Although it’s January and a time for predictions of the future, my starting point for this post is a reflection on the year that’s been. 2021 was hardly a vintage year, with the COVID/IR35 double whammy, but the industry survived. Assignments were delivered, candidates were placed and, for some at least, the tills kept ringing.
When looking at the year in more detail, and trying to assess what the points of light were, the in demand skills, the hot sectors, it’s a mixed picture. Broadly most skillsets were in demand, with the possible exception of financial restructuring due to government action, and there was work in most sectors. However, when looking at who worked and who didn’t, it became obvious that something else was in play and it wasn’t the technical or sector experience of the Interim Manager.
I regularly talk to prospective Interim Managers making their first steps in the industry. I try to give them a balanced view and one of the things I always make clear is that being an Interim Manager is two roles and not one. The thing which draws new people to the industry is the opportunity to drive change, performance and growth to businesses they understand using their ‘best skills’. The balanced view I try to give is that, when off assignment at least, it is also a quite lonely sales role. You are the Sales Director of a one person Interim Management company with only one candidate on your database.
This isn’t rhetoric. It’s true.
In 2021, having looked at this in more detail it has become obvious that assignments typically went to those Interim Managers with the strongest networks, reputations and personal brands. Which is great for them. However, for those Interim Managers trying to find their way, and for those with experience who haven’t worked as much as they would like, how do they improve their chances of winning an assignment?
It’s about building a personal brand.
One thing that anyone who has done sales knows, which those that haven’t don’t, is that it’s a difficult job. Or, more correctly, it’s a difficult job to do well. All of us are exposed to bad salesmen, and bad sales technique, on a regular basis. All talk, no action, don’t listen, don’t deliver, overcharge, over promise. It’s a familiar story. It’s also a depressing one, as these people are supposed to be sales specialists, so what hope is there for the off assignment Interim Manager trying to ‘get out there’ and sell themselves?
Many ‘off assignment’ Interim Managers revert to the techniques of ‘Bad Sales’ mentioned above. I get ‘have you got a job for me?’ calls every week which aren’t even thinly disguised. This rarely works. There are the numerous LinkedIn posts which start NOW AVAILABLE!!!!!!!! This only works if you’re selling reconditioned toner cartridges. There is – a personal favourite – the CV sent on a round robin to 200+ recruiters without even the investment of a title. This may have worked up until the last assignment which finished in 2017, but not since. No matter how good the Interim Manager behind the technique is, the technique itself is actually more likely to put off potential hirers than it is to win an assignment.
So, what should an Interim Manager do to ensure they regularly pick up assignments? Do what the ‘maxed out’ Interim Managers do. Build a personal brand.
Building a personal brand is really just a code for ‘Good Sales’. The annoying thing about this is that it’s actually much more difficult to do than ‘Bad Sales’ and requires both an investment and time and, often, doing things which might be out of the comfort zone of the Interim Manager concerned.
However, in becoming an Interim Manager you are building a business and a business without sales isn’t a business.
Work out what it is you do and what it is you don’t do? This is the vital starting point which many Interim Managers don’t work out until they are well into their career. This is a bit like making a product and then deciding what it is for. Knowing what you want to be famous for will define the brand building exercises you undertake, but will also mean you win assignments you can deliver. Make sure your offering is specific enough to avoid looking like a generalist, but not so specific that you starve!
Back your offering with a website and collateral which explains who you are, what you do and why you do it better than others. This shouldn’t just be a rehash of your CV, but should give the client reassurance that you are a cogent alternative to a larger consulting business. Don’t be tempted to go to market with the rehashed version of the last CV you ever wrote.
Most clients are hard wired to ask for a CV so you will need one. Make sure it’s tailored to your new career as an Interim Manager rather than your previous career as a permanent executive. Strip out the Exec Summary padding, the hobbies, the names of your dog and all the rest of the puff. Replace this with you ‘greatest hits’ and make sure that you include the benefits your actions brought to your client or employer. Number are good. Big numbers are better.
Sweat your network of business contacts, friend, relatives and any reputable Interim Providers that you have been recommended. Make it clear what it is you do and how you wan them to help. Make sure you ask for referrals as part of this to continue to expand your network.
Work out, from the people you have met, who will be a valuable contact for the future and who will not. Invest in maintaining contact with the former….
….without calling them every week, writing fatuous LinkedIn posts or eshotting your CV to everyone you can think of. If in doubt about how and how often to keep in contact, you could always ask!
Keep your relationships interesting and try to make them a two way exchange. If you need help to get an assignment, the best way is often to help out the person who you think might be able to give it to you. This might be giving advice, sharing your contacts or it might be as simple sharing their LinkedIn posts. Paying it forward really works and sets you up as a valued peer rather than a persistent job seeker.
Then, when you’ve tried all this and are thinking of giving up, do it all again and do it better. Success at selling is partly about having a quality product to sell, but its also about a willingness to get out there and do it.
These are the brand building techniques most often utilised by successful Interim Managers, but there are lots of others. If you would like hear more on the subject, I am pleased to let you know that I will be co-hosting a webinar on the subject with my friends at the Institute for Turnaround on 27th January 2022, 8am to 9am. If you would like to sign up and learn more then please email firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to see you there.
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