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

Is Your Sky Blue?

Why is the Dilbert comic strip so popular? One reason is because there seems to be a thousand kill switches on awesome in workplace (go ahead, click on the link. I’ll wait…).

It’s very likely that you have some major awesome locked up in your mind and heart and character and abilities – and, if you’re like most people in the workforce, it’s being inhibited more than expressed.

That, and the general economic instability, has forced many more people to look at traditional work within traditional organizations and ask, “Why am I doing this?”

Why, indeed! I came to that crossroads almost 6 years ago and decided to venture out on my dream of creating a business built around my awesome. Which is being the Connection Agent.

When I sit down in counselor mode with other entrepreneurs, small business leaders, or people in the midst of career change, I pretty quickly turn the conversation to my 2 “blue sky” questions. Because they reveal what is really going on in the DNA of the person, regardless of past titles and roles.

“What have you done that made you feel like you were right in your sweet spot?” and, “If you could do absolutely anything for a career, that lined up with your abilities and desires, what would it be?”

Often, there is a long pause – as if we struggle with permission to answer such questions! We’re not supposed to be able to pursue our ideals, right? That’s for the 0.001%. The rest of us need to just settle for what we get and make the best of it.

That’s a crock, people.

You gaze at the blue sky because it’s your mirror. And once you have a clear idea of who you really are and where you want to go, that’s when you make the most important decision of your professional life – to take control and begin moving in that direction. Your direction.

Not having a blue sky in front of you is like driving your car with no destination. The best GPS system in the world can’t get you to a non-existent end point.

Much of my work is with the pharmaceutical industry, where layoffs have been relentless for the past handful of years. While it’s painful to see, I am also convinced that a massive amount of undeveloped talent is being unleashed. I talk to a lot of these folks, and when the corporate shackles begin to fall away, a new freedom arises – the permission to dream. The end point is allowed to shift from the next rung of the corporate ladder, to something much more important.

I’m no naive idealist – I know that it can take years to turn blue sky visions into reality (I’ll tell you my story sometime). But here’s the memo – no-one else is going to do it for you. You can work for someone else’s agenda, or you can pursue your own direction – that direction where you can make your unique contribution to the world. It may be inside a company, it maybe building your own company, it may be on your own – the barriers to entry have never been lower and the tools for business-building have never been greater.

There’s a reason I go to conferences like SOBCon and, this year, Blissdom*. The people that organize these events are blue-sky dreamers and practical builders, who attract other like-minded souls into supportive communities. Entrepreneurs – doers – good people – gather, and blue sky together, and make things happen. If you want to map out your own future, you need to be around others who will inspire and support you along the way.

*(I’m just hoping I can survive the hormonal imbalance at Blissdom – the XY chromosome delegates will apparently be vastly outnumbered!)

Hope to see you soon – maybe with a cup of coffee and a blue sky overhead!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Are You Having A Nice Conflict?

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Twitter: @swoodruff

Maxim-izing Your Leadership

There are some books that you pick up, and you realize after 5 pages that it’s going to be a sacrificial labor of love to get through it.

Others, you sense immediately that your brainwaves are in sync with the author.

So it was (the latter) when I began reading One Piece of Paper by Mike Figliuolo (our guest host on LeadershipChat this week). Mike is the founder of thoughtLeaders and a prolific blogger on leadership topics.

Instead of giving a traditional book review (overview), I thought I’d share some immediate outputs. Mike begins the book by encouraging readers to identify their leadership maxims. Here is how he defines this foundational concept (p. 7):

A maxim by definition is a principle or rule of conduct…it is a short, personally meaningful, and easily explained statement that reflects one of your beliefs about leadership…your maxims will become your leadership conscience…maxims must be emotionally meaningful, so you need to delve into your personal experiences to find those phrases, images, and stories that stir you to your core.

Now, I will tell you that anyone that talks about distilled, clear, foundational principles is immediately my friend! Mike’s thesis is that an effective leader must define these personal maxims, and possess them top-of-mind so that they can guide behaviors (for you and your team) in the day-to-day process of leading.

Eschewing the use of buzzwords to define one’s purpose (note: another way to be my friend!), Mike writes that you must “find your passion and turn it into a leadership maxim by crafting a phrase or drawing on an image that evokes fulfillment and satisfaction.” His personal example: light bulbs – creating that moment of understanding in others. As he put it, “turning light bulbs on for people is why I am excited to go to work every day.”

At this point in the book, I decided to see if I could come up with something pithy and meaningful that pretty much was the reason to get up every day. And for me, it boils to down to three words:

Distill – Define – Connect

That is my passion, my maxim of purpose. Help others by distilling a mass of information, defining the core need or message, and connecting to the best resources. These verbs are, in fact, the foundational activities of my consulting practice. I’m a Connection Agent.

Now, there’s a whole lot more valuable stuff in this book, but this is your starting line. I’d encourage you to take 5-10 minutes, with one piece of paper, and just begin there – can you express the core motivators that drive you? Mike gives (p. 37) four helpful questions to get you rolling:

- Why do you get out of bed every morning?

- Why are you excited to go to work?

- When people ask you what you love to do, what is your response?

- What do you tell people you are really great at doing?

Come up with  your maxim (or at least start!), and share your results with us as we interact with Mike during #LeadershipChat on Twitter, Tuesday November 15th, 8 pm ET. And be sure to read the blog post of my lovely co-host, Lisa Petrilli, with her take on Mike’s book (How to Discover and Live your Leadership Philosophy). We’re looking forward to another lively discussion at the LeadershipChat table!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Follow Your Lead? WIIFM??

>> Feeling Like a Leader

Getting Off the Elevator (Pitch)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the elevator pitch/speech lately. And I have two major issues with it.

  1. It’s a pitch. You’re selling.
  2. It’s too long.

I get the principle, but I’d like to challenge you to have a clear message that is 10 words or less – the totally distilled, core message of who you are and what value you offer.

The kind of statement you can make before the elevator door even closes.

Can you fill in this blank?  I/we want to be the go-to person/company for ________________. That’s one of the questions that gets you started toward the 10-word summary.

Why is this important?

  • YOU need to be totally clear on your core identity and message. In a way that could fit easily into one tweet.
  • You may not have 2-3 minutes to get to the point.
  • Not every situation is a sales situation. Can you explain what you do to a neighbor in 15 seconds?
  • Your message needs to be packaged so others can transmit it for you. I often (spontaneously) ask clients who know me to introduce me in a group setting, to see if I’ve enabled them to truly grasp my identity.

An elevator pitch is a mug of beer. A 10-word-or-less distilled summary is a fine single malt whiskey, served neat. 100 proof memorable goodness.

Here’s how Ravenswood Winery does it: No Wimpy Wines. Three words of branding perfection!

By all means, have an extended version of your message for when you know you’ll have some time. But, in my opinion, one of our biggest marketing challenges isn’t designing an elevator pitch – it’s gaining clarity first about our market purpose, direction, and message.

I’m regularly astounded at how rarely this is in place – distilled message clarity woven throughout the company and its marketing. And that is why I offer Clarity Therapy sessions for (mostly) small companies who want to program their marketing GPS for clear direction (brazen commercial for my consulting services – because I’m quite good at this!).

What are my summary statements? I have two, depending on if the need is for consulting, or for business referral connections:

- I help clients gain clarity in their direction and message (analogy: clarity therapist)

- I pro-actively make beneficial business referrals via my trust network (analogy: eHarmony)

And, yes, part of the Clarity Therapy outcome is finding that key business analogy that will help clients picture your service in their minds, so they can remember it and explain it to others. This (along with a compelling story and a differentiating offering) is a crucial element to an effective go-to-market message!

If you’re feeling like you need to stand out more clearly in a very noisy marketplace, contact me about a Clarity Therapy session. Don’t waste time and money being just another face in the marketplace.

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

DNA Interview: Shannon Whitley

This week, we’re getting to know my friend and collaborator Shannon Whitley (@swhitley on Twitter) – interviewing him to discover a bit more about his professional DNA.

Shannon could easily be labeled “The API Guy” – if there’s an API for a social or enterprise platform, he’s probably integrated with it! He also develops great social tools, such as Contax.io and ChatTagged (see the video for more on those).

Need to gain understanding of your personal or company DNA? Contact me about Brand Therapy – you’re only a few hours away from a professional epiphany!

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

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

Turning the Corner

At a tweetup in NYC this week, I had the joy of talking to a fellow entrepreneur about how her business had finally turned the corner and begun to really take off. She and I had talked late last year and she was right on that borderline at the 3-year mark – “will this make it? Or do I need to get another job?” I knew she both needed and wanted to make it on her own.

Five years into my business adventure, I’ve been right on the edge of that bubble, too – more than once. Really wondering if this Impactiviti/Connection Agent business was going to fly. Now, as more and more business comes through the accumulated time and effort of network-building, it’s amazing to look at that corner – in the rear-view mirror!

My mission is to help entrepreneurs. And one of the biggest difficulties we all face is getting to, and around, that corner of steady work and profitability. Have you gotten there? Can you give hope to others by sharing your success, and perhaps a vital lesson or two you learned getting there? You could do so in the comments; but even better, perhaps – write it up on your blog, send me the link, and I’ll post it here.

It can be a lonely path. Let’s help kindle the hope and confidence of our fellow entrepreneurs, in the best way we can. There’s nothing better than a success story!

UPDATE: Here is a great video story from Carrie Wilkerson, The Barefoot Executive

Great perspective here from Anthony Iannarino, on the role of client acquisition in turning the corner.

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

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

DNA Interview: Sean McGinnis

I love sitting down with folks and finding out more about what makes them tick – their professional DNA.

Today’s Skype video interview is with my friend Sean McGinnis (@seanmcginnis on Twitter), principal of 312 Digital and well-known Chicago networker.

Sean’s mission is to help clients with Digital Customer Acquisition and Loyalty. Listen in as we chat for a few minutes… (please pardon the slight video pixelation…)

Need to gain understanding of your personal or company DNA? Contact me about Brand Therapy – you’re only a few hours away from clarity!

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

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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