In today’s market, whether job seeking or selling your services, it’s imperative to distinguish yourself. In a down automotive market, Toyota Prius and other hybrid vehicles bring premium prices. In a declining home mortgage refinance business, companies with good rates or customer service will beat out competitors for the customers requiring the product. Or, in the job market, a director of marketing with experience in Web 2.0 community building or software-as-a-service lead generation skill or a finance executive with business process cost cutting experience in biotech may distinguish themselves from other generic marketing or finance executives.
In asking a former Coca-Cola branding strategy executive now in a small PR agency how the PR business is doing in today’s market, he responded, “Companies with a strong brand message, an expertise in an area, are still drawing in customers; customers seek these companies. However, the larger agencies that try to be all things to all people are struggling.”
Sometimes it is not enough to say that you are good at some area. You need to demonstrate it to customers. Show us the money. I’m not advocating taking unpaid internships or doing all your work for free. I recommend doing a focused ‘consulting’ project that demonstrates your expertise while building your knowledge capital and network in your niche. I call this using your Entrepreneurial Ingenuity to do work that gets you work, whether you seek a job or increased consulting revenue.
Consulting firms do industry benchmarks. Look at boutique payments consultancy Edgar Dunn and Company or supply chain strategy firm PRTM and their industry leading studies and roundtables. Consulting firms, in their core practices, often benchmark best practices. When I worked on benchmark studies, we would determine the processes and/or metrics to evaluate, identify companies to target, ask target client companies to participate in the study (often for a fee), interview key individuals in the company, analyze results and prepare a final report, then present the report to executives at participating companies. This expertise can be touted in industry with white papers, web content, conference keynotes, media spots, and business development presentations to other potential clients.
Let me share some examples:
1. I recommended this approach to an executive interested in finding a Corporate Social Responsibility role in a technology company: contact target companies who might have CSR initiatives at some point. Find out where this responsibility might lie within the organization – HR, marketing, finance, etc. Pitch your network with, “I’m doing a benchmark study on CSR to learn what companies are doing and the ROI of initiatives. May I talk with you about what your company is doing?” When the research report is done, contact the company with the message, “I have the benchmark findings on CSR. Who else from your organization should be in the presentation of results?” As for your results, you have knowledge of best practices and their ROI, relationships with people in your target companies with responsibility for this function, and if data suggests, possible consulting or, later, full time job opportunities with the company. If the company hires in this area, you will be the first they contact if done correctly. And, you have the knowledge that helps build your brand as the expert in CSR.
2. An investment banker moved from NYC to Silicon Valley and looked into buying a company. Finding only third-rate opportunities, he reconsidered his options. He said to me, “I’d look into Private Equity or Venture Capital but I don’t have relationships in the area. I would become a business broker but no one knows where the money is. And, the people in those roles have all moved.” Ah ha. That’s an opportunity. No one knows where the money is. Why don’t you find out who is making loans? What are requirements for loans? In the process of contacting people, you will amass information that you can share in white papers, local presentations, and blogs. And you will begin to develop relationships with those contacts. The knowledge in itself could make you a very qualified business broker with a network of targeted relationships.
3. A job seeker in software strategic alliances is targeting the clean tech industry. The clean tech industry, much like the Internet industry in 1995-96, does not have a deep talent pool of people with industry expertise. To gain the skills to change careers, this executive immersed himself in professional organizations and informational interviews to learn the industry and pursue jobs. Despite having negotiated many deals, he was always stymied by the question, “How many Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) have you negotiated?” “None” does not go over really well. Why not change that to an answer of “None per se. However I just completed a study of PPA’s and learned best practices about what makes the most effective contracts. Companies that …” Become the expert in new areas.
4. Recent UCLA Anderson alumni applied their own Entrepreneurial Ingenuity in the real estate industry. Three graduating students, Mike Brown, Casey Lynch, and Albert Bernal, facing limited job prospects, decided to start their own business. They started a real estate fund, Pelican Holdings, investing in distressed workforce housing. They put in their own funding and raised a sizable first round fund to buy foreclosed homes – all with positive cash flow. Using their real estate and finance backgrounds they do considerable due diligence: climbing on roofs during inspection, doing renovations, and analyzing cash flow for current and future returns. Their work is getting them into discussions with other much larger real estate investment funds looking for partners to do due diligence on properties. As experts doing the work, not job seekers, they are having these conversations that extend their real estate networks and create business opportunities.
To get started applying Entrepreneurial Ingenuity, ask yourself the following questions, individually or for your company:
• What is your industry and strength? What is your target industry?
• Where are there areas of opportunities?
• What knowledge or expertise can you build that is needed in this space?
• What is the value of this knowledge? Who would be interested in this expertise?
• What opportunities will this create for you?
Whether you are looking to boost your business revenue or find a job, I encourage you to apply Entrepreneurial Ingenuity to create opportunities for yourself. Do targeted work reaching out to the networks you want to know your brand and expertise. It’s much better and easier than a cold call saying “Are you interested in buying my services?” or “I’m looking for a job.” Do work to get work.
Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc. has recently completed searches for a Divisional President and VP Sales for a disruptive technology company.
Our current searches are as follows:
- SEM Media Supervisor - E-commerce company (Midwest)
- Media Analytics Manager - E-commerce company (Midwest)
- Technology Manager/Director - E-commerce company (Midwest)
- Account Executives – Leading enterprise software company (West Coast)
For more information, visit www.ullrichassociates.com. Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc. focuses on C-suite, VP and Director level hires across the functions of Product Marketing/Management, Marketing, Sales and Consulting for technology and services companies.
Kathy was quoted in The Street’s article “Business Beware: Do’s and Don’ts of Hiring.”
She was also featured in a Wall Street Journal Blogs article “Advice: Connecting with Other Job Hunters.”
Kathy is producing a Career Development Webinar Series for UCLA Anderson alumni and guests with programs in October and November on:
• Oct 22 - The Persuasive Pitch – Dr. Justine Lewis
• Oct 30 – Leading through Influence – Rayona Sharpnack, President of Institute for Women’s Leadership
• Nov 11 – Listening Styles – Dr. Carol McCall, President of Global Institute for Listening and Communications
• Nov 18 – Negotiations: Dealing with Difference – Dr. Robert Spich
See http://alumni.anderson.ucla.edu/events/ for details or contact Kathy directly for registration information.