How to market yourself
Just as a great product is rarely a success if poorly marketed, simply having skills, knowledge, experience and even track record is no guarantee of success as an interim manager.
Many aspiring interim managers underestimate the amount of marketing they need to do in order to succeed. They may believe that simply dusting down their CV and lodging it with a few interim service providers is all they need to do, but nothing could be further from the truth.
On average only 20%-25% of interim assignments are placed through interim service providers. The rest are organised directly between the client and the interim manager. In addition many interim service providers are less inclined to work with unproven interim managers. This means that marketing yourself effectively is a critical component of success. This can seem daunting for those who have never had to market themselves in this way before and may feel ill-prepared to do so, but here you will find hints and tips to help you unravel the mysteries of marketing and get you on the road to success. While it is important to remember that, for most interims, this is only a means to an end – i.e. to win assignments – and you are not aiming to become a marketing expert, time spent honing your marketing skills is never wasted. You will benefit in many ways and they will have a massive impact on your interim career:
- Less unwanted downtime
- Real enjoyment of the gaps between assignments as you build your confidence in being able to find an assignment when you need it
- Better assignments – you don’t feel you need to take the first one that comes along
Marketing your company
Although you may be the only employee of your limited company, you need to wear many hats. In this case you need to wear the Sales and Marketing Director’s hat. Simon Berry of Interim Assignment, who runs the Interim Hub workshops and helps interim managers market themselves effectively, offers the following tip. "Many interims find it helpful to think of marketing their company rather than themselves. Although it simply seems like semantics, it will usually promote a very objective and much more productive mindset"
Defining your product
Interim managers often define their product as their past title e.g. I am an Interim Finance Director, or as the skills, knowledge, qualities and experience they have e.g. I am a business-oriented, results-focused project manager. Whilst such an approach can be valuable, particularly in developing CVs for interim service providers, it is not usually what grabs the attention of potential clients in the first place. The vast majority of clients are looking for solutions to their problems and what grabs their attention are interim managers who specialise in solving problems similar to theirs. For example an interim manager may specialise in helping organisations relocate manufacturing to low cost countries or they may specialise in helping organisations outsource or insource the IT function. Mostly people like to buy from a specialist rather than a Jack of all Trades.
Simon puts it like this: “Imagine you had severe back pain and were in a supermarket confronted by a bewildering array of painkillers. All of a sudden, you see one with the slogan “Targets back pain fast”. Which would you buy?”
Many interims resist specialising as they feel they are cutting themselves out of a vast market by doing so and therefore will win fewer assignments. In reality this is not so. Whilst specialising will narrow down your target market, you will significantly increase your chances of winning an assignment in that market.
Of course you may have more than one specialisation and that is fine, but market them separately to avoid the 'Jack of all Trades’ label.
To help you identify your product think about:
- What problems (NB not all problems are negative - a problem might be how to grow business, how to launch a new product, how to break into a new market) have you solved before? What was the situation before and after your intervention? What were the critical actions you took to achieve the results you achieved?
- Who faces similar problems? What types of organisation? Are there many of them? Would they see solving the problem as urgent or important?
- What types of problem do you enjoy solving as well as being good at solving?
Identifying your market
People cannot offer you an assignment if they don’t know you exist. The first challenge for Interim Managers therefore is to create awareness in the market place. Of course there are thousands of others trying to do the same, so it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.
There is an old marketing adage called the rule of 7, which says that a potential client needs to see your marketing message at least seven times before they really notice you. Whilst the actual number is up for debate, it’s certainly true that a single awareness campaign has limited value.
Most interim managers do not have marketing budgets or resources the size of Pepsi Cola or Virgin, so, if you believe the Rule of 7, it means you need to target our market fairly tightly if you are to get your message in front of them multiple times.
There is another very compelling reason to target your markets. People like to buy from specialists. Not only in the types of problem they solve but who they solve them for. For example, if you are the practice manager of a large accountancy firm looking to grow the business and seeking an interim manager to do so, you would be more likely to be attracted to a Business Development Interim Manager specialising in the profession than a non-specialist.
Many interim managers resist target marketing as they feel they are cutting themselves out of a vast market by doing so and therefore will win fewer assignments. In reality this is not so. Whilst specialising will narrow down your target market, you will significantly increase your chances of creating awareness and ultimately winning an assignment in that market. Of course you may have more than one specialisation and that is fine, but market them separately to avoid the 'Jack of all Trades’ label.
Factors to consider when selecting your target market
"Obviously you are most likely to succeed where you can demonstrate your competence (you know what you are talking about), your credibility (you have a track record in the same or a similar market) and your compatibility (you speak their language and understand their culture" says Simon.
There are a multitude of factors you can use to narrow down your target market. These include:
- Size – could be measured in, for example, turnover, profit or number
- Industry – type of industry they are in usually defined by SIC (Standard Industry Classification) Codes
- Stage of Growth – from start up to maturity to close down
- Geographical Location
- Issues faced – such as mergers and acquisitions, regulatory changes, outsourcing central services etc
"When all is said and done" says Simon, "Perhaps the most important factor is your own motivation and desire to work with that sector. Even if it ticks all the other boxes, if the desire is not there, it’s going to be a struggle for you"
Routes to market
Once you have developed your marketing message and identified your target market, you need to get your message in front of your market. This is the part that many interim managers feel least comfortable with (probably because it looks suspiciously like selling!) but is obviously absolutely critical.
It’s possible to completely fill all day every day attending networking events and getting involved in online discussion groups but you really need to be honest with yourself and ask if it is good use of your time. It most certainly is good use of your time if it is creating awareness of your credibility, competence and compatibility with people:
- Who are decision makers in your target market and have a need or potential need for your services
- Who influence decision makers in your target market
Some markets may have routes that are particularly effective. For example there may be a specific conference that is attended by all the key decision makers or a particular publication they all read. Your knowledge of your target market will help you select the most effective.
We are all different and have preferred ways of communicating. Whilst the clients’ preference should be the main driver, you also need to consider your own preferences, strengths and motivation. Some may prefer direct phone contact (cold calling), others may prefer speaking at conferences or writing articles for influential publications.
Example Routes to Market
Below are some routes to market that you might consider. You can probably think of many more for your own target market:
- Direct approach, email or phone call
- Referrals from past clients, competitors, customers and partners
- Industry and professional associations
- Industry and professional conferences and exhibitions
- Other interim managers who operate in the same market space
- Interim service providers
- University/Business School Alumni
- VC companies
- Management Consultancies
"Try several routes to market" says Simon. "The more your potential clients see your name from multiple sources, the more likely they are to remember you"