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

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