Back when I was a young(ish) consultant working for Gemini Consulting I was lucky enough that my personal mentor was a very experienced marketer and business developer. He eventually went on to become head of Marketing and BD for Gemini globally.
I remember very clearly a discussion I had with him a few years into my career.
We were reviewing my performance appraisal for that year. I'd kind of hit my stride – had done really well and got great reviews. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, so I wasn't expecting Kieron's question…
“OK, that's all fine. But what do you want to be famous for?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, so far you've done a bit of everything. Strategy, marketing, supply chain work, change management. What are you going to focus on?”
“Can't I keep doing a bit of everything? I like the variety. ”
“Not if you want to progress. You might have been the star in your previous company – but everyone is a star here. Everyone is a high performer. Unless you focus and really build up your skills, there'll always be someone better than you at each of the things you do. You'll never be the first choice when a project manager has a role to fill.”
And he was right. Although it took me a couple more years to finally bite the bullet and specialise in marketing and sales.
Once I'd specialised I was doing more marketing and sales work. So I got better faster. Soon I was pretty much the “first name on the team sheet” for marketing and sales in my chosen sector. Then I became the first person the firm turned to to sell and lead marketing and sales projects in that area.
And it's the same with clients.
While we might enjoy variety, clients want the best person for the job. And that's usually a specialist.
If you have a water leak you call a plumber, not a general handyman. If you have epilepsy, you need a neurologist or epileptologist, not a GP.
Later on, once you've established your expertise, the client may broaden the range of questions they ask you. You may establish enough credibility in wider areas that they come to see you as a trusted advisor.
But it starts with “earning your spurs” by doing a brilliant job at helping them with the initial problem they have.
And to do that job brilliantly, you need to focus so that you develop real expertise in that area.
Years later, I read a quote which really brought that point home to me. It was from magician David Devant – the leading turn-of-the-century conjurer and first ever president of the Magic Circle in London.
When approached backstage by a young amateur magician who told him he knew about three hundred tricks and asked how many Devant knew, Devant's answer was:
“I know only eight. But I know them very well“.
As Devant highlights, you can only be a true master of a small number of things. Be they magic tricks, business disciplines, areas of the law or client industry sectors.
It may be painful, but to be the greatest value to clients, to help them with the trickiest challenges (and therefore the most lucrative work) you must become a master. And in my mentor's words – you must become famous for it.
So what are your “eight tricks”? What are you going to be famous for?