From the monthly archives:

October 2010

I realized this week that there are so many great writers and bloggers putting together so much good content that it didn’t make sense to just copy this weekly posting and put it on both my sites.  So I’m going to try to split some of the great stuff I see each week into two posts.  I’ll have links for one set of readers — new and experienced consultants and small-business owners — here and then ask you to consider traveling over to Bulldog Simplicity and checking out the mostly-different links there on ways to simplify your business life.  I’m making the same invitation to the readers over there.

Five Easy Ways to Gather Client Testimonials.  Found on one of my favorite sites, MarketingProfs, this actually came from e-mail marketing guru AWeber’s blog.  A short post that offers tips for pulling together praise from clients.  Some will think these obvious, but others may have an ah-ha moment. 

Four Myths About Starting Your Itty Business.  Remembering that this blog is geared toward new consultants trying to get some traction, this is a very nice post from Rachael Acklin that should remind you why you’re not a failure if you aren’t a multi-million-dollar business within six months.

How to Get the Best Deal on Business Travel.  Self-explanatory post from the always-helpful John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing.

57 Things I’ve Learned Founding Three Companies.  My view on lists like this one from Jason Goldberg, founder of Fabulis, Jobster, and Socialmedian, is that they’re worth reading if you can pluck 3-5 good ideas from them.  I think you’ll get more from this one.

Best Business Blogging Guides and Tips from 2010.  If you’re thinking about writing a blog to support your consultancy or small business, here’s a nice collection of advice…all in one place.  These are all great sources, but I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised that Chris Brogan and Copyblogger didn’t make the list.  Go to either site and you’ll also find plenty of great posts on this subject.

7 Simple Ways to Serve, Solve, and Delight Customers.  Jonathan Fields has a great writing style that is simple and to the point.  Another post of actionable ideas that can have an immediate impact on customer satisfaction, regardless of whether you’re a sole proprietor, small business owner, and employee in a large company.  And while you’re on Jonathan’s sites, I can’t recommend more highly his 7 Keynote MBA post, which includes seven terrific speeches that do indeed provide the viewer with a great overview of what’s important to know if you’re going to run a business.  Bookmark the seven keynotes so you can come back regularly.

How to Deal With Nightmare Clients and Projects Gone Wrong.  This is clearly a subject that resonates with readers.  Things don’t always go right and there are some great suggestions for coping with that situation.  I wasn’t familiar with the site that this post was on but TutToaster is worth a look; they describe themselves as offering free tutorials on a variety of web-based subjects.  I approached this same general subject from a bit different direction recently if you missed it the first time around.

Do Your B2B Communications Bore? If you’re doing social media, have you committed — really committed – to it?  This post by Jon Buscall highlights two people who do it right — Gini Dietrich and Mitch Joel.  You owe it to yourself to do a gut check on whether you’re demonstrating passion as you engage with prospective and existing customers by reading this post.  And then go ahead and read cartoonist Hugh MacLeod’s view of this issue over on his Gaping Void website.

And then there’s the multi-media suggestion of the week…

Game Changers.  Thanks to Mitch Joel for pointing me toward this documentary series from Bloomberg TV.  Rather than link you to his blog post so that you can link to the Bloomberg site, I’ve just given you the link to Bloomberg and you can choose between links to the 30-minute shows on Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Jon Stewart, and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

{ 2 comments }

Useful posts for new consultants and small businesses

by Peter Osborne on October 23, 2010 · 0 comments

Fast ride today.  As always, I’m trying to gear these links toward new consultants and small-business owners who don’t have time to surf the net and are more interested in finding ways to grow their businesses than in deep contemplation of some of the more technical online discussion points.  If I’m wrong, let me know!  This week, we add links to a couple of longer videos that are worth an additional time commitment.

Whose Permission Are You Waiting For?  Another strong contribution to the bookmarkable Escape Velocity blog, this one from Pam Slim (the author of Escape From Cubicle Nation), who talks about the anxiety that many of her coaching clients feel about launching their new businesses.  This post provides some good actionable steps for getting past that fear. 

Is an App a Tool or a Behavior?  Have you thought about an mobile-phone (or iPad) application that would be really useful AND promote your business?  Lots of people are, and this post from John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing could get you focused on coming up with that next, great (hugely popular) app.   And then,  a day later, comes a post from Jolie O’Dell at Mashable on how to build an application for your small business.

Just a Quick Question… I didn’t fully agree with Kim Woodbridge’s point in this posting about the issue of getting calls and e-mail questions from former clients.  But it raises an important issue and it’s worth taking a couple of extra minutes to read the comments (my own included).  Some good suggestions and it will get you thinking about your philosophy on the subject.

How to Focus on Your Ideal Customer.  Do you know the person who’s most likely to buy your services (or your products)? The more you know, the more easy it is to target them and figure out the best marketing strategy.  Maria Ross of Red Slice offers some great tips on picturing your perfect customer.

Four Easy to Use Tools to Monitor Your Brand Online.  Sure, there are great paid services out there, but for most of us some combination of these free services will let us keep an eye on what people are saying about your brand or within your industry.

Sales and Marketing Pipeline Funnels.   Focus.com went out and asked 14 experts from various industries to map their sales process as a one-page picture to help others better understand the revenue “funnel,” which serves as the basis of your sales and marketing strategy.  As Focus.com see it, once you understand your funnel, you are better informed about what metrics you should concentrate on, resource decisions and planning.  This is a download of a 20-page PowerPoint deck and requires you to provide some basic information, no doubt for future marketing.  But this is a great learning tool, so it’s your call.

And now, a few things in the multi-media category…

The cool webinar of the week comes from Michael Port, the author of Book Yourself Solid, who talked about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Marketers.  There are lots of great tips in this for consultants and small-business owners trying to generate new business or reinforce their relationships with current or past clients/customers, but be warned: He’s also promoting a new program he’s selling so there’s some of that in this webinar.

How Duct Tape Marketing Legend John Jantsch Uses Social Media.  No, not too much pressure there.  As Trey Pennington (who conducted the interview) explains, “John has a gorgeously balanced approach” to building communities online and offline.

And my favorite video of the week…Scott Stratten’s keynote address to open BlogWorld a few weeks ago.  It’s terrific for anyone who blogs, is thinking about blogging, and/or worries about how to market.  Scott is the author of UnMarketing, which I highlighted last week as a column by Ann Handley but here’s Scott in person.  It’s long — but you can immediately advance it because all you get in the first 19 minutes is background music and a few introductions from the event’s organizers (sorry about the 30-second ad at the beginning).

Here you go.  Have  a great week and don’t forget to please–please–add your links to great stuff you’ve read recently to the comments.  Thanks.

And one more tip: If you still have the energy after looking at these, go take a look at Marjorie Clayman’s 30Thursday version.  She brings a lot of heart to her choices of 30 posts each week…and many will bring a tear to your eye or get you thinking.  Have a great week!

{ 0 comments }

How To Avoid Getting Stuck With A “Bad” Client

by Peter Osborne on October 19, 2010 · 8 comments

Early steps can help prevent client relationships from imploding

I was irritated the other night so I took the opportunity to ask Chris Brogan how he deals with consulting clients who some might charitably describe as “bad.”  You know the type — slow pays, no-pays, scope-creeps, and/or people who want to steal your time for free (with the promise of more paid work later).  Chris laughed and said (and I’m paraphrasing), “you tend not to have that problem when you write one of the five most popular marketing blogs on the Internet.”

Some people will tell you that there’s really no such thing as a “bad” client….

New consultants seem surprised by the amount of time they spend on business development.  Their list of great friends from their last job doesn’t necessarily translate into actual contracts (referrals, maybe), no matter how interested they seemed in your idea when you left the company.  Within a very short time, consultants in that situation start to get nervous — OK, they panic – and may make some decisions that come back to bite them. 

Add  a slow economy to the mix – many businesses are looking for ways to manage their cash flow (a nice way to say, “hey, I’ve got an idea, let’s save money by not paying our vendors this month”).  If I sound bitter, it’s because I am.  I’ve just gone through that with a client.  Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past few months that you should think about:

  • Don’t discount your rate in hopes of getting more business down the line. Set your price and stand firm. Rather than cutting your rate, look for ways to add value (this assumes your rate is reasonable).  If someone expresses willingness to commit to a longer engagement, that’s one thing (if you’re going to have an hourly rate, also have a daily, weekly, and monthly rate that provides some kind of discount).  But don’t just charge them less to try to get them committed so they “can see what you can do.”  And other reason to be careful around this sort of client: I’ve found that the cheaper a clients wants something, the more likely they are to also have unreasonable expectations that they’ll bring to the project.
  • Listen to your gut (or other people), particularly if the voice(s) is about the person’s willingness or ability to pay you on time. If someone has a history of paying late (or not paying at all), why would you think you’re going to be different? If what they’re saying sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  You can’t put lipstick on a pig.  
  • Get some of it upfront.  Net 30 (or its really ugly stepsister, Net 60) means they may not cut a check for a month or two after you FINISH the work and invoice it.  Unless your cash flow is great or you’re sitting on a pile of savings, that will get frustrating (and painful) fast.  Many service businesses require their clients to put something down before they begin work.  Be that person.
  • Be wary of a client whose primary skill is sales.  He or she will convince you that you’re working for the greatest concept ever (“Huge, I tell you, we’re going to be huge.  I have big investors begging me to let them in on the ground floor…How about I pay you less but give you stock?”).  You’re going to want to believe this is the monster client (as Robert Shaw said in Jaws, “I think we’re going to need a bigger boat.”).  It’s more likely that big fish is a minnow.
  • Collections take time away from doing the work or finding new business.  It’s bad enough when you don’t get paid.  Chasing them down is exhausting. Sending e-mails. Calling them.  Calling them again.  Carefully crafting more e-mails.  Reading their e-mails that say all start-ups have cash-flow problems (“yeah, buddy, including mine, thanks to you.”) or there’s been a family emergency.  Or something.  It’s always something.  Add up the hours you spend chasing them…or thinking about chasing them…or complaining to other people about having to chase them and you’ll find your discounted rate suddenly got uglier.
  • Define your project scope very carefully and get an agreement in writing.  Discussions about a project in a conference room, by e-mail, or on the phone tend to result in less-than-perfect project scopes.  Put it in writing with specific bullets about deliverables, timelines, objectives, and pricing and get the other person to send it to you.  Don’t start a project — no matter how smoothly everything is going — until the paper is signed and, if advance payment is due (see above), the check arrives and clears.
  • Be the expert, not the vendor.  Perception is reality and your clients are less likely to treat you badly if they respect your knowledge and experience.  Frankly, it’s best when clients find you.  That way they’re seeking your advice rather than you asking them for work. As a result, more value is put on your input and you have fewer issues.

And now, I turn it over to you.  We’ve all had bad clients.  What do you do to avoid the problem?

{ 8 comments }

The perfect encore career? Consulting

by Peter Osborne on October 19, 2010 · 0 comments

This post was written by Consultant Launch Pad co-founder Michael D Brown, who has worked in the chemicals industry for more than 30 years, 12 of that as a consultant. 

Peter and I have written in the past about consulting as part of a portfolio career – a career made up of many different diverse careers.  There is another career type known as an encore career – that last (or next to last) career move of a lifetime.  I have met and advised many potential consultants who are exploring the consulting profession as an encore career.  

Consulting makes an excellent transition to retirement and a perfect encore career.  There are strong arguments that consulting as an encore career maximizes the lifetime value of a person’s total career by extending the total working time beyond that normally allowed by today’s traditional corporate career.  Properly managed, a consulting encore career draws from the experience and skills of all previous careers and combines those with a pace on a glide slope to eventual retirement.

 For more on encore careers, watch this inspiring and thought-provoking 44-minute webcast hosted by Charlie Gibson for Merrill Lynch with a panel of experts (and actual “encore-ists”).

Are you approaching your consulting as an “encore career?”  What advice would you give others thinking about it?

{ 0 comments }

Randy Block

Randy Block brings more than 30 years of expertise in executive search as a certified career coach. He has guided all levels of professionals in the areas of career transition: changing careers, choosing a career direction, evaluating/negotiating offers, executive career marketing, finding jobs, getting organized, as well as finding opportunities for self-employment, freelancing and consulting.  Through his company Block & Associates, Randy now works with small companies as a staffing partner and plays a key role in building successful teams with effective staffing processes.  Randy is on Twitter as @boomeradvisor and you can find him on LinkedIn here.

 
What do you know today that you wish you knew when you were starting out?  It takes time and capital.  I was lucky that I landed engagements early as revenue starters, but I still had to draw on savings etc. while I built the business.  How long?  About 18 months to decent profitability.   I also found that friends in general would not “buy” from me.   They would give me good  referrals.  I made the transition from recruiter to coach. It took about two years to “unbrand” myself.  I still had clients calling me for searches after I told them I was no longer in that business.  At one level, it seems that strangers are an easier market.  It’s important to know that I bought two life insurance polices from friends!

What was your most important decision starting out (e.g., financial, organizational, marketing)?  The decision to make the decision.  I keep waffling about leaving a lucrative search practice.  One day I told myself that I will decide on Friday.  I did and jumped off the diving board.

Can you offer one piece of advice to help a new consultant get through the first six months?  Listen, listen, listen.  Ask good questions. The way you connect with anyone is being fully present.  When people know that they have been understood, they are much more willing to help you (and perhaps buy).  Keep in mind that services and product are bought and not sold.  People today don’t want to be “sold to.”

What’s your elevator speech?  The purpose of a tagline or elevator speech is to engage with others.  I have a tagline that answers the question “What do you do?’  My reply:  I help professionals transform their values, strengths and talent into revenue today.”   Typically they respond with a comment or ask for an example. I choose a story that I think they could relate to the best.  I keep the story under two minutes.  Note that I don’t use a title or say how I do it.

{ 0 comments }

10 more Must Read blog posts for consultants

by Peter Osborne on October 17, 2010 · 4 comments

I loved this great shot of Chicago on Bing this past week.

Some great stuff in the blogosphere for new consultants and small business owners over the past week, but I want to start with two questions: I’ve been focusing more on non-Social Media related posts in this roundup (i.e., things to help you build your businesses or be more effective at work) but I want to know what kind of things would be most valuable to you…and who you want me to focus on.  Other bloggers focus on the social media platforms and if you’re interested in that, you’re probably reading those posts too.  I also assume that most of you know about the Seth Godins, Chris Brogans, Brian Clarks, and other wildly popular posters (and they could dominate this post every week, their stuff is so good), so I rarely highlight those.  Instead I’m focusing more on people who may not be as well known (Good move, Peter, great way to irritate anyone I link to today).  Please let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@consultantlaunc) if that’s the path you want me to take.  Thanks.

How To UnMarket.   Lots of business books are hitting the market and the Internet enables their authors to get great visibility.  But interviews like the one that Ann Handley (@marketingprofs) did with Scott Stratten (@unmarketing), author of UnMarketing: Stop Marketing, Start Engaging, enable readers to make an informed decision about whether they want to buy the book.  I have difficulty believing that anyone who read this post wouldn’t want to buy Scott’s book.  And a lot of that is because Ann clearly loves marketing and brought that passion to the post.

7 Ways to Keep the Sales Rolling in Your Small Business.  I met Melinda Emerson (@smallbizlady) at PodCampPhilly and she’s a dynamic speaker.  How many of you are so focused on the last 75 days of this year that you’re not thinking much about next year? This will get you focused!

The Complicated Lives of Today’s Leaders.  From the Wharton School, a well-done condensation of a roundtable of participants in The World Economic Forum’s Global Leadership Fellows Program that focuses on the context in which leadership is exercised. 

Content as an Essential Strategy.  It’s simple for John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing (@ducttape): You’ve got to produce content with an eye on two things: educating and building trust.  Nice simple, short post that will get you thinking and planning.

23 Entrepreneurs Reveal the 3 Steps to Building a Profitable Business.  Recipe for a useful, high-traffic blog post.  Send out three questions to a bunch of successful people.  Wait for responses.  Compile them.  Publish them.  That’s what Rob Ramunny (@robramunny) — who is 16, by the way — did here.  The questions are geared toward building an online business, but many of the answers apply to bricks-and-mortar too.

Respect, Not Fear.  Anthony Iannarino makes a nice distinction between respecting your competition and fearing them, using a nice example of an accidental meeting with one larger competitor.

How You Can Execute Social Media Successfully.  Social Steve (@socialsteve) outlines an approach for executing along the “A Path,” which includes Attention, Attraction, Affinity, Audience, and Advocates.  This post includes a link to an equally interesting post on the subject that Social Steve wrote a year ago.

29 No-Brainer Tips for Quick Blogging Success.  Very actionable post from Stanford Smith (@pushingsocial) for consultants or small businesses that are trying to increase their visibility through blogging.  Just because they’re no-brainers doesn’t mean they’re not a good reminder.

Go and Listen to Teenagers.  Graham Smith judged a recent public-speaking contest for students.  He came away from it with a new-found respect for what teenagers can teach you about making your case and engaging your audience.

11 Ways To Restate Problems to Get Better Solutions.  I was looking for one thing and found this one (isn’t that the way it goes sometimes?).  Paul Williams of Idea Sandbox (@ideasandbox) provides a great list to try to get yourself unstuck.

Keep in mind that I’m posting this in two places (it’s also over at Bulldog Simplicity) because I seem to have two different audiences.   Hope that’s not irritating for those who read both. And that’s it for this week.  Now it’s your turn.  Please share something great you saw this past week.

{ 4 comments }

30 Second Launch Pad: Build a community

by Peter Osborne on October 14, 2010 · 1 comment

Chris Brogan

One of the best-known and most-respected voices in the social-media world, Chris Brogan consults and speaks professionally with Fortune 100 and 500 companies like PepsiCo, General Motors, Microsoft, and more, on the future of business communications and social software technologies. He is a New York Times bestselling co-author of Trust Agents (affiliate link), and a featured monthly columnist at Entrepreneur Magazine.  Chris’s blog is in the Top 5 of the Advertising Age Power150, and he recently launched a new blog called Escape Velocity, which is dedicated to helping people build up their abilities, their commitment, their confidence, and their resources to achieve what he calls escape velocity – the energy and trajectory to move away from things we don’t want towards things we do.  Chris is president of both New Marketing Labs, a new media marketing agency serving primarily Fortune 100 and 500 clients, and Human Business Works, an online education and community company for small businesses and solo entrepreneurs.  He is also the co-founder of the PodCamp new media conference series, exploring the use of new media community tools to extend and build value.  His newest book is Social Media 101 (affiliate link).

What do you know today that you wish you knew when you were starting out?  I know how to build communities and tie them to marketplaces. 

What was your most important decision starting out (e.g., financial, organizational, marketing)?  My most important decision was exchanging hours for money until I figured things out. I did a lot of hours of my own time for no pay but this learning curve acceleration got me to my earnings faster. 

Can you offer one piece of advice to help a new consultant get through the first six months?  Experiment, execute, and expand into a community. That’s what I see successful people having to do. 

What’s your elevator speech?  I help big companies act more human and I help smaller companies do cool things to stay human.

{ 1 comment }

10 Must Read blog posts for consultants

by Peter Osborne on October 10, 2010 · 0 comments

Share these great posts with others

A lot of good blog posts this week that should interest consultants and other small-business owners.  For the most part, I’m going to assume that consultants who come to this post from a Tweet will pick up the serious technology-oriented posts and articles from their own Twitter streams or other similarly themed posts.  So I’m going to focus primarily on posts and articles between Oct. 3-9 that provide actionable tips for consultants and small businesses or directions for building your online (digital) presence.  Let me also reinforce something for the bloggers among my readers that I first read in a Jay Baer postHeadlines draw readers, and most of these start with either How or a Number (X Ways To Do…).  Just something to think about if you’re trying to drive traffic and new prospects or customers to your site.   If you’re new to this feature, click on Must Read and take a look at my first few.

How Scott Stratten Kicked My Ass.  This is my favorite post of the week.  Anytime you have a post that combines the talents of two passionate people like Amber Naslund and Scott Stratten.  This post is about being authentic, about being yourself.  I’m not going to spoil it by saying more, but if you’re starting to worry that you’re getting away from the reason you started your consulting business and doing things that aren’t really you, read this post.

How To Get More Followers to Your Blog.  There was a lot of blog traffic this week on Search Engine Optimization and other ways to drive traffic (more on that a bit later).  This is a bit different take on the issue.  I’ve got to tell you: This guy (Single Dad Laughing) gets it and he lives his philosophy.  A testimony to passion driving interest in your blog (professional or personal).  And the picture he uses to illustrate the post is a case study in how to do it right. 

How Small Businesses Use Web Apps — And What to Look For.   Jumping off from a speech by Google CEO Eric Schmidt (who’s made news this week for a series of bizarre recent statements–and this link to 7 Creepy Faux Pas could easily have made this week’s list ), this post argues that we’re moving toward a cloud-computing model for small businesses and consultants and offers tips for what to consider when choosing a cloud app.  This post almost didn’t make the list because it was “sponsored” by UPS with UPS ads surrounding it.  I’m not sure why, but I was vaguely uncomfortable with this approach, but the post didn’t actively promote UPS services so I include it because it had good information.

How to Build a One-Person Sales Force.  I like these Inc. Small Business Guides because they provide actionable tips in a fairly short piece but also give you the opportunity to “dig deeper.”  This is a great look at ways to avoid the time suck that can be business development — time spent away from actually doing consulting projects that will earn you money.

7 Things You Must Do To Make Your Product Launch Easier.  Dave Navarro is The Launch Coach and he has a simple tagline:  Get more people to buy what you’re selling.   This is a great column — actually Dave has a great site — if you’re thinking about online sales.  If not, well maybe you can move on to the next link.

Make Money By Not Spending.  Great reminder of things I know you know but may not think much about from Chris Brogan, who has helped me so much on my journey with his posts and his personal support.  The guy is amazing.  This is also a way to introduce you to his new website, Escape Velocity, which houses some of the best bloggers on the planet.  Once you click on this link, wander around a bit on Escape Velocity!

5 Sales Closing Techniques.  A guest post by Rob Krekstein on Michael Brenner’s terrific B2B Marketing Insider blog.  I believe that the more you can simplify things, the more effective you’ll be and thinking in terms of using one of these five techniques may well help you close a deal in the next few weeks.

7 Places to Find Free Legal Images for the Web.  The title from this guest blog over on Blogging Pro says it all.  This provides some good alternatives to pay sites like iStockphoto.com.  My friends, Barrie Hopson and Katie Ledger did a similar posting on this with a few different sites over on their And What Do You Do? blog about portfolio careers. 

Forget About Your Process.  Some great advice about how to sell what you’re offering prospective clients.  Forget about how you do it; focus on the outcome, how what you do for the client is going to impact their business.  Another great reminder, from an interesting blog sponsored by How, a magazine for designers.  Parenthetically, I’m a big fan of looking at publications that don’t have a lot to do with what I do — just to get a different perspective.

And the download of the week comes from Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back.  Keith posted his Executive Relationship Management Blueprint, which is basically a “cheat sheet for everything Keith teaches.”  As someone who participated in Keith’s Relationship Management Academy, I can tell you that Keith’s teachings will indeed change the way you approach relationship-building.   A very useful document, and you can get more on Keith through his core blog or this new Business Relationship Mastery blog.

{ 0 comments }

Building a digital presence after age 50: 8 lessons

by Peter Osborne on October 7, 2010 · 0 comments

This post is based on my PodCamp Philly presentation last week.  Here’s a link to the handout, but please take a few minutes to read the background.

I’m not sure if I’m going to make it as a consultant.  It’s not talent; it’s staying power (i.e., cash flow) and visibility.  I have to admit I’m spending more time lately on the search for a full-time position.  I’ve made mistakes along the way.  I’ve spent too much time cultivating prospects who I knew deep down would be slow to decide or slow to pay.  I’m not doing myself any favors with branding myself to attract both recruiters and clients.  I’m not as good as Search Engine Optimization as I need to be to get that visibility. And I prefer to do the work (content execution) than I do looking for it (selling new clients).

I’ll be 51 in a couple of days and compete every day with younger consultants (and job seekers) who are more comfortable with the online tools and platforms.  But the scary thing is that I’m much more advanced than most of my peers who don’t have websites, don’t have blogs, threw up crappy LinkedIn profiles that described any one of a thousand people, and think Twitter is a waste of time (if they knew what Twitter was).  And if they have a Facebook account, they’re using it to share picture of the kids with the grandparents.  And Search Engine Optimization?  You’re talking a foreign language with most of them.

Social-networking use for people 50-64 has risen 88% over the past year, but only to 47% this past May, from 47% in April 2009, according to a Pew study.  In a comparison statistic that’s hardly stunning, the growth was far slower among the 18-29 demographic.  The AARP released its own study in September, saying that while 23% of its members use Facebook, only 4% use LinkedIn and 3% use Twitter.  And then of course there’s the recent Sysomos study of 1.2 billion Tweets that reinforces my demographic’s view of that platform: 71% of messages fail to produce a reaction.  So why bother, they ask. 

Building your digital visibility is a huge deal because the ranks of consultants are being filled by an increasing number of the nation’s unemployed people who have been out of work for more than a year (30% of the 14.7 million and 35%+ in each of the demographics over the age of 35, according to a Pew study released yesterday).  Competition for projects (or jobs) is fierce and you have to make it easy to find you.

18 months ago, I was a digital infant...but I've grown up a lot because I have great parents

I did a digital inventory within 24 hours of being laid off.  I was sure I’d have a new job within 90 days and would be double-dipping for a very long time.  But I was interested in where I stood.  That inventory didn’t take long. I had 127 connections on LinkedIn, 74 of them internal contacts (despite having a relationship-management job with dozens of partners).  I had a bare-minimum Profile, belonged to a couple of credit-card industry and university-alumni LinkedIn groups, and had no idea what an Answer was.  No blog.  No website. No Twitter. No Facebook. One listing — midway down the first page — when I Googled my name.

I’m in a much better place today.  This is one of two blogs (here’s a link to the other one). I actually have three websites, though one is somewhat dormant.  I have more than 500 LinkedIn connections (and less than a third are former co-workers) and a LinkedIn profile that has been described as one that “people can learn from.”  I’ve started some LinkedIn groups and belong to a bunch and use them to promote my blog and consulting services and meet people who have either helped me or I can help. I started on Twitter a few months ago, mostly to learn how to use it but I think I’m developing a pretty strong presence that could pay off with projects or jobs in the near future.  And I’m Googling much better, although I will admit that my brand Googles better than my name (more on that in a bit).

The purpose of this post is not to whine or complain.  It’s to offer my advice to people who are where I was 18 months or so ago, to help you avoid the mistakes I’ve made in building a digital presence.  So here are the eight ways you can improve your online presence, build credibility and trust, and (hopefully) get more business.  I’ll keep it brief (although it’s already kind of late for that), and probably elaborate in future posts.

  1. Strategy Before Tactics.  This is so, so important.  It’s not about getting 500 Connections on LinkedIn or getting 10,000 hits on your blog within X months.  Those are tactics for a bigger strategy.  What are your goals? In the big picture, you want people to be attracted to you for some reason.  You want to get a job; keep your skills sharp; create a visual resume; sell your skills or more products; retain customers (or get new ones); build a community; or promote a cause.  You need to build your list and (very important) claim your digital real estate (that one, BTW, is the subject of a future post and a new product I’m developing).
  2. Don’t Just Dive In.  Take your time.  Choose your platforms and don’t try to do everything at once. First, do some listening. I’m not talking about just setting up Google Alerts for your name or company and seeing what people are saying about you.  It’s about listening to conversations about your industry and related topics.  It’s about watching how other people do it — subscribing to their blogs, looking at their websites, seeing how they Tweet (if you want a good starting point, go to our Blogroll on Steroids where you can link to some of the best–that’s how I’ve learned).  It’s not about keeping score or being a Collector; it’s about building relationships. A terrific PR person and blogger in Chicago, Gini Dietrich, told me she thinks 500 Twitter followers is a magic number.  She didn’t tweet anything until she had 500 followers but focused solely on building relationships by sending direct @ conversations until she hit that 500 number.  Those 500 still follow her and she knows most of them in ways, now, other than Twitter.  I admire her discipline and have begun taking periodic looks at my Followers and cutting out the spammers. 
  3. Stay Focused. Avoid Distractions.  Stay Focused is the mantra of my friend Ed Callahan and he’s right.  You have to remind yourself regularly what your goals are and stay on track.  Use keywords within reason.  There are lots of bright, shiny objects out there.  Don’t try to grab all of them.  It’s easy to get caught up with blog reading and Tweet flows. Be careful about mixing business and pleasure.  Schedule yourself and be disciplined.  Regarding my goals, I’ve recently consolidated my WordPress.com blog with my consulting website onto a new domain with a new host that lets me do affiliate marketing, use PayPal to close on my Calls to Action, and take advantage of my Must Read links in my blog to get a commission from Amazon (just a few examples).  I’ve already paid for my first year of website hosting with commissions from partner sites.  I still have a long ways to go on this one, but I’ve done a 180 since I started.
  4. Build a Brand, But Don’t Lose Your Name.  You have to Google well and you need to focus on figuring out your keywords and then using them.  Some will tell you that people should be able to find you by searching on what you do and where (e.g., attorney and Philadelphia).  That’s more difficult when you do many things or don’t fit neatly into a one- or two-word description.  I made the decision to brand as Bulldog.  People like the name.  I get comments.  They smile at my business card. And it accurately describes my brand.  I also created this website to provide tips, links, and advice to new consultants.  I “own” the Bulldog Simplicity and Consultant Launch Pad search terms, but I don’t yet own my own name.  I haven’t done a particularly good job, apparently, at tying Bulldog to my name when I plug it in alone.  You can own your own brand on LinkedIn by focusing on your profile, requesting targeted Recommendations, letting people know when you post, building your industry network, and defining (and using) appropriate keywords.  And one more thing, use and tag videos and pictures on your site and blog.  They search far better than words.
  5. Forget Daily Metrics…For Now.  True story.  My daughter wrote a post about the band Paramore on the Nickelodean website that had 400 hits within a couple of hours.  My ego took a hit. The point is, the numbers really don’t matter for most of us.  It’s the Comments and the engagement.  And that’s different for a lot of people in this demographic because we grew up looking at spreadsheets and getting promotions and bonuses based on the numbers.  I started with a WordPress.com blog and had 14,000 hits in about a year.  But it wasn’t translating into business or calls about a job.  My advice: Think carefully about your Categories, Tags, and Keywords.  Figure out what the important metrics are that impact your goals and do the right things that help you achieve those goals and build a community. 
  6. Learn sharing early

    6.  It’s All About Sharing. People in my demographic are not wired to share, at least not the way you need to think about sharing with social media.  It’s more than sharing your thoughts. You have to have the confidence to give away your processes, knowing that you’re the best choice to implement it.  Comment on other people’s blog with something more than “nice post.”  I’ve seen a big (relatively speaking) jump in Twitter Followers in the past two weeks because I’m participating in evening chats. Offer some perspective.  Sally Hogshead, the author of Fascinate, says “you can be comfortable or outstanding but not both.”  Don’t worry about getting a negative comment from someone, she says.  Clients in the middle don’t care.  The middle position is goodbye.  It’s death.  It’s not caring.  Think about what you can create over the next 30 days that people will want and put it on your website or give it away.  It will come back to you.

  7. Online Is No Substitute for Face-to-Face.  We can all get stuck behind our keyboards “talking” to people and forget that the best way to build trust and get referrals is to meet them in person. I published a post last week about a friend who called me out of the blue and took me networking.  To this point, most of my networking has been with other people looking for work.  Then I went to PodCamp Philly last week and made 15-20 good solid contacts. I’m feeling much better about my prospects.
  8. Without a Call to Action, You May Be Wasting Your Time.  Marketing blogger Jim Connolly says visitors to your website need to be able to tell what you most want them to do.  Your blog can have  a lot of goals, says Chris Brogan, from attract new business or promote someone else, to providing links, starting a conversation, or being helpful.  On LinkedIn, you need to make it easy for someone to find you or to get their attention and you have to tell them what you want.  Just having a blog or a website or a Profile isn’t enough.  This is where your goals come in handy.  Calls to Action are the Mariano Rivera of goals.  You have to be able to close.

We (people over 50) need to be online…to compete, to find the job or get projects, to get into the conversations, and to remain relevant.  Whether you’re looking for projects or looking for a job, the game is Survivor, where the strongest don’t always win and the decision maker looks for reasons to eliminate rather than embrace. Don’t let your online presence be a reason to be voted off the island.  Figure out how to make Google and Bing and the other search engines your friend in your public-relations effort.  We’re all in this together.  If you need help, here’s a link to my consulting pages.

Time to open the Comments section.  What important lessons have you learned while building your online presence?

P.S.  By the way — and this P.S. is both a commercial and a contest entry –  there are a lot of places you can learn how to raise your digital presence and improve your search results.  If your consulting focuses on public relations — and if it doesn’t, you can stop reading – one place to learn a lot would be the 2010 PRSA International Conference in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 17-18.  I’d love the opportunity to learn at the feet of Lee Odden, who will be doing sessions on SEO for PR and Social Media for PR.  I’d love the chance to hear live (and maybe meet) some of the people I’ve been learning from over the past year or so.  If PR is where you consult, maybe I’ll see you there.

{ 0 comments }

Six ways to turn a cold call warm

October 4, 2010

Guest poster 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. I am not a fan of cold sales calls to generate new consulting business.  I am especially not a fan of spending to travel for cold calls.  The [...]

0 comments Read full post