What problem do you solve?

That is the question.

And, believe me, answering this question is the key to the strength of your project or business.

You can think of this quest as a part of your story, though this chapter won’t be about you. It’s about your clients. The beauty of this story is that it’s being written right now, as you read these words, and soon it will have new and compelling narrative.

My intention is to help you connect to the people that belong to your client population. I know that sometimes this is the most difficult thing to do for any project or business, no matter how excellent the product or service.

Hopefully, after you read this article, something will shift that will help you to make the connection to your potential clients even stronger.

Let’s begin by asking this fundamental question: what problem or need does your client population have that your project or business can help solve?

To be able to answer accurately we first have to do a different kind of thinking. A change in our way of seeing is required, a strategic shift in perspective. That’s what makes this viewpoint so scarce in the world of business communication.

It’s a shift from looking at myself toward looking at and seeing the other. It is a radical and wonderful change of perspective that moves the focus from me—my business and my products—to the difficulties, obstacles and desires of the people I want to serve.

It means trying to stand in someone else’s shoes. Be inside another’s skin.

These are expressions that trip easily off the tongue, but are they easy to put into practice? No, definitely not.

We live in an increasingly me-oriented environment. Our perspective, seemingly natural in a me-centered society, is focused on ourselves. This doesn’t mean we are bad people, or selfish, or egocentric; it simply means that we have become accustomed to think first from the prism of me—of what I do and what I offer, even if what I do helps people.

But what if we could work on changing that perspective from me to the other. For our projects and businesses it could be a pivotal move to go outside of ourselves and into the thinking, feeling, and lives of the people we serve—our clients.

Why work toward this change of perspective?

Because once it is in focus, it becomes your most cherished point of view and the most valuable part of your professional vision and communication.

When you can identify the principal problems, difficulties or needs your client group has in the area of the product or service that you offer, when you can see through their eyes, you will then be able to show them what you see. You will be able to connect to people by communicating what you know and understand—about them.

What happens then?

This is the best part of the story. Your client population will see themselves reflected in your business.

They will identify with what you offer because it is clearly about their needs.

However, if your client population only sees what you are good at, what you do well or what you sell, they might not be able to imagine what all of it actually has to do with their particular experience or how it is relevant to their life.

Your potential clients might not be able to make the leap from you to them.

So, do it for them.

Create content—on your website, your blog, your professional Facebook page, your written promotion, your videos and any other marketing—that addresses the desires, hurdles or problems of your specific client population. If you do that, your readers will feel the pleasurable emotion that comes with realizing that someone truly sees them, that someone understands and cares about their needs.

That’s the way to connect to people and begin to inspire trust.

We all desire to be seen. To be listened to. To be understood.

Shine the light on the people you want to serve. Show that you understand their experience by illuminating it.

Then, when you have their attention, when they see themselves in your content, you can tell them in detail what your products or services are and what is special about your work.

How can you find out what your clients’ needs are?

First of all, by active listening—all the time.

People will tell you bits and pieces of information about their lives and if you listen closely you can begin to see what they consider to be a problem or need. Many times while we are working with our clients and customers, we are very focused on doing our work well. Sometimes we forget to listen.

And secondly, by asking them.

Don’t just imagine that you know what needs your clients have, don’t decide for yourself. Ask them to tell you.

Ask some of your current or former clients what was happening in their lives that motivated them to contact you or use your product or service. Any client you have ever helped will be happy to talk about it.

Their answers will captivate and delight you. Listen closely to the words they use. What they say will also give you a clear idea of what other people from your client group are experiencing and allow you to tap into new understanding and a fresh vocabulary.

How can you put this into practice?

This is what I did.

While writing this article, I got in touch with three former clients by phone or Skype and asked them all the same question:

Can you tell me what problems, difficulties or obstacles you were experiencing when you decided to contact me?

The answers to this question—in their words—began to help me see how I could shape the communication content about what I offer and what problems I help people solve.

This can happen for you too. And when it does, a marvelous transformation occurs. People see what you do as relevant to their lives. And they will want it.

And there’s something else.

The story of your project or business will be much more compelling when your clients become protagonists and help write the narrative, together with you.

Take a look around these next few days and notice how businesses talk about themselves. I think you will begin to see things differently. I think a fresh perspective will come into focus.

This could be the beginning of a new kind of relationship between you and your clients.

What problem do you solve? It might be just the thing we need.

……………………..

Addendum

For those of you who would like to read examples of how people answered the question I propose, below you will find excerpts from three clients who did Strategic Mapping sessions with me:

Me: Can you tell me what problems or difficulties or obstacles you were having when you decided to contact me about helping develop your project or business?

Client 1: I wanted to start a business and I needed to clarify if my idea had a real possibility of being successful.

I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t know if it was taking on too much or too little… I didn’t really know who would be interested in what I had to offer. I also didn’t know where to begin.

My difficulty was organizing how to make it happen, the steps I needed to take.  I would have done it my own way, but without knowing how exactly. More hit and miss.

Client 2: I wanted a very succinct presentation of myself…for my webpage. I was searching for that—a presentation that would communicate my services in a unique way. I couldn’t get to it. I would sit and write and I couldn’t get to it.

I already had a website, but I knew I wanted something different. Many nights I would sit down to write text but I didn’t know where to start or where to end and with what words.

When a friend told me about his experience with you in his process…I thought that maybe I should forget about the website for now and think about really defining what I wanted to do.

I was unclear about who my possible clients were. But I knew my idea was special and different.

I had a lot of insecurity and confusion. I needed to stop the pain!

I needed someone to listen to me and help me find my words or other words I could use.

Client 3: I didn’t have sufficient perspective to visualize what I needed for my business. I needed an external vision.

One important obstacle was me. I couldn’t identify what I needed with clarity.

I had tried two times before to start my own business and … there was too little definition in the project, in the business. And it just didn’t work. There were too many loose ends and too little professional vision.

I was all over the place with my ideas. I needed to define the parameters of my business, define what kind of client I should focus on, what exact products I should offer. I wanted to give more form and definition to my concepts.

I needed to unlearn some things—habits, old vices. I didn’t want to commit the same errors again. I needed the help of a professional, I didn’t want to do it alone this time.

………………………..

 I wonder what your clients would say if you asked them the same question. Curious?

The three words for 2014—for the existentialist entrepreneur

The year 2014 is made up of days. 365 uncharted, unfilled, wide-open days.

As entrepreneurs and independent professionals, we have, or definitely should have, concrete goals for this year. Earn more, connect to more clients, become a trusted professional within our networks, help the world understand our project’s vision, etc. But how do we really meet these goals? The real results that can be seen and measured by the end of the year depend on what we do every day. It’s the decisions, planning and actions of every single day that build our success. We can look at ourselves as existentialists—each one of us responsible for giving meaning and life to our own projects.

There is a wonderful freedom in professional independence along with heavy doses of fear, doubt and uncertainty. To be able to build strong and lasting enterprises and to keep our objectives clear we need a toolbox that is constantly replenished with new and useful tools.

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When your talent is on fire, finding the perfect language is your coolest strategy

Outside, Barcelona was in flames.

Inside, the waiters in white mandarin collar jackets fluttered and fussed around me. And that was exactly what I wanted. Air conditioning, a small space to call my own for as long as I needed it, a few professionals paying attention to my every need, a Mediterranean menu and a glass of sparkling water with ice and lemon.

A moment of paradise.

In a city on fire.

Outside, it was hot, very hot; a sun-drenched July day in Barcelona.

A very curious thing happens every summer to the habitants of this city—we enter into a collective amnesia. We forget what summer is like and has always been like. And to express this curious condition we throw ourselves into a type of verbal and emotional ritual. We don’t formally organize any of this, but all of us, at the same time, are truly astounded by the heat. We are incredulous and morally wounded by the blasts of hot air that are projected onto our bodies and penetrate our souls. As if we had never had this experience before. 

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Out of the dark and into the light: the secret of content marketing

At the end of this post you will no longer be afraid of the dark. Or of the bogeyman. Or of marketing — content marketing in particular.

The word marketing makes many of us feel intimidated; it has somehow gotten blown into the status of a looming mythological and demanding god ready to cast down bolts of lightning if we do not pay homage and offerings to its power and greatness.

It is a word that often produces anxiety because most of the time we feel like we are not doing enough. Or know enough. Or are up to date on the latest tricks and trends. Or are fast enough. Or loud enough. Or cool enough.

Marketing, until now, has been the divine terrain of a few creative elite. Not of mere mortals such as you and I.

Marketing is kind of like the bogeyman with Ray-Bans.

But, by the end of this post, that will be different. You will have unclothed the myth and tamed the beast.

Sound good? Well, let’s get going.

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A holiday fortune cookie: What’s cooking for you in 2013

Being a creature of both tradition and innovation, the chef at The Strategy Blog has baked a new batch of fortune cookies to celebrate the closing of 2012 and to start the new year cooking with the most enticing ingredients and a pinch of mystery.

The unique recipe of these fortune cookies is especially blended to be eaten by entrepreneurs, free-lancers, artists, small businesses owners and the decision-makers of organizations. They are also easily digested and nutritious for management of large businesses, members of parliament and agents of change.

Because these cookies are only offered once a year, they are carefully cut and baked to offer the savory flavor of reflection topped with a glaze of creative thinking.

If you are not in the mood for reflection or creative thinking at the moment, perhaps you should wait to open yours when your appetite gives you the signal. The cookies have no expiration date and will stay fresh for as long as you need. Only the most natural, local ingredients are used, and they will be housed safely in the digital shelf of this blog — tightly sealed, toasted and crisp.

But if you do have the appetite and curiosity to unveil the fortune that is waiting especially for you, the chef would first like to help you enjoy these cookies to the maximum by telling you the underlying culinary secret in all of the fortunes offered here: The belief that our projects and businesses are extensions of ourselves — of our talent, skills, emotional landscape, blind spots and desires.

The chef believes that the personal is the professional, and it is difficult to separate the two. And with that in mind, how wonderful it is to observe the way we nourish our projects and how they also nourish us. We are, in fact, inseparable.

So enough chit-chat, let’s get on to the fun part.

If you want to open a fortune cookie, first you should contemplate all of the numbers, then, when you are ready, choose the number that tempts you the most. Click on the number, not on the cookie, to open the fortune.

It’s the one meant just for you.

Read, savor and enjoy.

Thank you for being here, dear reader, with me and The Strategy Blog one more year. You are what inspires me to keep writing.

Happy holidays and happy new year!

Jenifer

(Remember, click on the number, not the cookie.)

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The ancient aroma of cutting-edge business strategy

Umbrellas closed and dripping we hastily ducked into the small waiting room leaving the rain and narrow street behind. Immediately, softly, we were wrapped in the ancient scent of burning incense —the aroma of healing.

One of the most wonderful aspects of my line of work as a freelance strategy consultant is precisely this: the opportunity to intimately know, to see, hear and feel people’s projects with all of my senses. I help people to draw a personalized strategic map and plan of action for their idea, business or organization. That’s why a client and I were standing in the cosy waiting room, swathed in the fragrance of sweet wood on that rainy day.

My client will soon open a small business to offer her health services in Barcelona, and she is doing it by herself as the sole creator, investor and worker. I am helping her to draw the map she will need to be successful. She is excited, afraid and full of desire.

Because this the first time she has embarked on this type of venture, I thought it would be helpful for her to talk to someone who has a business similar enough in size and content to invigorate her ideas, but different enough for that person not to worry about us copying their blueprint.

I knew of just the right business a nearby town. Using my network of contacts, I found a close colleague who personally knew the owner and offered to make a call on my behalf, opening the door for me and my client to have a conversation to learn about his experience. He invited us to come to his shop on a Friday afternoon.

And this is where the story begins.

We were greeted at the door by the owner, let’s call him Julian,

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The hard drive and the brain

The first image is my hard drive. It stopped functioning.

The second image is my brain. It continues to function.

One important difference between what our computers do and what our brains do is that even though our hard drives stop functioning; our brains don’t.

Another difference is that hard drives are made in identical series.

Our brains are wonderfully and remarkably unique.

Yes, that’s right.

But this is just the beginning; it gets better.

Our brains shape who we are.

And it is who we are that leaves its mark on the world and on the people around us.

Not our hard drives.

It is who we are that creates our projects and dares to give them life, dares to fail, and dares to try again.

Not our hard drives.

It is tempting these days to fuse the two together—the brain and the hard drive—to make them into one, to celebrate their similarities, to desire that they function the same way.

Don’t.

You will miss knowing the very nature of your existence:

Your ability to engage in creative thinking, slow thinking, re-thinking.

Your ability to make a mistake, to take a risk, to fall and to stand up again.

Your ability to connect ideas, to perceive needs, to ask questions and listen quietly.

Your ability to grow, to laugh, cry, feel anger, to ask for help, and then learn.

Your ability to have an insight, to see the whole picture, to come to a realization.

Your ability to act, to take a leap of faith, to defy reason, to begin again, to change directions.

Your ability to succeed at doing what you believe in and draw strength from what you value.

What the world needs, more than ever, right now, is who you are—who you decide to be, what you decide to do, what you decide to communicate, and who you decide to communicate it to.

A computer and its hard drive can’t do that.

You and your brain can.

…………………….

Author’s note: the image of the hard drive is from my Macintosh laptop. The image of the brain is from an MRI that I had done because I was very curious.

If you would like to see a few intimate moments of a brain—my brain—in movement, click here or watch the video below.


Delight in a moment of mystery: Fortune cookies for a strategic 2012

The beginning of a new year is a symbolic time for many people.

In the West, this is a rare occasion when our highly commanding society actually dictates very little. When publicity and advertising and cultural mythology are not telling us what to feel, to want, or to do.

Depending on where we live in the world, as the clock strikes twelve midnight, there are different customs that many of us follow, but the deeper meaning of this moment is up to every individual to define or embrace for themselves.

In my adopted region of Catalonia, populated by large clock towers throughout every town and village, we eat a grape with each dong of the midnight hour. Hastily shoving one grape per second into our smiling open mouths under our laughing eyes, and secretly wondering, every year, if we will choke upon reaching the twelfth grape, the ritual thereby becoming our farewell to the world instead of our entry into a new year. At the end, we don’t choke, we never do, though the risk is exciting and palpable.

So we enter the new year, alone or in the company of others, chewing, swallowing, and full of desire. A year marked by the cyclical 12-month calendar that structures the parcels of time for most of the people on the planet. 

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The mirror, the dress, and the digital paradigm

In a hurry and feeling impatient.

There I was, standing in front of the mirror attempting to tie an attractive knot in the long cloth belt of the taupe colored wrap-around dress I had chosen to wear that morning.

I needed to be out the door; I didn’t have much time before the beginning of a meeting with a group of clients.

I tied the knot, stood back, looked in the mirror, frowned, untied the knot and tied it again.

“This one”, I muttered to myself, “is worse than the first”. I let out a sigh, and then something unexpected happened.

I had an immediate impulse to go to the menu and select and click Undo. To go back to the previous knot with the quick, simple click of a mouse. 

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The motorcycle story

While running, I saw it.

Parked next to others, tail outward, resting between two chalky diagonal lines.

I don’t even recall the color of its body because a memory came at me fast and smooth as my eyes swam over the details and took in the word, Ducati.

The memory felt easy. The images that came to mind were familiar; it was the same sequence that unfolded every time I saw a motorcycle with this name.

I remember the way his eyes looked as he explained what he wanted me to know with the simplicity of passion.

Many years ago, my friend and I were walking to work through the backstreets that wound around the neighborhoods close to the college campus; we were both waiters at the same restaurant. He stopped abruptly, got quiet and looked down at a lone red motorcycle parked on the gravel. His face softened and he shook his head for a moment as we stood in silence. Then, he raised his gaze, locked his shining eyes on mine and with excitement in his voice he said: 

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