Conversations: Michael Ciszewski

One in a series of conversations with business owners who are dealing with exactly the same marketing  problems you are.  I know, because I have a front row seat.  Listen and learn.

Michael Ciszewski, Campden Hill InternationalMichael Ciszewski founded Campden Hill International with the belief that it’s essential for us to find ways to slow down and reflect – if only for a moment.  (And boy is this editor feeling that right now!)

“When we make room for these times and spaces, we become capable of transforming ourselves and our work into something that is more integrated and connected,” he says.

True to Michael’s vision, Campden Hill International contributes to this type of transformation by helping teams develop the habit of reflective learning as a core capability for improving results or overcoming operational and strategic constraints.

Connect with Michael on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

What made you decide to start your business?

Shortly after I made the shift into OD work (and before I knew it was called OD work), I knew it would only be a matter of time before I started out on my own.

The beginning was 1995, and the more I practiced as an internal staff member in organizations, the more I saw how my effectiveness was limited.  When working with people on issues related to their effectiveness, there is a huge benefit to being an outsider.  I get to say things I otherwise wouldn’t be able to say, I’m perceived as having my own agenda rather than that of senior management, and I can pursue my professional interests in the way I want.

OK, that’s the philosophical answer.  More pragmatically, I volunteered to be let go from Merrill Lynch when they were looking for people to exit the firm in advance of the downsizing that was coming as part of the 2001 recession.  The payout I received served as seed money that made it possible to move from NYC down to DC to be nearer my kids and to start Campden Hill International.

Tell me about a time your company made a difference

The nature of my work is such that it requires patience to observe a difference being made.  Impact happens gradually, over time, as strategies are implemented, relationships shift, and people interact with each other in more productive ways.

I’ve been working with a DC non-profit for over six years now, and their story has been one of continuous growth and success.  I step into the organization once or twice a year, and that is enough to help them shake things up, ask important questions of each other, and plan for the coming period.

While my part in their trajectory is undoubtedly very small (they are really good at what they do), I am nonetheless a regular part of their process now.  And that makes a difference to them.

What’s the hardest thing about marketing your business, and how do you get past it?

Marketing at all is hard for me.  What’s most challenging is that I’m marketing Michael Ciszewski.  As great as I think I am, most organizations are wired to buy things: products and services.  Not people.  I have a couple of ways around this.

First, I talk about the services I have provided clients in the past.  That’s a lot of what’s on my website (Shout out to Ann Bevans Collective!!!*).

Second, I try to get people to talk to me about what they want and what they are trying to do as a way to see if there is any intersection between my talents and what they need.  This second way works much better, but it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like (see the opening statement above).

What marketing strategy has brought you the most business?

Word of mouth and referrals.

What’s next for you?  What marketing activities do you wish you could do, but haven’t yet found the time?  What do you plan to start doing in the next 6 months?

I need to write a business plan.  I have no idea how to do this.  I’m going to do a Google search as soon as I finish this.  I made a feeble attempt way back at the beginning, but it never went anywhere.  I didn’t know what to do with it.  Kind of what many of my clients do with their strategy documents.  Maybe I need to take some of my own advice on this….

The other thing is I need to keep putting myself out there online.  Blog posts, tweets, etc.  I feel like I’ve made a decent start, and I want it to become more regular.  I hear it’s a good way to attract attention.

Ann says…

Man, marketing yourself is really hard, isn’t it? So many of us wish that we could just sit back and do what we do and let the work come to us.

Not gonna happen.

As Michael points out, you don’t have to be a sales genie.  It’s about having conversations with people.

Where to start those conversations?  Well that’s up to you.  Online, at networking events and conferences, under the light at Starbucks – learning to listen to what people need and talk in non-bragging ways about how you can help is what it’s all about.


* I’m totally blushing.

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