From the monthly archives:

August 2010

Respect the tomato–be more productive

by Peter Osborne on August 28, 2010 · 1 comment

I have found that one of my biggest challenges as a consultant is time management.  I have To Do lists.  I have plenty of opportunities and prospects.  But I get distracted easily.  I haven’t gotten to the point where I can turn off my e-mail notifications while I’m working.

Can you stay focused for 25 minutes at a time?

But I’ve been trying a time-management technique named for a tomato as a way to work through my own personal game of Whack-A-Mole with an increasing number of projects.

Simply put, the Pomodoro technique asks you to work on a specific task — and that task alone — for 25 straight minutes.  Then you get a five-minute break before you move on to your next Pomodoro.  Shut everything else off.  Turn off your e-mail, unless you’re expecting something that’s absolutely critical.

The “system” includes a To Do Sheet, an Activity Inventory Sheet, and a Record Sheet that you can get from the Pomodoro website.  You put all the things you need to accomplish on the Activity Inventory Sheet.  At the beginning of each day, you put the specific tasks you need to complete on the To Do Sheet, prioritizing them where possible.  Then you just work through the sheet.  If you’re interrupted, you capture the reasons why.

I could see someone deciding not to do the paperwork and just focusing on the 25-minute segments.  But the important thing is the effort to focus, to “get the checkmarks” if you will.  How often do we try to juggle a number of different projects, jumping back and forth as input arrives via e-mail or a visit to your office or cube?  This technique offers a different way to compartmentalize your day-to-day tasks.  There’s even an application to let you put a Pomodoro clock on your desktop.

What do you do to fight all the distractions that rear their heads during the day?

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View your age/experience as a advantage

by Peter Osborne on August 27, 2010 · 0 comments

A bit of motivation for a Friday afternoon, going into the weekend:  In recent months, I’ve met a lot of executives — virtually and in person — who have been out of work for a year or more.  Many have turned to consulting and project work out of necessity but continue to worry that they’re being ignored for job opportunities because of their age.

So I’m at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with my family this morning and am greeted with the following quote as we entered the Late Renoir exhibit from the then-72-year-old painter.

“I am beginning to know how to paint.  It has taken me over fifty years of work to achieve this result, which is still far from complete.”

Later in the exhibit you see the statement that “each generation of art is the foundation for the next generation.”  As you head into the weekend, think about hammering home the message that your experience is your strength.  Those who don’t buy it probably would have been terrible people to work for in the first place.

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“The process by which companies create customer interest in products or services. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business development.  It is an integrated process through which companies build strong customer relationships and create value for their customers and for themselves.”

That’s marketing, according to Wikipedia.  Sounds complicated.  And expensive.  And something that small businesses and consultants/contractors might not be inclined to try.

Or you could go with this definition:  “Getting someone with a need, to know, like, trust, contact, and refer you.”  That’s the definition of marketing from John Jantsch, author of both Duct Tape Marketing and newly-published The Referral Engine.  I’d probably substitute the phrase “buy from” for contact but that’s quibbling.  This is a definition that you can get behind.  It’s simple.  And it doesn’t feel all that expensive.

My advice for today is pretty simple:  If you think about how your decisions are going to impact people’s ability and/or willingness to know, like, trust, buy from and refer you and then act accordingly, you’ll find you have suddenly changed your approach to marketing and put yourself on the path to success.

Spend some time this weekend thinking about ways to achieve this in your business.  How can you add value to simple transactions?  How can you add value without a transaction? Can you explain what you do in a clearer way?  Can you eliminate barriers to marketing success and make it easier to buy from you?  Can you do something special for a customer that leads them to tell others about you?

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Must Read: Different (By Youngme Moon)

by Peter Osborne on August 10, 2010 · 0 comments

A few weeks ago, I found myself in Washington, D.C. and drove by an In-N-Out Burger, where  the memories came flooding back.  We don’t have any In-N-Outs here in the Philly area so I had to explain to my son that this was one of the few fast-food places where you could order a burger Animal-Style, get a 4×4, or even got your burger wrapped in lettuce.

That is, if you know about the  “Secret Menu.”  You can’t go into an In-N-Out and get a salad, dessert, or anything resembling a Value Meal.  But if you know to ask, you can get your choice of four beef patties, with hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, spread, four slices of American cheese, with or without onions (the 4×4) or a mustard-cooked beef patty with pickle, extra spread and grilled onions (Animal Style).

In-N-Out Burger is one of the many examples that Harvard Professor Youngme Moon uses in her book, Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.  At first glance, some might say that the chain competes with freshness and burgers that aren’t frozen.  And does it well, by the way. But those in the know would probably argue that it’s the secret menu that drives the loyalty of its customers.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people and companies differentiate themselves from their competitors.  I’m working with a client that differentiates itself in part by helping its customers identify their “purple cow,” what Seth Godin describes as a product or service that is worth making a remark about.

Being remarkable.  That’s what Youngme Moon wants you to be.  In her view, “the more diligently firms compete with each other, the less differentiated they can become, at least in the eyes of consumers.”  She sees a lot of what she calls “artful packaging of meaningless distinctions as true differentiations,” making mountains out of molehills if you will.

True differentiation comes at the intersection of passion and comparative expertise, where you achieve your goal of selling to people who love your brand AND feel it’s the ONLY brand able to deliver what they want (or are looking for).

She sees a number of different ways to accomplish this goal.  There are ”idea brands” where you rethink the entire value proposition in your category (think back to the great Dove commercial that showed what a model looked like pre-glamour shoot and, at the same time, got people thinking about beauty in a completely different way).  Consider ”reverse-positioned” brands that go in completely different directions than you’d expect (think the stripped-down Google search page competing against its bigger, better, busier, noisier, flashier competitors).  Think about brands like Cirque de Soleil (a circus but without the elephants) or the Simpsons (a cartoon, but for adults); and the hostile brands that focus on their passionate followers and could care less about the rest of you (think Apple and Ikea, which Professor Moon describes as a brand that has “discovered the cool of unapologetic contradition).

As someone who also writes a blog about simplicity, I particularly like the idea of the reverse-positioned brand where you take away what we expect but then give us what we don’t expect (or what we really care about).  Eliminate but elevate.

Whether you’re a new consultant, a small business that’s starting out, trying to grow, or struggling to survive, and a frustrated job-seeker, I suggest you look at yourself the way consumers do.  Do they see a competitive blur? How can you stand out?  I urge you to read the book — it’s a fast read — but offer one of Professor Moon’s parting thoughts:  Differentiation is not a tactic; it’s a way of thinking.

And that’s something you can sink your teeth into over at In-N-Out Burger as you think about what makes you different.  Or as you read Different by Youngme Moon.   

If you’re interested in purchasing either book, here are affiliate links:

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Tread carefully when consulting on the side

by Peter Osborne on August 3, 2010 · 0 comments

Michael D. Brown is co-founder of Consultant Launch Pad. He has worked in the chemicals industry for more than 30 years, 12 of that as a consultant.

Consulting on the side can be a juggling act

I have previously discussed ideas for entering the consulting profession, including tactics for minimizing the risk and cost and ways to give consulting a test drive without fully committing.  In a continuation of that theme, one must consider the possibility of consulting on the side while you still have a day job.  In many ways it is the perfect strategy for becoming a consultant because you are protected on the “revenue” side by the steady salary of employment and probably a nice set of benefits. 

On the other hand, any side job poses potential risks to your employment and your personal life and one has to consider carefully how you can legally, ethically and happily marry a job and consulting practice.  My advice is, BE CAREFUL ; unlike other side jobs, consulting on the side brings a special set of potential conflicts problems with your day job:

 Make sure your consulting practice does not interfere directly or indirectly with your employment.  Read your employee handbook carefully to assure that company policy allows side jobs and made very certain you are not in violation of employment contracts, secrecy agreements, etc.

  • Never interact with your consulting clients during normal business hours and never use company resources (e-mail, phone, files, computer, etc) for consulting.  These should be separated to prevent any appearance of impropriety – to your employer and your clients.
  • Depending on your position in the company, and your relationship with your supervisor, it may make sense to be open about your consulting practice.  Openness can relieve the burden of secrecy, but I do not necessarily feel this is essential and certainly do not feel your employer has to know how you spend your off-hours unless it is expressively stated in company policy. 
  • Carefully consider how you manage your personal brand and the multiple personalities you are presenting to your consulting clients.  The more you can keep your worlds separate (consult in different industries, geographies, etc.) the better off you will be.  Think two steps ahead – for example, if you lose your day job how will you explain past moonlighting while interviewing with new employers?

 So is there wiggle room for consulting on the side?  Of course there is depending on the type of consulting.  In ubiquitous consulting where the potential for conflict is minimal (e.g. information technology), there is plenty of opportunity to have a separate consulting practice with little if any entanglements with full employment.  On the other hand, business and management consultants may find a very narrow window to operate because of the potential for knowledge transfer and that will limit them so severely that they can’t have a meaningful consulting practice.

 So, while certainly possible, consulting as a second job should be considered carefully.  I do not believe it is possible to have a robust and thriving practice on the side.  Rather, I see moonlighting as way to test your abilities to consult and see if it is a good alternative to a day job.  Frankly, I think it makes most sense when you are serious about weaning yourself from a day job to a new lifestyle or retirement where you intend to make consulting your primary income.

Michael Brown is president of StrategyMark Inc., which provides consulting services to the specialty chemicals industry.

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