Making the Choice to Fly Solo

I've always enjoyed singing and dancing, so when friends convinced me to audition for a local production of "Guys & Dolls," I thought it would be lots of fun. I love theater: Under the bright lights, with costumes, props and scenery, I feel confident and self-assured.

Then one day, with no warning, I walked into rehearsal and found we had an impromptu audience. The theater's board of directors wanted to hear a few of the songs from the show. Preferably in the next five minutes.

Panic central.
No warning meant no costumes, no props, no orchestra to back us. And "Sky," the show's inveterate gambler and my duet partner, had suddenly disappeared for parts unknown. I was on my own.

Opening my mouth to sing not quite sure whether I'd produce a sound or a squeak I suffered a world of terrors. What on earth was I doing up here? I wondered. I can't do this! Yet as the music began to flow out of me, and no gong sounded, no hook appeared to drag me off stage some people even seemed to be smiling and nodding in time to the song I experienced a delightful mix of joy, pride and relief. In a few scant moments, I'd been transformed from someone who'd dreamed to someone who'd done and I felt like my performance skills jumped a level in that moment.

I mentioned the feeling to a kitchen and bath designer friend recently, and she laughed. "That's exactly how I felt when I left my showroom job and decided to become an independent designer! I was terrified to find out that I might be all smoke and mirrors. But then, I just did it. And it's made me 10 times the designer I used to be."

Today, she says, "I'm just me, incorporated, all alone, no lights, no displays, no staffand that's actually helped me to rediscover why I went into the design business in the first place!"'

Those who've tried it agree: It's a remarkable feeling, flying solo. With neither a showroom nor a staff to back you, you're forced to rely on nothing but you and that can be exhilarating. The creative freedom allows you to explore new avenues of design, specialty niches or non-traditional design ideas that beckon. Even more important, the resulting challenge can push you to do your best work, allowing you to reach new heights professionally.'

Forget product, forget fancy displays; when you get back to basics, it's all about whether you can sell that unique vision in your head. And isn't that a designer's most valuable asset?'

Flying solo can also provide a tremendous competitive advantage, as it allows you to cut financial costs to the bone. No more overhead for staff, office space, product displays and that means more money for marketing your greatest assetyou.'

Of course, despite what the Nike commercials say, there's a lot more to it than "just doing it." An excellent reputation, a strong referral base, plenty of professional contacts and a healthy talent for self-promotion are essential to going it solo. And being a one-person operation means there's no one to delegate the tasks you're weakest at, or the tasks you just plain hate, so it's not for everyone.

But even if you're not ready to take that leap today, building these strengths now will give you options for the future. As overhead costs soar and big box chains continue to proliferate, the solo option provides a potentially cheaper way to do business, staying competitive by maximizing your strengths and your potential profits.

Be warned, though: While going solo will buy you increased creative freedom, it won't buy you freedom from those pesky little business management details. If anything, working for yourself will make your business management skills more important, not less. Because, after all, you're all you have.

But then again, hasn't that always been the case? It's easy to forget when you're working under the bright lights, in the safety of your pretty showroom, surrounded by your "props," with a full "cast" of professional salespeople, installers and finance people to help you pull it together, that your customers aren't buying the trappings. They're buying you. Your designs, your ideas, your imagination.

Unlike the characters in my show, most folks don't gamble for a living. But at some point in time, we all have to bet on something so why not bet on yourself?