In August, Harriet Rubin reported that soloists have a lot of time on their hands, and the flood of responses to her story bears that out. (The second installment of Rubin's journal appears in this issue.) We also received comments about buying a business and taking on a partner.

Solo sound-off

Harriet Rubin, once a top editor at Doubleday and now on her own, is the author of the best-selling The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women . She offered readers a first-person account of life among the self-employed (" Diary of a Soloist," August).

I am in the process of trying to convince my boss that laying me off would be a good idea. She's not quite there yet, but I hope to get her there by day's end. Driving in to work this morning, I alternated between feelings of peace and panic. I have worked for Digital--now Compaq--for the past 18 years. The thought of leaving scares the hell out of me. I am responsible for two small children, a husband who works on 100% commission sales, and a nanny who's been with us for nine years. (The cat could probably fend for himself if he had to.) Rubin's belief in herself is what encourages me as I step off this cliff. I have no other job lined up right now, but my brain is atrophying here, and I can't stand it any longer. Going solo is a fantasy of mine, but realistically, I don't know how I could make an erratic income stream work for my household. Such are the choices we all make in life. They define the paths we end up on, I guess. Thank you for hanging in there, for writing your diary, and for helping pre-soloists see what it can really be like.

Jane Heaney
Groton, Mass.

Writes this anguished reader:

Having recently left "Big Six" Consulting Land last year, I hear you, sister, when you relate your discussions regarding new ventures. All I can say is, hang in there. It took me eight full months to get my new practice off the ground, in which time I did more self-destructing and self-doubting than I thought one person could humanly accomplish in an entire lifetime.

William D. Newman
Managing Director
A-OK Applied Technologies Group
Auburn Hills, Mich.

Now for dissenting opinions. This woman was unimpressed by Rubin's tale:

Whine. Whine. Whine. Rubin leaves a 20-year career with a book in her back pocket (published by her former employer), the ability to still use connections to sit at the feet of Peter Drucker, an invitation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, and a net worth of more than a million, and talks about the "shock" of being on her own. Excuse me, but this "girl guru" (as she calls herself) doesn't even know what shock is. Give me the journal of a true entrepreneur: one who has to build a reputation from deeds, not networked connections; one who has to mortgage the house again and again to try for the dream; one who worries about day care and sick kids and finding time for the spouse; one who starts with a second-hand computer and collateral materials printed in just one color. Then you'll have presented the journal of a soloist.

Eileen Mcdargh
President
McDargh Communications
Dana Point, Calif.

In the same vein:

I must take exception to the "Diary of a Soloist" article in your August issue. The idea that Rubin represents what it is "really like" to be starting the solo process is ridiculous. Most soloists do not have a million-dollar net worth and invitations to Davos, "the Rolls Royce of business conferences." I humbly suggest that people like me who were pushed into this process by corporate downsizing are more of an accurate representation. While Rubin was toughing it out in the Delta business-class lounge and keeping her chin up at the World Economic Forum, I was hustling to find the money for child support, a college tuition, and a mortgage payment due in February. Please don't insult people like me with this business fluff--have the guts to tell it like it really is.

Mark B. Patten III
Patten, Vergis & Associates LLC
Albany, N.Y.

Try before you buy

" Caveat emptor," warned the headline of Norm Brodsky's August Street Smarts column. Brodsky cautioned would-be entrepreneurs about the risks of buying an existing business rather than starting one of your own. This reader embraced the advice:

I have been considering the purchase of a small business. Concentration of customers, attrition, and sales-network effectiveness were not some of the issues I had considered when performing some early due diligence. I may have been your next "Josh." With this new knowledge and advice, I now know that I have more work to do and that I need much more time to study the deal.

Daniel G. Alcorn
President
Summit Payment Solutions LLC
Rutland, Vt.

Till death do us part

The August cover story--" Partners on the Edge," by Jerry Useem--dissected how one partnership nearly failed. It was saved by counseling sessions something like the ones married couples sometimes undergo--a strange tactic, but one this reader could identify with.

Although I have never had the type of business problems you described in the article, I have been through marriage counseling twice, both times successfully (the first marriage was successfully ended, the second one was immeasurably strengthened), as well as through a seminar similar to the forum you described in the article. My experience has taught me the power of really listening to my employees when an issue comes up. I often find that by simply reflecting back (referred to in your article as "reading back") what the person is saying can bring immediate relief, even if there is nothing I or anyone can do about the situation. The sense of being heard is often all that is really necessary. Much of the time there are actions I can take, usually simple and inexpensive ones, to solve the problem. There is far too little written in the business press on the importance of communication on a "feelings" level and of the power of such communication for business and personal success.

Derrell T. Ness
President
NSA Distribution
Cerritos, Calif.

Path training

Finally, a short piece by Christopher Caggiano elicited several letters. In " A Path for Employee Growth" (CEO's Notebook, August), Caggiano wrote about one company's fully developed "career-pathing" program. Its goal: to help employees gain a promotion or change jobs. Will employers embrace the concept? This employee hopes so.

I was encouraged yesterday by reading your article because I see too little emphasis these days on the topic of employee growth. I have been trying for almost two years now to find detailed information about how to set up and implement such a program in my own workplace. I am just a lowly worker who needs all the help she can get to convince my work administrators this is serious business! Your article may help to persuade them.

Eileen A. Hagen
Project Manager
Krishnamurti Foundation of America
Ojai, Calif.


Update: Tips for the Princessa

A group of soloists offered advice for Harriet Rubin. Here are their ideas for managing a solo career:

No question about it: a $1-million net worth is your best reserve. Guard it carefully, because that level of capitalization will be huge for you. Find some way to evaluate it regularly, and I don't mean at the annual tax review. Check it quarterly at a minimum.

Joe Ely
Owner and Senior Consultant
Douglas, Jackson, Pierce LLC
West Lafayette, Ind.

With a large company, your support group is your boss and your coworkers. The inclination is to think that when you leave, you will have no support. When I left, a friend told me that I would find a new support group. That group consists of my clients (believe it or not), my professional advisers (accountant, lawyer, banker, and so forth), my friends, and other solo practitioners. It has been exactly as he told me. I talk to them, bounce ideas off them, or just call to talk when things are slow.

Bryan Douglass
President
Douglass Inc.
Missoula, Mont.

Never answer the phone before 10:30 a.m. You owe yourself that much. You owe your clients that refreshed, crisp outlook that they can never get because of their bondage to the corporate workweek. It will cost you a client here or there. But the freedom of expression gained is well worth it.

Steve Thompson
Web Developer
w8r.com
Ventura, Calif.


Other tips for soloists can be found on-line at www.inc.com/bbs/list/23