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The purpose of this blog is to provide information to help consultants and solo professionals. Please contact us if you're an active SPC member willing to provide content for our blog. 

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  • Thursday, September 01, 2022 9:04 AM | Erica Holthausen

    If you want to be regarded as a leading expert in your field, you need to have a BIG idea — a bold, insightful, and galvanizing idea — upon which to build your career and reputation.

    Five questions to ask to discover your BIG idea.

    Some people seem to be born knowing their BIG idea. But for most of us, unearthing, recognizing, and embracing our BIG idea takes time and focused effort. If you’re not sure where to start, or if you’re in the midst of the process, consider these five questions:

    1. What is something you see happening in your field that makes you want to grab a bullhorn and rant and rave?

    2. What are the underlying assumptions in your field? Are they really true? How do you know?

    3. Who are the leaders in your field? Whom do you admire? Who is overrated? Why?

    4. What experiences have you had that others in your field have not? How do they shape your view of the work you do?

    5. What is important to YOU about the work you do? How does your work deliver value to your clients? 

    A simple exercise to help you develop your BIG idea.

    ​Developing your BIG idea requires you to take some time for thoughtful reflection and deep work. But you can get started now, with a simple 10-minute freewriting exercise:

    1. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Choose the question above that resonates with you most and write it at the top of the page.

    2. Walk away from your computer and phone, and find a quiet place to work without interruption.

    3. Set a timer for 10 minutes and answer the question at the top of the page as quickly as possible. Don’t edit yourself, and don’t stop writing. If you get stuck, write, “What I’m trying to say is . . .” and keep going. Even if it’s awful, keep writing as fast as you can.

    4. When the timer goes off, you can stop writing. Of course, if you’re in the flow, I recommend that you take advantage of that flow state and keep writing!

    5. Read what you wrote aloud and circle those insights that resonate with you. You can use those as prompts for future freewriting exercises.

    Your BIG idea has the power to shape your corner of the world. It may start as just a spark of an idea based on experience or instinct, but that’s all you need. You’ll develop your idea further as you explore it. And one of the beautiful things about a BIG idea is that you will always be learning and deepening your understanding of your topic.

    Take some time to develop your BIG idea, and then share it. But don’t wait too long. You’ll never know everything there is to know about your BIG idea, so take us on that journey of discovery with you. The more you share your thoughts on this topic, the more your audience will see you as someone who has ideas worth sharing.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Inc., Entrepreneur, and Insider. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles.

  • Thursday, August 04, 2022 9:13 AM | Laura Burford

    You’ve identified a great prospective client but you don’t know the person and the only person you can find who might be able to connect you is an ex-coworker you’ve not spoken to in years.

    The situation presents a dilemma for you. What do you do?

    One option is to not try to connect at all. You take the prospective client off of your list of potential clients. 

    Another option is to send a personalized message to the prospective client.  If done right, a personalized message is extremely powerful and you’ve had success with personalized messages.

    However, there is a third option and that is reaching out and asking the person you’ve not spoken to in years for help. This is also the best option because a solid introduction from a trusted person adds a level of credibility to an initial introduction and helps with building a mutual relationship. 

    __________

    No one is to blame for the disconnect between you and the ex-coworker. You simply lost touch with them because of limits on your time, demands of your professional and personal life, and daily paths no longer crossing.  Losing touch happens.

    Whether you are new to consulting or been consulting for years, it is common to need help from someone with whom you’ve not connected with in quite some time. Reaching out to that person can be awkward and feel uncomfortable.  

    I remember the first time I needed to reach out to an old connection. I hedged to ask for help because I didn’t want to be seen as the person who only reaches out when they needed something.  But a good colleague reminded me that the worst thing that could happen is the person ignores the email or they say no. 

    Most people, no matter how long it has been since you corresponded, are open to helping a person.  But it also means you, the consultant, needs to be sensitive to the situation and be apologetic. 

    __________

    Re-establishing a Relationship.

    Here is my process for reestablishing a relationship.

    1. Start by communicating with them using their preferred communication method. If they prefer email, use email.  If they prefer phone calls, call them.
    2. Send an email (or call) acknowledging the fact that you have fallen out of touch.  In the subject line, I’ve used words as “Mea Culpa. I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch.” or a simple “Are you open to reconnecting?”  I’m not the best with humor, but if your relationship is informal, consider using a use a humorist quote such as “Boy, time sure flew. Where has it gone?”   
    3. Apologize for being out of touch. Provide a brief update to let the person know what has been going on with you professionally.  If appropriate, don’t hesitate to provide a personal update.   
    4. Ask if they are open to helping you but also provide them with an out such as “I’m sure you are busy.  I understand if this is not a good time.” Then, explain your reasons as to why you are asking them for assistance.  Don’t hesitate to say that based on your research, you believe they might be able to help you with an introduction (or maybe it is background information on a person, an industry, or an event.) Be confident in your ask but be respectful of them and their time.
    5. If they say YES, make it easy for them by providing what they need to help you. If you are asking for an introduction, write the introduction email message for them. Better yet, before you even reach out, write the message.
    6. Try to reciprocate by asking what you can do for them.  The ask could be as simple as “What can I do right now that is helpful for you?” If they respond with a “nothing right now” let them know that they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out in the future.
    7. Never forget to thank them for their time and help.  The thank you can be a hand written thank you note or a small gift. Additionally, thank them by letting them know how their help helped you.  Did that introduction to that great prospective client materialize into the creation of a proposal?   
    8. Finally, the most important last step—add them to your Remain in Touch Relationship Strategy.  You don’t want to fall out of touch again.

    __________

    Conclusion

    Reaching out to a person that you’ve not spoken with in years and asking them to help you can feel awkward and uncomfortable.  There is no way around that feeling.

    But, it is important for you, a consultant, to learn how to put the discomfort behind you and reconnect. Reconnecting is part of networking and the better your network, the easier it is to grow your business.   However, reconnecting requires, you to be sensitive to the situation, be apologetic, and gracious in your approach. It also requires you to take the time to ensure you and your “ex”  don’t fall out of touch again.

    __________

    Laura Burford partners with solo-consultants and boutique consulting businesses helping them clarify their CORE (focus, ideal client, point of view and services), build relationships, and get clients. She is the founder of Laura’s Consulting Guide and offers a free weekly Consulting Insights focused on providing tips, techniques, and thought pieces for consultants at all stages of their business.


  • Monday, August 01, 2022 7:01 AM | Erica Holthausen

    Hundreds of influential blogs, trade journals, and business magazines seek contributed content. But not all of these publications will help you reach your goals. Before you pitch your idea for an article or column, identify the publications that will help you reach your goals. That will give you a shortlist to consider.

    But how do you narrow down that shortlist?

    Your pitch strategy must be grounded in research and a deep understanding of your goals and objectives. Once you have your shortlist, you must evaluate each option to make sure the publication’s style is compatible with yours.

    We are judged by the company we keep. Industry leaders, colleagues, and prospective clients will make assumptions about your ideas, skill level, and credibility based on your affiliation with a particular publication. Make sure the publications you affiliate with reflect your personality and values.

    Three elements to review to determine a publication's style.

    Every publication has a particular writing style. The way the message is crafted influences the reader’s impression of the message. Style includes diction, tone, and voice. You want your style to complement the publication’s style. To determine the publication’s style, evaluate these three elements:

    1. Diction. Diction is the choice and use of words and phrases in speech and writing. Pay attention to the positive or negative connotation around the words and phrases that appear in a publication’s headlines. Notice how the choice of words and phrases also influences whether the publication sounds formal, academic, or casual.

    2. Tone. By paying attention to word choice, you also get a sense of a publication’s tone. Does the article you’re reviewing sound objective or subjective? Logical or emotional? Intimate or distant? Serious or humorous? Formal or casual? Respectful or irreverent? Enthusiastic or matter-of-fact? Think about the tone of a specific article. If the tone is serious, could it have been written as a humorous piece? Ask yourself why the writer chose to write in this tone. Is this the dominant tone across all of the publication’s articles? Or did the subject matter require this particular tone?

    ​3. Voice. A publication’s voice can be difficult to put into words. Voice makes an article recognizable as one published in a particular media outlet. A publication’s voice is its personality. Think about BuzzFeed and Harvard Business Review. What makes these publications so different from one another? Voice. While tone varies depending on the situation, voice is consistent.

    ​To get a sense of a publication’s style, you’ll need to study each one closely. Read several articles from the last year, and pay attention to the headlines. Headlines are where a publication’s voice shines. If a publication’s headlines, graphics, or topics of interest elicit a scowl or eye-roll, it’s probably not a good fit — no matter how popular the publication.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Inc., Entrepreneur, and Insider. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles.


  • Friday, July 01, 2022 7:05 AM | Erica Holthausen

    Before you pitch your idea for an article or column, you need to select the publications that will help you reach your goals. Hundreds of influential blogs, trade journals, and business magazines seek contributed content. And each one has a different set of guidelines.

    You may have a few publications on your list already. Some of the most popular publications include Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, and Inc. These are well-respected, prestigious publications with loyal audiences. So they should be on your list of publications to consider. But don’t be surprised if not all of these publications stay on your list — or that none is your top choice.

    You want to be recognized as an authoritative expert, and you want to raise your profile by publishing articles that build your authority and increase your visibility. But to be effective, your pitch strategy must be grounded in research and a deep understanding of your goals and objectives.

    Create your pitch strategy by answering these five questions.

    ​Writing articles for third-party publications is one way to share your ideas with a broader audience, demonstrate your credibility, and cultivate your community. But knowing which publication to pitch requires you to think more deeply about your goals. To create your publication roadmap, answer these five questions:

    1. What is your primary purpose for publishing on third-party platforms? Are you publishing articles on third-party platforms because you want to promote your business and inspire readers to signup for your newsletter, download a resource, or register for a webinar? Are you publishing articles to get more backlinks to your website so you can improve your SEO (search engine optimization)? Are you publishing articles to share your expertise, build your authority, and increase your visibility? You may be publishing articles for all three of these reasons, but what is your primary purpose?

    Knowing your purpose helps you establish filters so you can choose the right publication. For example, if your primary purpose is to improve SEO or inspire readers to signup for your newsletter, you want to look for publications that allow you to have a contributor bio and backlink at the bottom of each article you write. Entrepreneur and Inc. only offer a simple byline with a link to your author page. But Harvard Business Review includes a contributor bio and backlink at the bottom of each piece. 

    2. Whom do you want to read your articles? Who is your primary audience for your articles? Are you writing to connect with prospective clients, colleagues, or industry leaders? What publications does your intended audience read regularly? If you’re trying to connect with prospective clients, you might want to consider industry trade journals and association blogs.

    3. What do you want to write about? Do you want to share your insights and expertise? Or do you want to interview other experts and incorporate their perspectives into your articles? Writing for a third-party publication can help you secure an interview with people you admire, but not every publication welcomes these types of profile pieces. Entrepreneur prioritizes your stories and lessons learned. They allow you to quote other experts, but only if they are well-known business leaders. Other publications, including Inc., are more flexible and are happy to accept actionable and informative profile pieces, so long as they are not overly promotional.

    4. How often do you want to publish articles? Do you want to publish articles regularly or more sporadically? Some publications request that you pitch an idea for a column. For example, Inc. asks contributors to make a six-month commitment and encourages them to publish an article every two weeks. Entrepreneur also allows you to have a column, but you don’t need to establish a schedule. Harvard Business Review requires you to pitch each piece individually.

    It’s worth noting that while most publications require original content, content that has never been published to your blog or another outlet, many allow you to republish your article (with a link back to the original) after a short waiting period. Keep this in mind as you seek to balance writing for publication with writing for your blog, newsletter, and social media.

    5. How many publications do you want to be affiliated with? Do you want to write for one publication? Or do you want to write for several publications? Or would you prefer a hybrid approach, where you write primarily for one publication but occasionally pitch articles to others? Finding the right balance can be tricky. Pitching articles takes time, and not everyone enjoys the process. So choose a strategy that fits your personality and plays to your strengths.

    Once you’ve answered these questions, you can create a shortlist of publications for further consideration. You’ll want to study each of these publications closely, reading several articles and reviewing their contributor guidelines to determine which ones are a good fit. You’ll find that each publication has a particular personality — a voice and tone that is unique to that publication. Industry leaders, colleagues, and prospective clients will make assumptions about you based on your affiliation with a publication. Your reputation is the most critical asset you have in this business, so make sure you protect it.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Inc., Entrepreneur, and Insider. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles.


  • Friday, June 03, 2022 3:33 PM | Laura Burford

    Three Common Offerings with Real-Life Examples

    "Joe isn’t a consultant because he provides a package solution.”

    That is exactly what a new consultant said to me. But guess what? Joe is a consultant. Just because he is providing a package, doesn’t mean he isn’t a consultant. In this scenario, Joe is offering clients what some practitioners referred to as a market-focused consulting service” in addition to an overall customized solution.

    When it comes to providing services to clients, consultants and freelancers have options. Consultants and freelancers can follow the traditional service offering path by providing a customized solution that helps a client achieve what they want and need to achieve. But they can also provide a package approach which you might hear referred to as a productized consulting service. Or they can provide a combination of services as Joe is doing — a package and customized solution.

    As more people have become consultants, freelancers, and other types of independent workers providing a package or productized consulting service has become quite popular. It is an option that works well for some consultants but not all consultants.

    But what is a package or productized consulting service offer?

    Simply, a consultant identifies a high-value but narrowly focused portion of their overall service offering — their how — and then integrates that expertise into a standardized product or service.

    There are quite a few benefits associated with providing a smaller fixed price package to a client. Consultants are able to

    • work on developing a strong relationship with a client as they obtain a better insight into a client’s needs before proposing on a larger initiative.
    • deliver a top-notch client experience providing not only value but a quality product or service.
    • open new doors and attract new clients with a low-price high-value offer.
    • shorten the “selling” and proposal process with the help of a minimalist engagement letter that might be a simple e-commerce online purchase agreement.
    • scale their business by hiring people to assist with package support freeing the consultant enabling them to spend time growing the business.

    Clients also benefit. A low-price, high-value product or service for which there are clear expectations provides a low-risk way for a client to get to know a consultant before the client spends funds on a larger initiative.

    There are three common types of packages or productized consulting services: market-focused, product-focused, and service-focused.

    Market-Focused Approach

    Consultants often think of a market-focused service as the “foot-in-the door” or “let’s get to know one another” approach. The consultant provides a selected high-value service to the client at a reasonable price. Each person gets to know one another and build trust. A key characteristic to a deciding on the right market-focused service is that the service should position the consultant for future work with the client.

    For example: A network consultant who focuses on helping smaller mid-market businesses with their technology might offer to perform an assessment of the business’ network. The client receives a standardized report with findings and recommendations. The client can use the report and discuss it with other technical consultants or they may ask the network consultant if they are interested in helping them implement the recommendations. The help might be first the development of a technology strategy and later assistance with the strategy’s implementation. The network consultant displays the assessment as a service on their website.

    Product-Focused Approach

    Deciding on a product-focused approach requires a consultant to analyze the work frequently asked for by clients and determine if there is a typical scope, average timeframe, and a standardized deliverable. If that is possible, a consultant can create a fixed price package with fixed product deliverables. The package must provide value and specify what the client can expect for the price they are paying.

    For example: A writing consultant who focuses on helping authors write books realizes inspiring authors frequently ask about how to market books. The consultant decides to offer a marketing package that includes such “asks” as a press kit and website. A website displays the product offer that includes information such as what is included, the fixed price, and a link to schedule a time for a consultation.

    Service-Focused Approach

    The final package approach is a service-focused approach. There are routine needs in every business that clients do not want to concern themselves with but the work needs to be done for the client to be successful. In some cases, that same recurring work is necessary for the consultant to be successful. If it is possible to identify a recurring service and determine how long it takes to complete the work as well as the deliverables to be produced, a consultant might want to create a service-focused package.

    For example: An accountant focused on helping small business owners with financial decision-making offers a bookkeeping package to their small business owners. For a fixed price, the bookkeeping needs are taken care of and financial reports created. The bookkeeping package offer is displayed on the accountant’s website as a service but the service is only provided to clients for which the accountant is a trusted advisor.

    In Conclusion

    In every example provided above, the package or productized consulting service augmented the consultant’s customized solution. In all scenarios the consultant made it easy for the client to hire them and work with them. The package created provided a high-value product or service which helped the consultant as well as the client get to know one another.

    I believe the benefits of packages far outweigh the negatives for some consultants. For a package offering to work, it must be repeatable and continually provide value to clients. The best packages are based on a consultant’s experience-they help highlight the expertise of the consultant and help them be seen as the “go to person.”

    Unfortunately, offering a package or a productized consulting service is not for everyone. If it is not, don’t despair because there are many other ways to help you be seen as the expert.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this article.

    Laura

    *****

    Laura Burford (Laura’s Consulting Guide) is a strategic advisor for independent consultants and boutique consulting businesses. She focuses on helping them clarify their what, why, who, and how which enables them to build relationships and get clients-simply make money. For tips, techniques, and thought pieces, sign up for her weekly newsletter, Consulting Insights.  



  • Wednesday, June 01, 2022 7:48 AM | Erica Holthausen

    Like most consultants, you want to be recognized as an authoritative expert. You want to build your personal brand, attract more clients, open the doors to more speaking engagements, and earn more media exposure because doing so allows you to expand your influence and magnify your impact.

    Writing articles for publication is one way to share your ideas with a broader audience, demonstrate your credibility, and cultivate your community. But you can accomplish that same goal by speaking at industry conferences, getting featured by media outlets, or being a guest on a podcast. So why write? What can writing do for you that other visibility-building tactics cannot?

    1. Writing requires you to think deeply.

    Good writing requires deep thinking. That’s what makes it so challenging and satisfying. When you start writing an article, you have to think critically about the subject so you can transform your ideas into a clear and compelling concept. There is no room for ambiguity in good writing. You have to know precisely what you want to convey to the reader and then find the best words to explain your idea.

    2. Writing fosters creativity and innovation.

    Good writing requires deep thinking, and deep thinking requires you to examine your area of expertise from different angles and to be constantly learning. Inspiration comes from the most unexpected places — a book of poetry, a podcast, a conversation with a friend, a ski lesson, or an artist talk. Your job is to capture that spark of an idea in a notebook or on your phone so you can explore it when you sit down to write. ​

    3. Writing formulates your point of view.

    When you think deeply about your area of expertise and look at it from every possible angle, you develop a clear, unique, and thoughtful point of view. That point of view and how you express yourself is the common thread through all of your visibility-building efforts.

    4. Writing tests and refines your ideas.

    Writing makes it painfully obvious when your ideas need further development, prompting you to do more research. It also allows you to refine your ideas as those who read your work share their perspective or ask thought-provoking questions.

    5. Writing improves your communication skills.

    Writing helps you communicate highly complex ideas more confidently and effectively, whether speaking in front of an audience or being interviewed by a journalist. This confidence enables you to become a better listener and pay close attention to the perspectives other people bring to your work.

    Writing, unlike speaking, does not allow you to rely on context, shared knowledge, or body language to convey your message. You must use the written word alone, which leaves no room for ambiguity. Your writing must be cogent, well-researched, and compelling to get your message across. And, because written material can be read repeatedly and analyzed closely, it must be strong enough to withstand a much higher level of scrutiny than other visibility-building tactics like public speaking.

    Regardless of whether you write for publication, becoming a better writer will make you a deeper thinker, stronger communicator, and better consultant.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Inc., Entrepreneur, and Insider. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles. 

  • Wednesday, May 04, 2022 11:26 AM | Erica Holthausen

    As an expert, you have extensive knowledge of a particular subject garnered through research, education, and experience. This ever-deepening knowledge informs your perspective; it is at the heart of who you are and how you want to make a difference in the world. You are always listening, learning, and taking the time to understand the problem behind the problem.

    You've built your career on your hard-earned knowledge and experience. And while you are well-regarded by your colleagues and clients, you still feel like a well-kept secret. 

    Being great at what you do isn't the same as being known for what you do.

    To be recognized as an authoritative expert in your field, you must do three things:

    1. Share your ideas. You cannot build your reputation as an expert if you don’t share your ideas publicly. Giving voice to your BIG idea — your bold, insightful, and galvanizing idea — forces you to think more deeply so you can communicate it clearly. When you test your idea in the marketplace, your audience can evaluate it. The feedback they provide allows you to refine your idea further. Every time you share your idea, you demonstrate your expertise, expand your influence, and magnify your impact.
    2. Demonstrate your credibility. You cannot build your reputation as an expert if you don’t demonstrate your credibility. In a world where everyone claims to be an authority, you can stand out by clearly signaling to your audience precisely what makes you a credible expert. Your credentials may include degrees and certifications, where you studied or worked, testimonials, and public appearances, including speaking engagements, podcast appearances, media mentions, and bylines.
    3. Cultivate your community. You cannot build your reputation as an expert in a vacuum; you need a community. Your community includes the people to whom you wish to be of service. It also includes your colleagues, friends, and collaborators. Your community challenges and celebrates you — and you do the same for them. They expose you to different perspectives and help you refine your ideas by providing thoughtful and relevant feedback. They also help you spread the word by sharing your ideas with their communities.

    When you write articles for publication in industry trade journals or business magazines like Entrepreneur, Inc., and Fast Company, you not only share your idea with the publication’s readers, but you demonstrate your credibility. These publications vetted you; they reviewed your credentials and, by choosing to publish your work, are signaling to their readers that your perspective is valuable. You can reinforce that perspective by sharing the most relevant credentials in your contributor bio. By writing articles that provide smart, actionable advice, you build your community even further.

    There are many ways to become recognized as an authoritative expert. Still, it is impossible to achieve that goal if you don't share your ideas, demonstrate your credibility, and cultivate your community. The world is a noisy place. By sharing thoughtful and actionable insights, your audience will come to value your perspective, and your voice will be heard.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Inc., Entrepreneur, and Insider. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles. 

  • Wednesday, April 13, 2022 5:47 PM | Laura Burford

    Or, how are you getting to First Base?

    Scout: “Why do you like him?”

    [Billy Beane points to Peter Brand.]

    Peter Brand: “Because he gets on base.” (Moneyball)

    Is client relationship building like baseball? I didn’t think so until during the pandemic I watched the 2011 film Moneyball. The film is based on Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball: The Art Of Winning an Unfair Game.

    Background

    In the movie, Brad Pitt portrays Billy Beane, the general manager for the Oakland Athletics. The year was 2002. Beane was regarded as an excellent general manager but the Oakland Athletics’ budget was $39,722,689 compared to the New York Yankees budget of $174,457,768*. He simply couldn’t financially compete with the other major league teams bidding for talent and Beane hated to lose.

    “I hate losing more than I want to win.” Billy Beane

    Moneyball highlights how one person’s drive changed the baseball industry forever. He didn’t do it by himself, but he realized that

    “No matter how successful you are, change is always good.” Billy Beane

    The Bases are Loaded

    So, how is client relationship building like baseball?

    When building a relationship, a consultant (or freelancer) needs to get on base if they want clients. They don’t need to have all the money in the world, the best website or the slickest looking brochure to get on first base but they do need to connect, get to know, and build trust with people.

    They can’t assume that the first time they connect with a person, they will hit a home run and the person becomes a client. I wish that was the case but it rarely happens.

    To build relationships, a consultant needs to concentrate on getting on first base because if they don’t get to first base, they never get to second base and they don’t win.

    “You get on base, we win. You don’t, we lose. Billy Beane (Moneyball)

    In the Dug Out

    It is your turn at bat. You take a deep breathe, evaluate the field, and picture yourself at the plate. You know that if you can get to first base, you’ll be able to get to second base, third base, and finally home. In your mind, you walk through your STRATEGY and GAME PLAN. You’re ready to hit the ball.

    Home Plate: The Connect Stage

    Connecting can be one of the hardest consultant activities when building relationships because the consultant needs to decide with whom and how to connect. How will the ball and bat connect? The best way for consultants to connect and help people get to know them is with one-on-one strategies such as strategic networking, referrals, and reaching out in a personalized manner.

    Can you connect by writing, speaking, podcasts and videos? Yes, but it is like standing still with a bat, not swinging it, and hoping the pitcher throws the ball directly at the bat and they connect. The ball needs to find you and that may never happen.

    Here is a link to the entire article.

  • Friday, March 25, 2022 10:07 AM | Laura Burford

    Because TRUST is the Glue In a Relationship!

    We are constantly reminded that people hire consultants, freelancers, and independent workers that they trust. 

    But what is trust? Or a trusted relationship?
     
    As I put pen to paper for this blog, I remembered a conversation I had years ago with a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) partner. After meeting with a client, the partner asked for a few minutes of my time. He was concerned that “I was a little too honest.” He felt I needed to be more aware of what it took to maintain a positive relationship with a client.

    I apologized to the client, however the client explained to both of us that it was refreshing to work with someone who was “honest and blunt” because blunt worked best in their organization. She had no concerns what-so-ever and it was her trust in me that led to add-on work.
     
    That day I learned several valuable lessons about trusted relationships.

    The first being that I wasn’t too honest; however, my style was too rough. I’m softer now when presenting difficult messages, at least I am most of the time, but I’ve never stopped being honest. Trusting relationships require honesty and being able to deliver the bad news in a manner that does not offend. It was that incident and additional conversations with the PwC partner that helped me realize the words I used impacted my credibility and actions my reliability.
     
    Overtime, my professional and personal experiences as well as books such as The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey, and Business Relationships that Last by Ed Wallace impacted how I regard building trusted relationships. Each author’s view on how to earn trust varies slightly but there are common themes starting with the observation that trust is multi-faceted and balances several essential qualities.
     
    When someone asks me what I mean by a trust relationship, I fall back on my earlier training and, just like the authors, talk about the multi-faceted aspects, necessary qualities, and the balancing act of a trusting relationship. The balancing act begins with three common everyday behaviors-talking or the use of words and images to convey a thought; actions and how we behavior in a situation; and our feelings or our ability to be true to ourselves and others. I continue by discussing the related essential qualities for each behavior because it is the combination of the all three behaviors and the related qualities that enable a person to build and maintain trust.

    Here is a quick comparison.

    • Words and Images — Credibility and Competence
    • Actions — Reliability and Integrity
    • Feelings — Genuine and Authenticity

    Words and Images

    Published articles, diagrams, speeches, and your point of view highlight your knowledge helping you build credibility and competence. Words and images assist you with being known as the go-to person but that does not mean there is a trusted relationship between you and another person. Have you ever been in a situation where someone has strongly recommended a person but after you met them you were not sure? You were uncomfortable but you couldn’t put your finger on the reason. Maybe it was because you were unsure of their reliability or you didn’t feel they were genuine.

    Actions

    Actions is about doing the right thing. It is about making commitments and not only delivering on them when you say you will but exceeding expectations. You build confidence with the other person by being reliable. Not only do you do what you say you are going to do showing reliability but you do it with integrity consistently displaying your values through your actions.

    Feelings

    Feelings are about being honest with yourself as well as others. It requires a consultant to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and thinking about how you would like to be treated before speaking and acting. Feelings require a consultant to empathize, be genuine, and authentic with the other person. It you make a mistake, you admit. If something you did was not quite right, you admit that as well.
     
    Let me provide a personal example.

    A few years ago a speech was not one of my best for various reasons, some of which were in my control and others were not. When asked how I did, openly I admitted that there were aspects of the presentation for which I was not pleased even though a fair number of the audience loved it (and others hated it-very interesting results). I apologized to a few people with whom I have trusted relationships. I was honest with myself: it was not the best presentation I had ever given. I considered the feelings of other people, apologizing to a few, because I believed my actions and my speech impacted by credibility.

    Building trusted relationships takes time and effort. Successful trusted relationships require a consultant to be aware of their behaviors and related qualities. As Stephen Covey (not Stephen M.R. Covey) said “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
     


  • Saturday, March 12, 2022 6:36 PM | Robin Buckley

    The uncertainty you are feeling is an evolutionary leftover. Early in our history as humans, uncertainty protected us. Uncertainty made us cautious, made us carefully evaluate situations and avoid situations that were too tenuous. Fundamentally,  the experience of uncertainty encouraged us to avoid situations which might be dangerous or risky in order to maintain our survival. 

    In our modern times, however, there is less mortal risk when we are feeling uncertain versus us doing things that are uncomfortable or unknown. Uncertainty is less about survival of the fittest at this point on the evolutionary timeline. Instead, it can actually create the opposite experience wherein those of us who learn to control our uncertainty come out ahead.

    While there aren't saber toothed tigers outside our front doors, not knowing the details of a situation, what a solution is to a problem, or the timeline of an event (take for example the pandemic quarantine), still produces that emotional experience of a threat. It is this evolutionary residual that gives us a bad perception of uncertainty.

    How can uncertainty hurt you?

    With uncertainty playing less of a role in our physical survival, there are still ways it can undermine our progress and success.

    Functioning on autopilot. Uncertainty creates doubts in regards to how to accomplish tasks and be successful so we fall back on past habits, behaviors and thinking. Functioning on autopilot may be safe, but it hinders our development. On autopilot, we don’t try different approaches. We don’t learn new things. We stop thinking creatively and resort to routine practices. Overall, we stagnate.

    Reducing risk taking. We feel vulnerable when we experience uncertainty. The unknown of what could happen increases our insecurities. To reduce these feelings, we fall back on safe ways of acting. We hesitate to the point of inaction. By doing this, we reduce our opportunities because we aren’t willing to take a chance on something different or novel.

    Fixating on the negative. In moments of uncertainty, we tend to focus on the bad things that could happen. The “what if’s” our uncertainty creates tend to focus on potential negative outcomes. Once that happens, we unconsciously start to prime our brains to pay attention to information which supports the possibility of negative outcomes. This becomes a characteristic in how we view the world and sabotages our functioning.

    What is the role of rumination in your uncertainty?

    When we are determining a direction to take, we often consider all options or sides to determine the best step. As our uncertainty builds, however, we continue to weigh all information. We lose our trust in our ability to make the right decision. We might pull in additional input from multiple sources, clouding the process even more. Our “what if’s” start to dominate our thoughts and we vacillate in how to move forward. In other words, we are caught in a cycle of rumination.

    Rumination plays a significant role in uncertainty. Essentially, ruminating involves overthinking and obsessing over the same ideas, options and thoughts. A recent client experienced this as she was determining whether to accept a position with a different company. Her thoughts kept flipping between the relationships at her current company, her longevity there, the close proximity to her house and knowing her job responsibilities versus the opportunity for advancement, increase in salary, fun and challenging projects and a downtown office. She didn’t move beyond these; instead, she bounced between the factors sometimes hourly. Rumination like this doesn’t result in a productive outcome or decision and can create an experience similar to getting an annoying song stuck in your head that just keeps replaying over and over. Overall, rumination plays into the uncertainty about the situation, about the decision and about yourself.

    What are some strategies you can use to manage uncertainty?  

    In order to ensure that uncertainty doesn’t unravel your plans for success, there are ways to control it:

    1. Identify the thought creating the uncertainty. Since all emotions are generated by thoughts, knowing what the thought is allows you to zero in on the source. Once you know the thought or thoughts creating the uncertainty, you can focus on changing it.

    2. Replace the thought with one which reduces the feeling of uncertainty. Replacement thoughts aren't necessarily based on logic because how our brains interpret the "logic" can vary. Effective replacement thoughts are typically based around data, evidence or personal experience. As an example, you might feel uncomfortable due to the uncertainty of whether you’ll get offered a job you’ve interviewed for. In step 1, you identify the thought creating the emotion: "I'm not sure I gave the ‘right’ answers to the interview questions."  A replacement thought might be "I gave the answers based on my professional experience and if they weren't the ‘right’ ones, that job isn't likely the one for me." Sometimes it takes several tries before finding the replacement thought that is effective.

    3. Create "certainties" and "action steps" regarding the situation. In the scenario we are using, a certainty might be that you gave your all in the interview. Another might be that you haven’t heard back because the hiring committee said the decision would be made within the next several weeks. These certainties create the known boundaries around the situation, balancing or replacing the uncertainties. With that, action steps provide you with a feeling of functional control. Writing a thank you note or email to the hiring committee. Applying to other jobs. Creating a plan for how to handle the situation if you don't hear back by the end of the month - name of the contact person, phone and email information, on what date to make contact. 

    What are the benefits of uncertainty for you?

    Once you apply and use strategies to manage your uncertainty, you can begin to optimize uncertainty towards your goals. Yes — uncertainty can be an effective tool towards success! First, uncertainty provides the space for you to look for different opportunities, new options and overlooked solutions. Second, when you don’t know how a situation is going to turn out, you don’t get locked in to one, specific, end result. Finally, we then get to explore, consider, analyze and identify these other results. This might produce a better path than the one you were originally following.

    Ultimately, it isn’t determining the end result or the one solution that is the goal in regards to uncertainty. The goal when faced with uncertainty is learning to be okay with the uncertainty. It is applying the strategies so the uncertainty allows for possibilities not limitations, and your “what if’s” capture the new opportunities that might occur. It’s also adopting the idea that while you might not know the exact result, you will have strategies or plans to address the result, whatever it may be. In this way, uncertainty becomes a superpower rather than your nemesis.



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