Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Can a 2-question list change your communications career? Mine did.

"How did you decide what you wanted to do?"

I was talking recently with a wannabe entrepreneur in a similar field when this question came up, as it often does in such conversations. She was asking about how I chose the services I offer to clients. But the way she phrased it, I realized, made it a relevant question at any point in your career as a communications pro.

So I told her about my 2-question list. And I think you can use it wherever you are in your career.

The list is one I made when I decided to start this business almost 14 years ago. I'd freelanced, successfully, when I was younger and everything I owned fit in the back of my car. Now, with a mortgage and more responsibilities, I needed to think things through. I knew I could handle the discipline, the admin, the confidence of getting clients. But what would I be offering as services?

The list really was a list of answers to these two questions:
  1. What are you good at that the market wants and that you still want to do?
  2. What are you good at that the market wants, but you never want to do again?
At that stage in my career, I was in my early 40s but had just won a huge career award in communications, my second career after journalism. So I had plenty of skills. But those two questions helped me sort through which skills would be a part of my new business, quickly and decisively.

The questions can guide you to different end points, depending on the skill. For example, I had a great reputation in media relations, including pitching reporters, being a spokesperson, and media training. But the training was the only part I wanted to continue doing. This was important to know when nice people called, having been referred by folks who'd said, "She's outstanding in media relations!" and I had to allow as how that was true, but it wasn't among my offerings. Being able to say no with certainty is a wonderful thing.

On the positive side of the tally, I included training (media training and coaching speakers); developing strategies (communications strategies and later, social media strategies); and message development. These were all things I'd been doing my entire career. And while the proportion of my time on each of those tasks varies, they are the very same things I offer to this day. More important, I'm still happy in my work.

For the skills I wanted to stop offering, I just needed to find people to whom I could refer the work. (It's a great way to make friends.) For the skills I wanted to keep offering, I did another pass, and realized they all had something in common: I like strategy and preparation, both in my personality profile and the work I like best. And that suggested don't get caught--as in don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message.

I think that short list of questions is one you can use at any time, but particularly when you have sand in your shoe about dissatisfaction with what you are doing now. You may find there's a gap between your wants and the market's wants, or that your part of the industry is in a transition phase. Seth Godin offers a good discussion here of what happens when your market shifts.

When I started this business, the idea of writing my own books seemed a long way off, and blogging was just beginning. So I did offer writing to some clients initially, but once blogs emerged as a stronger option, I stopped writing for others and doubled down on learning blogging as a marketing tool for my own business. Don't assume that you know which things will be big. While I loved coaching speakers--something I've been doing in other jobs for decades--I never thought it would be my most-sought-after skill. Your willingness to try (and accept) new things should not be ignored, even though it's not specified in those two questions. Keep an open mind.

That goes double if you are thinking about retirement. I'm not near retirement age, but I love this article, which suggests you skip traditional retirement, and just find work you love that keeps you from dipping into your reserves. I think I've set myself up well for that.

We have a new year ahead, loaded with uncertainty. But one thing I know for sure: These two questions are a great way to turn the page, wherever you are in your career. Happy thinking!

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

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