solo. At this time of gift-giving, or for a birthday, it would be a very good item to wrap nicely and give to a friend or family member who is a soloist or contemplating being one.

It is written in a friendly, almost chatty style and given the seriousness of the content has an amazing lightness of touch. At the same time, the book pulls no punches about the challenges of going solo and the long term discipline required to make it work well. Of course, it also mentions the rewards. But if someone is not really cut out for going solo, or not ready to make the necessary commitments, this book will explain why they need to do some more thinking and will help them make a decision to work in a corporate or other group environment, if that is going to be more suited to their values, talents and preferences.

Did I agree with everything in the book as the best possible approach on the planet? Hardly. We coaches are in my experience a fairly opinionated bunch and we all have our favourite theories about how best to do things like creating visions, developing a strategic plan, marketing our services and so on. But I believe that any group of professional coaches who are used to working with soloists would acknowledge that the advice here is highly professional and appropriate – all sound and much of it brilliant.I will certainly be pleased to recommend this book to clients, colleagues and friends.

Did I feel warm and fuzzy reading the book? No. Actually, to be really honest there were a couple of times, when Robert and Sam were being hard-hitting (in a friendly sort of way, you understand) and I thought – this is all too hard, what am I doing trying to be a solo entrepreneur? I’ll never be able to do all these things or be this disciplined! Then I pulled myself together (or pulled out of a nosedive, you might say) and thought, hang on, I am doing it and have been doing it for seventeen years, so maybe I’m doing some things right. My next thought was, isn’t it great that I now have this compendium of information, ideas, tips and tools to enable me to fly higher?!

So no, not always an easy read, because it can make you uncomfortable – but we all know about comfort zones and how they can limit us, don’t we?

Thank you, Robert and Sam – an excellent contribution to the world and work of us soloists (cue sound of – solo – trumpet and – solo – drumroll).

And to help with staying on your flight path, there is the flyingsolo website with loads of helpful information and inspiration.

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