Archive for December, 2008

The year of the experts

Former Solicitor Gen...
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I’m not going to beat around the bush. I may call myself an IT consultant, but really I’m a sales person. ALL consultants are sales people. In whatever guise they wrap up their advice, they are essentially selling their clients their opinion. And the most effective consultants are the ones who are the best sales people. However, this is not a bad thing. Too many times I hear friends, family and colleagues whine about being sold too on the phone, via TV adverts and over the internet. That’s the mark of a bad sales person. If your client knows he’s being sold too, you’re no longer a consultant.

So what’s the difference between a sales person and a consultant? In my humble opinion, the clue is in the title. Consultants consult with their clients. They find out what problems they’re having. They understand how that is effecting their business. Then on the back of this, they recommend a solution, either theirs or someone else’s, that they are confident will resolve the issue at hand.

This is all common knowledge. However, one thing that distinguishes good consultants from great consultants is the fact that some pursue clients, while others attract them. And the reason? Because the latter are perceived to be experts within their field of knowledge. Think about it. When was the last time you received unsolicited communication from a lawyer or solicitor? Usually, lawyers and solicitors position themselves as experts within their field of knowledge to attract the bulk of their clientele. I’m not saying they don’t advertise, but I’m sure in your day to day life you will see more adverts for second hand cars and double glazing than you will see for law firms.

So how do we position ourselves as an expert within our field? First off, here comes the mandatory disclaimer! I’m no expert and am always on the lookout for people who have techniques that I can try. However, I have already learnt a lot about self marketing and positioning to have picked up a few tips that stand me in good stead.

1) You will very rarely find an expert who is anything but wholly confident about the information they are giving. Whether it is derived from their own research, or from learned colleagues/mentors, the majority of experts exude confidence when they communicate with others. So I guess my tip would be BE CONFIDENT when talking to potential clients. Whether this means learning back to front the technical aspects of what you are talking about, or whether through various visualisation techniques and self empowerment methods you become more self confident as a person. The end results will be your clientele will have more respect and assurance  in you and your opinions.

2) Once you are confident in your self and your offering, network. Network like mad! Pick up the phone, go to trade shows, participate in online discussions, go to relevant seminars. The more visibility you give yourselves, the more people will start to recognise you. And if you are constantly doing the rounds  at various shows, the more expertise they assume you have taken in. If you know how to network (and to be honest, I’m still learning…) then this skill is invaluable, as the more influential people you can attract into your mastermind group, the better. This will give you the benefit of having a rich source of knowledge to tap into when you need it most. In some circumstances, this can also act as an accreditation for some clients to validate you by.

3) Never ever stop learning. EVER. It’s all well and good going out to lunch with big executives, but if you do not know what policies have recently been implemented within your industry, or do no know the recent movers and shakers within your vertical, then you will only look out of your depth. This is NOT a good look. Confidence and networking can only take you so far. If you don’t know about the bigger picture, then you need to learn and QUICKLY. And if you’re one of those big executives who think they’ve learned everything there is to learn within their sector, as Jay Abraham so eloquently puts it, “you’re probably losing business and don’t even know it!” In a nutshell, if you think you’ve learnt everything about your product, learn everything about your clients. Or learn everything about your industry. Or learn everything about your competitors. Or learn everything about your governing body. Or learn everything about successful consultants. I cannot stress this point enough.

There are many many more ways in which you can become an expert within your field. I have only highlighted the 3 main ways in that I have used in my industry. Is it working? Only time will tell! However, one thing that I am sure about is that in this downturn, many more consumers will be nervous about parting with their money. If you are able to offer them unbiased, qualified advice, they will be a lot more susceptible to following you and your opinions.

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Why it is important to vet everyone you deal with

If there is one thing that this economic crisis has taught me, it is that it is VITALLY important to conduct a thorough process of due diligence on any company you plan on doing business with. Professionally every client we consult with goes through an extensive credit check before we agree to deal with them. Once this process is conducted, we make sure they agree to our terms of 30 days with NO EXCEPTIONS. This may put some big corporations‘ noses out of joint, but if the likes of Lehman Brothers can disappear, then no one is safe.

However, it is personally where I have been left surprised, and consequently learnt the biggest lessons. There are two companies in paticular that I have been looking at dealing with for two individual reasons.

1) I have always had more than a passing intrigue into the property market, and have been looking at differing ways to make a passive income through land and property. One method of which interested me was making money on the purchase by buying below value, mainly through off-plan purchases, and one comapny who specialised in these purchases was Inside Track. Inside Track claimed to be a multi-national organisation with the financial muscle and expertise to be able to negotiate big discounts from major property groups worldwide. These discounts they then passed on to their clients. All sounded good. The fact that their adverts were literally everywhere made me think that there was no harm in attending a free seminar. I did, and I’m glad I did. They rolled out what I now realise to be the standard slick knowledgeable senior salesman, who answered all questions thrown at him like a politician with a dark secret. But he had people convinced to part with their money there and then. I was not one of them, and decided to look around a bit more, but subscribe to their newsletter to understand more. I also kept in touch with a few people that I met at the seminar, who bought into the promise to become wealthy through property investment. To cut a long story short, as we know, Inside Track are no more, and these people have lost thousands, and are still waiting for their money back from the administrators.

2) The second company that I came across was New Star Asset Management, a newly created ‘stellar’ fund management company. Their adverts claimed that they had the best performing retail fund managers within the industry and despite their various disclaimers and risk warnings, their website displayed an air of confidence on their ability to obtain a return on your investment. Now I must stress here that my due diligence witih New Star essentially consisted of talking to a few people I know who invested money with New Star in various retail funds. Just as a status update, New star are currently suspending trading on their much lauded Heart of Africa fund, whilst struggling to keep their vastly under performing ‘stars’ from walking out on them.

The main point of this is not to rant against the mis-fortune of two major companies within their respective sectors, but to highlight a common theme between them. The main reason how I came across both companies was through adverts. Both companies posted big billboards on motorways, took out flashy ads in the FT and various money magazines and basically plastered their brand on most surfaces guaranteed to be looked upon by people like me who have little knowledge of their respective industries. I have learnt that the more a company advertises, the less credible it becomes.  If I want to do business with someone, I want to do business with an expert in their field. If someone is advertising everywhere, it screams desperation. With hindsight, both Inside Track and New Star had business models which seemed to consist of building a list to make a decent return. Unfortunately the downturn in the economy found both these companies wanting. In my next blog, I will talk a little about positioning yourself as an expert, as then and only then can you really start to attract clients, as opposed to chasing them and consequently seeming desperate.

I hope you have a great Christmas!

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How to survive a recession…

I came across a very useful article by the team at Mashable on how to market yourself during an economic downturn.

It delves into the usefulness of using self development to empower yourself, making you look more attractvie to your client base. This I feel is a key attribute, as many buyers will not only be focused on cost, but also value. Everyone wants more for less, and, as Eben Pagan says, if you can move the ‘free line’ and add exponential value to your offering, you will immediately make yourself seem a more attractive proposition within your industry.

The change in our economy

When I was younger, it was considered the ‘done thing to do’ to go to school and work hard to get a good education to make yourself as attractive as possible for big companies to come and sweep you off your feet. I often remember my teachers preaching to me about how I would need to go to Uni to do a graduate placement with a major organisation so I could guarantee myself financial security for my adulthood. Fast forward 10 years and not even the bigger companies are safe from the turmoil enveloping our economy.

I was fairly lucky in that my dad realised the values of playing the big corporations at their own game, in that he worked for them, worked his way up, learnt as much as he thought necessary and then setup on his own. Now although this was still considered risky back then, there is no doubt that in this day and age, there are numerous benefits to be had, due to the advent of technology available to us. When he setup, he had to leave the security of a well paid job just to gain the knowledge and put together the processes that would last a decade. Now, with the internet, it is possible to passively put the seeds in place to flower into something that can subtly compliment your regular income.

So when did all this change and how? Well there’s no doubt that the advent of the Internet sped up the process. More people were able to find knowledge, funding, clients and expertise within their field to set-up-shop and create a business. Due to the lack of bureaucracy, these companies are more flexible and dynamic, as they are driven by a passionate management group, as opposed to a board sucking out more than they put in. And in this current climate, a company that is driven, dynamic and flexible will stand a lot more chance of weathering the current storm., however long it lasts.

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