How I Manage My Introversion

I’m happy to be an introvert. Maybe I wasn’t always so sanguine about this aspect of my internal wiring – in fact, most of my life, I guess I felt somewhat inferior to my more extroverted earth-dwellers – but not any more!

(What is, and isn’t, introversion? Read this excellent summary post by Lisa Petrilli – also, Lisa’s e-book on the subject is extremely helpful: The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership).

A tendency toward introversion is quite common – anywhere from a third to a half of the population tends toward the “Quiet Side.” While extroverts tend to gain energy from being around other people, introverts recharge through being alone with their thoughts. The introvert is usually not the life of the party, but the person having an earnest one-on-one conversation in the corner (and secretly wishing to be away from the noise and chaos). Extroverts will tend to speak first, and organize their thoughts later; introverts often pause to carefully consider their words.

It’s not easy being an introvert in a world that tends to value extroversion (the theme of a superb book on introversion by Susan CainQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking).

So, how have I worked with and worked around this tendency over the years? A few thoughts:

  1. Above all else, the primary step is to embrace it. We can’t change our fundamental wiring, and why should we? A tendency to walk on the quiet side often leads to fountains of creativity, richness of perspective, and relational depth. In Lisa’s book referenced above, she tells the story of how our friendship and professional collaboration blossomed on the foundation of shared introversion. I can remember way back to my high school days feeling an aversion to loud groups and superficial chatter, and wondering what my problem was. Actually, there was no problem. My style is different – and goes deep instead of wide. AND THAT’S A GOOD THING!
  2. Also, I’ve learned to have realistic expectations. I can only take so much people-time before I have to back away, and I now give myself permission to retreat. I have learned to become outgoing and pro-active, but I’ll never feel at home in a loud, crowded schmooze-setting. I’ll always look for the quiet corner and try to find an individual or small group.
  3. I use social media extensively as my relationship-building bridge. I have “pre-met” so many wonderful people using on-line networking, which removes the awkward stage when we finally meet face-to-face. Nowadays, first-time in-real-life meetings are like reunions, because on-line networking has allowed me to get through the first layer of introduction. Lately, I’ve been doing more and more video Skype calls to move past introduction and start getting in-depth with people in ways that could never happen randomly at a party or a conference. I think digital social networking was created for introverts!
  4. I ask a lot of questions. Introverts tend to be better at this. By focusing on the other person and trying to understand, you often can bring a surprisingly amount of value and kindred-ness to a person who drowns in the sea of surrounding superficiality. Sometimes, by playing this very natural role, you can bring surprising levels of comfort and healing and wisdom, even in a brand-new relationship.
  5. I’ve disciplined myself to be outgoing. Not extroverted – outgoing. Introverts can seem (or be) anti-social at times, and I’ve made a lifelong commitment to be pro-active to the point that, now, it’s pretty natural. I still have a hard time making small talk with seatmates on airplane flights, however. My default setting there is to retreat into my own reading and my own thoughts. That’s a tough one!

As with any other tendency, there can be a dark side to introversion. Tendencies to insecurity, analysis-paralysis, or depression. All of these things need to be seen clearly and managed, sometimes with the help of both introverted and extroverted friends. But my main point in all this is to state unequivocally: Introversion is not a curse. It is not a problem. It is not a weakness. Introverts can lead, and can speak effectively in public. It’s actually pretty wonderful to be introvert-ish, noisy parties notwithstanding. And if you see me in a crowded social setting, looking around a bit awkwardly, then pull me off to a corner and let’s talk about it…!

For further reading (and aren’t these a couple of beautiful introvert-authors?):

(affiliate links to these books on Amazon: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking | The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership).

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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>> Following Your Passion: A Story

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Don’t Do These Three Things on LinkedIn

You have only a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and get across a clear message. That’s true whether you’re selling a product or service, or if you’re selling yourself in the job market.

That’s why you want your LinkedIn profile to be a help, not a hindrance. Here is an example of three things you should NOT do when describing yourself to potential suppliers (note: all identifiers have been removed):

1. DON’T position yourself as a jack-of-all-trades. It’s your responsibility to be decisive about who you are and what you’re seeking. Have a definite headline!

2. DON’T just talk about yourself – tell us what you can do. Save the “I am such-and-such…” for dating sites. Potential employers and customers are looking through one lens only: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?).

3. DON’T pretend to have a baker’s dozen (actually, 15) specialties. Bullet-point lists like this give one message: “Will work for food!” If you have a bunch of competencies, then package them into one or two directions that someone can more easily digest.

Those three points above? The very same things apply for company positioning also.

LinkedIn can be a great friend to your career development, if you use it to tell your story. Seek to make an immediate impression in the first few seconds. Use word pictures. Say something – clearly. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do when you grow up!

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Do you have a clear story and direction? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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Please Drop the Jargon

I came across one of those About pages on the website for a solutions provider that was unfamiliar to me. However, it sounded suspiciously like a hundred other About pages I’ve seen!

It was a jargon-load of biz-speak phraseology. Here are some samples:

________ was created … in early 2005 to build and deliver world-class online … solutions.  We specialize in delivering highly customized solutions and insight for our clients by utilizing a consultative approach to fully understand their … needs, building processes to support those requirements, and consistently delivering to their exact specifications.

Our people are our most valuable resource (please don’t say this. Please. It’s so cliche…)

Our leading edge platform by which we create and deliver our solutions offers the ability for us to focus on highly customized solutions while creating a foundation for our partners to depend on.

The resulting value in combining (our) strong heritage, a strong core of professionals and an adaptable yet robust infrastructure gives our clients the assurance they need to continually depend on _______ for their critical business needs.

Now I’ll give them credit for not using “leverage” once on the entire page! But when a company name and specific offering can easily be swapped out with a hundred other company names and offerings, employing the same-old biz-jargon (world-class solution…customized solutions…leading edge platform…robust infrastructure, etc.), then any unique messaging is impossible. It’s lost in the fog.

It’s commodity language. This reference may date me a bit, but I’m tempted to publish a Mad Libs book for About pages. Just fill in the blanks to complete the pre-packaged phrases!

How about this instead:

While everyone else is looking, you’re finding. Call us.

Nobody wants your blah-blah – except maybe Dilbert. Customers want an answer. Simply put.

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Does your message need to be simply put? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

I don’t remember who said it to me first, many years ago, but the advice has always stuck with me:

Not all business is good business.

What does this mean? Simply this: there is business you can take on that will likely hurt, not help you.

We are all tempted to take on certain clients and projects because of one overriding factor: Revenue. I’d like to suggest that you make each of those decisions based on a different factor: Purpose.

Here are examples of business that may NOT be good business:

  • Taking on a project with a client who is hard-nosed, and/or cheap, and/or indecisive. There is such a thing as a bad client. Avoid – let some less wise competitor suffer.
  • Taking on a project that has very poor definition, and in which you cannot seem to get more information. This will become a moving target of scope creep that will frustrate you for months on end – guaranteed.
  • Taking on a project that is a good bit out of your sweet spot, with an existing client. Don’t endanger the relationship with a high-risk-of-failure attempt to keep all the client’s dollars to yourself. Short-term gain often equals long-term loss.
  • Taking on a project or client that moves your company and its resources into a direction that you really don’t need to pursue. Rabbit trails waylay any kind of focused growth and dilute your message.
  • Taking on a project or client despite warning bells of good judgment and conscience. Don’t let dollars delude you into ignoring your better instincts.
  • Trying to compete in an area where you are just one of many potential suppliers, and your offering cannot rise above a commodity level. Find a more narrow niche that you can dominate.

Over and over again, as I’ve counseled small business owners and consultants, I’ve heard the tales of woe that result from pursuing or taking on not-good business. The best way to avoid this trap: have a clearly-defined purpose and highly-focused offering (including the clients you wish to pursue) so that you have a solid basis on which to say no. Otherwise, you’ll dilute your efforts by chasing (ultimately) unprofitable revenue. And that’s a game at which nobody can win.

What would you add to the list? Put your lessons in the comments!

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Do you need a clearer purpose and message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Following Your Passion: A Story

>> Using Words to Say Nothing

Following Your Passion: A Story

I came across this video of Ken Segall, who was Apple’s Creative Director for Advertising: Answer the Question: What is Your Passion?

(goes to a different page; just over 2 minutes – watch it now!)

Sharing it with a friend who launched his own consulting business a while back (disclosure: I helped him with business strategy and clarity therapy), I got back this response. It was so eloquent, I asked permission to share it:

In regard to the video by Ken Segall…..yes, absolutely correct…..but that’s why we NEED YOU….we can’t read the label from the inside. That is exactly what happened to me….in 2002 I lost my job with ______ as _____ was pulled from the market – so all kinds of bad things were happening to me. I will admit to you I was in a funk over spending 19 years somewhere and just having it suddenly end without so much as a howdy do and thank you.

I picked up a manufacturers’ rep job with a disease state management company – we sold turn-key DSM software programs to healthcare providers. I was well connected in the HMO community….and I did OK, but it was not my passion. What did happen, though – after each sale I would have to train the nurse or case management staff on how to use the software.

Oddly enough – my passion showed through – and I was getting training requests away from the DSM programming I was selling….BUT I was still under a rock. Then one day it happened – I just completed a training program for ________ – the Medical Director wanted a “management training program” for his staff…heck, I could do that! It went well and I had a ball doing the training….upon my arrival home, my wife said to me….”why don’t you just do that training thing if it makes you so happy?”  Then it hit me ….I absolutely LOVED that training thing…..the rest is history. I spent 4 awesome years at ______ in training, and three equally awesome years at ______…..and that prepared me so much for doing what I love to do! (which is a healthcare industry training consultant)

 But I would add one thing….I love training , but I still needed something special that gave me that edge. I needed a “product” – what made my launch into the contractor space comfortable for me, was knowing that I had this very special thing….this tool that could help people….so in my case it was a training methodology. It worked. I could reproduce it again and again and it kept working….so yes, find what you love, but DO SOMETHING with that! Something specific! And you just may end up being happy about it every day.Gerald Clor

It seems to be a regular case these days that I’m talking to people in their 30′s, 40′s, and 50′s who are, after years of playing different roles, finally getting in touch with their core passions and strengths and figuring out what they want to do when they grow up (and this includes me!). It’s never too late to do the discovery work and begin to map out a direction that flows in the direction of your passion.

Get in touch with what you’re passionate about. Listen to what customers and more objective others tell you about yourself. Find the “hole” in the marketplace. Develop a clear offering and message. Make it happen.

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Are you struggling to discover your passion? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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>> Make Your Life a Story, not a List

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Using Words to Say Nothing

In a recent guest post (There is No Audience for 50 Shades of Grey Marketing) on Carol Roth‘s Business Unplugged blog, I discussed how a foggy and vague marketing message makes you eminently…forgettable.

If you can’t express who you are and what you offer clearly and succinctly, there is no hope of being memorable in the marketplace.

I thought it might be fun to bring forward a couple of website examples of Grey Marketing, to illustrate what I mean. The names of the guilty companies will be withheld to spare public humiliation:

Exhibit A:

Ummmm…you do what, exactly?

Spouting off platitudes about change and transition does not equal a marketing message. And, offering to help you achieve the results you desire, whatever your needs, sounds more like the message of some mystical self-help book than a clear business model.

Why would I give you a call if I have no idea what you do? I can’t imagine the phone is ringing off the hook here.

Exhibit B:

Huh????

You know, as a business person, I just walk around yearning to find an ecosystem design solution. It’s top of mind, and all of my fellow business people have been asking about how to link adjacent industry landscapes. Every morning I wake up and, with my first cup of coffee, ponder how to catalyze and scale new economic systems. You know, because everyone is competent with the same pieces.

This is a prime example of marketing by obfuscation. It is committing the sin of Fogging the marketplace with impressive-sounding jargon that means nothing to the audience.

At least, in one sense, this guilty party is taking his own advice and “doing things competitors can’t.” He’s effectively destroying any hope of communicating with a potential customer. Who needs competitors when you can drive away business all by yourself?

We’re not going to get our message out without words – spoken, written, and (especially) remembered and passed on. Crafting words that actually say something, and say it well, is not optional if you want to grow a business. It’s foundational.

Anybody can say nothing with words. Time to upgrade your vocabulary if your marketing message resembles one of these exhibits!

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Do you need help saying something well? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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>> Why I Don’t Buy the One-Minute Elevator Speech

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Celebrating Supporters

Today, I’m grateful for steadfast supporters.

You know, those people that are always ready to come alongside and encourage? Long-standing collaborators like Mack Collier. Lisa Petrilli. Terry Starbucker. Ann Handley. Drew McLellan. Mike Capaldi. And this list could go on for a long time.

It’s about character, not transactions. And it’s good to pause once in a while and celebrate faithful friends.

Who are your top 3 or 5 supporters? Give them a pat on the back in the comments!

Is Your Work a Drag, a Drogue, or a Drug?

Most of us are doing a large percentage of things in our work that we are CAPABLE of performing, but which don’t really hit our sweet spot. This makes work a drag.

And sometimes we have the responsibility for things we really don’t do well at all. In these cases, work becomes a drogue (that’s the parachute deployed behind a speeding vehicle to brake it).

After a while, this leads to a lot of blurred lines, and we can’t really articulate what our professional sweet spot truly is.

But then there are those intoxicating moments when you’re doing what you know you’re meant to do. Work becomes pleasure, it is like a drug you want to keep taking. Alas, those moments seem few and far between.

So, let’s pretend that it’s possible to build your career on your sweet spot (note: I believe we should go beyond pretending!). How do you identify what transforms your work from a drag to a drug?

  1. It “feels” like a fit. The best analog is a great pair of shoes. There are rows and rows of (shoes/work roles), but then you slip on a pair and, as you walk in it, you KNOW. This. Is. The. Fit.
  2. You make impact. When you’re working in your sweet spot, your strengths are at full flow. You’re not just filling time, you’re making a difference.
  3. You hear feedback. The people around you notice and affirm what you’re doing.

Work that is a drag or a drogue means you’re investing your time and effort into something that diminishes your impact on the world. And lessens your own happiness. Is that a good choice?

As a professional, your first and highest priority should be to discover your purpose and areas of genuine strength. To get sold on yourself. It may take some time to shape an optimal career track around them. But if you don’t do this, guess what? No-one else is going to do it for you.

They’re happy to trade you their money for your hours. Even if it’s a drag.

Decide. You’re going to fill someone’s else’s role. Or you’re going to Role Your Own.

(Image credit: Wikimedia)

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Is your work a drag? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Why I Don’t Buy the One-Minute Elevator Speech

>> Want to Be Memorable? Use Word Pictures!

50 Shades of Grey Marketing: No Audience for That!

That’s the theme of my guest post today on Carol Roth‘s blog: There Is No Audience for 50 Shades of Grey Marketing.

Excerpt:

The land of grey is where commodities dwell. It’s where businesses walk in circles, broadcasting noise into the void with the hope that a clear echo will return. Healthy business development begins by coming out into the sunshine and leaving all those indefinite shades of grey behind… (read the entire post)

Related – my recent guest post on Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog: How to Fight Fog and Overcome Clarity Deficit Disorder.

Excerpt:

Often, our marketing resembles a storefront with a streaky window and a jumbled display. It’s too much effort to try to understand what’s being offered. It’s not your customer’s job to figure you out. It’s YOUR job to cut through all the fog in less than half a minute with vivid, memorable language…(read the entire post)

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Is your business hard to spot in the fog? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Why I Don’t Buy the One-Minute Elevator Speech

>> Want to Be Memorable? Use Word Pictures!

Why I Don’t Buy the One-Minute Elevator Speech

I’m afraid I am a heretic of business communication. I don’t buy into the one-minute elevator pitch.

Actually, I’m totally into the idea of a compact presentation of one’s self and one’s business. I just have three issues with the one-minute elevator pitch:

  1. The one-minute
  2. The elevator ride
  3. The pitch

It’s too many words, for too long, and it’s trying to accomplish too much.

For your opener, I believe in the the Fifteen-Second Memory Dart – a single phrase with a vivid image that can be delivered before the elevator door closes.

Here’s an example:

Q: “Good to meet you, Michele Price. What is it you do?”

A: “I’m the Digital Media Splash Agent – I employ my on-line platform to amplify my clients’ promotional efforts during product launches and trade shows, so they can impact a much larger audience.”

BOOM! Vivid imagery. Concise explanation. Clear offering. One sentence summary; no forgettable monologue. Dart, meet bullseye. And, it certainly helps to have a reinforcing visual.

This opening verbal dart accomplishes three things:

  • It makes you immediately memorable. You’re leaving an image behind via an effective word picture.
  • It very quickly establishes if there is a potential area of need (not only with that individual, but with someone they might know).
  • It opens the door to say more by invitation, at which time you can take 30-60 seconds to tell a condensed story.

I have a lot of common perspectives with Chris Westfall, who is positioned as the (NEW) elevator pitch guy. But I think introduction-by-pitch is one step premature. In the first 15 seconds, we need to capture attention, be memorable, and provoke an invitation to tell the story. That’s what a memory dart does.

I will warn you – it sounds easy, but creating your memory dart one of the hardest communications challenges you’ll ever face. Distilling purpose/offering/message to one sentence and wrapping it into an image or analogy takes tremendous creativity and hard work. But since this is your first foot forward in every professional introduction, where your goal is to cut through the fog and be remembered – nothing else is more important.

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Are you Memorable? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Make Your Life a Story, not a List

>> Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Want to be Memorable? Use Word Pictures!

I was reading one of the typical articles about crafting your elevator speech – you know the one-minute summary of who you are, what you do, the features and benefits, etc.

I get the idea, but that’s about 50 seconds and 35 floors too long. People don’t have the headspace to absorb, process, and remember all that. And if they can’t remember it simply, how can they pass a referral along?

The answer: word pictures.

I remember talking to Shannon Whitley last year about the various creative programming projects he’s worked on, including all kinds of interfaces to other platforms. I blurted out, “Oh – so you’re the API Guy!”

That’s a very short compass of words, which can be uttered before the elevator door even closes. If you need help with anything to do with APIs, Shannon is THE go-to expert. Period. Memorable. Refer-able.

Let’s take a glance over at my tweetstream. There’s…C.C. Chapman. Now C.C. is a challenge, because he does so many different things well – all having to do with the use of media (all forms) in marketing. To my mind, he’s like a one-man marketing prism, a stained-glass window of media. But that doesn’t quite capture the consulting and expertise factor. The pushing-the-envelope stuff that’s always been part of his approach. Maybe he’s more of a Media Navigator. Have to think about that one more…

Then there’s my friend Sarah Morgan, who works in the pharma sphere (we were among the first pharma social media troublemakers), but that’s not what her blogging is about. Her Twitter bio states, “Bascially, I write.” – but that’s not really descriptive enough of Sarah. She writes heart-words.

Dan Rockwell (@LeadershipFreak) and I just exchanged messages. I could see him getting into an elevator with someone, and respond to the inevitable “What do you do?” question with three words: “I speak leader.”

These short, memorable expressions create images in the minds of others. They are meant to convey, not just information, but word pictures. You can spend thousands on advertising, but there is nothing as powerful as a well-chosen word picture.

That’s what will make you stick, when everyone else is forgotten.

___________

How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Make Your Life a Story, not a List

>> Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Sweet Customer Service by Vosges

Count me very happily surprised.

I was ordering a gift card for someone, and figured – what could be more universally-loved that some luscious Vosges chocolate? (if you’ve tried it, you know – if not, well, what are you waiting for??)

So I go on their site, and the ordering process is easy, with one interesting chocolate-centered twist – when you plug in the zip code of the recipient, the site does a quick calculation about the destination and the time of year, and if it’s going to be a hot trip, Vosges automatically adds some cooling materials for 10 bucks. After all, you don’t want to receive a gooey mess in July, do you?

Except plastic gift cards don’t melt like chocolate. Oops.

A bit frustrated, I filled in the on-line form for Questions and explained the dilemma. I wanted to order, but…and I went off to walk the dog, grumbling under my breath that:

  1. I would probably not hear from anyone in a timely fashion;
  2. Any response would likely be some canned apology with no resolution;
  3. I was going to have to abandon the shopping cart and go buy something else.

Wrong, wrong, WRONG, you overly cynical consumer from New Jersey!

While still out strolling with my black lab Mystic, I received an e-mail from a “Chocolate Concierge” named Anna. In that message, she apologized for the problem (and promised to alert the web team so that it can be fixed), and provided two avenues whereby we could complete the process, including a direct phone call. Speed and a pathway forward – problem solved. Customer happy.

I’ve talked up and given away Vosges chocolate bars in the past, but now they’ve really won my heart. How’s your responsiveness? Is it personal, and fast, and blog-worthy like Vosges’ is?

Well-played, Anna and Vosges. That’s some pretty sweet customer service!

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How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Transcendent Communications

>> Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Make Your Life a Story, Not A List

I was on LinkedIn again yesterday, in preparation for a call with someone who had been downsized, and found myself sighing, for the umpteenth time, over the format of an on-line resume.

Another list.

This job title. That company. This short list of tasks. Even some undefined insider acronyms. Just swap out the particulars and you could be any one of a billion commodity people.

Don’t undersell yourself. You’re not a list!

When people hire me to help re-write their LinkedIn profiles, I employ some of my Clarity Therapy process to extract three things from them:

  • What they’re really good at and want to do more of;
  • The story of how they got to where they are;
  • The key point of brilliance they want to “sell” to their next employer.

Then, we go back through the profile and turn it into a story. The main themes leading to the new desired role are woven into the past job responsibilities, highlighting the individual’s greatest strength and accomplishments, and showing how they lead in the direction being pursued.

Bullet points and biz-speak words don’t paint a clear picture. They leave you undifferentiated. A resume should not merely be a summary of facts; it needs to tell a story. Your story. And it needs to strongly suggest what your next chapter should be.

Your next employer doesn’t have the time to help you figure out who you are and where you’re going. That’s YOUR next job, before you seek your next job!

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How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Transcendent Communications

>> Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Re-Thinking Re-Branding?

Today over at my Clarity Therapy blog, I’m asking some questions about how the speed of the marketplace affects our approach to (re-)branding.

Re-Branding: Get Used To It?

Please come on over and join the discussion!

Transcendent Communications

This is a ramble based on a thought in the shower this morning - you know how that goes, right? I’m not even sure what station this train of thought is going to end up in. Here goes…

Why has digital social media so riveted our attention? It’s an evolutionary advance on a pre-existing massive trend – the desire to communicate without the barriers of time, geography, filtering, culture, and language.

Books enabled the communicating of ideas way outside of the physical sphere, and even time frame, of the writer’s direct influence. What once would have been spoken around a campfire or in a small gathering can now echo down through generations.

Radio transcended geography. Recorded audio broke the limits of geography and time.

Television added the visual element, and some of what was communicated through the eye-gate leapt over cultural and linguistic barriers.

Social media broke down the filters between one-to-one communication. Digital audio, video, and writing enable all barriers to come down, though linguistic and cultural elements are still problematic to a degree. Communication can be both real-time and archived.

Interestingly enough, when it comes to computing, we see a parallel trend toward natural and frictionless interface – we’ll slowly but surely abandon the very artificial keyboard and mouse for the more natural elements of voice and gesture. Siri and Kinect are glimpses. In 10 years, we will laugh hysterically at our current digital/human interfaces.

So what? Well, here’s a couple so-what’s to think about:

  1. Digital social media as we have experienced it for the past few years is not some isolated or uniquely amazing thing. It’s part of an inevitable current of communication evolution. And it cannot be static because the current has been rapidly flowing for centuries in one direction (toward communication without the barriers of time, geography, filtering, culture, and language).
  2. We can opt out of participation in specific elements of digitally-fueled communications, but we can’t avoid the direction of the current.
  3. Any business approach based on the above inexorable trends stands a far better chance of long-term success than tweaking some existing business model that tries to maintain the status quo or go upstream against the current.

A lot of loose ends here, but I’ll just hit publish and ask what you think (feel free to wax eloquent in the comments with your thoughts).

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

___________

How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Crowd-Sourcing Some Clarity

>> Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Like it or not, you are one of many, many companies or service providers competing for a limited slice of attention in a marketplace overflowing with noise and information.

For consultants and small businesses – actually, for any size business – the cacophony of billboards, radio spots, TV advertisements, and the flood tide of digital noise from the social web makes it increasingly challenging to be noticed, let alone remembered. Your main competition isn’t your competitors. It’s distraction.

Which means that if you simply blend into the background noise, you’ve lost your advantage.

Let’s assume that you actually have some magic. You do have something unique to offer. How do you stand out in the field?

Some will say it takes a hugely expensive campaign; others will gladly take your limited funds to try generate something “viral.” These are not particularly effective or sustainable strategies. One fundamental trait, however, can make any business stand out: Clarity.

By clarity, I mean you’re clear on your offering, clear on your differentiation, clear on your message, and clear on your vision. It is the opposite of throwing 10 bullet points of possible work you might do up against the virtual wall and seeing which one sticks. That’s the quickest route to becoming a faceless commodity.

A Clear Offering

What does clarity look like? Actually, you don’t have to look any further than the Duct Tape Marketing blog. Look at these two summary sentences on the site:

Simple, Effective, and Affordable Small Business Marketing

John Jantsch has been called the world’s most practical small business expert for delivering real-world, proven small-business marketing ideas and strategies.

The reader immediately knows whether they are the target audience, and exactly what the Duct Tape promise is. By being that specific, John stands out – while gladly giving up a bunch of other potential business where he couldn’t be outstanding.

A Clear Differentiator

I am fanatically loyal to Amica Insurance. I don’t price shop, and I don’t consider other dance partners. Why? All the geckos and good hands and Flo’s that parade across the TV screen promoting other companies are noisy commodities to me, because Amica has provided stellar and attentive customer service for decades. They completely stand out. And, ever since obtaining the first-generation iPhone, I’ve never considered going back to a non-Apple platform. The user experience is simply too good to give up. These become my home brands.

A Clear Message

We try to say too much, not realizing that our potential customers (and referral partners) can only process and retain one or two main things. Few companies have mastered the art of distillation, which is truly central to effective marketing.

Picture yourself bumping into a prospective customer at a trade show, just minutes before the next session starts. After introductions, she says, “I recall seeing your name before, but what is it that you do?” Can you, in one sentence, give her the distilled essence, in such a way that she’ll still remember it after the session – and, be able to tell her friend over lunch about you in 10 words or less? In this regard, clarity is also your key to ongoing referrals.

A Clear Vision

Once you have 20/20 vision about your purpose and direction, suddenly a whole host of decisions that have always plagued you becomes much more simple. Clients you spun your wheels chasing now don’t fit into the clearer vision. Non-core work that you were doing is no longer in the long-term plan. When you can look a client in the eye and confidently say, “THIS is what I do – not that, and that, and that” – everyone is far better off. But for many, even those who have been in business for a while, the most difficult step is saying it to the mirror.

I have terrible uncorrected vision. Glasses are mandatory! The fact is, clear vision is not an option. Whatever other investment I may forego, I will always spend the necessary funds to see clearly – because that is foundational to everything I must do! Amazingly, however, few of your competitors will do so. That’s why clarity can become your strategic advantage. Making you the one standing out in the field.

(this post originally published at Duct Tape Marketing blog)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Crowd-Sourcing Some Clarity

>> The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

Crowd-Sourcing Some Clarity

I’m on a mission – a crowd-sourced mission.

I want to find the companies with the most exquisitely clear positioning and messaging out there. Companies that really nail it with simple, vivid words and imagery (and stories).

I’m not looking for companies that stand out because of great customer service over the long haul, or amazingly efficient supply-chain strategies, etc. Nor am I seeking to highlight mega-organizations that have blanketed the airwaves with their brand.

These elements can be vital to success, of course; but I’m looking for clear and compelling messaging that truly reflects what the company is about. Small or mid-sized companies. Micro-businesses or consultants. People who can’t spend a bazillion dollars on a marketing campaign, and so have to employ the art of focus and clarity.

What do I mean? Here’s an example (PrimeGenesis). Note how precisely they’ve defined their niche, how simple their core messages are, and how practically and clearly it is all reinforced. THAT’s what I’m talking about! There are 9,999,999 things these folks don’t do. There’s one thing they do. It’s their space, their specialty, their message.

Who impresses you? Please “nominate” them in the comments. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the mention; and if I see a company that I think is outstandingly clear, I’ll gladly highlight them in a blog post. We need to congratulate the people that do this well, and learn from their examples!

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How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> The Top 5 Ways to Define Yourself – NOT!

>> The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

Free Clarity Therapy on Wednesday – here’s your chance!

So – I’ve got a little spare time on my hands this Wednesday (June 27). And I’m in the mood to give something away – which happens to be my favorite work. Clarity Therapy.

To one lucky person, I’m going to give a 90-120 minute Clarity Therapy session, via video Skype, on Wed morning or afternoon (Eastern time).

Here’s the deal:

1. You are a solo consultant, solopreneur or a micro-business (3 people or fewer).

2. You’re not afraid of blunt honesty (this means you’re willing to spill the M&Ms!)

3. You can tell me why you need Clarity Therapy in one sentence, 15 words or less, sent to my e-mail address (steve at connectionagent dot com) before 1 pm ET Tuesday, June 26th.

That’s it! I’ll pick one winner and we’ll do some DNA discovery and message makeover.

Go!

Re-Imagination

I was totally impressed yesterday afternoon at the Apple store when replacing a damaged iPhone with a new one.

I’ve been through the experience several times over the years to upgrade to new models, and each time, it’s abundantly clear that Apple is continuing to re-make the retail experience.

An associate greeted us at the front entrance. Plugged a couple minimum bits of information into the (very slick and well-designed) software on his iPhone, and managed the entire transaction from the palm of his hand. All nearly instantaneous, digital, mobile, seamless.

I even signed the receipt with my finger on his iPhone screen.

The thing is, this is Apple’s secret sauce. They re-imagine an existing experience, then build the new approach.

The software interface. The publishing process. The portable music experience. The on-line method of buying digital assets. The phone. The tablet. Distributed app development. And on and on.

Re-imagination is not enough to create a business – you also need superb execution. But without re-imagination, you’re left with incremental improvements or marginal efficiency gains as a business model.

Perhaps we need to train our next generation of business people to continually ask two questions:

Why this?

And why not that?

Ha! This post by Dan Pallotta just showed up in my tweetstream, published yesterday at Harvard Business Review on-line. Talk about mind-meld!!

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How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> The Top 5 Ways to Define Yourself – NOT!

>> The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

Top 5 Ways to Define Yourself – NOT!

Companies and consultants can be remarkably good at vague and unfocused market positioning. Here are five recommended statement-types to help you get a head start on becoming a forgettable commodity:

5. “We are an enterprise-level solutions provider helping customers align their business processes with strategic goals.”

- Ahh, the old high-brow business-speak fog machine. In other words, you charge big companies big money to do something undefined that sounds impressive. But since the snake oil is delivered via a Powerpoint deck (with flowcharts!), that apparently means you leverage industry-wide best practices.

4. “A globally-responsible business partner.”

- And exactly what does this mean, tangibly speaking? And, while we’re at it, how does it affect my bottom line? Maybe you have a recycling bin in the cafeteria and use new-fangled light bulbs, but no WIIFM = no big deal.

3. “Before hanging out my own shingle, I moved from junior associate to VP of my division more quickly than anyone before me.”

- Great yearbook fodder, but that helps me how? The world is full of ambitious ladder-climbers. Enough about you…what about me?

2. “We help you with your marketing, communications, marketing communications, digital media, social media, sales, sales training, train reservations, dinner reservations, recruiting, and global commodities investing.”

- Oh, you’ll work for food. Great niche! Sigh….

1. “Our people are our greatest asset, and it shows in our J.D. Power award-winning customer service scores for the last 3 centuries. We mean business!”

- I’m sorry – what do you do?

You’ve got only a few seconds to make a lasting impression, and to stick in the minds of your customers. People will put you in a bucket, and it is up to you to define that bucket and make it memorable.

You might be exactly what they need – but if you’re shooting low-quality arrows randomly into the air, you’re not likely to hit the target. You either have a clear offering summed up in some high-impact, well-chosen words – or, you’re background noise. And we certainly don’t need any more of that to distract us!

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Sound like your challenge? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

>> The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

Planting Seeds of Leadership

Growing up, I was fascinated by the self-propagation design of the milkweed plant.

A pod full of parachute-equipped seeds matures and swells. At the right time, it bursts open and the seeds take to the winds, creating new plants wherever they may end up.

As with so much that surrounds us. Oaks begin their career as acorns – perhaps a seed buried and forgotten by a busy squirrel, now growing into a mighty presence in the forest.

Leadership Chat was never meant to be an oak. It was destined only to be a means to spread seeds of leadership.

I look out the window here in my office and see our lovely red maple shading our deck. There are still a few helicopter-shaped seeds hanging on today, but mostly, that time has passed. Seed-time is short, then it’s on to watering, fertilizing, pruning, and (eventually) harvesting and propagating.

There is very little that you can build in 140-character bursts once a week on Twitter. What you can do, however, is spread seeds of thought, and challenge old ideas, and kick off new friendships. Ideas and inspiration can take wing on digital networks and land on waiting soil. That’s what on-line chats are best for.

After a year-and-a-half of hosting Leadership Chat, Lisa Petrilli (the best co-host a person could ever ask for!) and I have decided that our time for planting seeds in this format is done. We each have new opportunities and ongoing responsibilities that demand time and attention. Yet we look back with tremendous gratitude for the friendships, the community, the new initiatives that have grown out of this modest little experiment.

We’ve had the privilege of welcoming many guests to share their wisdom and experiences: from well-known public figures like Carrie Wilkerson, Guy Kawasaki, Brian Solis, and John Jantsch to other insightful authors such as Les McKeown, Keni Thomas, Angela Maiers, and Becky Carroll. We discussed and debated Male/Female Roles, Hubris, Loyalty, Decision Fatigue, Vision, On-boarding, Emotions, and many other topics covering quite a range of human experience.

But, above all, we’ve enjoyed each others’ company and support. Hopefully we’ve all learned a few things along the way, things that we’re putting into practice right now (and will continue so to do).

Of all those who have supported the Leadership Chat community, I want to especially thank the quiet man over in the corner, Mack Collier, who has been a pillar of encouragement throughout this entire time, even when lurking on Tuesday nights with his Dr. Pepper. And the privilege of not only collaborating with Lisa Petrilli, but building an enduring friendship, has been for me the greatest result of participating in Leadership Chat.

This Tuesday, May 29th, is Graduation Day. Let’s spend the time discussing what we’ve learned in the past 18 months or so – not merely head knowledge, but real-life hands-on leadership lessons. How have you changed and become more effective? In what practical ways? We look forward to being with you during our final edition of LeadershipChat (8 pm ET on Twitter – hashtag #LeadershipChat).

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

>> LeadershipChat: Transitions

The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

You can have boundless energy, a really hot product, great pricing, solid staff, and a top-of-the-line Lexus in the CEO parking space, and still go down in flames.

If you want to succeed (long-term) as a leader, as a business, as a consultant – really, as a person – then there’s one thing you absolutely need to have. One huge advantage. And it’s something that we can ALL acquire. Clear vision.

It can be a process getting to 20/20 clarity – sometimes, a lot of “doing” is what gets you to better “seeing” – but when you know who you are, what you want, what your core competencies are, what your differentiator(s) are, and how to express all that – you’re way ahead of the game.

I have pathetic uncorrected vision – my glasses have always been pretty thick (yes, I still have Lasik envy – maybe someday…). Without clear sight I won’t recognize obstacles, or see opportunities; I’ll just bump into stuff. Have you seen a lot of businesses that behave like that? I have. They’re not on a well-defined course because the destination isn’t clear, nor is the pathway to get there.

Success starts with clear vision at the top – leaders who know what rabbit trails to avoid because they can see the destination, and they have a reasonably clear roadmap.

For quite some time, Kodak had a well-defined place in the market, and a successful business model. But when digital began to upend the need for film, it soon became evident that this company did not have a clear vision of how to re-make itself, how to navigate in a rapidly-evolving world that was doing a complete market makeover. Or, as discussed in last week’s chat, there’s Yahoo. What’s their vision? Does anyone know?

On the other end of the size scale, I see someone newly-laid-off from a client company who has hung out his/her shingle as a consultant, without a single differentiating anything in the company message. “We just do the usual stuff, so hire us” might as well be the company motto.

Will Work For Food may get you a little cash flow for a while. But a far clearer understanding of what you will work for – and why – is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Join us tonight (May 22nd) at 8 pm ET as we discuss Clarity in Leadership during #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Be sure you give a good read to the prep post written by my talented co-host, Lisa Petrilli, Every Leader’s Achilles Heel (great image on the blog post, btw!). We look forward to an enlightening conversation during The Fastest Hour on the Internet.

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

>> LeadershipChat: Transitions (yes, we are winding down LeadershipChat after this month!)

Connection Pinball

Scanning my usual set of columns in Hootsuite this morning, I wondered, “Is there a blog post here – just looking  at these people?”

In my DM column I saw Liz Marshall and Terry Starbucker. Yep, there was a story.

You see, I met Terry in our early days of blogging – probably 2008, at the famous Blogger Social ’08. Our friendship had little to do with my business at the time (which was and still is focused on pharma), but we were both blogging on marketing and business topics, and we hit it off.

In 2009, I made my only appearance at SXSW, mainly to chaperone my oldest son, who was interested in film (and, hey, what’s not to like about a father-son adventure to Austin?). Being disillusioned with a lot of the panels, I spent a fair amount of time in the Blogger Lounge, where, serendipitously, I ended up at the same table with Liz Strauss. We hit it off, too.

Terry and Liz insisted that I come to this rather small conference in Chicago called SOBCon the next year. It wasn’t in my pharma sweet spot, but I was still trying to find my place in the marketing/social media/entrepreneur world as well, and I liked the idea of a more intimate gathering of status-quo-breakers. So I went.

There I met Lisa Petrilli, also visible in my HootSuite columns today. And, Anthony Iannarino, Danielle Smith, Sean McGinnis, Angela Maiers – all visible front-and-center this morning on Twtiter, all met for the first time at a SOBCon event (2010 or 2011). Because LeadershipChat was born out of a collaboration between Lisa Petrilli and me that started at SOBCon, a whole other fleet of close connections has also been developed. And as I expand out of pharma into a new endeavor, it’s people like Carol Roth and Greg Hartle and Lou Imbriano and Jeannie Waters and Liz Marshall and Sara Goodman and Jesse Petersen and Becky McCray and Alli Worthington and Fred McClimans and Brandie McCallum and Sam Fiorella and Meghan Biro and Patty Azarello and Jeff Shuey and Phil Gerbyshak and many others who are my supporters, and cheerleaders, and brain trust.

All of this grew out of LeadershipChat and SOBCon.

Which grew out of becoming friends with Liz and Terry.

Which leads to the moral of the story. Make great quality connections, cultivate those relationships, and be ready.

It may seem a bit like a pinball game at times, but you cannot and will not lose when you make friends with great people!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

A little while back, I got new prescription glasses. And there was that moment, putting them on, when I realized what it is like to see 20/20 again. All of us who wear contacts or glasses know that wonderful feeling.

The slow drift toward unclear vision often goes unrecognized until someone fits us with a new pair of lenses.

The fact is, clear vision is not an option. Whatever other investment I may forego, I will always spend the necessary funds to see clearly – because that is foundational to everything I must do! Amazingly, however, few of your competitors will do so. That’s why clarity can become your strategic advantage.

When I work with you on a Clarity Therapy session, we’re looking for a 20/20 vision for you or your company. We’re interested, not merely in creating a tagline, but in discovering your purpose.

If you’re going to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, you need to have a crystal-clear message and identity. This unfolds in a 3-D process:

  • DNA – during the first part of Clarity Therapy, which involves a lot of free-flowing Q&A, we’re digging deep to find your professional DNA – uncovering your drives, your gifts, your strengths, your dreams.
  • Direction – next, we explore options, figuring out ways that your differentiating individual/company qualities could optimally succeed in the marketplace.
  • Distillation – finally, we take all these themes and condense them down to 4 elements of expression to position you in the minds of customers: Offering, Message, Story, Analogy.

In less than a day, you’re seeing 20/20. In 3-D. You’re not throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what sticks (what’s the ROI of that??). You’re taking charge with a roadmap that’s clear.

It’s a great way to win in business!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> You at the Crossroads

Words With Baggage

While facilitating a workshop on vendor/project management with a client yesterday, I felt compelled to emphasize that one of the keys to communication between two parties (say, client project manager –> vendor project manager) is realizing that words carry baggage. And I do not speak of “baggage” here pejoratively, as we often do, but simply descriptively.

There is the dictionary definition of a word or phrase. Then, there is the meaning and significance embedded in our minds, which is attached to an (accurate or not) personal definition, past experiences, images, people, issues, etc.

These meanings may have quite a bit of emotional freight, or conceptual misunderstanding, attached to them. So in dealing with project management, NEVER assume that everyone understands words the same way. Define. Discuss. Put it in writing. Do not leave it in the verbal ether, and discover 3 weeks down the road that even though it sounded like there was agreement when words were spoken – there clearly wasn’t (as the project begins to go off the rails).

We all want to assume that people think the way we do, and know what we mean. But if you sit 5 people down in a room and throw out a word or phrase, you may be the surprised at the variety of meanings – and reactions – that come back.

Over lunch with my boys this past Sunday, I threw out a hot-button word in our society and we had a rich discussion around what it does and doesn’t mean. The hardest part isn’t the ability to go to Dictionary.com and look up an explanation. And while there is a skill and art form to applying logic, that also isn’t the most difficult element (as important as it is). The real challenge is the emotional intelligence to grasp that words can have meaning way beyond those aspects of sheer accuracy.

Some words set off a cascade of reactions because of the baggage that travels with them. Miscommunication can result even when we think we’re being clear. And one of the dangers of social media is that we’re forced to use a paucity of words, often without supporting context. Throw in a polarizing political climate and the mix can be quite volatile.

I love the communication that is enabled through digital networks, though not as much as the face-to-face version. But sometimes, I fear that when we think we’re playing Words With Friends, we forget that we are using Words With Baggage.

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> You at the Crossroads

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