On crickets, cheerleaders, and curmudgeons: How to know if your perspective resonates

Sharing your perspective with your audience is essential to differentiate yourself from your peers. But how do you know if you are clearly conveying your perspective and if it is resonating with the intended audience?

Building your reputation is a long game, but staying attuned to other people’s reactions to your work can help you determine if you’re on the right path.

What if you share your perspective and no one responds?

Everyone who publishes articles, blog posts, social media posts, or an email newsletter is familiar with the experience of sharing something they believe is particularly important and insightful, eagerly awaiting the crowd’s response, and hearing nothing but silence.

And one lonely cricket in the distance.

What does that mean? Does it mean no one cares what you have to say? Or that your perspective isn’t resonating with your audience? Or does it mean the piece you spent a lot of time crafting wasn’t clear?

Most of the time, you won’t receive any material feedback. Silence is the standard response.

Participation inequality is a well-studied phenomenon. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, user participation in social media and online communities (including blogs) generally follows a 90-9-1 rule where the vast majority of users do not engage with the content — they may read and observe, but they do not like, comment, or post. Approximately 9% of users engage to some extent on occasion. But it’s the 1% who post, like, comment, and stay engaged. And even then, the response they provide may not be valuable.

How can you improve the quality (and quantity) of responses?

Sharing your work on a social media platform or through your email newsletter is unlikely to elicit many responses, and the responses you do get will probably not be terribly valuable. The key to increasing the number of responses is to ask for a response and make it easy for people to respond.

Most people won’t take the time to read your article closely, especially when you share it on social media. To increase engagement, write the post so the reader can comment intelligently even if they don’t read the article. Give them the context they need and ask a specific question that they can answer without further research.

Yes, your goal is to get people to read your work. But that only happens if the right people know about it. When it comes to social media, the only way to get more people to know about your work is to increase engagement on your post. The more comments you get, the more people you reach.

To receive high-quality feedback, you need to make a specific request of specific individuals — and I don’t mean tagging them in a social media post.

If you want someone to put time and energy into responding to what you’ve written, you must put time and energy into crafting your request.

Be clear about the type of feedback you want. Only you know what kind of feedback is valuable to you. A general request, such as “I’d love your thoughts on this piece,” is a big ask. It not only requires the recipient to read the article but forces them to either ignore your request or spend time trying to guess which kinds of “thoughts” you want them to share with you.

If you want good feedback, ask good questions.

In your request, give the recipient a bit of context about the article and why you are asking for their opinion. Then, ask a few specific questions. For example, “This article was inspired by the conversation we had at the conference last month. One of the points you made was that you don’t feel like you have a deep enough understanding of how artificial intelligence works, how it might be deployed in a manufacturing facility, or what red flags you should be aware of as you adopt this technology. I address each of these issues in this article. Did I provide you with the information you need? Does it raise any new questions for you? What do you wish I had addressed but didn’t? I’d be happy to receive your response by email or, if you’d prefer, we could hop on a call.”

Keep in mind that just because their feedback is important to you doesn’t mean it’s important to them. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they have good intentions. Giving meaningful feedback takes effort, so the recipient of your request may not respond immediately. Even with the best intentions, they may forget about your request as they focus on more urgent matters.

Don’t take it personally.

What if the only accolades are from your peers?

It is not uncommon for the article you publish to garner a lot of attention from your peers but absolutely no attention from your intended audience. Your peers know you and have a deep understanding of the topic you wrote about, so it isn’t surprising that they would respond to your writing.

That’s great news!

It means you are adding to the conversation and not to the noise. And it positions you as an expert among experts.

Remember the 90-9-1 rule? Just because your prospective clients aren’t engaging in the conversation doesn’t mean they aren’t listening to it.

Keep that in mind as you respond to your colleagues. Look for opportunities to add more depth to the article and showcase your understanding.

What if prospective clients disagree?

What if a prospective client vehemently (and publicly) disagrees with something you wrote?

Depending on how your client expresses themselves, your reaction can range from defensiveness to anger to curiosity. The most important thing is to remember that even though this one person is the one engaging with you, others are listening.

So, read negative comments carefully. Are you sure you are interpreting them correctly? Might you be misinterpreting something they said? If so, ask a clarifying question. Similarly, if they have a point, acknowledge it. Take this as an opportunity to dig in deeper together.

You can often turn a negative into a positive simply by the way you engage with criticism. Even if you don’t persuade the person you are in conversation with, remember that others are watching, and you may persuade them! Most people online do not engage — they lurk. Sometimes your primary audience isn’t the person engaging with you; it’s the lurkers.

If you’re engaging with someone criticizing your work and they become combative or disrespectful, remember that you don’t have to respond. You don’t owe them anything, and your ability to maintain your composure will be noted by others. An argument requires both people to fuel the fire. You have the right to disengage.

If you are engaging with someone criticizing your work and you decide that they are right — that what you wrote either wasn’t accurate or was missing a bit of nuance, that’s okay. Acknowledge it, and thank your interlocutor for engaging in the conversation with you and sharing their perspective. This will further your relationship with the person engaging with you and show others that you are open to other people’s perspectives and willing to change your mind when warranted.

If the argument stops being productive, simply don’t engage in it. It’s okay to agree to disagree. Again, others will be watching and respect the way you handle it.

Finally, if you lose this prospective client because they disagree with you, they probably weren’t a very good prospect to begin with.

Keep sharing your perspective.

Sharing your perspective with your audience is essential to differentiate yourself from your peers. Your perspective is valuable as long as you add to the conversation and not the noise. Adding to the conversation sometimes means people will voice their agreement. And it sometimes means they will voice their disagreement.

A complete lack of response does not mean that your writing adds to the noise. Most people don’t engage with online content — they read it but don’t necessarily reach out to the author or comment on a social media post. The best way to get a sense of whether your article is valuable is to share it with a specific person and ask that person a specific and relevant question.

Building your reputation is a long game.

Keep going.

Your perspective is your differentiator. Share it.

Independent consulting is an increasingly competitive industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2022 to 2032, the number of consultants is projected to grow significantly faster than other occupations. Demand for consulting services is also expected to increase, particularly for smaller consulting companies specializing in specific industries or business functions.

The opportunity is clear, but many consultants struggle to differentiate themselves from their peers, and prospective clients often view consultants within a particular practice area as interchangeable.

When prospective clients can’t see the difference between the consultants who can serve them, they make their hiring decision on the one difference they can quantify: price.

Blending in with your peers may be comfortable, but competing on price is not conducive to doing your best work. If you are willing to share your perspective and participate in the conversation around your expertise, you will stand out from the competition and give prospective clients a reason to work with you — regardless of your pricing structure.

The benefits of standing out.

Human beings are hard-wired to belong. As a result, most people (and, indeed, most companies) want to blend in with the crowd. Blending in is not only more comfortable for those whose insights could rock the boat, but it is also more comfortable for the rest of us. We all find comfort in the familiar.

As a consultant, however, you must be willing to rock the boat.

Your work focuses on helping your clients solve sticky business problems. Solving those sticky business problems requires your clients to embrace change.

Your clients can only create the change they seek by taking some risks.

The same is true for you.

The only way to differentiate yourself from your competition is to take a risk — to stand up and share your message, even if some people disagree with you.

Standing out is scary, which is why so few people try. But if you are willing to take the risk and share your insights with a larger audience, more people will hear your message. Some will disagree with you or simply ignore you. But those who see value in your ideas will adopt them, and your ideas will have a much greater impact.

Your business is built on your reputation, which is enhanced every time you provide real value to the people you serve. You deliver that value directly when you work with a client on a specific project or indirectly by sharing your ideas publicly through writing or speaking. When you consistently provide value, the people you serve will go to great lengths to have you on their team.

Developing your distinctive perspective.

Your experiences, insights, and education inform your perspective  — the way you think about and approach your work. Your perspective is not carved in stone but will continue to evolve and change as you have new experiences, develop new insights, and gain new skills.

Your perspective, or point of view, must align with your BIG idea — the bold, insightful, and galvanizing idea that serves as the foundation of your business and your reputation.

If your perspective is not aligned with your BIG idea, you will diminish your reputation because your audience (including prospective clients and partners) will be confused about who you are, what you do, and how you can help them.

The first step in developing your perspective is to define your BIG idea.

What do you most want for your clients? If you’re not sure how to answer this question, consider a freewriting exercise. Write the question at the top of a page, set the timer for 10 minutes, and then answer without stopping or editing. When the timer goes off, review what you wrote and try to condense it into one sentence.

The answer you come up with might feel too simple. But if you know it to be true and can feel its truth in your body, you’re probably onto something.

Your BIG idea doesn’t have to be new or provocative. It may not even require a paradigm shift. When it comes to BIG ideas, small can be BIG.

Evaluate your BIG idea by asking yourself if it boldly states your position in favor of a particular outcome, is based on your insights, and will galvanize your clients to create the future they now know is possible.

Once you’ve defined your BIG idea, list the steps your clients will need to take to realize that envisioned future. Your list of steps and guidance about executing each step demonstrate your perspective.

Your perspective is more than just your opinion. Your perspective offers a viable alternative based on your experience, education, and insights.

Sharing your perspective with the right audience.

Your perspective is only a compelling differentiator if you share it with the right audience. When you do, you stand out from your peers because you deliver real value to your prospective clients and partners before you even meet them.

So, who is your audience? Who are the people you serve? How can you reach them? What associations do they belong to? What events do they attend? Who do they follow for inspiration? What publications do they read?

One of the best ways to build your audience is to get in front of well-established audiences of the exact people you want to reach. Writing for high-visibility publications and speaking at conferences are two of the most effective ways to do this so you can share your message with the right people.

These tactics also provide social proof. The publication or event organizer vetted you and decided you have something important to share with their audience. That borrowed credibility helps you break through the natural skepticism we all have when we meet someone new.

Writing and speaking work very well together. One benefit of writing for high-visibility publications is that you can share your published article with prospective clients and partners as long as it remains relevant. The reach of your message isn’t limited to the people in the room as it is with speaking, or to the publication’s readers.

Consulting is an increasingly competitive field, and it’s more important than ever to differentiate yourself from your peers and position yourself as the obvious choice. One of the best ways to do this is to write articles for a high-visibility publication with a well-established, targeted audience. When you share your perspective and participate in the conversations around your area of expertise, you stand out as someone with valuable insights to share. If you do this consistently, people start to remember you, see the value you deliver, and identify you as the consultant who can help them become a better version of themselves.

The power of writing about hard truths

As a consultant, you often have to share hard truths with your clients — truths about the underlying cause of a problem they are struggling with or how they are exacerbating it. Sometimes, the client already knows the hard truth but doesn’t want to face it. But sometimes, you catch them off guard, and they must wrestle with your observations and recommendations. If you’ve been in business for a few years, you’ve probably gotten quite good at sharing hard truths with your clients.

Why is it, then, that so many consultants struggle to write about hard truths?

Articles that tackle hard truths directly and unflinchingly are extremely popular with readers and editors alike. Why? Because these types of articles, by their very nature, add to the conversation instead of the noise. They spark discussion and encourage people to think more deeply.

Many consultants want to avoid courting controversy by writing about a hard truth for fear of hurting the feelings of a current client or turning off a prospective client. Stating a hard truth in writing feels uncomfortable, so many equivocate and over-explain to soften the blow. But doing so simply dilutes the message.

When you share your observations boldly, you will provoke a negative response from those who benefit from the status quo. Sometimes, they will respond publicly and attack not only your argument but also your credibility.

But if you want to work with clients who value your perspective and are willing to work with you to tackle the challenges they face, writing about hard truths will enhance your reputation and directly benefit your business.

Hard truths are born of hard experience.

Your clients hire you to solve problems. Even before you start a new project, you ask questions about the problems your client is facing, what they have done to try to solve them, and where they think the source of the problem lies. This phase of a prospective project gives you a good deal of information — only some of which is accurate.

Once the project starts, you can observe your client in action. Your observations and further questioning help you understand how your client operates and what might be contributing to the problem they hired you to solve. You may also discover problems your client wasn’t even aware of that need to be solved. This process of inquiry and observation is crucial. Only after you understand the challenges at play can you diagnose and treat the problem.

This diagnosis and treatment often require hard conversations with your client.

Years ago, when I worked for a boutique nonprofit consulting firm, we were conducting a feasibility study for a capital campaign. As we spent more and more time with the board and staff, we realized that the executive director’s poor leadership was one of the organization’s biggest challenges. The staff did not trust him (with good reason). Neither did several influential community members. While these community members did intend to maintain their membership, they had no intentions of making a more significant gift so long as the current executive director ran the organization.

My colleague and I had to break the news to the board. Not only was a capital campaign to the tune of several million dollars not feasible, but the organization was at risk of losing several valued staff members and even more of its donor base if they didn’t take action. Quickly.

These difficult conversations took place in private meetings, but they brought to light several challenges faced by nonprofit organizations throughout the United States. And we wrote about those challenges publicly. Through our blog and articles written for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, we clarified the purpose of a feasibility study. We stated that if a study revealed a successful capital campaign was not feasible, we let our clients know. Even though it means we lost the opportunity to manage a capital campaign. Moreover, we gave them recommendations that, if followed, would strengthen their organization and put all the pieces in place so they could launch a successful capital campaign.

The benefits of writing about hard truths.

When you write about hard truths, your colleagues, prospective clients, and partners get a ringside seat to your thinking, approach, and willingness to say what needs to be said.

Writing about hard truths also differentiates you from your peers. You will attract attention if you write about challenges in your industry that few people address publicly. That is a crucial first step to building your business and positioning yourself as the obvious choice for specific types of projects.

By being bold enough to say what others want to ignore, prospective clients and partners who value your perspective will identify themselves. They will also feel validated and understood, which will help them see you as someone they can trust, someone who has similar values to their own.

Those with no interest in tackling complex issues honestly, who are unwilling to have a hard conversation or do the work required to address challenges within their organization, will distance themselves from you. And that’s great because you want to work with the people who value you, your approach, and your perspective. You don’t want to work with people who frustrate you.

How to write about hard truths.

As an established consultant, your experience-based expertise is invaluable. But your perspective can only enhance your reputation and help you build your business if you share it. But how? Here are five concepts to keep in mind to help you write about hard truths without damaging your reputation:

  • Be you. You aren’t trying to provoke the reader. Instead, you are writing about a challenging situation you see regularly and offering your insights. You don’t need to use inflammatory language if that isn’t your style, nor do you need to cushion your message. Show up on the page as you show up at your client’s office.
  • Bring the receipts. Back up your statements with research, facts, and illustrative examples whenever possible. When that is not possible (and there are plenty of times when that is the case), appeal to reason. Help the reader understand your perspective without making it personal.
  • Show empathy. Demonstrate that you understand how people came to be dealing with the challenge they are facing. Consider incorporating your experiences, and don’t be afraid to dive into the nuances. Exploring the nuances is a great way to show that you understand their challenges are complicated. Let your readers know that they aren’t alone.
  • Be bold. While it is essential to show empathy, you don’t want to shy away from the truth. Be clear, definitive, and respectful. If you try to soften the blow, your message may be lost (and that doesn’t help anyone).
  • Offer actionable insights. Don’t simply point out the problem. Offer a solution or tools the reader can use to start addressing the problem. You might provide a diagnostic tool, a list of questions to ask, or a script. You want your reader to be able to take action toward a resolution, even if the action is small.

To serve your readers, you need to be clear and offer up the hard truths with a dose of empathy and some practical advice. While you might turn some readers off, you will also fire some readers up. Those who agree with your perspective will appreciate that you were bold enough to address the hard truths and go against prevailing wisdom (or the current fad). These readers will see themselves in you and want to engage with you further.