Help Me With My Strategy Please
post # 189 — September 13, 2006 — a Strategy post
If past blogposts are any guide, you folks seem to enjoy giving me advice as much as I like giving it to you, so now itâ€™s your turn again.
In broad outline, here are some of my strategic challenges and choices that Iâ€™d like your input on.
Iâ€™m 59 years old, with a reputation and track record of consulting with, speaking to and writing about businesses (around the world) in the professional sector (law, accounting, investment banking, executive search, IT services, real estate, consulting, etc.) I donâ€™t plan to stop anytime soon, so (like everyone else) I need to think periodically about my choices for the future.
As time has gone by, a few trends have emerged in my business:
a) When I started, I think I was pretty much a pioneer in writing about professional businesses and there werenâ€™t many people with that as a consulting specialty. Nowadays, there are many consultants focusing in this area.
b) On the other hand, interest in my work spreads to new industries with every passing year, and a higher and higher portion of most economies are becoming made up of knowledge-intensive businesses. The world is moving toward my specialty, and itâ€™s tempting to start writing about business in general. But Iâ€™m concerned about losing my reputation as a specialist.
c) As I have tried to make an impact on the world with my thoughts, I find that there are (broadly) two groups in my audience. The bigger group is made up of relatively younger people, or those outside the power structure (staff people, other consultants, small firms and solo operators like me.) This group tends to enjoy my emphasis on core principles and staying true to dreams and ambitions.
d) The second group is made up of top officers in top firms, working at the frontiers of their business, who seem to appreciate me being provocative, challenging the traditional ways professional businesses are run. (Of course, there are often people in these positions who donâ€™t like being challenged that way!)
e) Iâ€™m interested in working with and serving both groups but donâ€™t want to get too schizophrenic. Both in content and marketing, the audiences are different. The first audience reads blogs, and writing for them allows me to feel that Iâ€™m having an impact by interacting with tomorrowâ€™s leaders.
f) The second audience (top officers in top firms, working at the frontier) is harder to reach, because busy leaders tend not to read articles, blogs, or books. I may also need a different â€œpositioningâ€ for that audience, because a reputation for only pointing out whatâ€™s wrong (or could be better) isnâ€™t always considered completely helpful. Senior people also like to believe that I am, in some sense â€œon their sideâ€ — trying to help, and not too much on the side of the revolutionaries trying to overthrow the power structure. I like to think I present a lot of affirmative and constructive advice, but I do have a bit of a reputation as the type of consultant, speaker and writer who talks about the elephant in the room that no-one else wants to talk about. (I know, I know, I wrote about how to do this with charm and style in my book The Trusted Advisor. But it isnâ€™t always easy to challenge and be seen as constructive.)
g) My choices are not really driven by economics, but the desire to make a contribution and receive the recognition and strokes that come from having made such a contribution. However, the economics of serving the two audiences are very different. If I serve the first audience and want to make money at it, it will probably mean selling ebooks, CDs and videos. (I think thereâ€™s a demand for that.) If I serve the second audience, it means generating and emphasizing new thoughts in new articles, and deriving an income from high-level face-to-face consulting. So far, Iâ€™ve been able to do both, and be accepted as doing both, but I donâ€™t know whether that will continue to be a good model (or even viable) moving forward.
Obviously, I havenâ€™t given you enough information, but hopefully we can have some fun — and I can get some free advice. Here are some (sincere) questions:
Should I continue to try and be a â€œprofessional business specialistâ€ or write about general business issues? This might be a question of writing style and language more than anything else, but it affects my â€œpositioning.â€
What can I do to best serve the first audience of other consultants, staff people, younger people and small firms? If I wanted to, what would be the best way to â€œmonetizeâ€ my services to that audience?
If I want to keep serving the second, top officer audience, how do I carry on being challenging and provocative without being one more person pointing out whatâ€™s wrong with the established structure? Is it possible to pull off the high-wire act of being both a provocateur and a wise counselor? Should I continue to try that?