Fall in Love with the Problem You Solve

Don’t fall in love with your solution – fall in love with the problem you solve, says Brad Smith of Intuit.

When it comes to attracting the interest of potential clients, I would add “Fall in love with messaging to the problem you solve.”

It’s natural to fall into the trap of wanting to tell prospective clients about our qualifications, our methodologies, our past successes, and the like. True prospective clients will want to know about those things. But not in the first part of a marketing or sales conversation.

Instead, it’s better to open with discussing who you’re well-suited to helping—and the problem or aspiration they have for which engaging you would be the ideal solution.

For example, in my consulting practice I work with executives of manufacturing and B2B services companies who are concerned about customers who prioritize price over value. They increasingly face the issue of their services and products being “commoditized” by their prospects and customers. This squeezes their prices and erodes margins.

Whether in marketing messages or selling conversations, I want to focus the initial discussion on the problem and the consequences for them.

If the problem is relevant, then certainly we’ll move the conversation to how I can help them stop commoditization. We can then move on to the high-value outcome: getting paid what their solutions are really worth—and attracting customers willing to pay more when they see value.

Messaging to the Problem You Solve is a common theme in two Rainwerks programs: Packaged to Prosper and Pricing to Prosper.

For more information about Packaged to Prosper, follow this link.

Bob Sherlock

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Failure to Accumulate

“What we have here is a failure to accumulate.”

Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney)

It’s tough to accumulate the money your business needs, and that you need, if you’re undervaluing yourself and your work.

Unfortunately, that’s all too common whether you’re new to consulting and coaching, or a veteran.

What can you do about it?

At Rainwerks, we’ve produced a free video series where we show why underpricing your services is so common, and show you ways to avoid setting your prices too low.

To learn how to confidently charge what you are worth, we invite you to access our free video series, The Right Price. You can sign up here.

Bob Sherlock

Posted in Consultant Fees, Consulting Rates, Pricing

3 Tips for Launching a Consulting or Business Coaching Practice

So you’ve had a good career, but got tired of working for established companies with all their internal politics and hassles. You’re taking the set of skills you’ve built and launching a consulting or business coaching practice. Now begins a set of decisions and actions that may be new for you.

Here are three tips for preparation and launch of your new business:

  • Do a reality check to make sure that consulting or business coaching will be suitable for you at this time. For many of us, it’s a wonderful way to make a living—but it’s not for everyone.

Rainwerks offers a free guide that’ll help you decide if you’re on the right path. Information on “Is Consulting Right for You?” is available at https://rainwerks.com/is-consulting-right-for-you.

  • Define who you’ll serve and the challenge you’ll help them solve. The more clearly you define these, the more quickly you can expect to succeed.  This can take some research. Make sure that prospective clients are exhibiting more than polite, lukewarm interest. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you hear confirmation that prospective clients see the challenge you describe as relevant, important and urgent. And you’ll hear them ask questions that indicate they’re figuring out what working together might look like, and seeking evidence that your solution works.

If you haven’t done research and strategy of this sort, check out Rainwerks’ Packaged to Prosper program. https://rainwerks.com/packaged-to-prosper.

  • Thoroughly plan the administrative aspects of your business. You have some important decisions to make. Should you incorporate, and if so, which form of corporation or partnership? How do you register your company with various levels of government? What about insurance? What are your options for setting up a website? How do you structure your proposals? What’s required to handle client agreements, billing and collections?

There’s a lot to think about and prepare. At Rainwerks, we’ve identified 24 business functions that you’ll need to put in place. Some of these you can delegate, but you do need a plan for handling them. Some items are essential to set up in your earliest weeks in business. With others, you can wait a bit.

Learn more about Rainwerks’ Start Me Up! guide at https://rainwerks.com/start-me-up

Bob Sherlock

Posted in Find The Right Clients, Run Your Business, Startup & Launching

Don’t be a Chameleon

“I’ve never seen a chameleon. Good job, chameleons.”                          @donni

As a consultant or business coach, you would never intentionally blend into the background blur of images and information passing by your prospects. But are you doing that inadvertently?

When You Need More Opportunities

It can be quite difficult to develop a steady stream of business without finding a sweet spot – providing clients something they perceive they need and will pay for, that you’re skilled in and love doing. Without a clear and simple definition of where you fit and why you’re valuable, it’s tough to build word of mouth and referrals, and even harder to proactively market yourself.

You may be held back by not knowing:

  • Which market(s) would be most promising
  • Which of the services and solutions you could offer would help clients solve their pressing challenges
  • Who the most promising prospects are
  • How to position yourself and tell a clear, compelling value story

You can discover a space in the market that works for you! You can define and adapt the services you offer to fit what a big enough stream of clients will pay you well to do. You can also avoid the chameleon trick, and stand out in prospects and clients’ minds.

In Rainwerks’ Packaged to Prosper program, we’ll work on three decisions that define your strategy “sweet spot”:

  1. The client types you serve
  2. The services and solutions you provide
  3. Your business model (how you deliver those services and make money)

… and we’ll develop a positioning and messaging that makes you stand out in your marketplace.

To learn more about Rainwerks’ Packaged to Prosper program, visit https://rainwerks.com/packaged-to-prosper.

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Find New Consulting Markets

In a poll, 88% of American adults considered themselves above-average drivers. I used to be one of them. San Francisco hills with a stickshift, LA freeways, NYC taxi derby, Boston’s competitive merges—no problem. When driving in other lands, however, my self-assessment might drop a few notches.

Late Saturday morning in a charming city in France, with its magnificent cathedral and narrow old streets.  Andy, Mike and I had finished work at our client site nearby, and toured a little before going home. The time came to head back. I turned our rental car left down the hill below the cathedral… only to crawl through people by the dozens walking in the street and parting the way for us reluctantly. After a few blocks of this, and seeing no other cars moving, we wondered if we had missed a “Do Not Enter” sign.

Our finely-tuned instincts eventually got us thinking maybe we should turn onto another street. Arriving at a major intersection, we saw signs indicating no turns allowed. Okay, so we’ll go straight. But after pulling into the intersection, we noticed that the way ahead was barred by a sturdy steel bollard at the entrance to the next block. Can’t go left. Can’t go right. Can’t go straight. And look, we seem to be on light rail tracks… with a train bearing down on us. Yikes.

So, do we back up and hope we hit no one?  Make an illegal turn and drive along the tracks away from the tram?  Stay put, and hope it stops in time?

The guys spotted some space to the right of the bollard, where we might have to climb the curb but could get our minivan off the tracks. We went for it. Then the unexpected happened.  When we came within several yards of the bollard, a sensor caused the bollard to drop into the ground and opened the way ahead. I hit the gas pedal and we flew into the clear.

Navigating Unfamiliar Terrain

Just like new places, a new market presents unfamiliar terrain where the 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.

If you’re contemplating expansion into a less-familiar market space, the following tips may be helpful.

  1. Start with a self-assessment

Figuring out who really needs your services and solutions starts with a self-assessment of your business.  Think deeply about what you’re really good at helping clients accomplish.

The purpose of this business self-assessment is to highlight possible market opportunities – problems that executives and companies would likely pay to solve, for which you’d be a great solution.

  1. Look for where there’s room to stand out in the market

Conduct Market Research on what prospective clients need and solicit feedback on the service concept you might bring them. After developing a hypothesis or hypotheses for who your most promising prospects may be, conduct some research or a pilot test in order to find out:

  • How much do decision-makers care about the problem or aspiration for which you are the solution?
  • How likely are they to spend money with you to address it?

Your research will help you in a couple of major ways.

One, it’ll help you determine if there’s really interest in spending money on the problem you envision solving and on the solution you plan to offer.

And, it’ll help you with your communications so that prospective clients become acutely aware that they need you.

  1. Assess the Payoff vs. Risk.

Does the potential market look big enough? What’re the time and money investment required? What earnings can you expect? Does a win look like it’ll be financially worthwhile?

 You can find your market and position yourself more quickly with the right tools and coaching. Our Packaged to Prosper program helps consultants and business coaches identify what makes them special, crisply define the valuable services they provide, and find the clients that most need their services. We invite you to access our free video, 3 Strategies for Finding Your Ideal Market. It’s drawn from the lessons of the Packaged to Prosper program.

Here’s to your success!

Bob Sherlock

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The Element of Surprise

At another company fifteen years ago, I needed to engage someone to design a marketing brochure and other collateral. Several small firms and soloists came in, presented their portfolios, and answered our questions.

In all cases, the work they’d done for prior clients was quite good. Their fees were in a pretty tight range. We liked all of them personally. It was tough to pick. My team and I chose one gentleman—let’s call him Paul—who gave us a sense of comfort and confidence.

As our project progressed, though, we were wowed by how Paul approached our work and how much value he added. Along with his design skills, he had a talent for story—and he dragged a much better story out of us than the one we were telling the market. Paul had developed a unique process for doing that, and another innovative method for jointly arriving at the crucial design decisions. These were crucial to our great results.

At the time we were getting acquainted and making our decision, Paul explained none of that. Had we known, he would have been the obvious choice (and we’d have happily paid more to work with him).

You’ve likely heard the expression, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.” It’s common that we’re so busy applying our strengths to other people’s businesses that we overlook doing the same for our own business. Or we get so close to our own business that we can’t see it through the fresh eyes of a prospective client. Paul was omitting from his own story what made him so special and capable. (I don’t mean to throw stones here; I’ve been the cobbler myself. That’s why I’ve learned to periodically go outside for strategy and marketing communications help.)

The Element of Surprise Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Paul had what I call “differentiation in fact,” but did not establish perceived differentiation at the time of our buying decision.

The element of surprise is a good thing in business when it adds a dollop of delight to a service experience. It’s not so good when the prospective client is left unaware of a supplier’s uniquely high value at purchase decision time.

In the case I mentioned above, we and Paul got lucky. But we came this close to losing his really valuable contributions, and he came close to losing an assignment that he wanted and needed. (Not to mention the referrals we later sent his way.) His fees also stayed well below what he was really worth.

Can you relate?

Getting Your Value Recognized

So if your business has “differentiation in fact,” how can you achieve perceived differentiation?

  1. List out everything you provide when working with your clients. Look all around the customer experience to identify other services you perform. Your differentiation may stem from what surrounds your core service. For example, if you implement things for your clients, you may also advise (or vice versa). So look at your business overall, not just at the specific product/service solution. Ask past clients why they think someone would rightly choose your business over a competing provider.
  2. Think about the so-what of working with your company and receiving your solution. What is the prospect’s situation before they work with you? How painful is the status quo? Why is it painful? What future state would they like? Where can you bring them? As keynote speaker Paul B. Evans says, from “unhappy to happy—that’s what people want.” Achieving perceived differentiation needn’t always explicitly spell out how you are different than your competitors. It’s often enough to do a far superior job of communicating that you understand where the prospect is now (unhappy with a situation) and where you can bring them (happy with their new situation).
  3. If your business clients experience a financial benefit as a result of working with you, develop an Economic Value Story. What effects can you typically bring to their income statement—do they achieve higher sales, or lower costs? What about the effect on their balance sheet—do you help them reduce the assets required in their business, or help them lever up? Spell out the effects that your work can typically have, and estimate what that’s worth so you can make Economic Value part of your story.

I hope those three ideas will help you if prospects aren’t recognizing you for the special value you bring. Not getting your value recognized means that you’re not having enough prospects seek you out and accept meetings, and too often competing on price.

Or maybe you don’t see yourself having the time or skills to tackle this on your own. What if you could have help in achieving these outcomes:

  • Clearly defined, compelling reasons to do business with you
  • Unique positioning that differentiates your company
  • Your sales team prepared to communicate your value proposition
  • More prospects find you or accept meetings (even if they’re satisfied with their current suppliers)
  • Clear criteria for prospects who’ll be the best fit
  • Customers choosing you even when you’re not the lowest priced
  • Profitably grow your sales

For more information on how we might help, please visit Packaged to Prosper.

Bob Sherlock

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The “Easy” Reach

As a young climber in the Alps for the first time, I was puzzled to find thick nylon ropes attached to the rock along certain popular routes. I was told that the local mountain guides had affixed them to make it faster and safer to get their clients up and down the cliffs.

As an American accustomed to cliffs in New England where I’d never seen a fixed rope, I found their presence in the Alps disorienting—and really tempting when the going got tough. If the natural holds on the cliff were tiny or scant, it was tempting to just reach over and grab the fixed rope. It looked so easy!

My buddy and I resisted the temptation. Not that we wouldn’t have used the fixed ropes in an emergency, but we took a little pride in climbing the old-fashioned way.

We learned soon of another reason to forsake the fixed ropes. We were having beers with other climbers one evening, and heard about a seasoned climber who fell to his death when the fixed rope he was relying on broke.

There’s an analogy here for independent consultants and entrepreneurs. What seems like the safe and easy choice (e.g. going back to working for a well-established organization) isn’t always so safe. What you’re doing in launching or maintaining your independent business is not easy, and often scary. But working for big companies has its risks, too. Many secure-seeming jobs are one restructuring, merger or acquisition away from elimination.

Since you can diversify your client base, you actually have the opportunity for a safer stream of income than if you worked full-time for a single organization.

You can grow your income stream faster and with more diversification with the right tools and coaching. Our Packaged to Prosper program helps consultants and business coaches identify what makes them special, crisply define the valuable services they provide, and find the clients that most need their services. We invite you to access our free video, 3 Strategies for Finding Your Ideal Market. It’s drawn from the lessons of the Packaged to Prosper program.

If you’re determined to grow your business, and not grab for the apparent easy security of a corporate job, don’t give up!

Bob Sherlock

Posted in Find The Right Clients