When you enter a group of people unknown to you, do you introduce yourself, or wait to be approached? Unless one of you is Barack Obama is subscribed to my email list under a pseudonym, you probably introduce yourself.
Because who are you - in your professional world?
If you're not the Seth Godin of Marketing, the Jason Fried of SaaS software, or the Ariana Huffington of Online Media, then you might need to introduce yourself to the world. But what world? More on that in a second.
For now, there may be no queue of people in line to introduce themselves to you, to maybe purchase your professional expertise from you. Or at least not a long queue.
And I'm not just talking about introducing yourself at cocktail parties (although as reader J.A. once remarked to me, the whole world is a networking event if you have the right mindset!).
That reminds me – I'll tell you a story about a networking event. Last month, I was in the global HQ of Upwork (a freelancing website which is also not a bad place to practice introducing your business).
By the way, if you're a freelancer, then you're a business – if you introduce and think of yourself that way. Otherwise, you're not; it's up to you.
Anyway, it was for a meetup of "Top Rated" Upwork freelancers in the SF Bay Area and coincided with an internal congregation of Upwork's global marketing team. There were about 120 people between Upwork freelancers and staff.
There were two men there who weren't introducing themselves.
One was Danny Marguiles, a Ramit Sethi course graduate who runs an online course specializing in helping freelancers succeed financially using Upwork. Wherever he went during the evening, a line of 3 or 4 trailed.
I was standing next to the other, a quiet, shy-seeming guy wearing very nice clothes. He seemed interesting and important, because like Danny Marguiles, he had been been invited to address the entire group.
I had been in conversation during his speech, so I hadn't caught who he was and introduced myself.
French accent. Extremely pleasant. His name was Stephane.
"What kind of work do you do, Stephane?"
"I am the CEO of Upwork."
A-ha! He wasn't shy; on the contrary, he possessed quiet confidence, the truest kind. Which isn't surprising given that investors (Benchmark, T. Rowe Price, FirstMark, etc) trust him enough to lead a large Silicon Valley through an IPO.
In retrospect, both of these people, Stephane Kasriel and Danny Marguiles, had introduced themselves: to all 120 people at the gathering, by speaking to it.
So one of the tasks in front of us is to figure out how to introduce ourselves to large groups of people at once. The beauty of it is that it will force you to have something worthwhile to say.
But it's hard work to develop something worthwhile to say, to several people at once. How do you figure out what to say?
There are only two methods I know of: running a successful business for an extended period of time, and writing (or some other kind of self-expression), also for an extensive period of time. If you do both, well, sooner or later there will be a line of people waiting to talk to you.
But in the meantime we need to reach out, one person at a time. Bird by Bird, as Annie LaMott says.
But who to introduce yourself to?
Unfortunately, there are 7 billion people in the world. To interact with about 10 of them per month would take 6 million years.
Fortunately, you don't need to introduce yourself to everyone of them. Because only a few thousand of them are your ideal customers, apparently.
... when your testing your positioning with the numbers, aim for 10–200 competitors and 2,000–10,000 prospects
– David C. Baker, The Business of Expertise
This is probably the third time I have mentioned this somewhere. And I see it all over the place nowadays, so it deserves an explanation.
These numbers (2,000–10,000 prospects) are based, as far as I can tell, on a pattern recognized by David C Baker while working with independent, professional, B2b firms.
In other words, it's not based in Economics, capital E, as far as I know (I could be wrong about this). Therefore it's actually not provable or scientific.
But when David C Baker wrote the Business of Expertise, which is where I believe he first published those numbers, he'd been a consultant to nearly 1,000 independently owned high-end services firms over a 24-year period. So he'd identified a pattern.
In addition, he did extensive research on the subject in 2014.
I haven't had the opportunity to ask David C. Baker about this research but as far as I can tell from pieces of information he's disclosed in podcasts, articles, and his book, the evaluation process was simplify to identify successful businesses, then research and tabulate the numbers of competitors and prospects. So I'm guess some had 8 competitors and some 220, but most had between 10 and 200. Likewise for prospects.
Wait. What constitutes a competitor and a prospect? Mostly like he defined competitor as having the same or very similar crosshair (horizontal + vertical) positioning. And he identified prospects as being businesses of the right size (not too big, not too large) in the industry (or industries) served.
By the way, if you're interested in learning more about this, I'd also recommend reading the "Business of Expertise" yourself (and let me know what you think!). And if you want to really dive deep, I'd suggest Philip Morgan's body of online courses, which he describes as "specialization school".
It's a good thing smart people like David C. Baker and Philip Morgan have figured this stuff out for us.
Because for many small businesses, the number is hundreds of thousands if not millions because they have no vertical marketing positioning. So they are a branding agency for anyone, a Drupal shop for anyone, or an accountant for anyone – without an audience, an industry, whom they specialize in solving problems for.
That's because small businesses make the mistake of emulating their larger peers, without realizing that the latter have an invisible positioning clause: they only work with profitable medium and large businesses, or startups with equivalent marketing budgets.
So a huge agency like Interbrand can say we do branding but mean, "We do branding for big business".
So careful who you emulate or you'll end up with millions of prospective customers – and maybe millions of competitors too. The ones on the job boards charging minimum wage or, if they are slightly more enterprising, sending spam to your email.
So we're in a middle place and one way to get to that place is with positioning; an effective first step for lead generation. Another is confidence, of course.
I can't think of a better method and I'm so grateful to David C. Baker for sharing those guide posts with the rest of us.
Because we don't have time to meet all 7 billion humans on earth. All we can do is "wish them well, wish them happy, and wish them safe" (Andy Hobson will show you how).
From 7 Billion to 100
Now let me give you an even smaller number: 100. 100 is the number of new business conversations your business will have each year with prospects in your market. That breaks down to about 10 a month, if you take a month or two off. That's the low end of the range; the high end is about 20.
No, that won't let you talk to all 10,000 prospects, probably ever, but that's OK (be merciful and leave some opportunities for your poor competition).
So to get to 10 or 20 new conversations a month, unless you're Barack Obama, this is where introducing yourself becomes important. At the same time, becoming Barack Obama, in your own world, is also a worthy goal, because the conversations will come to you.
This is also called inbound marketing. Which is not easy when 2 million blog posts a day are being published.
So our challenge is to balance the new business opportunities that come with inbound marketing with those that come with outbound marketing: introducing yourself.
I help services firm with both tasks and encourage finding a balance between the two.
So I'm curious: how are you introducing yourself to your world?