Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Consulting assignment life cycle 22: professionalism and professional image, and developing a brand 2

Posted in career development, consulting, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 4, 2012

This is my twenty second installment on consulting and the consulting assignment life cycle (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 225-245 for parts 1-21.) I began a discussion of branding and the development and marketing of a professional image in Part 21 of this series and I continue that here with this installment. And I want to carry over a very important point from Part 21 as a starting point for this posting.

When you work as a consultant, you compete for business against other consultants and that means competing against both large and well-established consulting firms and smaller and single-consultant businesses. The larger firms in this pool are not necessarily going to be a competitive problem when you start out and when you are primarily if not exclusively looking for smaller assignments, but even then you will face real competition, unless you are limiting yourself to a very narrow niche-market assignment profile – in which case you will probably have real difficulty finding enough assignments to get your consulting practice or new small consulting business established and going. You will have to compete. And that is where effective branding comes in and marketing that will help you set yourself apart. I argue the case that the two have to be considered together in this and I write here accordingly.

So I began in Part 21 by discussing some of the ways that larger consulting businesses get their message out through as to their capabilities, and the ways in which they brand themselves – and not just with taglines and logos but with demonstrated expertise. And that – demonstrated expertise, is the most important and compelling branding detail that you can develop and share throughout your market space and your intended best-fit marketplaces.

• Effective branding is not primarily about catchy taglines or logo graphics. It is about providing the information that your customers and prospective customers would need in order to select you as a product or service provider – and in a way that helps them identify your message with you as the information providing business. Effective branding starts with the message as to who your business is and what it offers and stands for, and the taglines and logos are simply there to help the people you seek to reach in the marketplace to find you for that message.

So I began this overall discussion by taking lessons from large and established consulting businesses, in finding effective and effectively scaled approaches to building a new consulting firm brand. And with that I turn to the side of that process that can be thought of as tapping into and utilizing the great equalizer – online marketing and particularly the interactive online and social media. As I noted at the end of Part 21, these resources:

• Create opportunity where even individual consultants can and do compete directly and effectively with even the largest corporations.

I begin that by asking a seemingly simple question. What is the difference between social use of social media and business use of those same tools and channels? When you use social media and the interactive online for business development and marketing and branding purposes, your goal should be focused on your clients and prospective clients and on their due diligence issues and concerns.

This means demonstrating a range of sometimes seemingly contradictory messages.

• You want to present yourself as solidly, reliably professional.
• But you also want to convey a message of your flexibility, creativity and originality, and of your ability to help your clients to reach and achieve new sources of competitive edge as they pursue their business goals. So “solidly, reliably professional” does not mean rigidly set in the patterns of your or anyone else’s past.
• You want to convey a message of your established expertise. But at the same time you want to come across as capable of meeting the challenges of the new and emerging problems that your clients face. And that might require breaking new ground and coming up with novel solutions that go beyond established current patterns.

And of course, whatever message you share, when using more central publishing tools such as web 1.0 sections of web sites, present your message and branding in ways that connect with and make sense to the target demographics you seek to reach. And when you turn to social media and interactive channels focus on the tools and channels that the members of those demographics who you seek to reach, are going to.

When you land a client and do work for them, the checks you receive for that work will come with the company name on them and from corporate accounts – but you will work with individual people at that client business, and individual people there will make the decision to hire you to do that work in the first place. So be aware of the business process and corporate culture constraints they work within and make purchasing and hiring decisions from within. But market and brand to those people as individual people too.

And that brings me to what may be the most important point that I could raise and discuss in this posting. And I raise it in terms of two specific and very different social media channels and their use in marketing and branding: Facebook and LinkedIn.

As of this writing, Facebook’s community includes close to one billion registered profiles, with individuals and businesses and organizations of all types and sorts claiming ownership of those member profiles and the walls and other resources associated with them. When you market and brand your consulting practice through a site such as Facebook, you can develop and share marketing content and branding of your choice. But it is of the nature of online social media that others can and will impact upon and even help co-create the basic branding you show there too, and with all of their interactions with you on your wall there. So if you seek to market and develop business for a consulting practice through Facebook, or any site with similar content sharing and co-creation you have to explicitly manage what types of shared information you will allow up on your wall, and from whom and you have to do this from your initial profile set-up and on an ongoing basis.

And for a site such as Facebook, you have to remember that this is used as a social channel more than as a business channel, and certainly by volume of traffic and bandwidth-usage considerations and even if many, many businesses and organizations do have and maintain a Facebook presence. So if you only post there and on sites like it, the business people you would need to reach with your marketing and branding might not even be able to find you online – many businesses block sites such as Facebook for their work computers, seeing access to them as productivity reducers.

This brings me to sites such as LinkedIn that are much more professionally oriented. Even if you like and use and prefer Facebook, as a consultant and a professional develop an online presence through LinkedIn too. And be acutely aware of the “social and personal” versus “social professional” dichotomies inherent here in both selecting and using the social media channels you chose to work with, and as a general policy and approach. That means thinking professional when using sites such as Twitter, and when considering and using any of the newer emerging social media channels and tools too.

I am going to turn to the issues of location next, and of having or not having a separate offices and of telecommuting and teleconsulting. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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