A portfolio of businesses or a portfolio business?

There is enormous upheaval ahead.

All of us are at risk.

There are also exciting possibilities for those who can ride the wave of change carefully.

Automation, ageing and the changing shape of globalisation and de-globalisation will lead to significant shifts in the coming years.

At a recent event, I was intrigued by a conversation that revolved around this rapidly shifting terrain for workers, both corporate and freelance.

Do the changes ahead mean we need to shift focus?

One successful freelance trainer I spoke with was struggling with the implications for his own business and was beginning to explore his options for creating a portfolio of businesses. This might mean him training online on one topic, doing coaching locally in a completely different area and doing project-based work on whatever he could get hold of.

His emerging strategy was to look at training in and developing some basic skills in lots of different areas. Then he hoped to be able to at least keep something going if the other areas dried up…

It was quite a challenging conversation. I could see the threat/challenges. I just wasn’t sure about the strategy, indeed whether it was strategic or merely desperation.

The trainer in question was highly experienced, one of the top experts in his field in the UK. Yet he didn’t really see how this expertise could survive as a business on its own.

This isn’t an unusual situation, lots of people are struggling with similar options, questions and tempting solutions (that may not be solutions at all).

I was puzzled, the skills he had acquired over the years, the insights into organisations, individuals and team dynamics were extensive and unique. Yet the live training arena was his current context and he couldn’t really see anything beyond this with his current skillset. Hence the search for something else to do…

Is your plan strategic or panic?

When we work with business authors we are encouraging them to think about the future of their business and how books, audio or online programmes can help them navigate and structure a future for their business. This isn’t a random foray into other areas that they don’t really know about, but a focused use of the insight and expertise in new contexts that can benefit from their wisdom.

For example, the HR consultant who has many years of experience in hospitality settings can begin to pull out the underlying principles of excellent customer experience and translate these for other business sectors in high-value books/products/training.

The creation of a product-range business that sits alongside and complements an expert’s current business maintains the centre of gravity around their expertise. Attempting to start lots of new stuff or offer lots of very different services will lead to a disintegration and loss of quality.

We never resolved the situation for the freelance trainer during our chat, however, my instinct is that our expertise is our strongest asset and delivers the greatest results.

Do we want to create a range of different businesses that are unconnected and risk poorer results for the client?

Or should we look to the future with a product-range business that maintains our quality in different contexts?

There is enormous upheaval ahead.

How will you ride the wave of change?

Are your readers in Waterstones?

Next time you are outside a bookshop take a wander in.

Enjoy the atmosphere, soak up that wonderful, new book aroma and then mosey over to the business section.

Look at the size of the bookshop, then look at the size of the business section, then look at the shelf space dedicated to your particular topic of interest.

It will be an illuminating experience.

When we first start to work with business authors one of their first concerns is that their book will be available at bookstores. We reassure them that yes, all books published by us can be ordered and purchased from Waterstones, et al.

Then we tell them that Waterstones, or the other bricks-and-mortar stores, are probably the last places they need to worry about.

Think back to that shelf space at the back of the bookstore containing the behemoths of business books The One-Minute Manager, The 7 Habits, etc.

The reality is that, for most business authors writing for specific niche audiences, prospective readers are not prowling the shelves of Waterstones desperately seeking their title.

This is not a bad thing.

In fact, it is liberating.

There will always be a role for the physical bookstores for particular kinds of books and for highly popular authors in mass market areas. But for the rest of us, for those with expertise, services and products in niche arenas, our hungry audience is elsewhere.

Thankfully we can reach them more easily than ever before.

Fighting for shelf space in Waterstones reduces your title to a mere commodity and also massively reduces the profitability of your book project.

When you are visible to your target audience where they gather your book is not a commodity… it is a solution, a way out of their predicament, a welcome relief from their pain, a map to the future and a toolkit for their success.

Oh, and when they buy directly from you the return is so much more rewarding!

If you focus on Waterstones you are probably thinking more from ego than from a calculated business strategy. Much better to reach your audience where they are gathering in numbers, connect with them, demonstrate your unique perspective and value and offer them ways to learn more from you through your book(s).

Develop your online (and offline) content marketing strategy long before you publish your book, or even write it. Don’t just focus on the launch period. Think about supporting the growth of your ideal clients for the long term.

Your potential readers are online, don’t fight for shelf space—build connections, grow an audience and nurture your tribe…

If you must fight… Don’t fight to get your book on Waterstones’ shelves, fight to get it in your audience’s awareness, then you’ll find it makes its way to your tribe’s shelves!