I talked with my sister about my goals for 2011 and that I want to actively develop my network and conciously grow towards certain goals instead of just going wherever the tide takes me. Some examples: I want to have more local/domestic business so that I can be directly involved without the need to travel a lot. I want to develop a nice mix of NGOs and private sector clients with a few government agencies and universities thrown in the mix. I want to strongly develop my new line of business in using Net-Map for executive coaching…
My sister, who used to run her own company, said: “You know Eva, what it boils down to is the right mix of Konzepte, Kontakte und Kohle (for the non-German-speakers: content, connections and currency). Each project you do should feed at least two of these needs and in your overall portfolio you want a nice mix of the three. There might be one where the content is exciting and you build great networks but the client doesn’t pay you well. The next one might be well paid and great for your networks but slightly boring when it comes to the content. And finally there might be projects that make sense financially and you care about the content but they don’t do much in terms of connections. In the end, what you want is a balance.”
Connections, content, currency… now what does that mean concretely? Let’s start by having a closer look at the connections: what projects are great for connections? If you do your first project in a new field it’s a great connection builder, you go from “no connection” to your first bridge into a new field, that’s the biggest step. Or so it seems. Sometimes it is the second and third project in this new field that really move you from being a one hit wonder to being someone who works in this area. However, the difference between working project 7 and project 8 in this new area will most likely be minimal – at least in terms of generating new links. But there is something else about connection which might actually be more pronounced in project 8 than it was in project 1: And that is the depth and quality of the connection instead of just the number of new links. And often one of the reasons for long term collaborations is the comfort, reliability and convenience found in established good connections. There might even be some clients where you feel a deeper sense of connection (as in “soul-mates”), that makes working with them special.
But as my sister said, you want to have at least two of the three. So what about the content? As far as I’m concerned, there are two main ways that content can be great: Either you share the goal of the project and find the content important that way. You want to be the change you want to see in the world. Or you find it stimulating because you learn a lot of new stuff. But you might have different criteria. A lot of people love working on projects where they have a high level of expertise in the content area, for example.
Currency? Again, it’s not just “The more they pay, the better.” Even though, obviously, it is great if some of your clients do pay well… But as an independent business person, stability is at least as important as volume. So having a client who doesn’t pay you extremely well can still make economic sense, if this is a reliable long term engagement which gives you some background of stability while you are engaging with less reliable but higher paying clients as well.
Now (if you are considering your professional focus) look at your business engagements and make a list: Do they hit at least 2 of the 3 Cs? What if they don’t? Well, sometimes a project just delivers one of them, either content or connections or currency, but this one is so strong that it’s ok if the other two are not met. Do you have enough other work with different focus to balance this one out? Is there any way how you can strengthen the underserved needs in this project, by maybe re-negotiating the pay, making the content more meaningful or being more active in pursuing connections? Or is the most reasonable lesson to let go of it and/or be more concious of the three Cs in future engagements?