I had a great time at Hyde Park on Saturday watching The Pretenders, Neil Young, Fleet Foxes and Seasick Steve provide some barnstorming sets. As I enjoyed burning sunshine and overpriced beer and burgers, I couldn’t help wondering why I thought I knew the guy sitting/standing in front of us for most of the afternoon. I had a nagging suspicion that he was something “big” in the PR world – but I felt a bit of an idiot asking him who he was, so I didn’t.
Good post on how the traditional concept of a Unique Selling Proposition views the problem of positioning “almost backwards”. Hence the idea of a Unique Buying Proposition.
As Newt Barrett says: “A UBP is a first cousin to a USB. The difference is that a UBP is all about the buyer and what the buyer will gain from doing business with you. Thus, your buyers don’t care that you are the only maker of green widgets in the United States. They do care if your green widgets will enable them to double their sales or cut their manufacturing costs by 50%.
Therefore the structure of a UBP should be something along the lines of: You will achieve X positive outcome by taking advantage of our solution Y which is precisely designed to solve your most challenging problem Z.”
By far and away my most popular blog post of 2008 was How To Start A PR Company with Google and a Credit Card. As of this morning, the page has had nearly 2000 views since I originally published it in March of last year.
The general principle espoused in the post remains true – but I thought I’d update a few things.
1. Do I need to own my own computer?
Last year I suggested you could get a cheap laptop for a few hundred pounds – certainly if you opt for a netbook, that is still true. However, if you want to really boil it down to operating expenses over capital investment, there are various deals where you effectively rent your laptop and internet access – say for around £22 per month.
2. Do I need my own software?
I’d add to the original list Xero, an online accounting package. Rather than spend money on Sage or similiar, you have 24/7 online access to your accounts for around £19 per month. It is a very slick service – the world’s first enjoyable to use accounting software.
3. Other additions
And why not throw in your own “on demand” car service with Streetcar?
In fact, it is perfectly conceivable to start and run a business (certainly in its early stages) purely on operating expenses of less than £100 per month and no capital expenditure (assuming you don’t need a virtual office or accounting services – even then you could probably achieve this for under £300 per month).
So in spite of the current dire climate, don’t let cost be a barrier to the entrepreneurial spirit.
I’ve just signed up for Streetcar, the driving equivalent of Software as a Service. Rather than have the capital expense of owning and running a car, you only pay for a vehicle as and when you need it ie as an operating expense.
Here are the main differences between normal car hire:
1. You can use the car for as little as 30 mins at a time. Costs start at £3.95 per hour.
2. An available car should be no more than 5 – 10 mins walk from your home or current location (in my case, I can walk to our nearest Streetcar in approximately 30 seconds – see picture above).
3. You can have one way trips ie you can leave the car at your final destination rather than return it.
4. You can call Streetcar’s service centre for free from the car’s hands-free phone. You can also divert your mobile phone’s incoming calls to the car, and plug in your iPod to the car’s stereo.
You pay £60 for a year’s membership – and then pay as you go after that. The sign up process was very swift and easy. They send you a smartcard which allows you to open up your chosen vehicle and then you key in your membership pin number to activate the car for driving – very clever.
For the typical urban commuter whose own car spends all week not doing anything except depreciating in value, the cost savings to be had by using Streetcar are quite compelling. They also offer a business version – replacing an owned fleet with Streetcars “without the fixed costs, depreciation and hassle. And if you don’t already have Streetcars right outside your office, Streetcar can even locate cars in your own office car park.”
I’ll report back later on how our driving on demand experiment goes.
David Maister’s book Managing The Professional Service Firm remains the gold standard text on the subject, some 16 years after it was first published. In fact, the book is a collection of essays and articles that he had written over previous years, stretching as far back as 1982.
The main thing that struck me about re-reading this again recently was how little things have changed in terms of the major issues still impacting professional service firms of all kinds – everyone from lawyers, accountants, consultants and, of course, PR agencies. For example, he cited systemic under delegation as a key problem back in the early 1980s – and nearly 30 years later, it continues to plague the PR business.
As Maister notes in his chapter on the Motivation Crisis: “It is not uncommon to hear comments such as ‘The practice of law [or accounting or PR consulting] is just not as fun any more. Today’s clients are demanding, cynical about the value they receive, and treat you less as a professional and more like an ordinary vendor. The pace, intensity and workload are greater than ever, and the firm atmosphere is competitive rather than supportive and certainly less collegial. With all this concern about profitability, it seems like we’re being asked to work even harder for what might turn out to be less money.”
And Maister wrote this in 1985!
There isn’t a chapter in the book that doesn’t have something of key relevance to everyone working in a PR firm today. Chapter 10 on How Client’s Choose is a good example:
“Buying professional services is rarely a comfortable experience,” says Maister. He goes on to list 10 unpleasant emotions associated with the experience (I’ve editorialised slightly from the original):
- I’m feeling insecure, I’m not sure I know how to detect which of the agencies pitching to me is the genius and which is just good. I’ve exhausted my abilities to make a technical distinction.
- I’m feeling threatened. This is my area of responsibility and even though intellectually I know I need outside expertise, emotionally it’s not comfortable to put my affairs in the hands of others
- I’m taking a personal risk. By putting my affairs in the hands of others, I risk losing control
- I’m impatient. I didn’t call in someone at the first sign of symptoms. I’ve been thinking about this for a while.
- I’m worried. By the very fact of suggesting improvements or changes, these people are implying I haven’t been doing it right up until now. Are they on my side?
- I’m exposed. Whoever I hire, I’m going to have to reveal some proprietary secrets – not all of which is flattering. I will have to undress.
- I’m feeling ignorant – and I don’t like it. I don’t know if I’ve got a simple problem or a complex one – do I trust these PR folk to be honest about that?
- I’m skeptical. I’ve been burned by PR agencies before. You get a lot of promises. How do I know whose promises to buy?
- I’m concerned that they either won’t or can’t take the time to understand what makes my situation special. They’ll try to sell me what they’ve got rather than what I need.
- I’m suspicious. Will they be those typical professionals who are hard to get hold of, who are patronizing, who leave you out of the loop, who befuddle you with jargon, who don’t explain what they are doing or why, who…., ……who? In short, will these people deal with me in the way I want to be dealt with?
If PR clients felt this way 20 years ago, think how they feel now.
Remember, it may be painful to walk in the other person’s shoes. But David Maister’s advice is as true now as it was 30 years ago: “The single most important talent in selling professional services is the ability to understand the purchasing process (not the sales process) from the client’s perspective. The better a professional can learn to think like a client, the easier it will be to do and say the correct things to get hired.”