What's a Professional? What Dance Teachers and Consultants Have in Common.

Last month I concluded a post about where I really came from (I got an eye roll when joked that I "just popped out of TridionWorld" to a coworker) that employees looking for a change should review their employment contracts. This is particularly true surrounding any professional or creative service-oriented organization that depends on knowledgeable, well-trained staff staff.

Personal Instructors and Consultants

There is a parallel between dance studios and consulting firms in that the hiring organization puts a lot of money and effort into marketing, employee development, and training. The resulting employee contracts typically have a "don't-steal-our-customers" and/or "don't-compete-with-us-within-our-market-within-X-miles-or-for-Y-years" clause (and for good reason). But what does this mean for professional instructors/consultants, organizations, and customers?

Competition is Good

Savvy business owners recognize that some competition is good. If the smaller dance studio down the street is doing well, it's a sign that the local market is healthy and the choices give you an opportunity to differentiate. For example, I still do the fliers for showcase at Champion Ballroom Academy in San Diego. With a history of staff, junior, and independent ballroom champions, it has maintained a level a prestige and top talent. The possible draw-back could be negative connotations with competition or the atmosphere (don't let the online pseudo drama scare you, check them out when you're in San Diego, and say I mentioned it; I don't get any referral bonus, but Mary might forgive me for moving away).

Overall this balances itself out and we see a mix of dance opportunities in the region, from salsa to international ballroom, from private lessons, to exercise classes.

With software, there's likely a point where there's too much competition. Maybe 1200 alternatives sounds like a bit much for Web content management, but if you're in a smaller wave or quadrant, it's easier to distinguish what makes you different/better-in-certain situations. Sometimes the biggest competition is the resident developer who made a simple-but-tough-to-maintain CMS who'd never pay that much for software.

Read the Fine Print

In terms of customer's, there's typically a waiver or agreement that says "we offer you professional consulting/instruction." The emphasis is on the "we," meaning if an individual resource becomes unavailable, the company will provide another from their staff.

So as a customer purchasing a service know that the company would like to keep you happy in case your favorite  individual (consultant or teacher) leaves. Sometimes that means "allowing" you to continue working with that professional in exchange for a referral cost or finder's fee as sometimes described in the employment contract. As a customer, you can choose who to work with, just don't expect the money paid to company A will be recognized by your favorite professional (though sometimes it does happen).

Some instructors I've met never seemed to understand how hard it is to maintain a business, market to customers, and train their resources. What happens when you leave an organization and a customer approaches you? Is this a gray area? You betcha!

Some final unsolicited tips:
  • Organizations -- have the confidence to support or recognize your external partners, recognize some competition is good, and be open and authentic in person and online.
  • Individual employees -- if you're looking to leave an organization, avoid stealing clients. This can hurt your last company but also your reputation. Even with these non-compete contracts an honest discussion is sometimes all it takes to stay on good terms between service organization, instructor, and client.
  • Customers -- though you may love a given professional, your arrangement with the organization you originally hired has its own terms and conditions. When in doubt don't hesitate to ask, it's in the best interest of the organization and individual instructor to handle the situation professionally.
An open, sharing approach focused on developing yourself and helping others is likely the best insurance against things going bad. It makes you valuable to your current organization, attractive to other organizations, and a popular resource among clients.

Just be sure to know where your popularity comes from. I've heard horror stories of high-performing research analysts losing prestige and all clientele when they mistook their firm's renown for their own popularity.

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