Intermediation Biz Opportunity: Matchmaking

{Note: I am now blogging at my brand-spanking-new site, SteveWoodruff.com. Just click here to subscribe to the new feed. Bonus – you can also sign up at the same time for my astonishingly brief  yet brilliant e-newsletter, Clarity Blend (see sample), and when you sign up, you’ll get a free download of my helpful new e-book, Make Yourself Clear: Six Steps to De-fogging Your Direction and Your Message.}

Let’s talk about arranged marriages. OK, not quite – but have you ever thought about how matchmaking can apply to business? Read on…

In an introductory post, I opened up the idea of potential business opportunities that exist by thinking about The New Intermediation. The Ugly Graphic below depicts how this works:

Intermediary1

In a second post, we discussed the opportunity of Curation (filtering and delivering information) in the world of new intermediation. Today, let’s look at another manifestation of the new intermediation: Matchmaking.

A matchmaker is a key individual, platform, or company that has deep connections with a pool of people/providers, and then brings the right (targeted) resource to a client with a business or personal need.

Think of what recruiters (headhunters) do. It’s that kind of intermediation, but scaled in new ways and applied to other business problems beyond staffing.

My Impactiviti business (identifying optimal outsource vendors for my pharma clients looking for training/marketing suppliers) is one example of business matchmaking (see graphic here).

In Kansas City, my friend George Weyrauch has launched Rock Creative to provide a very similar service for creative types.

Another example familiar to many is HARO (Help A Reporter Out), the news/resource matching service launched by Peter Shankman. Reporters have always had a need to find subject matter experts. Many people who could be valuable resources are invisible to media types. So, HARO was born – a daily e-mail service where journalists looking for sources post what they need, and targeted individuals respond. Simple, brilliant matchmaking. And Peter is smarter than me, because HARO is fed-by-both-sides e-model that was able to be increasingly automated. I’m not jealous. I’m really not. OK, I’m jealous.

IntermediationHARO

(on a side note, HARO was bought by Vocus a year or two back. Creating a winning intermediation service can have quite a significant ROI!)

Our world of business has always run smoother because of intermediaries. There are bridges that need to be built – today, and tomorrow. Gaps are everywhere. Intermediaries see them, and create beneficial connections<<–(click to tweet this)

Many roles, of course, have been disintermediated through technology advancements. But other, digitally-fueled models have arisen. Sometimes, they are ePlatforms, like Match.com and eHarmony (where “matchmaking” is not a metaphor, but is the whole point!) Do you know of other matchmaking business approaches that you’ve seen recently enabled in our networked world? Do share in the comments!

Intermediation Biz Opportunity: Curation

In this introductory post, I opened up the idea of potential business opportunities that exist by thinking of The New Intermediation.

Briefly, we need to see that there are huge needs at the intersection of loads of “stuff,” which need to be translated into strategic business directions and deliverables. Graphically pictured:

Intermediary1

Now, let’s consider one of those new intermediation roles: Curation.

In this case, the Big Pool is information. We live in an age of information overload (getting exponentially worse), and no-one in an important business role has the time to keep up with it; let alone know how to filter, process, and assemble it into a strategic roadmap.

Enter the curator. Filter, process, assemble, deliver/present.

IntermediationCurator

In the early days of social media and blogging, first-movers got into the curation business by assembling information resources and making money by advertising, or by selling subscriptions. Nowadays, there’s a ton of on-line noise (including information-assemblers), but there are still many opportunities to add value by curating targeted business information for an audience that needs it, and is willing to pay for it.

A curator may make money directly by selling the information, or, by selling some other valued service that becomes known because a free (or low-cost) curation service drives awareness and credibility. This latter approach is one I followed in establishing my pharmaceutical consulting practice.

In ancient times, Reader’s Digest was an example of curation. In more recent days, Marketing Profs is a great example of an on-line version. But this role can also be adopted by a solopreneur with deep domain knowledge and experience. If you know where to find things in the deep pool, AND you are aware of the related business intelligence needs, you can become a valued intermediary. Opportunity knocks!

What are some other examples of curation intermediaries (people or businesses) that you know of or rely on?

The Business Opportunities of The New Intermediation

{Note: I am now blogging at my brand-spanking-new site, SteveWoodruff.com. Just click here to subscribe to the new feed. Bonus – you can also sign up at the same time for my astonishingly brief  yet brilliant e-newsletter, Clarity Blend (see sample), and when you sign up, you’ll get a free download of my helpful new e-book, Make Yourself Clear: Six Steps to De-fogging Your Direction and Your Message.}

I’ve been consulting with a company that has a tremendous opportunity to grow through the differentiation of its offering. They stand between a huge pool of unstructured “stuff,” and a business need to make that stuff intuitively useful (even beautiful). This type of creativity is a rare gift.

Many companies and people have lost work due to the internet-driven trend of disintermediation (the removal of no-longer necessary “layers” in the business chain – think about what Amazon has done to entire swaths of the publishing/book-selling business). But there are whole new business models on the other side of that coin – people and companies who can step in between two parties/needs and provide value.

These are The New Intermediaries. And, for an entrepreneur, this is a model ripe with opportunity.

A new intermediary provides value by creatively translating “stuff” into strategic business value. <<–(click to tweet this)

For example – the client I described above specializes in creating intuitive visual design. Now, if you can look into a vast sea of poorly-structured information and create an information design presentation that advances business goals, you have added tremendous value as a specialized intermediary. How many of us have experienced corporate on-boarding that was slipshod and poorly structured/designed?

This business problem needs a specialized intermediary (apologies, in advance, for the Ugly Graphic!):

IntermediaryDesign

The above is one particular expression of a generalized New Intermediation structure, which we can generically portray this way:

Intermediary1

The new intermediary has enough of a foot into the big pool to understand the possibilities and extract the core value (think of an experienced digital marketer who can talk to programming geeks), but also has a foot in the strategic business world and can see the market application (that same marketer discussing potential applications with the CMO). This intermediary is a filter and a translator and an interpreter between two worlds.

What is an on-line curator of information? Exactly – a new intermediary. The internet (and social media) has created an explosion of “stuff,” but also there are tremendous opportunities that come with the enhanced ability to build and cultivate networks. Social networking can be a mechanism to enable business intermediation.

In fact, I launched my Impactiviti business 6+ years ago based on this concept, though I wasn’t really thinking so much about the generalized potential of the model. I create partnerships with the best outsource vendors for training and marketing development (out of a vast pool of providers), and then I “matchmake” my pharma clients with the optimal providers – helping clients more efficiently choose vendors, while helping vendors more efficiently gain targeted business opportunities.

IntermediaryImpactiviti

A major enabler of this business model, from the get-go, was digital technology for networking and communication.

The intermediary has to have solid domain expertise and a trusted reputation to be effective. Bingo – only the top people and companies can do this. And, hey, isn’t that what we want – business growth opportunities for those who have earned differentiation through competence and trust? When I do Clarity Therapy with professionals looking to gain a clear direction for their future, it’s surprising how often we quickly identify a potential opportunity involving new intermediation.

I’ve scribbled down some other applications of this model somewhere in this vast pool that is my desk – I’ll dig it up this week and post a few other suggested ways people can carve out this role for themselves. I’m thinking that a lot of people in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s who have built up a strong base of knowledge and credibility can find themselves a nice niche as new intermediaries and role their own. What do you think?

De-Fragmenting Your Business

As I talk in-depth to small business people (including consultants), I am seeing a pattern over and over again. I think it may actually be endemic for most businesses. Fragmentation.

(apologies, in advance, for the Ugly Graphic!)

What do I mean? Well, over time, offerings become more diverse or less focused (sometimes in response to a rapidly-evolving marketplace), and messages get muddled. Soon, customers are really not sure what we do anymore – instead of being the default “go-to” for some very specific service or product, we’re…a supplier of something, broadly speaking.

In fact, this fragmentation subtly leads us into the habit of broadly speaking, instead of having a precise message. And, like a hard drive with too much scattered data, our messaging becomes inefficient. Hence, the need for regular de-fragmentation.

I see this in larger settings as well, such as pharmaceutical training departments. Courses, programs, workshops – they get added over time to address specific needs, and where once there may have been a strategically-designed curriculum, now there is fragmentation – particularly in a fast-evolving setting.

In fact, this is common among individuals – people who reach a point in their career where they’ve done a bunch of things, but are no longer clear on what their true core competencies and their ideal direction really are. Personal/professional fragmentation.

Have you experienced this? What have you done to de-frag your business and get back to a clear focus?

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

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Four Reasons Why I Bought a Ford This Weekend

This weekend, I did something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before.

I went to a Ford dealer and bought a Ford automobile.

We tried getting by with our two cars but, with 2 high-school age kids and the ever-growing list of places-to-go and people-to-see, we finally had to make an addition. The odd fact is, that I never even bothered seriously considering another make of car this time around. This, from someone whose last few business cars were all Mazdas and whose family van is currently a Toyota.

Why? Let me give you four simple reasons:

1. Quality. I don’t care what the item is, or what the argument for domestic production is, if you’re not high-quality, you don’t earn my business. Ford has been making great strides in this area, enough that they slowly but surely edged back onto my radar screen. When my 18-year old and I took a test drive in a gently used 2010 Fusion, we were quite impressed (at the top of his list: the sound system, and the cool blue vanity lighting in the cupholders!)

2. Scott Monty. Scott is Ford’s social media guru, though I became acquainted with him back in 2007 or 2008, before his tenure with Ford. Scott has done a great job putting a more human face on a venerable American institution, and that goodwill (earned over time) translated into, not only consideration, but strong leaning, when it was time to make a purchase. It pays to hire good people. If you’re keeping score, President and CEO Alan Mulally: +1, Scott Monty.

3. Principle. Ford had the guts to refuse the government bailout years ago. While Chrysler and General Motors decided to become state-run institutions (or facsimiles thereof), Ford held to free-market principles. Thousands of us Americans never forgot that, and when it was time to make a purchase this weekend, guess which two companies were not even in the running? Granted, Ford is not some perfect company filled with angelic beings, nor are the employees of GM and Chrysler the spawn of evil. I reserve the right to re-consider GM products in the future, of course – but only if and when they are no longer a ward of the federal government. It’s not personal – it’s principle.

4. Referral. My entire solopreneur business model is based on trusted referrals. When I reached out on Facebook about my upcoming decision, a good friend (thanks, Janice!) recommended that I deal with Tommy Garcia over at Wayne (NJ) Ford. They also said that the General Manager (Troy Mol) was great. I reached out on-line and got an immediate and friendly response from Milca Irizarry, and meeting each of them over at the dealership was a pleasure. Purchasing cars can be a dreadful experience. My time at Wayne Ford has, without a doubt, helped advance my view of the Ford brand. If you’re keeping score, Mr. Mulally: +3, Wayne Ford.

I am not going to change the world of business by one little car purchase, or through any of my social media rants about it (e.g., here and here). But this entire experience simply reinforces the power of what should be obvious, in any business. Make great stuff. Do the right thing. Hire the right people. Treat customers right. And the end result will be the vein of gold that every business seeks – enthusiastic referrals. And sometimes, very public commendations…

(lest there be fuel for cynics, so let me say up-front that I have received no financial or other consideration for writing this post. I just believe in telling it like it is – and that includes the good stuff when it is earned!)

___________

Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? 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!

___________

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

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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!

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