I recently wrote a Coach’s Corner column for AIIP about how to manage difficult clients and, as I was writing it, I realized that I have had very few difficult clients over the last 25+ years in business. What’s my secret? I’m certainly not perfect, but here are the approaches that have helped me attract and keep so many clients I respect, admire and look forward to working with.
One of the standard jokes of solopreneurs is “If you hear me talking to myself, don’t worry—I’m just holding a staff meeting.” While there’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of being a one-person operation, we sometimes get complacent in how we run our business. This year, I decided to give my business a voice in setting my New Year’s resolutions, as a way to think more expansively about what I need to add, drop or change in 2020. Here are a few of the pieces of advice my business is showing me:
The solopreneurs I coach and mentor, especially those in their first year of business, often tell me how hard it is to figure out how to measure success, how to best spend their time, and how to turn interest into client engagements. While each business is different, a few pieces of advice apply in almost any B2B solopreneur.
First, make sure you know what your prospective clients need, value and will pay you well for. If you haven’t conducted at least a half dozen informational conversations, in which you were able to learn what your market needs and how your prospective clients talk about that need, then you need to invest the time and energy into these essential conversations. See my blog post Making Yourself Irreplaceable for lots more resources on how to conduct insightful informational conversations.
One of the most common traps I see new infopreneurs fall into – and I’ve done this myself, too! – is equating a prospect with an actual, paying client. We meet someone at a networking event or have a phone call with someone we met through social media. The person sounds interested in what we do, accepts our business card, and maybe even says “Yeah, we could have used someone like you that one time.” They may attend a webinar we give or download a white paper we wrote. We end the encounter confident that the person will be calling us shortly with an assignment, but then we never hear from them again.
In my experience, failure to convert interest into engagement is often caused by some combination of the following factors.
You’ve been thinking about starting a full-time consulting business for months… maybe years. You’ve read the books, you’ve taken the courses, you’ve done your reality-check interviews, you’ve written your business plan. But you’re still hesitating to launch your business, or you’re trying to work on your business evenings and weekends while spending your most productive time as an employee for someone else. What will it take for you to make the leap?
One of the things I often talk about with infopreneurs I’m coaching is the importance of knowing how to make something out of nothing. We may have thought the project we took on would be easy to handle, and it turns out the resources we thought we could use didn’t pan out. Or we thought there would be plenty of information on a topic and we find out that, nope, no one’s talking about it. In these cases, we have to be able to tell a story about what the lack of results tells us.
So, when a project results in far less than either my client or I had anticipated, I ask myself these questions:
I’ve seen a lot of myths about consulting, all of them as hoary and false as the idea that if you build a better mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door. Following are the infopreneur myths I’ve found to be most prevalent… and wrong.
#1. Consulting is what people do when they’re between jobs
In my experience, you can’t both start a business and look for a job; either you are focused on finding what your clients need most and how you can meet those needs, or you’re focused on finding who will hire you for your skills.
#2. The services I provided as an employee will be valued by consulting clients
From both my own experience and that of people I coach, one of the biggest challenges for solopreneurs is keeping ourselves motivated and focused on doing the important things, even if they’re not the things we want to do.
When I hear myself saying “I know I should do such-and-such, but …”, I stop and ask myself what is keeping me from doing that thing. As a one-person business, I don’t have a boss to hold me accountable and the consequences of non-action aren’t as immediately painful as doing something that’s way outside my comfort zone. Here are a few of the things that help me move from “I know I should” to “I did it!”
One of the biggest challenges of a good info pro or researcher is to know when to say when. If we have five hours to spend on a project, we want to spend the entire time gathering information, evaluating it, seeing what’s missing, gathering some more, looking for more missing parts… you get the picture. Then, when our time’s up, we pull all the information together, slap on a cover letter explaining all the approaches we took and why we’re including what we have, and then proudly send it along to our client.
This, of course, does a huge disservice to most clients. If they wanted information overload, they could Google it themselves. Clients ask an info pro or researcher to help answer a question because they have confidence we can not just find the best information given the time frame (and budget, if applicable) but distill it down to something that enables the client to take an action, finish a project, complete a presentation, or otherwise move on to the next step in their work.