Working alone: solitary problems have solutions


March 13, 1994|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

If you're self-employed, you face an unrelenting string of situations and problems that demand decisions. You have no bosses to whom you can go. You may work alone, as well, and have no colleagues with whom you can brainstorm.

So what do you do when you don't know what to do? Here are 11 steps to take if you're an entrepreneur with a problem to solve:

* Take yourself off the hook. You may have a knot in your stomach if you're facing a problem you don't know how to solve, but tell yourself as often as you need to that it's all right not to know everything -- and that people who do know everything (or think they do) never experiment, learn from their mistakes, or grow.

* Think positively. One way to deal with the knot in your stomach (and the problem) is to assume -- always! -- that any problem can be solved. When we start from this premise, we get farther, faster. Pretend you know what you're doing, too. Chances are, you do.

* Arm yourself with good, solid information. This is the information age, and vast amounts of it are available to entrepreneurs.

If you can't find the information you need, consider paying a student at a nearby university or community college to collect it for you. If you're in an urban area, look up researchers or information brokers in the Yellow Pages and newspaper classified ads.

* Trust your instincts. Listen carefully to that little voice inside of you that says, "Go for it!" or "Caution!" You may be looking at a business situation that looks good on paper, but if something deep inside you is whispering "Don't!" run, don't walk, away from it.

* Focus on the positive aspects of solving a problem, not on the details of the problem itself. Don't concentrate on how scared you are about spending money or taking risks, for example. Instead, picture how much easier your job will be, or how much more business you'll bring in once you've solved this problem.

* Practice lateral thinking. Force yourself to think of three ways to handle any situation, never just one. Don't try to evaluate each idea immediately, just set it aside and think of another.

* Try an indirect route. Often the best way to get where you want to go is not the direct or obvious way. Sometimes it stretches our brains -- and problem-solving capabilities -- to explore indirect or even illogical options, and they can lead us to direct or logical ones.

* Think creatively. Ask yourself the same question in different ways, or reverse the mental steps you've taken so far to handle this situation. Propose solutions that break your normal rules, so long as they don't violate your moral code. Above all, keep your options open.

* Know when to stop thinking. When you begin to go over and over the same ground, getting nowhere, stop and go on to other things for a while. Sleep on the problem, or do something relaxing and unrelated for a while.

John Fairchild, publisher of Women's Wear Daily and other trade newspapers, sometimes went to the movies in the middle of his working day. He said this helped him to "conceptualize."

* Get input from others. One of the hardest things about working for yourself is that you so often work alone. Discussing your situation with someone who's knowledgeable and/or sympathetic can accomplish in a short time what hours of solitary skull-bashing can't.

* Finally, if you're getting stuck, do something -- even if it's wrong. When you're self-employed, it's almost always better to do something than nothing.

If you believe you might have a workable solution to this situation, try it out on a small scale, but take action of some kind, because paralysis is a killer, and time is the only commodity you can't replace.

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