One of the more comforting things about working for someone else, or an established organization, is just that: someone else, or some group of people, have taken the time to establish the organization or practice. They put together the administrative structures that are necessary, gone through the legal hassles of setting up an organization and determined the focus, the vision and the area of products or services that are delivered. In short, they’ve built the package that you as an employee are now being asked to join to sustain and grow.
When you’re considering making the leap to become and independent professional, or start your own organization, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the prospect of all of the “new” work it will create or all of the “new” knowledge you need to have to run a successful business.
I promise you it’s much more simple than you think. I’ve designed this training specifically to discuss the critical pieces you need to have a place in order to make a successful leap to independence or starting your own organization.
At the end of this training, you should have confidence that you can take clear next steps on the minimum requirements you need to have in place so that you will be able to:
- communicate consistently about the brand and the service and the products that you are offering,
- that you’ll be able to accept work, execute and complete sales, and
- take care of the simple administration of running a business (things like bookkeeping and registration).
I’ve found it helpful to group these start up necessities by asking three simple questions:
- First, what is your story?
- Second what does your storefront look like? and
- Third how will you handle administration?
I always start with The Story for one simple reason: If you don’t have a story to tell, there is really no reason to think about setting up a storefront or getting your administrative pieces together.
So, what do I mean by your story?
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I mention UNICEF? If you’ve been in this profession for any amount of time, you instantly think of an organization that serves children across the globe. What about Doctors without Borders? Again, if you have any experience with humanitarian response, you know this organization provides humanitarian medical services. These are just two of many iconic brands in our industry.
The images that appear in your head when you hear an organizational name are the results and the essence of branding. When done effectively, branding successfully communicates, and more importantly, allows people to remember, who you are and what problems you solve. In my experience, I found that brands become memorable and compelling if they are able to easily and effectively to tell a story that others can relate to and remember.
I know as well as the next person that stories evolve and shape themselves over time. And, this is no different for the story of a practice or business. This is one of the most exciting and fun parts about starting something new.
I recommend that you break down your story into three parts:
The Story Part 1: Your Name
This is essentially the title of your story. I am a believer that the name you choose for your business should reflect, if at all possible, either the solutions you provide or the problem that you solve. The United Nations Children’s Fund (or UNICEF) and Doctors without Borders are two great examples.
If you’re starting an individual practice, using your own name is a surefire way to brand you as an expert. If you are starting an organization, my recommendation is that you choose a name that is very specific to the niche or service you provide. This makes it very easy for others to quickly understand how you can help them to solve their problems. (PS: This aligns well with our philosophy here at Aidpreneur, that when you start you should choose just one thing – your niche – that you do as a service or product that you provide.)
Often times, when working with individuals or groups, I hear a need that they want to choose a name that’s broader in nature or covers a larger set of ideas. Usually they are worried that a name will ultimately end up limiting their practice or organization in the future. My response is always the same: this will be a wonderful problem to have in two or three years after you’ve achieved that success. And then, it becomes a wonderful opportunity to rebrand your organization and the work that you do, which provides an unbelievably awesome excuse to reconnect with each of your clients on an intimate level.
Important!One final thought to consider when choosing a name for your practice is whether or not a high level domain name is available. For those of you who are not especially technically savvy, a high-level domain (or HDL) is the address you type in the top of your web browser, or the part of your email address after the @ symbol. I am of the mind that this is not trivial. I have seen countless hours wasted by individuals and groups on branding activities that are ultimately unsuccessful because they have not taken the time to see if their web domain is available before they start creating other parts of the story, such as collateral, logos etc. Unfortunately, at this point in the game, finding a domain name that perfectly matches the company name you want may be difficult. But, rather than seeing this is a sticking point, I encourage you to look at this as a way to be creative and innovative.
The Story Part 2: Your Products and/or Services
As I just mentioned, it’s my hope that the name you choose for your practice or organization closely reflects the services or products that you provide to your clients, especially at this initial startup phase.
This is the part of your story that usually becomes what many people like to refer to as your “elevator pitch”. Again, especially in the startup phase, what you do, the services you provide or the products or deliver should be so easy for you to describe that you can explain it in the 15 seconds that you have when riding in an elevator with someone else (i.e. a potential client) from one floor to another.
In case you have not guessed it yet, as with most things here at Aidpreneur, simple is better. Simple and specific is even better. Since most of us are experts seeking to sell our time as consultants, let’s start with an example of an education specialist.
If I am riding in an elevator with you and I ask you “so, what is it that you do?”, And you were to answer me, “I’m an education consultant,” or, “I’m an expert in education”, I would probably smile and tell you that’s very nice, and, when the elevator stopped to let me off at my floor, I would wish you a nice day. However if you were to respond in a different, much more specific manner the outcome could be different. For example, what if you said instead, “I specialize in early childhood education in Southeast Asia,” or, “I am an expert in designing and delivering online training and low bandwidth contexts,” in both of these cases you have provided me with the opportunity to connect what it is you do with the potential need that I might have, or, even better, with the potential needs that people or organizations in my network may have as well.
A similar situation occurs if you sell a product to the aid and development community. Again, if we were riding in that elevator and you say, “my company provides financial services,” or, “I work on water issues”, again, the story that you are telling me is incomplete and inspecific and does little to catch my interest. However, if you were to respond with, “my company provides a help desk solution for microfinance activities in sub-Saharan Africa,” or, “my organization provides a unique water filtration system that’s especially effective in eliminating water borne illnesses.” There is a much better chance of that light bulb going on in my head about a need I may have, or a need someone else I know may have.
The two critical elements to remember here are simplicity and specificity. As you have, or will have, heard me say throughout the context at Aidpreneur, I am a huge believer in starting with the one thing you do better than anyone else, making sure that you absolutely generate sustainable success with that one thing and then, and only then, add a new product or service to your portfolio.
The Story Part 3: Your History
There is an old adage, at least in the Western world, of “let the buyer beware.” While in today’s online universe, access to information about a product, service, organization or individual is available to essentially anyone, trust and confidence building is still an essential skill and something that needs to be earned every day.
At the very core of this issue are the daily interactions that you have with others. Every email you send, every text you write, every blog post you put up, and every report that you submit is a reflection on the quality of your work and the services you provide. Each interaction adds to the picture and forms the beliefs that others have about you and your work.
(Note: I’m putting this on the table now because I think there’s often a misconception when starting a consulting practice or starting an organization that you will “take care of those things later” or change the way you behave at a different time. It’s been my experience working with hundreds of organizations and thousands of consultants or the last 10 years that the future is now, and the actions you take on a daily basis today will have effects and implications for you in the future. Said another way, you are crafting and telling your story every day all day, so it’s in your best interest to make sure that it’s a story that you want others to not only enjoy, but also interested in repeating.)
More traditionally speaking, we think of the history part of our story as the key data points in our past we can point to to show others that we are an expert or that our product or service is something that has value and will solve a problem.
As an individual expert or consultant, these data points are things such as your education, the experience you’ve had with other organizations as a consultant or as an employee, and any references you can put on the table from others that testify to your ability to deliver.
If you’re selling a product or service, this part of your story includes data points about how your product or service works, who else is currently using it (again, remembering to be as specific as possible), why, in your opinion you’ve built a better mousetrap, stories about how your service or product have solved a problem for someone or created a better life for someone, and testimonials or references from others who’ve used your product or service.
Putting together these three elements of your story is an excellent way to get prepared and build confidence for making the leap to being an independent consultant or starting your own organization.
In the next part of this toolkit, I’ll be talking about the essential pieces of your storefront that you should have in place so that you can begin selling yourself or your products and services, and more importantly, transacting business, on the very first day you decide to open for business.
Thank you for watching this training here at Aidpreneur. I hope you remember that anytime you have questions or comments you can email me at training@Aidpreneur.com.