Building Block #2: Strengths and Needs
Prefer to listen rather than to read? This essay is also on the podcast here.
This essay is the second chapter in my free ebook, You Need a Holistic Business: Learn the Six Essential Building Blocks. You can download that here. if you want to see all the building blocks together in one document, and if you like to read and take notes that way.
Without further ado:
Building block #2: take stock of your strengths and your clients' true needs.
Confusing as it may initially seem, you need to create a business that is both focused on you and focused on your client at the same time.
When creating a business that is profitable and that has longevity built into its design, you will need to find that sweet spot where both your strengths and the actual needs of your clients are woven into the fabric of your business.
Let’s start with the clients’ true needs. Obviously, if you are in a service-providing business, you exist to meet some need your client has, so this can seem like a, “duh”. However, there are a few very common pitfalls people stumble into here:
1) They offer a service to clients that they believe the client should want (but haven’t taken the time to pay attention to if they actually do want it).
This is the “eat your vegetables, they’re good for you!” trap. If your business’s offerings are centered around a Mom-vibe of trying to convince clients to do something that’s good for them, but which they aren’t already invested in themselves, that’s a long uphill slog which will burn you out and will burn out prospective and current clients as well. But this does not mean that you cannot do work that is, in fact, challenging (think: trauma therapy). It's more about the motivation of the client- do people seek out this work? In the case of my example, trauma therapy, they very much do.
2) They create a business around a service they, as the service-provider, want to deliver based on what they are passionate about (but they haven’t taken the time to notice if there is a need on the part of the client for this service)
This is one of the traps laid along the path called the passion principle. The passion principle, in a nutshell, states that if you follow your bliss, your true calling, or the thing you want to spend all your time doing, then making a viable living will follow.
I talked about this briefly in my last episode as well but just to reiterate: While there is an important role for passion, callings, and interest in your work (certainly you don’t want to swing to the opposite extreme and randomly do work which you could care less about), the idea that the passion principle is the essential thing to center your business’s offerings around is a myth.
Care about what you do, for sure. Hone your craft like an artisan, definitely. But develop the services your business offers around what your clients are telling you they actually want and need, regardless of if it is your truest, purest passion in life. (Further reading on this: So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport).
3) They don’t evaluate whether or not their service is something clients truly want to spend time, money, and energy on.
Whether we like it or not (spoiler: I don’t like it) we live in a time of information overload and maddening, chronic “busyness”. So anyone who hires you to provide a service has decided to entrust you with some of their most precious resources in this day and age: time, energy, and money.
If they are devoting time, energy and money to hiring you, it’s because they want a result in return. Ask yourself, "What result(s) do they truly want and need from this exchange?" I don't think we need to shrink our work down to being merely transactional- most of the businesses I work with are instead engaged in transformational work- but I do think that we benefit from remembering that clients seek us out with a particular need or needs.
What all 3 of these points have in common is that people can forget to really listen (and to keep listening) to what the client is saying they actually want and need.
As you really look and listen to clients and potential clients, this might mean your core offering changes. That’s ok- that means you’re paying attention!
Now that you’ve attuned yourself to your clients’ true needs, also take stock of your strengths.
Because you aren't just a service-providing robot right!? One of the joys of running your own business is that you get to shape it to suit you as well as your clients. We all have different personalities, inclinations, and natural talents. When designing your business, you have to take into consideration what is true to you so that you have wind at your back rather than setting yourself up for a Sisyphean roll-that- boulder-up-the-hill feat.
This will be important in both the short term and the long term. Short term, in the day-to-day, if your business is built around how you like to work, how you prefer to structure your time, and how you best shine, you will have a much easier go of it.
In the long term this becomes especially important. Every business has a honeymoon period when we are excited and filled with all the visions of what this thing can become. And every honeymoon period does end. What comes after the honeymoon period (in both romance and in business) is the deepening of intimacy. It’s not as sexy or adrenaline-filled, but the craft of your work begins to get really refined. This is when things actually take off in reality and not just in our imaginations.
Often we can use the adrenaline of the honeymoon period to force ourselves into business models that don’t suit us (usually because they are currently trendy and are the new “it” model). Once that period ends though, we can find ourselves saddled with a business we begin to resent.
Building block #2: action steps
Your clients' true needs:
Think of some of your clients who you have loved working with, and ask yourself:
What made them reach out to me?
What outcome were they hoping for?
What problem, or problems, do I primarily help my clients with? (*This does not mean you need to be "problem focused" in your marketing materials or website copy, this is simply a way of getting to the heart of the matter for your own clarity.)
Instead of starting a business on the honeymoon momentum or what you think you “should” do, take stock of your strengths by making notes based on these prompts:
Do you like the intimate connection of working one-on-one with a client? Or do you prefer to teach in a one-to-many model? Do you get excited to geek out on strategy or do you know you were born to be on stage, mic in hand, motivating people? Do you like working on many, shorter projects for people or would you rather have fewer longer-term client relationships?
Sometimes it’s hard to see ourselves with clarity. Tools can help! A great place to start unearthing your particular strengths in business is with the Gallup CliftonStrengths assessment.
Important footnotes on how to work with CliftonStrengths assessments:
First, do not use the strengths assessment to pigeon-hole yourself. For example, if you come up with zero traits in the influential category (like I do), this does not mean, “Ho hum, I guess I’ll never get my message out there.” Instead, use your strengths to get your message out there. For example, by being “influential” through teaching strategy if that’s your thing, or through connecting one-on-one if relating is your thing..
Second, none of us escapes leaning into things that are uncomfortable as entrepreneurs, so I’m not advocating for strengths finding to contribute to a fragile mindset. Meaning, this is not to be taken as a fence you put yourself in for fear that you can’t handle trying out new capabilities. You can!