Negotiations can be uncomfortable. How we deal with those moments of awkwardness and discomfort makes or breaks our experience and of course the end result. Here's why...
Visit Square-1 Engineering's Resources Library for additional white papers, articles and videos covering a broad range of content from product design, supplier relationships to leadership. http://www.sqr1services.com/resource-library.html
#square1engineering #square1 #engineering #lifescience #consulting #negotiation #advice #business #strategy
Businesses of all sizes must make strategic decisions to ensure its operations and outputs are optimized, functioning at an effective level to help them grow, increase speed to market, improve ROI, etc. One tool which helps to achieve those metrics, and more, is outsourcing. For the purposes of this paper we’re define ‘outsourcing’ as the act of packaging internal work to be sent outside to an external supplier to facilitate on behalf of the company, now client. There are many positive attributes of outsourcing, yet there are a bevy of deltas which accompany outsourcing if the client doesn’t carefully vet and manage their suppliers. Outsourcing, a valuable strategic business tool, is best experienced where expectations are managed while relationships are allowed to develop overtime. This produces fruitful outcomes for both client and supplier.
Author: Travis Smith
Contributor(s): Bill Colone, Achilles Young
To view the full article click on the download link below:
The world of startups and small business can indeed be an exciting place to be. Its commonly characterized as highly collaborative, fast pace, less bureaucratic and wildly innovative. While this sounds great in theory, in practice the world of a startup can be rife with challenge, including heavy amounts of stress and uncertainty. It’s vital we as professionals analyze our personalities and professional behaviors to assess whether or not we would do well in the startup world - before we actually jump in. Knowing what you’re up against before you dive in will allow you to determine if it’s appropriate for you to consider the startup space, small business and or entrepreneurship.
Author: Travis Smith
Read the full article by downloading the below PDF attachment
We’re constantly bombarded with a litany of articles, studies and discussions highlighting the generational differences in the workplace. These discussions often confuse and mislead readers by zeroing in on ‘key characteristics’ which supposedly define a generation while subtly stereotyping it at the same time. One of the topics that comes up often in these discussions is what makes for a good employee. This topic has permeated the business world for decades long before Gen-Z and Millennials entered the workplace over the last 10+ years causing a current day telenovela in the business world.
While the generations entering the workforce, and or exiting for that matter, may have a difference of opinion on what they want out of their careers and what they need in order to be happy in their jobs, there is one common trait which is synonymous with all generations and all employees for that matter. This common trait, or behavior, defines what a good employee is regardless of the stereotypes and or characteristics which accompany the respective generation.
When we take away generational characteristics, race, religion, gender and everything else used to categorize and therefore sort and stack people we’re left looking at people’s actions. Their behaviors. What I’ve found true over the years is behavior is indicative of the true nature of a person, not their words. If we say one thing but then do (act) another, our behaviors become the defining force for who we are, not our words. This is certainly true for employees and their effectiveness as we look at whether an employee is ‘great’ versus ‘average’, or worse.
So, what’s the difference between a great employee and an average one? An employee who excels versus one who mails it in operating at a mediocre level of performance. The difference is a little behavior known as INITIATIVE.
I know what you’re thinking, “that’s not groundbreaking information. I’ve known this for years.”
While we may know this, or have seen it in person, what’s remarkable are the number of people who actually deploy ‘initiative’ in their jobs.
In my 15 years’ of business experience, of which 13 of those years have been in management, and 4 owning a business, I’ve experienced both first and secondhand the difference initiative makes in an employee and leader. When we strip away all the categories and demographics, mentioned above, this behavioral trait is the one that keeps rising to the top distinguishing the great performers from the average, mediocre and under performing employees.
Initiative is everything!
What does initiative look like in a business setting?
When I think of great initiative in the work place the first thing that comes to mind is a situation I witnessed firsthand with an employee of mine several years ago. We had a client who was flying into Orange County to visit with several suppliers, our company being one of them. My employee, Megan, took it upon herself to pick up our client at the airport, coffee in hand, and bring them to our office for the meeting. Talk about service, yet her initiative to provide a great experience for our customer didn’t end there. She also took the client out to lunch in Laguna Beach (our client was from Idaho and had never seen the amazing beaches of Laguna). The client had also forgot to pack a bathroom bag for their travels so Megan took him to Target to pick up a couple items. After all this was done Megan shuttled him back to the airport.
Yes, this was an amazing effort by Megan yet what made it truly remarkable and just as memorable was the fact that she did this all on her own. She didn’t ask for permission; she just took it upon herself to deliver top notch service. Memorable service at that.
I still think about the initiative Megan displayed during this time and marvel at how impressive it was. Needless to say the client sent us an overwhelming email of appreciation thanking Megan for her time and willingness to shepherd him around. He said and I quote “It was the best business trip I’ve been on, I appreciate you [Megan] taking the time to ensure I had a good visit.”
While that story sounds great it’s certainly not the norm.
Rather than focusing next on the lack luster initiative most employees display at the office perhaps its better use of your time and mine to discuss the ways an employee can change their mindset and actions to better align with an initiative based work approach. Consider the following:
Possessing good initiative at work makes or breaks the quality of employee you are and often times how you are viewed in the organization. Are you a blessing to your team and company or are you dead weight? Having good initiative is the one behavior you can 100% control which in turn can directly impact in a positive way your job and career.
Stop making excuses for why you don’t act at work. Next time you see a problem or issue come up at the office which you are directly or close too take a chance and stand up and get involved. People who say ‘YES’ I can do that rather than ‘someone else can do that’ frequently experience better career
Leadership is one of the hardest things a person can do professionally. There’s no manual, no playbook, no cliff notes that give leaders the ‘secret sauce’ to successfully lead the charge. Sure there are thousands of avenues one could go to learn more about leadership however at the end of the day it’s still a job that mainly rests on intangible actions like care, empathy, intuition and respect for the very people leaders serve.
Leading is often described as a lonely experience. Elisabeth Elliott, a famous author, speaker and missionary once said “Loneliness is a required course for leadership.” The feeling of loneliness at the top is much more common than most of us realize as more than 50% of leaders indicate they have experienced loneliness at one point or another in their career. The stats are even higher for first time leaders at a whopping 70%.
When leaders experience solitary the impacts can be devastating. Isolation and loneliness have a direct negative affect on a leaders’ performance which then directly impacts their employees, departments, business units and companies.
How is it then leaders find themselves down in the dumps on lonely island? Some of the most common causes are:
1. Forced Isolation- Leaders seclude themselves from the rest of the group by working in an office which can create imaginary barriers between them and their staff. Closing the door actually creates a real barrier that communicates “I’m not available and don’t have time for you”. Regardless if this isolation was intentional or unintentional it produces the same results where the leaders’ staff hesitate to communicate with their boss, or not at all.
2. Decision Making- In most businesses decision making is typically left to the people carrying the torch. When decisions go well all is good in the world yet when decisions produce less then spectacular results the leader is left out in the cold to take the brunt of the responsibility. It’s part of the job but it can also produce isolation at a whole new level which isn’t typically understood or felt by the company’s employees.
3. Don’t Ask For Help- Many times isolation is self-inflicted as leaders don’t ask for help from their teams or peers. There’s an unspoken feeling for many leaders which goes something like, “they expect me to know everything because that’s what I get paid for and why I’m in the job”. Thoughts like this can be incredibly damaging and certainly have no justifiable basis for being correct or healthy.
4. Lack Humility- When leaders act in a way which broadcasts ‘I’m more important than you because I’m in a leadership role’ employees quickly disengage, refraining from putting effort in to build relationships with their leaders or working hard on their behalf. When leaders act this way many times it can be attributed to ego or overcompensating for a lack of confidence.
5. Poor Treatment of Others- One of the quickest ways a leader can find themselves on lonely island is by treating their employees or staff in a poor manner. They lack emotional intelligence. (EQ) When employees feel like they aren’t valued or respected they withdraw which commonly leads to limited interaction and feedback with leadership. The result is a drift occurs in the organization between what leadership wants and what employees are doing.
Let’s be clear here, we aren’t about to throw a pity party for our leaders. They’re grown ups right, big boys and big girls who have made the choice to enter leadership on their own accord. So if they’re feeling isolated or lonely than it’s by their own doing, right?
While we’d all love to think the statement above is accurate the reality is that employees do in fact have some ownership in the leadership isolation situation. Employees have a unique ability to see things their leaders don’t, hear things their leaders don’t and help in situations where their leaders would otherwise be clueless about.
These five options when implemented help to foster an environment of support and mutual respect, one in which both leader and employee benefits from:
When leaders and employees work together and support one another it significantly reduces the likelihood people of any kind will experience isolation.
“There is no respect for others without humility in one's self.” - Henri Frederic Amiel
Key Take Away:
If you’re feeling lonely as a leader chances are it’s a result of your own doing. Sorry to hit you with the brutal honesty. Loneliness in leadership impacts more people than just yourself. One of the best ways to overcome it is to join a peer group or get a leadership mentor/ coach.
Feeling like you’re on lonely island right about now? Select two people from your company, one of which needs to be a direct report, and ask them for their candid feedback. Start by telling them how you’re feeling and your desire to do something about it. Get vulnerable and ask for their help while creating an environment where people feel comfortable telling you how they perceive you and your presence as a leader. After you receive the feedback – SHUT UP! Don’t argue about it, don’t disagree. Just listen, observe and take it all in. Thank the person for their feedback and take the rest of the day to smolder on it. With time and patience, you will begin to open yourself up to hearing other people’s perspectives while learning how to take their words and incorporate it into a new you. Now, go get em, champ!
Working for big business certainly has its perks, there’s no doubt about it. Stability, direction, benefits, work that is defined – you name it. For some, this is the ideal work environment. We plot along through our 8-5 and enjoy the consistent pace that comes with it.
For a growing number of professionals while the world of big business has its strengths, it also serves to hold us back in our careers which is why we turn to the start-up world. How do I know this? I’ve lived it myself. After more than 10 years of working for a $6B company I left and went into the start-up world.
My story, while it may not be unique, is a growing story many others now share.
Why do people like the idea of start-ups?
First and foremost, it can be an exciting place to work. Decisions are often made speedily, there’s typically much less bureaucracy, work is more flexible and of course it tends to be much more creative. We also have the ability to learn much more about our jobs and the impact it has on the overall company and or business. Therefore, it is possible to say being in the start up world allows us to become better business people in the process as we get to see the big picture, not just our individual roles and workloads like what happens in big business.
Then it’s settled, everyone should work in a start-up! I mean, who wouldn’t want to work in that kind of an environment?
Hold up compadres, pump the brakes a moment. The start-up world is no picnic. Yes, the start-up world is exciting and full of daily innovation and discovery but it can also be rife with challenge, uncertainty and stress. Not everyone is built or meant to be in the world of start-ups. We may think we are however the reality is some of us are just better off being in big business. Before you jump ship from your large company into the world of a start-up (and or small business) take a moment to check in with yourself on how you land with these five characteristics which are vital to ones success in the start-up environment:
1.Working Outside the Box
When we work for big companies often times our job and daily output is focused on a certain set of tasks. It’s the opposite in the start-up world as often times the mentality of those who are successful in this space is that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and company moving forward. This includes taking out your own trash! If you’ve ever said “that’s not part of my job description” in response to work that was requested of you I would recommend taking a hard look at whether a start-up or small company is the right move for your career. You don’t have an option to be picky in a start-up, the only option is to do it. Even if that means taking out your own trash.
Working 8-5 in a large company can be a great perk. If you’ve done that for any length of time you may have forgotten how nice it is to mentally shut off at 5PM. In start-ups working 8-5 is non-existent. It’s common to work long hours and or be tethered to your smart phone around the clock. The statement ‘work life balance’ is blurred beyond recognition in the start-up world. Those that are successful here know and understand that it takes time and effort to create something. How dedicated are you to making that happen and what are you willing to give up in the process?
Working in a large company doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is clearly defined and outlined yet it is typical that SOPs (standard operating processes) are at the very least available for workers who choose to use them. In the start-up world you may find yourself creating these on your own. Take a moment to think how you would feel about being confronted with a daily situation where you are supposed to be working hard, hell – harder than ever before, and there isn’t a lot of direction or support to help you in that effort. If the thought of that excites you than the start-up world may be a breath of fresh air, if not then maybe your 3 foot wide cubicle and plush ergonomic chair your large company bought is the safer bet.
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of a start-up in my opinion. Leadership. If you haven’t worked in the start-up world before you may not be aware that people in leadership still do much of the hands on work. In big business this is hardly the case. Neither camp of leaders are necessarily better than one of the other, it’s just a very different environment. In start-ups every person on the team has to give 150% to the cause which means those who don a leadership title still have to get dirty in the day to day work. The reason you want to consider this as a part of your ‘can I make it in the start-up world’ is because leadership ultimately can have a great or very grave impact on the start-up business. Seems a bit obvious but when someone is doing both daily work and in charge of strategic decision making their influence and involvement has a much greater impact. In big business if a company experiences a failure with one of their leaders it typically can be salvaged whereas in the start-up world one or two costly mistakes by leadership will send the company into a grave six feet under.
Start-ups offer an intimate working experience. Working in a start-up everyone knows everything about everyone. It’s close quarters with high amounts of communication, partnering and feedback. Collaboration of course exists in big business but not at the intimate level of the start-up. When we work for a big company we are often a part of a team but doing work independently, even times on our own little island. If you’ve come to enjoy your island and aren’t interested in having neighbors up in your grill on the daily than perhaps staying in big business is the right decision for you.
A professional life in a start-up can indeed be a rewarding and exciting adventure. Once we’ve spent some time analyzing what’s most important to us in our career and what we’re willing to do to get it than we’ll have a better idea of how the start-up environment and career fits in with our plans.
The demand for consulting is up, way up!
The US consulting marketplace has grown consistently over the past decade. In the last three years, 2015-2018, consulting services have increased upwards of 25% bringing it to an estimated $68.5 billion U.S. dollars.
Demand is up and so is the desire from the US workforce to provide the service.
Whether you’re new to consulting hoping to dive in to get a piece of the current demand for consulting services, or you’ve been consulting for years, you’ve inevitably been challenged with the thought…
“How should I charge for my services?”
Here we’ll give into a quick and straightforward guide for establishing your consulting fees and the things which need to be taken into consideration before settling on your pricing approach.
#1: Research the local marketplace – it is imperative you understand what the marketplace yields for the consulting services you plan to offer this way you have an understanding of how you fit in with your competitors and their respective offerings. Best way to obtain this information is to ask others in the business, attend events and get quotes from others in similar lines of work. While you always want to make sure you’re getting paid for what you’re worth, you also need to be cognizant of pricing yourself out of the game.
For example, in Irvine, CA there is a large supply of people offering mechanical engineering design services. Baring any unique or niche expertise the average mechanical engineer consultant charges anywhere from $50-80/hr. If you’re charging $125/hr for similar services you may find yourself missing out on projects with potential clients because the end user, or client, has too many other reliable and capable consultant options to choose from at rates cheaper than your offering.
#2: Fixed cost vs. time & materials – you’ll need to decide up front what type of pricing strategy you’re going to use. Fixed cost is when you charge a flat fee or a ‘not to exceed’ fee for work you’re performing regardless of the amount of hours it takes you to get the job done. Time & materials pricing structures price based on the amount of hours it takes to complete the job. Read more HERE.
#3: Long game mindset – your pricing should reflect both your experience, capabilities but also your willingness to get repeat business from your clients. If your rate is higher than the average marketplace rate for similar service you may still be able to get work, however you may find the client doesn’t pick you for additional work or longer projects. Remember, the higher your rate the higher the clients expectations will be on your performance and the further scrutiny you will receive on your work output.
#4: Know your profit margin – it’s important you understand what potential profit you stand to make for each project. Profit is what keeps you growing and stable long term. If you’re constantly breaking even you leave yourself at risk for unexpected downturns and other things out of your control. Establish an ideal profit margin per project you want to achieve and incorporate that into your pricing. Learn how to establish a profit margin HERE.
#5: Flexibility is key – clients like working with consultants that are flexible; if you’re too rigid with your pricing you may find you’ll lose out on opportunities in the long run. Try pricing your work based on the difficulty of completing the task. Perhaps you have a minimum threshold you’re going to charge per hour (say $100/hr) and then based on the work you’re potentially taking on you will scale your price upwards by 25%. It’s not uncommon for consultants to have a pricing menu based on the range of their capabilities and difficulty to perform the work at hand. We suggest not using a ‘one size fits all approach’ for pricing your services.
#6: Know what you need – while you should never price your consulting practice based on your personal lifestyle (clients don’t care how big your house is, what car you drive or what your bills are so they certainly aren’t going to pay you more just because your lifestyle requires it) it is important to know what you need to be charging in order to meet your personal financial obligations. Once you know this number go back to step #1 in this article to see if your pricing number is in line with the general market. Don’t charge more just because you need more to live. Clients can smell that from a mile away and it’s a big turn off.
Pricing should be based solely on the value you provide. Your consulting price should have flexibility built into it while keeping in mind the difficulty of the work being performed. Ensure you know how the marketplace is operating and what others are charging for similar services so you can be competitive with your offering.
Meet 3-5 people in the consulting space which is similar in nature to yours. Learn about their offerings, how they go about pricing their service and what challenges they’ve had with clients specific to pricing. The more you can learn from them ahead of your own efforts the better off you’ll be when it comes time to present your price in front of a potential customer.
When talking with a customer about their project support needs, do you use a formalized approach or do you just wing it?
Interestingly enough, I was amazed to learn recently that the vast majority of consultants (including solopreneurs) don’t utilize a formal process for collecting information when talking with a customer about a project. As I began asking more questions I learned that this was a habit across the board, regardless of the amount of years of experience the consultant has in business and or their consulting practice. The conservative side of me wanted to run for the hills hearing this.
Working as a consultant offers a lot of flexibility, however within this flexibility comes lots of room for alternative view points, ambiguity and of course misinterpretation. When things are loosey goosey we open ourselves up for further opportunity for projects to fail, missing the mark or leaving one or both parties with a sour taste in their mouths at the end of the project.
One of the best things I learned early in my career from a more experienced person I worked with was the importance of being disciplined in using a standardized system of help in the information gathering discussions when talking with clients.
Because if you don’t it’s amazing how quickly people can interpret things differently than what we had assessed, thought or even heard. What’s worse, is a simple misunderstanding up front at the beginning of a project or relationship can boil up to big issues down the road, including legal actions.
For these reasons I use, and always suggest consultants use, a formal process for evaluating, qualifying or assessing project opportunities with customers. This meeting or discussion between supplier (consultant) and customer can be referred to as an ‘intake meeting’, ‘scoping a project’, ‘project qualification’ or ‘project discovery’. They’re all designed to do the same thing – ask questions to obtain information.
When you’re in a discussion with a customer about their project needs you’re really trying to figure out one thing – is this the right project/ business opportunity for me to take on?
The answer to that question is buried in a flurry of Q&A, best served up using a formal approach where we learn about our customers’ needs, thoughts, feelings and desires for the project and work ahead.
Creating a project qualification process document (SOP) before you begin discussing projects with customers ensures you will gather all the information upfront in a consistent manner. This will also lessen the likelihood of you having to go back to ask the customer for foundational questions to better understand the project. Here’s some good questions you could use in your project qualification discussions to determine if this is the right work to take on and customer to work with:
Keep qualification discussions to no more than 30 minutes if possible. As a consultant your most precious asset is your time. All to often customers will spend time talking about things that have nothing to do with the project and or work they’re requesting your help with. Set the tone at the beginning of the discussion indicating you have 30 minutes to talk through their project needs, then moderate the discussion from there on out.
Think like a consultant – not an employee. Employees have to do the work their employer asks of them, this is not true as a consultant. Your job is to listen and provide feedback. If what the customer is asking for doesn’t add up or isn’t feasible it’s your job to guide them to an alternative solution and or walk away from the opportunity. Consultants advise and perform the work as an SME. Be wary of situations where customers are asking you to perform a miracle. Projects must be grounded in reality, otherwise you may end up as the one to blame.
As you wade through the project qualification discussion with your customer it’s advisable to be on the look out for the following challenges:
As you begin to formulate your approach to these discussions and questions it’s highly advisable to jot it down on paper, creating a template or checklist you can use each and every time.
Should you get through the project qualification stage and both you and customer are interested in moving forward to the next stage make sure you put everything in writing that was covered during the qualification discussion. Be specific and direct. Your Statement of Work (SOW) is the backbone of your project and incredibly important in outlining expectations, performance and what happens if changes need to take place during the project.
Key Take Away:
As a consultant your most precious asset is your time. Use a formal and formatted approach to your project qualification discussions with your customers to ensure you collect the right information up front to better determine if the project in question is the right opportunity for you. Can you deliver the goods inline with the customers expectations?
Create a project qualification template or scoring matrix to use in your customer discussions to obtain all the information needed up front for the project. This removes all the guess work. Your template should include both exploratory questions to get your customer talking and sharing with you the in’s and out’s of the situation while also simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions like “is this project approved?. Once you’ve completed the discussion with your client tell them you will get back to them after you’ve had an opportunity to digest the information you gathered. This will give you time to allow the information to sink in, time provides perspective. Sometimes a scoring matrix can be really beneficial in this situations especially if you have multiple project opportunities with multiple customers because it allows you to objectively rank each project opportunity against one another. Pick the best or most lucrative projects and say adios to the others.
For many Americans career progression is as important to them as the air they breathe. When we’re at a point in our careers where we’re looking for the next best thing or a new challenge often times it means taking into consideration a management role.
To be successful in management, or leadership for that matter, it requires a completely different set of skills which are typically very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Regardless if we’re a part of a team or not, when we’re a staff employee we really have one main concern – make sure our butts are protected by doing a great job.
Being in a management role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, she is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well. It can be a lot to shoulder if you aren’t prepared for it. Next week we’ll be talking about this in great detail at an Orange County, CA based medtech event where women will share their stories of leadership and how they got to where they are today. These stories are invaluable to understanding our own situation and potential career changes.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider two things before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next management opportunity:
What the statistic above from HBR and Gallup tells us is that it’s incredibly tough to make a good decision on who will be successful in a leadership role. While the decision to hire or promote someone into a management role ultimate rests with the company, what happens thereafter is largely attributed to the individual in the role. Let’s make no mistake about it, a move from staff level to management can be an incredibly rewarding opportunity but to be successful in the new venture you need to know beforehand if you’ve got the foundation for what it takes to be successful leading others.
Before you consider a career in management think about how you deal with these five foundational leadership questions:
1.Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
I’m going to take a hard stance here and simply say if you don’t care about others and aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view leadership as an act of service and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon Sinek
2.How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on work. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you work for a start-up or small company and are a ‘working executive’, however most of the time management roles focus their time and energy on their people and a strategy for getting work done. People who have technical backgrounds tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. (a Mechanical Engineer that designs new products)
3.Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you have a tendency to listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4.Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything. Delegation also has a unique outcome which communicates trust and ownership to your employees whereas not delegating sends the exact opposite signal.
5.Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
It’s not the prettiest part of the job but a consideration nonetheless. A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the corporate world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
Key Take Away:
Successful leaders all have one thing in common – they genuinely care about others, especially the people who work for them. As a result, they utilize a servant leader mindset, operating side by side their teams leading through both words AND actions.
Perhaps you’re struggling to get in touch with how you feel about leadership and your own capabilities. If so, find 2-3 people and interview them. Ask them for their opinion and thoughts on how they think you would be as a leader. Would you be successful in their eyes? What blind spots or areas of improvement would you need to make in order to be successful leading others? Once you have an idea for how others perceive you and the areas you potentially are good at and or struggle at you’ll have a better appreciation for how you would show up in the role. From there it’s always good to read a couple leadership books to further understand if this career move is best for you. Try out ‘Go-Giver’ by Bob Burg and John Mann or ‘True North’ by Bill George and Peter Sims.
The gig economy is growing. Growing rapidly!
I recently stumbled upon a publication put out by MBO Partners on an annual basis which compares the state of our economy to the rise and decline of independent workers. It’s a fascinating read, especially with the growth of the gig economy rapidly changing the face of the employment landscape as we know it. MBO indicates 52% of the U.S. adult workforce within 5 years of 2019 will either be working or will have worked as an independent consultant or contractor.
That’s huge! Literally half of those employed in the US in one form or another operates as an independent ‘gig’. Furthermore, it’s estimated that 90% of the US workforce says they would be open to the idea of freelancing or consulting.
In one way or another that just about includes everyone in the workforce, or close to it.
If almost everyone you and I know are, or are interested in being, a gig [consultant] it will only lead to one inevitable outcome. The gig space is going to start to getting highly competitive.
Being a freelancer or consultant isn’t uncommon anymore. Long gone are the days where an individual branding themselves as such makes a unique statement which in turn gives that person a competitive advantage.
We may not be there yet however rest assure that in the coming years the consulting, gig and freelance field will become much more congested with new players trying to take a piece of the pie. As such, it will be paramount for gigs to learn how to brand themselves accordingly to ensure they remain at the top of the pecking order.
Branding is crucial!
It’s more than adding a tagline to your business card which creatively says in a couple words what you do. It’s more than building a LinkedIn profile hoping it does the work for you with a serene picture of a bamboo forest behind your mug shot.
Branding, a crucial part to any business, is indeed the next wave of importance for the consulting and gig community.
What does branding do?
Branding does a lot of things. For starters, it helps to build an identify, one people begin to learn over time is synonymous with you. Branding is all about strategic messaging to an audience about who you are, what you’re all about, and how you make a difference. When branding is done right, it can take on a life of its own, far beyond the company, product and original intent.
Take for example the Q-Tip. The handy little cotton based product invented in 1923 by Leo Gerstenzang allows us the delightful pleasure to clean the crap out of our ears, keeping them nice and tidy to prevent health related issues and even perhaps hear better. What’s fascinating about Leo’s Q-Tip is that the word itself, ‘Q-Tip’, is a brand specific to one product now made by Unilever Corporation. The branding for this product has been done so well over the years that we all refer to every cotton swab based product as a Q-Tip, regardless of the manufacturer. This my friends is called an eponym.
In fact, Unilever even has on their website “Q-TIPS® is a registered trademark of Unilever and is NOT a name for just any cotton swabs. The Q-TIPS® trademark can only be used to refer to the specific cotton swab products manufactured and sold by Unilever and should not be used to refer to cotton swab products of other companies or to cotton swabs generally.”
Even Unilever is aware of how well their branding has done in the marketplace, giving credence to their competitors similar products. There are plenty of other products that fall into this category like Kleenex, Post-It Notes and Xerox.
Branding creates buzz while giving recognition to a person, company or thing that people can recognize and associate with. It’s powerful stuff these marketing genius’ have dreamed up and we as consumers just love to eat it up.
So here’s the rub and what this means you for, my wonderful Mrs./ Mr. Gig. It means you need to learn how to brand yourself asap, before the girl or guy next to you beats you to the punch causing you to become second fiddle in your own back yard.
Don’t have experience marketing and or branding yourself? Want to learn? Here are the seven (7) steps to successfully brand yourself as a consultant (freelancer, gig, independent consultant, etc.) in no particular order:
1.Tell Your Story
People work with people they like. This has been proven time and time again and I’ve seen it myself many times over throughout career. People also naturally gravitate towards a good story, especially if that story gives them a reason to ‘act’. Spend the time to think through and write out your story. This is the ‘WHY’ you’re a consultant in the first place. WHY you do what you do. What propels you to be you, the inner workings. Once you learn what this is write it down and develop a narrative that shares a story about who you are and why you do what you do. Once you have that done the next step is to share it with the world.
2.Know What Problems You Solve
Customers don’t want benefits or values. They don’t want long winded sales presentations that promise them everything under the sun. Customers want solutions! Once you understand what your customers problems are, you can then create information which talks about your ‘WHY’, mentioned above, along with your ability to solve your customers problems. As you start to brand yourself via social media, print, publications, website, etc. make sure this is one of the first things your customers see. It’s all they care about – how you can solve their problems.
When you begin to brand yourself through the various avenues of social media, web, print, etc. it’s vital all of your information communicates the same message, look and feel. This consistency gets viewers accustom to your approach, look and feel. If every time you put something out in the world it looks completely different from one to the other you’ll never get people to connect to your product, service or company. They’re to busy being confused and lost in the process. Keep your message and content simple, yet highly directed to your intended audience.
Consistency also refers to the amount you brand yourself. If you only do it once a month you’ll never get anywhere building a brand, however if you do one post, one article or one activity every day the results you’ll see are dramatically different. Just remember, it takes time, so invest in branding yourself now.
4.Speak Like Your Customers
When you’re putting together content to put out in the world make sure you put yourself in your customers shoes. Think like them, act like them, be them. If you don’t know how to do that simply ask them. The more you communicate and speak like your customer the better chance you will have in getting their attention. If you’re trying to catch a whale, don’t pretend to be a shark. Instead, be plankton, that’s what whales eat. (I think)
5.Focus on the Solution
When branding yourself and or your consulting practice focus on what results you create, provide or give. The journey along the way is of course important however in the consulting/ gig world its all about execution. If you can’t execute and successfully complete a project it doesn’t matter what you may have done along the way. Results are all that matter, brand yourself accordingly.
6.Create a Website
I suppose this suggestion falls equally into the general marketing category however in this day and age if you want people to take you seriously having a website is a bare minimum. There are plenty of tools available to create cheap, or even free, template based websites that give any size business or person the ability to compete with the big girls and boys. Check out Weebly or Wiix. That said, keep the website simple and in line with your customers needs. Focus on your story and the problems you solve on behalf of your customers. Also, make sure you buy the online domain names of your consulting practice and any taglines you plan to use for branding purposes.
7.Create Visual Content
No one’s saying you need to turn into a graphic designer, but it would help greatly if you could quickly edit and adjust images with your logo and brand to reflect your consulting work. This can be easily accomplished via Microsoft PowerPoint and Paint programs. One can buy stock photos online from dozens of pre-approved imagery galleries and edit them to your hearts content. PowerPoint is a relatively easy to use program to do basic image editing with text, enough to at least get some content out to the masses that is custom and specific to your target audience. Paint is a dumbed down version of PowerPoint, yet effective for small projects.
Key Take Away:
Don’t wait until your field gets over saturated before you start thinking about branding yourself and or consulting practice. The best way to brand yourself is to start with you, your reason for being a consultant in the first place, and then the problems you solve on behalf of your customers. Your branding should reflect all of this and be consistent across any platform you put it on - your website, social media, print media, publications, etc.
Does this sound like a lot of work you aren’t interested in getting involved in? If so, don’t feel bad, branding yourself is no easy task. Find a local marketing and branding expert and get help. Ask them to work with you to develop your brand, your approach and customer facing appearance. The money you spend upfront for this help will be well worth it down the road. If you aren’t in a position to pay for help, set aside 3 hours a week to dedicate to your branding efforts. It won’t be much in the beginning but at least it will get you on the road to ingraining this practice in your weekly operating rhythm.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.