From the category archives:

Portfolio Careers

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So many good posts from the past week that a few good things fell by the wayside.  I’m glad I’m now offering different links over on Bulldog Simplicity that focus on, not surprisingly, ways to remove the complexity in your business and personal life.  Enjoy these; I hope one or more have an impact on your consulting business.  And, as always, please provide a link in the Comments to posts that you found helpful recently.

Is It Stupidity or Laziness?  Who should you be focusing your marketing efforts on — new customers or prospects? Bill Kennedy has a no-nonsense answer.

15 Insights from 15 Years.   A look back at 15 years in the advertising and PR business, but most of Indra Gardiner’s observations are dead-on for consultants and small business owners too.

Arm Your Sales Team With the Necessary Tools to Grow.  You can look at this post in one of two ways — if you’re moving past the entry-level consultant point you need to be thinking about this kind of stuff.  And if you’re not, the companies that Mark Suster is talking about may need your help implementing these processes.  Go find them.

The 11 Harsh Realities of Being an Entrepreneur.  Keeping in mind that the target audience for this site are people who are new to consulting and/or new small-business owners, this list from the OnStartups.com site provides a good grounding of the challenges you face.  There’s another interesting post on this site this week called 23 Tweetable  Startup Insights from Seth Godin, where the writer says he followed Seth’s blog for the past few months and captured a bunch of thoughts that work for startups and entrepreneurs.  Also worth a click.

No, That IS NOT a Competitive Advantage.  I’m cheating here a bit, because this post was published this past summer but someone tweeted it this week.  The writer, Jason Cohen, has a blog that is now one of my favorites because it focuses a lot of attention on differentiating yourself in competitive markets.  Read this post, but explore the A Smart Bear site a bit (starting with the rest of this series). 

Top 25 Small Business Tips.  A very quick read of 25 ways to run your business more effectively from a variety of successful consultants and online marketing experts via Marco Carbajo.  There will certainly be a few you think are obvious,  but it’s worth a couple of minutes to see if there are any you aren’t doing today.

Professional Services Firms and Social Media.  This post provides a summary of some recent research (and the recommendations) around how professional-services forms are using (or are not using) social media. 

The 39 Social Media Tools I’ll Use Today.  The headline alone does not scream simplicity, but this post by Jay Baer does provide a great overview of what people use to keep track of everything they’re doing with social media.  Worth a look.  You probably won’t use all 39, but you may find a few new ones to try.  Jay also did a nice interview this week with SmartBlog on how to build a better corporate blog that’s worth a look.

22 Tips to Differentiate Your Brand Presence.  There are a lot of consultants and small businesses jockeying for position against people with similar products, services, and approaches.  Is yours differentiated from the person down the street?  Pam Moore offers some suggestions.

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Is the (RFP) juice worth the squeeze?

by Peter Osborne on July 13, 2010 · 1 comment

Is the juice worth the squeeze=Is this worth the effort?

Sometimes the best deal is no deal.

Inevitably, new consultants are going to find there’s an RFP in the way of winning new business and see it as a great opportunity to add desperately needed revenues.  That’s not always true.  Ask yourself a few key questions before committing the resources (i.e., the time and distraction) to respond to an RFP.  Among those questions:
  • Is this opportunity a good fit for you from a strategic point of view (e.g.., does it support your personal brand, does it open a new market, would winning it provide credibility with other prospects, is it a good fit for your portfolio career)?
  • Is the client really looking for a new partner or is this a way for them to get some free consulting/fresh ideas that they will turn over to the “winner?”
  • Is this a proposal that can be won with a strong value proposition or is the decision going to be made on the basis of money?  And do you care?
  • Is the incumbent participating?  If not, why not?
  • What’s the client’s financial situation?  And the corollary to that one, is this a client you would be proud to be associated with?
  • Did you influence the RFP specifications in some way?  If you didn’t, who did?  And did that person or organization insert specifications that make it a bad deal for you?
  • What is their budget?  Why are they issuing an RFP?
  • Do you understand the decision process? If so, are you in a good position?

In many cases, the consultant driving the RFP or the company itself (if it is working without a consultant) may put something in the document that says you can’t ask questions or get additional information (or that you have to go through the consultant).  Your goal in those situations should be to change the ground rules and find out all you can about this opportunity.  In a future blog, I’ll talk about ways you can do that and still get the business.

If you want it.

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Microconsulting: Putting your toe in the water

by Peter Osborne on July 9, 2010 · 1 comment

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.

There are ways to see if consulting is right for you without a full commitment

A friend recently asked me about consulting and I shared with him my experiences and advice.  As my enthusiasm built, I could tell he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and a little skeptical.  As I probed a little I found he was excited about the rewards of consulting but deeply concerned about the risks.  Of particular concern was the perception that he would be starting up a business he knew little about.  Our conversation turned to whether there was a way to put a “toe in the water” of consulting before “jumping in over his head.”

The answer is yes, sort of.  Depending on your capabilities and value proposition, it might be possible to “micro-consult” conducting tiny projects and services for a very modest fee (sometimes a few minutes consulting for as little as $5).  The wonders of the internet have made it possible to match consultants and clients at very low costs thus enabling micro-businesses that would have been impossible in the past.  Several sites serve the micro-consulting market including fiverr.com, liveperson.com, and elance.com to name a few.  Each site has a different approach, but the premise is the same – very small quick-turnaround projects.  Anne Kadet of SmartMoney magazine covers the topic quite nicely.

A disclaimer and word of caution – I have tried these sites without much luck.  That is because I have an established practice and found the sites were a distraction and that my fees were just not competitive.  Furthermore, I do not believe it is possible to build a large consulting practice with this business model alone.  You would have to be extraordinarily productive to complete enough projects to have a relevant income.  Rather, I believe these sites allow budding consultants to put a “toe in the water” and see if consulting is for them on a small scale before “jumping in over your head.”  At a minimum it exposes the budding consultant on a very small scale to the realities of writing scopes of work, estimating time and fees and participating in a competitive market.

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

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Blogroll on Steroids

by Peter Osborne on July 4, 2010 · 0 comments

Hi, there.  Just getting back from some community fireworks and got to thinking that we’re building a community that wants you to be successful and see your revenues go off like the finale of tonight’s show (OK, I know the analogy was a bit weak, but I wanted to tie this a bit to the Fourth before the clock strikes midnight).

Based on where Google Analytics says our visitors are going, I wanted to point you toward a page we think is special and ask for your input to make it even more special. 

Other peoples’ Blogrolls often run down the right column of their blogs.  But it’s not always clear why some of them exist from the titles.  Some are obvious, of course.  You see Tom Peters’ name, you’re pretty sure you know what you’re going to get when you click.  Same with Chris Brogan or Duct Tape Marketing.  Others…not so easy.

So I created our Blogroll on a different page, organized it by Categories, and added a phrase or two about each one — an introduction if you will, just to save you a bit of time.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a bit of exploring and see if you like someone new, but it’s a start.  Because we know how busy you are.  These are the people who will help you move into Free Agent Nation, to help you get started or be more successful in your portfolio career.

And here’s my request:  I want this page to have a lot more interesting people who can help you find new customers, be more effective, and think about a range of different subjects in a different way.  If you have some suggestions, go to the bottom of the page and tell me (and everyone else) whose blog you can’t live without on a regular basis.  I’d like to say that it’ll take two or three recommendations of the same person to make the list, but who knows…if one person makes a suggestion of someone I really like, they’re going to make the list.  Please consider Tweeting the Blogroll (or retweating this post) so we can get a broader range of recommendations.

So who do you like?

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Why Consultant Launch Pad was born

by Peter Osborne on July 2, 2010 · 2 comments

Are you an uncomfortable (or perhaps an unwilling) resident of Free Agent Nation?

Nearly two dozen of my peers were laid off from Bank of America’s credit-card unit back in early 2009.  They were great at their jobs, achieving or exceeding on their goals in the midst of a major beatdown for the industry.  Eighteen months later, more than half either haven’t found jobs or have taken positions at lower pay (my wife calls this decision “less that you were making but more than you are making.”)  Interviews for the rest are few and far between, despite submitting dozens of resumes.  I know someone who responded to a job board for a CEO job within two hours of it being posted and was told 200 qualified people had beaten him to the punch.

This isn’t a whine.  This is why we created Consultant Launch Pad.  More than 48% of the nation’s unemployed have been out of work for six months or more, making them part of a group known as the ”long-term unemployed,” according to an Associated Press story early this month.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published a report looking at the data in even more detail, noting that not only did the long-term unemployment rate for all persons increase from 0.8% in 2007 to a high of 2.9% in 2009, prime-age and older workers had a somewhat larger increase on a percentage basis.  And lest we forget, Congress seems committed to eliminating jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.  The projections are that more than 3 million people will have lost benefits by the end of July.

Millions of Americans are feeling like they're at the top of a financial rollercoaster

If all that’s not bad enough, along comes a Charlotte Observer article last week that says an increasing number of recruiters and employers are requiring applicants to have a job if they want to be considered for their jobs.  Beyond the fact that one has to wonder how many employed people are willing to risk leaving the safety of their current situation to become the “low man” on someone else’s totem pole, this adds additional angst to older workers who may also be experiencing a subtle form of age discrimination in a tight job market.  Parenthetically, it also seems pretty short-sighted since it’s pretty easy to see who the more motivated applicant is going to be.

There is a ray of hope in the Observer story.  Recruiters agree that evidence of consulting or project work can offset their clients’ aversion to the unemployed.  And that’s what we’re trying to do through this site:  Help you create short-term revenue for yourself when there are no jobs and see if there’s a way to turn that short-term revenue into a long-term job or career change.

So we’re not focusing solely on the needs of people who have decided they don’t want to return to corporate America, people that author Dan Pink described a few years ago as Free Agent Nation.  We’re also focusing on the unwilling (or perhaps uncomfortable) residents of Free Agent Nation, people who don’t have a choice but need to feed their families and are increasingly realizing they may need to build a portfolio career of a variety of jobs in different industries or functions  In the weeks to come, we’re going to talk a lot more about how to find clients and projects and how to create short-term income while building a great reputation in the marketplace that will enable you to decide for yourself whether this is your best option.  For those who already know it is, we’ll offer advice on formalizing your business structure and being more successful.

We’re all in this together.  Let us know how we can help.  And consider following us on Twitter (@consultantlaunc) or joining our Consultant Launch Pad group on LinkedIn and join the discussion wherever it’s most convenient for you.

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8 Strategies for Marketing Success

by Peter Osborne on June 22, 2010 · 1 comment

Someone recently asked me to explain what made me a “good marketer.”  I had never heard the question phrased quite that way before and stumbled through an answer.

Later on, I realized I built a class around that very question 11 years ago.  So I headed down to the basement and pulled out the class handout.  We had spent more than three months asking that very question of some of the best marketing minds in the bank and organizing their answers into what turned out to be eight categories.

Times change; economies ebb and flow.  Millions of trees have died in the search for answers to that question.  But the answer never really changes.  I won’t list all the tactics that made up the bulk of the class, but here are the principles, tweaked a bit to apply to new and experienced consultants:

  1. Always remember that we’re in business to (Fill in the Blank). In our case, it was Make Good Loans.  For others, it might be Streamline Processes, Implement Software Solutions, or Drive Traffic to Your Website.
  2. Be absolutely committed to knowing everything about your Target Audience. We were affinity marketers who worked with alumni associations, sports teams, professional groups, and a host of other partners.  The most successful marketers went beyond being credit-card experts to being experts on their groups and the group’s constituents.  That’s more difficult for marketers with a broader target audience, which makes No. 3 even more important.
  3. Everything begins with the “list” (or audience). Having a great product doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t know where to find the buyer.  It’s OK to have multiple lists with different messages.
  4. Design compelling offers with a simple creative message. Two of the most important messages here were Offer is More Than Price and Your Great List Won’t Mean Much if the Offer Isn’t Clear and Valued by the Customer.
  5. Try lots of things.  Test in a disciplined manner… Basically, remember that if there’s no control there’s no test and behavior is more important than opinion.
  6. …And keep what works.  Measure your results. You need to share successes and failures.  I was reading a book the other night where the author was criticizing another author who had focused only on his big successes.  We often learn more from our big failures…and those lessons learned are even more important if we share them with others.
  7. Challenge everything. Never stop trying to make things better.  Pay attention to the details. Part of this is about a commitment to “publishing.”   I doubt there’s any such thing as the “perfect test.”   Get to market quickly.  Mail less more often.  Make sure the affinity is “in” the package.
  8. Spend wisely.  It’s real money. This may have been a bigger deal back in 1999 when marketing money flowed more freely, but this is really about putting some analysis behind your decision to test.  What do you hope to achieve and what’s the cost in your best-case and worst-case scenarios?

I have followed these principles over the years, and made sure that the people who worked for me did the same.  And that should have been my answer when I was asked what makes me a good marketer.  I’m disciplined and I make sure I know my audience.

Did we miss something that doesn’t fit into one of these categories?  Please let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on these strategies in future posts.

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Thinking about consulting?

by Peter Osborne on June 22, 2010 · 0 comments

So you’ve been out of work for far longer than you — or anyone else in the family — ever expected.  You had — or more correctly, have — something special but nobody seems to be seeing it.  Nobody’s calling back, and that ”perfect job” you applied for attracted 200+ resumes within three hours.   And now your severance is gone.  Or will be soon.
 
So what’s next?  Assuming the issue is not your failure to develop a compelling personal brand or effectively help recruiters and hiring managers find you, for many people the answer to the What’s Next? question is exploring consulting or project (1099) work. 
 

 You won’t be alone in making this decision: The number of people who have been out of work for more than six months hit 6.7 million in April 2010, nearly 46% of the unemployed.  The New York Times says we’ve lost 8.4 million jobs in this recession and many of those jobs aren’t coming back.  As many as 23% of U.S. workers are operating as consultants, freelancers, free agents, contractors, or micropreneurs, according to the Wall Street Journal.  The percentage of unemployed workers starting companies rose to 8.6% in 2009, a four-year high, with the biggest increases among people 55 and over, according to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas outplacement firm.  The underemployment rate — which counts people who have given up looking for work and those who are working part time for lack of full-time positions — rose to 17.1% in April, from 16.9% in March.

The trend toward “portfolio careers” — where individuals cobble a career together from multiple consulting (or 1099) engagements is growing and demand for high-end temporary business talent is not focused on cost-cutting projects but on driving innovation.

But not so fast.  Even with a great value proposition or skill, it’s not that easy.  First you need to think through whether you have the temperment for the ups and downs of this strategy.  Then you need to think about company structures, the sales process, and a myriad of other things.

Recapturing what you used to make may not happen for years, if ever.   The percentage of new projects you win will be much lower than you might expect.  Many people warn that you can’t do a full-time job search and consult at the same time…at least not effectively. For many people, the process of selling yourself is more daunting than a root canal and may require skills that are somewhat alien to those you had when your company was giving you direction.

On the other hand…

The best way to find a full-time job may be through an “audition strategy,” where you demonstrate your value to a full-time employer prospect through a short-term project.  Many people think that’s the best way to separate themselves from the masses these days.  And this may be a way to pay the bills and prevent you from taking a job that will make you miserable.

This site is designed to help you make the decision and then, if you move forward, be successful.  In addition to unique content, we will also provide links to other sites with great advice and content.

So, what scares you about making the leap to consulting or project work?  What will help you make the decision or be more successful?  Simply put, what kind of content can we offer that will make this a site you’d bookmark?  Please send us your thoughts at  peter at consultantlaunchpad dot com. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Reduce choice to improve your sales results

by Peter Osborne on June 22, 2010 · 0 comments

Are you giving your prospects too many choices?

I believe that if three different people raise the same issue over the course of a week, it’s worth listening.   Today’s idea is Limit Choice.

It started with coming across Groupon, which is one of those businesses where customers are a great deal on a single item.  The deal depends on either a certain number of people taking it or it’s there until the supply runs out.   I signed up and while I haven’t bought anything yet, the deals are great and I anticipate I will participate before too long.  But I did subscribe to their feed.

A few days later I was listening to an interview where Gary Vaynerchuk, the author of “Crush It,” was offering some advice to start-ups.  He’s a bit over-the-top, but one of his pieces of advice had to do with simplicity and limiting choice.  Gary was talking about how he had tested the “Groupon” model in one of his retail wine stores by replacing a rack near the front that held 10 bargain wines with just one.  The result?  ”We’re crushing it,’ he said.  ”We’re selling these bottles at a staggering rate, one that trumps residual loss of not selling many products in that space.”

All this ended with a conversation with another consultant about one of the key “rules” we followed when offering credit-cards through the mail in a previous life.  We tested everything and inevitably found that Choice Suppresses.  The more variations on a card offer — different designs, different pricing, different value propositions — the fewer responses we received.

This concept is very important as you launch and market your consulting practice, particularly if you expect to have a portfolio career where you work for a number of different clients.  As I look back on the past year, I think I threw too many things against the wall when marketing to prospective clients.  I had a one-page document with 10 different “core competencies” across three categories.  It’s too many and I believe I’ve probably lost prospects who might have benefited from my skills but got lost looking at the others.

Try this exercise:  List your marketable skills and points of differentiation (i.e., segment the different ways you can solve a prospect’s problems).   For each skill, list specific prospects and/or places you can find prospects (e.g, a specific LinkedIn group, association membership lists).  Create separate landing pages on your website for each skill and link them from customized marketing pieces.

I’ll close with a link to a blog I wrote elsewhere that includes a great clip from the movie City Slickers reinforcing the importance of reducing choice and focusing on that one thing that differentiates you from the competition. 

Think about places where you might be offering excessive choice to customers and what impact that might be having on their buying decision.  Are there opportunities to reduce the choice — perhaps by careful targeting of benefits or skills — and actually increase response?

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“Be careful,” someone told me around this time last year.  “You’re going to find it really difficult to try to build a consulting business and continue doing an effective full-time job search. 

He was right.  And he hadn’t even mentioned the third leg of the stool: family responsibilities, which included travel sports, college applications and visits, and a host of other distractions (including spending more time with my wife now that I was at home most of the time) .

So I focused more on the consulting than the job search.  Sure, I responded to some job postings, did a lot of networking, spent time on Indeed.com and Netshare, and got a few interviews (it’s ugly out there for a former credit-card executive) but more of my time has been spent on prospecting for clients and doing the work. 

I’m constantly plagued with doubts as to whether I took the right path.  My value proposition as a consultant is somewhat different from what I’d be looking for in a full-time position.  There have been more down months than up months, revenue-wise.  Severence ended a long time ago.  But I truly believe that Consultant Launch Pad will provide a valuable service to people like me and that there will be reasonable opportunities to make money by providing valuable services to this community.

But if you’re in the same boat I was (and am) in — consulting may have become a necessity instead of an option — and you’re thinking about balancing a job search and consulting/contracting, you need to consider a few things:

  • Don’t waste “personal contact” and “networking opportunities on ordinary job-hunting.  It will confuse the people you’re talking to and your answer will probably confuse them when they ask “what do you need from me.’
  • A timely consulting proposal shows you off as a potential employee.  The whole business-development process normally gives you access to high-level contacts you might not otherwise meet, provides you with something meaningful to talk about, requires you to show your credentials, and forces you to operate in a “selling” mode.
  • Consulting gives you a greater opportunity to “audition” for the job with far lower risk to the prospective employer.  And remember, the job market is less about finding the perfect person than it is about not filling the job with the wrong person.
  • Not getting a consulting or contract seems, at least to me, to be far less personal or depressing than getting a “no” to a job application.
  • It may be easier getting a “yes” when you’re taking a portfolio approach (i.e., looking to get 4-5 ongoing projects that may take advantage of a range of skills and provide you with an acceptable combined income).  Companies are more willing these days to spend a few thousand dollars a month with no benefits and no overhead than they are to committing to a full-time person.

This is not an easy decision and should not be entered into out of desperation if you can avoid it.  Skills that worked well in a corporate environment may not work as well when it’s just you.  It’s different executing on someone else’s idea than it is finding someone who has a problem that you can help fix, often when other people in the company resent your presence or have other priorities.  But it can also be extremely gratifying when you get that “yes” on a project and do such a good job that the client hires you for more projects or tells others about you. 

Let me turn to more experienced consultants for a little third-party perspective.  Please use the Comments box to outline a typical day in your life of balancing actual projects with your sales efforts (and family responsibilities).  I believe readers thinking about making the leap will see just how difficult it is to find enough hours in a day…with a full-time search on top of things.

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Build your network in a strategic way

June 15, 2010

When I left the bank 18 months ago, I had less than 100 LinkedIn connections.  Today, I have 414, and they’re connected to a total of 6 million professionals.  More important, I’ve gone from about 80% of my network being co-workers to a signficantly lower percentage.   The point is that if you’re not working to [...]

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