Click here if you would rather listen to this blog entry (7:39).
It’s too raw to talk much about yet, but I nearly lost my business in 2013. The entire year was largely an epic fail and only now--with the situation in the rearview mirror--can I see it with any sort of perspective. I’ll write a blog post about it shortly (or maybe a book), but one of the threads weaving through those events is this notion of remaining relevant, and for a long time. On the drive to the cabin yesterday, where I am now, thoughts began to flow about just that. I wanted to formulate a perspective about being relevant over several decades, and I was thinking of myself and of you as this began to take shape.
- Maybe it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: it presumes that you are relevant in the first place. A certain relevance accompanies anyone making a living and helping employees make a living. That’s noble and rewarding, and it’s how developed economies thrive. But I’m talking here about rising from your peers as a leader, and that requires that you see all the same things they do but that you observe different things than they merely see. You develop a perspective that other people--not just you--believe to be unique and they pay you money to help them observe, too.
- Maintaining relevance doesn’t necessarily mean that you are consistently relevant to the same people. As your strengths deepen and creep, you may need a different audience if you want to remain relevant to anybody. Your audience will change organically, in good ways, and you will even lose part of your audience in that process. Just be sure it’s because they can’t keep up and not because they quit learning from you. This is one of the larger tensions I have struggled to navigate.
- It is solidly a privilege to remain relevant for decades and most definitely not a right. Doing great work once means that you have just one more chance to do great work again, and so the cycle repeats itself. But the cycle can be broken for any reason at any point in time.
- While I think that luck plays an outsized role in being relevant in the first place, I don’t think luck has much of any role in being relevant for decades. That result comes from....
Webinar: There is a great opportunity at hand in doing a social media audit for your clients. Each will be worth $10,000-$20,000, and the template and explanation we'll provide will guide you through each step. You can modify the program to make it your own, and then perform it for new or existing clients, who do or do not already have a significant social media presence. 11:00am–12:00pm Central. $160Read More
I owned a pedestrian marketing firm for six years (this doesn't mean I sold pedestrians, but that it was very average). I had never worked at a firm, knew not a single soul in the industry, and had no role models to mimic. Average financial performance (I paid myself $60,000 in 1988), below average ability to manage people (with employees teaching me how I could do better), and above average effectiveness of the work. One thing for sure: I had no special methods or research that I could build into a twenty-year consulting firm known around the world. Shoot, for the first few years I was drinking water from a waterfall.
I started ReCourses through an odd and fortunate series of events where someone else suggested I do it, and gave me a platform with plenty of opportunity. It never would have happened otherwise, and I will always be grateful to Cam Foote.
I felt like I didn't have much to lose, really. At least I thought so, until the first firm...Read More
I don't think I've ever posted a blog entry this long, but if you read it like I did, you'll forget about time and be so engaged that you read it all. It's from a friend (Schuyler Brown) who consults out of NYC. She graciously allowed me to publish this. More about her work at the end. Broadly, the subject of this is money and life, and based on the questions I've been getting recently, many of you are thinking about just that.
Like many Americans post-recession, I've been taking a close look at my relationship to money. To my surprise, what started simply as a responsible exercise turned into a deeply instructive philosophical journey.
I'd been ignoring the task of addressing my ideas about money for years, hiding behind an image of myself as Bohemian, an artist, a spiritual aspirant. Money seemed something too concrete to factor into my flights of fancy. Even as an entrepreneur I never stopped to think much about money. I worried when I wasn't making it and was jubilant when I was...it was a roller coaster.
It was my daughter's birth two years ago that unexpectedly initiated a shift in my approach to money, because she shifted my entire perspective on the future. Her presence forced me to imagine a future I'd been happy to leave to chance. One day, exiting the subway on my way home, I caught myself with a furrowed brow worrying once again about the numbers in our bank accounts...this time with no regard for my own needs, but for hers alone. I heard a steely voice of resolve somewhere deep inside say, "I never want her to suffer the burden of financial strain." At that moment, I felt my actual walk change. I became more directed.
But it wasn't until an incident this summer....Read More
I had trouble getting to sleep last night, and for some reason I started thinking about how managing client relationships has changed over the years. I'm not talking about my clients, but your clients. Do you know the really important things about how to do it right? I'm not sure i would have figured all these out, but I have paid attention to the hundreds of firms I've worked with and tried to cull out the best practices that have been proven in the field.
Just for fun, I started writing these down as they came to mind in a stream of consciousness style. Here are a few of them:
- The only power you have in a client relationship is to withhold your expertise.
- The degree to which you have power in a relationship is directly related to how long it takes to replace you.
- There are only two ways to have more opportunity than capacity, which represents your ability to say "no" to prospects and clients: create more opportunity or reduce your capacity.
- The most important criteria in evaluating a prospective client is whether or not they've used a firm like yours before. Never be the first.
- Your cheap ass clients are the ones spending their own money. You want to work for clients with budget authority over someone else's money.
- The clients who trust you say: "I have $140,000 for this project. What's the most we could do with that money?" The ones who don't trust you say, "Here's what I need. What will it cost?"....
A great client recently asked me to outline my definition of success for their firm. I really enjoyed doing that, and below is a version that you can adapt to your own situation, putting your own stamp on it:
- Partner compensation equals or exceeds industry benchmarks.
- After that is achieved, you still 20% net profit.
- The more entrepreneurial employees are satisfied that their contribution to your gain is recognized and accounted for.
- Partners and employees in key roles will have already tasted competence in the area of your focus, or they will experience it within nine months of joining the firm.
- There will be few or no young employees who value variety over expertise.
- When employees talk about your firm, while still employed, their private comments will be complimentary.
- When partners and employees head out the door to work for the day, they look forward to the challenges, the companionship, and their participation in the overall culture.
- As a firm you will not require extraordinary people....
I seldom give up my 17,000-person blog platform to guests. Keeping your attention is important and my primary marketing tool. But, I read a blog last week that Mark Busse wrote, and I thought it was brilliant. I'm sharing it here with his permission:
Rushing into starting your own design business can turn a dream into a nightmare.
Recently I heard from two former students of mine. As they entered the industry a few years ago we had some honest talks about their options, and against my advice they decided to skip internships or junior positions--which they felt were both beneath them--and went into partnership together with another classmate to form their own design studio. After some early success working for friends and family, their studio quickly fell into chaos, the partnership dissolved, and the company folded, leaving their clients in rough shape.
I'll spare you my story of how running my design business has still not brought the freedom, flexibility or financial reward I'd hoped for after 15 years--and I have a business degree--and how I often miss the days of just working for someone else. Instead, let's talk about how lazy, short-sighted and dangerous starting your own business can be.
You heard me: lazy, short-sighted and....Read More
This is a question that has long intrigued me. It comes up more frequently, too, as individual workers find it harder to find work at all, much less work that they enjoy. But even in a difficult economy, employees regularly switch jobs to work in a more satisfying environment.
They are told repeatedly to "follow your heart…and the money will come." Even aspiring entrepreneurs are encouraged to take that path to fulfill a dream, chase their hopes, and attempt to "build it," hoping they will come.
But that's different than having a right to enjoy it. Not only do I strongly disagree with the sentiment, I think believing it has twisted our expectations and those of our employees. It's not all that different, in fact, from commenting on someone's gruesome death that "at least she died doing what she loved."
First, a lot of people who are "following their heart" are starving. It's just true. Even pseudo-entrepreneurs who follow a system via a franchise are failing in droves--in some, there's a 60% failure rate.
Second, just...Read More
The marketing field is probably less process-oriented than any other among the professional services. Why do you think that is? Working in the field for many years and advising the same field for many more, I’ve come to that realization after noting several reasons why.
Why We Shun Process
First, you crave a freedom to explore, free of the “restrictions” you perceive in process. Second, there’s a need to identify personally with the work—it must stem from inside you rather than emerge from a more external process. You want to create the solution and own it. Third, your role is replaceable enough that you perceive an added value in keeping part of it mysterious. You want to be a magician or shaman or rain dancer. Fourth, there’s a thrill in diving into an empty pool and inventing water on the way down. It’s a drug high to face a blank sheet of paper with each project and, with as little help as possible, make something out of nothing, once again emerging as the hero. Fifth, it’s clear to me that the typical generalist, “full service” positioning that so many of you employ prevents and even promotes lack of process, since each new situation really is new. In other words, the solutions you arrive at are not benefiting from experience like they could, but are instead plagued by the experimental where those who pay your bills could be more victims than clients...Read More
Every manager on earth is going to encounter significant management challenges. How you react to them is what will set you apart.
First Wrong Reaction: High Control Mode
The first wrong reaction to difficulties you’ll experience is to go into a high control mode and seek to eliminate the messiness of the management environment. That might manifest itself in coming down hard on people, drawing artificial lines in the sand, insisting on rule keeping all out of proportion to the circumstances, etc.
Essentially you quit trusting people and try to control them. The problem is that you can’t really control what they’re thinking—instead, you take a stab at merely controlling their behavior, but their attitude is actually worse. And of course that’s the root of the issue.
This instinct to control things is your perceived antidote to feeling out of control. You think people aren’t listening to you or aren’t respecting your directives, so you clamp down even harder, hoping to force compliance.
If the issue really is an obstinate employee who needs to be dismissed, well, then deal with the issue directly and dismiss them. It’s not very productive to penalize the entire group just because you’re deeply annoyed with a few people who, you fear, are infecting the others.
If you feel like things are spinning out of control, that’s usually a sign that something else—something deeper—is amiss. Take a deep breath and look underneath the surface to see what’s really happening.
Second Wrong Reaction: Revert to Former Expertise
The second wrong reaction to difficulties you’ll experience is to go back into the craft or the technical expertise from which you were promoted...Read More