Solopreneur Isolation Syndrome

{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 was speaking with a fellow consultant earlier this month, and the subject wandered over to one of the difficulties of being a solopreneur/small business owner.

AloneIsolation. Ever feel alone out there, hacking your way through the weeds? Yeah – join the club.

Now, neither of us would go back to working for others, and we’ve freely chosen the paths we’ve taken. So this is not a lament. It’s just a fact of life. It can get pretty lonely out there when you’re not part of a (localized, physically present) team.

As a solopreneur, I love my alone time, and I also get energized by meetings with clients and partners. I enjoy the intellectual and social stimulation of the occasional conference. I remain in active contact with many colleagues and friends via social networks.

But, I think the issue is more than just physical isolation. From what I see, it’s the continuous weight of having everything on your shoulders – alone.

It’s. All. Up. To. You. 

In a larger company, you can fulfill a certain role while others fulfill theirs. There is concentration and distribution of effort. Shared effort, shared resources, shared direction; and lots of things get done without you driving them or even knowing about them.

For the solopreneur, it’s all up to you. Apart from some things you can outsource, this plane goes nowhere unless you are the pilot, flight attendant, baggage handler, fueler, ticket agent, and air traffic controller. Every day. All day. That gets wearisome. And sometimes, you feel so overwhelmed that you just want to crawl under the covers and take a nap – right?

“Hmmm…I think the dog needs another walk.” “I wonder what’s new on Facebook?” “Time for another Starbucks run!” It may look like a form of escape, and…well, truth be told, it often is. Because building a business in isolation is a heavy load.

And for the small business owner who has some employees but often has no peers to talk to, there is a similar kind of loneliness – plus all the dynamics of supporting and driving a team (one reason why I plan to remain solo!) As I talk to a growing number of folks in that category, my eyes have opened to the need for coaching and peer support. We each carry a lot of weight that family, friends, employees, and clients often cannot understand.

And then there’s the paperwork. Don’t get me started on that topic! (by the way, you might want to check out what MBO Partners has to offer on that front).

I really wonder  how many promising businesses we lose to isolation burnout.

So, what’s the solution?

I’m not sure there’s a single solution, but the starting point is this: just as cash flow is vital to your ongoing success, so is (peer) relational flow. Whether you find your support network locally, virtually, or by a combination of the two, make it a priority to de-isolate. Independence is a good thing, but cultivating a level of interdependence may be the key to remaining sane. We all need fuel, and we all need to fuel others. Periodic breakfasts with people like Brian Moran; regular lunches with some of my pharma clients/partners; brainstorming meetings with Joe Cascio; Skype sessions with far-flung people in my network – these are all ways that help keep me energized. Doing the work I love fulfills me – but in the downtimes, in the business development efforts, in the reversals – it can get discouraging.

But maybe there’s something else that we can get better at doing. Let’s look at our twitter-streams, and see the many connections that we know are solo – maybe we need to more purposefully reach out and ask folks how they’re doing. How they’re REALLY doing. We tend to assume that everyone else is doing just great – but if you’re ready to throw in the towel today because of loneliness and isolation, then it’s a safe bet that 5 other people you know are just trying to keep up a brave front (while crumbling inside), too.

I’m happy to be a solopreneur. I love the freedom to chart my own course. But let’s not be in denial – there can be a downside as well.

So – how are you doing? Really doing? Let’s keep each other company on the journey!

photo credit: Brian Auer via photopin cc

 

The New Intermediation: Specialized Domains

If you have been in a business domain for a long time, acquiring a deep knowledge and broad network, you may well have an opportunity to carve out a unique (you-based) business role for your future. Of all people, you can be one of the new intermediaries.

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

Just yesterday, I was handed a brand-new business card by someone I’d spent a few hours with several weeks back. This experienced professional was being laid off – there are always ups and downs in the pharma/biotech realm, and some great folks lose positions regularly because of factors having nothing to do with their performance.

Anyway, this person had a deep area of domain expertise, able to fill an information and business-building need that few could touch. I encouraged them to launch a consultancy (they did), and yesterday, I got the news that their first client had signed up for a 6-month engagement!

How awesome is that? From corporate dependence to carving out your own path – isn’t that what so many should be doing right now?

Another friend is steadily positioning himself for a unique intermediary role in his industry (agriculture-related) due to his immense knowledge and hard-won reputation as a very knowledgeable guide for both growers and producers. Make no mistake, however – his reputation as a value-creator is based on incredibly hard work in a specialized domain. This role is not for kids fresh out of college.

Just saw this post by Rohit Bhargava, who is taking on the role of a Marketing Concierge. What is that? An expert who comes alongside the client, and makes relationships and workflow better with their agencies. Read the post and you’ll see why he can do this – deep domain experience. He’s a new intermediary. My friend Tom Martin serves as a digital adviser for higher-level marketers, who cannot possibly keep up with all the digital ferment. Tom is immersed in digital AND knows what agencies/marketers need. He’s a new intermediary.

In each case, people pay their dues for years working for others (building up domain knowledge and reputation), then get to a position when it’s time to be an intermediary. If you’re in your 40′s and 50′s and wondering if you’re being bypassed – if you’re all washed up – think again. This is prime time to be a value-creator by having a foot firmly planted in two realms.

I find that people with this type of depth and track record generally need a gentle push – a little outside permission-giving. “This is your sweet spot. You’re ready now. No-one else can do this like you can. Here’s your market[place]. Go!

Think beyond the next job title in someone else’s hierarchy. Build toward your unique place of adding value “in the middle.” Maybe you should be one of the new intermediaries!

Previous Connection Agent posts on The New Intermediation:

The New Intermediation in Publishing

The New Intermediation: Curation

The New Intermediation: Matchmaking

The Business Opportunities of The New Intermediation

Want To Be Taken Seriously As A Consultant? Don’t Do This.

The last thing you want to do is blow up your own message – right?

It may sound old-school, but: yes, spelling matters.

For crying out loud, the squiggly line is telling you to spell-check. No only do you fail to do so, you actually use the screen shot highlighting your error??

This, in an article about how to be a high-priced consultant.

Here’s STEP 10 – Don’t shoot yourself in the foot if you’re trying to run a race.

(now, off to spell-check this blog post before pressing Publish….!)

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

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?

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

Twitter: @swoodruff

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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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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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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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Brand Therapy

I have a confession. I love every aspect of the work I do, but there is one thing that gives me the most immediate gratification and sense of accomplishment – sitting down with entrepreneurs and doing a brand therapy session. Distilling down a small business brand to the Core Four – its differentiating offering, its one-sentence summary, its compelling brand story, and its key marketplace analogy – is one of my favorite exercises. There’s a certain magic that occurs when you can help re-define a company in a few hours.

Recently I was in the midst of this process with a talented and successful digital agency in the Northeast. As I queried them about their core strengths, they kept coming back with nice-sounding (and true) phrases, none of which really distinguished them. So I scribbled J.A.D.A. on a piece of paper and pushed it across the table.

They sounded like Just Another Digital Agency. A commodity.

Now, in fact, they weren’t, and I knew it, but they hadn’t boiled their message down to a unique, differentiating identity. It was there, but it took some more pointed questions to finally bring it to the surface. They had revenue, they pleased their varied customers, but they were on a treadmill. Commodity brand positioning does that to you.

Why do companies need a brand therapist? It’s simple, really – we’re all too close to our own work. We get so immersed in our companies and offerings, that we can no longer see clearly who we really are. I serve as a brand therapist for others – but, I realize that I also need an outside voice for my own company. Because I’m too caught up in my own work to be objective!

I see this brand identity murkiness all the time – and the lack of definition even leads to taking on the wrong kind of work. It seems to be  unavoidable – ironically, even marketing/branding companies regularly suffer from the syndrome – but it’s certainly curable.

You may be coming across as J.A.S.P. (Just Another Service Provider), or J.A.T.C.  (Just Another Training Company) – or, fill in the blank for your offering. Sometimes an outside perspective – a therapist who can ask the right questions and guide you to a clearer vision – is just what you need when you’re at that point of doing a lot of work, but suffering from a lack of focus and direction.

Lots of big-time companies will suck you dry of time and dollars for a branding exercise, but my brand therapy sessions typically take about a day of focused time. We get to the Core Four, and if you need help in execution and campaigns beyond that, I have some wonderful resources in my network (yes, including digital agencies, marketing consultants, and loads of other talented providers!) Give me a call at 973-947-7429 and let’s set aside a day for some brand therapy. If, like me, you have eyesight that needs correction, you can look forward to that feeling you get when you put on a brand new pair of prescription glasses!

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Wanted: Find. Not Search.

Search engines (esp. Google) are ubiquitous. Search is critical to any communications strategy. But there’s one major problem with it.

We want Find. Search is just the means to the end.

If there is a person, a resource, a piece of information, a product out there, it’s a marvelous thing that now we can often get to it via search functions. But search isn’t what we want. We want the target we’re after. As some have put it, people don’t want a 3/4 inch drill – they want a hole (I would actually disagree – they don’t just want the hole, they want to hang a picture!).

What if a trusted resource could FIND what we want, and deliver it to our doorstep? Saving you the time and effort of searching, vetting, evaluating, downloading, ordering, whatever? Wouldn’t that provide tremendous value in many cases, in a world increasingly drowning in “seachable” assets?

Furthermore, what if that trusted resource was you? What if you were the go-to person who found what was needed and made it easier for others to get on with their real work?

You know what you might have then? A business. Think about it…

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A New Venture – Impactiviti Talent Network

This week marks the official launch of something I’ve been working on for months – an On-line Job Board tied to Social Networking.

Maybe you can help us get it off the ground? Please read on.

My main money-making business has been in the pharma field – specifically, “matchmaking” pharma/biotech/med device client needs with optimal vendor/suppliers. It’s a wonderful business, being built on trust and networking – yet one of the (welcome) side effects is a constant behind the scenes effort to help people find new jobs, and clients find new talent. I’ve wanted for quite some time to find a way to meet this “matchmaking” need in a way that will build the business and help the most people.

Impactiviti Talent Network

I launched a Job Board (giving credit here to Twitter pal Jeremiah Owyang, who blazed this trail before me – thanks, Jeremiah!), but it was clear that the need was too large for me to take on without diluting the rest of my business.

So – I have brought on a business partner to run the Talent Network. On-line job posting will appear in a large searchable database (and in LinkedIn), AND be promoted throughout my extensive Impactiviti pharma social network. My partner Jan is making calls into the vast pool of organizations who could benefit from this broad and targeted approach to getting industry job listings noticed.

It’s a win-win-win business model, my favorite kind. Here’s the link to the overview and the Job Board.

How can you help? Well, by tweeting the link to this post, for one thing – I want to gain maximum exposure for this initiative. And especially, if you have any contacts in pharma/biotech/med devices HR organizations – staffing professionals who are looking for a recruiting edge – would you please send them the link (http://impactiviti.wordpress.com/impactiviti-job-board/)? There’s a downloadable .pdf file there that gives the basic info needed.

If you know people we should talk to who would benefit, please feel free to send me an e-mail (stevew at impactiviti dot com)

Also, any companies that service the pharma industry (agencies, vendors, etc.), and want to list jobs, can do so as well. And, of course, job seekers can go right to the Impactiviti Job Board and search for new positions.

Thank you in advance for being part of this new venture. It’s social networking being put to work!

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The World’s First Management Consultant

Moses had a problem.

He had just led hundreds of thousands of the descendants of Israel out of Egypt, and was on a journey to a new land, a homeland promised generations ago to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel).

And they were pecking him to death.

Moses was the leader. And everyone came to him with their problems, their disputes, their needs. Everyone. That sounds like a prescription for maximum-strength Prozac.

Fortunately, a man named Jethro came along (would you listen to a consultant named Jethro?). Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law, but more than that, he was a wise and sensible fellow. A giver of good advice. A leadership and management consultant.

You can read about the entire encounter here in Exodus 18, and I’d urge you to do so for background (it’s fascinating). But in short, Jethro noticed that Moses was absolutely wearing himself down to shreds by sitting in judgment over the entire nation, dispensing instruction and settling difficulties. Morning, noon, and night – “Moses, what about Aaron’s son’s hair length?” “Moses, he took one of my sheep!” “Moses, what should be the dowry for a one-eyed wife?” And perhaps, “How do I change the settings on my Facebook page, to block those pesky Egyptians?”

No wonder Jethro said, as he watched this exhausting parade, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you, you cannot handle it alone.”

So, you’ll see as you read the passage, that Jethro gave Moses very wise advice about creating an inner circle of trusted people, delegating responsibility, and focusing on the big stuff. He saved Moses’ bac…well, lamb chops, and had a significant impact on the life of the nation for many years to come.

Jethro also provided, for us, three tremendous lessons in management.

    1. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that you can do it all alone (v. 18). You may be competent, but you’re not omnipresent, all-wise, and all-powerful. God alone has those attributes – and in human communities, since no one person can do it all, you are dependent on collaboration, outsourcing, and great talent selection.
    2. If you’re meant to lead, don’t get lost in the weeds (v. 19). Stick with the highest tasks and responsibilities. That’s where you’re a lot more indispensable.
    3. Choose the best. Look for people of character (v. 21). Trustworthy folks who can be counted on in the “inner circle.”

Many things can only be accomplished via larger communal efforts, in business and in every other endeavor. But only by structuring things so that the right people are on the bus, and in the right seats on the bus, can it all work well.

Jethro’s advice was free to Moses, and is free to you. It’s also just as timely as it was thousands of years ago. What can you learn from the world’s first management consultant?

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