Return on warmth

This post is about solo practitioners, loneliness, generosity, warmth, and what you should say to the people you work with.

I worked in organizations for 40 years. I was always surrounded by people. We shared so much time together that we got to know and care about each other. I spent half of that at Forrester Research, which became like a second family for me.

But four years ago, I ditched all that for a job where, most days, I sit at my desk in my home office and type — and occasionally talk on the phone. This can be lonely. (Perhaps it’s why I prefer video calls.)

Please don’t feel sorry for me — I don’t feel sorry for myself. I get to choose my hours. I connect with family during the day. I don’t have to put up with managing people, messes and smells in the break room, annual reviews, or hateful clients (I can just choose not to work with them).

Looking as objectively as I can at my day-to-day behavior, I am beginning to see that I use generosity as a coping mechanism.

I am in several authors’ groups on Facebook and I contribute to them any time I have something useful to share. There are hundreds of folks in those groups, and many of them are now my friends. (By this I mean something more than Facebook friends, something similar to “work friends” or “colleagues,” but not quite the same as actual go-out-and-talk-about-your-kids-and-your-vacation friends.)

My speeches and blog posts come from the same impulse. I frequently conduct calls with prospective authors, and I count those as successes if I can help them, regardless of whether they generate actual business for me (which they often do).

Does this “pay off”? Well, yes. It’s an extreme form of content marketing. It generates leads directly (from the blog or Facebook or LinkedIn, for example). It also pays off indirectly, in that sometimes I get referrals from people who know me, but who I didn’t actually work with.

And it pays off in reputation. I recently got an editing gig from one of those Facebook groups because I posted about a topic completely unrelated to editing. The client saw my name, thought “Ah, Josh Bernoff, he’s the guy I need for my book right now,” contacted me, and hired me within 24 hours.

But I’m not helpful because it pays off. I’m helpful because I like being helpful. It pays off because people hear about me and want to work with me because I’m helpful and and knowledgeable. But somehow I think all I am actually doing is advertising who I normally am.

This is why it took me pleasantly by surprise when I saw some of the free-form text comment at the end of my author survey. Here are a few:

“I read every Bernoff word, am encouraged, readying myself to contact him to move me along in the best ways.”

“Josh Bernoff is the best.”

“Thanks for your blog. It’s one of the few that is helpful.”

“Thanks for this and for all the great work you share generously to support us lonely authors!”

“Thanks for doing this, Josh :)”

“Thank you for this survey. I learned a lot just completing it.”

Shucks, folks. I never expected to get warm hugs and kisses for persuading people to read a survey!

I promise you, the purpose of sharing this is not to brag, nor to fish for any more compliments (honest!). It’s just because it reminded me that a few honest words of thanks or praise are so helpful to people who work for themselves, by themselves.

So here’s my request of you today.

Think of someone whose work you depend on. It might be your favorite blogger or podcaster, or it might be the person who builds your Web site for you or does your bookkeeping or copy edits your prose or makes graphics for you. Or your lawyer or agent or publicist.

Write a nice note to them about how much you appreciate their help and post it on their blog or LinkedIn post or email it to them or text it to them.

And for the purposes of this communication only, I release you from the restrictions on emojis and exclamation points. Use as many as you want!

After you send one of those to somebody today, send another tomorrow. Maybe set a reminder to send one every week, or on the first of every month.

Your work-at-home friend and colleague will appreciate it. Hiring them or referring them is great, but a few nice words will give them a little warmth and fellow-feeling in a world that could use a bit more of it.

A quick reminder: There’s still time to participate in my author survey. I’ll send you a copy of the compiled results when it’s done.

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  1. Had lunch with your Mom and Dad today. We try to get together as much as possible. George goldstone

  2. Like Josh, I left all that was comfortable 25 years ago to honor my inner messenger. It invited me to be an advocate for families who sought financial discipline and wisdom. I’m pleased to have heeded the call. Fifteen years later, that same voice invited me to express myself creatively. I began to write and Josh was among those who I relied upon for word economy and wisdom. I’m grateful for your inspiration and guidance, Josh; it has made the pursuit of publishing my first novel a more confident one.

  3. Hi Josh, my husband sent me this blog because he thought I’d relate to it. He was right. I’m a longtime, former newspaper reporter and editor and I’m now writing a food blog plus freelancing. I, too, spend most of my days sitting in front of a computer, occasionally interviewing people on the phone or in person. I miss the camaraderie of a newsroom but yes, working at home does have its advantages, like sometimes working in your pjs. So thank you! I’m going to send off a few thank you texts right now! I look forward to reading your blog.

  4. Dear Josh, Thank you for all your insights into editing and taking good care of my reader. You’ve given me another way to show warmth – “I care about your mental time.”

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences generously every day, Josh. Your blog is the only one I follow, and I read about 50% of the content, which is a lot for me. I am a former writer/journalist turned artist (visual arts). I love your idea to express gratitude. It is so important and rewarding. I have set an intention to regularly thank the artists, teachers and loved ones that inspire me.

  6. Josh, For 25 years I have been a sole trader for similar reasons. I just hate the bullshit that accompanies corporate life, so I became a refugee. It can be very lonely, so I go to a couple of network groups, not because there will be business there, but for the interaction with real people. One which I currently chair, I have been going for 7 years, because I like the people, the human intimacy, and the coffee. 1 small paid task in 7 years, hours and hours of giving marketing/strategic help, because I can.
    There are three ‘must do’s on my list, all via this wonderful internet ‘thingie’
    # Without Bullshit blog
    # Mitch Joels podcast (where I first stumbled across you)
    # Greg Satell’s Digital Tonto blog.
    All three feed my curiosity, humanity, and potential to be of value to someone else, and never ask for anything back (apart from an occasional 3 minute survey).