To confess, I started writing much of this as part of my year-end/beginning reflection /planning ahead for 2024, and trying to make use of the quiet time to direct my own plan and strategy. And having spoken to Rachel and Marco about it, it is now a thing to post!
As I approach 5 years of the consultant’s life with my little business, Archmon, including weathering the Covid storm, I feel I have settled on a way that works well for me, and maybe I could share a thing or 2 to maybe help others, and businesses, along their journey too.
We are always told it is important to find your niche, double down on it, own it etc. It is the obvious advice, especially if doing a competitive analysis quadrant with your new-to-market brand. But we are people, not cells on a spreadsheet nor a disruptive drinks can. And yes, I realise that the specialist is great (and better than me at many things), and given the awkward recruiter calls over the years, they are also usually a lot easier to place and they find it easier to pick up ‘gigs’ as it is usually more prescriptive. Triangle hole? Triangle peg please.
But what of the Octagons? Or in TheZoo.London’s case probably the Octopus (is Ocopii the plural, I actually don’t know I just like to think so!). We all have a kind of specialism, even the generals. I look at myself for example. I guess I am a media specialist within my marketing generalism. Because I cover all the 4 Marketing ‘Ps’ now and advise clients accordingly even though most of my employed career roles in clients, tech businesses, agencies and media owners was on the Promotional (advertising / media) side. For example, when working with client-side brands, I can be the marketeer, and I can comfortably support this because of my mosaic of experiences. Buy and Sell. Large and Small. Local and Global. If a Creative Agency client? I can be the media guy. If in the media business, I may have to go inception-level, and be a client lead, or an interim planner/strategist. But the point is, I have the multi-tool. Many of us do. It has helped me adapt in such crazy times in the last 4 years of this crazy world. If I was a one-trick pony rather than a 4 trick one, there is no way I would still be consulting now, the pandemic would’ve thwarted this life, of that I have no doubt.
The thing is with these brilliant specialists, is that they are great with the clear direction that they are being put in, and subsequently helping forge the right path for a particular need. Of course, the specialists themselves have exceptional smarts and direction, you know who you are. It is more about the businesses and their sourcing/hiring perceptions. For example, if a client or brand knows EXACTLY what they want, they know what they do and don’t know, and have identified the challenges, the strategy, and have prescribed the medicine for the particular ailment, then great. But for knowing (or not) what they don’t know, or helping forge the diagnosis for subsequent specialists to execute on, this is where the generalists are needed and should indeed not only be considered, but absolutely embraced and hopefully celebrated. The trouble is of course, many businesses think they know what they need but don’t. They don’t know what they don’t know. A nightmare that! But sadly, as much as you may imbue yourself in your clients’ business, you can’t take on that problem, and in true Stoic fashion, accept that some will do what they do. Remember, don’t take on the stress, let them have it.This is what you wanted to get away from, right?
We talk about strategy with clients; generally strategy is a choice. An informed choice. Making odds beating decisions To decide what to do and what not to do. I should take heed of my own teachings; what am I about? What should I be doing. Even if you cover most things (e.g. the media focused marketeer) you have to pick your lane. Because even if you have general/varied outputs, it doesn’t mean sporadic input. Trust me you don;t want that again, another feeling of burnout you sought to escape.
You think about the old cliche of IN and ON the business. IN the business is invariably with the client, proxying as their marketeer or consultant or similar, solving their problems from afar or immersing in their world and hoping to affect change
But there is the other bit, working ON the business. E.g. I do my newsletter, I do one monthly on an area of marketing looking at fundamentals. I do this for PR, Brand awareness and very occasional/accidental lead gen of course, But above all it is for consistency. Even when I am up against it, I am keen to maintain consistency, and I do this and other podcasts/talks/bits etc to maintain my own brand’s awareness, especially when busy. Anyone who has worked in Brand Advertising through to direct sales knows about the adage of Share of Voice, memory structures and Always-on approaches!
I have no means nailed it. I am happy with the amazing projects I have enjoyed, both client and agency/marketing side, the freedom and opportunities, the conferences and travel it has afforded me, and the flexibility of projects that ultimately stimulate me and better work for clients. Win win! But that’s good for me. The marketing generalist.
I have ADHD, not that that gives me any special platform for this life, but it is a consideration for myself as I forge my planning. The generalism (or trident I call it, of supporting small brands, agencies and media companies) I have no doubt is borne from my enthusiasm of multiple things, joys, weird polymathic interests and curiosity to immerse in it all. The befit to clients is the multiple connections of the dots and holistic understanding of the business ecosystem and marketings impact and place in it. On the flipside, it also explains why I never stayed that long in employed roles, and consultancy gigs of 6-9 month average with pre agreed end date are magic at this point in my life. The point is, we are all different and you build the consultancy that works for you.
But not just you; it works for businesses large and small too to utilise generalists. Massively. To help them solve problems they know of, or invariably not. To be an extension of their leadership team. To offer the outside view of the world, to read the label on the jar. To tap into the multifaceted dot-connecting experiences to help them gain competitive advantage. To save the faff of full time expensive, notice-pending hires. The list goes on.
To summarise this monologue, we have all the options, connections, logins, forums, webinars, books, hot takes, tools at our disposal, But like a buffet cart, you only have what works for you. Find your groove,there is no right and wrong answer. But whoever you are, too much is too much, make decisions and simplify where possible. Variable outputs and clients may be glorious, but a chaotic underbelly of now knowing what each day heeds, is quite another. A good you is a good product/service, and as a result, brilliant work for businesses.