Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Solopreneurs and Selling Your Services

Being a "Solopreneur" is an exciting journey and there is never a dull moment. No matter what services you offer, the sales process is a very personal experience when you are the product. One cannot get disappointed or discouraged too easily, as you will win some and lose some along the way.

If I could figure out the secret code to why clients select me over other speakers it would make this solopreneur life much easier, but it would not be nearly as much fun. The human-to-human engagement of the sales cycle is exciting, regardless of if I am hired or not.  The experience of determining if I am the right fit for each company, law firm, association or other meeting is like a glorious puzzle.

I recently asked a friend for an introduction to an association where I would like to be a featured speaker at their annual event (and I am confident I would make a huge impact).  The head of the organization did some homework and realized they had turned me down last year.  He was worried about having me chat with his team, and he told my friend he "did not want to get my hopes up".  I still wanted to have the conversation, as without a dialogue with a real person there was no change I could ever be considered.  The meeting organizer and I had a most delightful discussion, and there was some interest in ways to get the crowd more engaged with each other and a possible need to bust the cliquey atmosphere that can sometimes exist at these types of gatherings.  In the end the committee decided their meeting did not need the "Conference Catalyst", but I was still extremely grateful for the.chance to talk to this highly creative meeting professional.  I am never disappointed when the answer is "No", as I could never be the right speaker for every event.

Each potential speaking engagement is different and what motivates the decision makers (event professional or committee) is always unique. The sharing of ideas I get to have with very interesting people keeps me excited about being part of the meetings industry. Those professionals who are committed to creating interesting experiences are full of energy, artistic vision, optimism, experience, knowledge and the entrepreneurial spirit.  Rarely will you find someone with a stronger work ethic than an events professional.

Delivering over 50 presentations a year to a variety of types of audiences, I have discovered that no two clients are the same. Their underlying motivation to what they want from speakers is always different.  It is also true that "speaking" is an art from, and some prefer a Monet to a Picasso.  A speaker is not a commodity, and each person creating a conference agenda has their own vision for what they need in the tapestry they are creating.

In the end it is sad to not get the gig when you believe the audience is ready for your message.  However, there is always next year, or the year after.  I have had many situations where "no" has simply meant "not this year", or while I am not a fit for their organization, they refer my services to another group.  That is the coolest part of dealing with people who you want as your friends, not just as clients.  A mentor once told me "In business No only means not this time".  His advice was to be polite to everyone and know that there is always tomorrow.

In the same hour of getting the "No" from the prospect I mentioned above, I heard "Yes" from another amazing organization.  You can simply not predict what will happen. As a solopreneur you have to own it all (the good, the bad, and the ugly).  You must not let a lost sale slow you down.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Monday Has A Brand - But No Marketing Budget (Guest Blog Post by Gerry O'Brion)

Monday has a brand... and it has no marketing budget!!! 

I said this to a group of friends in a bar the other day, and got a big laugh.  But the credit for the saying goes to my friend Gerry O'Brion who put it on his blog last year.  When I originally read these words it made me laugh, too.  But then it made me think, because many believe that branding takes a lot of money and effort.... but does it?

We all have brands, and if you have employees you need to remember that all they do (inside and outside the office) can impact your corporate brand.  People are always watching and judging, so actions matter.  

Below is a guest blog post that came from July 2013 from the What Big Brands Know blog.  Check out what Gerry had to say on this subject.  If you do not know him, you should.... as he is a great speaker!!!

Who's In Charge of Your Brand
By Gerry O'Brion

Every organization, every person, every place, well…almost everything has a brand. Think about it – what’s the brand of Monday? How did Monday get a brand? It doesn’t even have a marketing budget!

In big companies Marketing or the “brand managers” (which I was at Procter & Gamble and Coors) are “in charge” of managing brand perceptions. But who’s really in charge? I spent my career managing billion dollar brands. The process of managing those brands is simple to understand, but extraordinarily hard to execute well. Especially today.

The reality of your brand is that every single employee has an impact on your brand. And today, so does every customer. So how do you “manage” your brand in this new reality? The first step is getting clarity on your true brand message. What do you stand for that is unique from competition? Then, be sure that every employee understands and delivers that message consistently to every customer. Give your employees the language to use so every customer knows what you do that’s special.

As a marketing speaker I teach the strategies that great companies use to build powerful brands. Today more than ever, consumers want to be in a relationship with brands that both listen and act on customer input. Social media has made it easier than ever for consumers to be heard. Companies now have the opportunity learn directly from their customers, and make changes based on their feedback. And it’s free. It used to be that consumer research was only done by the big companies. Now, they’ve lost that advantage – anyone can do it.

Social media scares many companies – especially big ones. At companies with clarity about their brand message, this is much less scary. If every employee knows exactly what the company stands for, they’re clear how to act in every situation, with every customer. They have the ability to do the right thing, and are clear what the right thing is. The foundation of a great brand always starts internally. When everyone in the company is clear on the brand, your customers will understand who you are, and what you stand for.

In great companies branding is everyone’s job. While branding efforts may be led by Marketing, the execution of these efforts happens at every level, in every department of the organization. Think about restaurants as an example. In restaurants, the brand is largely built on the front lines where the customers are being served. The servers are typically the lowest paid employees in the company – and the most important.

The hiring, training and motivating these front line employees is critical to the long-term success of a restaurant brand.

So, who’s in charge of your brand?

Gerry O'Brion is a marketing speaker and author who translates big brand strategies into knowledge that any business can use to win in the marketplace. Whether you have a small business or big brand, Gerry's strategies can grow your business. Gerry built his career growing big brands. After earning his MBA at the University of Michigan, he worked with Procter & Gamble on brands such as Crisco, Tide, Mr. Clean, and Spic & Span. Next, at Coors Brewing Company he managed Coors Light, a $2 billion business. He was then VP of Marketing for the $1.5 billion Quiznos restaurant chain. Gerry was most recently VP of Marketing for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, a $1 billion brand.

Have A Great Day

Thom Singer

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Forever Friends

Our family spent part of our vacation with the families of two of my friends from childhood. Later this summer we will attend a Bat Mitzvah where many other life-long friends and their families will be present. While people will come and go from our lives, some souls are "forever friends".  We are fortunate to know many of these folks whose presence is ever lasting in our lives. Time and geography move people apart (we moved to Texas from California 23 years ago) - but the age of communication can also keep us together.

Cherish people. 

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Friday, July 18, 2014

Planned Improv? (Guest Blog by Avish Parashar)

I recently coached a person who complained she "over-planned" everything.  She confided in me that she dreamed of being more of a "free-spirit".  As we talked it was clear she felt these two ways were mutually exclusive.  But are they?  I find that the more planning I do in my business, the more un-planned opportunities and serendipity pop up.  

Planning is important, but often it prepares you for the unexpected.  A business plan is not Google Maps.  It is not reality.  It is an idea.  Plan like crazy, then be open to what can happen.  My friend Avish Parashar teaches improv comedy to business professionals, and he agrees with my idea of the being prepared, while being open to the unexpected.  

Below is a blog post that appeared on Avish's blog that I thought might shed some light on this idea:

Tap Into your "Zone of Brilliance"
By Avish Parashar

Can I make a confession?
I am a paid professional speaker who speaks on the power of improvisation, and yet, my speeches are fairly well planned out when I speak!
Does that seem incongruent to you?
Would it make it worse if I told you that I practice my keynotes and that some of my stories are – gasp! – written out?
I can understand that feeling. However, it shouldn’t. Not if you understand a fundamental rule about improvising:
Improv is not about slacking off on the things you can control. It’s about letting go of the things you can’t.
I can control my speech, and I can control my content for the speech. When I speak, there are 2 levels of improvisation I use:
  1. play improv comedy games in my speech. Those are new every time.
  2. I stay present and aware of my audience and adjust if and when necessary
Interestingly, the more prepared you are the easier it is to improvise!
I know my keynote and material so well that I don’t need to think about it. That frees up my conscious mind to be in the present and connect with the audience.
Then, when things go “not quite as planned,” (i.e. “Ding Happens!”) I am able to use improv skills to react and flow as if everything is just fine.
  1. Understand Why You Should Learn to Improvise - Don’t resist learning improv skills because you are very detail oriented and prefer to plan and prepare. Learn improv so that when something happens that you didn’t and couldn’t prepare for – and it will! – you will be able to quickly flow and deal with it.
  2. Get Over Your Fear Of Letting Others Improvise – If you are a manager or leader, you may find yourself saying, “I don’t want my people to improvise! I want them to do what they are supposed to, when they are supposed to, how they are supposed to.” No one is telling you otherwise, However, when taught and used properly, improv is not about letting people “wing it.” It’s about giving people the skills they need to react when the policy and system isn’t enough. (Here’s a tip: Google great customer service experiences. Almost every one is about an employee taking action outside of the “policy.”)
  3. Prepare! - I don’t care if you are a speaker, business owner, salesperson, customer service rep or other, there is no excuse for being unprepared! Know your material. Be an expert in your subject matter. Know your script/policy/system cold. THEN you will be in an amazing position to improvise when needed.
So yes, I am an improviser who prepares. And if you want to be a rockstar in your job, career, or industry, then I highly suggest you become one too!
Do you want to unleash the brilliance that comes at the intersection of improvisation and preparation in your team or organization? Then contact Avish now to find out how he can help you do just that!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Eject the Core

In one sentence the speaker on the stage transformed my work.  

While attending the 2014 National Speakers Association convention, I heard Eric Chester encourage the audience of professional presenters to throw out their PowerPoint and make each slide "earn its way back into the presentation". It sounds so simple, but these words have impacted me at a deeper level than Mr. Chester probably intended.

From that moment forward my business has begun to change.  Each presentation I have given after that moment has become more crisp.  Information that was "filler" is already gone, and some of the stories and audience exercises I have used for years are now in ongoing negotiations inside my head to determine their role in future presentations. A new course has taken shape, and I am removing all offerings that are not solidly anchored in my favorite areas of expertise.

Beyond the slides I am discovering it is time to examine other actions, relationships, beliefs, attentions, intentions, etc....  Many habits we embrace are security blankets that we cling to for ease and comfort, yet they are not the path to our most productive self.  I am evaluating everything.  This includes people.  Maya Angelou said "never make someone a priority when all they are to you is an option".  It is freeing to realize that you do not need to cling to people who sap your energy.

It can be a good thing to "eject the core".  Releasing distractions and making a conscious decision on where to put energy allows for new directions.  In the Star Trek series there are situations when the captain needs to have the crew jettison the warp core to save the ship.  This is not done easily or without thought toward the long-term consequences, but if they do nothing there could be a full meltdown and the ship will be lost.  While in our lives we may not have full warp breach, our future success can be enhanced by beginning anew.  Saving the ship and having a fresh source of power will bring you to places nobody has gone before.

No change happens without a purposeful dedication to shifting perspective. In the short time since I heard Mr. Chester's advice I have spend most of my days looking at what parts of my world must be removed, reviewed and re-invented. Certain things stay intact, but other pieces of my "core" are ready to be replaced.  Deciding what will "earn its way back in" will be an ongoing process.  The core is being ejected, and the future is unclear.

It is exciting and also frightening.  After achieving a certain level of success, and the idea of making changes could threaten everything.  I want to grow beyond the plateau I have reached to conquer the next mountain.  It is clear that what got me here wont get me there.  I need to embrace the unknown that lies ahead and create new material.

Comedian Louis CK is said to regularly throw out his act and start over by creating new material. He supposedly learned this from studying the career of George Carlin, who avoided stagnation by requiring himself to recreate his act.  What works for professional comics can also work for anyone. The reality can be that the best one has to offer is not necessarily what they are doing today.  But we are not taught this in school.  Our education system encourages completion of the course and then working with the skills you have mastered.  There is little talk about what is next or how to get there.

The hardest part is getting the marketplace to notice the changes you are making.  Some will want your old material, while others will assume all you do is what they witnessed in the past.  People make decisions based on a limited view, but overtime as people around them change the reputations (good or bad) remain the same.

Ejecting the core is not easy and there is no "Starfleet Command" who will send supplies to rebuild your engines.  You have figure it out all by yourself.  I know, as feel as thought I am currently alone in deep space.  Yet it is clear my best work is in the future, so it is fun to retool the whole system.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Surround Yourself With Talent

My recent "Cool Things My Friends Do" blog post was about the performance of Jason Hewlett at the Foundation Dinner Event during the recent National Speakers Association Annual Conference.

Wow.  Jason is one of the most talented people I have ever met in person (maybe the most talented).  His speaking skills, comedic talent, musical abilities and captivating style made me realize that the world is full of people who are radically amazing... and yet we do not know they are nearby.

One of the reasons I have been so active in the National Speakers Association is to surround myself with the most talented people in the speaking business.  The outstanding speeches I witnessed on stage at this year's conference eclipsed anything I have seen over the years at the dozens of conferences (in a variety of industries). 

Sitting at the feet of greatness included Mike Rayburn, Toni Newman, Jay Baer, Eric Chester, Eric Wahl, Sean Stephenson, and others.  It was inspiring.  

However, it was not only the main-stage speakers or breakout speakers that made the experience transformational..... it was the other attendees in the audience.  1400 people were in attendance, and each conversation was laced with power and opportunity.  I came away with more ideas than I could ever implement.

The challenge for all of us is to continue to surround ourselves with "talent" beyond an an industry conference.  And I am not just talking about great speakers or the thought leaders in your industry.  Everyone you meet has talent.

There are spectacular people who are making things happen in many ways.  They are "artists".  I used to wish I could paint, draw, play an instrument or otherwise create great art.  But the truth is my life is art.  And so is yours.  We are all engaged in tasks that impact the world.... the trick is to honor the "art" that is all around us (in ourselves and others).

Who are your surrounded by?  Do they push you to excel in new ways?

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Monday, July 07, 2014

Cool Things My Friends Do (Week #112) - Jason Hewlett is an AMAZING Talent

Each week on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

Jason Hewlett is this week's "Cool Things My Friends Do" (week #112) blog post.  I met Jason in 2013 at the National Speakers Association annual convention in Philadelphia.  He was part of a group that ran from the hotel to the "Rocky Stairs" at the art museum (yeah, its cliche, but we did it).  

I did not understand at the time exactly what his speaking / entertainment business was all about, but at this year's NSA Foundation Dinner I discovered that Jason Hewlett is "Radically Awesome"

What did he do that is cool?  Jason was the headliner at the NSA Foundation event, and he put on a show that might have been the BEST show I have ever seen in any venue.  Ever.  Talent like his is special and rare.


In a short blog post I could never do Jason's unique talents justice.  All I can say is that if you do not know Jason.... find out more about him.  If you are a corporate or association meeting planner and you have a night of entertainment at your event..... hire him (your boss will give you a raise).  If you like to laugh, seek out his YouTube channel. If you breath air...  go hear his act.

Jason might also be the first person to appear in my "Cool Things My Friends Do" blog post two weeks in a row, as he received his Certified Speaking Professional designation (the CSP) with me and 76 others this week in San Diego.  I am proud to have shared that honorable experience with him, and more proud to feature him as week #112 of Cool Things.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cool Things My Friends Do (Week #111) - 2014 CSP Class of the National Speakers Association

Each week on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

This weekend the National Speakers Association will award 78 people with The CSP ("The Certified Speaking Professional"). Many of the people on the list are people I have come to know over my six years as a member of NSA (I am also one of the 78 receiving this honor).

What is the CSP? The CSP is the speaking profession’s international measure of professional platform competence. When a speaker earns his or her CSP designation, meeting professionals looking to hire the best of the best see their commitment to the profession, and know they have top-notch speaking ability and a track record of professionalism and success. 

Less than the top 10 percent of speakers earn this credential, which means CSP's are recognized as the best in their field.

The CSP designation is earned through demonstrating competence in professional standards:

  • Platform skills
  • Business management
  • Education
  • Association
The list is below.  Congratulations to all who are part of the 2014 CSP Class (I am honored to be included in such an impressive list).  Those who I know are highlighted in green.
Haydee Antezana, CSP, Benmore, Johannesburg, South Africa
Nanci Appleman-Vassil, CSP, Raleigh, N.C.
David Avrin, CSP, Castle Rock, Colo.
Nancy Bartlett, CSP, Murphy, Texas
Steve Beck, CSP, Glen Ellyn, Ill.
Ty Bennett, CSP, Lehi, Utah
Alan Berg, CSP, Kendall Park, N.J.
Mark Black, CSP, Dieppe, New Brunswick, Canada
Anders Boulanger, CSP, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Sean V. Bradley, CSP, Audubon, N.J.
Peter Brandl, CSP, Lindau, Bavaria, Germany
Roger Brooks, CSP, Renton, Wash.
Leslie Canham, CSP, Copperopolis, Calif.
Donna Cardillo, CSP, RN, Sea Grit, N.J.
Colette Carlson, CSP, MA, San Diego, Calif.
William Conerly, CSP, PhD, Lake Oswego, Ore.
Steve Coscia, CSP, Havertown, Pa.
Roger Courville, CSP, Wood Village, Ore.
Randall Craig, CSP, CFA, MBA, CMC, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Tom Davidson, CSP, King William, Va.
Adrian Davis, CSP, CIP, BPM, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Richard de Hoop, CSP, Weert, Limburg, Netherlands
Myla DeLoatch, CSP, Upper Marlboro, Md.
Mark Eaton, CSP, Park City, Utah
Alan Fine, CSP, Salt Lake City, Utah
Michael Foley, CSP, MA, Minneapolis, Minn.
Sarah Fontenot, CSP, Fredericksburg, Texas
Elaine Froese, CSP, PHEc, CAFA, CHICoach, Manitoba, Canada
Steven Gaffney, CSP, Fairfax, Va.
Richard Gasaway, CSP, Saint Paul, Minn.
Terrie Glass, CSP, Richmond, Va.
Damian Goldvarg, CSP, Los Angeles, Calif.
Rick Goodman, CSP, Pembroke Pines, Fla.
Margarita Gurri, CSP, Dania Beach, Fla.
Chandra Hall, CSP, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Gary Hankins, CSP, Oxnard, Calif.
Devin Henderson, CSP, Shawnee, Kan.
Jason Hewlett, CSP, South Jordan, Utah
Mellanie True Hills, CSP, Greenwood, Texas
Mark Hoog, CSP, Fort Collins, Colo.
Karen Hough, CSP, Powell, Ohio
Steve Hughes, CSP, Chesterfield, Mo.
Louise Jakubik, CSP, Philadelphia, Pa.
Mary Kelly, CSP, Denver, Colo.
Sharon King, CSP, Collins Road, Gauteng, South Africa
Jason Kotecki, CSP, Madison, Wis.
Dirk Kreuter, CSP, Bochum, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Darren LaCroix, CSP, Las Vegas, Nev.
Dave Lieber, CSP, Keller, Texas
Anna Liotta, CSP, Seattle, Wash.
Heather Lutze, CSP, Parker, Colo.
Kirk Manzo, CSP, Atlanta, Ga.
Damian Mason, CSP, Huntington, Ind.
Andy Masters, CSP, MA, Plantation, Fla.
Patrick Maurer, CSP, San Diego, Calif.
Karl Mecklenburg, CSP, Littleton, Colo.
Kimberly Medlock, CSP, Olive Branch, Miss.
John B. Molidor, CSP, PhD, Haslett, Mich.
David Newman, CSP, Bryn Mawr, Pa.
Cordula Nussbaum, CSP, Sauerlach, Bavaria, Germany
Marquesa Pettway, CSP, DTM, New York, N.Y.
Raymond Phoon, CSP, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
Blaine Rada, CSP, Brookfield, Ill.
Sam Richter, CSP, Minnetonka, Minn.
Volker Römermann, CSP, PhD, Hamburg, Germany
Ford Saeks, CSP, Wichita, Kan.
Susan Scanland, CSP, CNP, MSN, Clarks Summit, Pa.
Gabriel Schandl, CSP, Oberndorf, Salzburg, Austria
Stephen Shapiro, CSP, Quincy, Mass.
Marilyn Sherman, CSP, Las Vegas, Nev.
Thom Singer, CSP, Austin, Texas
Suzanne F. Stevens, CSP, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Doug Stevenson, CSP, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Audrey Thomas, CSP, Minneapolis, Minn.
Helen Turnbull, CSP, PhD, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Rory Vaden, CSP, MBA, Nashville, Tenn.
Nadine Vogel, CSP, Mendham, N.J.
Faith Wood, CSP, Airdrie, Alberta, Canada
***This is week #111 of "Cool Things My Friends Do".

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Who Is Challenging You?

Who is challenging you to be the best you can be?  I like to be positively challenged, but find there are few people in the world willing to nudge others to improve.  Some many feel it is not their place, while others are frightened to offend.  It is often that people simply don't care much about what you do.  It takes a soul very secure in their own place to be good at challenging others.

Oh, wait... I don't mean the jerks who will doubt your efforts or point out your flaws.  It is easy to find those who will gladly argue or call you out for being "wrong" (regardless of the facts).  Those who bring drama into our lives are not really looking out for our best interests.  

Few seem to have regular contact with those that are willing to push and pull them forward.  The positive mentors that are unconditionally in our corner who have the ability to guide us around the pitfalls are rare.  I am fortunate to have these types of people (both friends, family and business associates), and I desire their inspiration, fresh ideas, and new points of view.  

Being clear that you are seeking improvement will draw some great people into your life.  The ones that will help you grow the most are also looking for people to assist them along their path.  Do not assume you will find someone who will give to you without you also being a giver.  Purposefully look for meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships.  

Working to improve will also turn some off.  Not everyone understands or respects your journey.  Nor do they want to invest in you.  That is okay.  You cannot make someone be your friend.  Let it go and move your focus to those who care about the whole you. 

All opportunities come from people.  Being engaged with those who challenge you to become more and to reach your potential makes life better and more fun. 

Are you feeling challenged?

Have A Great Day

thom singer