When Your Market Says to Pivot

pivot roadI’m all for a well-thought-out go-to-market strategy. But I’ve often advised consultants and other small businesses to leave your directional map at about 80% – and let the market inform you about the remaining 20%.

Why? Because you WILL pivot, to some extent – and your customers will show you where and how.

A recent example from my experience – I’ve been doing Clarity Therapy sessions for a variety of individuals and companies for a couple of years now. Typically, these are one-day intensive sessions, with a few months of minor follow-up.

I did not, however, anticipate performing any kind of ongoing business coaching. I saw Clarity Therapy as an event, not a long-term process. Until clients starting asking for more. A lot more. And a wealth of helpful lessons from past experience began to come to the surface.

Turns out that being an outside voice giving perspective on overall business structure, specific creative offerings, client account management, and staffing (plus identifying resources via networking) is a much bigger need than I realized.

The most interesting revelation of all: how lonely it is to be a small business owner or solo consultant. I mean, I knew that, right? I AM one. But it didn’t really occur to me how important it is for us to have an outlet, a peer, a mentor, a friend – who can come alongside for the long-term and help get a business to a new level. There are short-term and one-shot needs, but clients are saying to also think about the deeper, longer haul. Bonus: that approach actually suits me quite well. I prefer those kind of business relationships.

Truth is, there’s a lot of stuff we just can’t say to customers, employees, colleagues, even family members. It’s frustrating, and the lack of a healthy outlet and fresh perspective clogs our mind and heart.

So, I now find myself offering business coaching for people and businesses seeking to grow and needing outside advice and encouragement. It’s not really a change of direction, just a natural extension that I didn’t anticipate.

How about you? How have your customers caused you to pivot? I’ve seen a number of my social media people evolve over time and it’s pretty fascinating. What’s your story?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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….!)

“Why Don’t They Get It/Me/Us?”

Mack Collier has started a good discussion on his blog (The Viral Garden) about the use, or non-use, of self-promotion among social media types.

Now I’m against blatant, obnoxious, noisy self-promotion by any person or company. Hate it. But I’m all for prominent, “sticky”, clear, and repeated communications by any person or company about what they do. Because most of us are in business, and new business doesn’t happen if people don’t have a clear grasp of what you have to offer.

I’m going to use Mack as an example, because he’s a good sport, and by putting up this post, he’s “asking for it!” It takes 3 fairly involved clicks on Mack’s blog to get a grasp of what he does for his living, and even when you reach the post where he explains his social media consulting, it’s really not clear what types of companies he is aiming for, and what exact and tangible deliverables he has in mind.

Let’s just say (I’m making this up) that Mack was aiming to be the top social media we’ll-get-you-started-in-this-brave-new-world for, let’s say, retail organizations (I do believe in having a defined focus and niche whenever possible). Then it would be great if, prominent right on the sidebar as you come onto the Viral Garden, there was a summary paragraph such as: “Mack Collier helps retail organizations navigate the uncharted waters of social media by applying community-building strategies that lead to higher sales.” Or something like that. And then had it on his footer on blog posts. And on e-mails.

You see, it’s not enough to say you’re a _______ consultant. I’m a pharmaceutical consultant, but that could mean a lot of things. In particular, I have developed a unique network to help pharmaceutical training organizations find optimal suppliers for outsourced training development needs. But here is the ironic thing – though I have blogged about this for 2.5 years, sent out a weekly e-newsletter, sought to explain the business model numerous times through words, graphics, video, analogies (“I’m the living eHarmony of pharma training… I’m a matchmaker/broker…” etc.) …people STILL often don’t get it! I regularly have to explain it “live” before the light goes on. Why??

It’s because what I do doesn’t really matter to them, until it does. Our limited attention bandwidth is totally absorbed with the immediate and day-to-day. My business model is irrelevant to people 99.9% of the time. However, if I have self-promoted (or, if you prefer, self-explained) effectively, regularly, and added value without being obnoxious, enough of the message sinks through for that critical phone call, e-mail, or referral, when the time is ripe. We HAVE to promote ourselves effectively and winsomely in a very noisy market, and explain over and over again what we do and how we do it, if we want to gain business.

Of course, I’d be happy to refer Mack, or a bunch of the rest of you talented folks I’ve met via Twitter and blogging (my entire business is built on referrals) – but I can only do so if I have a clear grasp of what you do, so that if the need arose with one of my clients, your “metadata” is stored in my noggin. That’s effective marketing 101. That’s self-promotion. And it’s more than OK. It’s absolutely necessary!

Also see Lisa Hoffmann’s take here.

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I am not a “Salesman”

For two decades, my primary professional role was Sales. Yes, I did marketing as well, and some biz dev strategic stuff, and some management, but my primary role was getting business.

I succeeded. And never felt comfortable doing it.

used-car-salesmanI’d see “real” salespeople – folks who could establish rapport at the drop of the hat, or relentlessly drive a deal to its conclusion, or blast past yearly quotas by July, and I’d feel thoroughly inferior. Yet there I was, in Sales (ummm…high-end healthcare stuff, not like the guy you see over to the right!)

Over time, I came to realize that my discomfort stemmed from a mis-match – pushing a product, or hitting numbers, or winning a deal, simply didn’t drive me. I want to help people. I want to think things through, and solve problems. I care more about telling the truth than making the sale. I am an analyzer, not a promoter; a native introvert, not a schmoozer.

But, people bought from me because they trusted me. So I succeeded anyway. Until hitting the wall and finally admitting to myself, “I’m not a Salesman.”

This was a liberating realization. Now I could be free to tap into what I truly was – a problem solver. A resource-finder. A connector. A consultant. And I decided to go off on my own and create my own job/role/company built around precisely those things.

Can I sell? Actually, yes. I can be very persuasive. People listen to me and follow my advice – not because I’m a promoter, but because I’m a listener and a problem-solver. And is there a place in this shark-infested business world for someone who wants to help other people, for someone who cares about doing what’s right, for someone who wants to build a network in order to do good?

Yes, there is. And that’s why I’m sharing this. Are you mis-matched in your role, driven by something other than what that job requires? Get honest – don’t be afraid to look in the mirror and say, “I’m not a….” Then work on identifying who/what you really are, what your value-add truly is.

Perhaps you can make a new professional life for yourself. It’s worth the effort, time, and risk. And if you do it, let me know if I’ve “sold” you!

(Image source)

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Turning Points: How I became a Consultant

It was on I-80 Eastbound. On the way home from a little father-son getaway with my fourth at the Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos. After a day of water-sliding, a professional epiphany at 60 miles per hour.

For 9 1/2 years, I’d worked with a small company doing sales/marketing/biz dev in the pharmaceutical training field. Enjoyed it, saw the company grow, but came to recognize that I had fundamentally different perspectives than the owner on many business approaches. Though we got along in a pretty transparent relationship, there was the constant sense that we were pulling in different directions.

Suddenly, driving home through the Poconos, it came to me. I wasn’t going to change. He wasn’t going to change. It was time to go our separate ways. If I was going to fulfill my professional desires and drives, and add maximum value, I had to “create it myself,” and not vainly hope that someone else would conform their business to my ideals, or custom-create the perfect position for me.

And what I had found I enjoyed most, over the years, was not selling. It was consulting. This, after almost 20 years in sales! But now, I was finally ready. I had the knowledge, the desire, the network, and ability to market. Gradually, a niche business consulting approach emerged in my thinking.

Giving what amounted to 7 months notice, we de-commissioned my role in the company, and after 10 years, I launched out as a consultant providing training strategy and expertise, as well as a unique vendor-client “matchmaking” service. I long believed that the best chance for business success is by defining, creating and occupying a unique space, and this was my chance.

The first year was hard. After 9 months, I began really questioning whether this thing was ever going to get “wheels up.” But then business steadily picked up, and now, I am dependent only on pleasing my clients, not on fulfilling someone else’s agenda. Wonderfully liberating.

How about you? Where was your professional “turning point” that started you on your course? Write it up on your blog and share the story!

(Image credit)

(this post was inspired by Director Tom (Tom Clifford), who did a Twitter post about writing up the 7 minutes that changed his life in the direction of becoming a filmmaker [once his post is up, I'll link to it]. Tom suggested a series called Turning Points – so, here we are! Readers are encouraged to write up their own, and I’ll link to any that participate!)

Here is CK’s take on her career…

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