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What are you doing to build credibility?

What are you doing to build credibility?

After being in this line of business for 9 years, I often come across people just starting out and their enthusiasm is contagious, their vigour to make a break with their past equally strong. I have to admit I also made the same mistake and I am moving away from old beliefs on it. If you are about to set off on a major career change, whether it is a completely new industry, a new skill, etc… you may well relate to this or have even done the same, namely ignoring or hiding your previous knowledge and skills.

To support myself through college I worked in call centres and having a few languages up to fluency level is very handy, but in order to find a career in management consultancy I originally had to hide those talents to be even considered for business jobs. So that strategy worked for me in building a career in change management.

When I originally started my business and had my first website designed, I nearly had my full cv posted as part of my profile. Initially it was one of the reasons why people bought from me, then over time I felt the results with clients spoke louder and testimonials started replacing the full pofile, because I felt in the end of the day that is what matters.

However when I teach graduates of coaching courses i am always fascinated at how desperate they don’t want to be known for their previous career and completely rule out any connection with it. For most of them thought hey also forget that it is in those previous skills that they have a niche market, which can be potentially very lucrative and if you have read the book ‘The long tail’ all you want is a niche an inch wide and a mile deep or the tail end of the bell curve. Most people in the professional service industry tend to want to be all things to all potential customers, that way you definitely become a wandering generality with probably an equally wandering income.

In the last number of months I have been busy tailoring my market offering more specifically and splitting the business into 3 distinct niches with different demands and matching price and service levels. Regular followers of my blog would also have noticed I put up some more information about my credentials and career as an entrepreneur as well as before then. It is my way of going back to basics, especially when the basics are what sold in the first place.

Obviously my blogposts will build on my credibility, the articles that are published in business magazines and the snippets of wisdom that make onto tv and radio equally give further recognition.When you know me a bit better, you will also realise that for most of my achievements to date, I would see them as in the past, they were enjoyable and I am proud of them, yet my focus is on the future and where to next. I also recognise this pattern with a lot of my high achieving clients, who often hit massive goals and immediately focus on ‘next’. If this sounds very familiar then my advice is to start building a public list of achievements, so other people can buy you for what you are worth based on previous knowledge, experience, skills and credibility, as well as what you can deliver for them.

In the social media age, managing your reputation and uniqueness is going to be increasingly vital. If you are in the service business right now or looking to be upwardly mobile in your company or industry, then it is time to start building an online profile that you manage pro-actively. You largely control what goes out on your website, blog, linkedin profile and to some extent Facebook also. If you want to be a somebody going forward and Google can’t find you (apart from having a name that you share with lots of other people), then you are missing the mark and credibility factor. If you do share your first and last name with a lot of other people, you then need to become creative either with middle letters or short descriptors that truly state who you are such as for example ‘An -the coach- Coppens.

What else can you do right now, to build your credibility?

I asked myself that question and I am pursuing a goal of doing advanced research into entrepreneurial performance, so that I can become the go-to expert in this field which to me is an extension and deepening of the knowledge I have in my business only I will have more researched findings to back it up. Same focus, same business, just more researched and potentially way more effective.

Theory of evolution: the perception of success and comparing ourselves against benchmark reference points

Theory of evolution: the perception of success and comparing ourselves against benchmark reference points

Last week I was delivering training to sales agents in an IT company and we had a bit of fun trying to come up with innovative ways of describing virtualisation and things like cloud computing to people that have absolutely no technical grounding, understanding or background. We came up with some real fun pizza oven examples in addition to the existing laundry analogy from a few weeks prior; but at the same time it hit me that when we mention success we actually hit the same conceptual misunderstanding as virtualisation and cloud computing.

Think about it… what does success mean to you? Ask another 5 people that you know and they may all have a different definition and opinion of what it means for them. In actual fact I even think virtualisation has a more defined description than success for that matter. As I have been coaching clients this week with the start of a new year being a topical time for new goals and re-visiting of old goals, I also came accross a good few success stories.

One client doubled his income in what is called a recession and his is based on turnover alone and not just thanks to cost-savings and staff re-adjustments. Another client managed to remain calm and in control throughout a period of extreme conflict in her personal and business life. A person returning to work after an extended health related break due to bullying in the workplace managed to hold their first team meeting in a productive manner. A start-up client took redundancy and has hit the ground running in a completely new line of work.

This is just a flavour of what my clients call success. Today I had another interesting discussion about it with a client. She asked me is it just these days that we are so much more aware of what we don’t have that we have this consistent need to achieve and change etc.? When I spent a few minutes thinking about it, I have to say we or better the human race probably always had reference points and pecking orders even in tribal days. Debating it even further we actually concluded that even in animal tribes this exists and that there is an innate drive to achieve or ‘become the leader of the pack’. Our acceptance or rejection levels of leadership have in my view definitely changed, but I do believe we all came with an inborn need to achieve, why else would we bother to learn anything more than pure survival skills?

Going back to success as a concept for a business owner this once again has to be observed within the confines of a market place, an industry, the internal resources available, personal skills of the owner, etc.. So for a solopreneur in the service business global domination may not be the most realistic goal without team development, however they can probably achieve local leadership in the local market place. As one of my clients put it: ‘do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?’

With all the pressure and overuse of the terms ‘goals’ and ‘new year resolutions’, I am asking all of my clients this year to pick one overal reason for existing in their business segment. What is your one big mission and purpose for doing what you do? Why are you here? Gone are the days where I encouraged people to look at all areas of their life and set equally big targets in each of them, most of them ended up disappointed. So I decided a few years ago to go back to basics with clients and help them set goals for as many areas as they felt were important and then to narrow it down to 1 or 2 key focus targets, which is easy to manage and deliver on. When thy achieve one, then I ask them to celebrate and move on to the next most important one or a new one as priorities often change over time and circumstances.

After the 1 big target has been chosen the actions to go with it become even easier to distill and staying on track is simpler to manage for the individual. It is also amazing when you set your sails to one destination how other random distractions become irrelevant.

My big target for this year is to be known to deliver results with clients in the professional service industry. What is your 1 big aim for 2010?

Integrity and too much information, where is the line?

Integrity and too much information, where is the line?

Where is the fine line with sharing what you really feel and think and giving too much information? Over the years I have often wondered about this and with integrity as one of my core values, I have often been told that I am too open and share too much information. I am not ashamed of my past experiences, so why can’t I speak about them freely or when I am having a particularly difficult time share that side too, as well as my quirky ideas of the way the world should ideally function for good measure. 

With social networks like facebook and twitter and the very fact of having a blog is sharing a good or a bad thing?To be honest I am a little on the fence on this one. I have often shared openly in what should have been a protected and safe environment and it has been leaked out and made public, occassionally I have held back on my true thoughts or kept them very private. Either way wasn’t comfortable.

Fundamentally, I don’t see how sharing my true thoughs and feelings is damaging, I would obviously not recommend to go slating another person, but I would often openly disagree with what people say or do. Equally people disagree with me and I find that stimulating and good that we have differences of opinions and different life stories that shape us and our action, thoughts, behaviours, etc..

My story has been interesting, so far with lots of good experiences and some horribly bad ones too, to only express the good would be to pretend the bad didn’t happen and to only express the bad would equally suggest the good didn’t exist. So why is it wrong in society to mention the bad stuff as soon as you are associated with the coaching industry?

Then my next question really is are we just socially conditioned to only share what is reasonable to share, so that you don’t taint the squeaky clean image people may have of you as an ‘expert’? Or can you fully be yourself and be respected for it? Or should an expert be manufactured and cleaned up to suit the PR glossy perspective?

Actually as I wrote this paragraph two people jumped to mind Richard Branson and Jordan. Both don’t seem to care much what other people think, only one uses PR blatantly for self-promotion no matter how bad or ugly she is portrayed and the other is more strategic with quirky pr stunts and whilst he has an air of not caring, a lot of the persona is private and again that could also be a strategy.

I had an interesting conversation about this with a friend at the weekend. I am known for my rather direct style and I do have strong opinions, more and more I let them out, but he felt I didn’t really show that side strongly enough in most of my marketing for business. I found that fascinating. I am prone to ranting on about things, sometimes very relevant and sometimes just hobby horse topics. I do self-censor what goes up on blogs and social media quite a bit, the real ranty, off the wall stuff goes in my journals instead, but occassionally something slips through particularly on facebook and I have received comments from people on it.

As an expert on work/life balance I do sometimes deal with stress in my life, the balance goes out of control and my time management can at times be improved. As long as I am aware of it and do my best to counteract or recover from it, then this is only a reflection of the human condition. The day I am perfect, is the day they put me 6 feet under because nothing will improve from there. The best I can give as a human being is the best any given moment of any given day has to offer (sometimes that is not a lot nor always positive).

I do find it testing to read and hear updates of the self-help industry, which are always perfect and if they are not having a good day then they resort to quotes on their twitter or facebook updates. Come on! If I wanted a quote, I would look it up, thank you. What is a wrong with being a human being warts and all? It isn’t because you are in self-development or other that all of a sudden all your challenges disappeared, they may have given you a different perspective on life and I am glad to hear yours, but to only send positive, cheery squeaky clean messages all of the time would make me question your integrity (and that could be just me).

Sometimes the shiny happy perfect image is a marketing ploy, to make you feel all the less perfect and to encourage you to hire them as a trainer, coach or other? I enjoy learning from people that are ahead of me in business either in terms of knowledge or results, I will remain a loyal supporter as long as there is a level honesty and integrity about them. When I discover that it is a pretend strategy used for selling, then I lose respect, I may still like your teachings and theory, but will make up my own mind whether I like you as a person (sometimes I like the person, just not the theory too).

I have worked for companies that managed their messaging so much that the bad would be liable for immediate dismissal and in the extreme court cases even, that to me is going too far. If you have to go that far to create a particular image, then what are your truly trying to hide???

I am grateful for the happy clappy cheerful brigade and grateful for the doom and gloomers, somewhere between those two I believe is human and where I live. What about you?

Is marketing lying?

Is marketing lying?

As a marketing graduate, this question was triggered by a facebook response on a marketing mailshot campaign, so here is the background: I received a mailshot from a company, which claimed I was in the 1% of special people to receive this e-mail and promotion, later that day I spoke to a client and he asked me are you also in the 1% of special people, which I could only confirm and I am sure a good few thousands of others were on the same mailshot. I then raised the question on facebook whether this was a form of deception, false advertising, me being cynical or just marketing lies? One of my facebook friends responded that all marketers are liars, so that prompted this blog post and question.

When I give workshops to professional service start-ups, they often ask whether they should fabricate their testimonial section and come up with some good stories. Personally I totally and fundamentally disagree with this approach and would recommend that people work on getting experience and results in what they do and then look for real testimonials. However I am aware that some marketing guru’s may recommend and utilise his approach. It is very much a value call, whether you remain truthful or not, but it does raise the following questions for me: What is the net gain? What else are you lying about? What if you don’t live up to the story? What if people find out after that it was fabricated?

Coming back to the original mailshot that triggered this line of reflection, I actually ignored the message as soon as I read you are in the 1% of special people that have received this e-mail. In my own mind, I had already smirked: ‘yes me and all the others who happen to be on your database’ and I had stopped reading and deleted the mail. Have I read too many empty promises or marketing lies to be de-sensitised by this or the opposite does it start the anti-craze in me? I wouldn’t mind but that particular company have a lot of great products that I would recommend, however this campain I feel was off the mark and outright wrong. It is now a standing joke, that me and some of my clients are in the top 1% of special people; I guess if you take the world population we probably are in the top 1%.

It does show that what you say in your marketing is important and that if you have buyers that value integrity and honesty, you may actually lose them as potential clients by sending them lies or far fetched stretches of the truth.

I don’t think every single marketer lies, but I do believe marketing often stretches and is liberal with the truth. In professional services I would say be careful where you draw the line and make sure you are willing to stand over and prove what you have sent out as marketing. A prospect that buys from you based on stretched truth and subsequently doesn’t receive the result they were after, will be come an anti-prospect. Usually you don’t have unlimited chances to redeem yourself and prove you are worth every penny they paid for their service.

We receive hundreds of maketing messages every single day, since you got up this morning just have a quick re-visit: did you turn the radio on, have you opened a newspaper, social networking site, e-mail box, watched tv, received phone messages? How many of these were marketing messages? Now reverse it, how many marketing messages have you already sent today? Did you speak to people in person, on the phone, by e-mail, letter, have you actively looked for more business?

Most of us are consistently marketing ‘brand me’ in our actions, communications and equally in what we don’t do. In professional services people interested in buying from you will make assumptions and create perceptions that may be totally unfounded and not at all based on facts, yet vital in the decision making process of whether to buy from you or not. I know when I give talks that some people will like me for being direct and others will not, my clients feel that is one of my critical and unique sellign points. As a coach I would be doing them a dis-service by not pointing out what I believe is obvious, when their words and actions don’t match. As an accountant, when the profit and loss account screams minus figures, you are rarely going to say to a client, that they are doing a great job, you will be looking for strategies from them to get out of minus figures.

The kind of marketing I like and recommend for service businesses is when it is kept real. Not everyone will be the number 1 company in their chosen field and if you are not there yet, whilst it may be your ambition, my advice would be to keep it real, put the ambition on the goals list and when you reach number 1 then use it in marketing. It is rare to have a 100% success rate with every single client, so only promote a real percentage, anything above 80% is high and good.

When you are marketing your expertise and choose to write a blog or articles, then let us know your opinions and how you think things should make difference. If all you are doing is regurgitating someone else’s textbook, then just give me the reference to the original, I would rather read this and write your opinion on their book as a recommendation. Give people an opportunity to chose your ideas as the ones they want to learn more of.

Recently I came accross another blog and the teaser headline was good and drew my attention, when I read it all I found it was just a sales pitch for a workshop that was going to tell me the secrets, which the blog was supposed to have revealed in the first place. That didn’t instil me with any confidence that I was actually ever going to find out. In actual fact I commented and asked the question what the secrets were and apart from a rather defensive response from the original writer, I was still none the wiser. In my view I had given the author an opportunity to create an interesting debate about his chosen topic, we don’t all have to have the same opinion, but at least have one. So again opportunity missed.

I don’t know if from time to time you also sign up to great internet marketing offers and newsletters, I actually have a dedicate gmail account for newsletters purely because I know I have unleashed a marketing barrage of information. I believe newsletters are a great way of promoting your professional service as long as you give good information, but as soon as they start resembling pure sales and marketing copy I tune out and often unsubscribe. If I remain a follower it is usually for market research purposes as opposed to buying purposes, you have to know what your competition is doing.

Often rookie marketers and entrepreneurs, swipe and borrow good copy from those that have proven themselves in their field and apart from offering the same service but cheaper, you can nearly track back the source of their market research. If you are thinking the mile long 1 page e-mail marketing letter with 7 testimonials and 5 bonuses and the limited time price offer on it, works for professional services, I would seriously suggest to think again. I have very rarely seen this work, however regular free valuable advice then followed by a limited time offer, that I have seen work in the service industry.

Become known for what you do and what you offer and create an interest with your target market, which ultimately is what marketing is about. What are your actions and communication saying about you that people can get to know you, like you and trust you. At least make your message unique to you and difficult to duplicate. If you have a strong opinion, the next person can agree or disagree, but it is very hard to copy it without it being trace-able.

In this marketing age, where an image is so easily built up and open for the world to see, keeping it real is essential (that’s my opinion anyway). If you can make the marketing message yours and uniquely yours, if you are looking to become the recommended expert in your chosen area then do share your opinion, the more contentious the bigger chance of it being read and it sticking to you. In any case you will win some and lose some, but you don’t have to lie in order to be a good marketer, that remains a value choice.

The triple A of emergency management

The triple A of emergency management

With the recent floodings in Ireland and the UK, I have been pondering on the topic of crisis management quite a bit, because my heart goes out to all the people whose home and business has been destroyed by flooding. Having walked barefooted through kneedeep water really being the extent of the personal effect it has had on me and the B/Right businesses, I really can’t imaging the emotional turmoil entrepreneurs go through when their business becomes flooded with water. If you follow me on facebook you can see for yourself how much devastation was caused in Cork, but I believe a lot of cities throughout Ireland and the Uk had an even bigger flood to deal with than here.

To bring it back to business though, what can you really do when this happens? We came up with the triple A formula for emergency management:
A1 – Assess the damage and what is left
A2 – Analyse your options
A3 – Adopt a plan of action

Let’s look at each step in a little more detail.

When the water retreats, to take the flooding as the core example throughout, seen that it will be relevant to quite a number of people, the first step is to return to the premises and see what is left, what was saved and what is irretrievable. If you are insured it is important to make sure the loss adjuster sees it in the state you found it. At this stage the key is to inventorise everything that you have lost or will be beyond repair as a result of the water damage, the next phase then is to make list of potentially retrievable items and to make sure those items that weren’t damaged are put aside in a dry room, so that the clean up will not cause any further damage. Then the cleaning up part starts…

After you have finished cleaning up and clearing out the damaged floors, furniture and other equipment or stock, that’s when you will truly realise the extent of where the business is at. This is when you start looking at the hard questions: how much will it cost to replace everything, is it an opportunity to change, do we have to close, what will it take to start again, do we keep our staff, are orders damaged, etc..

Once you have a clear picture of the actual damage done, it is then a case of analysing your options. You will still have options no matter how bleak the picture looks. With an uncertain economy it may well mean closing your business or relaunching it with completely different offerings or even completely online? The key is to brainstorm ideas with all the key decision makers in the room and to also seek input from suppliers (will they be supportive, etc.) , employees and customers. You can use the floods as an opportunity to completely change your business and make improvements you may only have been contemplating before. In a way it is a white wash or a clean slate (if the water analogy is too close to home), so there is opportunity in this. My advice would be to have as many options on the table as possible and then one by one examine them for ease of implementation, real cost and benefit.

Factors to look at when examining your options are whether as soon as possible is a realistic time frame to re-open and if you are in retail and need to re-open after Christmas what will that mean in terms of business missed, what is the minimum and ideal you need to be back in business in a small time frame, how can you minimise costs of repair, are you able to start back on a shoestring? A lot of questioning will be the name of the game, in this economy I would say only move forward when you have an actual realistic plan in place, which includes numbers and campaigns to recover the losses made. This business plan can serve a double purpose namely as your action plan, but equally to go to the bank and state your case in the hope that they do live up to the promise of supporting businesses after they have been bailed out.

The final step in the triple A approach is to pick your course and take action. Implement your plan and look at it as if you are starting a brand new business. Remember the days when you started out first time and how exciting it was, well do your best to re-invigorate yourself and your staff with this new positive clean start type of energy. It is only through hard work and regular action that business have survived. If you think of all the multi-millionaire stories, all of them have seen hardship at one point or other.

We wish you all the support and belief you need to succeed and if you are running low on either of those, we know some great coaches that can help you through.