Thought Leadership Resources

#62 What work do you really, really want? Here’s how to get it

Where do you want to be, professionally, a few years from now? Do you want to –
   •  Meet the needs of an industry different from the one you serve now, maybe one that has always fascinated you?
   •  Get bigger clients, which are less likely to have a problem with the fees your work is worth?
   •  Become an advisor to your clients, offering strategic advice rather than a transactional service?
Well … get out your suitcase, we’re going traveling.

This post is all about how the right content strategy can help you shift from your current business reality into the one that you want. The result can be greater work satisfaction, a higher income, and more satisfied clients. Even more – your own sense of satisfaction that comes from having taken charge of your future, and made it happen.

1. Build a clear image of the person you want to reach

Your first step is to understand your market. Specifically, understand the type of individual you need to persuade. Perhaps you think of your market as “the renewable power sector” or “owners of growing companies.” Go further, and build a profile of a person who symbolizes your market.

Some people call this an “avatar” or a “persona,” but in any case it’s a construct that may involve aspects of several people. I have several avatars for my work, and they are all based on real people. I use real names of people I know, but you don’t have to. See Post #5, “How avatars can help your content target your client’s hot buttons” for more on that.

The purpose of your business or professional practice is to meet some of this person’s needs. If you don’t meet real needs that they have and know they have, you’re not likely to be successful.

To do that, you need to build an accurate image in your mind, of who this person is. For example, one of my avatars is “Bryan,” who is in my mind the managing partner or CEO of a professional services firm. Here’s an excerpt from my own business plan, describing “Bryan” in detail.

Education and professional background: Bryan has a CPA, P.E., LLB or other professional designation, and almost certainly a university degree. He’s literate and gets much of his information in writing. He’s 45 plus, uses the Internet for e-mail and research, but he’s not a digital native.

Purpose of their role in the organization: Bryan is somewhat of a first-among-equals and is responsible to the others on the leadership team and in some cases, other partners. He is responsible for leading, managing, mentoring, building and maintaining relations with major clients, and possibly some billable work. He’s not seen as the only public face of the firm; that is shared by the other senior members of the firm.

Career priorities and objectives: Bryan has probably achieved many of his career aims, as head of a professional firm. There is little chance he could move to another organization, as all these firms grow from within. He may want to grow the firm through adding new services, opening new offices, or acquisitions.

What’s in the way? Cashflow. He has to grow this through retained earnings, which are a function of the firm’s top line, expenses, and how much the partners take out in compensation. Debt or external equity are not generally options. Anything they spend on marketing, particularly to external suppliers, comes out of what would go to other purposes. It’s their money.

2. What are your avatar’s top worries and concerns?

In blog post #49, “Why your content should focus on Red Alert problems,” I talked about the need to be sure that your blog posts, articles, videos, infographics and other content show your ability to solve problems your client considers critical.

The reason is simple: if you’re not showing your avatar how you can meet an acute and felt need, your message is likely to be ignored. This applies to your own business offering as well – you need to fine-tune it so that the solutions you provide, match your avatar’s business need.

So, your second step in your venture into new worlds is to find out what are the chief problems that your avatar faces. In the case of “Bryan,” who is most likely with a midsize firm, he’s squeezed between smaller firms that may have lower costs, and larger firms that can offer clients a more comprehensive range of services. He’s also under pressure from automation – it’s becoming easier for clients to perform many basic functions through artificial intelligence and online resources.

You need to do some research to understand your client’s world. This can include:

  • Joining and reading their LinkedIn groups
  • Reading their trade media – magazines, association websites, following influential people on Twitter, following the right people on LinkedIn, subscribing to the right blogs and podcasts
  • Attending their conferences and industry gatherings – not just to network to find new clients (although that’s a nice side benefit) – you’re there to learn about the issues they face (even if you can’t attend their events, reading their conference schedules will give you an idea of their hot buttons)
  • Actually talking to people who represent your avatar! Many business people are open to the idea of an advice meeting, in which they give an idea of the issues they’re facing
Look at future trends. Consider trends such as automation (including automated driving), “Uberization” in which the work is downskilled and outsourced to independent contractors, changing regulations (environmental, health & safety), social trends such as an ageing population.

This part of the exercise may bring bad news or good news for you.
  • You may see that your service offering isn’t solving a big enough issue – it’s vulnerable to being cut, because their budget must go towards problems that are really hurting them
  • Or, you may see that there are needs and problems that you aren’t addressing, but can.

The results may surprise you, but I expect you’ll find it informative – you aren’t your client, and it’s only to be expected that after a closer look, your view of their issues and problems is different from what you thought before.

3. Find out how they learn – and then start showing up there

Your research in Point #2 above will help you build a picture of the channels that your avatar uses when learning. This can include:

Professional associations – a municipal planner, a plaintiff-injury lawyer, a property developer, a civil engineer or other professional will have professional associations that they rely on for information. Those associations may have printed magazines (see Post #61 for more on how to publish an article there) as well as conferences, regional meetings and local gatherings (See Post #30 for more on finding the right audience). Those associations may be looking for presenters with information that’s relevant to their audience, and you can do this by hitting their hot buttons, as defined in step #2). Many associations have websites that are hungry for relevant, non-sales-pitch information on issues their members are facing.

Industry associations – many of your avatars will also look to their industry associations for updates on matters that affect them. This applies whether they’re in mining, furniture manufacturing, aircraft maintenance or injection molding (and anything in between).

Guest podcast appearances – I talked in Post #57, “How to reach potential clients by being a podcast guest,” about the value of appearing as a guest on podcasts of people reaching your market. You’re not likely to get onto the schedule of really big-name podcasters, but many niche podcasts are looking for guests for their show. You need to present a good topic, and it helps if you already have some presentation experience. Just be sure that the audience of the podcast matches your avatar – this is a narrowcast medium, and most podcasts have only a small (but focused) audience.

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Guest blogging – Some blogs are highly influential, and a good way to understand your market’s issues and concerns. Some bloggers are looking for subject-matter experts to provide ideas for posts, to be interviewed for posts, and maybe contribute content. This works best if you’re able to offer repeated content on a specific topic relevant to the readers. This might include an expert in law, finance or a technical matter.

4. Design content showing you to be a solution to current problems

So how do you develop content that shows your avatar that you can help them with the issues they’re facing? The key is in that little word “shows.” You don’t tell them that you can help them – you prove that you understand the issues they’re facing and that your solutions have been developed with them in mind.

Three types of content are particularly effective at helping you get the work you want – by showing your ideal client that you understand their world and can help them meet their goals.

Narrowcast newsjacking – The term “newsjacking” means basing your article, blog post, podcast or other content on a news event, such as the announcement of a new government regulation that will affect the people in your market.

Go one step further and pick “narrowcast” news -- content they won’t find in the mainstream media. This can be a new law, regulation, standard from a recognized group such as ASHRAE, study from a government or private-sector entity, or other bit of news. Ideally, it’s something that will affect your avatar, which you’re qualified to help them with, and about which the information will be scarce. That way, there won’t be much competition for the information you provide, and your wisdom is more likely to be found by a googling avatar.

You can learn more about newsjacking in Post #6.

Trendspotting – This is newsjacking in slow motion. A “trend” is by definition a slow-moving change, and one big problem with slow-moving things is that people tend to miss them – until it’s too late. Trends affecting your avatar might be:

  • The growth of automation and artificial intelligence
  • Electric vehicles displacing gasoline and diesel power
  • Growing practicality of solar power, combined with better batteries

Effective trendspotting content describes the trend, explains where it comes from, and what the situation is at present. It then goes on to describe how the trend will develop, and provides the author’s expert advice on how to avoid a problem or gain an opportunity as a result of the trend.

As with newsjacking, it helps to take the “narrowcast” approach, so that you’re discussing a trend that won’t be covered by the mainstream media, but will affect the people represented by your avatar.

For example, many of the “Bryans” I work with are in charge of firms that provide environmental services to mining companies. This includes treating the water flowing out of disused mines, which is often contaminated by metals and salts.

The trend towards practical solar power makes it possible to provide electrical energy to remote mine sites that are far off the grid, so that mining companies can use solutions that use electrical power, in their mine-water treatment solutions.

Case studies – I have a love/hate relationship with case studies as a way to help you get the kind of work you want to do.

To see why this is, let’s take a closer look at what a case study is all about. It should have a simple, three-part design – the situation the client faced, the solution that was developed, and the resolution or outcome. It’s not necessarily about boasting, although that does happen.

I covered the upside of case studies in my first blog post, “Why case studies are best if they make your client look amazing,” about why the client (not you) needs to be the hero of your story.

I also went into the downside of case studies in Post #42, “How case studies can hold you back in your career, talking about how case studies are about the work you do now, rather than the kind of work you want to do. One solution to that is to find some way to do a project that involves the kind of work you want to do, even if you do the work at no charge. Then, a case study about that project can be like putting a claim onto a piece of ground, helping you stake out your future.

5. Get your ideas published in your avatar’s media

Your next step is to get content developed in Step #4 into the media you’ve identified in Step #3. I dealt with the steps needed to work with niche trade publications in Post #18.

One of the keys to success here is leverage. If you publish a guest post in an influential blog, for example, be sure to drop links to that post into the LinkedIn groups to which your avatar belongs. Use Twitter to amplify your reach. Post articles to SlideShare with the right tags, so they’ll get noticed by people represented by your avatar.

6. Get traffic back to your home base

One of the purposes of your outreach into media relied upon by your avatar is to bring those people back to your own “home base” online. This could be a brochure-type website that just shows the kind of work you do, how this helps clients, and your qualifications for doing that kind of work.

However, it’s best if you can get prospective clients to agree to hear from you on a repeat basis, so you keep showing up in their heads. That means it’s more likely that when they have a need you can fill, you’re the person they call.

I talked about effective blogging in Post #52, "How your blog can pull you into the work you want to do (and for more money)."

Do this in your published articles and other content by offering a “premium” or benefit to signing up for your blog, YouTube channel, podcast or other content. It could be the offer of an e-book or other bit of long form content. I do this in my own newsletter, and it helps to attract potential subscribers.

One of my challenges in doing this is that I tend to lose track of the purpose. It’s not just about creating good information. It’s about creating opportunities for you to do the kind of work you really want to do.

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Carl Friesen

Carl is the Founder of the Thought Leadership Resources and helps business professionals gain the skills they need to build their profile as subject-matter experts and thought leaders.

You can connect with Carl on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter

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