Organizations often think their problems are unique, and they want to find solutions that are tailored to every detail of their specific situation. But for a thought leader, the line between building content that can be widely applied and adding enough customization to satisfy a particular client can be a difficult one to straddle.
It’s not uncommon for a thought leader to have a client that says, “We love your content! Could you do X, Y, and Z to customize it for our organization?” If you’re doing 10 or 15% customization on a base product, performing small tweaks to better address a particular client’s issues, that’s fine. But if you’re building every product custom from the ground up, then you’re creating content that’s not reusable – and that’s an inefficient use of your time.
Think about the number of hours you spend building a product.
If that product is only applicable to one client, you’ll be paid once for your effort. If you can utilize that product multiple times with multiple clients, integrating only a small amount of customization, then those hours will pay off for you time and time again. That frees up your time to create new content and new products, and that gives your work real value.
This doesn’t mean you can’t modify your products to feel personal for each client. Just don’t weave the customization fully through. If you create a video series, leave a few minutes at the beginning for an introduction from the company’s CEO or project champion. If you build a workbook, swap in or out elements that relate to the individual organization’s pain points and internal jargon. If you’re doing a keynote speech, you want 85 to 90% of that speech usable for multiple engagements. You may swap out a story or an example based on a specific audience or industry, but you don’t want to rebuild your slide deck every time.
It’s true that when you’re first getting started in thought leadership, you may need to create materials that are specific to early clients. People want to hire you, and those first paid engagements matter! In the beginning, you may need to do things “their way” just to get your foot in the door. The challenge is to structure things in order to give an illusion of customization, without needing to do a ton of work every time.
There’s an appropriate time and place for customization.
If you’re working one-on-one coaching a CEO, or you have a long-term client that expects more personalized work, then you can give them individual service. But when you’re trying to get your content into the world, you have to figure out ways to “mass-customize” your products without feeling impersonal. Just keep the body of your materials broadly relevant and evergreen, and be sure that in the end, you have a cohesive and coherent product that you can sell to someone else later on.