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Sometimes It IS Just About the Wedding Dress

 20th April 2009 by gihan

I’ve seen some recent comments from speakers, trainers and consultants along the lines of:

“Companies that are cutting training budgets are shooting themselves in the foot.”

“Now is the time organisations most need motivation and inspiration.”

“If you don’t invest in the downturn, you won’t be competitive when the economy turns around.”

While these might be true, they don’t necessarily match what’s going on in your clients’ heads. For many people, the global financial crisis is a crisis, and that might mean a focus on short-term action rather than long-term benefit.

Businesses are looking at profit, not growth.
Employees are thinking about their jobs, not their careers.
Investors are considering cash flow, not wealth.
Sales teams are being rewarded for transactions, not relationships.
Workplace teams are being driven by fear, not trust.
Budgets are being evaluated for cutting non-essentials, not investing in the future.

So what does this mean for you?

If you’re fortunate enough to work in an area that isn’t being hurt by the downturn, great – this advice is not for you.

If you’re fortunate enough to work with enlightened clients who are still willing to invest in their future, again this advice isn’t for you.

But if your clients are hurting now and screaming out for help, focus on their short-term pain. And that might mean sacrificing what you’d like to do, and do what they need instead.

Ask yourself whether your sales conversations, marketing materials and presentation outcomes are based on long-term issues that might not be as relevant in the current economic climate. If they are, change them – even if you know this isn’t the long-term solution.

Sure, we all know that, all other things being equal, we “should” do leadership, teamwork, personal leadership, the triple bottom line, fire prevention and environmental sustainability.

But all things are not equal right now.

For some people in the midst of the crisis, management is more important than leadership; being directive is more important than being collaborative; individual productivity is more important than teamwork; firefighting is more important than fire prevention; survival is more important than sustainability; and urgency is more important than importance.

Every health expert tells us the secrets to a healthy lifestyle are regular exercise and a balanced diet. But sometimes it is about fitting into that wedding dress. And if you don’t address that need, your sales, marketing and presentations will fall on deaf ears.

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A Cure For Which There’s No Known Disease

 9th April 2009 by gihan

I was doing some group mentoring last week, and we were looking at evaluating new products and services in order to make them more successful.

Broadly, the success of any new product or service depends on three things:

  1. Who will buy it – i.e. the market.
  2. What you are selling – i.e. the product (or service) itself.
  3. How you will sell it – i.e. the marketing.

Most of the people in the group scored well on product and marketing, but their weakest area was their understanding of the market.

This is common!

Many infopreneurs fall in love with their products and services, and forget their market. They create a beautiful, sophisticated, high-quality product; but forget about whether there’s a market for it. They create a cure for which there’s no known disease!

I’m not saying this is true of everybody, nor even for the clients in my group mentoring. But it is a common trap.

You don’t have to obsess about your market and be totally market-driven. After all, one of the reasons people value your expertise is because you can tell them more than what they want.

But it’s also easy to over-estimate your knowledge of your market. If you think you know what your market wants, you could spend a lot of money creating useless products and services.

Here’s a quick quiz to help you …

Here’s a quick quiz to help you evaluate your understanding of your market. It’s easy – just answer (a), (b) or (c) for each of these five questions.

  1. Niche:
    a. I am aiming this product at a small, clearly defined niche market.
    b. I am aiming this product at a mass market.
    c. I’m not sure of the target market for this product.
  1. Problems:
    a. I have surveyed a broad cross-section of my market to find out their specific problems.
    b. I have done a few informal surveys of my market to find out their specific problems.
    c. I haven’t asked my target market for their specific problems.
  1. Demand:
    a. I have done significant research to measure the demand for this product.
    b. I have done a bit of research to measure the demand for this product.
    c. I don’t yet know whether there’s a demand for this product.
  1. Price:
    a. I have tested various price points to learn what my target market will pay for this product.
    b. I have some indicator of a good price point, based on competitive products and services.
    c. I don’t know what people will be willing to pay for this product.
  1. Trust:
    a. The majority of my customers will be people who have bought related products from me already.
    b. The majority of my customers will be people who know about me, though they haven’t bought from me yet.
    c. The majority of my customers will be people who have never heard of me before.

Now score 2 points for each (a), 1 point for each (b) and 0 for each (c).

How did you go?

If you have a high score, that’s a good sign. It means you’ve probably got a fairly good understanding of your market, which means you’re more likely to succeed.

On the other hand, if you have a low score, it might mean that you may have to rethink this before you start investing time, money, and energy into launching this new product or service. At least, think more carefully about your market!

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How Good Is Your Second Serve?

 9th April 2009 by gihan

>On Saturday 31st January, a technical bug in Google caused it to block every Web site on the Internet. Google engineers scrambled to fix the problem, and it only affected users for about an hour. But for that hour, anybody using Google wouldn’t have been able to find anything online (If you’re interested in following the story, read more about it here).

It happened on a weekend, and early in the morning in the USA. So for most of us, this wouldn’t have affected us much, if at all. But for a business relying heavily on Google traffic for sales, it could have been a disaster.

I remember my marketing mentor Mal Emery once saying, “What would you do if your main marketing method disappeared overnight?” This was long before the Internet became popular, but it’s still as true now.

When my brother-in-law Neil was coaching me in tennis, I remember him saying to me:

“You’re only as good as your second serve”.

In other words, it’s one thing to work on a powerful first serve that wins every point whenever you get it in, but if you’re too scared to use it because you’ve got a weak second serve, it’s no good to you.

It got me thinking about backup plans, scenario planning and foresight.

Are you relying too much on Plan A, without a Plan B, C or Q to fall back on?

What would happen to your business if …

  • You’re a conference speaker, and the conference market dries up due to, oh, say, a global financial crisis?
  • People stop going to public seminars because they’re saving money ahead of a recession?
  • Your main market is the real estate industry, and it’s going through a market slump?
  • Your key decision maker at your #1 corporate client loses their job – or gets promoted?
  • Your main joint venture partner pulls out of a deal at the last minute?
  • A long-time staff member resigns, leaving you in the lurch?

Think it could never happen? It probably won’t. But thinking about backup plans doesn’t make you pessimistic or negative; it’s prudent
and positive.

After all, who would have thought that a bug in Google would one day block every Web site in the world???

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It’s All About You

 8th April 2009 by gihan

One of my favourite actors, Steve Martin, was asked in an interview to share what he considered the secret to success. He replied:

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

To me, this sums up what it means to be a thought leader. Know what you’re good at, become great at it, and share it with the right people.

What’s your unique expertise?
What makes you different?
What are you passionate about?
What would you do for love, not money?

This is what makes up your personal brand. It’s not about your logo, your colour scheme, your business name or your catchy slogan. It’s about you.

People want you, not just your expertise. Increasingly, they’re searching Google for names of experts, not just a topic of interest. So you want people to be searching Google for your name, not just what you do – and they will, if you get clear and stand strong in your personal brand.

So what’s behind your personal brand?

What do you keep doing well over and over again in your life?

What do you keep doing badly over and over again in your life?

These two questions can help start you on the journey to your personal brand. There’s more to this, but it’s a good start.

I started by quoting one of my favourite actors. I’ll end by quoting one of my favourite poets: Robert Frost. His poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time” ends like this:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

So where do your passion (avocation) and work (vocation) unite? That’s the sweet spot for your thought leadership.

Are You a Brain Surgeon or a Plastic Surgeon?

 7th April 2009 by gihan

Like many people, I’ve been hearing a lot of news about the economic downturn, global financial crisis … I think we’re even allowed to say “recession” now, aren’t we?

Most of it’s bad news, of course, because bad news sells. But some of it’s good news, suggesting that some people are doing well despite the recession.

I’ve got a different view.

It’s not about doing well despite a recession. It’s not about being more resilient, or having more in reserve, or pushing through the tough times, or “recession proofing” your business.

Don’t recession proof your business. That’s for large organisations, who are big, slow, lethargic and struggle to keep up. Recessions bring great opportunities for small businesses, who are smart, nimble, agile and can adapt. It’s survival of the economic fittest.

Here’s the key question: What problem are you solving?

Recessions aren’t bad for everybody. Yes, a lot of people are in pain, but if you can help ease that pain, you will do well.

Doctors are in high demand when there’s a disease outbreak. Firefighters are in high demand when there’s a bushfire. High-quality speakers, trainers, coaches, consultants and thought leaders who truly understand their clients’ problems are in high demand in a recession.

(I laugh when I hear colleagues say, “I refuse to participate in this recession”. That’s like a firefighter saying, “I refuse to participate in this bushfire”!)

So what’s changed?

The balance has changed.

In tough times, people are cautious, careful, protective and spend their money on security, protection, creating certainty and healing their pain.

In good times, people have money to spend, and spend it on expansion, luxuries, nice-to-haves and spoiling themselves.

So are you a brain surgeon or a plastic surgeon?

They both solve problems, but they’re different problems, and they suit different times.

Plastic surgeons thrive in good times, when people want to feel good and can afford to pay for it.

Brain surgery, on the other hand, isn’t usually a discretionary spend. You get it when you need it, and if you need it you’ll pay for it. And you’ll pay for the best (I wonder if anybody’s ever said, “Help – get me the cheapest brain surgeon you can find!”).

If you’re doing plastic surgery – for example, a light, fluffy, fun keynote – think carefully about whether this is sustainable right now. It’s still as good as it ever was, but is it still as valuable?

Now is the time to be a brain surgeon. Understand your value, get good – really good – at your craft, and apply it with laser focus to your clients’ problems.

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Be the Centre of Your Tribe

 3rd March 2009 by gihan

I was at the Thought Leaders conference in Sydney last month, and the main theme emerging from it was “tribes”, or community. It’s certainly a hot topic right now, on and off the Internet. The world is changing to be about community, not authority; villages, not islands; collaboration, not hierarchy.

As a speaker, you’re a messenger, but you can no longer rely on your positional authority alone to deliver that message. You are no longer an expert because you say you’re an expert; rather, you’re an expert because we say you’re an expert. It’s all about authority with community. This is a radical shift in the way we now view expertise.

The Internet has made this happen, but its effects spread far wider. Even if you’re a successful speaker already, with unique knowledge, a captive audience and a loyal following, you must change.

Google has destroyed the power of your knowledge.
YouTube has stolen your audience.
And Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have taken your loyal following.

So what’s a speaker to do?

Michael Henderson, one of the speakers at the Thought Leaders conference, made the point that in corporations the leader – or CEO – is generally at the top of a hierarchy; but in tribes the leader is at the centre.

So: What would you do if you were at the centre of a community?

Here are some things you can do:

  • Find members who need each other’s services, but who don’t know each other, and introduce them to each other.
  • Introduce people with common interests to each other.
  • Introduce people who work in the same market, but with non-competing areas of expertise, to each other.
  • Position other members of the community as experts, rather than you being “the” expert.
  • Empower other members of the community to take on leadership roles.
  • Find somebody to mentor in the community.
  • Create a succession plan for yourself, drawing from your community members.

Are some of these basic networking skills? Probably. But that doesn’t make them any less valuable. If anything, they are even more relevant now.

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Triumph of the Airheads, by Shelley Gare

 11th October 2008 by gihan

This book is nonsense dressed up as a serious argument.

Gare claims to take aim at “airheads” in our society, and in some cases she does well. But at other times she just goes off on her own rants about things she doesn’t like, pretending it’s all part of the same argument.

Her first flaw is that she conveniently doesn’t define the term “airhead”. So we have to figure out what it means. Fortunately, most of us do have a pretty reasonable idea of what’s meant by somebody being called an airhead. For example, if we look at the back cover alone, Gare cites:

“an upside-down world where celebrity matters more than substance” – yes, most people would go along with that.

“small girls seriously regard a trashy hotel heiress as a role model” – again, yep.

“an American president who gets Sweden and Switzerland mixed up” – again, (sadly) we’d have to agree.

But then it gets trickier … What about …

“correct spelling is considered less important than knowing how to do PowerPoint” … Hmmm, I agree with her sentiments, but that hardly makes the person an airhead.

“bright maths and science students go into investment banking so they can make truckloads of money” … And who exactly are the airheads here?

“Australian politicians who spend millions on spin doctors while schools and hospitals go begging” … You could argue they are manipulative, unethical, even evil – but airheads? Hardly.

And that – even before opening the book – is where Gare’s entire argument breaks down. It turns out that her definition of airhead is pretty much “Anybody I disagree with”. If she’s had a bad experience with you, you’re tarred with the airhead brush; if she likes you, you’re not.

Take, for example, her vitriolic attack on management consultants “who can spout the latest management truisms to back up whatever nonsensical cost-cutting scheme they are trying to introduce”. Fair enough, but when it comes to public servants doing the same thing, they are portrayed sympathetically as “public servants, often now dependent on their contracts being renewed”. This is pure hypocrisy, especially in light of how difficult it is to get sacked from the public service.

There is no doubt that some of Gare’s criticism is well-founded. She correctly takes aim at Paris Hilton, celebrity worship, excessive consumerism and Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, who was fined for not thinking to declare $18,000 worth of goods at Helsinki airport. These are clearly the signs of “airheadism”, and all power to her for raising our awareness of them.

But sadly those are exceptions, not the rule, in her book.

At other times, she criticises:

  • A chief executive of David Jones department store for wanting more than an already high salary.
  • Her bank, which is “so stingy with its branded ATM machines that in my whole inner-city suburb, there is only one”; and she then goes on to complain that they charge her $2 for using another bank’s ATM. Fancy that! She follows that with the nonsensical statement, “You can’t get much more of a twenty-first century airhead paradox than being charged by your bank for not using a service that the bank tries not to provide”.
  • An insurance company who (quite reasonably) requires written proof that the property they are insuring no longer has a bank mortgage over it.
  • Her local council, who – again quite reasonably – requires proof of identity before giving her a residential parking permit.
  • Citibank, who released a credit card that appeared to be fee-free, but whose fine print sneakily slipped in a big annual fee.

You might agree with these complaints – in fact, I agree with some of them myself. But that’s not the point. She claims these are examples of “airheadism”, when of course it’s nothing of the sort. It might be greed, manipulation, excessive bureaucracy, or anything else. But it’s hard to argue that these are “airhead” policies.

I could go on, but I hope you get the picture.

The irony is, if you are an airhead yourself, you’ll probably believe her argument – hook, line and sinker. But if you take more than a nanosecond to think for yourself, you won’t fall for it.

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Momentum Moves Mountains

 29th September 2008 by gihan

I recently listened to an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook and supposedly the world’s youngest billionaire.

What made this interview interesting for me was not that it’s an interview with a billionaire. It’s not. It’s an interview from October 2005, when Facebook was just taking off as a directory for Harvard undergraduates, but before it became one of the world’s most popular Web sites.

It’s always nice to see things in hindsight. And I was amused to hear Zuckerberg talk about what he thought was the next step for Facebook.

Remember, at the time it was very popular in Harvard, and was just expanding to support other universities. Somebody in the audience asked whether it would then expand across the world (which, in fact, it eventually did). But Zuckerberg said, No. His next big idea was to roll it out to high school students!

He got it totally wrong.

But I come to praise Zuckerberg, not to bury him.

I’m not going to criticise him here for lack of vision. After all, he does have a billion dollars, which is – coincidentally – a billion more than I do.

Instead, I’ll point out that, even though he didn’t get that idea right, he did still did get on the right track eventually. And he did it because Facebook was already an active, growing, thriving Web site.

Here’s the point: Momentum moves mountains.

He didn’t sit on his hands for years, analysing, contemplating, planning, strategising, projecting and cogitating. No, he got started with something, and then figured out how to steer it in the right direction. And even if it sometimes wasn’t quite right, he was still better off than somebody who hadn’t started at all.

So don’t wait until you know how everything is going to turn out. You don’t. And you won’t. Get started now.

This is particularly important on the Internet.

On the Internet, there are some things you just need to experience before you’ll understand how they will work for you. If you’ve never published an e-mail newsletter, put a video clip on YouTube, written an e-book that you distribute through viral marketing, posted to your blog, or recorded a regular podcast, it’s difficult to imagine how they work. You must experience them.

More importantly, starting these things makes it easier to continue doing them.

When you’ve got a blog, you’ll start noticing things to blog about.
When you’ve got an e-mail newsletter due tomorrow, you’ll create the time to write an article.
When you’ve written your e-book, you’ll constantly find new ways to promote it.

So get started! Momentum moves mountains.

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