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Impactiviti interviews Steve Woodruff, President and Founder of…Impactiviti. Steve consults with pharmaceutical clients on training, marketing, and communications initiatives, with a particular focus on strategic planning, project definition, and vendor recommendations.

Previously, Steve held Sales/Marketing/Business development positions with Pedagogue Solutions, and with a medical device company in the radiation medicine field. Steve actively blogs at the Impactiviti blog (pharma), and his blog called StickyFigure, which is focused on broader branding/marketing ideas.

Q1: Why did you start your own consulting business?

Two things converged to bring me to that rather scary decision. One, I concluded after many years in sales, that I was, in fact, more of a consultant than a salesperson – I loved hearing out challenges, thinking through solutions, and making recommendations. I would watch a real salesperson, and I’d say, “that’s not me.” I’m getting better at networking and schmoozing, but really, I’m an analytical type at heart. And secondly, I had entrepreneurial and creative drives that kept pushing to the surface, and I finally decided that the best way to use my skills was to build a business around…my skills. I happen to agree with Seth Godin that true job security means the hard work of creating something remarkable – not necessarily punching a clock.

Q2: Why was it scary?

It’s still scary. Starting a business means always living on the edge of potential failure. There’s no safety net. But I’d rather take the chance, and even risk failure, than look back later in life with regret that I didn’t have the courage to pursue my vision. One year in, I continue to approach each day with a sense of growing confidence – and stubborn fear.

Q3: What has been most fulfilling thus far?

Two things. One is sitting down with clients, hearing out their particular training needs, and being able very quickly to “match” them with a great provider. These win-win arrangements (the “recommendation” service which is unique to my business model) give me a real thrill because I have just saved a client from the headache of trying to guess who might make a good partner, and I’ve just helped my vendor/partner find new business that matches their abilities. I love that. The second thing has been to have the privilege to work with one particular client on a much fuller-scope assignment, evaluating a major part of their training structure and recommending major architectural changes (also vetting suppliers to help make it happen). I’m a big-picture, strategic thinker and those types of engagements are incredibly rewarding.

Q4: Who is your favorite client? And your favorite vendor/partner?

I’m a parent – I know this drill. They’re all my favorites! Actually, I’m privileged to regularly interact with some absolutely wonderful people, both on the client side and the supplier side. And I make it a point to build partnerships only with collaborative, quality, ethical companies. That’s the only way I can confidently provide recommendations. Did I avoid that question skillfully enough? Should I go into politics?

Q5: How do you keep up with all the blogging, and putting out a weekly newsletter?

I have too many ideas. And I love to write. After a year of blogging, I feel like I’m just now beginning to find my “voice.” Which, by the way, includes more humor than has been seen up ’til now…

Q6: What’s with that “other” blog, StickyFigure?

I’ve always been fascinated with branding and marketing. I focus on those topics on a separate blog, because many of those themes are not necessarily pharma-related. However, I view training, communications, and marketing as very closely related disciplines – they are all about using media and methods to make impact, to inform, to change minds, to inspire action. It’s a bit of a compulsion for me – I remember dreaming up a marketing campaign for some moving company way back in my teen years. When it comes to training, I believe in adult learning and instructional design, of course – but I’m always thinking about creativity, engagement, and impact.

Q7: Finally, how is your business doing?

I’m the odd type of consultant that gets a lot done in a short amount of time. Sometimes, all I need is 30 to 60 minutes to help clients find solutions (that’s the free recommendation service). So, yes, I am ready to work with more clients. I need to get out as much as possible!

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1 year.jpgThis week was a real milestone for the Impactiviti blog.

Today marks 1 year (plus one day) from the very first posting – the launch of Impactiviti occurred in mid-July of 2006.

Since that time, 215 posts – including this one – have appeared on this blog. I guess I always was a frustrated writer!!

Just as important, your comments have been a big part of this venture – both on the blog, and more regularly, via e-mail and voice conversation. Many of you have freely given me your opinions, your recommendations, and your input, which has not only been to my benefit, but has also benefited other colleagues who were seeking information.

Thank you for reading, and for contributing. To my growing group of clients, thank you for the opportunity to work with you. To my fellow bloggers, thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for sharpening mine.

I look forward to many more years of learning together.

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This month marks the one-year anniversary of my blog here at Impactiviti. I thought it might be a good time to pause and explain, to my readers, what this blog is about, and why it is different from other pharma-oriented blogs that are out there.

When I started publishing the Impactiviti blog 12 months ago, there were only a handful of pharma-oriented blogs in existence. That number has easily doubled or tripled in the past year, which is a good thing! You can see the feeds from many of them at the Pharmacental portal, a site I set up a few months ago to consolidate the “blogs of pharma” for easier viewing.

The Impactiviti blog is a bit different from others, however, in that it is primarily a communications platform for my consulting business, which focuses on life sciences sales training. On this blog, I seek to provide news, resource, links, and other interesting “stuff” for a specific community – pharma training/marketing/communications. As such, I post on issues of interest with a focus on both pharma and training, and I also touch on aspects of my business offerings. This is not, strictly speaking, a pharma news and issues blog – though I don’t shy away from addressing issues, and giving regular news summaries. And, on occasion, items of personal interest that I think others will find useful.

Impactiviti also publishes a weekly e-newsletter, the Friday Collection, with links to articles of interest on this blog and elsewhere. This brief newsletter currently goes out to over 500 subscribers; the link above allows you to subscribe if you do not currently receive it (you are welcome to join in even if you’re not in sales training!).

So, if you have occasionally come across the Impactiviti blog and wonder why it doesn’t seem to be strictly news (like Pharmalot, WSJ Health blog, or Brandweek NRx), or why it’s not full of edgy comments on marketing (like John Mack’s Pharma Marketing Blog), or why it’s not a primary goal to surface whistleblowers or pass on the latest snarky gossip (like Pharmagossip or Peter Rost) – well, it’s because this blog is a hybrid. I filter through all that stuff and pass on what I believe is of most value to my readers. I try to be balanced with both the good and the bad in our industry. I seek to give insight. And, yes, I am seeking to expand my business as a consultant – I have no problems with full disclosure. So, if you didn’t know before…now you have a glimpse what we’re about here at Impactiviti!

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I’ve sat down with several training managers/directors in the past month, and a common theme has emerged. In each case, there were some great ideas about training projects that needed to get done – but help was needed to better define the project, analyze the current state, develop a strategy, and come up with an implementation plan. Some of these situations involved technology, others not, some required assistance with sourcing outside vendors, others were pure consulting needs – but in each case, there was a need to have some creative and organizational input on the front end, in order to gain better aim at a successful deliverable.

In none of these cases did I allow drool to escape my lips (not considered a “best practice”) as my mind immediately shifted into high gear and ideas began to flow. In fact, I talked today with a vendor/partner who was bemoaning the lack of definition and preliminary design that often goes into projects. This is the kind of challenge I love, and is one of the main reasons for starting Impactiviti!

If you’re considering kicking off a project and would like to have some outside expertise and creativity to help give it shape and clarity, give us a call…

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It was a slow-starting morning, so I gave myself an assignment as I began to head for the shower. The task: if you could write up ONE thing that is most crucial to succeeding in any endeavor, what would it be?

Before the water was turned on, the word had already surfaced. And it wasn’t one that I’ve seen mentioned often.

We hear about vision. Passion. Expertise. Connections. Out-of-the-box creativity. Goal-setting. Persistence. All very important ingredients to success, no doubt.

But none are as central as…and, in fact, all will take their marching orders from…Conviction.

By conviction I am not talking about a prison record. What I mean is a deep persuasion that something is right, and must be done.

Above all things, an entrepreneur is convinced that his/her idea, and course of action, must be pursued. This conviction drives decision, promotes action, accepts risk, overcomes doubt, and draws others into the endeavor.

Conviction develops over time, through both positive and negative experiences, through seeing the successes and failings of others. Eventually, it seeps into your soul and you become persuaded that you MUST _________ (fill in the blank).

This is not only true in business. A parent is, above all things, an entrepreneur – taking a little life and shaping and molding it into a full-fledged adult member of society. This requires conviction – that the greatest impact we have may well be through others, that the next generation is more important than my immediate gratification, that the hard work of building now will bear fruit in years to come.

Conviction, of course, can be a double-edged sword. Some tyrannical people manage to convince themselves that they are right…and seek to destroy others in the process of carrying out their ruinous beliefs. Some can even inspire others, through the power of conviction, to take leave of their senses and drink Kool-Aid in a forsaken jungle. But far more (who do not make the 6:00 news) build businesses, create charities, donate organs, mentor young people, and care for the sick – because it is right. Because they must.

Conviction does not guarantee success. But a lack of it almost guarantees failure. Over the years, I’ve come to a number of juncture points where I’ve had to make bold – sometimes disruptive and costly – decisions. In each case, it was conviction that ruled the day. When you believe that a thing is right – when you are compelled to move forward no matter the cost – then you stand the best chance of success.

UPDATE: A couple of readers mentioned the importance of perseverance (or persistence). Here is how I’d distinguish conviction and perseverance:

Conviction leads you to take a course. It feeds into…

Persistence, which drives you to stay the course.

UPDATE 2: just saw the movie The Pursuit of Happyness last night with Mrs. Impactress. Not only is this a wonderfully made and moving picture, but it is a tremendous illustration of the power of conviction. The main character (played by Will Smith) overcomes all obstacles in his drive to better things for his family. Highly recommended!

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After almost 20 years of “career” jobs (and, of course, other “get by” jobs before that), I finally ventured out on my own in the middle of 2006. I’d thought about such a move for many years, but did not feel ready – until late 2005, when it dawned on me that the ONLY way I was ever going to have a tailor-made opportunity to harness my strengths and run in my desires was to…well, tailor-make it myself. No-one else was going to do it for me – an employer’s agenda will always trump my ideals.

So, what are the lessons I’ve learned thus far? Here are 10:

1. Have a clear, yet flexible vision. Know what it is you are pursuing, make sure that you can articulate it to others…but be aware that the market may, as you start to promote what you’re doing, point you in some different directions. These variations on your dream may, in fact, be the most lucrative course. My initial business model – providing high-level consultative sales expertise for my provider network, while also providing fee-based consulting service for my client base – is meeting clear market needs. But I’ve already seen a couple of new, complementary avenues open up that are variations on the theme. I like to plan and anticipate and map out EVERYthing – these months have convinced me that I am not, in fact, in charge of the universe, and sometimes a new direction comes from left field – or at least from shortstop! Be ready to evolve.

2. Act. This lesson flows from 1. above. If you have 80% of your offering/message/direction mapped out, grab it by the horns and get out there. The other 20% probably won’t show up until you’re rubbing shoulders with your target market, and starting to make noise. It is more important to show your face than to have everything in place. Once I knew I was going into business for myself, I drew up a list of everything that I figured had to be done, and just did it. Yes, I had to reprint my business cards a few months into it once my message was refined (and once I decided to add a landline and not just live off my cell #), but by then I’d already gotten the ball rolling. Cards are cheap. Delay is expensive.

3. Network. A lot. Believe that your professional colleagues want to see you succeed, and don’t hesitate to ask them to help. I send out a regular stream of e-mails and cards, and make lots of phone calls to those who will provide support and referrals – the most valuable business development resource of all. If you haven’t built up goodwill over the years, and don’t have a real or virtual Rolodex of cheerleaders, you’re probably sunk as far as succeeding in your own (or any) business. On the dark days – when nothing seems to be happening – I take comfort in the fact that I can rehearse the names and faces of many people who are actively wanting to see me succeed.

4. Help others. Give of what you have – your time, your knowledge, your connections. When you help others with their needs, they will go to extraordinary lengths to help you. I’ve been able to help people make connections with others (including potential employers) and find needed resources with no financial return expected – but I fully expect that this commitment to help my clients and partners and other colleagues will not be in vain. For some of my partners, I’ve “given away” my business and marketing expertise to help them refine their approach – and I know that, in return, there is tremendous loyalty built up over time.

5. Take full advantage of cheap and free communications. One of my first acts was to launch a blog (using WordPress), and write articles of interest (granted, not everyone is a writer – I thoroughly enjoy working with words). Then, very inexpensively, I began a weekly e-newsletter using Constant Contact (the “Friday Collection”) which goes out to my target audience with news, resources, and links – and, with continual repetition of my business identity. I invested the grand sum of $50.00 to have a “caricature” made of my face, which now appears on the newsletter and on all my e-mails. Each of these initiatives has been a tremendous success, with very little invested except time and creativity. Free press releases, announcements in trade magazines, posts on other blogs – the methods for gaining exposure are legion, and increasingly, free.

6. Be an expert. You have to have some area of expertise for people to pay attention to your signals, over the level of background noise. Be sure that what you do, or offer, is narrow and specialized enough that you are not an also-ran. And demonstrate the trappings of expertise by writing articles, doing book and conference reviews, and interviewing thought-leaders – all tactics I’ve employed on my blog.

7. Take great care in establishing your brand identity. Your logo, tagline, and message to the market are your best foot forward – unless people can quickly grasp who you are and what you do, and have something memorable to hang it all on, you’ll have trouble maintaining traction. It goes without saying – so I’ll say it – that you’ll need to research available names according to URLs available on the internet, and also look into trademarks. It took me many weeks to settle on “Impactiviti”, a completely “clean” word, which I could absolutely own. Be sure that you have a talented graphic designer help you create the logo – there are even on-line services for this now, which will help develop a logo for a fixed price (shameless plug: I do provide branding services as well – see www.impactiviti.biz).

8. Join. Be part of professional organizations, go to local meetings, volunteer your time. Be involved, and help get your clients involved. Consider professional networking platforms, such as LinkedIn. Starting a new business can be lonely – help stave off the danger of isolation-induced discouragement by getting side-by-side with others. In my case, I’ve been able to join a local chapter of a training organization, and help clients and partners get more involved, for networking and even speaking opportunities.

9. Target your best opportunities for initial business. It’s probably not the “world at large.” More likely, it is clients you already know and have worked with. While you want to get your message out to the broader marketplace, your first business is probably going to come from those with whom you have a track record. My wiring has always been to try to reach everyone – it’s a discipline for me to focus on a handful of my closest colleagues. But, of course, it is the people I’ve already cultivated over time that are most open to hear from me, both clients, and others who can provide referrals.

10. Don’t be afraid to be plain, transparent, and open. People respect authenticity. No, you cannot do everything – if someone asks you about something that is “to the side” of your sweet spot, as tempting as it might be to grasp at any business, simply admit that it’s not in your repertoire but see if you can find another resource. Ask people for help – I often have run ideas past a handful of my partners and clients, before they go “out” to the public, for input and critique – and have found great responsiveness as I allow them a transparent look into my thought processes.

11. And now, a bonus entry – be fully prepared to fail. Now, by this I don’t mean give in to pessimism, or be guilty of bad planning. It just may be that your business idea simply won’t fly – and that won’t be the end of the world. Count the cost up front, run a “worst-case scenario” exercise, and launch the business without desperation – there is a serenity that comes from having already considered the “what if” possibilities. I am quite convinced that other doors will open if this one closes, and it is easier to be patient when you’ve planned for the possibility (likelihood!) that revenue may not come as quickly as you’d like. The greater failure would be not trying – and many entrepreneurs did not hit the target the first time out.

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As my readers know, Impactiviti is a relatively new business venture, launched in mid-July with the goal of “matching up” clients and vendors in a more intelligent and efficient manner. That the need exists, I have no doubt – after enjoying brainstorming sessions with a number of clients, and quickly bringing optimal suppliers to the table (as well as providing some expert advice and creativity), it’s obvious that the Impactiviti method of sourcing training is a winner.

Also, many vendors see the clear benefit of having a strategic partnership with Impactiviti, as new business can be found without the overhead of traditional sales expenses, with solid opportunities “pre-screened” to make sure there is a good match.

So (as I am regularly asked) – How is it going? Here’s a summary of progress so far…

– We now have established partnerships with 10 companies, for business referrals. In addition, there are informal agreements with a number of other suppliers, whose services may be needed by clients on occasion. These companies provide everything from workshops to custom modules to curriculum design to technology-based training to compliance to events to simulations to management development to…well, just about anything you’d need.

– We’ve begun working with a growing number of new clients on training needs (at both a strategic and tactical level). This has been more enjoyable than I even imagined – instead of simply coming with a limited set of offerings from one company, we can focus entirely on client needs – whatever they are – and then find the best ways to meet them.

– Some clients are now engaging Impactiviti for fee-based consulting, whereby expertise is being provided in a more traditional consultative arrangement. This allows for a deeper, more strategic relationship.

– I’ve been asked to join the newly-formed Business Advisory Board for one provider company, that has looked to me for creative marketing and business input. Other companies in the Impactiviti Preferred Provider network have enjoyed the benefit of marketing advice as part of our collaboration.

– Via conferences, e-mail, this blog, and an extensive professional network from many years in the field, the Impactiviti network of client and supplier contacts continues to grow. This enables us to increasingly be your “go-to” resource that we endeavor to be (which sometimes takes unexpected forms, such as informally helping clients with career changes…!)

– Back in July, a Google or Yahoo search on the word “Impactiviti” would have yielded…nothing. Now – well, try it for yourself!

So, all-in-all, a productive launch after 5 months! Thanks to all who have provided words of support and encouragement along the way, and especially the clients and partners who see the value of putting Impactiviti to work on their behalf!

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