I’m going to share an awesome technique with you… one that can make a massive difference for your coaching or consulting business. It’s what I call informational interviewing and it is an amazing strategy for meeting potential clients who you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. But it is more than that. It gives you a way to discover what is new and different in your field.
This type of research not only helps position you as an expert, it makes you one. That’s because what you will learn will be new and timely, not last year’s old news!
It starts with contacting prospective clients and industry insiders, not to offer your services, but to interview them for an article you are writing.
How to Get Started
I’ve learned that people who would never take a call from a consultant or vendor will take a call from someone who wants to interview them. Let’s say you want to do some up to date research about the clothes buying habits of millennials.
1. You’ll first have to pitch the article idea to a print or online editor and have it accepted, but it’s not all that difficult. (You can find lots of resources online to learn how to do this.) I started with local business journals and trade association magazines. Resist posting to your own blog unless you have many hundreds or thousands of followers. You want the credibility that comes with being “published” somewhere that is established and well-known. Guest blogging is a great option as well because of its immediacy and access to a ready-made audience. The first time I got picked up by Yahoo Finance, I got an immediate response and many new subscribers to my email list.
2. Make a list of potential interviewees.
3. Once you develop a set of interview questions, make the calls or personal visits, then record and analyze the data. I’ve included a list of tips for conducting the interviews at the end of this post.
4. Write your article and let key interviewees review it before you submit it for publication. (In this example, keep in mind that you will also want to survey the millennials themselves as a counterpoint and proof of concept.) As you write, keep this in mind… Potential clients are looking for the new and different. Something that will TRANSFORM their business… Not the same old thing. Be the person with that “new news”.
Here’s the upshot… you will learn far more than you put in the article… that’s the part you offer to prospective clients after they hire you! Who else will know this much about clothing purchases?
How this Can Work for You
Some years ago, we engaged in informational interviewing because we weren’t sure about the direction of our business. As a result, we learned two things… first, the growing increase in both educational level and disposable income among Hispanics here in the US and particularly in California. Secondly, we also discovered that retailers, utilities, and other groups were interested in reaching such individuals, but weren’t sure how.
Knowing this allowed us to do two things. First, to act as advisors to clients who might be interested in reaching that market and secondly to offer copywriting services to those clients.
We had the expertise in-house to be able to do that… it was just a matter of getting the word out. We did it through writing articles and delivering workshops based on what we learned in the informational interviews. It worked… our business skyrocketed that next year because we had something new and different that added value to our client’s businesses We were way ahead of the curve, being the only ones to offer such services in our area at that time.
Once your article or post appears, send reprints of or links to your article to your interviewees and perhaps some current and prospective clients with a brief note.
You know what I’m going to say next right? Leverage the article or post into speaking engagements or do some short videos online.
Nine Tips for Conducting the Interviews
1. Explain who you are, why you want to talk to them, and what you wish to find out. The purpose of that interview should be made clear to the interviewees before you meet them.
2. The interviewees should know in general what sort of questions they will be asked, and approximately how long the interview will last.
3. Obtain permission in writing to quote the respondents or to use a recording device during the session.
4. Prepare a list of questions in advance. Decide if you want an informal, chatty interview (which often puts interviewees at ease), or a more formal, structured interview (which often is more time-efficient and covers material more completely).
5. Explain any issues of confidentiality. Explain who will get access to their answers and how their answers will be analyzed. (You may want to have your attorney help you prepare a release form in certain cases.)
6. An effective way to start is to ask about the interviewee’s qualifications or knowledge. For example, “How long have you studied or worked on X?” “What first made you interested in X?” These questions, called ice-breakers, help establish a rapport with the subject.
7. After easing into the interview with simple questions, you can seek information about personal opinions or about more controversial issues.
8. Ask questions about the present. People have an easier time talking about what is taking place currently than they do recalling the past or speculating about the future.
9. Wording should be open-ended. Respondents should be able to choose their own terms when answering questions.