Evaluating Freelance Services: How Kerri Konik Adapts to Client Needs
December 4, 2018
There comes a time in every freelancer’s career when they need to re-evaluate their services and offerings. Markets change, customer demands shift and the value you bring to the table evolves. Whether you’re seeking to grow your revenue or recapture your passion with a pivot, there are several points in a business’s growth cycle when taking a closer look at a few different factors can help you make smart choices.
To learn more about when‚ and how‚ you should evaluate your services, I spoke with Kerri Konik, the founder of Inspire Fire. Konik opened up to me about her journey as a consultant. Her stories, approaches and tips can help freelancers and solopreneurs navigate even the most complex of pivots.
Taking a baseline: establishing your business
When solopreneurs and independent consultants first launch a business, there’s often a vision or a road map driving the development. From the customers you want to serve to the products you’ll offer, this vision guides your strategies over time.
How do we emerge or be seen again as a category of one, as the expert in a very unique thing that we bring to the table, specifically through my leadership [of] over 30-plus years and the industries I’ve served in?
Konik initially launched her solo career after spending time at some of the world’s largest agencies and brands. “I ran big agency strategies for major iconic brands in [the] food, drug, cosmetic, luxury and financial [industries],” she explains. “When I set out to bring that knowledge to small business owners and solopreneurs, I called the consulting firm Brand Atelier.” Atelier is French for ‘workshop,’ and Konik’s vision was to build an agile consultancy that could help clients meet their marketing and brand-building needs in a hands-on, boutique way.
The firm grew rapidly, adding more and more clients and services as time went on. But as digital and marketing become more ubiquitous, Konik found herself pausing to explore whether her business model was the right fit‚ for both her and her clients. The outcome was a decision to double down on her business’s unique value proposition: to help clients master the emotional connection within the customer experience.
At the time, Konik asked herself the following questions: “What’s shifting here? How do we emerge or be seen again as a category of one, as the expert in a very unique thing that we bring to the table, specifically through my leadership [of] over 30-plus years and the industries I’ve served in?”
If you’re an entrepreneur thinking it’s time to make a change, stepping back and asking these types of questions can help you gain perspective on how your business can stand out and evolve in a sustainable way.
Making the pivot: an inside look at the realities
There are many signals that may suggest it’s time to make a pivot, from changes in the market to a personal desire to add new offerings.
For Konik, there were two triggers. The first was being approached by prospective customers who weren’t a good fit for her offerings at the time. Fantastic global brands were approaching Konik about her services, but upon further reviewing the request for information (RFI), the prospect was clearly looking for a large firm. In a way, this meant that Konik’s messaging and branding were effective in attracting new business. But clearly they needed to be refined to appeal more directly to the particular customer segments‚ like smaller businesses‚ with whom she wanted to work.
Konik was also tuned into the market, noting that “the second piece was really listening to the market shift via social.” By being aware of the conversations that were happening on different digital platforms, she was able to dial into the trend of the customer experience becoming a more mainstream focus at the enterprise level.
She looked for ways to apply the same concepts‚ which she was already working on‚ to her own clients by “watching trends online, watching the conversation shift and finding out where [they] could insert [themselves] and actually move the needle for small and growing brands.”
The result was a rebrand of Inspire Fire. Konik already owned the patents for several unique approaches and was able to bring them to life through her refocused work. “What that did is it opened up a niche for us that we’re incredibly passionate about, that we’ve always been part of,” she explains.
From there, Konik has been able to move into developing a unique service that takes a closer look at one specific part of the customer experience for e-commerce businesses: the last mile. After the purchase and before delivery, there are several key‚ and often missed‚ opportunities to improve the customer experience. Konik’s insights and experience leave her uniquely positioned to offer services that support a client’s evolution in that area.
Lessons learned: insights from the pivot
The road to growth isn’t always smooth. Often, the biggest challenge starts with the freelancer’s mindset. “I would say it starts with the leader and getting that courage up to say, ‘You know what? We’re going to pivot, and this is where we’re going,'” notes Konik. “Risk often kicks up a fear around the devil you know versus the devil you don’t.”
Because the market moves so quickly, you know, once you define a space, the competition’s going to jump in to ‘me too.’
Change also brings the risk of failure. “It kicks up the question of, ‘Well, what if it doesn’t work?'” says Konik. “Innovating or entering a new arena for entering a new space is tricky.”
Freelancers who are developing new offerings also have to think about ways to stay competitive. “Because the market moves so quickly, you know, once you define a space, the competition’s going to jump in to ‘me too,'” explains Konik. As a result, she’s invested significant time upfront in developing new offerings for Ignite Fire so she’d be ready to own the conversation when they launched. Pivoting can require thinking about the bigger picture and being ready to make long-term strategic plays.
Strategies for re-evaluating your own services
Ultimately, Konik’s rebrand of Ignite Fire has paid off in dividends. From creating a more memorable brand to bringing innovative offerings to a new space, the desirable results have been well worth the investment. The business is now attracting the right customers, and the messaging on the website is doing much of the selling before Konik even gets on the phone. In many ways, that end-to-end alignment between the customer, market and services is what solopreneurs moving to the next stage of their business development are focusing on.
Once you have that clarity and it’s a ‘yes’ in your heart, in your mind and on your paper, then just outline your path.
If you’re thinking about re-evaluating your own services, here are several tips to keep in mind:
- Take the time to clarify your objectives and run the numbers. “Get real[ly] clear on why [you are] doing this and what’s happening,” advises Konik. “Look at the market, what’s happening with current clients and what’s happening with the competitive landscape. From there, be clear about why you’re planning to do it and try to actually put some numbers together about what would be the positive impact to your revenue and what would be the risks. Do a mini-SWOT analysis, without necessarily being too formal about it.”
- Create a road map. “Once you have that clarity and it’s a ‘yes’ in your heart, in your mind and on your paper, then just outline your path,” Konik suggests. “What is your road map to this?” Take the time to establish a clear to-do list, timeline and accountability. Stay focused on your largest goals, and keep the list as simple to accomplish as possible.
- Schedule it. If you’re already busy executing on your current business and balancing your work and life responsibilities, finding time to invest in a change can be difficult. Incorporate all the necessary steps into your road map so you can make it a reality.
- Prepare for the emotional side. There’s an emotional side to change, Konik notes. From family to friends to associates, people may question change. If you’re already successful, it may be difficult to understand from the outside why growth has to follow a different path. Be prepared for these types of reactions, whether that means addressing it or simply filtering it out.
Taking the time to evaluate your services can fuel your growth and ensure you’re staying current with the market. Keep pace with changing competitive landscapes, customer needs and your own evolving skills by periodically taking stock and consciously deciding the best way forward. Whether you’re undergoing a major strategic pivot or a simple periodic assessment, you can equip yourself to stay connected and invested in your business as it grows.
Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist. She’s worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.
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