The Reluctant Barber

My first job after B-school was at GE’s hulking Bridgeport Works in Connecticut. Time came to get my first haircut in my new locale. I had seen a barbershop seven or eight blocks from the plant. It wasn’t the best neighborhood, but it was such a spectacular September day that I loosened my tie and walked over during lunch break.

At the shop a man in a white barber’s jacket stood talking with another middle-aged man seated opposite the two barber chairs. As I swung the door open and walked in, both men looked startled — rattled, even.

“Can I help you?” the barber asked.

“Yeah, I need a haircut,” I said, stating what I thought was pretty obvious.

“Oh, oh… okay, young man, right over here. A haircut, yeah, we can get you in right now. No wait.” I seated myself and he put a pinstriped white cape over my shirt. Then he started circling me, scissors snipping the air, and sizing me up.

“You live around here?” he asked suspiciously.

“No. I work down the street at GE.”

“Oh, right at GE.” He seemed to relax a little. “Oh yeah, we get lots of guys from GE in here. Yeah, that’s a great company. My two uncles worked there for years. Yeah. A very good company. Very famous.” He slowly moved from snipping the air around my head to snipping the top and the sides of my hair. But these were the lightest of snips, removing just a few millimeters of hair. In those days I had a big mop of dark curly hair. He didn’t take off much more hair than my toddlers when they gave me pretend haircuts with their plastic toy scissors.

Ten minutes later, the charade was over. I paid him and was out the door. The two guys were visibly glad to see me go. That made three of us. As I walked back to work, I pondered the possibilities. A front for organized crime, certainly, but for what? Bookmaking? Something worse? Did they think I was an undercover cop? Did I just have a close call? Clearly, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, so to speak, and needed to do my homework.

Market Homework

Just like new places, a new market presents unfamiliar terrain. A different landscape and rules of the road can lead to rookie mistakes. Doing some homework can help you pick the right path, with lower risk – and less need for good luck.

I recommend that you conduct market research on what prospective clients need, and solicit their feedback on the service concepts you might bring them. If you know a market research pro who could do it for you, see if you can barter services as compensation.

  • Define your hypothesis for who your Great Fit Clients might be.
  • Develop an interview guide, with questions designed to bring out more detail about their issues and aspirations, how the status quo is negatively affecting them, and how urgently they want outside help in addressing their situation.
  • You can also include a description of your service concept so you can ask their reaction.
  • Develop a list of contacts in the appropriate roles in the organizations you’re targeting. Reach out to them, telling them that before you launch into the marketplace, you are looking for a reality test of your ideas. Ask for their candid input: “If I’m barking up the wrong tree, please do me the tremendous favor of telling me that. My feelings won’t be hurt.”

This upfront research can save you a lot of time and money by avoiding bunny trails.

If your business was good, but stalled out and you need to find a new market segment, take a look at Rainwerks’ Packaged to Prosper program.

If you’re new to consulting or business coaching, and want some guidance in finding your market strategy and preparing to do business, check out the Rainwerks program Start Me Up!


Bob Sherlock

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Posted in Find The Right Clients, Market Strategy

Market Discovery – Not Only for Startups

“When you offer something and it doesn’t fly even after it’s messaged well, the market is sending you a signal to try something else.”

Heard on ABC’s Shark Tank

Wish I could recall which of the “shark” investors gave that pithy advice to an entrepreneur on the show, one who’d worked tirelessly for several years, persistently trying to get sales but getting nowhere. It was spot-on perspective for that entrepreneur (and many others).

There’s a corollary: If you offer a service that did well for a while, but is now on a scary descent, the market may be sending you the same signal. Market discovery isn’t only for start-ups.

Persistence and grit are wonderful qualities. No entrepreneur or solopreneur succeeds without them. They’re necessary but not sufficient. You also need to know when to try something different.

It may not mean you need to go into an entirely different business. It may suffice to change one of the five variables we examine in the Marketplace Sweet Spot LocatorSM services I provide to my Marketwerks enterprise clients, as well as Rainwerks’ customers.

5 Decisions to Make to Revamp a Weaker Business Model

  1. Should you change or expand the customer types you serve?
  2. Should you change the problem solved?
  3. Should you create a new offering?
  4. Should you shift to a new operating or service delivery model?
  5. Should you shift to a new revenue model?

Try this thought experiment: Hold four of those decisions constant, and play with possibilities for one variable at a time. You’ll likely find possibilities for serving clients and growing revenue.

Let’s take the 3rd one as an example—playing with possibilities to offer something new. Sammie had a very active training business, but the number of companies having her come in to lead workshops declined. Turns out that her usual topic, once hot, had cooled off over time. Her clients still needed to develop their staff’s capabilities, but in new areas of knowledge and skill. That opened the way to fresh new programs, with the other four strategy decisions unchanged.

Sammie might also have considered playing around instead with #4.  Demand for her old topic declined, but didn’t disappear. She could have explored the use of online, self-paced training programs as an alternative way to deliver knowledge and build skills among clients’ personnel.

If your business was good, but stalled out, take a look at Rainwerks’ Packaged to Prosper program.

If you’re new to consulting or business coaching, and want some guidance in defining your strategy and preparing to do business, check out the Rainwerks program Start Me Up!

Bob Sherlock

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Posted in Find The Right Clients, Market Strategy, Package Your Services

Keeping Track of the Money in a Solo Service Business

Let’s say you’re launching a solo consulting or coaching practice. How can you budget and keep track of your revenue and expenses?

When I started my consulting firm, I saw three choices if I wanted to have my act together financially.

  • Hire a bookkeeper and delegate all financial details
  • Buy an expensive software package and invest the time to learn it
  • Create my own ad-hoc system for keeping track of the money

Now there’s another choice, a simple tool to help you keep your accountant informed and your money straight.

Take the Arrg! Out of Accounting

After ten years in marketing roles for big companies, followed by part-time consulting for nonprofits when her children were small, Michele Rath started a solo consulting practice and jumped in with both feet. She soon realized that she, too, needed a way to track her invoices, expenses and tax schedules.


Michele ran to the local big box office store and grabbed a gleaming box of high-priced, prepackaged, highly endorsed accounting software. She’d done her research, and this was the best one out there. It cost more (okay, way more!) than she wanted to spend at the time. Just starting out, she wanted to keep her operating expenses as low as possible.

Nevertheless, she rushed home and tore open the newly purchased package. She popped in the tutorial DVD and sat listening intently… for over two hours. Her eyes glazed over and she felt overwhelmed. A very complex and comprehensive package it was. But she had started a simple solo consultancy! The packaged software was way more than she needed, or wanted to spend time to learn. And at especially that point, time was money.

So she spoke with her accountant and fleshed out all the inputs he needed to properly file her tax return. Mindful of her expense budget, Michele wanted to minimize how much of his time she needed.

What you’ll see in the Take the Arrg! Out of Accounting workbook is the result of a few years of pulling in all the needed inputs for Michele’s accountant. These inputs and calculations kept her tuned in to her business expenses, and more importantly, her growing net income.

What About You?

Are you unsure of how you’ll get your revenues and expenses under control?

Would you like to turn tax time into a low-hassle event?

Check out Michele’s “Take the Arrg! Out of Accounting” product at Rainwerks.

Posted in Run Your Business, Startup & Launching

Freedom From Fear

“Poor kids have nothing to lose and nowhere to go but up.”

Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank, on why she loves backing entrepreneurs who grew up poor

I remember how it used to feel

Riding down old Two Mile Hill

Tennis shoes up on the handle bars

Paying no mind to the passing cars

No doubts, no fears…

Randy Travis, Look Heart, No Hands (Trey Bruce & Russell Smith)

A certain amount of fear is a healthy thing in business. It can encourage us to do our homework and avoid some disastrous outcomes.

On the other hand, unreasonable fear can keep us from taking reasonable risks in pursuit of worthy goals.

I’ve met quite a few people who’ve dreamed of starting their own service businesses, such as consultancies or coaching practices. In some cases, they’ve stayed working for large organizations because it felt safer. But is it really safer?

When you go work for an established organization, there is a certain security. While you’re there, the paychecks keep coming. But, and it’s a big but, it can end very suddenly. Whereas with your own service business, if you develop a set of clients you can have a more diversified income stream.

Starting a consulting or coaching firm isn’t for everyone. Still, if it’s something you’ve wanted to do but fear is holding you back, ask yourself:

What could you accomplish if you dared?

Climbing with a Rope

You can reduce your risk in preparing and launching your business.  If you want some guidance in defining your strategy and preparing to do business, check out Rainwerks’ programs Start Me Up! and Packaged to Prosper.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fee Discovery

Do you ever find yourself in tension with a prospective client over what your fees will be?

I’ve seen consultants make the mistake of viewing negotiation over fees as a win/lose, adversarial process.

In an illuminating blog post, small business advisor Andy Rockwood pointed out that the objective of a price negotiation is agreement:

“A negotiation is a fact-finding mission aimed at uncovering what the other side is trying to accomplish.  To do that, a skilled negotiator not only needs to ask smart, insightful questions, but also needs to listen intently to the answers.

“It’s important to understand what the other side is trying to do without getting hung up on how they’re trying to do it.  The “how” question is where the negotiating comes in.  If you clearly understand where they are trying to go, you can offer alternative ways for them to get there . . . ways that work for both of you.  For instance, let’s say you’re a supplier to a manufacturing company and they’re trying to get you to lower your price by 10%.  But through your clever questioning, you know their broader goal is to lower their manufacturing cost.  Beating you up over your price is simply the tactic they’re using to do that.  So you counter their demand for a reduced price by saying, “What if we can prove to you that by using our product, your equipment will be able to run faster, with less waste, and save you 15%?”  The trick is to keep everyone flexible and avoid letting anyone take a hard position.”

I’ve come to think of discussions about scope and fees as Fee Discovery—finding a combination of these that will work for both you and your client.

How to do that is central to my Rainwerks educational program, Pricing to Prosper. I encourage you to view my free video series, The Right Price. You can gain access by visiting, or call us at (866) 204-0432 to learn more.

Bob Sherlock

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Posted in Business Coaching Fees, Consultant Fees, Consulting Rates, Pricing

Unpacking Your Services

“Nobody walks by Mountain Crossings without stopping. The combination hostel and gear store and hiker aid station sits quite literally on the Appalachian Trail. Each year, up to 2,000 thru-hikers drop in. Some just pause to grab spare batteries and a Clif Bar. Many linger for a hot shower and a soft bunk. Others have no choice but to stop.

“Christine Serafin was one of the latter… on a raw morning last March, she limped into Mountain Crossings with a bum knee and an uncertain future. The would-be AT thru-hiker had just completed her first 30.6 miles–only 2,144 to go– and didn’t know if she could go on. One in six thru-hikers make it no farther, and Serafin feared her dream would end here, too… Winton Porter, proprietor and unofficial A.T. guru at Mountain Crossings, needed only one look to know that she was primed for the Mountain Crossings signature service: the Shakedown.”

Jim Gorman, Backpacker Magazine

“The Shakedown” pairs hikers with a staff expert who goes through their backpacks and helps them eliminate 10, 20, or even more pounds of excess weight. As a result, hikers vastly improve their chances of completing the Appalachian Trail—and enjoying it.

This valuable service is still free if you visit Mountain Crossings at the Georgia end of the A.T.

Here’s the exciting thing though: the store found a revenue opportunity by offering The Virtual Shakedown to hikers worldwide. An experienced staff member will spend up to four hours with you on a Google Hangout going through your gear and finding ways to eliminate unneeded items or substitute lighter ones. The charge is $100, which is rebated if you buy gear or supplies from them.

Mountain Crossings found a way to bring value to thousands of clients who’ll never walk through the door.

What service might you unpack from your usual services bundle that can extend your reach, and build your revenue?

What potentially valuable service are you providing prospects and clients, but not charging for?

What can you help your clients accomplish?

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Posted in Consultant Fees, Package Your Services, Pricing, Uncategorized

A Cure for Overthinking

“Nation’s Overthinkers Convene To Determine What That’s Supposed To Mean”

The Onion

Sure, there’s much to think about when starting a knowledge-based solopreneur business, or adjusting course for your existing business. But a simple question can move you a long way toward developing a successful strategy—without overthinking it.

Who has a thorny problem you are well suited to solve?

Grab pen and paper or your favorite electronic device, and break that question down:

The Problem

Describe the nature of the problem, and note the consequences if it goes unsolved.


Define who has that problem. Assuming it’s an organization, list the people or job roles affected by that problem. Now note who would be in a position to bring you in to help them solve it.


Outline your solution, how it resolves the problem, and why engaging you would be a great choice.

Your answer to “Who has a thorny problem you are well suited to solve?” will provide you the focus and messaging for your marketing and business development. If enough people/organizations have that problem and see you as a great solution partner, your life as a solopreneur can be very good indeed.

Want some guidance in defining your strategy and preparing to do business? Check out Rainwerks programs Start Me Up! and Packaged to Prosper.

Posted in Uncategorized