What Kind of Consultant Are You?

According to Winford E. Holland, co-founder and partner of the Houston, TX consulting firm Holland & Davis, Inc. (now Endeavor Management) and author of Change Is the Rule (2000),  there are four types of consultants—Expert, Process, Coach and Temporary.  When deciding whether to enter the realm of Freelance consulting, or when you reassess the business model and branding strategies for your existing  consulting practice, think objectively about the type of services that you are qualified to offer, the type you like to perform and what you have the skills and relationships to sustain.

Your consulting category should be reflected in the elevator pitch you use to meet and greet colleagues and potential clients, in your marketing strategy and talking points/messages and your sales strategy, even if you don’t necessarily use the words “expert” or “process” or “temporary” (if you’re a coach, you’ll describe yourself as such).   Communicate to prospective clients what you’re best at doing and succinctly articulate what they’ll gain or solve when they bring you in.  Make your value proposition known straight away.

Your consulting category will become the core of your branding strategy.  There are so many consultants hunting for projects—you must differentiate.  Furthermore, when you communicate your brand, you will attract your ideal buyers, your target market.

Expert: These consultants have advanced knowledge and a deep skill-set in a certain industry or discipline, based on the individual’s education, training and work experience.  Their unique value proposition resides in content.

Process: These consultants excel in methods of process improvement.  For example, they don’t contribute content to the strategic plan, but they can facilitate the meeting at which company goals, objectives and strategies are discussed and prioritized and they may also guide clients through the plan’s implementation.  Their unique value proposition resides in methodology.

Coach: Helping clients recognize, manage and resolve their business (and sometimes also personal) challenges, decision-making questions, or professional development plan is the specialty of Executive Coaches.  Their unique value proposition resides in process, i.e., methods.

Temporary: These consultants might serve as short-term helpers on project teams.  Others may evaluate and install IT solutions such as computers, or smart home or office systems.  Their unique value proposition resides in content, in know-how.

“Successful consultants are problem solvers,” Holland says, “They’re passionate about what they’re doing and able to market their skills—and the latter is often their biggest challenge.”

The most successful Freelance consultants are invariably those who once worked for a consulting firm (I know one such person ant she is very successful).  Experience in the corporate world is almost as helpful, particularly if one reached the level of Chief, Vice President, or Director.  Veterans of senior positions are at an advantage when it comes to building a client list, because they’ve had opportunities to create relationships with their employers’ customers, who may be positioned to green-light projects and become their first clients.

The value that consultants bring to businesses is either content (Experts and Temporary) or process (Process and Coaches) and the most successful consultants are of the Process category.  Why? Because Process consultants aren’t limited by their highly specific training, education, or experience to a particular discipline or industry.  They don’t supply content (advanced knowledge), but they can apply their expertise in certain processes and methods to many industries.

Process consulting expertise is more flexible and valuable to a consultant’s money-making potential because it can be applied to many environments.  That flexibility can make up for the lack of content expertise.  That’s something to remember as you consider the type of consulting you should practice.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Portrait of Benjamin Franklin, founding father of the American Republic, statesman, inventor and polymath, conducting his kite experiment in Drawing Electricity from the Sky by Benjamin West (circa 1816) courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Advertisements

The Art of the Sale: How Marketing, Branding and Advertising Help Revenues

Today, I respectfully offer you a tutorial. Our inquiry will focus on the essence of doing business: selling. The purpose of starting a business is to generate sales, produce revenues and earn a profit.  If a business cannot generate a certain threshold of sales, business expenses cannot be paid and the owner’s investment will be negatively impacted. To curtail mounting debts, the business must close.

Over the past 10 years or so I’ve noticed, sometimes with amusement and other times with dismay,  that the word selling seems to make people feel uncomfortable.  I noticed that frequently, aspiring business owners and Freelance solopreneurs, who must find customers and earn money that is derived from the exchange of money for the products or services that their ventures would produce and provide, avoided the word sell. Instead, the word market was substituted.

Many self-employed professionals are uncomfortable with the process of selling, so they’ve decided to banish the very word. It’s as if selling is now perceived as crass or pushy. That is a shame.  The sales profession is one of the oldest on earth and honorable. Selling is one of the foundations of civilization and selling skills are among the most useful anyone can have; it is the ultimate transferable skill.  Selling makes the world go round, because we wouldn’t have much of a world without it. The ability to sell is far more valuable than the ability to code (yes, really!).

So we can agree that the success of a business is dependent upon sales?  Now, let’s go back to the process of marketing.  The American Marketing Association defines marketing as:

The activities and processes for creating, communicating and delivering information about products and services that have value for customers. Marketing is a set of processes that are interconnected and interdependent with other business functions aimed at achieving the interest of (prospective) customers.

Marketing consists of using information, in words or pictures, to promote products and services and persuade potential customers to make purchases.  Customers have an array of motives that drive their purchases.  Marketing campaigns are designed to appeal to the motives of selected customer groups (e.g., parents, young professionals, adolescent males) that research has shown are potential customers for the product or service in question.  The purpose of marketing is to communicate with and appeal to targeted customer groups and persuade them that (your) products and services will satisfy one or more of their needs or desires.

So we can agree that generating sales is dependent upon marketing campaign promotion that is directed at the most promising customers for your products and services? I hope we can also agree that marketing and sales, while on the same continuum, are not one and the same.  Let’s move forward on the path and consider branding.

Branding campaigns are designed to enhance and expand marketing messages by differentiating and distinguishing the reputation of products and services available in the marketplace.  Products, services and individuals can, through an effective branding campaign, acquire a powerful reputation, recognition and loyalty among customers, fans and the general public.  That reputation is known as the brand.

A company logo is usually associated with products that have acquired sufficient popularity and sales to be considered a brand. That logo is instantly recognized and conveys the essence of the brand to its loyal fans, as well as those who may not use the product.  The product name itself will come to symbolize a powerful brand, as does Coca-Cola.

Now let’s take your marketing and branding messages to the public and that brings us to the next stop along the marketing continuum, advertising.  There are more ways to advertise than ever before, thanks to the digital age,  but do not underestimate the value of traditional methods.  The century-old medium that is radio remains a highly effective advertising tool, as do billboards.  Taxi cabs and city buses (and bus stops) announce local events, such as the circus coming to town.  Newspapers and magazines continue to be packed with eye-catching ads.

Content marketing, which many call the new advertising, continues to grow in influence.  It’s approach is indirect and it is presented as relevant information.  Content marketing is stealth advertising that uses primarily written information conveyed in blogs and newsletters to provide information about topics that would be of interest to prospective users of the products or services sold by the company.  The purpose of content marketing is to build an audience of regular readers who trust the source (you) and would feel confident enough to do business with you.

Then there are the social media platforms that are now in the mix. Regardless of the name social media marketing, when used for business purposes it is advertising: the Instagram photos of your wedding venue, the video clip of you accepting an award at the Rotary Club, the webinar posted to your website and LinkedIn profile.

If your marketing strategy and campaigns have been effective and enabled the development of a trustworthy brand and memorable advertising campaigns, your business will attract paying customers. Your business venture will generate sales and you can declare yourself a winner.  Let’s sum up our tutorial:

MARKETING:  How you envision and describe your company. The verbal, voice and visual messages used to promote your products or services. The business owner identifies the market positioning strategy for the company, based on populations predicted to  become customers: mid-market, luxury, or bargain, hipsters, seniors, adventure travelers.  Product positioning impacts all marketing campaigns and messages, the branding strategy and advertising choices.

BRAND:  The company reputation, what it is known for. How others perceive your company.

ADVERTISING:  How and where you portray and describe your company to the public: in print or digital, visual or audio formats placed in Popular Mechanics, Harper’s Bazaar, subway stations, flyers tucked onto car windshields, or Twitter.  Advertising usually costs money.

SALE:  The ultimate goal and final step of the marketing process.  The exchange of money (or another valuable item or service) for the purchase of a product or service.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph of Cher by Richard Avedon (1986)                                                                 Courtesy of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, LA

The Content of Content Marketing

Content Marketing continues to have a life of its own, riding a wave of non-stop hype. But what are all that text and all those images floating through space really worth to your business? I edit two newsletters,  one short and sweet,  the other several pages long and filled with lots of text and photos. One newsletter I assemble myself by reaching out to obtain snippets of relevant and timely new information and an image or two each month.  The second I solely edit and what a laborious process it is to slog through all that dense text!  Can you guess which entity generates the most revenue and profit?

Why, the owners of the short newsletter that gives splashes of fresh info every month plus one or two new pictures, of course.  Those organization leaders do not bury themselves in the labor and expense of high-maintenance content marketing.  They are instead pursuing clients and making money. They are not merely busy; they are productive. They know their role as business owners.

If you can build and maintain a good stable of clients without a web presence, by golly I say you should do it. Truth be told,  most of the most successful business owners and Freelance consultants that I know have no website and no social media.  Instead, they are known and trusted by clients and referral sources.  They are going to the bank and not to their keyboards or video cameras to crank out “content”.

Enter the experts

The short answer is,  if you’ve done something successfully a number of times,  you can claim the title.  However, there is also the axiom “Those who can do and those who can’t, teach.” My client who has enlisted my services for the production of the monthly weighty tome hasn’t had a client in something like five years (I’m serous). She swans around speaking on panels, moderating panels, writing articles for a couple of journals that don’t pay (I edit those as well) and overall being a very busy girl. But I’m not sure how she pays her mortgage. Trust fund?

Noise makers

Everybody with access to a keyboard or a camera is doing some level of content marketing,  even if it’s only for themselves and their Twitter friends. Everybody’s pulling out a cell phone to snap pictures of something—the first snowfall,  the first crocuses and at the Boston waterfront a couple of weeks ago, when the air temperature was minus 10 and the Atlantic Ocean was about 40 degrees,  the fog that was rising from the water as a result of the 50 degree temperature difference (it was quite a sight). all those photos become content posted to social media.  It’s all noise that competes with what Freelance consultants and other business owners are aiming to do,  that is,  get the attention of potential clients and referral sources.

Branding is not personal

Supermodels and a certain group of raven-haired sisters (and their mother) in southern California seem to have done very well with the personal branding concept,  but that doesn’t hold for the rest of us.  Unless you were lucky enough to have held a job that allowed you to publicly build a reputation amongst prospective clients,  or you descend from a prestigious family,  the differences that you (and I) point out to clients are only differences and not distinctive competitive advantages.  We are the same, only different.

Strategic, original, relevant, concise

If you have the time and inclination to delve into the content marketing fray,  be strategic about the process, most of all. Have a clear and defendable purpose.  My purpose for producing this blog since June 2009  has been to

1.demonstrate that I have good business judgment

2. demonstrate my writing skills

I’ve referred prospective clients to the link for this blog and the strategy has been successful.  I’ve gotten at least three clients,  including a (modest) book editing assignment,  my first. Editing two newsletters also helped me to snare that gig.

Further,  read about business topics in places like The Financial Times,  The New York Times, Business Week,  Inc. Magazine,  the Harvard Business Review and other credible sources. Those can become your inspiration,  along with your owned lived experience,  to generate original content.  Do not bother to try and pass off groupings of links to articles as your blog or newsletter content.  Do not insult people.

Finally,  whatever your topic, two and a half pages of text, or 1000 words, has got to be your max. When writing this blog,  I start thinking about creating a two-part post if I surpass 800 words. Attention spans are not what they used to be in this noise-filled arena of experts.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Brand: Remix and Refresh

Freelance consultants represent and inhabit our brand completely.   We are what we do and it’s to our advantage to be known for what we do because it’s good for business.  It is most advantageous to be considered a known quantity,   the obvious choice when clients are in need of our service category.   At the same time,   it is wise to take a page from the Nicki Minaj playbook  (authored by Madonna,  as you know)  and do a remix every once in a while,  to remind the marketplace that what we bring is a little ahead of the curve: au courant, relevant and therefore,  worth a premium.

So maybe every three years or so,  one may want to shuffle the cards,  or play the hand a little differently.  Before making any major changes,  however,  you are advised to obtain a clear understanding of what would be useful to tweak and what to leave alone.   To do that effectively,  it’s important to— guess what?  Talk to your clients.  If possible,  speak also with those who use your category of services but haven’t hired you.   Until you determine what you and your brand represent to clients and moreover,  get a handle on why certain folks don’t hire you,  your rebranding strategy will be counterproductive.

Media titan Kenard Gibbs,  co-founder of Madvision Media and former president of VIBE Magazine,   recommends that like Stephen Covey,  author of  “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” (1989),   you begin with the end in mind.   “You need to have some idea as to what you are ultimately trying to achieve …..The end goal dictates how you proceed…..”

Gibbs advises that a SWOT  (Strengths,  Weaknesses,  Opportunities,  Threats)  analysis be done once the customer,  industry and other marketplace research have been performed.   The SWOT internal  (Strengths & Weaknesses,  e.g.  strategic relationships and expertise)  and external (Opportunities & Threats,  e.g. market trends,  the economy,  client needs)  analysis guide your rebranding strategy and identify new possibilities that expand the reach of your potential client base.   SWOT will also ensure that you maintain services that clients value and that your self-editing is perceived as both logical and authentic for you. 

Timing is also of the essence,  so be smart about the rebrand roll-out.  Set a realistic timetable.    Create a timetable for the entire process,   from the client and market research and SWOT analysis to rebranding conceptualization,   strategy formulation,   implementation and assessment phases.

Finally,   give consideration to how and when you will announce to clients and colleagues that you’ve refreshed your brand and what that means.   Gibbs says  “You need to develop an integrated media plan to show that you are available to clients in new and even more useful ways,  that there is a new way to interact with your brand.”   Social media and website updates are de rigueur,   but press releases and paid advertisements in selected media outlets are not to be ignored.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Your Personal Brand Part II

Here we are, back to continue talking about how to increase your perceived value in the marketplace by building a strong brand identity.

Maybe you created a SWOT matrix and listed attributes that make clients hire you and also weak areas that may give some clients pause? Perhaps you’ve taken stock of some major challenges that you face, but have also uncovered some opportunities to pursue?

I hope you’ve made a serious examination of services your clients actually need or think they need (not necessarily the same thing, as you know). You must be able to address their objectives in the story– the brand narrative–you’ll create to establish yourself as the go-to guy or gal who is an expert, a trusted adviser who can get the job done.

PACKAGE and PRESENT

You provide an excellent product (I know you do. That’s why you read this blog!). You owe it to yourself to showcase your talents by packaging your value proposition with care and flair.  Communicate your unique competencies in ways that decision makers will perceive as conferring benefits to them.  Express your professional credentials to differentiate yourself from the competition in ways that clients value.

In other words, don’t tout the fact that yours is the only store that offers bubblegum flavored ice cream if no one really wants it.  Of course, if customers suddenly decide they love the stuff, then you’re golden!

When you’ve crafted a brand narrative that works for you, because it appropriately grabs the attention of your target audiences, spread the good news in a variety of ways that are consistent with your brand.

Showcase your accomplishments and get yourself some speaking engagements, get on a panel or two, propose and lead workshops. You are a well respected expert in your field and you must help the right people get to know and trust you.

Familiarity will work to build trust in your abilities. Trust in your abilities will bring requests for your expert advice and referrals.  Referrals are yours to convert into loyal customers.

Take pains to develop a strong and consistent brand narrative and communicate this message to whomever can help you further your business interests.

ON LINE BRAND  STRATEGY

Type your name and your company name into a couple of search engines.  Are you there? What information is listed? Does it present an accurate impression of you?

Make sure that your brand identity on line is in synch with how you verbally package yourself.  If there is a disconnect, work to fix it.  Create a visible and flattering on line presence.

Create good profiles in the 2.0 media that support your brand identity and strategy.  Be careful posting aspects of your personal life if using the more social media. You wouldn’t want anything to be misinterpreted by clients and prospects.

SYSTEM UPDATES

Finally, remember that your personal brand, like your life, will continue to evolve and will never be static (at least not if you’re doing it right!). Branding is an ongoing endeavor.

As your professional achievements expand and become more sophisticated or specialized and as changing business environments impact your clients’ needs, your brand narrative will change with the times.  Freelancer, I know you’ve got what it takes to roll with the punches!

More later,
Kim

Kim presented the workshop “Your Personal Brand” at the Center for Women & Enterprise in Boston on July 14, 2009  http://www.cweonline.org