And make my work a whole lot more fun!
Photos by Tori Stipcak of Victoria Irene Photography
Most independently-employed consultants are acutely aware of the old saying “two heads are better than one” and a longing for the creative energy that comes along with sharing ideas with coworkers. Even in writing this post, I wish that I could swivel my chair around and ask someone – anyone – about wording.
When “you are your business” and you don’t have colleagues in the traditional sense, there’s no walking down the hall to bounce ideas off of a coworker. And there’s no supervisor challenging you to a higher capacity. Instead, you self-motivate much of the time, and the rest of the time align yourself with the right people (coaches, mentors, collaborators, peers, and friends – not to mention good accountants, editors, attorneys, etc.).
Something incredible happened for Cycle Forward this year that allowed for more of this. Business grew to the point that I’ve been taking on larger consulting projects and ones that have required bringing on subcontractors. This team approach was most often needed when I knew that another consultant could add a unique skill set to a project, leading to a richer end product. That in and of itself is exciting.
But the coolest, most energizing thing about my collaborations with other consultants was that I got to choose who I was working with. I could team up with people who I find to be brilliant and inspiring and we could do fantastic work together.
I also got to keep on working with great people. I often serve as a subcontractor to my friend Cathy McCollom, for instance. I can hardly believe we’ve known each other for 15 years and keep finding new ways to work together. Working with Cathy is the closest thing I have to having a colleague even though we both run our own businesses.
But let me tell you about three new 2016 collaborations that brought new people into the mix:
1) Bartering Coaching for Graphics and Photography
Earlier this year, I traded six coaching sessions for six hours of graphic design with Rosslyn Kemerer of Wholehearter Yoga (that’s right, she can do both!). I saved a few hundred dollars on graphic design and she, in turn, saved a few hundred dollars on coaching. Something so cool about it, though, is that we didn’t stop there. We traded blog posts (hers and mine) featured on each others’ websites and there’s been a general air of mutual support.
And later, Rosslyn was up for yet another trade, this time a three-party exchange. Enter nature photographer Tori Stipcak of Victoria Irene Photography. Tori and I had agreed to trade coaching for photography featuring my nature-based coaching. All I needed to do was find clients to be photographed alongside me. I was able to offer Rosslyn a few of Tori’s images for her professional use (thanks, Tori!), and suddenly everyone stood to benefit. The same thing happened with Katie Hale (one of the coolest and most compassionate people in Pittsburgh, a fellow coach and community development professional). For her participation, Katie gets a free coaching session whenever she chooses to use it. The funny thing about working with Rosslyn and Katie is I’m pretty sure that they would have done me the favor with no expectation of a return benefit. But it was nice to be able to offer one.
Coaching is a co-creative process. Clients and coaches learn from and inspire each other throughout the engagement. And so it wasn’t exactly surprising to me to have two clients step up and be photographed. While I’m accustomed to holding my clients’ interest front and center, in these particular sessions we had gathered for my benefit. Redirecting focus from client to coach felt strange to me, but there we were, along with the photographer “co-creating” images that represent how special it is to be coached outside on trails.
We partner, trade, and subcontract for various reasons and with the aim of mutual benefit. In every case I’m sharing here, those with whom I collaborated brought their own magic ingredients to the mix to help make what I was doing better and to help make me better. They helped to catapult me forward this year. And here’s how in the instance of coaching trades:
My Collaborators’ Superpowers:
Rosslyn: Yoga coaching, graphic design, and helping people to get “unstuck”
Tori: Beautiful photography that conveys the wonder of natural spaces
Katie: Being a community leader and coach who possesses a great mix of humor and compassion
And now on to two other 2016 collaborations…
2) Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition Visitor Itineraries
I have to say, this has been one of the most fun and energizing projects I’ve done. I was charged with creating visitor itineraries for cyclists with the intent of drawing them into trail communities. This is a project I probably could have done myself, but I wanted to work with a real pro to ensure that the itineraries followed industry best practices and that I could learn in the process. For that reason, I teamed up with Jan Dofner of Levi Deal Mansion B&B and former Director of Marketing and Communications at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. She’s written entire books that market southwestern Pennsylvania and has organized and led oodles of tours, so why wouldn’t I want to pair up with her and deepen my understanding of visitor needs? We’re still working to wrap up the project, but I can say that her involvement has informed how I’ve approached the work, challenged me to tell a better story, and allowed me to have a blast all the while.
Visitor marketing know-how, scouting sites with ease, asking the right questions, and compelling writing
3) Making the Case for Parks and Recreation in Morgantown
First, I want to recognize my friend Greg O’Loughlin of SWELL for his role in a similar project. I was a subcontractor to Greg last year when the “Good for PA” parks and recreation campaign was launched. I provided research and writing on the benefits of parks and rec, as well as the challenges faced. SWELL led the project and made the ideas come to life with this beautiful campaign. So when I showed the materials to the parks and rec staff in Morgantown, they were inspired. I only needed to find a regional branding professional who could help them get clear on priorities and “make the case” for parks and recreation specific to Morgantown. There was no question I would turn to Suzanne Meyer of MSM Digital Marketing. She has Morgantown roots and jumped right in putting the team at ease as they made tough decisions that would set them up for success. In a recent follow up, I learned that they are thrilled with the new brand and how we’ve positioned them to advocate for parks and recreation support. Sometimes a document sits on a shelf. Not this time!
Always on top of digital trends without losing sight of marketing strategy basics, and brightening a room simply by being in it
So, yes, two heads are better than one. We consultants (and coaches, for that matter) perform a Herculean effort in running our businesses independently, and no doubt we bring a lot to the table on our own. But it’s been fun to stretch this year, to take risks, and to invite more collaborative energy into my work. Thanks to all who’ve helped to catapult me forward!