Talking on Purpose


Last year I stepped into the intimidating (and slightly effervescent) waters of the consulting world, and found great success. This was in some part due to many lessons I’ve learned over the years – everything from business and sales to storytelling and obsessive-compulsive record keeping.

But to a far greater degree, the success I’ve found so far is the direct result of some great advice from fellow consultants in the field. Folk like Denny Cherry, Brent Ozar, Wes Brown, and Allan Hirt (and many more!), who were kind enough to take the time to answer my questions, or who had already blogged about it, or both.

One of the (many) best solid pieces of advice that struck me right between the eyes was this: “Talk to people.” How do you find business? By talking to everyone. Now, I thought I was already talking to people, especially at conferences. When I really thought about it, what I actually do is talk to people who I know already. This isn’t necessarily bad, if you’re also spreading the word that you’re looking for engagements. But anyone who has ever sold anything will tell you that you can’t build a business off of family and friends.

[Scene: at a user group meeting.]

So Bill, did I tell you I’m consulting now?

No, I hadn’t heard. How’s that going?

[Normal conversation ensues.]

I needed to be talking to vendors, to other speakers, and to random attendees in the hallway. This isn’t difficult to me, but I’m not a randomly chatty person by nature. It takes talking purposefully.

[Scene: at a SQL Saturday.]

Hi there, I see you work for “VendorCo”. I recommended your “AutoProduct” to a client earlier this month, and they just love it.

Oh really, that’s great!

[Business conversation ensues.]

Since this revelation, I have begun talking purposefully, and seeking people out who I can talk to. I talk about what I do to friends and new acquaintances, to business contacts I already have, at chamber of commerce meetings, and everywhere else I can think of that’s appropriate*. I try to be informative without being a pushy salesgirl. After all, a great deal of the time, the person I’m talking to doesn’t need database help, but she knows someone who does.

[Scene: At a networking dinner.]

So that’s a little bit about what I do.

That’s so interesting. My friend Jake works at an accounting firm, and he was just saying something about a database running slowly…

[A gagillion dollars drops into my lap. Or maybe just a business card.]

I’ve also gotten a feel for when an ongoing conversation is done. Sometimes you just find yourself in a conversation with someone who’s trying to sell to you, and that can just go around in circles all day if you let it.

 [Scene: At a chamber of commerce mixer.]

So that’s what I do. And how about you?

Well, I’m just here giving out coupons for my boss’s spa…

That’s lovely, I’ll take one! Excuse me for a moment…**

[Conversation ends quickly.]

Of course, the same ideas apply if you’re not a consultant. Always be on the lookout, just in general. You might, in talking on purpose, find new job with better pay and training, or some after hours work, or free software. You might fall into a book deal. It’s entirely possible you’ll just learn some cool new solution, or a very interesting problem you can solve.

If you find yourself talking purposefully this year, drop me a line – in comments or at Jen -at- – and let me know how it went.

Happy days,

Jen McCown

*Without being annoying.

** No, I don’t always just jet on someone who also has their business in mind. But for the sake of brevity, I left out the very long conversation where I politely listened to what they do, determined that they really had nothing else other than a round-and-round sales pitch, and went along my way.

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