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The Headless Ghost Movie Poster

You won’t hear this guy complaining about his niche.

You will hear entrepreneurial leaders and other talking heads (Seth Godin, can you hear me?) telling us to find our niche. As I was watching a Twitter feed during lunch on the day of the manhunt for the (alleged) Boston Marathon bomber, it struck me how unimportant nearly all the voices (tweets) were, at least to me. They were all just a bunch of noise.

Why is finding your niche so important?  It is easy to look out into the world and easily become overwhelmed by the flood of information.  You have a product, a service, or an idea that you want to share with the world, but you will more than likely be drowned out, unless you start with your niche.  Take the case of the Twitter posts I mentioned above: nobody cares about your comments unless you have active followers.  Finding your niche is the best way to be heard through all the noise.

Don’t worry about being listed on the Amazon best seller’s list or getting a call for an interview by Wired, Inc., or Fast Company.  Focus on your niche first.  I have learned this lesson over the years. When I started this company, I had grand hopes and dreams for this company to become a large player in the ERP space, providing implementation services across the full spectrum of Oracle E-Business Suite modules. I never put much effort into that bigger plan for a variety of reasons, and frankly I am glad that I did not. Instead, I focused on being really good and getting better at just one area: Human Capital Management (a/k/a HRMS). Although I read this more than a decade ago and can’t remember who said it, this is the age of the specialist.

The reason the niche matters is because people who care about what you sell or say will be the ones listening. It is much easier get the attention of 200 people than 200,000,000 people. If the message is important or interesting enough, those 200 will make sure it spreads to a larger audience.  The important thing is to find your niche, decide if there is growth, and then get in and build.

The book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World is next on my reading list, which addresses platform creation.  The platform is one of the concepts Seth Godin proposes in his book Linchpin, another book that I consider recommended reading. I will offer my thoughts after I’ve read it.

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As a general rule, I spend no time on Twitter. I will usually visit when I want to see how a big new event trends, especially from people on the ground.  Aside from that, I am only there when I post updates to this blog.

Philips Voice Tracer Digital Voice Recorder

‘Big Idea’ Catcher

In the spirit of the LinkedIn series, Things I Carry, I have created my list of the things that I carry. I am a frequent traveler and have well over 1 million miles of air, car, train, and bus travel over the past 10 years, and I’ve learned to travel as lean as possible.  These are the things I carry:

  • Family
  • Assistant
  • ThinkPad
  • Voice recorder
  • Ebook Reader

Family

I will wax sentimental here and tell you that I carry my family in my heart, and this is the most important thing that I carry. I could not do what I do as effectively as I could without the unwavering support and love from my wife and children.  Because of this support, I am more balanced, driven, focused, and grounded than I ever was as a free agent. This is sincere, honest, and true.

[click to continue…]

Wine and Olive Tapas

You can wine them and dine them, but it is going to cost you.

For the small consulting firm and independent consultants, building strong customer loyalty can make or break your business. Weak customer loyalty, at the very least, will make the struggle to keep your sales pipeline full a lot more difficult.  Strong customer loyalty will provide dividends for years to come.  Some of the common approaches to loyalty building are:

  • Wine and dine (or lunch and brunch) your clients
  • Provide outstanding service
  • Be professional

Spoiling your clients with good meals and drinks is fun for all involved, but I do not recommend this as a general rule. There are too many ways for this to go wrong: company policy violations (improper gifts), setting a precedent for future dealings, liability concerns, and the risk of being the next big thing on YouTube.  Reserve this for post-go live celebrations, if you must.  Providing outstanding service is an obvious choice and professionalism speaks for itself, though the monetary value of either is difficult to quantify.

I have found one method that is not as obvious, but is absolutely effective and profitable: adopt your client’s vision, mission, and culture.  There are three steps to doing it right, which I term the RDI MethodReconnaissance, Disguise, and Integration.

Step 1: Reconnaissance:  [click to continue…]

Unknown American Mountain

Your remote worker is somewhere in this picture.

An interesting article from Harvard Business Review arrived in my email this morning that I want to share:

Why Remote Workers Are More (Yes, More) Engaged.

Two points that stand out to me are:

  • Absence makes people try harder to connect
  • Leaders of virtual teams make better use of tools

I agree with Mr. Edinger for the most part, but one point that he omits is the perspective of the remote worker.  [click to continue…]

Andrew Summers Rowan and General Garcia

Andrews Summers Rowan in the center, General Calixto García on the right.

I stumbled across an amazing story, A Message to Garcia, about 6 months ago, which sums up what we all should strive to be and should look for when hiring people.  This book is in the public domain, and I am including copies at the end of this review, based on the Project Gutenberg texts.

The book, which is really more of an essay, was written by Elbert Hubbard, an American writer and philosopher who was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He wrote this story shortly after the end of the Spanish-American War, based on the actions of Andrew Summers Rowan.  During the war, Rowan was asked by his general to deliver a message from President McKinley to General Calixto García, leader of the Cuban resistance, who was hidden in the mountains in an unknown location.  Not asking how he was going to accomplish such a task, he took the message from his general, and without a word he set off and successfully delivered the message to Garcia.

The essay extols the virtues of Rowan as a desirable trait for all people.  Here is the crux of Hubbard’s message, as I see it:

The world needs people who can take a task and complete it, without question, complaint, or fuss.

Many of us are that person.  As managers, these are the person we want working on our teams.  As entrepreneurs, these are definitely the people we want for our startups.  Hubbard describes those who cannot take or follow through on orders as morally deformed or crippled.  He sympathisizes with the hard working person, who does their job without complaint, without stupid questions.  To quote Hubbard:

“His kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is wanted in every city, town and village—in every office, shop, store and factory.”

I am not going to try an analyze the book from head to tail here, because I would do an injustice to it.  The one thing that strikes me is that this book could have been written yesterday.  I believe it is as important a book as any I have read in years and should be required reading for every child, high school student, college student, worker, soldier, and citizen.  It is short enough to read in a few minutes and I very highly recommend it.  You can download or read the book here:

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I am forming an opinion lately that books do not need to be long, but rather short.  This was first brought to my attention while reading Seth Godin’s “The Dip”.  There are too many non-fiction books that have filler, because apparently some publishers charge for books by the pound.  There may be a prevailing thought that a short book does not carry as much perceived value as a long, large, heavy one.  This is why we end up abandoning books before finishing them, unless the content is very compelling.

I believe books need to be shorter, not longer.  I think that takes a great deal of time and thought to write a shorter book than it does a longer book.  To quote Cicero (also attributed to Blaise Pascal, Mark Twain, and others):

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

To quote my wife:

“Land the plane.”

Arby's Roast Beef SignWhat does a fast food restaurant and IT consulting have in common?  They are both businesses that rely on face to face communications and relationship building to help create loyalty and repeat business.  What can we learn from Arby’s that can help improve our relationships with customers?  And why Arby’s in particular?  Isn’t Arby’s just a fast food chain?  That is what I thought, until I started noticing something very strange and exciting when visiting two Arby’s restaurants.

In 2010, I was working with a client in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  One of the most convenient eating establishments was Arby’s and I would eat there every two weeks or so.  I had the most unusual experience when I would visit; the order taker/cashier, Pearl, kept a pom-pom next to her register and waved it every time she greeted a new customer, always with a cheerful hello and a big smile.  The cheerfulness was contagious, and the restaurant was a very popular lunch spot.  I could not help smiling every time I visited.  Aside from the general nice feeling, the other thing that struck me was that they asked for my name.  When my food was ready, it was served to me by name.  [click to continue…]