Thought Leadership Resources

#70 How can you protect your clients’ blind side?

One of the keys to success in professional services is to move from transactional services, in which you perform a function in exchange for payment, towards becoming a trusted advisor. As an advisor, the work is more interesting, it pays better, and you’re less likely to be undercut by a competitor who lowballs a fee in order to grab the business.

The right content strategy can get you there.

I’m living proof of that. Early in my consulting career, I acquired a client – a major international engineering firm. But the work they had me doing was strictly transactional – low-paid commodity work, when I knew I could do so much more complex work for them.

All of that changed after I published an article in a consultant’s magazine, about trends in the marketing of professional services. I sent a copy of that article to my main contact at the engineering firm, and he got back to me right away about more advanced work I could do for them. That article helped me move from occupying one space in his brain – that of someone he could count on for simple stuff he didn’t have time for – and into a different position, which was that of a business partner who could help him reach his goals for the firm.

You may also have some clients who see you as a commodity provider. If you want to move to the position where you’re helping them deal with the larger issues they’re facing, don’t just tell them what you can do. Show them. This also works if you’re approaching a new prospective client, and you want to come in at a senior level as an advisor, not a gofer.

How shining a spotlight on trends helps your clients, and you

One of the best types of content you can create, to help you with your new positioning as a thought-leader and subject matter expert, is what I call “trendspotting.” I discussed trendspotting in blog post #22. Since writing that post, I’ve come to a more complete idea of what trendspotting content can do to build a professional practice. Specifically, this post is around how you can find the right topics to discuss in trendspotting articles, speeches, blog posts, videos and other content.

You may be more familiar with the term “newsjacking,” which involves taking a hard news item like a newly released industry association report, or a new regulation, and developing content around it, which I addressed in Blog post #67, “How to get more of the work you want, with “newsjacking”. If news is a sudden event and a trend is a gradual event, it’s sort of like the difference between the lightning moves of kung fu, compared to the stately motions of tai chi.

Each of these two – newsjacking and trendspotting – serves a different purpose. Newsjacking shows that you’re right up to date on the issues your clients are facing, which convinces them that they can count on you for protection against sudden changes. Trendspotting content illustrates that you understand the big picture affecting your clients, because you’ve noticed a slow-moving issue that they might not have noticed.

Trendspotting shows that you have wisdom and experience to offer. That’s because it takes time and longevity to notice the slow stuff – you remember how things were in the past, and you’ve seen this gradual change. It gives clients confidence that you’ve got a strategic view of their situation, and that you are insightful enough to notice how their world is changing.

One negative thing about trends is that they’re slow. This means that they stay under the radar and don’t get noticed, or are ignored. That is, until the trend crosses an invisible line and suddenly makes itself felt.

It’s like recent trends that have laid waste to many newspapers. They used to make much of their revenue off classified ads – for employment, real estate, cars for sale, and “companions wanted.” Most of their other revenue came from display ads – many of them big full-page ads that sold for the tens of thousands of dollars.

Then sites like Kijiji, Monster and OK Cupid took their classified ad business away by offering a better model, Display ad revenue likewise vanished -- into content marketing and Facebook. This was a slow trend at first, but eventually for many newspapers the line was crossed – their revenue declined to the point that they couldn’t make a financial go of it any more.

That’s what trends do. They go slow and then they jump out at you. That gives you an opportunity to create content that adds value to your prospects and clients. Point out the trends in an effective way, advice them on what they can do about the changes, and you’ll earn their gratitude.

One of the important aspects of successful trendspotting content has to do with the “narrowcast” aspect of Post #67 on newsjacking. You can add more value if you create content around the specific news and trends that affect your intended clients. If they want to get general news, they can go to CNN or theguardian.com.

But if they’re looking for information on what’s going to affect their industry, or profession, their choices are more limited. This means that if you create ‘narrowcast’ content around their specific issues, they’ll be more likely to see it, value, and think well of you (see post #65 for more about how to create content that views the world through your clients’ eyes).

Which of three kinds of trends is best for you?

How do you find trends? I think that there are three kinds – (1) general trends, (2) trends in their world, and (3) trends in your world that affect them. All three have different roles to play in helping you build your business.

Global trends applied to your clients

For general or global trends, look at some of the global developments that are affecting pretty much everyone on the planet. Here are some:

  • Automation in manufacturing and other activities – like driving
  • More practical renewable energy – particularly solar power, leading to more distributed power generation
  • More practical electric vehicles – mostly due to better batteries
  • Climate change – global warming, more extreme weather, droughts, and floods
  • Migration from rural areas to cities

I suggest you take a look at some of these global trends, to see if there are implications that might affect people in your market, they haven’t thought of before. Just remember that if you’re preparing content for a niche market, they’ll benefit most if you can provide insights for their niche. The value of your content comes partly in its scarcity – it’s easy to find insights and advice on big global trends, but harder to find out about the implications for their niche.

For example, if you’re seeking to build your business with property management companies, and you want to address the issue of automation, think of how maintenance and cleaning may be done by robotics in future. This will be valuable partly because much of the talk about automation has focused on how it is affecting manufacturing – not so much information on what it means for commercial building maintenance and cleaning.

Or, maybe you want to help your clients deal with the trend towards renewable energy. Think of the impact that rooftop solar installations will have on their financial results, and the implications for building maintenance. Again, most of the focus of solar power coverage has been on either large solar farms or off-the-grid homeowners, so your property management clients will appreciate information on how solar power will affect commercial structures.

Essentially, you need to pick trends that will affect the people you want to serve, and then think of the implications for them – and how you can help (See post #49 for more on creating content based on your clients’ Red Alert problems).

Find these issues by being normally alert to the news. Follow news stories while holding an awareness of what you know about your clients’ issues, and then spend time thinking of whether there is a fit between the global trend, impacts on your clients, and the skills you offer.


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Trends in your clients’ world they may miss

The second type of trend involves developments in the world of your clients – their industry, occupation or profession, or their geographic area.

Let’s say you want to reach clients in the retail sector. The trends that may be affecting them are:

  • The decline of departmental stores as an anchor for shopping malls
  • The rise of non-retail tenants in shopping malls
  • Clothing and footwear stores charging customers money to try on items – to deal with the impact of “showrooming” in which customers try it in the store, then buy it online

Think of the trends that are affecting the people you want to serve, and focus on those to which you can offer solutions. They aren’t likely to take action on an issue – actions that might include hiring you – unless they agree that there is a problem they need to solve, or an opportunity to access (for more on “fear and greed” see Post #24).

How do you find these issues?

  • Read their business and trade media – magazines and their associated websites
  • Follow the websites of their industry associations
  • Read the programs of their conferences and other gatherings, to see what topics are being addressed in their sessions and meeting rooms
  • Attend their conferences and other meetings
  • Network – talk with people in your market
  • Follow the right people on social media – primarily LinkedIn, Slideshare and Twitter

Trends in your world – that affect their world

The third type of trend is trickier. It’s about trends in your world, which are having an impact on your client’s world. The “tricky” part is that you need to avoid talking about trends where your prospective clients won’t have any interest. Generally, clients don’t care about the details of how you do your work. They just want the work to happen with no drama.

My accountant is a good example of this. I work with this accountant mostly to help me meet my tax obligations. I make note of my business expenses, and I can then claim some of that back from my tax payments. The way I see it, is I hire him to take care of all that stuff, so I don’t have to. I want to focus on my business.

But my accountant sent out an e-blast to his clients recently, saying he’s noticed a tendency in which the tax authorities are getting very particular about how some kinds of expenses are recorded. Some tax claims are being denied, just because they weren’t recorded properly. I made note of that for how I record my expenses. That was an example of a trend from his world – accounting – that has an impact on my world of entrepreneurship. It was useful information, and I was grateful.

So, this third kind of “trend” content needs to be something that is:

  • From your area of expertise, that you’re qualified to discuss my accountant knows about tax matters, so that was covered.
  • A topic that your clients wouldn’t be expected to know about, and again the tax expense thing qualify – I don’t watch out for that sort of thing.
  • Likely to impact them, and they can do something about if they follow your advice. The tax issue meets that test too, because I care about my tax refund being smaller than I expected, and I can do something about it by changing how I record my expenses.

How to design effective trendspotting content

Here’s how to design “trendspotting” content that helps you show you have your clients’ back. The design is similar to that of “newsjacking.”

Start by describing the trend – what it is, and most important, why it matters to people reading this particular publication. If you’re addressing readers in the retail sector, for example, be sure to explain why your trend matters to retailers.

Next, you will likely need to provide evidence of the trend. This is because a trend is by definition slow-moving, and hard to notice. That’s particularly if the trend is in a field that’s outside the expertise of your readers, as was the case with my accountant’s inclination about tax records. I find it helps to use statistics to back up the trend. For example, if you’re talking about traffic congestion, you might point out that ten years ago there were two thousand vehicles per hour along a particular stretch of road, and it’s now four thousand.

Third, you give your predictions on how the trend will unfold – more increases in traffic given the number of condo towers under construction in the area, maybe. Be sure to point out how the trend will affect the readers of the publication you’re writing for. In this section, be sure to describe the problem or opportunity being posed by the trend, with particular reference to the industry or other group the publication is for.

The fourth and final point of trendspotting content is to make your recommendations on what they can do to avoid a problem coming from the trend, or gain a benefit. As ever, your recommendation shouldn’t be focused on “hire me, I’ll save you.” That’s a sales pitch, and the reader or listener will just tune out. Instead, your recommendations have to involve steps that your readers can take themselves. But again like always, that soft-sell has to be in there – pointing out that you’re knowledgeable on these issues, and if the readers want real help, to get in touch with you.

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Carl Friesen

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