A Place for Mac 'n' Cheese Flavored Ice Cream
Speaking with colleagues this past week, the following quandary was posed:
What do you do if clients are asking for something you're good at, but don't enjoy doing?
Maybe in the past you've created and presented a lot of nuts and bolts workshops - topics on the basics of Scrum or how to run a retrospective. But that was years ago and what you've focused on more recently is coaching C-suite folks on strategic planning or Agile-based leadership - elements of the business that have a much further reach into the organization. This is where your interest and skills are at their best. And you're good at this, too. But the clients aren't asking for this as much as they used to.
To explore this, I proposed the analogy of an ice cream vendor. Imagine you've been working at this craft for as long as you can remember. You started out offering the familiar flavors - chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, raspberry. As your skills and your customer reach grew, more flavors were added - banana, chocolate chip, chocolate mint. Many years later, you've built a thriving business offering exotic flavors like mac 'n' cheese, cucumber, and a big favorite with the college crowd - wasabi and apple.All these unique flavors have pushed out the traditionals.
Then one day, something unexpected happens. A customer comes in and asks for a scoop of chocolate ice cream. But there's none to be had. "Sorry," you say. Than another customer comes in and ask for a scoop of vanilla. Than another. And another. By the end of the day you've had to turn away dozens of potential customers who aren't interested in your broccoli and roasted onion flavored ice cream.
What do you do? There are several options.
1. Clear out the freezer cases and crank out batches of the traditional flavors.
2. Recognize your market is telling you something so work to find out what it's saying.
Option #1 is easy enough. You could do this in your sleep. But it's a panic reaction and not a response. You risk loosing your edge in the market, your niche. Options #2 makes more sense. After all, one day is one data point. An unusual one, to be sure, but black swans come in many different sizes. Is this a one day anomaly or the start of a trend? In either case, why?
Like all analogies, it's easy to stretch them too far. So back to the idea of running a specialized consulting practice, such as a independent software contractor or a freelance Agile coach. In this case, it's much easier to see the value of Option #2. Furthermore, if your clients are starting to ask for some of the nuts and bolts training, it could be that they wish to leverage the trust they have in you. Yes, they could go to another vendor, but they want YOU. You've proven your worth and value and for that they may be willing to pay a premium for nuts and bolts training that you design and present.
Once we have developed a profitable niche - defined our smallest viable audience - it can be unsettling to discover that the frame has shifted and we've lost our familiar reference points. In my experience, there is no way to prevent this from happening so it's best to keep a subtle background scan running for changes in your market. To stay extra sharp, try intentionally changing the frame yourself. Look for ways to actively investigate your market and fine tune your smallest viable audience definition. Some version of this is probably what got you to where you are today.
Deighton, K. (2022, May 8). Yum! No, Yuck! Weird Ice Cream Flavors Churn Up Discord. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/weird-ice-cream-flavors-churn-up-discord-11651767171
Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay