Sunday, October 10, 2010

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Dolphins, Whales and Sharks

One of the challenges of professional advisors is seeking out the right clients for our talents and business model. We often get seduced into chasing the big name or the bleeding-edge project, only to shake our heads in disbelief once we’re in the midst of the work.

Try thinking of your target clients as dolphins, whales or sharks.

Dolphins are highly intelligent, social (in small groups) and nimble. When the situation warrants, dolphins will merge their pod (about 12 dolphins) with others. Dolphin clients naturally collaborate and thrive in team situations. They will seek out advisors who are adaptable, nimble and smart. They aren’t cheap, but highly value conscious.

Whales are smart, but their sheer size makes them ungainly. They don’t maneuver easily, but when they do surface it is unforgettable. Like dolphins, they travel in pods, but do not routinely join larger groups. Whale clients tend to be large, entrenched organizations. Their functional leaders often don’t collaborate outside their team. Whales gravitate to advisors with big, complex project expertise and tend to pay accordingly.

Sharks are equally maligned and celebrated (Shark Week anyone?) They can be fascinating to watch and yet turn deadly on a dime. Some are highly social and others solitary hunters. Shark clients must be engaged very deliberately. True collaboration—even if you hold the key to their success—is not in their DNA. Sharks want to win and may well sacrifice you if it buys them their end goal. Not terribly price conscious, they are drawn to advisors who can draw a straight line to their prize.

Dolphins, whales and sharks. Who is your ideal client?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Do Unto Others....

Your mother probably told you to “treat others the way you’d like to be treated.” But she got it just slightly wrong. The best advisors treat their clients the way the client wants to be treated.

Think about it. Each of your clients is an individual with distinct preferences for communicating, leading people and managing their business (not to mention their advisors).

No, you needn’t bend to every wind. But have you built in enough flexibility in your style and business model to meet the needs of your core clientele? Side benefit: as you adapt better with your clients they in turn want you around more often.

Let’s say you tend to be a flowery communicator. You’ll never use 1 word when 8 will do. But your client is a “just the facts” kind of guy. Are you defaulting to your style or do you try to speak (and write) in language he can digest quickly? And are you paying attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues he is sending? If you make him work too hard, he’s likely to look elsewhere.

Perhaps your client is a hands-on, collaborative leader who enjoys intense team discussions about the issues you’re addressing. You prefer to deal with her one-to-one and chafe when you must engage with group dynamics. Without a little adaptability, you run the risk of your discomfort costing you larger engagements and a bigger playing field.

Or, perhaps you’re a coach and you’ve developed a structured call/fee system as your core business model. What about potential clients who aren’t so structured but could use your services? Are you going to make them adopt your work style? Getting creative to develop profitable new ways to serve this market can bring more clients to your door.

It’s not about changing your business model (or who you are)--it’s about staying flexible.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Top 5 Reasons To Blog (Or Not To Blog)

Professional advisors are a unique class of bloggers. We essentially sell advice for a living. We (rarely) make money from advertising, nor do we really want to. Blogs for advisors are often a distribution channel for thought leadership and—done well—a piece of our sales funnel. So the big question is: to blog or not to blog?

I’ve assembled a list of the top 5 reasons for both. Take a look and share your additions, deletions and comments.

Top 5 Reasons To Blog

You've got a clear point of view. As an advisor, you should have a clear, compelling POV to serve as your blog's organizing theme. Every post relates in some way to your core beliefs about how your clients can be successful.

You write regularly. No exceptions. Pick a schedule that works for you (a minimum of 2x/month) and stick to it. No matter what client emergency comes up. Why is consistency so critical? Because readers—future clients—make snap judgments about your reliability from your posts. Don’t let them view you as flighty or unreliable.

Your return (financial, PR or otherwise) warrants your time investment. Be clear on your goals, time commitment and desired outcomes. You won’t reach your goals overnight, but monitor your metrics. This is an investment in your future and you want to make it worth your while.

You know it’s about your audience. Look for new ways to present ideas that will engage your readers. If they make comments, write back! They have taken some of their valuable time to connect with you—don’t blow it now. I’m still waiting for a so-called PR blogger to engage in a conversation he started—6 weeks later!

You hold yourself publicly accountable. Not only do you publish regularly, but you are willing to be accountable to your readers. This means that you don’t just promote your blog, you own up to mistakes and deal with critics (and trolls) effectively.

Top 5 Reasons NOT To Blog

You sound like everybody else. If all you have to say is a regurgitated version of someone else’s content, you won’t be successful in the blogosphere. Find your authentic voice and share it. Hint: It may take a few posts—with feedback—to find the voice that best suits you.

You insist on putting your political or religious views front and center. Just don’t. You’re not a political or religious blogger, this is about your business. Your goal is to draw the right clients to you, not to convert someone to your religious beliefs. Stick to your expertise and insights.

Your writing doesn’t cut it. Long, jargon-packed sentences will not help you demonstrate your expertise. Since I have yet to meet a professional advisor who believes they are NOT a good writer, get a 2nd opinion! Or a very good editor.

Public criticism makes you wilt. Frankly, this could be all the more reason to blog—you need to toughen up and get yourself in front of a larger audience. But if you have all the work you can handle and don’t want to deal with this particular fear, simply abstain.

You never met a rant you didn’t like. We’re talking turning a mild-mannered, smart advisor into a raging beast. Haven't you witnessed emotion-fueled rants in blogs and various social media? The only thing rants bring you is fellow ranters. Is that really how you want to grow your business?

Blogging. Not for everyone, but a clear opportunity to spread your word. What would you add to the lists?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Specialty Of The House

Imagine your clients choosing you the way most of us choose restaurants. They decide what they’re in the mood for—sushi, deli, pizza. Or maybe it’s that special occasion, break-the-bank meal. And then they consider where they’re likely to find exactly what they want/need.

If you own a restaurant, you want your clientele to say “I want Canter’s Deli”, not “I want a sandwich.” Ditto every other top-of-their-game restaurant from Fatburger to The French Laundry. Draw your clients to you in the same way. Make your offerings clear, compelling and uniquely distinct.

Choose your category. What kind of restaurant are you? Unless you’re a category-breaker, you’ll slot into a niche—haute cuisine, burger joint, seafood shack, food truck. Look around you and see how many others claim your category. Chances are, clients are surrounded by good choices. You’ve got to make yourself stand out.

Narrow your appeal. Will you focus on an ethnic cuisine or perhaps steak or seafood? Are you all about romantic corner booths, a spectacular view or whacking crabs with a mallet? Do patrons come to you for a raucous good time or are they serious foodies worshipping at the latest mecca? Narrowing your appeal lets those who will love you find you faster.

Discover your specialty of the house. Your clientele will tell you what they come back for. And it may be more about their waiter remembering their name and favorites then about your clams casino. It’s about their complete experience, which any successful restaurateur will tell you includes price, service, ambience and location.

So ask your clients why they choose you. Dig for the truth. And use what you find to let the rest of the world know your claim to fame.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tilting At Windmills

Remember Don Quixote? He was busy attacking windmills while imagining himself fighting giants. He believed he was achieving a grand and glorious vision as he ignored reality.

It’s a risk we all run when we’re trying to stake our territory in a fast moving, challenging economy. Instead, ask yourself some key questions.

Who am I competing against? Is it really competitor A, B or C? Or is doing nothing your real competition? Let’s face it. For lots of services, inertia is a powerful thing: financial advisors, accountants, actuaries, estate planners. Why should your client make a change? Maybe the real fight is getting them to know they must act.

What is your financial truth? I spoke with someone recently who was consumed with determining his ideal billing rate. The problem? He had no idea where his next project was coming from. The issue wasn’t his billing rate, but his pipeline. Focusing on rates gives him something to obsess about while he busily ignores the elephant in the room.

What’s your sweet spot? Which clients and what work best suit your talents and passions? How front and center are they in your daily interactions? Beware of defaulting to what comes to you. You may quickly find yourself getting wrapped into elaborate time-sucks outside of your sweet spot. Before you know it, your productivity is down and your fun evaporates.

Tilting at windmills didn’t serve Don Quixote. Don’t let it seduce you.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Creativity Meets Courage

I had an interesting discussion Saturday with playwright (and producer, director) Del Shores just before seeing his newest work “Yellow”. Del is known for comedy with a southern twist and has several hit plays and movies plus a TV series (“Sordid Lives”) under his belt. He is a creative wizard who also has the chops to successfully produce his work.

Listening to his story, I was struck by how much courage is required to put his work on display. Noted playwrights draw noted critics. And yes, their critical acclaim can fill the house. But the right thumbs down can also tank a fledgling project.

Del was exceedingly candid about the challenges of putting his work out there every day for others to critique. And—while most of us work from a quieter stage—I found his lessons worth sharing.

Let your work evolve. Del is known for comedy, yet his newest work deals with heavy emotional issues. What makes it so “Del” is weaving his unique brand of southern comedy into a tragic story: we were alternating deep belly laughs with copious tears. Dramedy anyone?

Be confident. Oh, and if you aren’t always feeling it? Take a deep breath and put your work out there anyway. Most smart, talented people doubt themselves at some point. Combat that by surrounding yourself with inspiring allies--you’ll catapult yourself just to keep up. Nobody benefits when you keep potentially great ideas under a rock.

Touch everything important. Del drops by the front office to check ticket sales. He gathers his actors before every performance for an inspiring huddle. He gives memorable press interviews—no shrinking violet here. And he stands at the exit (think Father of the Bride), listening to outgoing comments and connecting with theatre lovers. He promotes with gusto and an open ear.

So. Has your creativity met with courage yet?