Freelance consultants and small business owners rise and fall on the marketplace perception of their brand, also known as one’s professional reputation. As a result, the brand/reputation merits ongoing enhancement, promotion and monitoring as a component of a strategy designed to support new business acquisition and encourage repeat business—in essence, the strategy you implement to build and maintain a good client list. The brand can be reviewed and evaluated in several ways, one of which is through the prism of the gold standard of strategic planning, the SWOT Analysis.
Every year, self-employed professionals will benefit from examining the viability of their brand, to become aware of what actions and behaviors enhance the brand and what might undermine that precious resource. Using the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats metrics will reveal this information.
Strengths: Professional expertise, competitive advantages, prestigious or lucrative clients, referral sources, valued business practices, strategic partnerships, educational or professional credentials, financial resources, influential relationships. This element is internal, within your control.
- How can you leverage your resources to upgrade the types of clients you work with?
- How can you persuade inactive clients to call you back for more project work and stimulate repeat business?
- How can you obtain more billable hours?
- How can you persuade clients to hire you for more complex and therefore more lucrative projects?
Weaknesses: Whatever undermines your brand, the opposite of your strengths, gaps in what or who you know, or deficiencies in the value that you bring to clients. This element is internal, within your control.
- Which of your gaps has the most negative impact on the business?
- Which of your impactful detriments appear to be quickly, easily, or inexpensively remedied?
- What can you do to shore up those handicaps and minimize your liabilities—are there business practices that you can modify, professional credentials you can earn, relationships you can successfully cultivate?
Opportunities: Conditions that favor the attainment of goals and objectives. This element is external and beyond your control, yet you may be able to position yourself to gain from the benefits created by its presence. Good information about business conditions in your marketplace helps the Freelance consultant to objectively evaluate and envision the potential of short-term and long-term benefits and what must be done to earn the pay-off.
- What new developments can you possibly take advantage of to bring money and prestige to your business?
- Do you see financial reward in offering an additional service or product?
- Is there a good client you should be able to successfully pursue and sign, or a lapsed client who, with some outreach, could be willing to reactivate?
- Is there a developing niche market that you can pivot into, with some uncomplicated adjustments?
Threats: Conditions likely to damage the brand, or your ability to acquire clients and generate sufficient billable hours. This element is external and beyond your control, yet you may be able to position yourself to escape or minimize the catastrophe caused by its presence. This category requires the immediate attention of you and your team, since it carries the potential to end, or seriously cripple, your brand and business.
Developing and implementing a strategy of protective action, for example a brand facelift or a pivot into more hospitable business turf, is absolutely necessary for survival, but inclined to be time-consuming and difficult to bring about. Staying abreast of what is happening in the industries that you usually serve and the viability or priorities of your largest clients, will give you the resources of time and good information and prepare you to react and regroup.
- Has a well-connected and aggressive competitor appeared on the scene, ready to eat your market share and client list by way of a better known brand, more influential relationships, a bigger marketing budget, or other game-changing competitive advantages? If that is the case, then do everything possible to offer superior customer service, assert your expertise, step up your networking, enhance your thought-leader credentials and nurture your client relationships (holiday cards really do matter).
- Will some new technology soon render your services obsolete? If so, what skills do you possess, or what can you learn, that will allow you to successfully repackage your skills, reconfigure your brand and continue to appeal to clients who already like your work?
- Has an important contact left his/her organization, leaving you at the mercy of the new decision-maker, who has his/her own friends to hire? Or has there been a merger that resulted in the downgrading of the influence of your chief contact, who may lose the ability to green-light projects that you manage? If your client contact has moved on, absolutely take that person to lunch or coffee and do what you can to make the professional relationship portable. If your contact has lost his/her influence, ask to meet the replacement, who may employ you at least for the next project if one comes up quickly (but may boot you out for all others, unfortunately).
Thanks for reading,