My business model — and my identity

32800673_3fdecb8f95_zThis is a completely naval gazing post. Then again, isn’t that what a blog is for?

I’ve been spending a bit of time over the last few months pondering my business model and my professional identity. In any business built on a personal brand — and writing fits that model — you hit a certain threshold point. What I am selling is myself: my ideas, my writing. But there’s only one me. I only have 168 hours in a week, and I cannot work for all of them.

There are obvious answers, like outsourcing administration and charging more. These are both good ideas. But there’s a limit on both. Some things I do are scalable. A book can sell lots of copies, but I can’t write more than one book a year, and to be honest, the number is probably lower than that. The article-writing part of my business is also inherently limited. I can top out a publication’s pay scale, but they’re not going to completely change their business model to hire me.

I interviewed several people (including frequent commenter @ARC!) for a Fast Company story that ran this week on scaling up Brand You — but some of the options for growth are not available to me, given the second part of the headline. What is my professional identity?

Am I a productivity guru? Or am I a journalist?

From time to time I am approached by marketing firms, or organizations themselves, who’d like to work together on projects. Productivity or time management fits with their brand positioning, and they’d like me to do spokesperson type work (often media interviews on their behalf). If I’m a productivity guru, that might be extremely helpful to building my brand. It gets my name out there. But if I’m a journalist, it’s not something I can do. I write for publications that cover these companies, and it’s possible I’d do so myself. A journalist cannot also be a corporate spokesperson.

I realize that this hard line, though, is less hard than I at first see it. After all, companies are more than welcome to hire me as a motivational speaker for their employees. Somehow that seems fine. And the publications that I write for accept ads from the companies they cover. Sometimes media outlets are even in the same corporate families as companies they cover.

So I’m not sure that there’s any particular intellectual rigor to any of these decisions. But my feeling is that I’m a journalist, and I’d like to continue acting as one. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t accepted any ads for this blog, and I don’t do affiliate sales either. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with other people making different decisions, but this is the one I’m most comfortable with now, given what I think of as my professional identity.

What suggestions do you have for someone like me to scale up her business?

Photo courtesy flickr user mscaprikell

12 thoughts on “My business model — and my identity

  1. A question back to you — what would the end result of “scale up” in your business look like? I’m not quite sure what you are aiming for that’s different from where you are now.

  2. I’m with @WG- are you aiming for more money, or more prestige, or what? If you want more money, the lecture circuit may be the best way- a career coach once told me that for amount of money per hour, that was by far her most lucrative type of work. But if it isn’t just money you are after, that might not be the best approach. @Nicoleandmaggie’s suggestion of looking for role models is a good one, too.

  3. Good questions all. Money is good, though not a sufficient end in itself (or I wouldn’t be sticking with the journalist identity). Speaking is definitely something I should do more of. That’s a big chunk, for sure, of what people like Malcolm Gladwell do. It’s not scalable, but it’s a lot per hour invested. And it’s about sharing ideas through the medium of words — broadly what I view as a core competency…

  4. You could create/host virtual women’s conferences. You would be one of the speakers, and I’m sure you could recruit other speakers that would like to promote their books/products/services. I’d sign up! Those who can’t attend the live virtual sessions could receive access to the recorded sessions and the presenter handouts. I paid for the “Big Biller Summit” virtual webinar when I was a recruiter if you want to look at something as an example.

  5. It is challenging to constantly be relooking at what is it that I need to do and what is it that an admin could do … honestly it would be a godo and valuable article to take entrepreneurs and looka t how they have used admins and other support systems to get to specific goals — grow this percentage of business past x number of $s or to increase x to do x — sales support folks and admins are often not really producing the results one would want and it is scary sometimes to give someone authority though it can be freeing

  6. I like that you consider yourself a journalist first. After all, it is your thoughts, your techniques and your insights that speak to your audience. Working for a specific company would compromise that.

    I think you and by extension your brand is marketed very well to professionals but I also think that non-professional working parents who are juggling multiple jobs and kids could benefit from what you have to offer. It would be great to reach them as well. Think about how your techniques and time perspective could enrich their lives.

    1. @Jeanne – yes, I do think that working for a company wouldn’t be a good brand extension. It’s tricky though. What if Starbucks offered to sell What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast in all their stores? Clearly, there would be some sort of tie-in associated with that but I think it would be a cool opportunity. Is there a difference between that and other corporate partnerships?

      I probably have a certain target market in mind that I write for (people who tend to buy business books – since my publisher is a business imprint). But I’m always happy to see that people from different walks of life are picking up tips too. I have an academic interest in homeschooling, which most people don’t know, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how many homeschooling parents have been interested in my productivity tips as a way to combine the work of schooling with the work of running a home — and still have time for other things. I didn’t particularly write with that in mind but I’m thrilled to learn that people find what I write useful.

  7. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and really appreciate your approach on many topics. You know you want to be a journalist first and foremost and I agree with @WG and @Cloud in that you now need to further define what scaling up means to you.

    1. @Shelly – thanks, I appreciate it! Yep, sell more books, give more speeches, grow the blog, write articles I particularly care about. Those are probably the best things to do with my time.

  8. I think if it’s not about the money primarily, it’s worth thinking about what aspects of your current work you like the best and least and maximize the time you spend on what you like best. It’s not necessary to always “move up” or look for the next step, is it? If you love what you’re doing and are making enough money to do what you want, can’t you just keep doing that until you get bored? That might be more philosophical an answer than you were looking for, though. (And also counter to our culture as a whole.)

  9. Hi Laura,

    I see a really clear set of potentials for you, and they’re all really high value, and would enable flexibility in how you approach them.

    From the perspective of your brand and your highest calling, I would counsel against starting – or even majoring – on the idea of journalist in isolation. Why?

    Because I think your value is significantly higher than that word suggests. [And I’m not just saying that to butter you up.]

    I love the distinctions you’ve shared, and I also believe there’s a lot more where those came from. Today in James’ DFW course [pretty sure you know what I mean], the concept of advocacy came up: being an advocate for our ideal audience.

    I see you as a world-class advocate. That, to my mind, is how you apply your journalistic talents so effectively. For whom specifically, to what end and how?

    I have some ideas, but more to the point, I think you will have great ones, and I’d love to connect if that would serve – no hidden agenda and no expectations beyond one call to see if we can rock this thing a bit more for you.

    Either way, I love your work and your thinking! 🙂

    Best wishes from Scotland…

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