Find Your Two Things

You are capable of doing 10 things.

You CAN sell. You CAN manage a project. You CAN do manual labor. You CAN teach. You CAN design floral arrangements.

We all have a list of things we’ve done in the past, or do in the present.

But our focus should be the one or two things that we SHOULD be doing.

Each of us has uniquely differentiating strengths. Something to offer the world, to offer potential clients. Something where we can be at our best.

We need a career role that is not a commodity. If you’re doing what lots of others can do, and it isn’t  your unique gift, you’re in the commodity zone.

Just because someone else has defined a role and its responsibilities doesn’t mean that you have to fit that uniform (which was never measured around you).

You are probably doing one or two of your SHOULD things (or have done them), but don’t recognize that all the rest of your capabilities need to become subordinate. Your current role may be 90% “can,” and 10% “should.”

Step back and take an honest look. List out 10 things you do. Then cross out eight of them. Maybe even nine.

There is your future direction.

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> De-Fragmenting Your Business

Does Your Resume Have A Missing Narrative?

I’m reviewing a resume for a friend, and it’s got a lot of great stuff. Solid and multi-faceted experience, a diversity of roles, evidence of solid talent.

But it’s missing something – something crucial that most resumes and LinkedIn profiles seem to lack.

An overall narrative.

A conversation this week with a solo consultant also brought this issue to the surface. He’s been doing a lot of different projects since being out on his own, but there’s really no storyline to tie it together. Current work, past roles, future direction – they don’t paint a clear picture.

We humans are hard-wired for stories. We want things to fit into an overall progression, showing steps toward a destination and the evolution of the main character. Other people relate to us through our narratives.

Our careers – our lives – have a narrative. Our challenge is to tie it all together and trace the story.

For most of us, the story is not all fairy-tale and unicorns. That’s OK. No-one can relate to that kind of faux narrative anyway. But your many experiences as a professional always have an interesting story to tell (hint: the plot is always progress, through finding your core strengths and progressively succeeding).

Resumes with lists and bullet points are forgettable commodities. Your story, however, is unique. And no-one can tell it better than you!

My Career Fragmentation Story

In a prior post (De-Fragmenting Your Business), I introduced the imagery of fragmentation to describe how, over time, our professional identities can become cloudy and unclear. Ever feel like your career has been full of bits and pieces that don’t entirely make sense together? Yeah – that!

Have I been through this? Indeed! So…let’s use my pinball-like career history as a brief case study to illustrate the process of both fragmentation and (eventual) illumination…

First, I should say that I have held many jobs that had little to do with pursuit of a career direction – like many younger folks, I exchanged time and effort for a paycheck doing things like delivering newspapers, working a McDonald’s grill, cleaning bathrooms, bagging groceries, construction, and waiting on tables. I even worked in a plastics factory one summer. Now THAT was unfulfilling (and malodorous)!

Actually, the second summer I worked at a McDonald’s, so did the woman who would become my wife. So don’t despise any work, OK? :>}

My first real career job was in sales – specifically, high-tech radiation medicine equipment. I took that job for one simple reason – money. Turns out I was smart enough to learn the field and the equipment, and persistent enough to make sales. That job also began to bring out something that was nascent in my makeup – a talent for marketing and messaging. But I was an introvert, I was not highly confident, I was task-oriented more than people-oriented – really, I wasn’t much of a salesperson. I was not driven by numbers, had little of that killer instinct, and I had to learn how to become outgoing. I did earn trust, however, which can partially make up for a multitude of weaknesses. Eventually I started managing a small field force, but that also was not a strong suit. The whole sales/management role thing was like walking in a pair of shoes that never really fit. Been there?

Around the end of my 10 years there, the world wide web showed up. I was hooked. Without any guidance or mandate, I learned basic HTML and created the company’s first website. Instantaneous, global, visual communication? I was all-in! And I wanted to get deeper into that world for my next career step.

So, I learned that I could handle technical stuff, I enjoyed marketing, and I saw the potential for digital communications. Also, years before, I had gotten an initial taste of what personal strength/makeup assessment was all about. That continued to fascinate my analytical makeup.

The next position, with a software company servicing the pharmaceutical industry, allowed me to continue to get my geek on, and to grow more in the marketing arena. But my primary responsibility was still sales, and I did my best to create new business. However, partway into my 10-year tenure there, we hired a REAL salesperson, and as I watched her in action, I finally realized something – I’m not wired as a classic sales person at all. Hello, mis-matched role! Actually, turns out that I’m a problem-solver. I’m consultative. I like designing new solutions. And, in this job, I got to also taste software design, project management, corporate leadership, strategic alliance development, enterprise IT collaboration – all of which helped me to clarify what was, and wasn’t, in my DNA.

Social media began to dawn during the latter half of my time there, and once again, I saw the future. In some way not yet definable, I knew that a large shift was underway, and I needed to be part of it. And I was beginning to understand more of what my sweet spot truly was. I compulsively saw holes in the marketplace, and couldn’t stop thinking of creative new ways to solve business challenges.

I was a consultant-communicator-builder – who loved digital.

What was happening during these years was both a fragmentation (trying to perform in a variety of differing roles and titles) and a refinement (this I can do; that I cannot do; this I can do really well). My conclusion since then is that many of us can do 8-10 things adequately, but there are typically 1-2 (maybe 3) things that we truly love, and do exceptionally well. It took a long time to figure that out – in all the fragments of ore, our main job is to find our unique nuggets of gold and run with them.

It was my intention 6 years ago to build a company around my specific strengths and long-term vision, and to put aside the fragments that weren’t core. So, my current solopreneur job is designed around me. I consult, I build opportunity networks, and I’m a vendor/client matchmaker. And, in the process of working with a variety of vendors, I discovered something else that had been slowly simmering over my entire career – I am an intuitive identity analyst who can help people and companies discover their DNA and brand themselves. Now my sweet spot has become clear: assess purpose; distill message; define opportunities; connect with targeted others. Or, to put it another way – helping individuals and businesses de-fragment and gain clarity about their sweet spot!

It took a looooong time for that train to arrive at the station.

Lots of trial-and-error over many years got me to those four verbs (assess, distill, define, connect). Various roles and titles  brought certain strengths to the surface, while also creating the discomfort of mis-matched capabilities. And many good friends along the way gave objective input to help gain a 20/20 view. I believe that some level of pinball-like experience is likely for most of us, but many individuals and businesses never seem to get to the point of sorting through the fragments and refining down to a clear roadmap. And addressing that problem is the passion that burns in my soul.

Why should any of us – individuals or businesses – settle for working at 30%, or 40%, or 50% of our true capacity? What is stopping us from finding our sweet spot and prospering there, instead of floundering elsewhere? I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to view the fog of fragmentation as one of the biggest threats to productivity in our entire economy. Too many great people are adrift in mis-matched roles, and too many companies are doing the wrong kinds of work. Maybe we can get that right first, then worry about six sigma and team-building exercises later!

So, that’s my story of fragmentation and gradual illumination. There’s a massive relief when you can distill down to the key verbs that reflect your strength, and also plug in the right coordinates into your professional GPS.

Do your career shoes fit yet? Do yourself a favor – get there quicker than I did!

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:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> De-Fragmenting Your Business

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!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> Don’t Do These Three Things on LinkedIn

Discovering Your Professional DNA

Wouldn’t it be nice if each of us, at age 20, got a personalized report and one-on-one counseling session detailing exactly what our professional capabilities and strengths are? What a time- and trouble-saver! “We’ve sequenced your professional DNA, Jacqueline, and here is the career arc you should pursue…”

Dream on.

The reality is, we tend to discover our professional DNA by a trial-and-error process. We move from job to job, finding out what types of roles and work environments seem to bring out the best (or worst) in us.

Some people stumble into their life’s work early on, but for most of us, the process looks something like this:

(horizontal axis equals time; vertical axis represents nearness to DNA sweet spot; blocks represent different job roles)

We often focus on climbing the ladder of bigger titles and higher salaries, when our first priority should be discovering our true purpose and identity. You’ve seen people who absolutely flourish in their roles, right? They’ve hit their sweet spot. Yet many others feel that they’re trapped, working at maybe 50% capacity, and spending far too much time in the grey than the blue (referencing my Ugly Graphic above).

Sadly, some never come to understand what their true potential is, or become stuck in a mis-matched job role with diminishing chances of escape. This happened to my Dad and it set me on a determined quest not to end up in that same position. Hence my passion for Clarity Therapy.

Apple will announce its new iPhone 5 today. What if you rushed out to buy it, with maximum memory and a 2-year data plan, all for the sole use of making one 5-minute phone call a day to check on your daughter in college. Would that be best use of its real potential? That’s what happens when we settle for less than discovering our unique professional DNA, and designing our career around it.

We often need assessments (<–great story!), and outside expertise, to help us figure ourselves out. Take the time to do it. It’s your future. No-one else should be designing it. That’s your role!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Finding Your Sweet Spot

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

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

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!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

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

>> Please Drop the Jargon

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.

___________

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

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

>> 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.

___________

Are you struggling to discover your passion? 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?

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!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

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

>> Want to Be Memorable? Use Word Pictures!

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)

___________

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.

___________

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?

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!

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!

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

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!

___________

Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> You at the Crossroads

Business Mist = Business Missed

We’d fondly like to think that our potential clients – and even we ourselves – have a clear, 20/20 view of our professional offerings and message. However, the case is almost always more like this:

The fog of information overload in the minds of customers, the greyness of unclear positioning, the vaguely familiar sounding competitive bullet points – all of it adds up to being easily forgotten when the opportunity is at hand. Business Mist means Business Missed.

A lot of dollars and time can be spent marketing and advertising, but if the message is unclear, the investment is futile.

Instead, we need to create this for our customers:

Whatever else you do, this should be first. Without clarity, you miss opportunities. Clear enough?

___________

Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> You at the Crossroads

Be Narrow-Minded

When building a business, it’s healthy to take something often thought to be a deficit, and turn it into a strength.

I’m talking about narrow-mindedness. Specifically, I mean that you should relentlessly optimize your market definition. Get a clear focus. Aim for the smallest of targets.

To put it in the words of a very helpful article by Tom Searcy in Inc. magazine: Don’t define your competitive advantage by your competitors. Define your distinction by your customers.

(go ahead – click the link and read the article. It’ll be your best read all day.)

Or, #9 in Seth Godin’s very insightful 21 points (blog post: How To Make Money Online): Obsessively specialize. No niche is too small if it’s yours.

(go ahead – click the link and read the article. It’ll be a tie for your best read all day.)

When we start or seek to grow a business, we often try to define ourselves in relation to our competition. Big mistake. One of the cornerstones of the Clarity Therapy approach is that you/your company has something very unique to offer. That needs to be front-and-center. Not everybody’s else’s bullet points.

In business, the broad-minded lose. They are lost in the fog of an unclear identity and message. Don’t be that guy. Get narrow-minded!

___________

Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts:

>> Clarity, part 1: What’s Your Offering?

>> Clarity, part 2: Make Your Message Clear

>> Clarity, part 3: People Buy Stories

>> Clarity, part 4: Your Clarifying Analogy

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