A-Z of Interim: R is for…Reputation

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‘You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well’. – Jeff Bezos

The founder of the world’s largest online retailer is on to something here. Being an interim requires all sorts of superhero skills. Doing difficult things goes with the day-job.  Nevertheless, one of the hardest things when starting out is building – and maintaining – a good professional reputation.

When you take the step from corporate life to independent contractor, you become less able to trade on where you worked before. On planet interim, it’s results that matter, not job titles! And, once you are up and running with that first assignment, it’s what you do, and what others say about what you do that builds your reputation and secures the subsequent engagement.

How can you create a professional reputation you would be happy to invite round to meet your nana, if it was a person?  Here’s my take on some practical steps:

Network. Never underestimate the power of a good conversation. It’s an old adage but still true: Business is based on relationships. So make sure you spend sufficient time cultivating contacts and building a real connection with prospective clients and peers.  Clearly, this is not about love-bombing every Linked-In contact you think you might know. It’s real life, not Tinder!  Network selectively. Consider where you can genuinely connect with like minded people, and remember it’s a two way process.  There is a give and a get, so be genuinely interested in the person you are talking to, even if they aren’t a headhunter.

Speakers’ corner? Do you have a ‘lessons learned’ case-study? Are you an expert in a particular field? Do you have a point of view that will spark debate? One of the best ways to showcase your talents (and your winning personality) is to be a speaker at Industry events. A word of warning, though. The ability to tell your story, and do so in an engaging way is likely to make you stick in the mind of your audience. A self-aggrandising sales pitch for ‘you, you, you’ isn’t the same thing.

Write it down.  If standing up in front of a bunch of strangers makes you want to emigrate to Antartica, how about writing, instead?  Social media has made it really simple to get your message out there. Creating a blog is fairly straightforward using packages such as WordPress and Blogger.  So why not use social media to show the world what you are capable of, professionally speaking.  And if your writing skills are not worthy of a Pulitzer, you can of course comment on other blogs, or join on-line discussion forums.

Keep your promises. Do what you say you will do. This is particularly challenging on assignments where the written job description/brief is pure fantasy. It happens more than you think, so if you get to Kansas and the red shoes aren’t working, then be professional, be pragmatic and make sure you – and your client – are clear on the expectation for delivery.  That way everyone goes home happy.

Start where you are. Every interim has a unique skill set. Whether you are a financial turnaround wizard or a change maven, you have something to offer your clients.  When you start out, it can be daunting. Especially when faced with other interims who are more experienced. Firstly, don’t compare yourself- it’s a waste of energy. Second, everyone had to start somewhere.  Find a way to describe what you do – this will become your sales pitch. Do it well – this will become the cornerstone of your reputation. Do it consistently – this is what builds interim tenure and helps to maintain your personal brand.

What do you think? Does reputation matter?  What advice would you give an interim starting out? Answers and comments on the blog, please. 

A-Z of Interim: Q is for…Questions?

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I’ve been a career interim for just over 10 years now (Time, where have you gone!), so I’m often approached for advice on starting out.  You will find lots of helpful, practical information at The Interim Hub and Institute of Interim Managers, but here’s my take on the things you need to know as a newbie. Ask yourself:

Q. Can I afford to do this?  I launched my interim career at the time of the global Banking Crisis. Hell, Yeah! I like the North Face, but I wouldn’t recommend this as a start-up strategy…

It can take a bit of time to find that first assignment (See my earlier post J is for Jobhunt) so I’d recommend you build up 3-6 months savings to tide you over when you first step into this field. Worrying about the mortgage is not conducive to ace-ing that interview. Building reserves to insulate you from the vagaries of the job market isn’t just sensible, it’s essential.

Q. Am I prepared to be flexible?  By my own reckoning I’ve notched up at least 600,000 miles (965,606 kilometres) commuting to and from client assignments in the last decade. Never mind the air miles, that’s enough to take you around the globe approximately 25 times! 

Are you prepared to spend weeknights in a crappy hotel away from your friends and family?  Are you prepared to get up at 5 a.m. on a Monday and spend 3 hours on the motorway getting to your client?  What about those global conference calls that start at 21h00 on a Sunday night? Very often the most interesting assignments are not local – you will have to travel, and far. Make sure this way of life jives with your personal commitments.

Q. Will I be able to start again?  I hate to break it to you sweeties, but when you become an interim, you are your own brand. This is not necessarily a bad thing! Yes, it’s super that you have worked at blue-chip branded companies, but when you step into the world of interim, you are not your big-cheese job title + swanky organisation. That stuff becomes irrelevant after two or three assignments.

You are you as an individual, which carries less kudos than you might think. You will – continuously – need to work on building and maintaining your interim brand. And yes, at minimum that means professional looking business cards, a current Linked-In profile, not to mention a polished, coherent CV.

Q. Tell me what you want, what you really, really want? So sang the Spice Girls, but this refrain is relevant because you will get this question in interview. There are many upsides to being an interim, but one thing is for sure – you don’t dabble!  Building a credible reputation takes time and more than one successful assignment, so you need to be truly convinced this is the life for you.

Be clear about what you are offering prospective clients – whether that is a skill-set or a particular industry expertise.  Providers can spot a generic CV at forty paces, so keep your offer focused. Also, be clear on what you will say yes to – in respect of day rate, type of assignment or location.

Never a dull moment!  And finally…If you do take the step to becoming an interim, I can promise you a life of excitement and derring-do. Well, actually no!  That last bit wasn’t true.  Making it exciting is up to you. Good luck.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever had as an interim?  I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comments on the blog, please. 

A-Z of Interim: P is for…Personal Development

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September 2016. A leadership workshop. I was having severe second thought syndrome. What seemed like a really great idea when I was taking a break between assignments, wasn’t such hot stuff now that I had a demanding client and a burgeoning task-list. Can I actually afford to use a billable day for myself?  Why am I sitting here when there are multiple, more important work issues needing my time? I actually paid for this? 

Sound familiar?  I’ve often remarked that work as an interim means fast-paced days with relatively little opportunity for reflection. Personal development? Well, surely that’s for people with time on their hands. Erm, actually…no.

As an interim, you choose a path that means you are your own currency. So stay current! People buy you on the basis of your experience, but they also hire you on the value you can bring to the assignment. Trotting out tired ways of working and outmoded thinking no longer cuts it in today’s working world.  That sort of old-school behaviour went the same way as the old-boy network! The harsh reality is that you will need to stay on top of developments in your industry, role or specialism if you want to thrive commercially. You will, as the Buddhists say ‘be called on to expand’. So why not invest in yourself to extend your professional reach?

Here are the top 3 reasons why personal development isn’t optional:

  • Deepening your knowledge, honing your skills and building additional expertise makes you marketable in a way that breathes success, not stasis.  Standing still is going backwards!
  • Broadening your interests to related fields can bring an entirely new network into your orbit, and the opportunity to meet new clients. Widening your network pays dividends if you maximise time building new connections and maintaining existing ones. 
  • And finally…using your time wisely between assignments can give you an edge in interview – and also helps to prevent desperation from setting in, should you find yourself adrift in sluggish interim seas…

What do you think?  Is personal development an optional extra, or a wise investment of time? Answers on the blog, please.

 

 

N is for…New Year’s Resolutions

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If you are one of the estimated 2 million people who participated in Dry January, you are probably relieved that we are well into the New Year and that you can begin quaffing once more. If you are an interim still looking for an assignment, perhaps there is not so much good cheer as there is fear that a sluggish market means you never work again.

Personally, I find the New Year a really good time for professional reflection. My own ‘new’ year usually starts in December – as that is the time that I’m wrapping up projects, and setting financial goals and business resolutions for the 12 months ahead.  So far, so good…except that this time round, pressing personal commitments meant December and January were a write-off, and I was unable to kick-start my grand plans for 2016.

Which is why I find myself in February contemplating my working life and feeling somewhat as though I’m several steps behind. Of course, moaning about it, isn’t going to propel me forward any faster. So, below is a taster of the action I’m taking.  I hope this inspires those of you who might also be experiencing the February funk:

Goal Clarity. I’m using this time to be really clear on my goals for 2016. As a career interim, I’m pretty well established, but it’s still helpful to know where I want to go. I’ve set myself an earnings target (see my previous post M is for Money ), and some non-negotiables – i.e. location, type of role, working patterns, etc. This way, I can easily evaluate any opportunities which arise – saying  ‘yes’ to the ones that are a good fit, and saying’no’ with confidence, but without regret to those that don’t.

Networking. Also known as getting out and about!  I am a great believer that networking should be a compulsory subject in high school, but for those of us who only learnt this business skill later in life, here’s the word: never underestimate the power of a good conversation. If you have been in regular contact with your interim providers or former clients, then this shouldn’t be that hard a task.  But if you are stepping into an interim role for the first time, it can be a bit daunting. Please resist your introvert urges to hide under the duvet! Reach out to providers and people in your network, attend industry events. Talk, ask questions. Be open and approachable – assignments can be found if you tackle your search in the right way.

Brand coherence.  Think you are a person and not a brand?  Think again. Clients who buy interims purchase more than what’s on your CV.  You want that fabulous shiny new assignment?  Then walk your talk and be the person they want to hire. This month, I’m using my time to refresh my website, update my blog and make sure that my social media profiles (linked-in, twitter , about.me) not only reflect who I am professionally, but also why clients should engage my services.

Action is the antidote to despair. Focused activity might not help you find an assignment immediately, but consistency of momentum has a funny way of generating luck.

Have you made any professional resolutions this year?  How do you deal with downtime? Comments and answers on the blog, please.

M is for…Money

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Warning: Today’s blog might be slightly controversial.  After all, I’m talking about money, which is nearly always a loaded subject, but no more so, when it comes to negotiating fees for your next interim assignment.

Whether you are an experienced interim or just starting out, having ‘the talk’ about day rates, length of contract and expenses can either be a necessary evil or a very necessary negotiation. But make no mistake, it is a negotiation! Of course, it all begins with knowing what you are worth and what the client is prepared to pay.

Colleagues in permanent roles are often staggered by interim day rates – perceiving the interim to be an expensive organisational option.  I admit, this career path does have it’s financial perks, but here’s the thing….

As an interim, I’ve said sayonara to job security. On average, I can expect to work for 9 months of the year – long term contracts are not always a shoe-in!  I am frequently required to work away from home – at distances which mean a daily commute isn’t feasible, so several nights in a hotel are part of the gig. That’s time away from my family and friends not to mention home admin, laundry and the like.

If I take holiday or sick leave, it isn’t paid for by my employer.  Neither is down-time. Any career development is funded by me (assuming I have the opportunity in-between assignments).  Lets face it, leisure time is in short supply when you are actually working!

Most assignments have a break clause that favours the client, so as an interim I bear the risk and uncertainty of a project which could change scope or be canned mid-way through the assignment if sponsorship changes client-side.

For many clients professional indemnity insurance is a pre-condition of signing a contract, and then there are accountants’ fees and other general operating costs which go with interim territory. All expenses that need to be factored into the day rate you set.

So, how can you respond to clients or critics who question the ‘cost’ of interim, without necessarily understanding the value?  Here are my top tips:

Tip #1: Be really clear about your value proposition as an interim. If price is a reflection of value, make sure that what you offer to a prospective client (skill set, experience, specific expertise) delivers something they cannot find from within the organisation.  The key here is to demonstrate why they should hire you, and why you are the best at what you do.  It’s not enough to be average when you are asking for an above-average day rate.

Tip #2: Know the marketplace. Day rates in Investment Banks are not the same as those in Local Authorities, so be realistic about where you are pitching price-wise. It’s worth talking to interim providers to get a feel for what the going rate is, but if you are making a direct approach to a client, don’t be shy in asking them what their budget is. Actually, best to understand if they actually have a budget!  Within reason, never be tempted to simply lower your rate because the client/interim provider asks you to. All this means is that they can’t sell you at the rate you are charging, not that you aren’t worth it. Those who insist on ‘cheap’, will always be cheap (and probably don’t understand interim), so don’t short-change yourself. Exit gracefully.

Tip #3: Be prepared to negotiate.  I know, this seems like a complete contradiction to Tip #2 but consider this. If you are too rigid on price, it may be a long wait between assignments. Unless you are a leading industry expert, with clients beating down your door, every conversation you have about fees will be a negotiation. Personally, I have in mind a ‘rate range’ which flexes depending on the assignment.  There is no upper limit!  So, for example, shorter and riskier assignments carry a higher day rate than those which guarantee 12-18 months of work. You could, if appropriate also negotiate on expenses and working from home to compensate for a slightly lower day rate.

Money is simply paper and metal.  In the UK we are culturally programmed to avoid conversations about awkward subjects like money. I say it’s time to get over that. In the end, you will only get what you have the courage to ask for.

How do you deal with day rate conversations?  Do you have any negotiating tips for other interims? Answers on the blog, please. 

L is for…LinkedIn

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If you’ve been following this series, you will know that social media savvy is a key skill-set for the 21st century interim. Now more than ever, your network determines your net worth.

LinkedIn is one of the older social networks, but they’ve evolved to become the premier network for business professionals.  A recent study by US-based think-tank, Pew Research, found that LinkedIn is ‘the only major social media platform for which usage rates are higher among 30- to 49-year-olds than among 18- to 29-year-olds’. Clearly, using digital resources such LinkedIn isn’t just something reserved for graduates and second jobbers, it’s a must if you are serious about carving out a successful career as an interim.

So here are some top tips:

Tip #1: Your picture is worth a thousand words…

Or... in the case of LinkedIn, well worth the number opportunities it can generate. You are 11 times more likely to get a profile view if you include a photo. And, while you don’t necessarily need to go for the traditional head shot (mug shots are to be avoided) make sure that your photo is well composed and reasonably up-to-date. The point is that your should create a visually appealing image, which conveys the message you’d like to send to prospective clients and connections. It should say ‘hire me’, not ‘hide from me’.

Tip #2: Think of LinkedIn as a shop window…

British reserve won’t cut it here!  Those hiring want to know what you are good at, so use your LinkedIn profile to showcase those skills, activities and recommendations that you can’t fit on your CV. Need more convincing? Members who list their skills on LinkedIn receive an average of 13 times more profile views than those who don’t. Polish up your profile by building a comprehensive list of professional skills.  Tell your network about your achievements, projects and awards.  A well crafted profile makes people want to know more. So, show more…

Tip #3: Connect with care…

I will say this only once!  LinkedIn should not be confused with Twitter or Facebook.  It is not a popularity contest to see who has the most connections.  Randomly connecting to people you don’t know is a complete no-no, and hugely irritating for the connections you have targeted. Just as you would take your time to build connections in the real world, focus on connecting with people you trust for professional support.  Personally I don’t LinkIn to people I don’t know or haven’t worked with in some professional capacity. There are a few exceptions – other professionals in the same network as me or interim providers or business connections who make time to write a personal message.  However, I regularly refuse requests from transactional recruiters who are too lazy to find good candidates for themselves and simply want to mine my connections.  You actually think I’m going to say yes to a spurious, low-grade opportunity and open my address book to you? One word. Block!

Tip #4: Be seen and heard…

If you are serious about using LinkedIn as a tool to raise your professional profile then, like any other social media platform, you need to be active. Yes, even when you have landed that next dream gig! This could be as simple as keeping your contact details up to date, or making sure that your latest assignment is described in detail.  Where possible, get fresh recommendations as this allows interim providers and prospective clients to get a positive view of your strengths and capabilities.  And, feel free to share interesting articles or join a discussion in one of the many groups that exist.  LinkedIn helps to create a professional digital footprint, which builds your personal brand – vital if you are a self-employed interim.

How do you use LinkedIn?  Has it helped or hindered you in finding that next assignment?  Comments on the blog, please.

K is for…KLOUT

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Do you have Klout?   And no, I’m not referring to that meeting where you went 6 rounds with a particularly difficult CEO.  As regular readers of this blog will know, the 21st century Interim has a good grasp of all things social media. So, once you’ve mastered the basics of Twitter, Linked-In and Facebook, it’s time to get really serious about your online presence.

Founded in 2008, KLOUT is a website and mobile app that uses social media analytics to rank it’s users according to their online social influence. Eh? Social Media Analytics?  Yes people, that’s the technical term for the practice of gathering and analyzing the data from those clever algorithms which power search engines like Google. It’s most commonly used by brands to identify customer preference, in order to find out what they like, and then sell more stuff!

Klout uses analytics to measure the size of a user’s social media network.  A social ‘aggregator’, it works by correlating the content created and measuring how other users interact with that content. In other words, how influential you are online. Your ‘Klout Score’ is a number from 1 to 100. In case you think this isn’t really important, here are some other numbers:

  • Over 200,000 businesses use Klout across the globe
  • Each day Klout analyses around 12 billion social signals
  • There are over 620 million ‘scored’ users. That’s the population of China’s top 15 cities!

Klout is rapidly becoming the global standard by which both brands and individuals measure their social influence. So how does this relate to being an interim?  Well, every time you post on Linked-In, enter a search term in Google or tweet, you are creating social media content.  So far, so Google+…However, it’s not just your contribution to social media that matters – increasingly your influence – i.e. your Klout Score – is an important factor in your job search. Creating and sharing content is a means of marketing your brand as an interim.  But, by providing useful content you are effectively increasing your visibility and establishing thought leadership.  And engaging with your online network can put you front of the queue when opportunity comes knocking!

For example, my Klout scores indicate that I am in the top 1.0% of people talking about Consulting, the top 0.2% of people mentioning Management, and the top 1.2% of people whose topic du jour is Leadership.  As an interim specializing in Transformation, it’s important that I’m seen as an expert in the fields that matter.  The app also lets me see which of my tweets and blogs have garnered the most interactions, so I can keep track of the content that is genuinely connecting with people in my network.

Savvy companies are also actively using social media as a means to vet potential candidates. Yes, now really is the time to unfriend your former client on Facebook and restrict all professional connections to Linked-In!   Of course, an arbitrary number isn’t necessarily going to indicate whether you are worthier than another person with similar skills and background, but it can give you the edge.  In life and in business, we all want to know whether the people we interact with (and their digital persona) are credible and can be trusted.

As with all internet based tools, the decision whether to use Klout is entirely up to you. I find it useful, but I’d love to know what you think?  Comments on the blog, please.