"It's hard to think about your own business from the inside. It's like you are in a wine bottle and all you can see is the back of the label. You need to get out of the bottle from time to time."
– David C. Baker
I have been extremely fortunate to speak at more than 30 credit union conferences over the past three years. When I am in speaker mode, I concentrate on being prepared, getting there on time, making sure that the technology gods are on my side and delivering a coherent talk. If I am lucky, I may get to see a couple of other speakers before grabbing a cab to the airport. I had forgotten about the pure joy and educational value of being a conference attendee.
To listen. To ponder. To absorb. To think. To question. To talk to other people in your shoes. Without worrying about anything else. For those credit union employees reading, you should relish those opportunities to get out of your organization for a few days to learn and reflect.
I had that simple pleasure last week at the Recourses New Business Summit in Nashville, Tennessee. This three-day seminar had nothing to do with credit unions, but everything to do with my business. The curriculum is tailored specifically for principles and sales people at small marketing firms. The two main speakers – David C. Baker and Blair Enns – provided great information on positioning, marketing and selling. And two special guest – Mark O'Brien and Christopher Butler – delivered excellent advice on content strategy and thought leadership.
The New Business Summit wasn't a typical conference where a parade of speakers give you a small taste of a variety of topics, it was more like being in a classroom setting attempting to drink from a firehose. I imagine it would be something like a CUNA Management School or a CUES Institute in the credit union world.
A major difference between this conference and a credit union conference was the lack of projected slides. Three days worth of information without one single bulleted PowerPoint slide. Just confident, expert speakers talking to their audience. It was a joyous contrast to what I am accustomed to!
I'm a long-time David Baker follower and a Recourses client. In fact, other than my father, no other individual has had more impact on my professional life than David. He has long advocated for marketing and design firms to specialize. To pick an industry or a particular service offering and get really good at that one thing. Blair Enns also believes in specialization and he has dedicated his consulting practice to helping firms stand out from the crowd in a new business setting.
This advice runs contrary to the popular thinking in the creative services field. Creative types are addicted to variety and new challenges. The thought of specialization is typically met with disbelief and deep disagreement.
I suppose the same can be said about most service industries. You are well aware that the financial services industry is populated by undifferentiated players who think that they all offer superior service! With more than 8,000 credit unions and 10,000 banks in the US and Canada all offering pretty much the same products and services, it's nearly impossible to stand out.
Now imagine my industry. There are more than 40,000 marketing firms in the US and Canada staffed by creatives who truly believe they are the most creative!
David and Blair's advice is always simple, smart and direct. I've taken their advice to heart over the years. The more finely specialized I've made Currency in what we offer, the more opportunity has come our way and the more effective we've become at what we do. It just takes time and discipline.
If you are in the marketing business – whether it's design, interactive, public relations or advertising – you should attend the Recourses New Business Summit in 2013. It's a great way to get out of your bottle and start the year off right.
If you are in the credit union business, seek out a seminar or conference that delivers this depth of expertise and content. You'll thank me later!