Shift Over: Making a Successful Career Change

So, you’re thinking of making a big career change, maybe starting your own business, but not sure what you want to do? As you’ve probably already discovered, choosing a new path isn’t as easy as you might think. Without some careful planning you could find yourself mulling over career changes every few years without ever landing on something that leaves you feeling satisfied.

For this article, let’s assume that you want to become an entrepreneur or business owner, and not an employee.

When business owners are looking to get new business their first thought is “I need to get clients.” Makes sense. Clients = business. But beyond that initial thought, how much real planning goes into seriously drilling down into who those clients are, how to reach them, and then how to get and keep their business?

If you sell shampoo, then it’s easy to know that shampoo buyers are generally going to look for your product in pharmacies and supermarkets. Speaking to the owners or managers of those stores is a good first step to getting your product on their shelves. Supply and distribution of your product unfolds from there.

But what if you’re selling a service and not a product? Many times there isn’t a store that people can walk into to buy a service, so knowing where you need to go to get new business isn’t always straightforward. This is why analyzing both yourself and your customer base, and having a plan to reach them is critical to your business’ success.

Who Wants Your Service?

By the time you reach the stage where you’re looking for clients, you’ve obviously been through the initial process of determining what service you’re selling, so let’s jump to who is buying it. (As an aside, this information is also helpful for those selling a product).

David Spector who works for Google’s measurement and analytics services says, “Companies need to be laser-focused on their customers and the customers’ challenges, always making sure to answer the question,

‘How can what I have help you succeed?’

With that in mind, each service that is sold needs to be tailored to a particular customer. For example, if life coaching is your service, consider what area or niche is of particular interest to you? If you’re not particularly spiritual, it’s going to be difficult to identify with and coach someone on challenges around spirituality. Same thing if you are coaching on family dynamics as a single person with no children.

Having, and knowing your niche will make your marketing a lot easier. There is nothing fulfilling in working many hours each day on something that doesn’t personally interest you. Even if you are an ‘expert’ in a particular area based on past work experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean that going into going to work each day will excite you. And after all, you’re shifting careers because you want to be excited, right?

In developing your niche, consider what you’d like to spend your day doing even if you couldn’t get paid for it. In the wise words of Confucius, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Know Yourself, Your Business and Your Clients

As you establish your business, you’ll need to ask yourself a lot of thought-provoking questions and be very honest about your answers. You won’t be doing yourself any favours if you’re not honest in your introspection.

Envision your ideal business model and client.

Take a good amount of time to write down an exact description of your business, including all the services or products you’ll provide, the market you will serve, your value proposition, the benefits your services will bring to your potential clients, your unique selling feature, and what else you believe makes you different from your competition.

Contemplate too, how much time you want to spend working in your business. Maybe it makes sense to work part-time with a regular base of clients and part-time in a job for extra money or personal interest. All this should factor in to your ideal business model.

Consider also:

  • Whether you have the skills to provide exceptional service to your clients, and/or is additional training going to be necessary to get you there?
  • How much money will you need to get your business started?
  • How much money will you need to be profitable? This will depend on the number of clients you have, how often you service them, your rates, minus the cost to market and support yourself and your business.
  • How much time are you willing to spend on getting business, and working your business?
  • What does success look like to you?
  • How long do you want to be in your business and what are your short, medium and long term goals for the business?
  • Where is your competition? Does it make sense for you to be in the same location as they are?
  • What are your competitors doing/offering that you like and don’t like?
  • Could you be successful using the model that the competition is using?
  • What information can you obtain from a competitor on their rates and business model?
  • Could one of your competitors be a potential mentor for you?
  • Are there other mentors who might be available to advise you on establishing your business?
  • What past work experience and contacts can you draw upon to help you get to where you’d really like to be?

Creating and Using a Business Development Plan

So, you’re about to do something drastic and change careers. That is a really big, and potentially rewarding move. Obviously, if you’re going to make such big move you want your new gig to work out. So, what’s the next step?

Make a plan!

A business development plan is different from a business plan, but both are critical to knowing how to best serve yourself and your clients. Without them, you might as well be throwing a large axe at a small target while blindfolded.

(Just so we’re clear, not a lot of people could hit that.)

A business plan focuses on establishing and operating your business by outlining your company’s financial goals and timelines for short and long term growth (quarterly, yearly, multi-year), including employees, products or services, and locations. It’s an important and necessary document and you should create one even if you’re going to be the only one who works for you.

Alternatively, a business development (BD) plan clearly spells out what you’re going to do to get and keep clients. It specifically lays out, on an individual basis, what actions are required to achieve daily, weekly, and quarterly marketing and sales goals.

Obviously, it’s equally important to have a BD plan to ensure your company’s success, but what isn’t always clear is where to start or how specific you must be. Writing “Get 10 new clients this quarter” on your plan will definitely not get you there. Your BD plan must be specific:

“Contact Chamber of Commerce by December 31 to see about establishing a 2017 guest-speaker series on sole proprietorships.” is more along the lines of what you must write on the plan.

In order for business development plans (this goes for business plans, too!) to be truly effective it has to meet certain criteria:

1.   It has to contain achievable, realistic goals;

2.   It has to be short and concise (do not have more than 10 goals per quarter);

3.   It has to allow for flexibility and growth; and

4.   It has to have measurable timelines and results.

Your success also depends on how often you populate and adhere to the plan. If you fill in the fields on the plan one day and don’t look at it for a month, it won’t do you much good.

You must get in the habit of referring to your plan every day, and strive to address all or part of a goal each day. Cross something off your list daily. This creates the momentum that you need to know you are working toward your goals. You can see what you’ve already done and remind yourself that you are working toward a larger goal. Your success!

Most of us can’t work in a vacuum and we require accountability to keep us focused on our goals. It’s just the way that the majority of us are built. If we weren’t this way the world would be chock-full of Warren Buffets, Elon Tusks, and Richard Bransons. But we are more like others than we are not, and sometimes it takes more than dedication, and a clear path. Sometimes it takes accountability to get us where we want to be.

For those of us that need it, I suggest that you share your plan with someone else, and let them follow up with you on a regular basis to check progress. When others hold us accountable, we are often more motivated to hit those goals.

Final Points to Consider

Know Yourself and Your Competition. You should be able to clearly explain your services in under 30 seconds (this is called your “elevator speech”). You should also be able to succinctly describe the difference between yourself and your competition if you’re ever asked.

Know Your Prospect. What are their needs and how does your service help them? This will help you identify a potential client when you meet them.

Customers Are Everywhere. Dressing for success is very important, so is having confidence in yourself and the service you offer. No matter if you’re at the grocery store, the dentist, or out for a jog, you should look tidy and clean, and your confidence should be pleasant and not overwhelming. Leave the prospect feeling glad that they spoke with you. It will make them more willing to answer the phone when you call to follow up.

Satisfaction guaranteed? Selling services requires satisfying clients more than other business models. Consider a satisfaction guaranteed policy after your initial consultation with the client. Assuming they want to continue working with you, use that time to ask your client if they’d be willing to give you an endorsement or referral. When you’ve made a customer happy, their willing endorsement of your service is critical for word-of-mouth business. Keep a list of all your satisfied clients, in case you’re asked for references.

Be flexible. Not everyone buys a product or a service in exactly the same way. When you are flexible with timing, delivery, pricing structures and payment methods, you open your business to more people than you would if you offered only one fixed plan. But remember, being flexible for your clients must also work for you, otherwise you won’t enjoy building your business and it will take its toll on you.

Time is money. If you’re selling products, the passive income from the sale of that product comes once it is sold. Service providers sell their time – usually based on appointments, and at some form of hourly rate scale. No appointment means no income. If an hour passes unbilled, it’s lost income, never to be recouped. Have a reasonable cancellation policy in place to help minimize money lost by missed appointments, and ensure your clients know the policy upfront.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Remember that your service is not for everyone so don’t take it personally if you are initially turned down. It can take a long time to incubate a relationship with a prospect. Everyone who has ever achieved successful has first faced failure and disappointment.

And finally, get feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask your clients how you’re doing and what you could do better or differently to make a happier relationship. Keep an open mind and be willing to listen to both praise and criticism. How else will you be able to grow unless you listen and learn? Remember to follow suggestions you receive from the feedback. As a client, nothing is worse than feeling like the feedback you gave has been ignored..

We can all use a helping hand and a different perspective. I work with individuals and businesses to help them identify and achieve next-level success through measurable goal setting and accountability.

When you’re ready to discuss shifting your career, get in touch for a complimentary consultation and find out how developing a plan and working with a coach can help you focus and reach success faster.

For a sample business development plan that you can populate with your own goals and actions, visit the Useful Stuff section on my website.



Integrating Marketing Into Your Daily Practice

Sometimes it can be pretty easy to know where to start when you want to begin building good habits into your daily routine, e.g,. when you want to start working out, you know you can just put on your gym clothes and go.  But sometimes the path isn’t always so clear. For example, it can be a daunting exercise to increase your business development efforts when you don’t know specifically what that means or what you should be doing.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a one page list of things that you can be doing to help you build those positive daily habits. Below are just a few tips for you to start with. You can download a more comprehensive list and a handy goal template from my website,

  1. Develop a simple, easy to follow goal sheet (example available from my website).
  2. Write out all marketing actions in very specific language, e.g., on your goal sheet, write “Call Pat Stanley by April 20 and ask how their company is doing with the roll out of their new audit software.”, instead of  “call Pat Stanley”.
  3. Book time in your calendar at least once per week to focus on some aspect of marketing. Don’t cancel the appointment. If you find the efforts are easy for you after you’ve consistently met your initial goals, you can consider increasing the frequency of your efforts.
  4. Put a reminder note in your calendar to follow up with your contacts to see what they did with your advice. (See item #2 for how to do that.)
  5. Start small and stay focused. e.g. don’t ask yourself to contact 25 clients in a week; focus on three per week. Make the goal reasonable and you are more likely to hit your target.

“The Thinks You Can Think”, or Why Your Team Needs to Brainstorm

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh the thinks you can think up if only you try.” – Dr. Seuss

Brainstorming is the act of having an open forum for a group of people to freely discuss a particular topic. The idea being that open discussion promotes creative problem solving and identifies opportunities better than traditional meetings where one person leads the discussion.

Non-judgmental brainstorm sessions with your team work wonders for advancing creative thoughts, even for people who always seem to think creatively. By non-judgmental, I mean both criticism and championing is not permitted.

Regular brainstorm sessions can:

  • Improve your team’s communications skills and ability to work together.
  • Discover and expedite solutions for areas in need of improvement.
  • Allow team members to feel like valued contributors to the company’s success and not just along for the ride.
  • Allow for an enhanced client service experience (if the client is involved).

Tips for successful brainstorming:

  • Schedule regular sessions, at a intervals that work for you – weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, and make sure you and your team keep the appointments. A brainstorming program needs to have regular participants to build confidence, trust and momentum.
  • Ensure that each participant understands and agrees to the rules at the outset.
  • Accept all suggestions without judgment. Brainstorm sessions benefit most from critical thinking and that won’t happen if people feel like they can’t be heard and accepted.
  • Keep to your schedule. If you schedule one hour to brainstorm, respect the time of each participant. It is important that the session not feel like an inconvenience to participants, but a welcome break from their regular work.
  • Keep to your agenda. Focus on one or two issues in each brainstorm session. This allows you to take a reasonable amount of time to drill down to a creative solution.
  • Consider bringing in a trusted ‘outsider’ to each session. This may be someone from another team, or even a client. Whoever it is, it should be someone who will participate (but not dominate the session) and offers a different point of view than your team.
  • Rotate your brainstorm leader for each session. This helps team members develop confidence, leadership skills and engagement.
  • When a suggestion is brought forward that the group wants to pursue, before implementing it can be a good take-away exercise to ask each team member to develop a related list of pros and cons for discussion at a future brainstorming session. This can help work through any potential kinks in the plan.

If you’re interested in developing regular a brainstorming program and want help setting it up, I can help. Email me at to discuss how.

Cross-selling Services to Existing Clients

You are not a snake oil salesman.

It should be no surprise to learn that it’s easier to obtain new work from clients who already know and trust you for the work you do. Indeed, as a general rule, 80% of a professional service firm’s revenue will come from 20% of its existing clients. It’s too bad that that ratio scares firms into pursuing new business from clients who have no idea about them instead of trying to balance the ratio. As a result, many firms tend to focus the majority of their efforts on bringing in new clients and not on keeping current clients happy.

Having clients is a lot like a romantic relationship between two people. Everything is all wine and roses during the courtship phase. There are dinners, parties, phone calls to check in and see how the other person is doing, but inevitably we settle into a comfort mode where we seem to assume the other person will always be there. Happy. Content. Partners for life.

Unfortunately that is not always the case, and as with any relationship when it falls into a lull, we become hesitant to ask the seemingly vulnerable question, “What could I be doing to make our relationship better?”


As we now know, the financial downturn from nearly a decade ago has meant permanent changes to the way clients buy services.

Pre-2007 client service and spending models will not return.

The new world order means that clients have downsized the number of outside service providers that they have in an attempt to streamline internal management efforts, resources and cut costs.

Selling services to clients in areas where you haven’t before isn’t insulting, it’s expected. This is called cross-selling, and though it may seem like you’re trying to get them to buy a lemon of a used car what you are in fact doing is saving them time and money.  Your clients are also your business partners.

While there are financial rewards when cross-selling efforts work, it’s important to realize that cross-selling is not as much about bringing work to the firm as much as it is about helping a client effectively reach their business goals and making them look good. As the old ad slogan goes “When you look good, we look good.” The more good work you do, the easier cross-selling is.

So, you know you want to help your clients, but how do you start?

Talk to them.

“Yikes!”, you say. “But my clients don’t want to talk to me about their business goals. I can’t waste their time by asking them such nonsense.”

Repeat after me, ‘I am not selling snake oil. I truly want to help my clients save money and time.”

Know this. If you don’t ask your clients about their business goals, what keeps them up at night, and where they see potential cost savings, someone else will and they will take your client’s business away from you. It’s that simple.

If you find it easier to have a buddy help you through the process get a colleague from the office to join you for your face-to-face meeting with your client when you ask the below questions.

And you may already think you know the answers to some of these, but don’t assume and don’t be afraid to ask your client. They don’t know what you know.

  • What recent changes has your company undergone?
  • What are your company’s goals for the next year, 3 years, 5 years?
  • What are current trends in your industry and what do you see happening in the future?
  • What are the areas in your business where you see changes coming, how will they impact you, and how do you plan to meet them?
  • Who are your competitors, and in what markets are they located? What are they doing differently from you?

And the tough ones:

  • Are you happy with the current level of service you are receiving from our firm?
  • How do you think we can help save you money and time?
  • We would like to introduce you to our partners in other areas who we really believe can help you with your goals. Would that be ok with you?

I know some people will say that last question should be delivered in a way that doesn’t allow for a yes or no answer but I disagree with that. When a client is asked “When can we set up an appointment to introduce you?” that is the exact moment they feel like you are that snake oil salesman. Let them get comfortable with the idea of meeting new people from your firm. Follow up in a short but reasonable time frame and make the connection on their schedule. After all, it is about the client.

Here are some other considerations from today’s post:

  • Practice asking the above client questions until they feel casual to you.
  • Be prepared to face and remedy any areas that require attention before trying to increase the services provided to a client. An unhappy client is not likely to want to give the firm additional work.
  •  Share what you learn from the client with others in the firm who do work for that client to build awareness of issues and opportunities. But tell your client this is what you intend to do before you do it!
  • Get help. Want help on identifying which of your clients could most use your assistance, or how to talk to them comfortably? Or maybe you’d like to implement a formal client feedback survey before you get started. That’s where I come in. Send me an email to to find out more.

Mission: Recognition

When many companies were starting out or beginning a new phase in their growth strategy they wrote something called a “Mission Statement” which was aimed at inspiring management and staff to be the company they always wanted to be. It was likely posted on the company website or in the staff kitchen to remind people about the company’s aspirations, culture and ethics.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, over the years that Mission Statement blended into other noise on the kitchen bulletin board or was buried in an unread “About Us” section of the website.

It’s a safe bet that the majority of people in the company don’t even know
there is a Mission Statement.

Well, if you’re serious about the growth your business – with both clients and staff – it may be the perfect time to dust off the old Mission Statement and take a good hard look at whether it still describes the company you want.

Chances are it needs updating, maybe a little or a lot, and chances are you’re not exactly sure what the updated version needs to say. To be clear, updating your Mission Statement is not a quick and easy process – or at least it shouldn’t be. It is perhaps one of the most important documents you will create for your company. A good amount of analysis needs to go into the task to be sure that the final product is short (less than one page!), unambiguous, and inspirational.

A great Mission Statement should define how a company betters the lives of its clients, its staff, its owners – and its community. At the end of the day, that new Mission Statement will need to be able to concisely state for everyone: “This is why we’re here.”

What your Mission Statement should not be is a string of inspirational words that say nothing, as illustrated in this Dilbert comic:

Image: DILBERT © Scott Adams. All rights reserved.

In preparation for overhauling your Mission Statement or writing one for the first time start by asking your staff, senior executives, and even your clients what they believe your company means to them.

I’m not going to give you an example of a ‘good’ Mission Statement because that would set you up with someone else’s idea of what it should say. Instead, take a look at this a helpful article from that outlines the process of analyzing and writing a Mission Statement. It will get you on the right track to think of a Mission Statement that defines you.

Remember to proudly display your completed Mission Statement throughout your company, refer to it at every Town Hall and board meeting, post a link to it on your website and include it at the bottom of every email, send a copy to your clients and to everyone who helped you get to the final product.

Keep it alive, and it will keep your company alive!

And just in case you’re wondering, individuals (especially entrepreneurs) can and should have their own mission statement. What would yours’ say about you?

I understand that writing a new Mission Statement can be a daunting process, so if you find that you’d like some help getting things started, my company is available to work with you to interview, compile research and create a Mission Statement that will rock. You can reach me at for more information.

What Makes a Habit, a Habit?

First, let’s define what I mean by ‘habit’. I consider it a pattern or behaviour  that occurs without forethought. Some we consider ‘good’ and some are ‘bad’, but for the most part we don’t know we’re doing them until it has already happened.

When we want to change a habit, we need to first become conscious of what it is that we’re doing, and then stopping ourselves as we’re doing it.

As a kid, I was a nail-biter and worked hard at getting rid of that nasty habit by using terrible tasting polish that I would paint on my nails. Though it made me aware when my fingers were in my mouth, the polish wasn’t what caused me to stop biting my nails, it was me consciously thinking about what I was doing as I was doing it and forcing myself to stop and change my behaviour. It took some time, but it worked for me and has stuck for decades (I’m not saying how many…). Over the years, I have applied the same ‘training’ to other behaviours that I wanted to change, and most have also remained with me.  I have to rework the ones (like exercising more) on a semi-regular basis.

You’ve probably already read Stephen Covey’s popular best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is a thought-provoking look at what we humans do, regardless of geography or background, that can be altered to make us effect positive personal change. I first read this book in the early 90s and just recently re-read it. And you know what? All of the principles still apply, and it’s stuff we already know.

All this is a rambling lead in to get you thinking about what it is that you are currently doing that you would like to change — in any part of your life.

From the 7-Habits book, I have recreated this chart to help visualize what  it takes to turn an unconscious habit into a conscious one. We want a new habit, but first we have to be aware of the old one, have a desire to change, and the skills to do so. It’s very simple, but very powerful.

building habits

Assuming, of course, that you WANT a change for yourself, I recommend writing down some of the habits you have that aren’t working for you — become conscious of what it is that you’re doing.

Next, visualize not having that habit and/or replacing it with a habit that you want. Then, think of two actions that you can do to stop yourself from the original habit when you notice yourself doing it, and apply your ‘new’ habit.

Rinse and repeat. The change won’t happen overnight, just like your original habit didn’t. Don’t be discouraged, just keep at it.

While we’re on the subject, I also suggest re-reading Steven Covey’s book with your particular habits in mind. It will offer a new perspective on an old topic.

Happy summer reading!

What it Takes to Lead

Over the course of our lives many of us will encounter people that we consider natural leaders. People who behave in a way that make others want to succeed. If we’re lucky enough to call one of these people ‘boss’ for even a short period of time, we will have hit the career jackpot.

What is it that these leaders are doing that make others want to step up?

They consistently do things that others don’t — they lead by example. Their ability to bring out the best in people around them can seem effortless, but it is work. You will never hear a leader say ‘that’s not my job’. Leaders roll up their sleeves without concern for hierarchy. They are knowledgeable, curious and empathetic, but also serious and committed to what they believe in, and that includes the people they work with.

When working with leaders, we often don’t know that we’re giving more than our usual until we find ourselves doing things to better our own game. Call it competition or a desire to impress, whatever it is, it works. When you think about it, that’s a pretty great way to get more out of people. It sure beats demanding and berating in an attempt to get increased performance.

We may not all be leaders by instinct and Dale Carnegie recognized that people can learn and apply the most important leadership skills in order to be successful. From his book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, I have recreated his Leadership Principles, below:

“A leader’s job often includes changing your people’s attitudes and behavior. Some suggestions to accomplish this:

Principle 1: Begin with praise and honest appreciation.

Principle 2: Call attention to other people’s mistakes indirectly.

Principle 3: Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.

Principle 4: Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

Principle 5: Let the other person save face.

Principle 6: Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be ‘hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise’.

Principle 7: Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.

Principle 8: Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.

Principle 9: Make the other person happy about doing the thing that you suggest.

And my own additional Principle: Remember that you are dealing with people and that every one of us has made and will continue to make mistakes.  It’s how we act when we make them that demonstrates our true leadership skills.