Finding Your Sweet Spot

For some, work is simply an exchange of time for money, living for the weekend when the real fun begins. But for many of us, work is a crucial piece of the puzzle of maximizing our potential. This post is for the latter group.

The holy grail of a career that brings together our abilities, our greatest value to others, and an ongoing sense of deep fulfillment is often found only after a long process of trial-and-error (if it is found at all). Along the way, we yearn to find the sweet spot – that place and role where we really fit. I often think of the process as like a pinball machine – while we’d love to think that our lives proceed along a nice, straight, well-planned arc, the reality is that we often bounce from here to there, learning along the way what works well and what doesn’t. I worked in Sales for many years before concluding that I’m really not a naturally gifted salesperson. By the same token, I can now look back (in retrospect) and see that certain of my marketing instincts were present, though unrecognized, way back in my teens. It took a long while for them to surface professionally.

So, if you’ve found your sweet spot (or if you’re on the journey), what has helped you to begin to see your “fit” more clearly? Was it wise counsel from a friend or co-worker? Was it a particular book (for me, the book Now, Discover Your Strengths was absolutely revolutionary)? A formal personality inventory/assessment? Was it just the ongoing analysis of circumstances and performance over time that helped you see your personal and professional bulls-eye?

I believe that one of our highest life challenges is finding our sweet spot and running our best course. I also know that many people in their 30′s, 40′s, and 50′s are still searching, still asking what they’re going to do when they grow up. Tell your story in the comments – and, how would you advise others? Let’s discuss – I’m very curious to see how others have moved toward their bulls-eye in life.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Following Your Passion: A Story

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

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?

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

The Analogy That Makes People “Get” You

“Impactiviti is the eHarmony of pharmaceutical vendor selection.”

It took me 18 months to come up with the key analogy to explain my pharma consulting practice, but I’ve gotten more mileage out of that one statement than anything else I’ve used for marketing Impactiviti (my client-vendor “matchmaking” consultancy for pharmaceutical sales/training/marketing).

Why is an analogy so important? Because we all need a shortcut into the understanding and memory of our attention-overloaded prospective customers. And the analogy – appealing to something already understood in order to bridge a gap to something new – is the most powerful mechanism imaginable to spark recognition and recall.

You’re at a cocktail party, and someone asks what you do. “I’m a corporate content development specialist for a healthcare company.” STOP!!! See those eyes glaze over? Has comprehension occurred in that person’s mind? No – because you’ve not bridged the gap. And, perhaps, just as important – will that person be able to refer someone they meet the next day to you?

Rewind. Your answer this time? “My company helps people with rare diseases. I’m like an internal reporter – I get to tell people how we do it!” Boom!

Note the following:

1. Your company is now a lot more interesting, and probably will provoke a follow-up question or three.

2. Your role is now clear – you’re a reporter (but on the inside).

3. YOU are more interesting, because your role has an aspirational and positive element, not merely a technical description. And the listener gets it, immediately.

See how powerful a simple and vivid analogy is? And, the next day, when this person bumps into the CEO of another company that they know from the gym, who happens to be complaining about how ineffective their internal marketing is…guess who comes to mind?

eBay caught on very quickly, in part, because it was just like one big virtual yard sale. People could “get” that. If you attach your company and offering to something pre-existing, common, and positive, you save yourself a ton of grief trying to force comprehension through a blizzard of terms and bullet points.

This is the most challenging deliverable in a Clarity Therapy session. First, we map out your professional DNA by digging into your (personal or company) history, competencies, and aspirations. Then we settle on the core offering, the key message, and the compelling story. Finally, we cap it off with a memorable analogy, and you’re ready with a clear and unforgettable go-to-market approach. In a world swirling with information and noise, only the crystal clear will stand out. That should be you!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Clarity, part 1: Your Distinguishing Offering

>> Clarity, part 2: Your Go-To Market Message (in 10 words or less)

>> Clarity, part 3: People Buy Your Story

People Buy Your Story

Recently, I was sitting through a capabilities overview from an agency in my pharma network, and it was filled with all the usual elements – we do this, we do that, customer logos, etc., etc. There was actually one potentially distinguishing message buried in there, which was encouraging; but then, toward the end, mention was made that the company has been in business for 20+ years.

And…and…nothing. The ball was teed up, but the 3-wood remained in the golf bag. There was the chance to tell a story – the company story – and it was missed. Any company in business that long has a lot of success, a interesting pathway of evolution, and a great way to build a bridge with the listener by using corporate history to be memorable.

Some years ago, I was evaluating a training company’s marketing and website, and was seeing all the typical verbiage and bullet points – just like everyone else, we do this and this and this. But buried in the web copy was a key point – one of the principals of the company had long experience on the pharma client side of the fence. I told them that their story was the distinguishing message: “We’ve walked in your shoes.” Most of the competitor companies did not have that same story.

When people are evaluating potential providers, one of the distinguishing elements that they subconsciously want to know is the story – why you exist, how you got to where you are now, how you’ve succeeded and evolved. This isn’t just customer case studies – it’s your profile, neatly wrapped with a bow of purpose and progress. People forget bullet points. They remember compelling stories.

There is a story behind my business practice of Clarity Therapy: it is an “accidental” business. I was helping partner companies figure out their professional DNA and message for years as part of my pharma client-vendor matchmaking service (Impactiviti), and I finally came to realize that this analytical ability was a unique skill that met a vast market need. To lead people and companies to an epiphany of their identity in a few hours time? How valuable is that? Yet it came about organically, not as part of pre-planned strategy.

Three entrepreneurs whom I deeply respect (Anthony Iannarino, Lisa Petrilli, Greg Hartle) all have great business stories that happen to be woven in to remarkable medical histories. Carrie Wilkerson (The Barefoot Executive) masterfully weaves her life story into her constant “you can do it, too!” entrepreneurial message. This past weekend’s winner of the Master’s golf tournament, Bubba Watson (pictured above – emotion is a powerful element, no?) has a wonderful story – he’s never taken a golf lesson, but just does what he does as a self-taught athlete.

Apple, Dell, the 3-M Post-it Note, WD-40 – all have memorable stories behind them. And we like to buy into something bigger than ourselves, something that transcends the ordinary, something that is a non-commodity.

Do you have a personal or corporate story? You do – but you may be so close to it, you may take it so much for granted that you haven’t teased it out. It’s one of the first things I do when I sit down with a client to help them get clear about their message – I pull out the story and help them see it.

Yes, people buy what you’re offering. But they also buy the story behind it. Don’t deprive them (and yourself!) of one of your most powerful marketing tools!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Part 1: Your Distinguishing Offering

>> Part 2: Your Go-To Market Message (in 10 words or less)

We Do This (and this and this and this and…)

Last week, I sat down to enjoy dinner with about 15 people, none of whom I had met face-to-face before (on-line connections with some of them). Which means that you begin to ask the standard get-to-know-you questions.

On this occasion, I did not have the following exchange (thankfully!) – but you’ve been there, right?

“So, what does your company do?”

“Glad you asked! We have a whole suite of enterprise human performance development resource platforms, addressing everything from talent identification, people management, on-line training, payroll obfuscation optimization, restroom supply chain aggregation, Pony Express scheduling, and cupcakes. How about you?”

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, this kind of exchange sheds more darkness than light! Maybe you’re a great person, and maybe you offer something of genuine value, but you’re firing so many bullet points at me that I have to put on a Kevlar vest.

And tomorrow, when someone asks me, “Hey, do you know someone who can help me with such-and-such?” – do you think this new contact is going to be even a blip on my radar screen? No. Because the offering is not clear.

That’s the first thing we uncover during a Clarity Therapy session – What’s your key offering? It’s one of the Core Four elements we uncover in determining your professional DNA and message.

It’s always amazing to me how poorly-defined a company’s offering can be – it’s as if we don’t want to miss out on any potential revenue, so we say we do 10 things, when in fact only one or two of those things are truly aligned with our strengths and our desired goals. Which makes us….forgettable.

If you do everything, then in the mind of potential customers and network-referrers, you do….nothing. You have no memory hook, nothing distinguishing. You disappear into the mist.

What does Starbucks do? Coffee. Everything else they offer is secondary, planets revolving around the caffeinated sun. What does a small company like Vosges Chocolate do? Chocolate! What do they not do? Everything else.

So, before coming up with a marketing message or an advertising campaign, I urge my clients to take a deep breath and walk with me through the process of clearing the fog and getting a clear view of their DNA. Once we know what you really do well, what your greatest value is to potential customers, then we can proceed to your go-to-market message. Marketing without a clear identity is like attempting target practice with a shotgun – lots of noise, but nothing hitting the bulls-eye.

Coming in Part 2: Your Go-To-Market Message

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Clarity Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Customers Walking Past You

>> Fearing Obsolescence? Four Questions for your Future

Customers Walking Past You

I live in a small-ish town in northern NJ. We have a Main Street with a bunch of small shops, most of which don’t work very hard to pull me in.

And sometimes, I have no clue why I should care. The message or the offering aren’t clear, or perhaps the face of the store is just a confusing jumble.

I, and my wallet, keep on walking past.

While your business may not be in a retail zone, you surely have a “storefront” in the minds of customers. They look and they see…what? Something very clear, that they could turn or explain to a friend in 15 seconds? Or a jumble?

As my friend Carrie Wilkerson says, focus on just one thing.

Own a differentiating quality. Own a market niche. Own a word. Make your real or virtual storefront so clear that any passerby who needs what you have to offer knows exactly where to turn in.

Once upon a time, a General Store could thrive. Those days are over. If your brand is a general list of everything from A to Z, you lose.

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Networking on Purpose

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

(image credit)

Not All Business is Good Business

I don’t remember where or when I first heard it, but that phrase has stuck with me like white on rice: Not all business is good business.

Some projects that seem to promise high revenue may (in reality) equal low profit – or a loss. Some work is, if you step back and be objective (closing your ears to the siren song of the dollars), outside your sweet spot, or beyond your current capacity. And some clients aren’t worth the trouble – they create for more chaos than benefit. Been there?

Your company and that piece of business – it’s not always a match. Do you have the courage to say “not all business is good business” – and act on it?

During a recent Brand Therapy session, this truth came home in a big way. While one of the main outputs of Brand Therapy with Steve session is clarity on your Offering, your Message, your go-to-market Analogy, and your company Story, what we’re doing in the process is identifying your professional DNA. Inevitably, what that means is that, in the privacy of the therapy session, we open up the questions that usually cannot be asked publicly – questions about future direction, client successes and failures, aspirations, culture, staff makeup, revenue flow – those things that sometimes require an outside voice and perspective.

In this session, it quickly became clear that there was a certain type of target company – those of a particular size and corporate culture – that were a great fit for this provider’s services (and business approach). But there was this constant pressure to chase all kinds of potential clients, even when there was a grating sense that this business might not be worth the invested effort. You know that pressure, right?

It takes courage to say, “This is who we are, and therefore THAT kind of client/business is a mis-match. Instead, we’re going to pursue THIS.”

Let’s face it – every consultant and company feels the pressure of generating revenue and cash flow, and we are often tempted to take on work that we know, in our gut, isn’t really the best. Over time, our identity and message can become muddled and obscured – instead of bending our efforts to pursue GOOD business with a very clear and compelling identity and message, we become…serial offenders of our own professional DNA.

Not all business is good business. So – who ARE you, and what is good business for you? Let me know if you need a day of Brand Therapy with an expert who knows the right questions to ask!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Social Business is Not Enough

>> Go With What You’ve Got

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

My Business Vision

My LeadershipChat co-host, Lisa Petrilli, has written a stirring and helpful blog post about gaining a vision for our personal and business lives (Three Steps to Create a Vision for 2012). And, this is our theme for the final #LeadershipChat of 2011 – Vision. Not goals, not resolution – but the inspiring picture of “what could be” that fuels purpose and feeds action.

I liked what Lisa wrote so much about the three steps that I decided, for my pre-chat blog post, to simply apply her principles and see if I could articulate my vision. Here goes:

I strive toward a future where talent and creativity are unleashed to produce remarkable lives and results. I see a workforce driven, not by time clocks and paychecks, but by the internal fires of desire and unique ability channeled into creating value for others.

I see a day dawning where trust networks of real people outstrip the legacy efficiencies of hierarchical corporations; where handshakes and proven character hold more sway than lawyers and regulations.

I long for the day when people choose their career direction because of inherent fit, and where the pathway to success is paved with character, responsibility, diligence, and readiness to provide value.

I look for a time when long-term commitment triumphs over the compromises of short-term thinking.

I am committed to kindling these fires by building networks and business models that are disruptive to the status quo of short-sighted inefficiency, liberating people of talent and ethical character to do their best work and live remarkable lives.

There’s the vision. It has taken shape over decades and is pretty well set in my mind and heart. When you’re in touch with your core beliefs and values (see this excellent post by John Jantsch), your vision begins to take shape.

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How does that look when you step forward to a mission statement? Something like this, I guess:

My mission is to be a Connection Agent.

I am connecting people and businesses with their true identity and message; with creative opportunities to grow and succeed; and with other people and resources to bring about increasing success.

I want to leave behind a network of people who are richer because of these connections, and who will follow that example by enriching others.

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And how does all that flow out into activity?

The manifestation, so far, is the creation of business referral networks; a self/brand awareness consulting practice (Clarity Therapy); and ongoing tribe-building (LeadershipChat is, in a very important respect, tribe-building). The first two are current sources of revenue; the latter is my long-term commitment to bring together people who want to revolutionize business and life through purposeful use of social networks.

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OK, so how about you? Can you take some time this week to go through a similar exercise? Perhaps invest an hour tonight (8 pm ET) on Twitter for #LeadershipChat in order to discuss Vision with some smart, like-minded folks as you look to a new year? Hope to see you there, and to see your vision spelled out in the coming days!

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Hire Steve Woodruff if your identity and message need clarity (Clarity Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Social Business is Not Enough

>> Go With What You’ve Got

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Go With What You’ve Got (A 2011 Reflection)

I freely admit that, in some areas, I am denser than an iceberg made of iron. In a few key respects, my mind runs with Olympic sprinter speed and dexterity – but in other ways, I learn at a glacial pace, only after so many crashes against the wall that I look like Rocky’s sparring partner on a very bad day.

But this year, I may have finally begun to turn the corner on one thing that I’ve believed (in my head) for many years, but failed to fully embrace (in heart and practice). When building business, Go With What You’ve Got.

You see, I often tell others that you really want build a small, high-quality, close-knit network – a tribe  in Godin-speak – instead of expending all your energy in amassing numbers. I don’t know how many blog posts I’ve written along these lines, and in many respects, I’ve practiced it – but, when it came to my primary revenue-generating pharma network (Impactiviti), I harbored a secret addiction to going wide instead of deep. There’s nothing inherently wrong with widespread recognition and messaging – but then I kept looking at where the revenue was truly coming from. And lo and behold (no surprise to any of you quicker learners out there), revenue was coming from a handful of long-standing customers/advocates. All the mass reach in the world, while good for the long-term, wasn’t really the driver. It was taking care of the people who already believed in me, and who talked me up to others. I finally started pro-actively investing much more time digging deeper than going wider.

Duh.

This simple insight, finally burrowing its way from mind to heart, re-shaped some of my social networking practice as well in 2011. I’ve always invested in the idea of cultivating a close “inner circle” of quality people, but it was difficult to set aside the broad reach model in practice. Somehow, the only thing that gets the applause lines is big numbers. Yet, I already had a wonderful circle of friends with whom I could cultivate deeper bonds. Did I really need to pour a bunch of energy into Google+, or worry about an influencer score, or be concerned about blog readership statistics? Not that any of those things are bad in themselves (well, maybe Klout…right, Sam Fiorella?), but I don’t really “need” mass numbers. I can barely cultivate deepening relationships with the wonderful people I already know.

Huh.

Finally, this “go with what you’ve got” lesson came home to me in a very unexpected new business direction. As many of you know, I have been building, behind the scenes, toward a grand vision I’ve had for years of a trusted referral network for building new business (Connection Agency). Yet, the very week I made this initiative public, an entirely different avenue of new business potential dropped into my lap – something that I already had been doing but didn’t really understand could be a business in itself. Doing Brand Therapy with individuals and companies has turned out to be the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done – yet it came to the fore only because I had some unanticipated extra time in Chicago pre-SOBCon and decided to do some free “therapy” sessions with people. Now, this practice has become a growing revenue stream in its own right, while Connection Agency has been on the slower development track.

Turns out the keys to success in 2011 were under my nose the whole time. As Thomas Carlyle put it so many years ago, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

Great advice for both business and leadership as we look ahead to 2012. What are the opportunities already at hand? What are you already bringing to the table? Who are the customers that make your business fly?

In fact, on Tuesday (Dec. 19th) at 8 pm ET on Twitter during LeadershipChat, we’ll be discussing our most important Leadership Lessons from 2011. Here’s one from my lovely co-host, Lisa Petrilli (My Most Life Opening Leadership Lesson of 2011). What’s yours? Feel free to write a blog post about it before, or after, the chat, and share your wisdom with other members of the community!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Twitter Chats and Cocktail Parties

>> Finding Your DNA

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Are You A Go-To?

“I am the go-to person/company/brand for ______________.”

Can you fill in that blank? Right now – off the tip of your tongue?

As a consultant, or brand, or business, this is your most important, distilled message. Because if you can’t state it, how can you expect your clients (actual and potential) to know it?

Define yourself. Own your professional real estate. I mean – you do want customers to go-to you, right?

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Finding Your DNA

>> Choose Your Lane

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Finding Your DNA

I really enjoy every aspect of my work, but there’s one thing that I find positively exhilarating.

Helping you discover your professional DNA.

Yesterday, I had a Brand Therapy session with a consultant launching his business, and it was thrilling to peel back the layers and uncover what was at the core of his skills and professional drives.

My only props for brand therapy are a notebook, and a bowl of M&Ms. See the red ones there? That’s his DNA.

Here’s what happens – after years in business (as a company) or workforce (as an individual), we get encrusted with a mix of roles, expectations, labels, competencies, annual evaluations – and, over time, we lose clarity on who we really are and what our optimal role is.

Does your company chase a whole bunch of projects and clients in the pursuit of revenue? Does your business message look like a jumble of bullet points? Exactly.

Eventually, we’re a jumbled bowl of M&Ms – the red ones are in there somewhere, but we need an outside analyst to gain clarity.

My job, as brand therapist, is to take a day with you and uncover your core offering and drive, your central message, your compelling story, and your go-to-market analogy and strategy. This need is as common for an individual professional re-evaluating career direction as it is for a small company looking to refine its brand.

For me, this is more than just a business offering. It’s a mission. I believe that we will re-invent work and realize success by tapping into our core abilities, and creating networks of great people all working at or near their optimal capacity.

But first, you have to have the desire – yes, even the courage – to uncover your DNA. And put you at the center of your business direction.

Let me know if I can help.

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Are You Suffering from JAVA?

You’ve labored long and hard to create your offerings. You’ve invested in marketing materials, a website, maybe even a social media footprint. You’ve earned the opportunity to give a presentation in front of a potential client. Hours and hours of work went into the slide deck. When you add up all the personnel costs, opportunity costs, marketing costs….you’ve spent many thousands of dollars to get to this moment.

You pull the trigger – and nothing happens. The prospects’ eyes glaze over. Another opportunity down the drain.

You’ve contracted a case of JAVA (Just Another Vendor Affliction). Meanwhile, someone who has a remarkable message contracted with the client.

It wasn’t that you didn’t have enough to say – you hit them with a load of bullet points just like everyone else. And that’s the problem.

You’re just like everyone else – at least, in this client’s eyes. Line up all the coffee cups, and they all look interchangeable. And disposable.

You expected the prospect to sort through all the verbiage, the generalities, the bullet points, and find the remarkable. To see your value clearly. The problem? That’s not their job.

>> That’s your job! <<

The differentiating message about you/your company needs to be front-and-center in the first 90 seconds of a presentation. The remarkable story, the unique value, needs to be woven in right from the starting gun.  Everything needs to orbit around your unique DNA and message, and how you will make a business difference to the client. Otherwise, you’ve just invested thousands of dollars for another cup of JAVA.

We all have business myopia – we’re nearsighted because we’re too close to our own stuff. And we can’t expect our clients to see the message clearly if we don’t have clarity ourselves.

I can help you get freedom from JAVA. That’s my job!

If you need help discovering your differentiating professional DNA and message, Hire Me. It’s worth a Business Identity Therapy session to get true clarity around your DNA and message.

Then, as you interact with clients, you can let your competitors get the JAVA. While you get the business!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Business Identity Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> The Unglamorous Need for…Semantics!

>> When Your Branding Zings

Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff | @ConnectionAgent

When Your Branding Zings

It’s been gloomy here of late – grey, rainy, blah – a few days like that and work can become a slog.

Then something brightens your day and makes you want to do a dance. Yesterday, it was a Powerpoint presentation that a client was showing me (I guess I’ve now proven that Powerpoint can make your day!).

A month or so back, I’d enjoyed a very successful Brand Therapy session with this client. We distilled down their identity, their go-to-market message – we all walked out feeling good about the outcomes (which, at that point, was words on paper).

They contracted with a professional to design a slide presentation of the new message, and forwarded me a copy. I was blown away! There, come to life, was the fruit of our labors – beautifully designed and compellingly packaged. I had critiqued previous company presentations (which is how I arrived at doing this assignment) because they were overly-complex, unfocused, and did not have a simple differentiating message. The new presentation? Laser-sharp. Convincing. Memorable. It zinged!

So, here’s the recipe. Get clarity around your identity and message. Get simplicity and a compelling narrative around the showing and telling of it. You’ll be so far ahead of your competitors it won’t even be fair. Very few companies, brands, and even individuals have a clear message. What an opportunity for the rest of us!

I’ve seen so many unfocused marketing approaches, and more bad Powerpoint than I care to remember. Yesterday, I saw what’s possible. Call me a marketing nerd, but the clouds broke and the day seemed much brighter afterward (actually, that did happen). A sweet presentation isn’t everything. But it’s a great step toward opening minds and wallets!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (personal or company Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Can You Stop Me from Being a Pimp?

>> LinkedIn Listens, Reconsiders

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Twitter: @swoodruff | @ConnectionAgent

When Techies Do Marketing

One of things that never fails to amuse me is coming across a website which was written by a techie – either an engineer, or buzzword-addicted consultant, or – worst-case scenario – an engineer/programmer/consultant.

Let’s say you’re a potential customer – you’re looking for help with something, and you come across a website (or other marketing collateral) with this kind of copy:

(_____) platform takes enterprise listening to the next – actionable – level. We operate in the Web 3.0 world where every bit of unstructured data gets converted into actionable insights. Our state of the art RDFa enabled architecture brings out the meaning from unstructured data of Social Media, Web and internal data sources ( call center notes, CRM notes, documents etc)…In essense (sp) (_______) creates the 4th dimension to the traditional 360 degree view…

Now, there is a place for this kind of technical explanation. That’s called a white paper. But marketing on the web and elsewhere, you have only a few seconds to get my attention with a straightforward explanation that clearly communicates the What’s In It For Me.

It’s the incredibly rare technical designer who can also create effective marketing. The mindset of the technical person is complexity and details. The mindset of the effective marketer is simplicity and value.

It’s amazing how many tech companies will invest a massive amount of money to come up with a brilliant solution, then assume that they’re communicating to people just like them – people whose pulses race to hear about RDFa enabled architecture. And I’ve seen many potentially valuable consultants who hang out a shingle but don’t have a clear, compelling message on it.

You have to wonder how much money gets left on the table – the opportunity cost of an unfocused message.

What’s the value? What’s the unique differentiator? What’s your company story? What can you communicate in 10 seconds that should make me want to find out more, and reach out to you?

I have worked with some immensely talented tech folks, and have enormous respect for their work. But when it’s time to go to market, please – get some creative minds to help craft the message. Or you may end up with Blue Spoon Syndrome.

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Rejoice in Inefficiency!

…if you’re an entrepreneur, that is. Because therein lies opportunity.

During a brand therapy breakfast today with a friend (who is between jobs), we talked about the particulars of his marketplace, and why the current  sales process was so prone to failure.

Huge and growing client need. Available (tech) solutions that can only get better. And a sales success rate that is appalling. It all adds up to gross inefficiency – and amazing opportunity if he can come up with a way to bridge the gap.

Millions of dollars are sitting there for the person who can crack that nut. And no-one on either the client or the provider side can likely catalyze this particular change. The problem needs a creative entrepreneur. Not to create a new product. But to re-imagine the process into a win-win.

This guy knows enough from both client and provider perspective – and has enough industry contacts – that he could potentially pull something off. How about you, in your industry?

Yes, we live in a time when jobs are being lost. But I guarantee you that whatever industry you are involved with is rife with inefficiencies. And 99.5% of the people will only moan about them, without the imagination and initiative to find a creative solution.

Inefficiency = Opportunity.

The 0.5% who rejoice in inefficiency have the chance to win. Be in that group!

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A Peek Inside a Brand Therapy Session, with M&Ms

What happens when I get together with a client for a Brand Therapy session?

(def: Brand Therapy – concentrated brainstorm to clarify a company or individual’s core professional DNA and message)

Let’s illustrate with a bowl full of M&Ms:

We start with your mind and my plan. You have a ton of information in your brain; a whole bunch of data about what you do, what you really want to do, your customers, competitors, strategies, goals, history…and, because it’s yours, you may have difficulty seeing it all objectively. A lot of it is in fragments. My plan is to draw it out and bring a whole new level of clarity. So…

The first step is a directed mind dump. I ask a bunch of questions, some of which may seem random at the time (but aren’t). My goal in this initial stage is to get all the raw material into the light of day – do a dump of the candy bowl and begin to see the landscape. It’s fun, it’s messy, and while I can’t yet do a Vulcan mind meld, within a couple of hours I can generally help you get the M&M’s out on the table. One or two early epiphanies may occur at this stage. We’re getting to core truths here with focused questions about your identity and message. Then…

The next step is to begin to put the pieces in order. Sorting through the various fragments of thought and information, we start to see how these pieces fit into an optimal business direction. At this stage, we’re defining the unique – finding the key differentiator(s) that will mark your strategy and your message. More epiphanies occur here. This stage is both exhilarating and exhausting. Finally…

We boil it down together to your Core Four. This is the creative wordsmithing stage, where your message takes final shape. This is very challenging and rewarding work – you will walk out with distilled summary statements that encapsulate your identity and message in the smallest number of words. The end result – you now have the foundational document upon which your business direction and message is based. All in about a day’s time. How cool is that?

One recent session with a client started in the afternoon, then finished with a session the next morning. Turns out that was a great format – it gave a mental break and allowed ideas to percolate more casually over dinner. A night’s sleep also brought new perspective and some fresh energy to the final stages.

For lack of a better term, Personal Brand Therapy (for an individual) takes a similar approach, with slightly different end deliverables, in about half the time. To appreciate the epiphanies that can occur for both companies and individuals, read the many comments on this post.

Contact me (steve at connectionagent dot com) if you or your clients need a Brand Therapy session. Bonus: through my vast Connection Agent network, I can help you find the providers that you’ll need to carry out your business and marketing plans, through targeted and trusted referrals. Because my goal is not just to connect you with your identity and message. It’s also to connect you with the other people who can help make your business fly!

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Recently on Connection Agent:

5 Reasons Why Twitter Might Soon Be Dispensable

Why Google+ Could Succeed

Build Your Own Opportunity Network (free e-book)

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

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Who Are You?

“I’m a Vice-President” | “I’m a Sales Rep” | “I’m a Researcher”

Roles and titles easily slip off our tongue. What we DO is not the same as who we ARE, however.

And that’s true of companies as well.

So, here are the 12 Most Important Questions you can ask about your Identity, published on the popular new site, The 12 Most.

Preview:

As a company, or as a person, you possess a vital stewardship over something unique – your identity. Your DNA. That which sets you apart and gives you something of great value to offer.

Too many people, companies, and brands spend their time and effort on message development, and short-change the process of understanding their identity. Yet message and market positioning must grow out of a clear DNA discovery… (read the entire article)

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Know Your Verbs!

As a professional, here is the view I like. —>

A fallow field.

If it’s already built, if the framework is designed and the system is in place, I don’t belong.

I need to create new things. I used to wonder about serial entrepreneurs, before recognizing that, in fact, I am one. Ooops.

Others would never flourish in the face of the unstructured environment that excites me. And that’s fine, because we need people across the entire range of skills, from pure creativity to repetitive tasks, and everything in between.

That’s why you need to know your verbs. What are those actions that describe you at your peak of effectiveness?

For me: Analyze, Envision, Create, Connect, Communicate. Operational stuff? – ugh. Number-crunching? – umm, no. Toll-taking? – kill me now.

I want to look at what isn’t, and figure out how to create something new. Give me the fallow field.

Now, I’ve done plenty of work in the past that was outside of my ideal verb zone. And I highly value those with a whole different suite of verbs than mine – if we were all like me, there’d always be something new – and nothing else would get done!

So, what are your verbs? Can you narrow it down to, say, 3-5? Feel free to share them in the comments. Those verbs may well provide the clue to your future professional path!

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Specialize or Generalize?

I was reading a great post by Rohit Bharagava last week on The $1 Million Specialization Question.

If you’re an solopreneur, consultant,or small business, here’s my advice. Specialize. Then sub-specialize.

You cannot stand out, or be memorable as a business, if you employ Bullet-point Branding. “We do this, and this, and this, and this. Oh, and if it means cash flow for the next 3 months, we’ll do that too.”

Your goal should be to create the sense that you are the Go-To person or company for something very specific. Some niche you can define and dominate. Find your unique value and wave that flag.

You don’t merely need business. You need an identity first. Then you can pursue the right business for you.

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Your DNA

Sitting down with a friend over lunch recently, I was listening to the frustration in his voice as he outlined the painfully slow process of seeing progress made in his (huge) company. Not an uncommon experience – right?

He’s an innovator. A collaborator. A thinker. A sharer. And, in my opinion, a teacher of others (yes, I can’t help doing a little Brand Therapy, even over lunch!)

That’s his DNA. That’s him. And when a role and a company environment are more driven by risk-aversion, process, and silos – frustration is the inevitable side effect.

Now, sometimes that is exactly what is needed – a person with the will and ability to swim upstream, overcome obstacles, and make progress against inertia. Sometimes, however, it may only be an exercise in futility.

Ideally, you want to find – or create – a role in line with your DNA.

Are you truly aware of your DNA, as a person and professional? Do you fit in the structure that surrounds you? Does the grass look greener on the other side – only to find that, when you make a change, you’re right back where you started?

As a person – What drives you? What do you dream of doing? Where do you perform best? What’s your core makeup? What are your professional strengths? What drives you crazy, that you wish you never had to do again? What do you want to build?

As a company (or consultant) – What are your true competencies? Where do customers value you most? What kind of work do you do best now, and what do you really want to be doing in 3-5 years? Who are your ideal customers? What bogs down your progress? What is your message? What are you uniquely able to build or accomplish?

Discover your DNA first – nothing matters more. Then you can decide where you belong, what you have to offer, what your message is.

The alternative may well be a lot of time lost spinning your wheels in frustration.

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