Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My blog has moved

Hello loyal readers:

Thanks for following me the last few years as I got my "feet wet".

My blogging has moved to:

The topics I primarily focus on are Business, Technology, and Professional Success Strategies (and some other good stuff). I encourage you to check it out (and subscribe in your favorite reader if you wish to be kept in the loop).

If you happen to be an independent IT professional, you might also enjoy my other site (where I also blog regularly):


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Josh's Top 26 Reasons Why Your Business Sucks

What gives me the right to talk about these? Because I've made (and learned) from all of 'em. We're all works in progress. It's what we do next that counts.

  1. You aren't really in "business". You're a freelancer/specialist who still operates with an employee mindset... Stuck between two worlds: lacking the benefits of employment as well as the benefits of being a self-employed business owner.
  2. You think marketing and sales are "icky" and about advertising, being impersonal, and manipulation.
  3. Your product/service isn't all that great
  4. Your product/service isn't compelling or differentiated.
  5. You are afraid of failing so you're just copying what others are doing.
  6. You take advice without considering its origin carefully.
  7. You built a product/service instead of finding an attractive market and figuring out what they want, need, despise, desire, and wish for.
  8. Your product/service is wonderful but you're trying to sell it to the wrong folks, at the wrong price, in the wrong way, and at the wrong time.
  9. You're stuck telling prospects why they should buy your product/services instead of finding out why they will (and do) buy your product/services... or haven't (and won't) buy similar, competing, or related products/services.
  10. You don't actually like business (or don't think you do). You just like your product/service.
  11. It's not your business... it's someone else's.
  12. You don't desire success enough... including a willingness to fail often, incremental improve, learn every day, have an open mind, and the confidence and energy to put up with in-your-face uncertainty.
  13. You work too hard on the wrong things and not had enough on the right things. Working hard on the wrong things is admirable but also stupid. If stuck or losing faith, stand back and make sure you're on a (likely) right path. Strategy before tactics. Insight before planning. Planning before implementation.
  14. You talk about yourself and your product/service before you talk about your customer, prospect, and the outcome they desire, wish for, need, and will get.
  15. You are selling before informing.
  16. You are advertising your "name" and your "brand" (a focus on yourself that the prospect cannot even yet relate to or trust) before you've drawn the prospect in by focusing on their issues, problems, concerns, context, pains, needs, hopes, and wishes.
  17. You more often than not go with the "safe" (failure avoiding) choices. You also give up too soon. Even though you learn from failures and getting outside your comfort zone. And, other than self-inflicted stress from worry, the majority of "failures" are non-fatal, temporary, and (ironically) incremental steps toward success.
  18. You are unfocused, scattered, and have an endless "To Do" list. In part, that's okay. There are always opportunities to improve, get better, grow more, etc. That's the upside of having an endless "To Do" list (and idea lists, resources for outside advice, etc.). The downside is that we can let it keep us scattered constantly and never completing key initiatives supporting critical objectives. Accept the endless lists (they're a good thing - call them "opportunities" if it'll help your mindset). Narrow down your daily, weekly, quarterly, and yearly projects to the fewest necessary and practical that will move you closer towards your objectives. You can always update plans... but do so intentionally, carefully, and boldly.
  19. You stopped pro-actively learning and improving your capabilities in business, marketing, sales, communication, listening, planning, and strategic thinking.
  20. You don't write down and place in an obvious undeniable spot your top objectives and supporting initiatives (and only them).
  21. You aren't clear and specific about why you do what you do, why achieving your objectives is important, and what doing so would truly mean to you.
  22. You mistake learning from what others are doing, even successfully, with justification to mimic them, not be yourself, not put your own slant on it, lose your own voice in the shuffle, etc.
  23. You seek perfection over success.
  24. You want (and need) help but aren't certain it'll work out.
  25. You jumped in too soon and now are afraid to admit it... so you can move on and get past it.
  26. You think your line of business is unique, your customers are not open to doing things differently, and you're unwilling to adapt ideas from entirely different industries, businesses, and markets to your own.
Add your own below, or perhaps a story that matches up with one of the above, in the comments.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Counter-Intuitive Differentiation By Selling Heart Attacks, Not Health Food

Last week I wrote about using Terrible Service as a Differentiator. Today I was reminded about another interesting example of counter-intuitive differentiation, a restaurant called the Heart Attack Grill (wikipedia).

The 12 Big Reasons Why Independent IT Pros Fail to Prosper

Being an independent IT professional, at least if one wishes to be in it for the long-haul and happy with their level of achievement, is a complex undertaking. The level of success, gratification, and income can vary widely.

Many who undertake it fail to grow their level of business to the size they'd like. Still others find themselves unhappy with their lifestyle, even those who achieve attractive income levels.

It is quite common for many to fail to survive beyond a few months to a couple of years. Yes, some do hang on, but often are unhappy with themselves and their businesses.

Or, as some have found recently, they had viable but weak businesses. When low hanging fruit disappeared (clients that fell into their lap by chance rather than through a well developed system for attracting and cultivating new business), income dried up.

In my observation and study of independent IT professionals, non-IT professional services firms, and even other industries, as well as my own experiences, I've concluded that there are a number of common factors why IT professionals, and business owners in general, fail to achieve the level of success they hope for:

  1. Lack of time
  2. Lack of interest in "business issues"
  3. Misconceptions about what marketing is/isn't
  4. Lack of reliable systems (for attracting clients, cultivating relationships, growing income)
  5. Lack of strategy
  6. Lack of understanding what clients value and that not all prospects are the same
  7. Underestimation of their self-worth
  8. Lack of understanding how self-worth intersects with finding the right clients for them
  9. Lack of awareness about distinctions among freelancers (hired help), service providers, advisors, consultants, coaches, implementers, etc. Each of these are very different businesses.
  10. Assuming that conventional wisdom and popular strategies and tactics, which are easily discovered by watching others, are well known and practiced because they "work"
  11. A failure to shift from employee-->business owner mentality
  12. Assuming that outside experts in things like PR, marketing, and sales nearly always know what they're doing and have exactly the same concerns as they do. These specialists are no different than many of the IT consultants we all like to shake our heads at. They not only give untested and ineffective advice, but they sell (or earn commissions for) things that are overkill, unnecessary, or otherwise not entirely in the client's interest.
With persistence, but not simply that, these obstacles can be overcome. There are many paths so I'd be disingenuous if I suggested one solution here. I do believe it is fair to say, however, that the key is to be deliberate - in your strategy, goals, and positioning. Just watching others passively and copying them -- or worse, doing nothing -- is not going to get you there.

I will provide a few suggestions based on my own experiences and mistakes:
  • Observe others... and, in time, learning who to pay attention to and who to ignore, is a good first step. It's not always who you may think...
  • Look at already successful leaders who are NOT in the IT and consulting businesses. Their ideas are more valuable to you because they are more likely to be things that others (read: your competition) aren't doing.
  • Develop a vision for where you want to be (even if you aren't sure how you'll get there). Re-visit and refine it regularly. It's okay to evolve this over time too. It's inevitable.
  • Constant learn, by reading, attending seminars, talking to (more) successful peers, borrowing ideas from other industries/businesses, applying creativity, experimenting (failures are excellent learning opportunities, fail often)
  • Stop reading and listening to others for periods of time -- in order to implement (take action) on what you've picked up thus far. If you don't do this, you will become more addicted to the learning than to the doing.
My own wrong turns are why I started It is a community where I share the best resources I come across, my experiments, current thinking, etc. If you're an independent IT professional, know one, or are an aspiring one, I suggest you take a look at the site and join me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Terrible Service as COMPELLING Differentiation

I was recently pondering how effective an attempt at differentiation like this would work:

"You should choose us because we aren't like everybody else: we have terrible customer service."

Hey, at least there's an attempt to create a compelling differentiation in that statement. It certainly has a greater impact on the prospect then: "We're different because we have excellent quality and superb customer service." Oh really?

This problem, an inability to have a compelling message for the prospect, is rampant throughout the business world.

Here's an example from Dan McNicholl, CIO of General Motors, referring to IT VARs:

Don't attempt to offer every kind of solution to his organization or sound like any other solution provider, McNicholl says. Like most other CIOs, McNicholl says he's heard the same lines time and again. "We have the most innovative people; we have the most dependable methodologies; we have the most competitive prices. It's like a record after a while," he says. "None of them have created a reason, other than price, for me to choose them. Pick a dimension you want to compete on, and build your brand and focus on it. Otherwise, I'm going to pick you on price."

P.S. While my opener was meant as tongue-in-cheek, there is a restaurant, which sadly I can't track down the name of at the moment (yes, even via Google), that I recall reading about a bit back and is known for good food and absolutely horrendous service. It has turned the latter into their badge of honor (and which inspires word-of-mouth I'm sure). They intentionally make the service as horrible as possible because customers actually come to see if the stories are true (to be treated poorly). Customers would actually be disappointed if they didn't leave with a waiter telling them to "piss off", etc.

The point: The important part is that, whatever your compelling differentiation is, it ought not be half-ass or you risk diluting (and maybe even destroying) its effectiveness. It also needs to be congruent with what you actually are (and are not). It matters less what it actually is and more that it is real, noticeable, and intriguing.


"I already knew that."

Ran across this quote from Mary Schmidt, a marketing consultant, today. I thought it was great:

"I already knew that."

I sometimes hear this when asked for free advice. I'm tempted to reply, "Well, great! Then why aren't you doing it?" A good consultant can help you test assumptions, focus on key activities and help get "it" done, whatever "it" is -- launching a new product, reorganizing HR, and so on.

Also reminds me of the theme of one of my current reads-in-progress: Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What's Obvious But Not Easy by David Maister.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How To Get Better At "Trying Everything"

Sometimes we tell ourselves (or hear someone else say):

"I've tried everything. I just can't do it."
(With some variation of the second sentence.) The only problem is: it is hardly ever true.

It's important to recognize there is a difference between trying everything possible versus trying everything we can think of. This comes up daily, for all of us, while in the search for solutions to problems (ex: getting new business, finding a job, etc.) , tackling projects at work, and personal goals.

Sometimes we even convince ourselves we've been "working our ass off", where the real problem isn't that we're not motivated but that we've been floundering around doing seemingly useful "busy work" because we lack a clear idea what we should be doing next to move forward towards our goal. (An aside: Copying what others are doing, who may be not be all that better off, often isn't a good shortcut either).

I usually get into these ruts when I'm feeling one or more of:
  • tired
  • overworked
  • too focused
  • overwhelmed
  • unfocused
The best cure for me is some combination of:
  • taking a walk
  • studying something unrelated
  • reading a good, intellectual and perspective stimulating, newspaper (ex: NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, etc.) in print (hard copy, old school, not on-line)
  • grabbing a letter or legal pad and writing down all the to do, worrisome, and upcoming items, goals, ideas, etc. I have sloshing around in my head (and also in my sub-conscious as a result)
  • watching a favorite or engaging fictional TV show
  • breaking the priorities/goals/to do items down into smaller blocks, chunks, to do lists
  • sleeping on it
  • clearing my calendar of outside appointments
  • taking a long drive (sometimes with the commitment to not come back until I've figured out a next step)
  • kicking the idea around with my wife, a partner, or a close friend or colleague
  • getting out, often to a coffeehouse to do some people watching
  • re-prioritizing my top 5 items (and adding anything else that comes to mind to the "6+ item", not bothering to prioritize it specifically since there's little point in worrying about the specific order of anything other than the top 3 to 5 at any given point in time)
  • cleaning my work area, home office, or the even some area of the house
You get the gist.

It's just too easy to get stuck. It is inevitable. There's no profit in worrying or trying to prevent it. The only two things worth spending some time coming up with solutions to are:
  1. How to recognize when you are stuck, as early and often as possible
  2. Things to do to cure it
We have to develop personalized ways to get unstuck. There's no point in fighting or trying to avoid these situations outright -- they are bound to occur despite our best intentions.

This post was (in part) inspired by this excerpt from an excellent book I'm reading by Jay Abraham called "The Sticking Point Solution: 9 Ways to Move Your Business from Stagnation to Stunning Growth in Touch Economic Times":
Usually when people claim to have "tried it all," they haven't. They're stuck thinking within the same old mindset. And I've seen this revealed--firsthand.

At a Tony Robbins seminar I ounce attended, a man came up on stage, in front of thousands of people, and asked for advice. "Tony I've tried everything to make more money. I can't do it."

Tony was skeptical. "Name the last twenty-five to thirty new tactics you've tried in the last six or seven months and describe how each performed."

The man was speechless. He couldn't name a single one. Tony didn't give up. "Okay, name just ten." The man could only mutter unintelligibly before Tony finally drove the point home: "Just what have you done?"

The man's response shocked me: "I've looked in the want ads, and I've gone to a few franchise shows." Those two attempts hardly amounted to the "everything" he claimed to have tried. With his creative process stuck, the man was simply unable to see beyond the traditional methods he knew.
Usually, when I'm working with clients or myself, and start to feel "stuck" it's not due to a lack of intelligence, capability, confidence, or ambition. It's just a loss of perspective. When these times hit, it may be good to remember this post. We could all use a little perspective every once in a while.

Sometimes I (we) get stuck and don't even realize it. That has me thinking that we should build some of the cures for being stuck into our routines, even when we think we're on top of things. Because, even under the best of circumstances and when we're making lots of progress towards our goals, there are always others ways to look at things.

So, in conclusion, I'm suggesting this philosophy (for myself and perhaps for you too): Don't lose sleep over it, just keep your eyes wide open and keep moving forward. Go out of your way every day, to use some of the cures that you know keep you from getting stuck, so that you can be confident you're keeping your eyes wide open.