Yesterday I was invited to attend a meeting at a recovery hall for a twelve-step fellowship to which I belong. And as I traveled to meet my friend at this meeting, I realized that there are some things going for this Fellowship and these meetings that make them incredibly powerful.
This might sound like a personal story, but it’s not, not really. This is relevant to you as a solopreneur – promise.
Some background: I have been to thousands of these meetings and I credit them with showing me a better way of life. I highly recommend them to anyone who asks!
But unfortunately, a few years back there was a fellow at the hall who developed a fixation with me. I was chairing meetings regularly during the week. And he started to show up to all my meetings, follow me and say things to me and wait for opportunities where he could get me alone. And he was pretty scary, actually.
I ended up pulling back from visiting this recovery hall, and I started going to more online meetings. As a result I still feel some anxiety when I return to this particular hall – even though I don’t think my stalker is still around. (I hope he got some help and got his shit together!)
So when my friend invited me yesterday, I said I would meet her but I felt a little anxious. I drove down, parked my car, and I got out – my stomach was a little fluttery. But by the time I walked in through the hall and sat down next to my friend, I knew that I was completely safe.
And this is when it occurred to me that this topic might be helpful for you as a creative business.
Now, this particular twelve-step fellowship doesn’t have rules exactly. But there are a lot of cultural behaviors in the program that hold true throughout: so if I go to a meeting in Kansas City, it’s going to probably be similar to a meeting here in Aberdeen. The fellowship’s cultural agreements keep the proceedings safe, on topic, and effective. (By “effective” I mean that I whole-heartedly credit my over eleven years of continuous sobriety, to my participation in these groups and how well the program functions!)
So let’s talk about what these meetings do right – outside a recovery-specific context.
For one thing: if these meetings are posted as open, somebody is always there. There are exceptions to this but they are stunningly rare. If a meeting is posted at a certain time, someone will be there to open it. Consistency is a strongly-valued practice in this particular fellowship. (I’ve never seen anything like it, frankly!) That, I would say, is the bedrock of the program’s effectiveness.
Secondly, the meetings start on time and end on time. That means if I walk in at 5:30 and it’s an hour long meeting, I know that I’m going to be released at 6:30. No matter what goes down in that hour, the agreement is that it’s over in an hour. No one’s going to hold us hostage with a long, rambling story (thank Jeebus)!
In every meeting I’ve been to, there are some readings while we wait to share. The readings vary, but we always have them. The meetings feature a chair or secretary – someone in charge for the hour – and they pass around literature members take turn reading aloud. This is a really wonderful protocol that kind of gathers everyone in, serving as a great opportunity to collect one’s thoughts. So yesterday even though I exited my car with a bit of apprehension, by the time I sat down I knew I could listen to the readings, calm and quiet myself, and prepare for the space of the next sixty minutes.
Fourth: in these meetings there is an expectation that you’re not going to be allowed to be needlessly disruptive.
I want you to think about that for a minute.
At a recovery club, all kinds of people show up (including my stalker)! Some of them are there for constructive positive reasons: they want to get better, they want to get clean and sober, or they want to help others. Some of them are there because they’re going to ask for money or see if they can find free food. Some people are there to get a court slip signed. Some people there aren’t clean and sober – they may even be drunk, high or belligerent. Some people are quiet – but resentful as hell.
But there is an expectation in the meeting that you behave yourself for that hour.
And the whole community upholds that expectation. (Generally!)
So when you walk in, you’re expected to sit down and be quiet and listen and not interrupt. You know that at some point during the meeting you will be given time to share without interruption. You are generally expected to keep your share timely (and not dominate the proceedings). After you share, we move on and let someone else speak. Again, I’ve seen exceptions to this, but they are rare.
If you notice – all these protocols have an equalizing factor, which is key in recovery. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor with a house on the hill, or someone on your eighteenth trip through rehab, or someone off the street. The protocols make the meetings predictable and equalizing.
Most amazingly, while there are little squabbles here and there (I walked in on one at noon yesterday) the community voluntarily adapts this discipline.
Groups – for-profit or not – could take a page or two from this book.
What does this have to do with running an artpreneurship?
As a business owner, you have a lot of power. Your followers, your clients, your customers, your prospective supporters: you can set their mind at ease a great deal by thinking of your business in terms of protocols.
You can do this by being predictable (acting with integrity to your own stated values), honorable (doing what you say you’re going to do), and consistent (showing up with an attitude of service). As simple as that sounds – a lot of businesses fail on one or all three. I see a lot of artpreneurs that dart around from strategy to strategy, or pivot from this product to that product, or add additional pillars that muddy the waters for their confused followers. And while these changes are our right as entrepreneurs when you want faithful clients and customers, fans who grow into being clients, and friends who become great referrals: your unpredictability works against you.
You can start observing protocols in your social media and/or content marketing – right away. So if you say “every single Monday I’m going to come on Live and show you how to chop some vegetables to make food”, then you do that every Monday. If you’re wise, you’ll stick to that behavior for quite some time, and you’ll market it as well (that is – talk about it, announce it, send it out in your emails). Even if you only have a handful of attendees, your Followers and email list are watching. They are tracking. You are building trust – even if you don’t see sales yet!
Protocol can be used not just for frequency and consistency, but for something as simple as the modality of working with your clients. So while you can certainly take communication through email and through DMS and through text messages and through Facebook Messenger – you can also pick ONE channel and gently direct inquiries to that channel. Believe it or not, that helps calm people and it helps them take you more seriously.
I believe with all my heart that you can be a creative, free-flying and even impulsive entrepreneur – and still enact protocols. Because if the chaos of a twelve-step recovery fellowship – if this motley crew can hold a consistent hour meeting where people know what to expect, they know how to behave, and they help others behave – well if that population can do this on an entirely volunteer basis, then you as an entrepreneur can set up protocols and follow them: protocols that will keep your followers and customers and clients feeling confident and safe.
They may not purchase from you today or tomorrow, but they will start to see you as a safe, predictable, honorable person. And on the day your product or service might apply to them, or when they have a friend who might be in need of you, they will feel good about recommending you. I’ll put effort into reputation any day of the week!
I know it doesn’t sound that sexy to be consistent, predictable and honorable. But I think it pays off more than taking great photos. I think it pays off more than doing giveaways or collaborations. I think that your behavior pays off more than any gimmick or coupon or sale.