Someone asked me the other night what kind of coaching I do and without thinking I responded: paradoxical.
Most clients I work with want my help marketing their ideas, solutions and content. They’re very receptive to my approach:
- create your “one of a kind” point of power at the edges or intersections – markets, industries, areas of interest or expertise etc.
- discover your voice and develop your stories around that point of power
- give and don’t hold back
And then they get scared and overwhelmed and go back to their old ways which stopped working long ago: email blasts, snail-mail announcements, hiring the magical business development manager, handing out cards at networking meetings etc. They give themselves over to the habitual impulse to interrupt instead of giving themselves over to their story.
When the old methods fail I suggest examining and clearing, with my facilitation, the assumptions and expectations blocking change. And that’s when the paradox kicks in. Because this is what they believe the process should be: telling me their stories! How they got where they are. Why they do what they do. The history, the details and most of all – the reasons.
They claim to be very receptive to my simple approach: unconditional permission to allow me to interrupt if I start to get more information and story than I need to know in order to facilitate an identity shift. Then I interrupt 5 times in 10 minutes and its “Call in the Marines”.
If it weren’t for paradox it would be easy, right?
Think about it this way:
Story is your ideas, solutions, and brand in form – the content.
Identity is your beliefs, assumptions and expectations “minus” the content (story, knowledge, thinking, form).
My granddaughters recently gave me a painting embedded with sea glass that we’d collected together. They know I love to get things they created and this was really nice since they’d made it together.
Emily, who is younger was especially intent on pointing out that she was the one who found the light purple piece in the center and that it was “very rare, Nano”. I remember the day we were on the beach searching and collecting. She wasn’t finding as many as me and Sam, her older sister, and she was getting frustrated. Just before we left she found the purple glass and I made a big deal about it. I was so proud of her for remembering and being sure she got the credit a whole year later.
And Samantha was equally impressive. She didn’t try to upstage Emily. As anyone with kids knows, that’s not how it always plays out. She could have just as likely said “you got the purple but look at all the dark blue I got so I’m even better, ha ha weirdo!” But Sam gave, and Emily accepted the credit naturally and with grace.
Since then I think a lot about credit which I’ve concluded is a greatly underrated factor in the probability of personal or cultural change success or failure. Last week, for example, I concluded that the issue of credit was the singly largest block to any kind of political change progress. Thanks to the girls I now accept that credit is part of a complex system of beliefs with which I’d completely, but unconsciously identified..for most of my life! That lack of awareness, of course, drove many of my responses and reactions to challenging job, sport, school, family and team experiences.
I wanted to share what I’d learned. A new model and accompanying presentation that I was developing for solo professionals and content creators interested in WordPress and innovative business models provided the venue.
Art and Idea Credit: Samantha Wynne & Emily Wynne, Artists / Entrepreneurs
“Enough with the content, its action that really matters”.
Content and action aren’t mutually exclusive. Content is directed movement (action) in form: written, audio and video.
I can’t think of any action that doesn’t correspond with content, including:
- communicating – stories
- meeting – recaps
- directing – strategy
- sharing – posts & comments
- teaching – course work
- designing – visuals
- preparing – notes
- helping – feedback
- marketing – web pages
- systematizing & processing – applications
- searching & researching – aggregated information
- presenting – shows
- entertaining – scripts
- playing – toys
I think this is very important for anyone just starting out, or struggling with content creation. Don’t buy into the myth that you’re sacrificing action for content. They’re hand in hand.
Title: hand in hand
Artist: Lumatic on flickr
I recently met some good friends, at a funky diner loved by rowers, for our annual holiday breakfast. One of us noticed a new menu item “Albanian Omelet”. We laughed about what it could be and I told them I was reminded of the great movie Wag the Dog about the government’s staging a fake war with Albania to distract the public from a presidential sex scandal.
Come to find out we all loved the movie and started to discuss the characters, actors and quotes. I talked about how my favorite was Dustin Hoffman as Hollywood producer Stanley Motss who, despite insane obstacles and setbacks, successfully creates just enough faked footage, music and hype to accomplish what he was hired to do: get the president re-elected. He considers it his finest work but when he discovers that he’ll never get the credit for it, he threatens to go public with the scheme and he’s assassinated.
Conrad ‘Connie’ Brean: Stanley, don’t do this. You’re playing with your life here.
Stanley Motss: F*** my life. I want the credit.
I told my friends that I think of that line all the time when I’m involved with emerging social business models, collaboration and sharing. How do you deal with “who gets the credit?” One of my friends, a biotech analyst, described how critical and challenging that exact question is in her company, industry and in the scientific community at large. It was great to get her insights. As soon as I got in my car I wrote a few notes about it on an index card under “blog idea”.
So why is this important? Because so many people think that they don’t have some mysterious “what it takes” to create unique and original ideas, solutions and content. I hear it all the time: “I’m missing the research, the talent, the skills, the time, the experience, the clients, the degree, the influencers…” Not true. All it takes is natural curiosity, conversations about anything and everything with everyone, love and excitement about how its all connected, playing around with metaphor, and a $2 pack of index cards.
Is it hard work? Sometimes, except when its fun and easy and you can stop pushing to make it happen and just let it happen.
I read Creating You & Company in 1999 when I was planning to leave my last real job and start my professional service firm as a solopreneur.
It was a great influence because it validated my sense that “having a job” was a worn out concept, signally that huge, disruptive shifts would take place in the world of work. It also supported my business model idea which was to offer services as products, which I call programs.
Recently, its occurred to me that professional service “products” need merchandising just like any other product. I know quite a bit about merchandising because I work part-time doing garden center merchandising as the liaison between the grower and the big-box stores.
Three fundamental merchandising concepts in garden center merchandising can be effectively applied to professional services:
Display – One of the first things I do when I take on a new store is to scan what product is out front in the main aisles and benches, and to look at what product is in the lot and in the back of the carts. Typically, there’s old stale product where people are shopping and fresh new product languishing where nobody can see it. Are you displaying your best solutions, ideas and content where your clients are are looking and shopping?
Consolidation – In the garden centers, I’m continually maximizing shelf space while at the same time grouping products for maximum appeal. The more I do it, the greater the capacity I develop for quickly scoping out very large areas, visualizing the end result, and figuring out the most efficient way to get that result. What are your opportunities to continually consolidate and group together your solutions, ideas and content so they “pop” when your clients are looking and shopping?
Culling – I’m surprised how difficult it is for people to get rid of product that’s no good. I think its mainly because they can’t make culling decisions by putting themselves in the customers’ shoes and asking themselves: “will I buy this?” Its a no excuses point of view. Prolific author Stephen King is a great culler and strongly advises that aspiring writers pay strict attention to culling:
..kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings. – Stephen King
Are you hanging on to boring or outdated solutions, ideas and content that are spoiling the overall appeal, and are holding back the growth and momentum of your professional service practice?
If these fundamental merchandising concepts make sense, and the questions hold some truth for you, this may be a good time to put aside the latest and greatest tools and technologies and merchandise your professional services. Inspiration is always available at your local garden center. If you need a good system, I love WordPress.
Concepts emerge, divide, converge and morph. SEO is a good example. At one point there were two distinct camps: the search engine optimization folks and the organic optimization folks. But now the distinction is blurred. Highly technically focused search engine businesses now evangelize organic content.
Content-marketing is another example. The convergence was faster. The concept was based on: make the content interesting, relevant, compelling, appealing and valuable to the reader, and people will find it, share it and want more from the producer. The cream will rise to the top. But now, companies are tightly connecting content with SEO tools, techniques and technologies. Tailor the content to what they know people search for, and sell the system to drive traffic.
Who knows what’s good or bad, right or wrong, or which way to go?
This makes life interesting for professional service firms. How do you differentiate and position your services when the needs, problems, solutions and competitors are shifting and morphing?
Think of it as the ultimate opportunity to be unique.
For example: I became aware at one point that people need help with “what they don’t know they don’t know” and really had a passion for that space. So over time, I developed a model based on that realization that’s helped guide my strategic and creative decisions and that’s resulted in solutions that clients value.
I suggest getting very clear on what’s always been important to you, what you stand for, what you have passion for, and what you’re enthusiastic about. Build your frameworks around those. Who knows, someday the next big concept could be yours.