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  • Aaron Zaslofsky

Clients hire you for their future, not your past

The introduction to this piece was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

It takes a moment to draw parallels between child rearing and entrepreneurship. That moment is here.

Last night, I (admittedly) eavesdropped on a one-way “conversation” between a restaurant patron and two new parents. These new parents of a beautiful baby boy could not have been more graceful in their acceptance of the unsolicited advice dispensed. For her part, the all-knowing restaurant goer was as blind to the real interest and needs of these parents as they were kind to a stranger who apparently edits the “parenting” page on Wikipedia.

Then it hit me, this scenario is identical to that of wisdom purveyors who bestow their sage advice on newly minted entrepreneurs. I still include myself in this camp even one year into my career as an independent communications adviser.

When I’m not smiling politely at people with the same old tired advice, I’m actively seeking guidance from those who clearly earned their stripes. So, consider this take two (here’s take one) of the best advice received in my first year as an entrepreneur. I’ve left out what might be considered “common sense” guidance like always showing gratitude, having a business plan, or understanding what really gets you going. Apply your personal context and see what sticks for you:

Pedigree is assumed. Prospects and clients reasonably assume pedigree when talking to an independent. They trust you considered how marketable you would be as a consultant before taking what is a significant (yet immensely gratifying) risk. This advice was provided by a business leader I deeply respect. Her advice rings true - pedigree is assumed. So, talk in terms of what you can do, what’s possible, and the tangible results you can produce. Clients hire you for their future, not your past.

Know when to dial back networking to give yourself more time to think big and execute. This advice runs contrary to those who say you can never stop networking. These people say that relationships will wither and your new business pipeline will dry up, which is true if entirely neglected. The literal wise man who shared this counsel reminded me that each part of a business has dials. Turn one down so you can turn another dial up. Just don’t turn any of them off.

Answer this question even when not asked: What can I hire you for exactly? If prospects can’t see themselves in your writing or speech, you’re done. The successful independent who shared this advice confessed his own sin as an early entrepreneur. He said to run like hell from platitudes and superlatives that say nothing. Instead, embrace the risk of entrepreneurship to stand for something, and do something, specific. Leave the pages long list of “capabilities” to those lacking understanding of what they’re really good at, and what a client should hire them for exactly.

Everything communicates so your communication tool of choice says a lot about you. There’s certainly a generational component to this, but whether you email, text, or call really does matter. The savvy professional who shared this guidance sees a host of personal dynamics in the communication channel chosen. Is this person passive, reluctant, or lacking confidence? Or, will they address issues directly, assuredly, and embrace meaningful face-to-face conversation? Carpe diem is synonymous with decisive action, not a polite text or email. Pick up the phone because it’s a huge differentiator these days.

And finally, this is still the most useful business advice received in the past year.

Don’t spend too much time in your head – write it down. This advice was provided by a highly accomplished executive I was fortunate to meet when I started my company. In a conversation we had, she sensed my reluctance to risk imperfection by putting half-baked ideas on paper. She taught me that the simple act of writing thoughts down can help you move ideas forward. Confidence also increases when you write and realize that your product is only what people can observe. Keep it in your head and you keep it from everyone else.

Thanks to that kindly restaurant patron for creating the context and a useful analogy for this piece. Just like child rearing advice, business advice comes in many forms. But it’s not all created equal.

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