February 22, 2021 7 min read
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With the onset of the global health crisis in 2020, many professionals and entrepreneurs were forced to consider doing something different as industries struggled, jobs dwindled or customers stopped buying. In 2021, many of those industries, jobs and customers are still reluctant to fully engage, leading professionals to evaluate other long-term options.
The past year has been an opportunity for us to pause and reflect on the course we are on. Do I love my work? Do I like being able to work from home, surrounded by family? Do I need additional schooling to reskill or to upskill my abilities? Many professionals and entrepreneurs may have a change of heart about their career, find themselves uninspired by their workmates, or find their skills irrelevant to their current work or the market. This, in turn, leads them to evaluate their path forward and make changes.
For these individuals, a new career path brings hope, possibility and enthusiasm but the inevitable question emerges: Am I completely starting over? When shifting your work, attention and reputation to a new direction, a reputation pivot can ensure great success.
What is a reputation pivot?
A reputation pivot describes the shift someone makes when their current reputation and career are no longer desirable or feasible, and they want to take the positive assets of their reputation with them to do something very different. For example, the doctor who seeks to become a children’s book author, the venture capitalist who sets out to become a motivational speaker, the sales professional who launches a food-truck business or the college football coach who becomes an actor. When facing a shift, it’s critical to bring forward the qualities, characteristics and reputation successes that are positive, memorable and valuable, and, at the same time, shed the aspects of one’s reputation that don’t serve the new audience.
How to pivot
Here’s an example of a reputation pivot: Bruce loved being a popular restaurant owner in his vibrant college town. Each school year, the area was buzzing with young people eager to partake of his varied menu of American cuisine with a Latin influence. They sat at his bar, running up large bar tabs, and dined in his restaurant, which always stayed open late to accommodate their youthful stamina. When the global health crisis hit, he had to navigate the new restrictions and keep his business running. With fewer college students on campus and seating availability shrinking due to distancing restrictions, Bruce wondered whether his future was in the restaurant business after all.
In talking through what he loved about his work, Bruce acknowledges it was interacting with “his kids,” as he called them. He often had long, heartfelt conversations with them at the bar or dining area. He even joked that some saw him as their “Dad” away from home. This gave him pride, as he’d never had children of his own.
Bruce believed his passion was working with young adults. He wasn’t personally inspired to become a social worker, therapist or counselor, but helping young people venture into entrepreneurship excited him. “Being an investor means you’re their guide. I can share my experience as a business owner — the successes and failures — and support them through the financial, emotional and business challenges and opportunities,” Bruce says.
After selling his restaurant, he gathered other investors who had similar passions and more experience in the industry. They launched a small boutique firm, catering to emerging entrepreneurs in specific markets. Bruce marketed his reputation and brand as “Dad” to the young entrepreneurs. His website showed images of him with former students celebrating birthdays and graduations. His LinkedIn profile and online review sites were flooded with kind sentiments from his former patrons, some of whom had now come to him for investment guidance. Bruce leveraged his reputation as a caring, empathetic and talented business owner who related to, and had the respect, of young people. He was not focused on investing in hospitality ventures because that brought up painful memories. Many of his contacts from the restaurant and bar business dropped off his priority list, and were replaced by fellow investors, youth advisers and counselors, and college entrepreneur programs who all referred potential candidates to Bruce.
Here are three main steps for pivoting, and how Bruce employed them.
- Inventory current reputation assets. For Bruce, he started by examining what was working: He knew how to bond with young people, gaining their respect and confidence quickly. He enjoyed being around them, hearing their stories of college challenges and offering support when needed. He was also a well-respected business owner in the area. His restaurant had been a staple in the community for 20-plus years and he was known for being generous (supporting many fundraising efforts), friendly and insightful. He’d started many food crazes before they became national trends, earning him respect as a visionary entrepreneur. Bruce was also smart about money. When economic times were tough, he pared down by his menu to keep staff employed. When he was forced to shut down indoor dining, he invested in systems to make outdoor dining more comfortable before many of his competitors had done so. When the time came, he was able to sell his equipment and real estate for a handsome sum, even though the nation was still struggling to return to regular restaurant operations.
- Assess the target audience. For Bruce, the target audience he’d served (literally) for so long was the same group he’d be working with next. He was no longer looking to offer a dining experience to college kids away from home but would now be seeking college-aged entrepreneurs and inventors whom he could invest in and help nurture to business growth. While he felt he knew the audience, he still had a lot to learn. Bruce created spreadsheets of what he knew, what he didn’t know and where he could get the needed insights into his target audience.
- Decide which reputation assets to leverage and which to shed. Early on, Bruce knew he wanted to retain the camaraderie, support, father-figure style he’d enjoyed in the restaurant. That wouldn’t change. But he now wanted them to respect his business acumen, self-discipline, structures and protocols for investment viability. He also knew that some of the casualness he’s tolerated before, which at times bordered on disrespect, would need to stop. This was a new, serious business and he was not in the hospitality space any longer.
With a clear understanding of how he wanted to be positioned (reputational goals), an assessment of his target audience’s needs and desires, and a positioning plan for growing his reputation in this new direction, he was ready to venture out. Bruce kept a close eye on how his value was perceived by his core target audience — the young entrepreneurs — as well as his business partners, the investment community, the media and the local community. As his business grows, Bruce feels empowered to use the available levers he’s developed to course correct, learn and scale his offer, and enhance his reputation.
Is 2021 the year for you to pivot?
Have you reflected on your career and realized that what you’ve been doing is no longer inspiring, fulfilling or meaningful personally or professionally? Pivoting takes thought and strategy, but the time might be perfect for what you can offer. Following the steps above will help you to evaluate your goals and get where you truly want to go, rather than maintaining the path you’re on.