Putting on your Business Face

Leonard Nimoy as Mister Spock
Being coldly analytical about your business is a good thing — at the right times

I had a very large contract end a couple of weeks ago and am heading out on sabbatical at the end of the month, so it’s a good time to re-think/re-organize my business and marketing material.

I spoke to a few professionals in the consulting business, and they all told me I should do these things to “tune up” my presence:

  • Separate out your blog and business articles – When I started blogging, it was for marketing/experimentation purposes. Pretty soon, though, I figured out that blogging is just for me. I like writing down my thoughts. What happens, though, is that some good technical/consulting articles get mixed in with all this personal crap like the “Does God Exist” stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I like all my stuff, but I’m using this site as a business face, and as such I should put things on there that help people get to know what my advice is like.

    Now I kinda feel both ways about this — after all, when you get me you get all of my habits and hangups, and might as well know about them. But my friends point out, and they’re right, that relationships take a while to develop, and dumping everything about your personality out there on somebody might be a little too much, too fast. So — time to build a business web site and put a few consulting-related articles on there.

  • Get some recommendations – It used to be you’d keep a references list and have people call and check on them if they liked you. People are telling me that this isn’t entirely the case. Get some references you can put on the web, they say. This way folks can have start getting a feel for what others think of you without having to actually use the phone. I’m okay with this idea too, up to a point. I’m not sure if I’m going to pester all of my CEO friends for public recommendations — I’d much rather keep some “big guns” ready to come in if and when needed. Plus, you like to customize your appearance/recommendations depending on the opportunity. The more you make all of this static, the less flexible you are when approaching clients.
  • Target a smaller niche – I’ve been a paid gun for a long time, and because of that I’ve worked in some really cool environments with some really great people. But my career has been scattershot: a little bit here and a little bit there. Instead of that, focus on a smaller niche. In my instance, medium-sized quickly-growing IT shops and large corporations with recognized product delivery performance problems.

    I like this idea, but I need to think more on what exactly to do about it. Do I want to start mass-mailing or cold-calling a targeted list? As a trusted advisor, would you pick some guy cold-calling you doing a telemarketing schtick? Or would you pick somebody you’ve talked to over a period of months and that comes highly recommended by friends? So I think the targeting idea is good, but I’m not sure how to translate that into action.

  • Leverage Video – I did about an hour at Agile 2009 on how to implement agile techniques with teams that are doing weird things like strategy, coaching, training, infrastructure, or architecture. This is something I can video and share with folks. It will give them an idea of my speaking abilities and ideas, and, well, it’s easier than actually picking up the phone.

    I like this idea, but as I’ve found out, producing video, even crappy video, is kind of an art form. Some things I’ve learned this past week: don’t trust somebody from the presentation to video for you — the quality isn’t so good; be careful with video codecs — not every service can handle every codec; free services are not-so-good — YouTube has a 10-minute length limit; it works best when I’m not in the picture — I tried the long shot with me and the deck, I even tried the “talking head” thing where I appear in a little box at the bottom, but none of it worked. Just show the slides and do the voice over; finally, use an audience when you shoot. You speak differently to an audience that when you are by yourself.

  • Leverage Social Networks – I don’t think there is any magic in social networks and social sites, but I do think they’re a good place to chat and distribute stuff, as long as you’re not pimping yourself at every chance you get. I like hearing what other people are doing, both professionally and personally: it helps me to feel like I know them. For instance, I know that the director of one of the local technology councils went to Kentucky to look at a car a couple of weeks ago. I know that one of my C-level friends is over in Europe in Amsterdam tasting cheeses and beers. which is kind of annoying since I love both good cheeses and beer, and I would have been glad to help carry her luggage for her! (Grin).

    It doesn’t work so well if you haven’t met the person or anything, at least to me, but social networks can give you a feeling of being connected even when you are not. As a caution, don’t fall into the FaceBook trap: these things can be addictive. Since LinkedIn is my business-card system, I’m going to spruce up my LinkedIn profile with recommendations and biographical information. I also plan on using Twitter. I tried Twitter as an experiment, but it’s turning out to be more valuable than I had anticipated

  • Create some overview/whitepapers – I have a two-day class I teach in user stories called “Advanced User Stories” — it’s the stuff most folks don’t learn or mess up when moving to Scrum/Agile. While it’s a great class, I don’t have anything that describes it! So I need to create a 2/3-page PDF ASAP on this. I can tell people about it, but it’s much easier and convenient for them to just read an overview. Same goes for my training on “The Agile DBA”, “Agile Overview” and “Scrum: the stuff not in the manual” It’s great to have things that people would love to use, but unless you have a way of telling them about it, it really doesn’t amount to much
  • Add a resume/bio to my biz site – Almost all sites have a “about us” page, and my site should too. This is a good spot to find some friends and all have them put their bios on there as well. Since I know these guys and like their work, and since they are willing to come over if something shows up, I’m really a larger firm than just a mom-and-pop shop. Pack up into teams to increase ability to help folks
  • It’s farming, not sales – Lesson I learned a long time ago: when you’re looking for work it’s the worst time to meet folks. No matter how you do it you sound like you’re desperate. The time to meet folks is when you’re not looking for anything. I’ve been going through my contact list this week and my strategy is simply to be honest: “I’m starting back into the marketing-myself business again, so I thought I would go down my contact list and see who’s doing what. So what are you up to nowadays, anyway?” Best to just let it all hang out there.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t dwell on the business/market side of things with folks. The reason I have these people on my contact list is, well, because I like them. And they like me. I’m the idiot for not keeping up better. So being in the market is just nature’s way of kicking me in the butt to remember to involve myself more in people’s lives I care about. It’s not an instant-gratification thing. It’s much more like farming.

  • Explore “pivot points” – Being on sabbatical is a cool thing: it lets you think through what you’re doing and why. It’s also a good time to explore pivoting your business strategy and trying new things. This is what all successful startup teams do, and being able to pivot effectively is the difference between growth and stagnation. Do I want to go more into training? Create a product to sell? How about finding small team jobs and managing them? All of these are good ideas. And this is a good time to think about them.

    IT is one of the few businesses where you can create your own reality and live inside of it. Most folks never take much time to think about what they’d like their reality to be like, so they end up with whatever other people give them. Very sad.

Now I just need to put all of this on post-its and adorn my monitor. What can I say? I use the post-it system of task-tracking and am very happy with it. I find that if I’m stuck looking at it every time I check I email or visit my favorite sites, I have a tendency to want to make it go away.

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