I just returned from my fourth SOBCon event in Chicago, and, as usual, it was a whirlwind of great ideas and non-stop networking.
I love SOBCon – the intimacy, the transparency, the practicality of it. Get a bunch of smart, motivated people in one room and watch the creative ideation flow.
For me this year, SOBCon week also marked the launch of my new website, SteveWoodruff.com, which emphasizes a message close to my heart: Discover Your Fit. After several years of helping people and businesses figure out their professional direction and marketplace and message (their “fit”), it was time to take this whole Clarity Therapy business up a notch by launching a professional site.
And, as I spent time networking with dozens of people at SOBCon, it was reinforced again and again how challenging it can be for any of us – all of us – to gain a clear business focus. This is not an abstraction. It’s a sitting-across-the-table-and-listening-to-genuine-pain issue.
So, instead of giving a re-cap of the speakers and topics from SOBCon (I’m sure others will be doing that), instead, I’m going to mention the very human needs of people with whom I was able to rub shoulders. Their experiences struggling with business direction and growth parallel what I’ve seen everywhere else.
- Life earthquakes. Sometimes, we make a modest strategic pivot in business direction; but other times, big changes are thrust upon us, making us re-evaluate the entire picture. A couple of these situations came up. These can be very upsetting times, but also can provide the groundwork for great advances. Our ears are uniquely open during these more traumatic times to consider fresh direction.
- Swinging outside the strike zone. I talked in-depth with one person who is so client-focused, that he/she loses focus on staying in his/her true sweet spot. When we try to do too many things, we often leave our most differentiating wheelhouse, and get into the weeds of doing too much less-than-profitable stuff. People with very high expectations and a bit of a control-freak mentality fall very easily into this. It can turn us from someone with specialized offerings, into a commodity player without enough bandwidth to grow into new clients.
- Waiting for permission. It definitely took me many years to get over this. Many people I talk to are hesitant to claim their ground, to declare their differentiator, to own their own niche. No one is going to give us permission. Just do it. People want to follow confident, forthright direction. You have permission (if someone asks for your permission slip, just point them to this blog post!)
- Ready – Fire – Aim. We often let our clients choose us – instead, we need to choose our clients. One long SOBCon lunch conversation went deeply into targeted marketing – identifying your ideal client and pursuing that niche, rather than just taking whatever comes along next. Huge issue for small businesses/solopreneurs – our focus often gets muddied right here. A successful approach includes clarity on both offerings and audiences.
One of the coolest things incorporated in this year’s SOBCon was the “Hot Seat” sessions, where event sponsors presented their most pressing challenges, and the audience gave on-the-spot input that was often uncomfortably relevant and targeted! During the many Mastermind sessions, this was happening on a smaller scale with all the attendees at each table. Tapping into the creativity and brainpower of talented, business-savvy people is what SOBCon is all about.
And maybe I was just more highly-attuned to the subject myself, but it seemed that there was quite a practical emphasis this year on good old e-mail as a marketing tool. It’s never really gone away – but I know my experience has been that e-mail has always been the most effective digital communication tool I use to grow my business. You?
It was wonderful to see SOBCon co-founder Liz Strauss participating (Liz is recovering from cancer treatments) as much as she did; and, as always, Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie did a great job orchestrating and leading throughout the weekend. But SOBCon is much more than its leaders and featured speakers. It’s a community of people supporting one another. If you just want to passively listen to a bunch of gurus, there are plenty of conferences for that. SOBCon is for thinkers-doers-dreamers-lovers.
Here is Mike Hale’s review of his first SOBCon experience