Friday, February 29

Weird ideas for professional services firms 

"A weird idea works because it trips discomfort. The idea is
to flip from autopilot to mindful creation. "
-- Robert Sutton

"I'm not happy unless I'm uncomfortable. "
-- Jay Chiat

The one thing that you can safely say about innovation, change, and new ideas in business is that they make people uncomfortable. They're threatening. They seem weird. They don't belong "here."

People who are in touch with their creative resources understand - and even welcome - this discomfort, as Jay Chiat does.

In Robert Sutton's book, Weird Ideas That Work, he explores the connections between "weird" ideas, innovation, and business success.

Here are some of his weird ideas on getting the right people on board to make innovation happen in order to move your business forward:

Weird Idea #1: Hire people with a special kind of stupidity or stubbornness - who avoid, ignore, or reject how things are "supposed to be done around here."

Weird Idea #1½: Hire people who make you uncomfortable - even those whom you dislike. Then take extra care to listen to their ideas.

Weird Idea #2: Hire people whom you (probably) don't need. Interview and occasionally hire interesting or strange people with skills you don't need at the moment - and might
never need.

Ask them how they can help you. You might be surprised.

Weird Idea #3: Use job interviews to get new ideas, not just to screen candidates.

Give job candidates problems that you can't solve.

Listen as much as you can. Talk as little as you can.

Weird Idea #4: Encourage people to ignore superiors and peers. Hire defiant outsiders.

Rather than teaching newcomers about company history or procedure, have the newcomers teach the old-timers how to think and act.

Encourage people to drive you crazy by doing what they think is right rather than what they are told.

Weird Idea #5: Find happy people, and let them fight. If you want innovation, you need upbeat people who know the right way to battle.

Avoid conflict during the earliest stages of the creative process, but encourage people to productively "fight" over ideas in the intermediate stages.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. "
-- Hunter S. Thompson

Thursday, February 28

Branding for professional services firms 

Branding is everything - and I mean everything.
-- Scott Bedbury

Branding is overrated.
-- Regis McKenna

I'm going to go with Regis McKenna on this one.

There is so much hot air being blown around about brands and branding, by everyone from Tom Peters ("Brand You!") to hundreds of smalltime business coaches who have glommed onto branding as a buzzword - and refuse to let go.

I'm going to define brand very clearly and plainly. A brand is a promise of an experience.


You walk into a McDonald's for lunch versus a Ritz-Carlton Hotel because that's the kind of lunch you want that day. You would probably be confused and more than a little upset if you found waiters and linen tablecloths in that McDonald's or if your bill came to $110.

So in order to punch through a lot of the mystique around building a brand, let's call it a promise.

* Who can make a promise? Anyone.
* How much does it cost to make a promise? Usually nothing.
* Can you make a promise to someone across the hall? Sure.
* Across the country? You bet.
* Can you make promises to people in just your local area? Of course.
* Do you need to be crystal clear on what that promise means, before you try to communicate it to others? Yes, that would be smart.
* If asked, could your top level executives say what your promise is or means? Would the answers be consistent?


Brand is communication. Brand is consistency. Brand is integrity. Brand is simply recognition for a job well done.

Boiling all these timeless business ideas into a 5-letter buzzword (B-R-A-N-D) doesn't change them.

Friday, February 22

Titles on Business Cards 

As business owners, consultants and entrepreneurs think about revamping their business for 2008, some are redoing their materials. One of the top questions people often ask me is "What title should be on my business card?

Here are my guidelines for soloprenuers, consultants, and independent professionals:

1. You're not a "CEO." Sorry. That title is just sad unless you have a company of at least 20 people. My brother-in-law founded Jobnet.com and for the 10+ years that he was the head honcho, including office space and up to 10 employees at one point, he called himself the "Executive Director." Humility pays.

2. "President" is also lame, although it's excusable, since legally, your corporate entity might need a President on the books. But wouldn't you need something to PRESIDE over? It's tough to make the case for being a "President of 1." And it seems like you're striving, frankly. Get over it.

3. "Principal" is about as informative as "The Guy." Although, if your card said "The Guy," I'd like you a lot more right out of the gate! It's different, and it's self-deprecating, and it's honest.

4. "Owner" reads like "small potatoes." If you own a hardware store, that's fine. The rest of us can do a lot better than this.

Titles I like:

Founder - that's always gonna be true, whether you're a company of 1 or 100... or 100,000. Fred Smith is still the Founder of FedEx. I'm the Founder of my company. At least that title tells it like it is.

Managing Partner - I like this too. Sounds snappy and has the right combination of sense of ownership/management/service delivery. Of course, this works better if you DO actually have another partner. But for professional services firms, this works no matter what. In the consulting world, managing partners often have CEO-like responsibilities for an office, a region, or a practice area.

Managing Director - This is good, and probably a better alternative to the above if you're in your business alone. You DO direct the activities of your firm, don't you? Plus it's a well-known title in global professional services firms, where a managing director is often the CEO of a country-based business unit, such as the Managing Director for Switzerland.

Now, creative titles I love. No matter what business you're in, a creative title will get attention, and will make people smile. Those are the first two smart steps to attracting clients!

Sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer wrote about his idea for creative titles on business cards:
How about "Customer Helper"? How about "Nice Guy"? How about "One Jason Among Millions"? How about "Sales Dude Extraordinaire"? How about a title that includes your hobby-like "World-Class Kite Flyer" or "I Bike 100 Miles a Week"? When I was in your position and used business cards from the company I worked for, I always put the title KING underneath my name and used it as an auxiliary card. Everyone who ever received the card, kept it-and they expected me to live up to my title. Since I dubbed myself KING, it created a sense of having to be the best. And when people asked me why I chose this title, I'd say because it's currently vacant. But it forced me to be my best at all times and act regally. Maybe you want to start out as the "DUKE OF SALES."

Another company, in the creative consulting field, uses this idea to the extreme. They have titles like "In Charge of What's Next" for the CEO, and "Check, Please" for the Accounts Payable person and "Forward" for their public relations person.

The bottom line is it's no good to claim to be different if you don't look or sound different.

How does YOUR business card stack up on the different-o-meter?

Monday, February 18

Consultants communicate with integrity 

As consultants, we need to have difficult conversations with clients perhaps more often than we'd like. Our diplomacy and integrity are sometimes tested to their limits. Stress can run high.

Consider these two quotations:

Most of the stress that people feel doesn't come from having too much to do - it comes from not keeping agreements they've made with themselves.
-- David Allen

If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.
-- Alan K. Simpson

Now, what does all this mean to you as a professional services provider?...

A good definition of integrity starts with the notion of Self. If you can (and do) keep promises and agreements with yourself, you will be in a much stronger position to do the same with others.

Integrity is vital to consulting, leadership, sales, and success in every form of person-to-person interaction, in both public and private life.

One of the main sources of stress comes from self-deception, concocting (and then relying on) unrealistic expectations, broken promises, and abandoned self-discipline. Why not give all that up and instead focus more on increasing your level of commitment and integrity - first to your Self and then to your word and then to others.

Tell the truth. Do the right thing. Stay the course. These are clichés only because they have been repeated so often out of sheer necessity.

Another plus - as Mark Twain said, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."
What are your biggest professional services communication challenges? What have been your most difficult consulting conversations? Leave a comment and let me know.

-- David 610.716.5984

Thursday, February 14

Consultants: Cease the complaining! 

Cease to complain.

The weather.
The traffic.
My boss.
My client.
My prospect.
My colleagues.
My organization.
My industry.
The economy.

I don’t have enough… But I really need…

I can’t… If only [he, she, they] would…

It’s been a tough [day, week, month]…

It’s [Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday]...

Cease to complain and watch your sales, your creativity, your clarity, your productivity, your profitability, your happiness multiply exponentially. Cease to complain and start to focus on what's working.

Cease to complain and concentrate on...
Solutions, not problems
Suggestions, not complaints
Recommendations, not alternatives
Answers, not questions
Facts, not assumptions
Reasons, not excuses
Specifics, not generalities

Have a happy consulting day!

-- David 610.716.5984

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