Bad Decisions: Or, Why We Screw Up

Research has shown that every day, we make 2000 decisions, i.e. choices, by another name. Most of our decisions are minor and we make them quickly, almost without thinking. We decide what to wear to work in the morning, we choose whether to eat lunch now or in 30 minutes.

But a select few of our decisions have serious consequences and for that reason they demand serious thought, if not actual research. The choices we make affect our health, safety, finances, relationships, our time and our reputation. Ultimately, our decisions define our lives. Consistently making good decisions can be considered among the best things we can do for ourselves, in both our personal and professional lives. 

Now when we make a decision, we do not always have all of the information that we’d like to have. Sometimes, what one could reasonably expect to be a sound decision turns out to be less than positive because of factors that were unknown when the decision was made.

According to Michael Erwin, CEO of the not-for-profit organization The Character & Leadership Center, U.S. Army Reserves Lt. Colonel, Asst. Professor in Leadership and Psychology at the U.S. Military Academy /West Point and author of Lead Yourself First (2006), those faced with an important decision should be mindful of the following conditions, which are capable of undermining good decision-making:

Decision fatigue

With so many decisions to make, especially those that will have a big impact on our own lives or the lives of others, it’s almost inevitable to avoid decision fatigue. To counter it, identify the most important decisions you need to make and arrange to make them when your energy levels are highest.

Social Psychologist Roy Bauminster studied mental discipline at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH and at Florida State University in Tallahassee.  His work indicates that it’s best to make important decisions in the morning after eating a light, nutritious breakfast. Our brains derive energy from healthy food and that helps us to comprehend and value long-term prospects and bolsters decision-making ability.  In the morning we have enough willpower to exercise the self-control needed for making important strategic or financial decisions.

Bauminster advises that we tackle big decisions first, before we have to make numerous smaller decisions that will sap energy and lead to decision fatigue.  So do your best to schedule client meetings for early in the day, before late afternoon, whenever possible. Write and pitch proposals early in the day as well.

According to the researcher Martin Hilbert, Professor of Communication at the University of California at Davis and instructor of the seminar Information and Communication Technology: A Venture into Applied Data Science, our brains process about five times the amount of information today as we processed in 1986. Consequently, many of us live in a continuous state of distraction and we struggle to focus. Ongoing distractions are detrimental to sleep, productivity, concentration and, yes, decision-making.

To counter this, schedule time each day to go offline and step away from email, social media, news and the onslaught of the Information Age. It’s easier said than done, but do-able if you make it a priority.

Insufficient information

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, IL found that in a typical meeting, an average of three people do 70% of the talking. As author Susan Cain describes in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts (2012), many introverts are reluctant to speak up in meetings until they know precisely what they want to say. Unfortunately, introverts fairly often feel blocked by overly expressive extroverts and they keep their insights to themselves. As a result, decision-makers might ignore or gloss over certain possible answers or options, perhaps due to the bias of habit (“we’ve never done that before”).

Meeting conveners can temper this inclination by sending out a meeting agenda 24 hours in advance, to give everyone time to think about their questions and suggestions regarding the agenda items. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon the convener to create an environment that encourages all attendees (whether they participate physically or virtually) to contribute— i.e., speak up and share information and when necessary, persuade others to examine and question their assumptions.

Introverts often ask the right questions, or contribute great ideas and relevant information to their teams, because while the extroverts are busy talking over one another and doing whatever possible to monopolize the conversation, introverts are quietly listening and thinking, questioning and analyzing. Decision-makers can greatly benefit from input supplied by the quiet members of their team.

Multi-tasking

There are few jobs left in the world today that don’t require at least some multi-tasking. While that’s the reality, research pioneered in 2009 by Earl Miller, Professor of Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, showed that performance, including productivity and effective decision-making, can be diminished by as much as 40% when we attempt to focus on two (or more) cognitive tasks simultaneously. When called to make an important decision, set aside a block of time so that you can devote the required thought and focus to the question (or task).

Analysis Paralysis

The Information Age has deluged us with an abundance of information—Big Data, algorithms and a vast array of metrics— and there’s almost no end to the amount of information one can access. However, more information doesn’t necessarily lead to the best result.

Information overload can hinder the decision-making process; the more information there is to consider, the longer it takes to make the decision. Which data thread should we follow? Analysis-Paralysis, which is an expression of confusion and fear, can set in.

Because time is often a factor in big decisions, knowing when to draw the line on data gathering and move forward to finalizing your decision is a valuable leadership skill. While the decision-making process should be thorough, the best way to make good decisions is not to continually search for more information but instead to understand what information will be useful, review the selected data, set a decision-making deadline and adhere to it.

Emotions

Strong emotions have the power to impair one’s ability to make sound decisions and it is advisable to delay important decisions when one is angry, frustrated, excited, or even very happy. May I also include fatigue, inebriation, illness, pain and hunger in this category?

During those times, one’s ability to reason and take a measured and balanced view of an important question or unfolding events usually disappears. When blood sugar drops, a trip to the grocery store often results in a shopping basket filled with the wrong foods. Sending an email when angry or frustrated can present a danger to one’s career or business, since the temptation to use provocative or even harsh language could be strong and the ability to self-censor may be low. Likewise, inebriation, fatigue, illness and pain may potentially diminish one’s ability to think clearly and reach a rational decision about anything of importance.

When faced with an important decision while in the grip of strong emotions or similar feelings, honor your emotional state and focus on self-control. Give yourself time to calm down and gain perspective on what is happening. Forgive yourself, postpone your response, breathe and take a time-out. Have a cup of tea. If possible, you might also take a nap or a shower. Resist the temptation to respond to people or make decisions while you’re flustered or agitated.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Belgium, June 1577 – May 1640) The Fall of Man, Adam and Eve 1628-1629, courtesy of The Prado Museum, Madrid

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5 Genius Questions for Your Customer Survey

Every business owner or leader must study his/her customers (or potential customers for those in start-up or new product launch mode) and gather as much potentially useful information about them as possible. The first and greatest commandment of business is “know thy customer” and the research must continue for the life of the business. We can never stop learning.

The important matter of measuring customer satisfaction and customer loyalty became the life’s work of Frederick F. Reichheld, now an Emeritus Director of the Boston, MA consulting firm Bain and Company, also the founder of its Loyalty practice and author of The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth (2006). Reichheld reported that it took two years of studying customer satisfaction and customer loyalty survey responses and correlating those responses to actual customer behavior—i.e., purchases and referrals made and then linking customer behavior to growth—to discover that a single survey question can reliably predict sales revenue growth.

The big reveal question does not directly address either customer satisfaction or customer loyalty. Rather, it simply inquires about customers’ willingness to recommend a product or service to someone else. While other factors besides customer loyalty play a role in driving a company’s growth—economic or industry expansion, a product or service line that reflects the needs and tastes of current and prospective customers, good financial management and so on—repeat business and good word of mouth are indisputably two of the most important drivers of sales revenue growth and in general, no company can be profitable without them.

Loyal customers talk up a company to friends, family and colleagues. Their recommendations are among the truest demonstrations of loyalty because the customer puts his/her own reputation on the line when making them. Customers will risk their reputations only if they feel intense loyalty.

The customer experience is, I am certain, another significant factor in a customer’s willingness to recommend a business and many actions contribute to that experience. Marketing Departments point survey questions toward metrics they control, such as brand image, pricing and product features and benefits. But a customer’s willingness to recommend a business is also connected to how well the customer is treated by the front line employees—are they friendly (but not intrusive)? Are they helpful?

According to Reichheld’s findings, customer loyalty differs subtly but substantively from customer satisfaction. Gauging loyalty by way of the usual customer-satisfaction survey questions is not helpful. His research indicates that customer satisfaction lacks a consistently demonstrable connection to customer behavior and growth. Reichheld says it is difficult to identify a sufficiently strong correlation between high customer satisfaction scores and outstanding sales growth. “The question ‘How satisfied are you with (company X’s) overall performance?’ is a relatively weak predictor of growth,” he says.

One of the main takeaways from Reichheld’s research is that companies can keep customer surveys simple. The most basic surveys, providing that the right questions are asked, can allow companies to obtain timely data that is actionable. Reichheld goes so far to assert that a customer feedback program should be viewed not as “market research” but as an operating management tool. Below are five of Reichheld’s survey questions.

  • How likely is it that you would recommend (company X) to a friend or colleague?
  • How likely is it that you will continue to purchase products/services from (company X)?
  • How strongly do you agree that (company X) makes it easy for you to do business with it?
  • If you were selecting a similar provider for the first time, how likely is it that you would you choose (company X)?
  • How satisfied are you with (company X) overall performance?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: (l-r) Phyllis Povah, Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford in The Women (1939). Sales girl Crawford is showing her customers the fictitious fragrance “Summer Rain.”

Prediction: Emerging Social Media Platforms 2019 – 2020

Which new social media platforms are lining up to become The Next Big Thing for B2B marketers? Take a look at these four up-and-comers and figure out which might appeal to your customers and be a good forum for your products or services. Jumping in early can provide big benefits for your business, keeping you a step ahead of the competition. As they say, fortune favors the bold.

Lasso

Here is yet another video-based social media site, but it could be worth your time, especially when you consider how popular this form of content has become. Plus, Lasso is owned by Facebook and as such cannot be ignored. It’s being pitched as an alternative to TikTok (see below). Videos have a 15 second limit and users can add their favorite songs to play in the background. You can create and share videos with fun filters and effects. Users can also log in with a Facebook or Instagram account and cross-post videos to Facebook Stories. Posting Lasso videos to Instagram Stories is soon to come.

Why You Should Consider Using It: While Lasso isn’t as popular as TikTok now, it could rival its top competitor soon. If your target audience is using TikTok, Lasso is a platform you’ll want to keep an eye on. 

Steemit

Steemit is a blockchain-based blogging and social media site that rewards content creators and curators with the cryptocurrency named STEEM. Creators whose content gets up-voted are paid with STEEM, as are those who write useful comments on others’ content. Recipients of STEEM currency can take their digital tokens and exchange them for real money.

This Reddit alternative is about more than cryptocurrency and technology topics, however. Users are invited to create content on a wide range of subjects, including travel, photography, food, music and sports. Besides the Steemit platform, the service aims to compete with other social media platforms as well. To challenge Instagram, Steem created Photosteem and SteemQ is a video sharing platform built on the Steem blockchain that will chase Youtube’s market.

SteemQ and PhotoSteem will employ the same model as Steemit. Since Steem is open source and they have announced that they will support new applications, we’re likely to see more Steem platforms pop up in the future. As of March 15, 2019, the service had 1.2 million registered users.

Why You Should Consider Using It: While Steemit has a relatively small user-base so far, smart marketers can use the platform as an additional channel to share content, grow their audience and pick up some cryptocurrency along the way.

TikTok

In 2017, the lip-synching app Musical.ly merged with a similar, newer app called TikTok. The newly configured company has enjoyed explosive growth: as of 2019, TikTok has 500 million+ active monthly users worldwide and 800 million + downloads. TikTok is now more popular in app stores than Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The service is a huge hit with younger audiences. According to the research firm Sensor Tower, TikTok was the fourth-most downloaded app in 2018.

TikTok’s short-form videos play on a loop, similar to the now-defunct Vine. Users can easily create and share content, but what sets TikTok apart from other video-creation platforms is the simplicity of adding musical overlays, fun effects, AR filters and more. Once you make a video, you can optimize by adding hashtags that can make it easier to find via search.

Why You Should Consider Using It: If your target audience is age 16-24 years, then TikTok is a great place to promote your business. I predict its popularity is poised to expand into the 25 – 39 year old cohort, based on a TikTok video of a service designed for parents of infants that was shown to me as I taught a business plan writing course yesterday evening. That TikTok is also potentially effective for fashion and e-commerce purveyors who want to work with influencers reinforces my confidence in the prediction.

The Cambridge, MA marketing firm Hubspot recently reported that The Washington Post is on TikTok and has already marked 54,000+ followers. Heads up, the Post’s TikTok content typically features relaxed and personal behind-the-scenes looks into its newsroom.

Vero

Vero is an Instagram alternative that boasts about having no ads, no data mining and no algorithms. Vero labels itself “more social, less media” and focused on providing a natural and ad-free experience. Users share photos, music, TV shows, movies, books, links and more. You can decide who can see each post by choosing between four categories: Close Friend, Friend, Acquaintance, or Follower.

Vero does not accept advertisements, a real plus for many users, but brands are able to work with influencers on the platform and pay to add a “Buy Now” button for their posts. Brands can create a Vero account and those brands whom Vero determines are capable of selling and fulfilling orders may share posts directly with their followers, i.e., those who opt-in to view posts that contain items for sale and a “buy” button to facilitate purchases.

Vero calls itself a subscription service but so far, the service is free. Registration for Vero can only be done on the app. There is no option to sign up on the website. Mashable reports that 50% of users are 21 – 40 years old and 68% male. As of March 1, 2019, there were 5 million subscribers.

Why you should consider using it: Without ads and algorithms, Vero is touted as the more “authentic” social media platform. It’s perfect for companies that want to build stronger, more meaningful relationships with their audience. Plus, because users can share such a wide range of content, it’s great for learning more about your target audience.

When evaluating which platforms are worth watching or experimenting with, here are four questions you should ask :

1. How many active users? Big numbers could mean that the platform is gaining momentum and your brand will have more opportunities to get in front of a large pool of users.
2. Are publications or thought leaders talking about it? If a platform doesn’t specify exact numbers, but marketing industry thought leaders or even news publications are discussing it, then it might be promising.
3. Will audiences be interested in the platform? While a tech novice might not enjoy TikTok, a teenager might get bored on Facebook. Younger people prefer visual apps like TikTok and Instagram. While you want to pay attention to the level of adaptability, you also pay attention to how your audience wants to interact with social media.
4. What type of content should we use to promote our brand on the platform? Always draft an action plan when introducing your brand on a new platform. If you can’t come up with any interesting ways to market your specific product on a really niche platform, you might want to postpone engaging. On the other hand, experimenting with different posting strategies could allow your brand to look creative and cool to your audience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Hipparchus (c.190 – c.120 BC), Ancient Greek astronomer, at the Alexandria Observatory in Egypt. At left is the armillary sphere he invented. Hipparchus is considered one of the greatest astronomers of antiquity, who calculated the length of the year. It is thought that the later work of Ptolemy was based on the work done by Hipparchus. Engraving from Vies des Savants Illustres (1877).

How Freelancers Scale Up

According to the Small Business Association in 2018, there were 30.2 million small businesses (< 500 employees) in the US and 80%, 24.3 million, were one-person ventures, i.e., Solopreneurs. Although just under 6 million small businesses have paid employees, those businesses nevertheless employ 47.6% of private sector workers, 59 million of 124 million employed Americans (factoring out government and not-for-profit organizations—schools, hospitals, social welfare agencies, the arts, religious institutions). BTW, there are fewer than 20,000 large businesses in the country—19, 464 in 2018. 2017/08/04125711/Frequently-Asked-Questions-Small-Business-2018.pdf

I suppose it can be said that in American business small is beautiful, or perhaps more accurately, small is the reality. Many of those 24.3 million Solopreneurs attempt to turn what could easily be called a Weakness in the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) strategic planning matrix into a Strength (me!) and use terms such as “boutique” to describe our business, along with marketing-spin phrases such as “personalized service” to communicate to prospective customers that the experience of doing business with us will be very positive and that no one is treated as a commodity.

Operating a boutique business is all well and good, however “boutique” can easily turn into “broke” if the proprietor continues to just scrape along, trying to bring in enough customers to pay the rent and keep the lights on. In order to make a go of being a business owner/ operator, it is necessary to scale the business. A business has successfully scaled when it can deliver its products and services to a significantly larger customer base while maintaining or improving operational efficiency and quality control. Good strategy and execution are needed to scale, but it’s often do-able. Read on and learn tactics and inspiration that will help you decide how to scale your venture.

Scale the Brand

The process for scaling your Freelance business starts with knowing, articulating and communicating your Brand. To attract more clients so that you can double or even triple your roster over a 3-year period, for example, you must communicate in various ways—client testimonials, case studies, LinkedIn recommendations, social media, company website, your newsletter or blog and other marketing channels—that you are highly competent, trustworthy and dependable. You deliver every time and you meet and often exceed client expectations. You bring value. Invent a Branding tagline to help yourself stand out from the 24 + million Freelancers in America and add it to your email signature block.

Be advised that Branding doesn’t simply refer to the colors you use for your business card or logo. Branding encompasses all client touch points during which your client encounters or interacts with you and your company, from the initial contact with you, interaction with employees, the tone of emails, visiting and navigating your website, your payment and billing systems, social media posts, advertising and everything in between. Articulating and communicating your Brand not only enhances the perception of your know-how as a Freelancer, but also makes it easier to scale your business in the future.

Scale client acquisition

Freelancers tend to get stuck in a rut of competing for projects in the same way over and over. We find a tactic that works, whether it’s cold emailing potential clients or applying for jobs posted on sites like Upwork.com and Guru.com. One will eventually figure out how to get hired on those sites, but you’ll still leave a lot of work on the table. It’s been reported that 27% of Freelancers find assignments via referrals made by friends, family and clients; 24% find projects through online job boards, email marketing and social media platforms like LinkedIn ProFinder. How can you make the most of these sources?

You don’t have to chase down all possibilities but do get into the habit of exploring alternative client acquisition methods, to get your name and expertise in front of a wider audience. Your current clients are also a potential source of referrals (I’ve been lucky enough to have that happen). Get the ball rolling by making a referral for your client first, so that you will come to mind if one of the client’s colleagues could use your services. BTW, unless you’re in IT, job boards attract clients who low-ball the money. Not only that, but Upwork now requires Freelancers to pay to submit a proposal and then pay again 20% of the fee when one is hired. I will not pay to apply for a job and that service is off my list.

Scale your network

Networking can potentially deliver significant benefits that accrue from the relationships you build. Networking helps us meet new friends, find a future spouse, get invited to join a board, learn of a house for sale when we’re looking to move, or get a job referral. Networking will also bring to you potential collaborators, for those times that you need to bring in a Freelancer colleague in order to take on a bigger project, or the gift of community support when it would be helpful (and when is it not?).

Start building your professional network ASAP, compiling connections who are Freelancers themselves and maybe also potential clients. Try connecting with fellow Freelancers in the comment section of industry blogs and industry-related LinkedIn and Facebook groups and participating in relevant Twitter discussions.

Scale your skills

Whatever one does for a living there is always training and development involved, that is, if one is lucky, because professional development is an investment in you and no one can take it away once you have it. In order to find work, the Freelancer must be considered a trusted expert. To be considered an expert, one must be better than the rest and that means your knowledge and skills must be bleeding edge current.

When preparing to scale your business you have to grow as a person and a professional and that means learning new skills, keeping up with the newest trends and learning to use applicable tech tools. This can be challenging, as well as time consuming, but what you learn can perhaps lead to new business ideas, smarter planning for the future and implementing new systems and approaches. Online education sites like Coursera, Udemy and Codecademy are a good place to start. Serving on a board, teaching and even judging a business award (I’ve judged the Stevie Awards/ Women in Business category https://stevieawards.com/women for 6 years) are other ways to keep skills current and learn new competencies (and network as you do).

Scale your creativity

To effectively scale your Freelance gig and transform it into an enterprise, you need to break out of your service-based mentality and the best way to do that is to create a product to sell. Think about it—once you’ve created your e-book, course, or physical product, you can sell it over and over, whereas you’re limited to providing a certain amount of services per week to clients.

Not only does a product give you the ability to reach many more people, but creating a product also provides you with passive income, giving you more time to work on other areas of your business. Put on your thinking cap and see what you can dream up. An e-book or online courses are probably the most accessible products for B2B service providers to produce. I don’t have an online course to sell (yet), but I’ve been teaching business-related subjects for more than a dozen years.

Scale your systems

In order to grow, one needs the tools to keep revenue consistently coming in at a steady and abundant pace. To support opportunities for that business growth, it pays to systematize certain business functions and responsibilities. Outsourcing gives you the pleasure of employing a fellow Freelancer as you devote more time to the pursuit of lucrative clients or identifying another product to sell.

Invoicing, bookkeeping, newsletter or blog editing and social media account management are popular outsourcing functions because they do not require a deep knowledge of your business. Outsourcing (or automating) routine tasks gives you the time you need to work on your business, not in your business and that will enable you to scale.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: (Reuters) Master Baker Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ and star of the reality television show Cake Boss (TLC)

6 Questions to Ask a Prospect

Woo-hoo, you’ve got a live one here! You’ve stumbled upon a prospect and you do not want to screw up and lose what might be an opportunity to get paid. You want to keep this fish on the line and figure out 1.) if s/he is serious about hiring a Freelance consultant to work with and 2.) if the project is something you can handle. A series of easy-to-remember questions that help you to encourage the prospect to open up and tell you what s/he needs and also move the process toward a commitment for further discussion are essential. Your goal, of course, is to obtain a project that will both enhance your revenue and if possible, enhance your CV as well.

Picture this—you and the prospect have each given the meet’n’greet (short) versions of your elevator pitch and the prospect is showing an interest in your offerings and would like some details. You’re asked if you’ve ever worked on a particular sort of project, or provided a solution for a certain kind of challenge or problem. Presented below are questions designed to make it easy for your prospect to share information and allow you to position yourself as a good candidate for hire if a project actually becomes available.

  1. How can I help you?

“A customer’s time is valuable, so that first question must be impactful while still respecting their time,” advises Eng Tan, Founder and CEO of Simplr, a customer service and customer experience start-up. ‘How can I help?’ is open-ended enough to invite feedback, but also show that the customer comes first.”

2. What is the problem or pain point?

You cannot jump into a sales pitch until and unless you hear the prospect describe the matter that must be resolved or challenge that must be overcome. Only then can you determine if you have the expertise and resources to provide the desired solution. Allow your prospect to tell you what s/he would like you to do.

3. What is your goal?

Get the prospect to articulate the purpose of the proposed project and what the resulting deliverable means to the organization. Determine if this is a mission-critical goal and the date that the deliverable must be received. It is to your benefit to understand why the prospect feels it’s worth paying outside help to get the project done. The proposal you write and your pricing structure, if negotiations get that far, will be impacted by this information.

You must also understand what will happen if the client does nothing (and nothing is precisely what most of them do anyway, am I right?). So do your best to find out what it all means to the prospect and the company and how the proposed project fits into important goals.

BTW, not every project that gets funded is tied to a meaningful goal. I know someone who probably makes 3x what I make in a year by producing an ultimately ridiculous vanity-driven deliverable for well-known for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Enhancing reputations can be big money, it seems.

4. Have you done anything about it so far?

With this question, you’ll learn if the prospect has worked with a competitor. You can follow-up and ask if there was dissatisfaction with the competitor’s deliverable, price, or customer service. If the matter has so far been handled in-house, you can follow-up and ask why outsourcing looks like a good option now. In short, you’ll learn why your decision-maker or stakeholder/ decision-influencer prospect is motivated to talk to you about the problem and inquire about how you might resolve the problem or produce the deliverable.

5. Is it you who decides how this matter gets resolved?

At this point in the conversation, it is both prudent and politic to ask who makes the decision to bring in someone from the outside, i.e., a Freelancer. You will have earned the right to know if the individual with whom you are speaking has the authority to green-light a project on his/her own, or in concert with a select group of stakeholders. You need to get a sense of how superiors, colleagues, or stakeholders feel about bringing in a Freelancer and I recommend that you get an answer before proceeding with the conversation.

It is possible that your prospect is alone in thinking that an outsider should be brought in to manage the project and his/her opinion may or may not prevail. Now is the time to get a sense of whether outsourcing this project is wishful thinking or a possibility.

6. What would you like to see happen next?

With this question, you invite the prospect to commit to follow-up, be it a face-to-face meeting, an email, or a telephone call. The prospect will be able to reconfirm his/her confidence in your capabilities as s/he shares more information about the proposed project and digs deeper into the how and why your product or service can address pain points and facilitate realization of the company’s goal.

This conversation will determine whether you are considered a serious candidate for managing the project and if the company is serious about hiring a Freelancer. You could very well be invited to submit a proposal and if that is the case, it is a big vote of confidence (but alas, still no guarantee).

If asked upfront about pricing, you might like to respond “What’s your budget?” If it’s smaller than you hoped, work with the prospect to provide the project must-haves, minus the too-expensive extras, at a price the organization can afford. Then again, they could surprise you and appropriate more money. You just never know!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: The Fuller Brush man visits a prospective customer (circa 1950)

Harnessing the Cloud: You’ve Got an App for That

Freelancers and other business owners are nearly always pressed for time and we need to get things done, quickly, efficiently and accurately. Advances in technology have yielded many apps that can make our lives easier and make us look good as we take advantage of their features. Below is sampling of free to low cost apps that will help your business.

 SIMPLIFIED GRAPHIC DESIGN

Canva. If you’re in need of professionally-designed marketing materials for your business but don’t have the budget to hire a graphic designer, you can successfully DIY with Canva https://www.canva.com. This useful app features attractive design templates that allow you to create beautiful visual content for the images that are the core of social media marketing. You can also design logos, brochures, infographics, business cards and templates for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook posts. Canva will also allow users to crop images and enhance photos. The website provides good support, including tutorials on how to use Twitter for marketing. The free version of Canva offers most of the features a Freelancer or business owner will need and an upgrade to the Pro version costs $9.95/ user/ month.

MANAGE RECEIPTS AND EXPENSES

Expensify. All those who travel for business must collect and organize a stack of receipts very soon after returning, whether you’re a Freelancer who must save them for quarterly taxes or an employee who must submit receipts to your boss.  Expensify makes an onerous task much more bearable by automatically scanning the printed paper receipts and adding them to pre-designed templates that facilitate a seamless transition into your electronic records. Other features include reimbursement calculation based on the number of miles travelled, hourly billable amount or wage, a choice of four currencies for calculation and synchronizing directly with your bank account. Free  – $4.99/ month for most users.

ACCOUNTING AND INVOICING

FreshBooks. If you operate a B2B knowledge economy service business that doesn’t need a high-powered accounting solution, then FreshBooks  will give your organization a user-friendly option that offers a lot of functionality. You can track billable hours here as well and also log receipts and send invoices from your smartphone or tablet. The service integrates with several others, including Basecamp, PayPal, Google Apps and ZenPayroll.  The basic plan starts at $15 a month and allows management of up to 5 clients. More fully featured versions allow unlimited clients for up to $50 a month.

NEWSLETTERS AND EMAIL MARKETING

Mailchimp. This easy-to-use email marketing tool is a go-to for Freelancers and small businesses. It offers easy-to-use templates and intuitive drag-and-drop email building that anyone can use to create a professional-looking email that will enhance your company’s reputation. It also allows you to automate your email campaigns and track subscribers, so you can make the most of your communications campaign. Plus, Mailchimp https://mailchimp.com offers easy integration with many popular e-commerce tools. The basic service is free, but many will want to upgrade to either the $9.99/ month plan, which provides custom branding email design or the $14.99/ month option, which gives users custom newsletter and email templates and marketing automation.

SCAN BUSINESS CARDS

ScanBizCards.  Rather than taking a card from someone with whom you’d like to follow-up, it’s much more efficient—and cooler—to scan the business card or even a conference name tag and know you have that important person’s information will be saved automatically in your phonebook. ScanBizCards

VIDEO CONFERENCES

Skype for Business. The classic video conferencing app is owned by Microsoft and the functionality of its infrastructure is versatile, powerful and seamless. The service offers free online meetings for up to 10 participants, set-up from any device, PC or MAC, Android, iPad, or iPhone and PowerPoint upload capability, Instant Messaging and a white board feature. Unlimited free video conferencing, instant messaging, conferencing and audio calling are also offered and  Skype for Business runs ad free and without interruptions— excellent for a business interview or discussion.  Explore the premium features through Microsoft Office 365—$6.00 / user/ month – $15.00 / user/ month.

TEAM COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION

Slack. There are several real-time messaging and file-sharing apps available, but Slack prevails as a result of its simplicity. It has DropBox, Asana, Google+ Hangouts, Twitter and Zendesk compatibility built into the app and the platform is very responsive and user-friendly. Every message is archived, so searching is quick and easy.  Free – $15.00/ month / user for premium services.

BILLABLE HOURS MANAGEMENT AND INVOICING

Toggl.  This timer tracks how you spend your time, making it an ideal support system for those who must record billable hours in order to accurately and quickly prepare invoices so that they will get paid, Freelancer friend. You can track as many projects or clients as you want and assign your hourly rate to each project, so that you can quickly calculate what you’re earning, export timesheets and sync your numbers with several project management apps. Toggl is priced from $9.00 / month /user for the basic service to $18.00/ month/ user for team time tracking and other premium services.  

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark September 7, 2018. Fog x FLO, a “fog sculpture” installation by Fujiko Nakaya (Japan) that appeared in five Boston locations from August – October 2018. Every hour from dawn to dusk, a blast of steam would be emitted by a special mechanism and the fog would appear—and disappear in a minute or two, depending on how the wind blew. The fog sculpture pictured here was across the street from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Pricing B2B Services

According to Dorie Clark (no relation), Adjunct Professor of Business Administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and author of Entrepreneurial You (2017), there are four pricing strategies that Freelance consultants might use, depending on the project at hand and the relationship you have, or would like to have, with the client. It is crucial to follow a pricing strategy that will support your objective to persuade the client that your prices are fair, your solution will be effective and you are the right person to hire.

Hourly billing. The most straightforward pricing strategy is to bill clients by the hour. When you are unsure of the number of hours it will take to complete a project, perhaps because your responsibilities will vary from week to week or month to month, then an hourly rate pricing strategy is reasonable. On the other hand, if you do have a good idea of the number of hours that should be necessary to complete the job, an hourly billing strategy is also reasonable, particularly for one-off assignments or sporadic work with the client.

You can then provide a reliable project estimate, based on your hourly rate for the work proposed and the anticipated number of hours, and that information will be reassuring to the client. But if you underestimate the time needed to complete the assignment the downside of this strategy will emerge, because your final price will overshoot your estimate and your client may not be thrilled.

Another potential downside to hourly billing is the level of scrutiny that it invites. Some clients may challenge the number of hours you record for the tasks involved and that is uncomfortable.

Set fee for services. This pricing strategy requires the Freelance consultant to develop a standard suite of services, where all related tasks are included and there is one price for the whole package. “Productized services” is the term pricing experts use for this strategy. If certain of your services are frequently requested, make life easier for yourself and your clients and create a standard rate sheet for services you perform most often.

For example, if you often conduct half or full-day workshops, billing a flat fee for all tasks involved is a more favorable strategy than billing separately and hourly for the associated tasks. Clients are comfortable accepting a flat fee because the project price is all-inclusive, predictable and transparent. Furthermore, the project specs describe your duties and discourage “scope creep,” those extra unpaid tasks that some clients like to sneak in. If the client would like an extra service or two, then you’ll price those separately and not be tricked or coerced into giving away free labor.

Value-based pricing. Evangelized by Alan Weiss, elite management consultant to multinational companies such as Merck Pharmaceuticals and author of dozens of books, including (Million Dollar Consulting [1992]), this strategy hinges on what Weiss calls “a value-based project fee structure.”

You begin by having a detailed conversation with the prospect so that you will understand the project requirements and the project’s relevance, urgency and impact on the organization. In other words, you and your prospect will achieve mutual agreement on the value of the project to the business. Weiss says that it’s useful to ask questions such as, “What would be the value to the company if this weren’t a problem?” or “What impact would it have if you could do XYZ better?”

Dorie Clark recommends the value-based pricing strategy for Freelancers who work with Fortune 500 companies, because value-based pricing is a way to help the prospect envision and appreciate the value of the right outcomes delivered at the right time. Clark feels it is appropriate to charge a higher project fee when working with big-budget clients because the stakes are so much higher.

Your work for a Fortune 500 company might, for example, create $10 million in new value, whereas even a dramatic improvement for a small not-for-profit organization may only enhance the bottom line by $10,000. Once the prospective client understands the full value that your work will bring to the organization, your fee — a tiny percentage of the overall gain — will in theory seem trivial in comparison.

Retainer agreements. These are an excellent arrangement because predictability is a wonderful thing for both you and the client. Once it is established that you’ll work a more-or-less fixed number of hours per week or month on a certain assignment or category of assignments and a comfortable relationship develops, by all means suggest that you create a monthly retainer agreement. Bring evidence of 6 – 12 invoices to bolster your case.

In the retainer pricing strategy, the client pays the Freelancer a flat fee every month for on-demand access to your services (and that could be anywhere from $500/month to a four or even five figure sum). This allows you to depend on a certain amount of money each month, no matter what. The downside is that unless you’re careful, your client may take advantage of the “all you can eat” pricing by monopolizing your time.

To prevent abuse, be very clear upfront about who can contact you and for which types of services. It is also advisable to specify the hours that you’ll be available ( 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM or longer?), the protocol for weekends and holidays and the methods of contact—email, phone and/or text. You’ll also want to specify whether they only have access to your advice, or if there are specific deliverables you may be asked to produce (for example, you might also agree to generate content for social media or the company newsletter). As you gain more experience and develop long-term relationships with clients, you will be able to propose retainer agreements and institute more control over your monthly income.

Freelancers who succeed are those who are appreciated for the value they bring to their clients’ organizations. An important building block that supports how you communicate your value to the client is your pricing strategy. Study the pricing options discussed above and choose the most advantageous for you and your client.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Courtesy of the Everett Collection. Dink (Margaret Nolan) gives James Bond (Sean Connery) a massage in Goldfinger (1964).

Bragging Rites

In our hyperbolic business environment, all working people—Freelance consultants, entrepreneurs, corporate executives and everyone else who must earn a living—are expected to promote their successes and ambitions in face-to-face conversations and social media platforms. Everybody has to be “on,” i.e., camera-ready and prepared to roll out an elevator pitch to prospective clients, an investor pitch to potential backers, or a sales pitch to browsing would-be customers.

Job-seekers sell their skills and work experience to search committees. Apartment-hunters sell their credit rating and rental history to landlords. The marriage-minded package and promote what they hope are desirable traits that will persuade Mr. or Ms. Right to swipe right. Everyone is pressured to sell themselves, but sounding like you’re selling is a turn-off. No one one likes an obvious self-promoter and heaven help you if people think you’re bragging.

While we’re busy telling possibly interested parties how talented, resourceful, creative and dependable we are, we risk violating a powerful social norm in American culture that prefers modesty, cautions Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at University of MA /Amherst. Bragging is not popular. Do an internet search on bragging, and you get 55, 900,000 results, including How to brag without making people hate you.

Communications consultant Peggy Klaus says the fear of being perceived as pushy and vulgar can lead professionals to hide behind modest self-effacement, even when speaking up about their accomplishments would be perfectly acceptable. Klaus, the author of Brag: How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing It  (2003), says that the very thought of self-promotion is difficult for many to embrace, including those who are fully aware that they must create business in order to survive. “So ingrained are the myths about self-promotion, so repelled are we by obnoxious braggers, that many people simply avoid talking about themselves,” writes Klaus.

Valerie DiMaria, Principal at the 10company, a New York City firm that helps high potential executives at companies such as Verizon, L’Oreal, Raytheon and BNY Mellon reach the next level in their careers, offers encouragement to the introverted and shy. She points out that if the goal is to make a strong, positive impression at work, you must be willing to tell your story and bragging doesn’t necessarily mean boasting.

Di Maria suggests taking a calm, confident, matter-of-fact approach to sharing what’s special about you. Her firm offers leadership and communication coaching and she recommends these five tactics:

  1. Define your brand One of the best professional investments you can make is to learn to articulate your own value proposition, also called your personal brand. DiMaria explains, “A brand describes who you are, what sets you apart from others, what you contribute and what you want to accomplish. In this information-overdosed world, a brand helps you cut through the clutter and make a memorable impression.” So it’s important that you spend time thinking about how you can convincingly describe your secret sauce.
  2. Give your pitch at every (appropriate) opportunity DiMaria recommends that you “master the art of speaking up.” Create scripts that you can use in different business and personal encounters: an elevator pitch that is also a self-introduction, to use at networking events; a “small talk” version of your elevator pitch to use at social or quasi-business gatherings; and stories you can use whenever, to illustrate how your hard work and ingenuity produced results for an important project.
  3.  Give credit to everyone, including yourself   Always thank others for their contributions and don’t shy away from acknowledging your own contributions as well. Do not relegate yourself to the background. DiMaria wants you to remember to find a way to weave in your own role when recognizing achievement. “If your team accomplished something significant, you likely did something wonderful as well,” she says. “You’re not stealing the spotlight by describing how everyone contributed; you’re sharing it.”
  4. Amplify your reach with social media Complete as many sections of your LinkedIn profile as possible, so that visitors will find solid evidence of the depth and breadth of your professional and volunteer experiences. If you have only one or two recommendations, ask a colleague to write one for you that highlights a strength you’d like to highlight (and offer to write a recommendation in return). If practical, upload examples of your work to the Portfolio section, so that browsers of your profile can understand what you do and gauge the quality of your work. Search for groups associated with your profession and join one or two. Be sure to select the option to receive updates, so that you can join conversations every once in a while. If you don’t have a flattering photo that complements your professional aspirations, have one taken. If you’re feeling brave and ambitious, open a Twitter account that you’ll confine to business purposes and announce conferences that you’ll attend or courses that you’ll teach, if those are things you do regularly. If you get a promotion or receive special recognition at work for a job well done, share the announcement. You can do the same on Facebook. Always respond to replies and inquiries, since generating conversations is an important objective.
  5. Avoid the humble brag It’s impossible to ignore that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts are filled with humble bragging posts that try to disguise boasting with a nasally whine (“Now that I’ve reached 500,000 followers, I never have time to cook or do laundry….I barely have time to sleep….”). Everyone sees through the humble brag and it does nothing for your integrity. If you have a success to share, own it because you earned it.

Finally, choosing to remain silent about your accomplishments can diminish your earnings. “It’s those who visibly take credit for accomplishments who are rewarded with promotions and gem assignments,” writes Klaus. As our economy has resulted in less job stability, self-promotion has become more important. Even if you aren’t a Freelancer or entrepreneur, advises Klaus, you need to think like one and start talking up your most valuable product: you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Narcissus (1597-1599) by Caravaggio (1571 – 1610 Milan, Italy) courtesy of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome

Business Failure: Autopsy and Recovery

Failure and setbacks in a business venture can take many forms, from a botched new product or service launch, to cash-flow insufficiency, losing the lease on the perfect storefront or office location, to the appearance of an aggressive new competitor. Business failure is painful and humiliating.

Even if the pre-launch planning and start-up capital are inadequate, significant research and planning and usually a large sum of money (that may have been borrowed) are nevertheless invested with the hopeful intention of bringing a new product, service, or company to life. If things don’t pan out, it’s inevitable that those involved feel crushed and demoralized.

The intricacies of launching and operating a business can cause any venture to falter, even if the founder is not directly responsible for the downfall. The many moving parts of a new venture can cause the founder to overlook essential factors, resulting in a failed launch.

Yet, in some cases,  it’s possible to recover and relaunch after an autopsy has been performed and you and your team (if there is one!) have figured out why things unraveled and how to avoid that problem and maybe others, too, in a second attempt. Common stumbling blocks include insufficient operating capital, an ill- conceived business model, an inadequate assessment of what target customers value and improper pricing.

Many Freelancers and entrepreneurs, after allowing themselves to grieve the loss, are able to move forward with determination and a better plan (and additional resources, most likely) to do much better in the next iteration. Take a look at these common causes of business failure and make note of the lessons to learn:

Unanticipated start-up costs and low sales revenue

Whether you self-financed and bootstrapped your business or borrowed from a bank or investors, you can find yourself in financial quicksand if your projections of start-up costs were underestimated and expectations for customer acquisition were blue-sky optimistic. It’s very easy to rack up big credit card debt and then succumb to panic that leads to making reckless decisions, such as second- mortgaging your home or borrowing from friends and family, as you struggle to successfully launch and create adequate business revenue. Unfortunately, you might find yourself unable to repay as expenses mount and customers are slow to arrive.

THE LESSON IS, do your homework. Thoroughly research the amount of money that will be required to launch your new business, or new product/ service, and make a rational plan for how to acquire the funds, whether you go to the bank, self-finance, ask to borrow from selected family and friends, or take on partners.

Regarding target customers, your first task is to figure out who will buy what you propose to sell, whether products or services. Is there a viable and growing market? Moreover, can you access those prospective customers, something that can be a challenge in the B2B sector.  Realistic financial projections will protect you, especially a Break-Even Analysis, which helps you predict when customer sales can be expected to pull into profit-making territory.

Finally, develop a profit-making business model. You must anticipate the start-up costs, be able to access the targeted customers, you must have the right method of delivering the products or services and pricing must be acceptable to the customers and profitable for the company.

Receivables collection problem

“They’d take sometimes 3 – 4 months to pay and it was killing my cash flow,” she said. “I couldn’t pay my suppliers without difficulty. (The company) refused to pay with a credit card. I was trying to get paid.” Lara O’Connor Hodgson, Co-Founder of the NOWaccount

As counter-intuitive as it seems, a business owner can have orders flying out the door and be totally broke. The problem, as described above by Lara O’Connor Hodgson, is that customers can be slow pay and the difficulty in collecting accounts receivable has put many businesses under.

THE LESSON IS, healthy cash-flow is essential to sustaining a viable business. Investigate the NOWaccount, which guarantees that invoices will be paid on time and in full (both you and the customer must have good credit). Those in a service business (me!) are advised to ask clients who contract to pay a project fee for an assignment to pay 15 % – 20 % of the total fee at the contract signing and link additional payments to project milestones or specific dates (at 30 day intervals, for example). The final payment owed should be no more than 25 % – 35 % of the total fee. In this way, you will receive regular infusions of cash and be much less vulnerable to a payment default by ghosting.

Powerful competitor

Facing a big new competitor is scary, but take a couple of deep breaths and take heart. If you’ve been in business for at least a year and managed to attract customers and deliver your products and services adequately, then you have a chance to hang on and continue with a growth trajectory. Just don’t panic; shift your adrenaline to market analysis instead. In reality, your competitor probably does not offer better quality products or services but rather has resources (like a generous advertising budget) that your organization lacks.

THE LESSON IS to 1.) analyze your competitor’s operation and determine the obstacles you need to overcome or what you need to do differently, i.e. smarter; 2.) refresh your customer knowledge to learn how their expectations and concerns may have changed to make them susceptible to switching their business to the competition; and 3.) avoid competing on price, which is usually an unwise strategy for smaller operations.

Larger companies have more money to work with and that allows them to hire more employees, offer a wider range of products and services, roll-out splashy marketing campaigns, stock more inventory and more flavors or colors and also offer lower prices because they can afford to buy in volume from the wholesalers.

Your defense is to brand your business well and customers reasons to think twice about opting for the competitor. Because no two businesses are alike, you must define for current and prospective customers why they’ll do better by doing business with you.

The heart of branding is defining and constantly communicating a company’s unique selling points, so you must 1.) understand the competition’s unique selling points and 2.) learn to clearly define and articulate your organization’s unique selling points so that you can build on the attributes that set your company apart and potentially make you valuable to customers.

When you understand your competition’s unique selling points and update your customer knowledge to learn as many specifics as possible about what resonates with them, at least theoretically, about the competitor’s unique selling points, you’ll see how to tweak your offerings in ways that reflect your company’s “house style.”

New and small businesses should definitely put an emphasis on excellent customer service. The digital revolution has not meant that customer interactions aren’t essential, even though face-to-face communication has become more limited for many.  To the contrary, customer service is even more vital in today’s business world.  Present a customer first attitude and create a pleasing customer experience. Go the extra mile to surprise and delight and your business will quickly become trusted and loved.

If you have employees, you also want to ensure you are the best employer in the industry. Having motivated and skilled staff will provide benefits for your customers and that will translate into benefits for your ability to successfully compete.

Some of the most successful entrepreneurs have suffered the frustrating experience of a business failure. For Scott Adams, creator of the world-famous Dilbert cartoons, life’s path wound through many jobs, failed startups, useless patents he applied for and countless other indignities. In his memoir, Adams shares lessons learned about keeping himself motivated, healthy and happy while racking up the failures that ultimately led to his success.

It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”  Bill Gates, Co-Founder and former Chairman and CEO of Microsoft Corporation

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood (1891 – 1942 Anamosa, Iowa, USA) courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. The painting depicts an Iowa farmer and his daughter.

Pitching to Prospects: 5 Tactics That Work

Freelance consultants do not have the luxury of a guaranteed weekly paycheck. We earn only as much as we can invoice. We generate a stable revenue stream by continually marketing our products and services to attract new clients and get repeat business.

In tandem with marketing, Freelancers must also identify and pitch prospective clients we’d like to work with; and who we want to work with are those who use what we sell and have the money to pay for it. Our mission is to convince prospects that our services or products will benefit their organization and make them look like geniuses for doing business with us. We must articulate our value proposition in a way that resonates. Our sales pitch must always place the prospect at its center. Below are pitching tactics that you might find helpful:

Pitch to the right person

As we’ve discussed ad infinitum, you must know your customers.  Start by noting the job titles of prospects who usually work with you. Which industries invite you in and which rule you out? Don’t waste time preparing and delivering a good pitch if the prospect is not a prospect. If health care professionals don’t seem to have a need for what you provide, then don’t try to pitch them. Talk about the weather instead.

Second, do your best to speak with either a decision-maker or decision-influencer. This can be tricky because people are known to overstate their role in decision-making. Some want to vet you before revealing the real decision-maker. Others, I guess, just want to feel important? Whatever!

Dig for the truth by inquiring about the budget, confirming the project timetable or important deadlines, asking who else must agree to green-light the project and authorize funding and who signs the contract. You want to unmask any pretenders. Remember to notice the job title of the person with whom you are speaking (ask for a business card). Decision-makers are Directors, Vice Presidents, Chiefs, General Managers and owners.

Speak to their needs

One of the most common mistakes Freelancers (or entrepreneurs or sales professionals) make when introducing their product or service to a potential buyer is placing the focus on those items rather than on the prospect’s needs. While it’s important to explain features and benefits, the key to making a sale is helping the prospect understand how his/her unique need or problem will be resolved if a purchase is made or a contract to bring you in to provide services is signed. You won’t get paid unless the prospect can envision him/herself using the product, achieving the desired outcomes and looking like a hero to his/her colleagues and the higher-ups.

Identify your prospect’s needs and challenges, concerns and priorities and use that information to devise a solution that’s specifically tailored to the prospect’s circumstances and shows that you’ve thought carefully about and understand the goals. Also, start your pitch with a great opening line. You’ll lose the prospect’s attention if you can’t capture him/her immediately with something that entices.

If you’re cold calling, or if you will attend an event and expect to to encounter an important prospect while there, visit his/her company website to view their organization’s mission statement, learn about major initiatives that were recently or will soon be launched and investigate the management team. Look for community outreach efforts, peruse the social media accounts, read what’s appeared in the press and skim the annual report—you may be surprised at what you learn.

When pitching products and services, you want to incorporate whatever “intersections” between their operation and yours into your presentation. Whenever possible, use their words to illustrate your points and explain why you will make a good partner for them.

Establish credibility

When cold calling a prospect to whom you have no connection, you must demonstrate unassailable proof of your trustworthiness and ability to produce results and meet or exceed expectations. If you meet a prospect at a business association meeting or social event, in general you will be regarded as more trustworthy than a cold caller, but demonstrating your specific expertise and reliability will still be required.

Presenting your business card is step one, but if you neglected to bring cards (or you ran out), ask for your prospect’s card and in your email to confirm whatever preliminary agreements have been made (such as a telephone call or meeting to gather more information), be sure to include your company website address, LinkedIn profile address and links to two or three examples of work that the prospect would like to assess (I always send a link to this blog).

Follow-up

It seems so simple and basic, doesn’t it? But Freelance consultants, sales professionals and others have the unfortunate habit of failing to follow-up on potentially promising leads. Maybe you misplaced the prospect’s business card?

Showing persistence is another important element when pitching a potentially good client. Maybe your first email doesn’t wow them, or it gets lost in a pile-up of messages, so always follow-up if you don’t receive a reply. Generally, I consider it polite to wait at least seven days before reaching out again and to never follow-up more than twice.

Know what you want

Keep at top-of-mind the type of relationship you want to create with your prospect. Be clear about what that relationship would ideally look like from your perspective and how it will benefit both parties. You’re probably looking for ongoing projects or sales and referrals, too, more than just a one-off interaction. It may be too early to share that ultimate goal with the prospect, but keep your eyes on the prize as you set the stage at every touch point to achieve it, beginning with your focus on your potential client’s expectations and shaping an appealing client experience.

Thanks of reading,

Kim

Photograph: © Bob DeChiara USA TODAY Sports. Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Koji Uehara (now retired) was awesome in the 2013 American League Championship Series and World Series. His 2013 Earned Run Average was 1.09, as he struck out 38.1% of batters faced. Boston won the 2013 Series against the St. Louis Cardinals 4 games to 2. Koji won the 2013 Most Valuable Player Award in the ALCS, Boston v. Detroit Tigers.

Can You Say No To a VIP?

Sometimes, the answer is no. Respectfully, I must decline. No, this will not do. Nein. It’s just that I find saying yes is more fun than saying no. In fact, I find “yes” to be a powerful word. “Yes” makes people happy and I enjoy making people happy.  I love to give people the green light and let them do wonderful, fulfilling things that satisfy them, things that help them grow and achieve special goals.

But certain behaviors or ideas one may find unacceptable, unsustainable, untrustworthy, or merely unattainable. We find them upsetting or unsavory or unrealistic. To such words or conduct we may even have an intense visceral reaction that literally makes us pull away, as if to shield our offended sensibilities. It may seem counter-intuitive, but think about it—what we reject defines us because our core values, priorities and boundaries often become evident only when they are challenged. Saying no to requests that compromise one’s values announces and reconfirms those values.

Saying no not only represents the conviction to honor one’s own values, priorities, self-respect, or boundaries, but can also be about conserving and managing one’s energy, time and other resources. To politely refuse certain invitations allows one to direct energy and attention to people and activities that matter most. Saying no is strategic.

Now, let’s be honest—saying “no” to a VIP, especially when the VIP is a paying client, carries risk. Certain powerful people have the ability to make an offer that cannot be refused (at least not without damage). Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to explore ways to decline that which we dislike, mistrust, or just find inconvenient for some reason. Disappointing someone whom one would much rather please is stressful.  Think of it this way—when you feel it necessary to voice doubts about a strategy or proposal makes your expertise, insights and values known to colleagues and keeps you true to yourself. You may also prevent an ill-conceived idea from gaining support (maybe because others were not inclined to speak out?) and causing an ugly crash and burn somewhere down the line.

Tact and diplomacy will be needed when saying no to a VIP, no doubt about it. Pour oil on potentially rough waters to head off the appearance of insubordination and ensure that disappointment doesn’t escalate to insult. Take care to separate your discomfort with supporting a certain strategy or participating in a proposed project from your feelings about the people involved. Make it strictly business and emphasize that you support the organization, its mission and history. Below are suggestions for how one might diplomatically say no and not burn bridges:

  • Provide facts. Don’t simply say “no.” Express the reasoning behind your decision. Most importantly, communicate the values that influenced your decision. If you don’t provide the context, others will do it for you, and the picture they paint might not be pretty.  Unflattering motives could be assigned to you and your reputation is sure to suffer as a result.  Don’t create a mystery for others to solve. Cite data and share the motivations that led to your position.
  • Acknowledge values trade-offs. Let others know that you respect the priorities  they aim to promote. Decisions are rarely as simple as black and white, right and wrong. They typically involve value trade-offs. To soften your “no” vote and avoid unnecessary offense, remember to compliment the worthy values that may motivate others’ positions.
  • Be tentatively confident. It’s important to take a firm stand, but avoid appearing intransigent or aggressive. You’ll alienate more people than you’ll convince if you make absolutist statements.  Show that you’re a thoughtful person who has arrived at a reasonable conclusion. Opening statements such as, “I’ve researched the matter and learned…” and “I believe…” demonstrate a combination of resolve and humility that avoids provoking unnecessary conflict.
  • Ask for permission to say no. When saying no to a VIP, particularly someone who might misinterpret your refusal as disrespect, it can be helpful to ask permission to say no. This allows you to honor their authority while maintaining your integrity. For example, you could say, “Boss, you’ve asked me to take on a new project. I think it is a bad idea for me to take it on and I’d like to share my reasons. If, however, you don’t want to hear them, I’ll take it on and do my best. What would you like?” In most cases, the boss will feel obligated to hear you out. If the boss refuses to hear your reservations, you might decide to say no to continuing your employment there!

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: L-R Florence Ballard, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson The Supremes sing Stop in the Name of Love in 1965.

Summer Reading List 2019

It’s been a few years since I’ve compiled a suggested list of business books to read over the summer (and beyond). Professional development need not always require enrolling in a semester-long course or workshop. Reading is a gateway to so many positive experiences, from learning to pleasure. If you don’t want to buy books, visit your local library and check one out, at no charge. A library card is a good investment.

  1. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (Scott Adams)

For Scott Adams, creator of the world-famous Dilbert cartoons, life’s path wound through many jobs, failed startups, useless patents he applied for and countless other indignities. In his memoir, Adams shares lessons learned about keeping himself motivated, healthy and happy while racking up all the failures that ultimately led to his success. Dilbert, a clever gallows humor cartoon that allowed him to share his failures and frustrations with the world, has been in circulation for nearly 30 years. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17859574-how-to-fail-at-almost-everything-and-still-win-big?ac=1&from_search=true

  1. Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Building a Practice (Alan Weiss)

Having now written 49 books on the subject, it is reasonable to regard Alan Weiss, Ph.D. as a consulting guru. If you are consulting, or thinking about packaging yourself as such and searching for clients, Weiss is recommended reading. His insights and recommendations are based on lived experiences of starting and operating an international management and organizational development firm.

As the book’s title implies, Weiss claims that he has consistently produced over $1 million/year in revenues. Although his background is in management consulting, his practical advice applies to all types of consulting. The book contains an abundance of ideas. The focus is on helping existing consultants take their practice to the next level, but he includes advice for beginners as well. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27289607-million-dollar-consulting

 3. Dare to Lead (Brene Brown)

Brown is an Oprah-endorsed author who gets invited to participate on the global mega-speaker circuit, TED Talks included. In the book, she dispels common myths about modern-day workplace culture and shows us that true leadership requires vulnerability, values, trust and resilience.

Brown asks the reader to think back to the most important leadership role one has had. Were you the captain of your high school football team or cheer leading squad? Or did you take on a leadership role only as an adult, such as overseeing a business unit with dozens, or maybe hundreds of employees? Whatever it may have been, there’s a high probability that you fell into one of the many leadership traps laid out in modern culture.

You may have thought you had to look strong and could never admit to a failure. You may have avoided telling the truth because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. These things often happen, especially in the office, because that’s how leadership is portrayed in our society. However, we usually figure out later, when it’s too late to make amends, that the exact opposite behavior would have yielded the best result. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40109367-dare-to-lead

  1. The Breakthrough Speaker: How to Build a Public Speaking Career(Smiley Poswolski)

“If you want to get paid to speak, you have to speak about something that matters and something that other people are passionate about. You need to speak about something that other people (specifically people that are in a position to book you to speak) are obsessed with. This is the single most important lesson to keep in mind when building a paid speaking business.”  —Smiley Poswolski https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42039637-the-breakthrough-speaker?from_search=true

  1. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Simon Sinek)

“The limbic brain is responsible for all our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. It is responsible for all human behavior and all of our decision-making. It has no capacity for language.”  —Simon Sinek

When we communicate starting with the why, we speak directly to the section of the brain that controls decision-making and we use our limbic brain. In contrast the language center of the brain, the neocortex, allows one to rationalize those decisions. The limbic brain has no capacity for language and that is why it is so often difficult to explain one’s true feelings. When we make a decision that feels right, we frequently have a difficult time explaining why we did what we did. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7108725-start-with-why

  1. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What To Do About It (Michael E. Gerber)

The book explains why 80% of small businesses fail and details how to ensure that your venture doesn’t wind up in that group. Gerber says that building a company based on systems and not just on the skill set and labor of a single individual is the secret because having great technical skills does not mean you know how to run a business. Gerber points to this misconception as the entrepreneurial original sin. Being a great baker, graphic artist, or writer does not necessarily make you an expert at running a business in that industry.

Once you start a business, you’re not just the person doing the technical work; you’re also the CEO, CFO, CTO, CMO and a whole bunch of other things. You must bring in customers, track and manage finances, create advertising material, answer customer requests, set a strategy and, and, and… https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/81948.The_E_Myth_Revisited

  1. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant (W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne)

Are you tired of competing head-to-head with other companies? Do you feel like your strategy differs little from the competition surrounding you? You may need to redefine the rules of competition by defining a new strategy. The book describes two types of playing fields:

  • Red oceans, where competition is fierce in bloody waters, strategy centers around beating rivals, and wins are often zero-sum.
  • Blue oceans, where a market space is new and uncontested, and strategy centers around value innovation.Blue ocean strategy pushes company leaders to create new industries (well…!) and break away from the competition. In short, you create a blue ocean by focusing on the factors that customers really care about and discarding factors they don’t appreciate. This often attracts a new type of customer the industry hadn’t previously encountered and so the market grows.
  • The hard part is actually finding a reasonable strategy and executing it successfully. This book contains plenty of examples of successful blue ocean strategies, and it teaches you how to discover and execute them. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4898.Blue_Ocean_Strategy
  1. The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence (Kerry Goyette)

Being in touch with the emotions of those around you is key to developing strong, reliable relationships. Kerry Goyette’s guide to upping your EQ is a powerful tool for understanding how you can trnslate emotional skills into valuable business practices. The techniques included show you how to navigate change, find the root causes of problems and make better decisions.  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46681827-the-non-obvious-guide-to-emotional-intelligence?ac=1&from_search=true

9. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)

Increasingly, people look for quick fixes. They see a successful person, team, or organization and ask, “How do you do it? Teach me your techniques!” But these “shortcuts” that we look for, hoping to save time and effort and still achieve the desired result, are simply band-aids that will yield short-term solutions. They don’t address the underlying condition.

Covey advises us to allow ourselves to undergo paradigm shifts, to change ourselves fundamentally and not just alter our attitudes and behaviors on the surface level so that we can achieve true change. Start with a clear destination in mind. Covey says we can use our imagination to develop a vision of what we want to become and use our conscience to decide what values will guide us. More than 15 million copies of this classic have been sold.  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35895321-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-people?from_search=true

  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)

Since it first appeared in 1936, this beloved book has sold more than 15 million copies. Dale Carnegie developed courses that became famous in the disciplines of sales, corporate training, public speaking and interpersonal skills, from networking to business best practices to Emotional Intelligence. Carnegie will teach you actionable skills such as six ways to make people like you, twelve ways to win people over to your way of thinking, nine ways to change people without arousing resentment and much more. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4865.How_to_Win_Friends_and_Influence_People?ac=1&from_search=true

 

Thanks for reading (and read a book very soon, please!),

Kim

Image: The Bibliophiles, 1879 Luis Jimenez y Aranda (Spain, 1845 – 1928), Private collection

On Being Persuasive

According to Carmine Gallo, Instructor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s Executive Education Department and author Five Stars: Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great (2018), the ability to persuade, to change hearts and minds, is perhaps the one skill that can be depended on to confer a competitive edge in the knowledge economy. Successful people in nearly every profession are typically those capable of convincing others to take action on plans and ideas. If you want to achieve anything of substance in life, learn to be persuasive.

Aspiring entrepreneurs persuade venture capitalists to provide financial backing for their new ventures.  Salespeople persuade customers to buy products. Freelance consultants persuade clients to hire them to provide professional services. In short, persuasion is no longer considered merely a “soft skill,” but rather a leadership skill, that enables those who’ve mastered it to attract investors, sell products, build brands, inspire teams and activate social or political movements.

More than 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle outlined a formula on how to master the art of persuasion in his work Rhetoric.  Throughout history, statesmen and salesmen have used Aristotle’s guidelines when preparing speeches or talking points that brought history-shaping ideas and ground-breaking products to the world.

Your words and ideas have the potential to make you a star in your field, if you can persuade others to join you and act on them. To become a master of persuasion and successfully sell your ideas, use these five rhetorical devices (as interpreted by Mr. Gallo) that Aristotle identified in your next client meeting or sales presentation:

ETHOS (Character)

Gallo feels that ethos represents that part of a speech or presentation where listeners take the measure of the speaker’s credibility. Aristotle believed that if a speaker’s actions don’t reflect his/her words, that speaker would lose credibility and ultimately weaken the argument.  As humans, we are hardwired to search for reasons to trust another person. A simple statement that you are committed to the welfare of others before you introduce your argument or selling points will enhance your credibility.  Show your prospect that you understand and appreciate his/her situation.

LOGOS (Reason)

Once ethos is established, it’s time to make a logical appeal to reason. Why should your listener care about your product or idea? If it will save the listener money, for example, s/he will want to know how much it will save them and how the savings will be accomplished. The same reasoning applies to making money. How will your idea help the listener earn a profit? What steps must s/he take next?  These are all logical appeals that will help you gain support. Use data, evidence and facts to form a rational argument.

PATHOS (Emotion)

According to Aristotle, persuasion cannot occur in the absence of emotion. People are moved to action by how a speaker makes them feel. Aristotle believed the best way to transfer emotion from one person to another is through the rhetorical device of storytelling. More than 2,000 years later, neuroscientists have found his thesis to be accurate. Research has demonstrated that narratives trigger a rush of neurochemicals in the brain, notably oxytocin, called the “the moral molecule” that connects people on a deeper, emotional level.

In his analysis of the top 500 TED Talks of all time, Gallo found that stories made up 65% of the average speaker’s talk, whereas 25% went to logos and 10% went to ethos. In other words, the winning formula for a popular TED Talk is to wrap the big idea in a story.

What kind of story? TED Talks curator Chris Anderson explained, “The stories that can generate the best connection are stories about you personally or about people close to you. Tales of failure, awkwardness, misfortune, danger or disaster, told authentically, hasten deep engagement.” The most personal content is the most relatable, in other words.

METAPHOR (Comparison)

Gallo reminds us that Aristotle believed that metaphor gives language its beauty. “To be a master of metaphor is the greatest thing by far,” Aristotle wrote. Gallo follows-up, “When you use a metaphor or analogy to compare a new idea to something that is familiar to your audience, it clarifies your idea by turning the abstract into something concrete.” Those who master the metaphor have the ability to turn words into images that help others gain a clearer understanding of  their ideas and more importantly, remember and share them. It is a powerful tool to have.

BREVITY

Brevity is a crucial element in making a persuasive speech. An argument, Aristotle said, should be expressed “as compactly and in as few words as possible.” He also observed that the opening of a person’s speech is the most important since “attention slackens everywhere else rather than at the beginning.” The lesson here is: start with your strongest point.

The good news for communicators is that Aristotle believed that persuasion can be learned.  According to Edith Hall, author of Aristotle’s Way, the political class in ancient Greece wanted Aristotle to keep his tactics for persuasion a closely held secret.  But Aristotle disagreed and wanted everyone to have access to it. Hall’s research showed that he instead championed the idea that a person’s ability to speak and write well, and to use rhetorical devices to change another’s perspective, could unleash human potential and maximize happiness.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Emmy Award-winning actor Danny DeVito (Taxi, 1978-1883 ABC-TV)  in Matilda (1996)

Free Media Exposure

Media exposure can be difficult to come by for Freelancers and small business owners. In particular, “earned” media mentions,” i.e., publicity obtained through promotional efforts rather than publicity obtained by way of paid advertising, is usually the most effective form of media exposure and can go a long way toward enhancing a Freelancer’s brand.  A well-expressed quote in a respected publication can make a Freelance consultant or business owner look like an expert that smart people want to do business with.  Earned media exposure can be instrumental in helping a business to establish name recognition and respect among its target customers.

The best tactic to use when looking to attract the interest of reporters and editors is to position oneself as an expert. The good news for Freelancers is that everyone who provides professional services to paying clients is considered to be an expert in his/her field. The public welcomes and trusts tax tips recommended by an accountant and legal advice offered by an attorney. In addition, those who’ve authored a (nonfiction) book, whether traditionally published or self-published, that addresses a topic that editors feel would interest their readers can also be chosen to receive valuable earned media.

When you’ve made the decision to pursue earned media exposure for your organization, Step One is to decide where you’d like your story or quotes of your expert advice to appear. Research local online or print publications and assess the stories that are featured. You might start with your neighborhood newspaper or a publication that specializes in business topics. If you belong to a business or professional association, by all means look into contributing an article to the newsletter, getting your book reviewed or mentioned, or getting yourself quoted. Hint: active members always get publicity.

Step Two is to learn the identity of the reporter or editor who covers your topic. The easiest thing to do is call the publication and inquire. While you’re on the phone, find out when the publication is on deadline and avoid calling the reporter or editor at that time.

Step Three is to write a press release that makes editors and reporters want to follow-up on your story. Make your press release attention-getting with a good headline. Instead of trying to be witty, just give the facts. A good headline might be: “XYZ Biz wins Chamber of Commerce award.”

In the first paragraph, introduce one key newsworthy fact or piece of information in a single sentence, such as “XYZ Group today announced plans to open a solar-powered restaurant by late 2019.”

A common mistake in writing press releases is using it to tell the entire story.  “People write way too much. Tell them what the story is about and why it would be good for their audience,” advises Paul Krupin, former attorney and founder of iMediaFax.com, a media advisory service in Washington state. The press release should not be the first draft of a reporter’s article.  The purpose of your press release is to entice a reporter to contact you and write your story, or persuade an editor to assign your story to a staff reporter.

Furthermore, don’t make the mistake of trying to sell your product or service in the press release. “The media is adverse to anything that looks like advertising,” Krupin warns. “They want to educate, entertain, stimulate, or provoke their audience.”

BTW, there are subtle yet substantive differences between the journalistic needs of print, radio and TV media outlets that reflect audience expectations and preferences.

  • “Print media focus on facts and figures. They talk about strategies,” Krupin advises.
  • “Radio and television don’t lend themselves to detailed information. It’s about sound bites, tone and excitement. For radio and TV producers, you want to tell them why their audience is going to love what you’re going to say, or hate what you’re going to say. The focus is on the emotional reaction: Why am I going to be entertaining?”

Be advised that media outlets are not interested in helping to publicize the products and services that Freelancers and other business leaders are trying to sell. Krupin, who is also the author of Trash Proof News Releases (2001), works closely with his clients to tease out a story angle that could interest readers or viewers of the target media outlets. “What do you know that people don’t know, but they would like to know?” he asks.

For example, Krupin recommended that a photographer discuss how to hang pictures, rather than discuss the technical aspects of how to take pictures. The two created a press release that led to a number of print articles that featured his photographer client as the expert.

Finally, be patient as you wait for the ROI from your earned media. A customer may contact you months or even years after reading about you and your business. A reporter could contact you several months later to get insights on another aspect of your topic, which would result in still more earned media exposure.  Concentrate on developing an earned media strategy by identifying a story angle that would interest readers as you build relationships with reporters and editors who can give you the desired media exposure.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: By Andrew Laszlo. Entertainment columnist and host of television’s longest-running variety show (CBS-TV) Ed Sullivan (l) interviews Fidel Castro in Mantanzas, Cuba in January 1959.

10 Steps to Fortify Your Business

Here come the lazy, hazy days of summer. The sun is warm and days are long, but billable hours can be short, the result of vacation schedules at client workplaces. For that reason, Freelancers may often find it convenient to vacation in July or August. But those who prefer a winter vacation, whether on ski slopes or in warm surf, might long for a worthy assignment to get their arms around. I’ll suggest that Freelancers, as well as small business owners, look no further than our own organization for a project that can generate billable hours.

During the summer slowdown, ambitious Freelancers and business owners will use the available time to build a more efficiently run and profitable business. We’ll reconfirm our customer knowledge, examine our product and service lines, analyze our financial statements, review operations processes, evaluate customer service protocols, update competitive intelligence and refine marketing tactics.

Smart Freelancers will look inward to shore up our businesses internally. We’ll also look outward, ready to pounce on intriguing opportunities that become available. If you’re not doing so already, here are 10 smart business planning steps you should take this season.

  1. Analyze your financials

Examine your Profit & Loss and Cash-flow Statements and make note of the top line, that is, Gross Sales on the Cash-flow statement and Gross Revenue on the P & L Statement. That number (they are the same) reflects the amount of all billable hours and other income you generated in a particular month (or quarter, or year). In a potential business slow-down, it’s essential to confirm that you’ll have the funds to cover all accounts payable, including payroll, if you have employees or outsourced help.

Next, take a look at your Balance Sheet and make note of the total Accounts Payable figure. that number represents monthly business debts (e.g. office space rent and insurance premiums). If a shortfall looks like a possibility, you’ll need to find a way to either negotiate with creditors to ask for an extension, or find a way to generate money quickly. Maybe you can find a part-time under-the-radar job?

  1. Conduct SWOT Analysis

The acronym known as SWOT you may know stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal (personal) attributes and can be impacted by you. Your strengths may include an exceptional client list, fortunate business and personal relationships that you can leverage, relevant educational or professional qualifications, and/or a product or service line that clients value and support. Brainstorm new ways to capitalize your company strengths. Acknowledge also company Weaknesses and find ways to eliminate, minimize and/or camouflage.

Research happenings that may potentially impact your organization to manage the external factors of Opportunities and Threats. Approach all potential Opportunities with forethought, so that you will remember to apply the most appropriate of your Strengths to effectively laying claim to the good. Take steps to sidestep or soften the blow of potential Threats.

  1. Rank clients

Determine who’s profitable, and who’s not. If some clients are a drain on resources, perhaps because they give few billable hours and the rate is low, either raise the price or “fire” them. You can’t afford to carry unprofitable clients.  Aim to work lean and mean. right now.

  1. Network

There will be a handful of conferences held in July and August and some may be worthwhile. If you become aware of a conference where the topics will be relevant to you, the speakers interesting and the attendees people who you may want to meet, try to find the money to attend. You may find your next client or referral partner (and remember to reciprocate).

  1. Streamline work processes

Time is the resource that those who work in the Knowledge Economy, i.e., the intangible services business, value most.  How can you provide your services faster and still maintain the high quality of deliverables for your clients? The objective is to create time to pursue more clients, analyze your business and clients, network, or simply rest and recharge your batteries.

  1. Create strategic alliances

Forming simple partnerships can make or save you money.  One of your clients could be an excellent referral source for your business and you may be able to return the favor for your client’s organization.

  1. Reduce expenses

Do you rent office space? If so and especially if your lease will expire in less than a year, why not call your landlord and suggest that the two of you negotiate a longer-term lease in return for cost concessions?  Or, if you’ve been able to pay all insurance policies on time for the past 12 – 18 months, inquire about a lower annual premium? Do the same for your credit cards regarding interest rates.

  1. Refine marketing strategies

Assess the impact and ROI of your marketing efforts and then ensure that your marketing goals make sense for your business.  What exactly do you want your content marketing, marketing and advertising and social media postings to accomplish?

  1. Target competitors’ clients

If learn that a competitor is struggling, reach out to any of his/her clients whom you know or feel comfortable approaching to discuss the advantages of doing business with your organization. If your competitor’s clients sense a possible decline in quality or fear a service disruption, they may be receptive to your pitch.

  1. Eyes and ears open

Be on the lookout for fresh ideas and opportunities. Stay abreast of news and trends in your industry and also in your clients’ industries. Interact with other Freelancers and business owners to see what they’re doing. Learn from them what’s going on around you and be prepared to explore promising opportunities that come your way.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Second Crop (Le Regain), 1880  Julien Dupre (France, 1851 – 1910)

The Do’s and Don’ts of Email Sign-offs

As often noted by myself and countless other bloggers and journalists, the care and feeding of one’s brand is forever at top of mind.  Every touch point with a client, prospect, potential referral source, the public, or the media and every form of communication, whether verbal, visual, or print, must present a flattering portrayal of the brand. Even our ubiquitous, plebeian emails are now brand ambassadors.

Remember that admonition when you next compose an important email to a current or prospective client.  As you carefully evaluate the potential impact of every word, ensure that your valuable brand carries through to the sign-off. The brand is always on the line and it must be curated, even in emails, from the salutation to the sign-off.

For guidance in the matter of etiquette and branding I’ve consulted the writings of Suzanne Bates, executive coach, President and CEO of Bates Communication in Wellesley, MA (just west of Boston) and author of Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results (2005).

Regarding written communications remember that as always, context is everything.  What is the purpose of your email and with whom are you corresponding? Are you and a client with whom you work regularly discussing a project or are you writing to a business colleague whom you’ve recently met? Then again, are replying with a proposal that a prospective client has invited you to submit? Each of these circumstances will impact the style of your email sign-off.  Let’s look at a few common closing words and phrases and examine their potential impact on the recipient.

Thanks

Use this term when you are actually thanking the person you’ve written, or asked for something to be done or said on your behalf. Thanks as a sign-off is business-like, but casual. Thank you is a better choice if you don’t have a familiar relationship with the other party.

Best

A borderline casual sign-off, but acceptable to use for a business associate whom you know.  BTW, I use this closing most of the time (I may need to re-think this choice).

Regards

Somewhat perfunctory and a little distant, but this closing generally works well.

Cordially

An old-fashioned sign-off that portrays the writer as well-mannered and formal, perhaps too formal. Nevertheless, this choice is safe and pleasant.

Sincerely

Here’s a tried and true business attire sign-off that will offend no one. However, this closing is more appropriate for a letter, rather than an email.

Cheers

You can use this to close an email with someone you know well, but if you’re trying to make a good impression in a business setting, it’s not a wise choice. Save this breezy term for after a bond has been established, for friends and colleagues you sometimes meet for coffee.

Talk soon

This term is usually used among friends and familiar business associates. The intention of quick follow-up is communicated clearly and that may be desirable. I like to use “To be continued.”

Yours truly

We’re a little too formal for an email here, as this term is closely associated with closing a letter. If your email is written for a very important person, you may use this sign-off with confidence.

Kind regards

Here is my favorite business sign-off and when I need to present my self and my brand in the best light, this is my go-to salutation. This term is warm, friendly and professional.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Artist unknown. Courtesy of the British Library, London.                                      Born in Venice and educated at the University of Bologna (Italy), Christine de Pizan (1364 – 1430) was among the best known writers in medieval Europe, in spite of her gender.  A prominent political thinker, novelist and poet, she authored the feminist treatise The Book of the City of Ladies, among other works. Pizan was the wife of Etienne du Castel and a mother of three.

Revitalize Your Networking Chops

Networking experts who write books on the subject and get invited to contribute articles to prestigious business magazines often claim that there are “secrets” to networking.  I take issue with that.  I don’t think anything about networking is a secret or mysterious.  Networking is a meet and greet and unless you have advance knowledge about who is expected to be in the room, who you meet and talk to is random.

However, there are certain behaviors that might improve your networking success rate.  In general, one must be approachable and outgoing and in the frame of mind to meet people (smile!).  This can be uncomfortable for some of us but if you are shy, or an introvert, remember that all at the networking event (which can be a conference or a cooking class, a business association meeting or a reading at the library) have your presence there in common and that in itself is the starting point of a conversation.

Another behavior to exhibit at your next networking event (and every gathering is a networking event, potentially) is listening.  Demonstrate that you are listening by maintaining eye contact and responding to the flow of conversation by nodding your head, smiling and replying when appropriate. Resist the temptation to look over the other person’s shoulder to search for someone who might be “better” to meet and talk to.

Now how do you get a conversation going? After the introductions, ask a question that starts with the phrase Tell me and then actively listen as your new acquaintance does what s/he likes best—talking about themselves! You will make a friend.

Tell me is the favorite opening line of Jacqueline Whitmore, a noted etiquette coach and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Florida.  Whitmore says, “To build trust with other people you have to let them know you’re interested in what they have to say.  One way to do that is to ask the right questions.” “Tell me what you thought of the last speaker.” “Tell me what you think of the workshop leader.” “Tell me how you like the trainers and instructors at this gym—I’m a new member.”

I used Tell me for the first time just a few days ago, when I attended the Ellevate Network’s Mobilize Women 2019 summit on behalf of Lioness Magazine and I can attest to the fact that Tell me is an effective ice-breaker that opens the door to good conversation every time.

Your networking experience can be considered a success if you discover that you may be able to somehow assist this person whom you’ve just met because the final recommended behavior to bring to your networking event is generosity.  While it is true that personal gain is a legitimate goal for networking and the 1.) Get a client  2.) Get a referral and 3.) Get information strategy remains worthwhile, remember that you and your new colleague have something in common by way of your mutual connection to the host organization that brought you both to the event and doing for others is good karma.  Be certain to follow-up with whatever actions you committed to. Your generosity will probably be repaid a couple of times over.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), a role that                         brought her the Academy Award for Best Actress

Make Your Next Impromptu Speech Great

Here is the scenario: You’re at the meeting of a local business organization, where you are well known. Forty-five minutes into the meeting, the organization Vice President sidles up to you and asks if you’d be willing to speak on a certain topic for 5 – 10 minutes, before the President delivers the closing remarks and adjourns.

You have just 30 minutes to prepare. How can you quickly organize your thoughts and create a concise and compelling speech that your audience will appreciate and that you’ll deliver like a pro? Here’s how you do it.

Attention

Every speaker must quickly capture audience attention. Open your speech with an attention-grabbing statement that expresses a point of view that you know most in the audience share.  Alternatively, you can surprise or even shock the audience with an unexpected fact or a provocative question.  When you open your talk, the goal is to draw  audience members in and persuade them to sit up and listen.

Credibility

Once you have their attention, you next show your audience that you deserve it. Earn their trust and respect when you reveal qualifications and experience that define you as an expert, or a person with special insights, who has timely and relevant information to share.

As a member of the host group you will automatically be given a measure of credibility, but you may have other qualifications that enhance your authority. The person who introduces you may share all, or part, of that background information. Stopping short of boasting, make known your claim to expertise.

Acknowledge success/ Identify problem

The organization leader who asked you to address the group will tell you what s/he would like you to achieve in your speech and if s/he neglects to do that, it is incumbent upon you to confirm the purpose of your talk.  Whether there is a recent victory to celebrate or a looming challenge to overcome, call it out and rally the support of audience members. Enthusiasm and passion, expressed in a way that your audience will expect and accept, is injected here.  Inspire unity for the cause.

Solution

Organization leaders may be planning to roll out an initiative and you may have been asked to speak to build member approval and solidarity around that solution. If there are good times ahead, the solution may be for members to continue their enthusiastic support of the organization and the cause. If turbulent times seem inevitable, the solution is the same. The purpose of your speech is to inspire loyalty to the organization and the cause.

Call to action

As your speech concludes you must give audience members an outlet and direction for their enthusiasm and commitment to the organization.  Should they sign up for a special committee that will implement the solution, be it celebration or problem? Or is this a fundraising initiative and you’d like to inspire commitment for contributions?  Give a deadline and urge immediate action.

Re-cap

End with a concise outline of the major points you made in the speech. Re-state the call to action and the deadline. Thank your audience.

Regarding general recommendations for public speaking, thank the person who introduced you when you take the podium. Keep your talking points simple and easy for the audience to remember. If you can weave into your speech a story that illustrates or summarizes an important point, so much the better.  As Travis Bernard, content marketing guru at TechCrunch, the thought-leader technology industry blog based in San Francisco, CA says, “What would be useful for my audience to learn and how can I package this lesson or bit of information in a compelling story format?”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Edgar Bundy (1862 – 1922, British) The Coffee House Orator, 1880.  Courtesy of Touchstones Rochdale Arts and Heritage Centre Museum, Greater Manchester, England

10 Raw Truths About Cold Calling

Please, not cold calling. We hate it. Cold calling is frustrating and scary. No one will talk to you. Those that will talk are known to change their minds and ghost you, instead of following through with what they promised. Cold calling is a tummy ache.

But nevertheless, selling is always part of the program for start-up founders, business owners and Freelance consultants and that means you can’t avoid cold calling. Every so often you have to hunt down some business because when the ship you hoped would come is not on the horizon, cold calling is the most reliable way to generate revenue.  Moreover, cold calling is much less expensive and time-consuming than dressing up and going to a networking event, hoping to meet your Next Big Client.

Life is about managing expectations and I’m happy to share in this post the real deal about cold calling.  My purpose is to make your cold-calling campaigns more profitable and less frustrating. The data presented is based on 3,025 B2B cold calls made in one month, from a prospect list of 600.

  1. You’ll make an average of 17 calls before reaching a live person. 50% of calls go to voice mail; don’t bother to leave a message, it will not be returned.
  2. 3,025 calls resulted in 178 conversations (6%) and led to 18 follow-up meetings (10% of conversations).
  3. Develop a high-quality prospect list that provides the names and contact info of senior executives. CEOs, VPs and Directors are more likely to answer the phone and they can approve the funding of a sale or project.
  4. Prepare a script for the call to remind yourself of selling points, how to handle  anticipated objections, pricing, or whatever else you need to remember (you don’t have to read from it).
  5.  Present an unambiguous and simply stated purpose for making the call. Your product or service must be able to solve a problem for the prospect, or make/save the company money.
  6. Smile when you get someone on the telephone. Your smile will give you confidence and that confidence will be reflected in your voice and ensure that you project a positive attitude.
  7. Be (reasonably) enthusiastic, persistent and polite when you speak with your prospect. Don’t talk too fast. Relax.
  8. Ask for a meeting; you are more likely to close a sale in person.
  9. Don’t call during lunch time (11:45 AM – 1:30 PM); otherwise, the time of day doesn’t seem to matter.
  10. Call on minor holidays. Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day can find senior executives in the office for part of the day, to catch up on work while distractions are few.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Factors to Include When Planning to Launch a Business

In a recent 7 day span, I was invited to judge two pitch contests for entrepreneurs who had successfully completed a 13-week business plan writing workshop presented by a woman-centric business incubator and business development center that has operated in New England for 25 years (and is also an SBA affiliate). The entrepreneurs were either in start-up or scaling (i.e., expansion) mode.

I was excited to be a judge and privileged to meet nearly two dozen forward-thinking, focused, resourceful and determined women who expect nothing less than success and are taking decisive steps to bring it about. Based on the business concept pitches I heard, I encourage those who are evaluating whether to launch a business venture to include the following information:

  • Name and describe your product or service and the problem(s) it will solve
  • Identify your best customer groups and explain why those customers will pay for your product or service
  • Identify your primary competitors, list the competitive advantages that your product/ service possesses and explain why customers will prefer your offerings
  • Create a business model that outlines how you’ll acquire customers, where and how the product/service will be delivered and how the business will make money
  • Explain why you are qualified to make the proposed business successful
  • Develop a business strategy and marketing plan that includes:
    • sales and distribution strategy
    • pricing strategy
    • product positioning strategy
    • branding strategy
    • content marketing strategy strategies
    • social media strategy
    • PR and advertising strategy
  • Detail the business pre-launch and launch (start-up) costs
  • If investors or borrowing will sought, present a (realistic) break-even analysis and 24 month revenue projections (P & L and cash-flow)
  • Detail the potential investor return and the loan payback schedule

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope April 24, 1990

Full Frontal LinkedIn

For B2B firms, Freelance consultants and corporate or not-for-profit professionals, LinkedIn is the preferred social media platform because it is strictly business. Members create a profile that is essentially an expanded resume. There are opportunities to receive recommendations from colleagues with whom one has worked. One can create and upload a SlideShare presentation to provide an overview of company products and services and describe how they benefit customers.

A portfolio that showcases examples of one’s best work can be created and uploaded.  The company blog and/or newsletter can be added to the profile and all connections will receive notice of publishings. If that’s not enough, LinkedIn ProFinder helps to match prospective clients with Freelancers in search of project work (I’ve had a couple of almosts but no contract yet, after 6-8 months of sporadic follow-up to prospect inquiries).

There are those members who claim to make money directly from their LinkedIn connections (other than the ProFinder feature), but I don’t know anyone who’s done so. Still, LinkedIn seems to be a worthwhile investment.  I think presence on the site lends legitimacy and I suspect that prospective clients who are evaluating whether to hire a Freelancer (me!) for a project visit the LinkedIn profile as an element of due diligence.

LinkedIn users

According to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog, of the 500 million LinkedIn profile owners, 61 million are senior-level influencers and 24.5 million are in decision-making positions.  Millennials are also well-represented on LinkedIn. Globally, 87 million members are Millennial generation and 11 million are in decision-making positions.

Content Marketing

LinkedIn’s Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn  reports that LinkedIn is the top choice for B2B content marketing and that every week, LinkedIn content is viewed 9 billion times. While 94% of B2B marketers (including Freelancers) use LikedIn to distribute content, 89% use Twitter, 77% use Facebook, 77% use YouTube and 61% use Google + for B2B content distribution. Surprisingly, only 3 million LinkedIn members post content once a week or more.

When marketing executives (i.e., the Freelancer’s prospective clients) were asked their choice sites to search for relevant, high-quality B2B content, 91% voted for LinkedIn, blowing away Twitter (29%) and Facebook (27%). Decision-makers who have the authority to green-light projects and send billable hours your way trust LinkedIn.  How-to posts and lists receive the best reader response, according to OKDork.com.

About 45% of LinkedIn article readers are managers, directors, vice presidents and C-suite dwellers. Have you published articles in legitimate media outlets, or written white papers or case studies? If so, upload examples of your writing to your profile, since nearly half of LinkedIn article readers are senior level decision-makers. Furthermore, OKDork.com investigated LinkedIn viral posts and discovered that the sweet spot for content length is 1900 words. Don’t shy away from long-form content.

In your articles, be certain to include images (photos, graphs, charts); eight images emerged as the magic number.  Yet videos do not impress LinkedIn readers as they do visitors to other platforms and OKDork.com recommends that article writers avoid videos.

I’ve made this blog available to my LinkedIn connections for the 10 years of its existence and I’ve gained followers and regular readers as a result. Get busy, people! If you think about it, you’ll find that you have relevant content to share with your community every two or three weeks, at least.

As mentioned earlier, LinkedIn encourages members to take advantage of SlideShare as a storytelling and sales tool. According to TechCrunch, 70 million LinkedIn members visit SlideShare each month and 18 million pieces of content have been uploaded (does that mean there are 18 million SlideShare presentations on LinkedIn? I guess so.)

I have a SlideShare presentation that was uploaded some time ago and it’s a good way to tell the story of your company, or to detail why, when and how customers can benefit from using your products or services. But LinkedIn won’t allow edits to existing presentations and it’s aggravating.  I’d like to do an update.

Lead generation 

When tallying B2B leads generated by social media, LinkedIn outperforms all contenders, with 80% of B2B leads derived from LinkedIn and only 13% through Twitter and 7% through Facebook. Moreover, HubSpot reports that LinkedIn produces the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate of all platforms, 2.74%, almost three times higher than Facebook, which produces a 0.77% visitor-to-lead conversion rate, and Twitter, which clocks in with a 0.69% visitor-to-lead rate.

In short, LinkedIn delivers more prospects who are more willing to do business.  The ultimate validation is that 65% of B2B companies have acquired a customer through LinkedIn (I’m still waiting. I should go back to ProFinder ASAP, because I do receive bidding invitations).

So here is my call-to-action. You’ve read the post (thank you!) and I hope you are inspired to step up your LinkedIn activity. It’s OK to start small. Do you have a profile photo? Add a photo and attract 21 times more profile views and receive 36 times more messages. I added a new photo today.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: John Pilkington (2006) Loading salt at the Taoudenni salt mines in northern Mali, 400 miles north of Timbuktu and approaching the Algerian border. The mines have operated since at least the 1500s.

Ask Better Questions

“Be a good listener,” Dale Carnegie advised in his 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.”  Effectively asking questions is a big part of a leader’s job. Good decision-making is based on information we obtain by asking the right questions. Making a sale, including handling objections, is also supported by effective questioning.

Many of us hesitate to ask questions, unfortunately. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to be perceived as intrusive. Other times,  we worry that our questions may be viewed as silly and make us appear incompetent.  On the other hand, one might assume that more information is not necessary.  In every instance, an opportunity to obtain valuable information is lost.

Alison Woods Brooks, an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Business School who teaches Negotiation and is affiliated with the Behavioral Insights Group and Leslie K. John, Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, understand that effective questioning is a skill that can be honed to make our conversations more productive.

The two offer guidance on the best type of questions to ask, tone of voice to use, the sequence of questions and how to frame the questions.  The best approach for a given situation depends on the goals of those in conversation.  Is the discussion  cooperative (e.g., relationship-building or accomplishing a task together) or  competitive (the parties seek to uncover sensitive information from each other or serve their own interests), or some combination of both? Brooks and her research team employed human coding and machine learning to identify four types of questions:

  • Introductory questions (“How are you?”)
  • Mirror questions (“I’m fine. How are you?”)
  • Full-switch questions (change the topic entirely)
  •  Follow-up questions (solicit more information)

Follow-up

Although each question type flows naturally in conversation, follow-up questions have special power. Follow-up questions signal to your conversation partner that you are listening, that you care and that you want to know more. People interacting with a conversation partner who asks lots of follow-up questions tend to feel respected and heard. According to Leslie K. John, “Most people don’t grasp that asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding.” Plus, follow-up questions don’t require much thought or preparation and usually come naturally to the questioner.

Yet be advised that no one likes to feel interrogated. Furthermore, closed-end questions tend to yield one-word answers. Open-ended questions counteract that effect and for that reason, they can be particularly useful in uncovering information or learning something new. In fact, they are wellsprings of innovation—which is often the result of finding the hidden, unexpected answer that no one has thought of before.

Sequencing

If the goal is to build relationships, opening with less sensitive questions and escalating slowly seems to be most effective.  In a set of studies (the results of which went viral following a write-up in the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times), psychologist Arthur Aron recruited strangers to come to the lab, paired them up and gave them a list of questions.  Participants were told to work their way through the list, starting with relatively shallow inquiries and progressing to more self-revelatory ones, such as “What is your biggest regret?”

Pairs in the control group were asked simply to interact with each other. The pairs who followed the prescribed structure liked each other more than the control pairs. This effect is so strong that it has been formalized in a task called “the relationship closeness induction,” a tool used by researchers to build a sense of connection among the participants.

Tone

People are more forthcoming when you ask questions in a casual way, rather than in a terse, official tone. In general, an overly formal tone is likely to inhibit people’s willingness to share information.

Group dynamics

Conversational dynamics can change profoundly depending on whether you’re chatting one-on-one with someone or talking in a group. Not only is the willingness to answer questions impacted by the presence of others, but members of a group tend to follow one anothers lead. In a meeting or group setting, it takes only a few closed-off people for questions to lose their probing power.  Conversely, if even one person starts to open up on a topic, the rest of the group is likely to follow suit.

Art of the response

Conversation is a dance, a mutual push-and-pull. Just as the way we ask questions can facilitate trust and the sharing of information so, too, can the way we answer them. Answering questions requires making a choice about where to fall on a continuum between privacy and transparency.  How should I answer this question? Assuming that I answer, how forthcoming can I afford to be? What should one do when asked a question that, if answered truthfully, might reveal a less-than-flattering information, or put one in a disadvantaged strategic position?

Each end of the spectrum—fully opaque and fully transparent—has benefits and pitfalls.  In negotiations, withholding sensitive information (e.g., that your alternatives are weak) can help you secure better outcomes. At the same time, transparency is an essential part of building meaningful connections. Even in a negotiation context, transparency can lead to value-creating deals; by sharing information, participants can identify elements that are relatively unimportant to one party but important to the other—the foundation of a win-win outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: The Dating Game, 1965- 1973 (ABC-TV)

 

 

Making Social Media Work for B2B Companies

Hello everyone, I’m happy to return to posting after an unexpected break! An important project demanded my full attention. Apologies.

When a prospective client speaks with me about developing a plan to optimize the use of B2B social media, I ask ask that s/he name a goal or two. Most say the goal is to increase sales. Next, we talk about the difference between goals and outcomes and I tend to consider generating revenue as an outcome and not a goal. I do consider nurturing a robust sales / marketing pipeline to be a goal and I’ve found that a reasonable approach to B2B social media is to use the resource for lead generation that continually fills the pipeline with prospects.

Other uses for B2B social media include new product or service announcements, brand awareness and enhancement and relationship- building that consists of inviting customers to take a behind-the-scenes look at your organization. YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can play a role when your company launches a new product or service.  If you’re able, create a 5- 10 minute video so that you and key team members can personally introduce the product and make the case for why it’s useful and which customers will be the best fit.  Post your video to the company website plus social media accounts.

Instagram is ideal for brand enhancement and awareness if your business can be expressed well in visuals.  Through well-composed and lighted photos, business leaders can create a narrative that reinforces product positioning, supports the pricing strategy, touts competitive advantages, introduces a new product, or portrays the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility through involvement in community or philanthropic events (that you’ve documented with three or four action shots).

Instagram and YouTube can support relationship-building by enabling behind-the-scenes looks into your organization, whether in still photos or videos. Maybe you might want to show how team members unwind on late Friday afternoons, or the celebration of a team member’s work anniversary or birthday?

In the meantime, we can revisit the sales/ marketing funnel that we discussed a few weeks ago and understand how to effectively measure the impact of your B2B social media strategies through easily accessed social media and website metrics.

ToFu: Top of Funnel

Awareness takes place at this stage and a reasonable goal for the business is to expand name recognition and reach. Your newsletter, blog, or social media platform presence will be the likely draws, but keyword and voice searches could also bring interested parties to your door. It’s useful to measure your company’s reach and a good KPI (Key Performance Index) is the number of readers or visitors to each platform plus your website.

MoFu: Middle of Funnel

Casual “day-trippers” to your website or social media accounts at this level have either dismissed you or begun to demonstrate trust and commitment.  Make your content click-bait with a provocative headline that makes readers want to know more and provide content that fulfills the promise. Engagement takes place here and I think it’s safe to call this group qualified leads. Visitors will step it up and follow your blog, subscribe to your newsletter or become a fan. Your ebook is downloaded and they’re reading your case studies.

Useful KPIs include website clicks, time visitors spend on pages, following of embedded links, the number of fans and followers, positive reviews, comments, shares and “likes.”

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

Leads at this stage of the funnel are looking to confirm details and finalize the decision of whether to do business.  Your prospect is ready to buy, but there’s no guarantee that s/he will buy from you.  Grease the wheels and present an inviting call-to-action that encourages the next step.  A Contact Us form on your website or Facebook Fan page makes a good call-to-action, as it signals a prospect’s desire for more than general information.  The offer of a free 30 minute consultation that can be scheduled by way of a phone call, SMS, or email should appear on the landing page of your website.

A time-sensitive special offer can make a difference. Try offering a tantalizing (and inexpensive to provide) upgrade or add-on to what the prospect has indicated s/he would like to purchase.  Free or discounted installation or a free product trial are also effective. The number of inquiries initiated to discuss your products or services, as well as the conversion rate of those inquiries, are the most relevant KPIs.

It’s useful for company leaders to remember that relationship – building is an integral ingredient of the recipe to reap benefits from social media. Too many business leaders want to dive into lead-gen, but your audience will have no desire to download your ebook until they know who you are and feel they can trust your expertise. Social media success is not an overnight sensation, it is a process that takes some time.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Julia Child on the set of The French Chef  (PBS) in 1964

Finally, A Social Media Strategy for Your B2B Company

Social Media has a B2B image problem.  Business owners, Freelancers and owners / leaders of B2B companies are for the most part able to recognize the effectiveness of Social Media marketing in the B2C realm, but many still don’t see Social Media platforms as resonating with B2B buyers, despite its pervasive use across most customer demographic groups in the U.S.

Yet numerous studies have demonstrated that the various Social Media platforms can quickly and effectively increase brand awareness and generate leads for B2B and B2C companies.  Moreover, once a Social Media strategy is developed, it’s relatively easy to implement and monitor. Consider the following statistics, courtesy of the 2019 Global Digital Report prepared by We Are Social, a top-tier digital marketing firm:

  • 76% of Americans who are on the Internet use Social Media
  • Social Media (inbound marketing) has a 100% higher lead-to-close rate than traditional marketing (outbound marketing)
  • 45% of business owners/ marketers have acquired customers through LinkedIn
  • 43% of B2B companies on Facebook report generating leads as a result
  • Brands that are on Twitter generate 2x as many leads than those who are not
  • 66% of business owners/ marketers see lead generation benefits with Social Media by putting in as little as six hours/ week

Where to start

Perhaps the simplest way to generate B2B leads with Social Media is to optimize your business page profile on the platform you decide to use.  Your business must be visible. Include a link to the company website, along with links to your blog and/or newsletter. Make your value proposition obvious and devise a compelling call-to-action that indicates to prospective customers how they can learn more about your product or service.  “Enter your email here and receive a free ebook that teaches B2B leaders how to use five Social Media platforms.

Facebook

  • Call-to-Action Button: Facebook gives business pages the option to include a call-to-action button. The seven options include Book Now, Contact Us, Use App, Play Game, Shop Now, Sign Up and Watch Video. You can send the link to a page on your business website. Here’s how you can entice browsers to get familiar with your products or services with a free offer, such as a 30 minute consultation, or a free trial of an online service.
  • About Page: Facebook provides businesses a place to list their address, phone number, hours of operation and a brief summary of their business. Be sure to complete all this information. Not only is it helpful to visitors, but also boosts the pages SEO value.

 

Instagram

B2B leaders/ owners must first understand that marketing on Instagram is less about selling the benefits of your products and services and more about establishing deeper connections with people, including industry thought-leaders and prospective clients.

Instagram is a channel where building and maintaining awareness of your brand needs to come before lead generation.  Unlike Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, where you can drive traffic to your site, think of Instagram as a way to grab the attention of industry influencers and prospective clients at a time when they’re not really in ‘work mode’.  When they’re not in ‘work mode’ they’re not going to be clicking links, they’re not going to be interested in being ‘sold to’.  This is your chance to seamlessly inject your brand values into their Instagram feed so it doesn’t look out of place amongst the B2Cs, friends and co-workers they also follow on Instagram.

The key to leveraging Instagram as a marketing tool for B2B buyers is to not think of it as a marketing tool at all.  Instead, think about Instagram as a way to tell your story as part of a larger online marketing strategy.

Instagram will help you to demonstrate your company’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility when you include three or four photos of you and your team participating in spring clean-up, or fall planting of tulip bulbs, in a public park.  You can show the celebration of a team member’s baby shower. You can even show the team sharing beer and wine and celebrating that a big project deadline was successfully met.

LinkedIn:

  • Images: As with both Facebook and Twitter, your profile and banner images can have a big impact on the success of your page. Make your profile image some recognizable variation of your company logo and be sure to mirror your header image with current marketing initiatives.
  • SEO: LinkedIn company profiles are often indexed by search engines. Be sure that the first few lines of your company description are compelling and contain your target keywords, as this text will often be used as Google’s preview text. LinkedIn users can browse the platform using keywords, meaning that this optimization will help get more eyes on your profile within the platform.
  • Showcase Pages: LinkedIn offers the ability to create separate pages to showcase products or examples of your work, such as writing. These pages live at the top of your profile in prime page real estate. Use these to help out with your lead generation efforts.

 

Twitter

  • Bio: Twitter marketing expert, Madalyn Sklar recommends that “Your bio should be compelling and inviting. Don’t be cutesy or funny. Your profile should paint your story in 160 characters and encourage me to want to learn more about you.”
  • Profile/Header Images: For most B2B organizations, your Twitter profile image should be some variation of your logo — consider color, size, and how it will look on different devices. Your image, more than your handle, is what your followers will come to recognize you for, so it’s important to keep it consistent. Your header image, on the other hand, should be changed fairly regularly to match your marketing initiatives. Running an important event? Holding a webinar? Promoting a new product? This should be reflected in your banner image.
  • Pinned Tweet: Twitter allows you to pin important tweets to the top of your feed so they don’t get lost among your other tweets. If your goal is lead generation, this tweet should contain a call-to-action and a link to your website. Consider pinning a tweet about exclusive content, a free trial, or a special product discount.
  • Open Your DMs: Make sure your Direct Messages are open to the public. That way, if customers or prospects have questions, they can come to you directly. Prepare responses to common questions ahead of time.
  • Hashtags: Studies show that tweets with hashtags generate twice the engagement as tweets without. But be careful, because too many hashtags can resemble spam. Your marketing team should develop a strategy around which hashtags to use and how often. Soon your followers, customers and prospects will catch on and use these hashtags, too.

That’s all for today. Go to work on this and we’ll pick up the thread next week.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Hussey’s Horse Auction (1926) at the Bonhay Cattle Market. Exeter, UK

Ramp Up Your Customer Service Protocols

Identifying competitive advantages for your business can be a real challenge. You probably have a fine product and service line, but how can you distinguish your company from the pack and rise to the top in the minds of customers? As product features and price are not necessarily the determining factors that they once were.  In response, business leaders and owns have turned to the customer experience to build competitive advantages and brand loyalty that are the bedrock of sustainable long-term success.

Before we go any further, let’s define the term customer experience.  The customer experience is your customers’ perception of how your company treats them. These perceptions affect their behaviors and build memories and feelings to drive their loyalty. In other words: if they like you and continue to like you, they are going to do business with you and recommend your business to the others.  Why should business owners and leaders invest time to map out the customer experience and improve it at every touch point?

  1.  Improves customer retention (by 42%, according to some reports)
  2. Improves customer satisfaction (by 33%)
  3. Enhances cross-selling and up-selling opportunities (by 32%)

A 2013 Deloitte survey showed that 62% of companies now rank the customer experience as a competitive differentiator. They are coming around to understand that what customers really want from your organization is help solving their problem. They want to hear what other customers were able to achieve by using your solution. They want to understand the value and benefits your products promise to deliver, not just the product itself.  The Temkin Group,  a customer experience research and consulting firm, in 2018 found that:

  • 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience
  • 73% of buyers point to customer experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions
  • 65% of buyers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising

 

Excellent customer service means you fix your problems without the customer knowing the problem.  There is no reason for customers ever to see the back of the house problems. Never put that burden on a customer. Customer service also demands a timely response as well as empathy. Customer service also includes mobile, since 52% of customers will not return if they have a negative mobile experience with your organization.

A Harvard Business Review study found that customers are seven times more likely to buy a product when their calls are returned within one hour. In addition to speed and customization, you must handle comments with empathy. “I’m sorry,” is a powerful phrase that can repair a bad experience. Everyone wants to be heard, appreciated and respected. Empathy is free and should be a minimum requirement for any employee that interfaces with a customer.

Customer journey maps include every touchpoint and examine frustration points and areas that create satisfaction. Using internal and external marketing data you can look for gaps between what the customer expects at each step and what the customer experiences. Establish a voice-of-the-customer program, which is a formal process and procedure to solicit feedback and share it across the entire organization to all relevant employees.

From the top down, your organizational culture should encourage all employees to appreciate and respond to customer feedback. Through sharing and by using reputation management software, you can analyze data and can implement actionable goals. Continually look for ways for your organization to improve and continue to become more customer-focused.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: L’here du The. by Albert Lynch (1851 – 1912)

 

Email Writing Perfected

Now that you’ve completed your business plan, you’re ready to put it in motion. Here’s the guide that will make sure you know how to get your entrepreneurial groove on! In Be Your Own Boss, Part 2: The Implementation and Beyond, you’ll learn to recognize the strengths or weaknesses in your proposed business model and develop an effective customer acquisition plan. You’ll get insight into what you should consider when choosing the right legal entity for your venture. Learn to implement savvy marketing, branding and social media strategies, get real about business financing options and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream. Thursdays April 18 & 25 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

Every day, the typical professionally employed adult sends and receives an avalanche of emails. In response, dozens of articles that address the challenge of email management have appeared in business targeted media outlets. Those articles are all somewhat helpful but my feeling is, when emails are effectively written fewer of them are written, because writers express themselves clearly and recipients understand how to respond.

As luck would have it, an amazing and highly organized polymath named Kabir Seghal, who is a U.S. Navy veteran, former Vice President at J.P. Morgan, Grammy Award-winning producer (Afro-Latin Jazz) and author of seven books in both the children and adult genres including Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How its History Has Shaped Us (2015) has stepped up to guide mere mortals in the fine art of email writing. Seghal applies lessons he learned while in the military when advising us on how to write the ideal email communication.

Subject line

Subject lines are crucial. They can determine when or even if your email is opened. The wrong subject line can result in your email being ignored or deleted. A powerful subject line communicates the purpose of the email and the action the writer would like the recipient to take. A sampling of subject line verbs include:

Action                                 Meet

Decision                             Request

FYI                                      Sign

ACTION:  The recipient must do something, usually within a certain time frame.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         frame.

DECISION: A decision must be made by the recipient, or a decision that impacts the recipient has been made.

FYI: For Your Information messages keep the recipient in the loop. Action is not required (choice of the recipient).

MEET: Consult your calendar and reserve time.

REQUEST: The writer seeks approval or permission from the recipient.

SIGN: The recipient must read and sign a document and return it with a certain time frame.

Bottom line up front (BLUF)

Begin the body of the email with a short statement that concisely answers Who, What, When, Where and Why to explain the purpose of your email and what you’d like the recipient to do. The BLUF distills the message and allows the recipient to easily digest the information you share and how s/he will be impacted. Seghal suggests that the writer lead with the heading Bottom Line to call attention to your email’s core messages.

Active voice

Seghal recommends that we use the active, rather than passive, voice when composing emails. It’s important to be clear about who has or is taking action, or who will be required to take action (and when) and the impact of that action.

Cut to the chase

Short emails are preferred by military personnel, but sometimes longer communications are unavoidable. Should your email exceed three paragraphs, follow-up your Bottom Line (BLUF) statement with bullet points, so the recipient can quickly focus on critical information.  Rather than adding files as attachments to the email, embed hyperlinks to the files and enable faster access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Typist, circa 1930s.

 

How to Target Content Marketing

Now that you’ve completed your business plan, you’re ready to put it in motion. Here’s the guide that will make sure you know how to get your entrepreneurial groove on! In Be Your Own Boss, Part 2: The Implementation and Beyond, you’ll learn to recognize the strengths or weaknesses in your proposed business model and develop an effective customer acquisition plan. You’ll get insight into what you should consider when choosing the right legal entity for your venture. Learn to implement savvy marketing, branding and social media strategies, get real about business financing options and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream. Thursdays April 18 & 25 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

Content marketing continues to be an effective Inbound Marketing strategy for Freelancers and other business leaders who seek to interest and engage potential clients, nurture relationships with current clients, demonstrate an understanding of client concerns and generate leads that have a healthy possibility to convert to sales.

Yet according to sales and marketing experts, fewer than 50% of those who claim to be evaluating a product or service purchase are ready to buy. Therefore, the job of business leaders/ owners and Freelancers is to move prospects through the buyer’s journey, also known as the sales funnel, and toward the sale.

Recall if you will the shape of a funnel—wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. The shape of a funnel reflects to the buyer’s journey.  Early in the search for a solution, would-be clients search for information. Many are window shoppers. Others are more serious. They explore options, compare prices, clarify their needs and confirm their budgets. Eventually the most serious shoppers become fewer in number as they acknowledge their must-haves and narrow their choices down to a short list of sellers (i.e., businesses).  Only a relative handful buy make a purchase. 

Let’s examine the typical buyer’s journey and understand how inbound marketing can function to encourage the sale along the way.

Tofu: Top of Funnel 

This stage signals awareness and potential prospects are searching for information.  Content here will cast a wide net, to attract the attention of all those who are searching for insights, opinions, research and other data in their early stage and education process. Just as you may scan rating sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor when searching for a hotel or restaurant, Tofu tier leads get familiar with your products and services through your blog, newsletter and social media postings.  It’s too early to present a call-to-action appeal, which could be a turn-off at this point. In general, the value of Tofu leads is low.

Nevertheless, your objective is to peel off the most promising leads and move them into the next tier.  Achieve this aim when you offer a 15 minute free consultation, announce a podcast or webinar in which you’ll be featured to discuss a topic relevant to your typical clients, or extend an invitation to download an e-book that you’ve written, gratis. Those who register for these extras are making a commitment, to an extent, to your business.  Furthermore, they must share their name and email contact as they register. They will progress to Mofu.

MoFu: Middle of Funnel 

You now have a qualified lead. The prospect is real and has acknowledged that a problem that must be solved in the near term.  Your prospect must evaluate  which of the available solutions might be the best fit?

Content at this tier must continue to educate, but the approach will become more specific, to position your company as capable and trustworthy, prepared to deliver the right solutions and solve problems.  Here, content explains why your solution and approach to problem-solving are the best fit. Examples of your ability to understand client concerns and priorities, as well as provide the best solution, can be illustrated in white papers, case studies, or (video) testimonials.

This tier is often considered the most critical because prospects will either agree to move forward and approve the sale or decide you’re not the one based on the information  presented.  Demonstrate expertise, establish trust and build relationships here.  Flash the power of your brand by dropping the names of a marquis client or two.

On the other hand, if it becomes apparent that you are not the best fit for a client, be upfront and make that known. You always want to provide the optimum customer experience that leads to good word of mouth and avoids churn (see last week’s post).

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

Here is where the buyer confirms his/her decision to do business with your organization and the actual sales process can begin.  According to research featured in Forbes Magazine in 2013, many prospects get 60% – 70%  through the buyer’s journey before they care to speak with a sales representative.

There may be no content offered at this stage, but time-sensitive special offers can make a big difference.  Your prospect is ready to buy but there is still no guarantee that s/he will buy from you.  Here you give a little nudge, a sweetener, as you present your call-to-action, at last.

Depending on whether your business is B2B or B2C, tangible product or intangible service, you may offer a modest discount to buy now (or within 24 hours).  You might offer a tantalizing (and inexpensive to provide) upgrade or add-on to what the prospect has indicated s/he would like to purchase.  Free or discounted installation and a free trial are also effective.  Art galleries have been known to allow serious prospects to take an artwork home so that they can live with it for 10 days.

Inbound Marketing is lots more work than tried-and-true Outbound Marketing, where you scrape together some money and place an advertisement or two in target publications, or distribute flyers in certain zip codes, and hope for the best. Outbound Marketing still works, but Inbound Marketing is how to highly target your marketing campaigns and receive the highest ROI.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: A 13th century Ottoman (Turkish) horseman draws his bow. Artist unknown.

Combat Customer Churn

If you’re ready to greenlight a business idea that you feel has money-making potential, then it’s time to create your road map to entrepreneurial success! Learn to build a Business Plan that will become both the foundation and launching pad for your exciting new venture. We’ll take a deep dive into all the ingredients of a basic Business Plan, including how to evaluate the profit-making potential of your business idea; define your ideal customer groups; evaluate competitors; develop a savvy marketing and social media plan; and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream.  Thursdays March 28 & April 4 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here .

Every business owner works hard to add new customers to the company roster. Customer acquisition is a key component of an owner’s role, but attention must also be  paid to customer retention. It’s critical that business owners/ leaders develop a customer retention strategy for the organization—and implement it!

Depending on which study you believe and the industry you’re in, acquiring a new customer costs anywhere from 5 to 25 times more than the cost of retaining an existing customer.  Consider the time and resources utilized to recruit even one new customer, to say nothing of prospects whom you pursue and do not win.  It’s much more cost-effective and efficient to keep the customers you already have happy.

The phenomenon called churn refers to losing customers and the metric that measures the rate at which customers are lost, as compared to customers on the roster, is known as the customer churn rate. “Customer churn rate is a metric that measures the percentage of customers who end their relationship with a company in a particular period,” explains Jill Avery, senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School. The churn rate is measured during any month, quarter, or year, depending on the industry and the product or service that your company supplies.

In other words, if your business begins the quarter with 400 customers and ends with 380, the customer churn rate is 5%, since 20 of the 400 customers no longer do business with the company.  Avery goes on to say that many business owners/ leaders prefer to monitor and report churn rate’s opposite: customer retention rate, or how many customers remain. Both calculations tell the same story.

Changes in a company’s churn rate could signal that something is working well (if the number goes down) or needs addressing (if the number increases).  When you notice that an unexpected number (or percentage) of customers whom you’d expect to be more than just one-offs instead decline to do business at least intermittently, it’s time to take action and stanch the hemorrhage. The usual culprits are customer service failing,  products/ services that are not fulfilling customer expectations, or the presence of an aggressive competitor.

Churn is more than a metric to occasionally monitor. The future of your business depends on understanding why customers might leave and knowing what you can to do to retain those who may be ready to jump ship.  Avery advises that “Looking at churn rates by customer segment illuminates which types of customers are at risk and which types may need an intervention. It’s a nice simple metric that tells us a lot about when and how to interact with customers.”

Likewise, it’s important to study your customer acquisition channels. They don’t all yield equal results, so examine each to learn if customers coming through a specific channel have a higher churn rate than others.  Acquisition channels failing to deliver the best customers as you and your team define them will be discovered, so you can decide whether or not it’s worth continuing to fund that channel, or instead shift resources to channels that more consistently deliver the premium customers.

According to InsightSquared, a Boston marketing and sales analytics company, reducing customer churn by 5 % can increase profits by 25 % to 125 %. InsightSquared also found that 70 % of customers it polled leave not because of the product/ service purchased, but because of poor customer service. Further, 91 % of unhappy customers will not do business with your company again.

Other common issues to address include a lack of customer engagement or support, poor product-market fit and the user experience. It is essential to identify company weaknesses and shore up any products/ services that need to be better attuned to trends in market preferences, customer service protocols, or customer engagement that builds loyalty.

A mistake that business owners/ leaders make is to look at churn as simply a number, rather than as an indicator of customer behavior.  Questions to ask include:

  1. What is the company doing to cause customer turnover?
  2. What are customers doing or thinking that causes them to leave?
  3. How can we better manage customer relationships and diminish the churn?

That said, a high churn rate can be the result of poor customer acquisition efforts. “Many firms are attracting the wrong kinds of customers. We see this in industries that promote price heavily up front. They attract deal seekers who then leave quickly when they find a better deal with another company,” Avery says.

Finally, there is no standard acceptable churn metric. Avery cautions, “The truth is that what’s acceptable varies widely by business model and is largely dependent on how quickly and efficiently a company can acquire customers and how profitable customers are in the short and long-term. Some business models thrive despite high churn rates and others rely on low.”

Instead of fixating on a certain number, smart managers look at the churn rate of prior years and ask themselves what they might improve. “It’s really a metric that shows how well you’re managing your customer relationships, and you can usually always improve your performance in that area,” Avery says.

Before you assume you have a retention problem, consider whether the problem instead turns on customer acquisition.  Avery concludes, “Think about the customers you want to serve up front and focus on acquiring the right customers. The goal is to bring in and keep customers who you can provide value to and who are valuable to you.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: 1950s, photographer and location unknown

More Sales Channels Means More $ales

If you’re ready to greenlight a business idea that you feel has money-making potential,  then it’s time to create your road map to entrepreneurial success! Learn to build a Business Plan that will become both the foundation and launching pad for your exciting new venture. We’ll take a deep dive into all the ingredients of a basic Business Plan, including how to evaluate the profit-making potential of your business idea; define your ideal customer groups; evaluate competitors; develop a savvy marketing and social media plan; and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream.  Thursdays March 28 & April 4 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

The number one job of a business owner is to sell the company’s products and services (at a profit).  To achieve this goal, numerous activities are undertaken to promote, support and sustain the sales process and its co-dependent twin, the buying process.  The push-me, pull-you of businesses selling and customers buying rests on a vital and complex foundation.

The business model, i.e., the rationale for how a business will generate sales and make a profit, is the starting point.  In the business model, the products and services that will be sold and the target market(s) are identified.  The method(s) and location(s) by which customers will obtain the products and/or services and the payment protocols are also detailed (E.g., do customers pay in full in advance, or do they pay a deposit and then the balance when the product or service is delivered? Is this a bricks & mortar or e-commerce operation?).

The value proposition, perhaps the most important component of the business model, will describe why prospective customers are expected to value and purchase the products and/or services that the company plans to sell.  Estimating business start-up costs and preparing a credible Break-Even Analysis to provide a time line that predicts the expected pace of sales revenue growth that products/ services are expected to achieve, will determine when profits can be expected to accrue and is yet another purpose of the business model.

Business strategy rests on the business model and marketing strategies, campaigns and tactics lend still more support to driving the selling – buying process.  Yet after all is said and done, it’s imperative to get the products in front of potential buyers.

Savvy business owners know that those with motive and money to buy what your company sells need a little help.  Offer your products and services (where applicable) through different sales channels and make your products/ services easy for customers to buy.  Map the selling – buying process at your organization, talk to and survey your customers and then consider which sales channels, direct, indirect and hybrid, will make it more convenient for customers to do business with you.

Direct Channels: The selling – buying is done through channels, or might we say venues, that you control.  Customers may visit your office or store, or they may buy online through your website.  You might also offer certain of your products and services on your Facebook page.

According to 2018 research conducted by Hootsuite, there are 2.32 billion Facebook users globally, 1.1 billion speak English and about 10% live in the U.S., 232 million. 78% of American users have discovered retail products to buy on Facebook.  Customers will click your Facebook Store tab once you build it out and take it live. Payment processing and customer transaction history are handled by Shopify and Facebook does not take a commission on your sale.

Indirect Channels:  Have you ever booked a plane ride or hotel through Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, or Travelocity? If so, you are comfortable buying through an Indirect Sales Channel and you could be ready to sell selected products and services through this method.  I’ve promoted and sold my P.R. and writing services on Upwork and LinkedIn ProFinder.  Self-published authors who produce books through Create Space have Amazon for an Indirect Sales Channel.

Tangible products have a much longer history with Indirect Sales Channels.  A company can investigate the possibility of selling products to a wholesale distributor, who in turn sells to retailers.  Freelance artisans often place their hand-crafted items into (typically locally owned) stores on consignment.  In both scenarios, products gain access to a significantly larger pool of target market customers than would be possible if the business only used Direct Sales Channels.

Hybrid Channels: Describes two or more sales channels utilized to provide a multi-channel product promotion and distribution system that will maximize product sales. Starbucks offers an easily visible example of Hybrid Sales Channel product distribution.

The primary sales channels are the free-standing Starbucks restaurants that are sprinkled throughout commercial and residential neighborhoods in countless cities and towns across the country.  Secondary Starbucks sales channels are found in many Barnes & Noble bookstores, chain grocery stores, hotel and hospital lobbies and airports.  By way of Hybrid Sales Channels, Starbucks successfully carpet bombs key shopping districts coast to coast.

Small and medium business owners cannot compete in this manner, but it may be possible to offer products and services through two or more sales channels to broaden product exposure and drive sales.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Leslie Jones (1886 – 1967) Pushcarts on Blackstone Street, circa 1940   Haymarket in Boston, MA. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

The 10 Faces of Guerilla Marketing

If you’re ready to greenlight a business idea that you feel has money-making potential,  then it’s time to create your road map to entrepreneurial success! Learn to build a Business Plan that will become both the foundation and launching pad for your exciting new venture. We’ll take a deep dive into all the ingredients of a basic Business Plan, including how to evaluate the profit-making potential of your business idea; define your ideal customer groups; evaluate competitors; develop a savvy marketing and social media plan; and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream.  Thursdays March 28 & April 4 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here .

In his 1984 book Guerilla Marketing, Jay Conrad Levinson (1933 – 2013), whose studies in psychology led him to advertising agencies, brought to the forefront a marketing strategy that has a long history in American business.  Levinson borrowed the term guerilla, “little war” in Spanish, that is, warfare waged in unexpected ways and usually using low-budget weapons, to describe disruptive marketing campaign tactics (that can be humorous as well).

Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary leader who successfully fought superpowers France and America and who eventually became Prime Minister of Viet Nam, demonstrated that guerilla tactics can win a war.  Might you, Freelancer friend, be able to incorporate a guerilla tactic or two in your marketing mix?

When done correctly, Guerrilla Marketing associates your product or service (brand) with innovation and authenticity.  But to make your Guerrilla Marketing strategy effective, conduct thoughtful and comprehensive market research and confirm that you understand what is likely to resonate with, and not offend, your target customers.  Ask yourself  these questions:

1.  Who are my customers, i.e. my target audience, and what do they respond to?

Not knowing your target audience will result in misguided efforts that only serve to confuse. Marketing is all about communicating with an audience you understand.  Your current and potential consumers will know when you’ve failed to do your research.

2. Can we deliver this strategy as well as it needs to be delivered?

In other words, do we have the physical resources to make this happen the right way?

3. Is my brand right for this type of campaign (Guerilla Marketing or otherwise)?

It is important to consider how your unusual marketing tactics might be perceived. If it seems possible that a Guerilla Marketing campaign might seem irritating to the planned targets, it will create a negative impression for you and your company.  Take into account the opinions of those who matter most to your business.  For example, those under age 40 may love a Guerilla marketing campaign, but if they’re not your buyers, then don’t go there.

Finally, bear in mind that Guerrilla campaigns can’t be duplicated. If they are repeated too many times, they lose their effectiveness. So you must structure a strong follow up to your marketing efforts including more promotional acts and ways to convert the traction and interest into buyers. Leverage traction and convert to sales revenue.

Viral   Uses social media platforms to promote a product, service, or an event. Viral means the message is shared among users of the platform and the info spreads to many thousands online.

Undercover   Stealth marketing pitch that sometimes will feature a celebrity using the product in a public place while expressing his/her confidence in the product.  The expectation is that fans will buy the product or use the service, since viewers may not realize that they’re getting a sales pitch.

Alternative   Low-cost methods to target specific neighborhoods, usually by leafletting flyers and postcards on parked cars and doorways.

Presence   Keeps your product or service constantly visible, to raise and sustain public awareness of the company and its products. Sponsorship of a popular drive-time radio show, billboards in key locations, sponsorship of major festivals or concerts. Whatever it takes to keep the company and its products and services at top-of-mind.

Ambush   Promoting a product or service, often at a big event, where the company hasn’t paid to be an official sponsor. A surprise attack on a competitor’s marketing campaign. Guerrilla brand war. The ambusher uses creative methods to grab attention and steal the spotlight from a competitor.

Ambient   Think of the Red Bull car and marketing messages placed in other unexpected places. On staircase steps, wrapped on a bus, banners on street light poles and ads for Broadway shows on the tops of taxi cabs.

Presume   Often used for products sold online. Attention-getting visuals on high-traffic websites and also social media platforms direct prospective customers to the website, where the sales process begins. The purpose is to make prospective customers aware of the product or service. Product placement in films and TV is another form of this tactic.

Wild posting   Urban street marketing, usually consisting of many posters for a rock band, hip-hop singer, or products used by the young and urban posted on the exterior of abandoned buildings and near bus or subway stops.

Experiential   Grocery stores, malls, high foot traffic streets and special events are the usual venues. Prospective customers interact with the product or service directly and will associate their immediate reactions with the featured brand. Invite people to sample product after they’ve receive a pitch on why the product is beneficial and should be valued. Often a coupon is given to encourage a purchase.

Buzz   Uses high profile media (traditional and social) to stimulate talk about the product or service. Buzz marketing works best when customer responses and eventual endorsement of the product or service are genuine.  The ROI is amplified positive word of mouth.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Viet Cong soldiers in North Viet Nam in the 1960s.  #Metoo!

Keep it Going: Sustaining Your Success

OMG you did it!! The months and years of working hard and working smart, of knowing when to listen to your inner voice and when to listen to a good adviser, the months of living on four hours of sleep and no vacations for what seems like forever and—–your company grossed $1 million over four consecutive quarters! You’ve reached a milestone that defines success.

OK. So now that you’ve reached the mountaintop, you have to figure out how to keep your footing and stay up there.  In fact, because you are focused, ambitious and determined, you’re already thinking about climbing even higher.  But sustaining and growing your success might demand as much work and determination as you invested to attain it. Here are four commonsense choices that can help you hold on to your earnings and continue the positive slope of your company’s future.

Pay taxes

Meet with a business accountant and figure out how much money you should reserve each quarter for tax payments (usually 30% – 40%). You don’t want to wait until the annual tax time and realize that you owe big money to the IRS.  Before you spread money around, pay the quarterly tax bill and set aside enough to ensure that all remaining tax bills in the calendar year can be covered.

Smart celebration

When you hit the revenue milestone that you’ve defined as your “made it” metric, whether the amount is a net or gross figure, you owe it to yourself to celebrate. What’s important, though, is not only how you celebrate but also with whom.

First, don’t overspend.  If you want to take a week-long spa vacation then go for it, because that will dissolve your stress and prepare you for the work you’ll do to build on your new-found success.  Or maybe you’d like to visit a place you’ve always wanted to see, or return to?  A splurge that refreshes and replenishes your energy stores is likewise always worth it.

Where you want to be careful is the amount you spend on consumer goods.  You may need a new car and if you can afford it, then do so, but be careful about splurging on luxuries.  Buying a Saab or Volvo probably makes more sense than buying a BMW or Benz at this point.  Save real luxury purchases for when you’ve raised your net worth to a more substantial level.

Others may want to throw a party.  Caution is advised when developing the guest list.  The sad fact is that there will be certain individuals, including family members, who will feel more envy than happiness upon hearing news of your success.  If a party is a must-do (and why not?), invite only those who supported and believed in you.

Fair-weather friends, frenemies, passive-aggressives, or critical types who claim that they’re just playing “devil’s advocate” or being “objective” are mostly about undermining and sabotaging. They are not your friends, even if they’re family members.  Don’t invite them and don’t let your mother guilt you into including them.  They don’t belong.

Save money

After you’ve paid down or, ideally, paid off any significant debts, business and personal, it’s time to save money.  Start with your retirement fund. Research options available to you in accordance with the business you own and pay the maximum amount allowed by your age and income level.  Investigate opening a Roth retirement account as a place to hold after-tax money if you anticipate having surplus cash.

Once you’ve figured out your retirement fund strategy, focus on other long-term investments. By all means, invest in the equipment, staffing, technology and office or manufacturing space that will support operations (including customer service), generate ROI and advance the business. But what if the building where you lease space comes up for sale? It might be a good move to buy the building, so that you can control your costs more effectively and also collect some rents.  For that, you’ll need money and a good credit score.

You can give yourself a wish-list savings account to build up cash reserves. There are other investments that can be made as well and to learn about your options, ask people you trust to recommend an investment counselor.  If you’ve got even $5000 to invest, investigate certificates of deposit, online banks such as Everbank, index stock funds, or actively managed mutual funds.

Keep doing what it was that made you successful

Now that you have a blueprint for making lots of money, continue to follow the template and don’t slack off! Don’t think that once you reach a certain level of success that things will just cruise along on their own. You must continue to do those things that created the conditions for success.  You can, however, devise methods that help processes become more efficient—that comes from experience. Operational efficiencies make money.  Plan your work to give priority to income-generating activities, such as sales calls and networking, to conserve your energy and bolster your stamina and creativity.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Emanuel Leutze (1816 – 1868, Germany) Washington Crossing the Delaware (River) December 25- 26, 1776 (1851)

Figuring Out Your Brand

Recently, I presented a branding workshop for an SBA-affiliated business development organization that primarily assists women entrepreneurs to launch and build companies (of any size) that are groomed to succeed.  Identifying and communicating a company’s brand, that is reputation, is of critical importance because that is how customers current and potential connect with the company and its products and services.

But really, how do company founders figure out the brand? How much is determined by the company founder and how much by the customers? Consider the case of Timberland.

Timberland is the originator of those ubiquitous mustard pyellow boots that have been worn by men in the construction industry since about 1970.  But 20 years later, New York City hip-hop style icons became obsessed with the boots.

Well known rap music stars regularly appeared on stage and in videos  wearing a pair of humble, utilitarian Timberlands. The boots are the antithesis of chic and so they became chic.  A hip-hop performer named himself “Timbaland” and became one of the biggest names of the art form. Timberland boots now symbolized authentic urban cool.  Its brand identity changed forever.  The company recently launched a “Brooklyn Collection.”

I am writing this post just a week after the branding workshop that I presented and I regret that I didn’t have access to the information I share with you today.  Stephen Greyser, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and Matts Urde, Associate Professor at Lund University School of Economics and Management in Sweden, created what they named a Corporate Brand Identity Matrix, shown here, to help us identify and communicate our brand:

VALUE PROPOSITION
What are our key offerings, and how do we want them to appeal to customers and other stakeholders?
RELATIONSHIPS
What should be the nature of our relationships with key customers and other stakeholders?
POSITION
What is our intended position in the market and in the hearts and minds of key customers and other stakeholders?
EXPRESSION
What is distinctive about the way we communicate and express ourselves and makes it possible to recognize us at a distance?
BRAND CORE
What do we promise, and what are the core values that sum up what our brand stands for?
PERSONALITY
What combination of human characteristics or qualities forms our corporate character?
MISSION AND VISION
What engages us (mission)? What is our direction and inspiration (vision)?
CULTURE
What are our attitudes, and how do we work and behave?
COMPETENCES
What are we particularly good at, and what makes us better than the competition?

In addition, Greyser and Urde recommend five (5) guidelines as you conduct your brand identity process:

  1. Be concise

Use short phrases in your answers that can become headings, where you will later write more detailed descriptions that flesh out your brand identity and narrative.

2.  Be straightforward

Keep your answers clear and uncomplicated. Avoid jargon and industry-speak. Adopt a down-to-earth style that tells the story in just a few simple, well-chosen, words.

3.  Seek what is representative or characteristic

Use language or concepts that say “this is us.” Describe the essence of you, your products/ services, your company.

4.  Stay authentic

Be honest in your ownership and expression of the aspects of your company, products and/or services that are already firmly rooted in the minds of your customers and community in which your company operates.  In other words, if the company has always been known for traditional values and a conservative approach, don’t try to appear cutting edge.

5.  Seek what is timeless

Brand identity should be long-lasting. Despite validation by the hip-hop crowd, Timberland boots are still humble, practical footwear that can be worn in any weather.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Hip-hop legend Biggie Smalls (1972 – 1997) circa 1995

Shutting Down Toxic People

Today, I share with you insights about managing toxic people, a vexing class of individuals whom we all encounter from time to time.  The toxic types can infiltrate and poison our workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and volunteer service posts. They are even, I’m sorry to say, to be found in our religious institutions and our families. They are high-maintenance, manipulative and hurtful.

Those of us who are well-meaning and psychologically healthy are in need of polite and effective tactics that will keep the toxic at bay and prevent their calamities from spreading and tainting our experiences and opportunities, if not our lives. The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance.

For help, I turn to a list of tactics developed by Travis Bradberry, PhD., clinical psychologist and expert on the subject of emotional intelligence.  Bradberry is the co- founder and CEO of Talentsmart, a consulting firm that provides training and coaching in emotional intelligence, a vital “soft skill” that impacts many aspects of relationship -building in our business and personal lives. Bradberry is also co-author (with Jean Greaves) of the best-seller Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (2009).

TalentSmart has conducted research reportedly with more than a million people and found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. The ability to neutralize toxic people is a foundational competency for those who plan to become successful. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ to keep toxic people at bay.

Set limits

There is a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear to someone who is feeling disappointed or disrespected and feels the need to vent, as s/he seeks a way to cope.  It is quite another thing to be caught in the grip of a chronic malcontent for whom constant complaining seems to be the goal and to even entertain the thought of finding solutions to the problem are quickly dismissed.

Bradberry recommends that we ask the complainer how s/he intends to address the problem.  Be on guard for the malcontent to attempt to pull you into doing the repair work for them.  You may be met with a tirade (or a whine) about how “I thought I could depend on you to help me.” Gently point out that you are not the one who is upset. Sir/Madame Malcontent will be exposed as having no interest in solving any problems and that is your opportunity to politely distance yourself from this individual and refuse to remain a sounding board for ongoing complaints.

Rise above

Toxic people love to push buttons and generate conflict that inflates sometimes insignificant misunderstanding into a whirling tornado.  They are often irrational and thrive on arguments and power struggles; they have no filter and no off button. Whether their impulse is deliberate or unwitting matters little.

Instead, do what you can to remain calm.  Ignore any taunting and refuse to get drawn into debates and show downs, for you are too sane to prevail in such a fight.  Create distance and don’t engage.  If an individual persists in goading you into arguments, (including the arguments of third parties that do not involve you) it may be necessary to threaten and even pursue legal action, such as a restraining order, if you feel that the behavior has crossed the line into harassment (you cannot do this in the workplace, however).  You must stop cold behavior that you find unacceptably stressful or threatening.

Choose your battles

Understand that some battles are not worth the fight, even if you feel that you can win.  Do you want to die on this hill? Some battles are not worth the time and energy. Living well is the best revenge.

Aware of emotions

Bradberry points out that maintaining emotional distance from the toxic types requires emotional awareness.  Instead of allowing yourself to be manipulated emotionally and dragged into some irrational state of mind, calmly remind yourself that the toxic person is deliberately pressing your buttons (or perhaps inadvertently—who cares?) because s/he feels compelled to bully you into joining him/her in a rant, a whine, a shouting match, or some other counterproductive behavior.  Don’t go there.  Walk away, if possible, or change the subject.

Establish boundaries

The toxic are champion boundary busters. One of my mother’s sisters was very good to me but when it came to respecting boundaries, she could see no reason to do so (especially not those of a young person).  Whenever she saw me with food, she begged for a taste.  I would offer to make her a small plate and she would refuse, saying that she didn’t want that much, but only wanted “a taste of mine.”  She knew well that I didn’t like that behavior and I suppose I need to accept that disrespecting me was her goal.  She’s been gone for many decades, but the memory of her hurtful behavior will never leave me.  It poisons my memories of her.

I was a young adult when she died.  If she had lived longer, I would have become better at protecting my boundaries, despite the family pressure to give into her, an elder who had done me a big favor and always gave me nice gifts at birthdays and Christmas. I think I would have called her on it in a more forthright manner and if it meant that I saw a lot less of her, I would have done so and let her know the reason for my absence.

Now if your boss is the toxic person, it would stand to reason that the best thing would be to give him/her exactly what they ask for, on time and within budget.  But the problem is that toxic people love finding fault. They “move the goal posts” so that you can never succeed.  I suggest that whatever the boss wants from you, confirm it in email—all expectations, the budget and the deadline.

Forgive, don’t forget

There is lots of talk about forgiveness and I suppose some of it is useful.  Bradberry recommends it and I’ve come to the place in my life that I will concur, with limits. Forgive but do not forget.  Let the incident go, but do not give the wrongdoer another chance to violate you.  Or, hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice, shame on me.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960)

Highest Paying Freelance Gigs in 2019

According to the 2018 report Freelancing in America , a survey of 6000 U.S. workers conducted by Upwork and The Freelancer’s Union, there are 56.7 million self-employed workers in our country, from Lyft and Uber drivers to public relations specialists, ballet dancers to home organizers.  One in three (35%) workers in America participate in the Freelance gig economy either full-time or part-time.

As you might guess, not everyone is getting rich in the Freelance economy.  High tech workers have the most earning power, by far.  Fit Small Business, an online magazine that features articles targeted to small business owners and Freelancers, analyzed data from online job-finding sites including Upwork, Freelancer, Hubstaff and Guru to compile a list of what they predict will be the 10 highest-paying Freelance jobs of 2019.

  1.  Data Scientist/ Machine Learning EngineerDeep Learning  S115/hour       Deep learning is the specialty of these machine learning experts and it involves the development of neural networks that mimic the neural pathways in the human brain. These professionals possess advanced skills in algorithm and programming languages such as Tensorflow, Python, Java, Matlab and C++.
  2.  Digital Architect —Blockchain  $87/hour   The technology that powers cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and Monero is used to build new cryptocurrencies, cryptocurrency exchanges and helping businesses to set up cryptocurrency transactions for customers who want to buy in. Proficiency in C++, Python and Solidity is required.
  3.  Robotics Engineer—Robotics  $77/hour  These Freelancers design and build the mechanical elements and machinery used by advanced robots and automated technologies that companies use to make certain repetitive tasks more efficient and less expensive to perform. Robots have moved into stockrooms to fulfill orders, pharmacies to fill prescriptions, banks to serve as personal teller machines (and let’s not forget ATMs) and even, God save us, into certain bars on the Royal Caribbean Cruise line, where the robots can make two drinks a minute. Talk about a speed bartender! High-level skill in mechanical engineering software, including SolidWorks Professional, Simplify 3D and Photoview 360 are required.
  4.  Penetration Tester—Network Security  $66/hour  These professionals are good guy hackers. They investigate the potential vulnerability of a company’s computer network, so that the company will not fall prey to bad guy hackers who might infiltrate and sabotage its computer system. These Freelancers are certified systems security professionals.
  5.  Code Writer/ Amazon Web Service (AWS) Lambda  $50/hour   AWS is unique among computer servers in that it’s only “on” when it’s needed and the customer pays for hosting space only when applications supported are in use.  AWS runs code when an event triggers it (downloading the software program) and the customer pays only when the associated code runs.  Freelancers must know C #, Java, Node.js and Python.
  6.   VR Developer—Virtual Reality  $50/hour  Virtual reality experts develop algorithms that are mostly used in games like the blockbuster Angry Birds. Virtual Reality technology is increasingly used in healthcare and education. These professionals must be fluent in C++, C#, C, native iOS, Android and Java.  Be advised that the required skillset is unique to the platform used to build the VR app in development.
  7. Video Editor—Final Cut Pro X. $37/hour  Film studios, music video directors, wedding videographers and marketing/advertising companies are among the potential clients of these Freelancers. Freelancers who’d like to participate with the creative class must be able to not only cut video clips. but also use transitions, integrate music and edit scenes using multiple camera angles.
  8. Social Media Marketer/ Instagram  $30/hour   What a shame that jobs where creativity, judgment and the psychology of the end-user are so vital to the process of creating a memorable experience that builds brand loyalty and generates revenue, skills that cannot be learned in a series of online tutorials pay the lowest salaries? The automatons are making all the money, clicking away on their keyboards.  Instagram active users numbered a billion in June 2018 according to Statista and that’s a whole lot of campaigns to create and manage.  Freelance marketers must be able to create engaging content, build the brand voice, analyze performance metrics to monitor campaigns successfully, in consultation with the client.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Academy Award-winning actress Jane Fonda (Best Actress, Klute 1971 and Coming Home 1978) as Bree Daniels in Klute (1971)

Optimize Online Content for Voice Search

The thing about internet technology is that we’re always playing catch-up.  First, we researched and identified the best key words for our products and services as we introduced Search Engine Optimization to our websites and eventually, our social media postings.  Next, we hired a web developer to add the responsive design capability to our websites, so that they would download correctly into smartphones and tablets.

It appears that for our latest update, we must ensure that we’re using long-tailed key words, i.e. phrases, that will capture the voice activated searches of Siri and Alexa. Adweek reports that 67 million voice assisted devices will be in use in the U.S. before this year ends and that’s your motivation to seed your online content with phrases most likely to be recognized by A.I. enabled searches.

But let’s begin at the beginning—have you made any voice activated searches? If not, then try it out and make note of what you say.  The next time that you listen to iHeart Radio, grab your iPhone and ask “Siri, play Michael Jackson.” Or speak to your Android and ask, “Alexa, order us a half gallon of milk and a box of Fig Newtons.”

Notice that words such as where, find, order, how, who and where are often used in voice searches and you will be wise to include those words when you update your content for voice search optimization.  As well, keep in mind that voice searches are often used when the prospect is in motion and typing is inconvenient, for example, when walking or driving.

Voice search requires us to adjust our thinking (again!) to that of a potential customer and not of a business owner or marketer.  What questions might a prospect ask when looking for information about your particular expertise? “Siri, find me architects in Philadelphia that do over kitchens and baths.” “Alexa, who are web developers in Tulsa that can create a new website for me?” “Who can help me plan the company meeting we’ll hold in Milwaukee in October of this year?” “Where can I find a dog walker near me in Natchez?”

Voice search key word phrases are like a conversation and your online content should respond in kind.  Your newsletters, blog posts, FAQs page, white papers, case studies and descriptions of your products and services are ideal places to embed phrases that resemble prospect questions that are likely to be asked in voice searches.

Your prospective customers do not use industry-speak buzzwords such as leverage, growth hack, synergy, visionary, or disruptive.  Is it not time to purge those words anyway? Your prospects are looking for answers, so give them the answers in everyday words that everyone uses.  KISS–keep it simple, stupid—as you update your content to answer basic questions, including facts such as the products your organization sells, the services provided, the address of your business if customers can be expected to come in and the opening and closing times.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Taping Gang Busters, the “only national (radio) program that brings you authentic police case histories.” The program was broadcast from January 1936 – November 1957.

Dates to Keep You Straight

Every year, Freelancers have an important list of dates to remember and act on, primarily those related to tax filings, retirement account management and health insurance plan enrollment. To help you stay organized, I’ve compiled this date planner that brings together all deadlines into one document that you can bookmark, copy into your calendar or even print out and post on your refrigerator.

TAXES

January 31, 2019: 1099-MISC due to contractors
Those who hired Freelancers (independent contractors) to whom they paid $600 or more in the previous year must send 1099-MISC forms by January 31, 2019.  If a client paid you less than $600, then you probably will not be mailed a 1099-MISC, although the IRS nevertheless requires you to report all income.

Do keep scrupulous records of who owes you a 1099-MISC so that you can accurately report your income on your tax return.  Your clients will also send 1099-MISC data re: you to the IRS and any differences between your numbers and the clients’ could trigger an audit.  If you haven’t received a 1099-MISC from a client by January 31, contact your client ASAP and request a re-send.

If you used any subcontractors to whom you paid at least $600 last year, you must likewise send them a 1099-MISC by January 31.

April 15, 2019: Individual income tax filing deadline
You have until April 15, 2019 to file your Form 1040 individual income tax return for 2018. Be aware that April 15 isn’t the deadline to pay your taxes — tax payments for Freelancers are due on a quarterly schedule (see 2019 quarterly estimated tax deadlines, below). If you wait until the tax filing deadline to pay your taxes, the IRS may charge you penalties and interest on top of the tax you owe.

If you’re still waiting for information, or you’re too busy to file a return by April 15, you may apply for a six-month extension that gives you until October 15, 2019 to file. The extension application needs to be filed by April 15, 2019. Remember again that the extension is for filing, not paying your taxes.  Payments are still due on the quarterly schedule no matter when you file and penalties and interest can accumulate if you wait to pay.

QUARTERLY TAX FILING DATES

The IRS requires business owners to pay income taxes on a quarterly schedule. This may seem like a hassle, but it’s easier to pay in four installments than to try and come up with a whole year’s worth of income taxes all at once.

Here are the 2019 deadlines for quarterly estimated tax payments. Note that the four quarters are not of equal lengths: the 2nd Quarter covers only April and May, while the 4th Quarter covers the last four months of the year.

DEADLINE                                                         PERIOD COVERED

April 15, 2019                                                     January 1 – March 31, 2019

June 17, 2019                                                      April 1 – May 31, 2019

September 16, 2019                                           June 1 – August 31, 2019

January 15, 2020                                                September 1 – December 31, 2019

 

RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS

April 15, 2019: Deadline to set up and contribute to an IRA for 2018
Even if you made no contributions to your retirement savings account in 2018, you can still make a 2018 contribution to an IRA up until April 15, 2019. This includes traditional, Roth and SEP IRAs. You can also make 2019 contributions to these plans from now up until next year’s tax filing deadline of April 15, 2020.

December 31, 2019: Deadline to set up an individual 401(K) 
An individual 401(K) is another type of plan that Freelancers can use to save for retirement. One important detail is that an individual 401(K) must be established by December 31st of the first plan year (as opposed to an IRA, which can be opened up until April 15 of the following year). That means it’s too late to set up an individual 401(K) for 2018, but you may set one up for 2019.

Contribution limits 2019 update:

Solo 401(K)                                                                                                                            Employer: 20% of net self-employment income                                                            Employee: 100 % of earned income up to $19,000 (for age 50 years +, up to $25,000)   Total combined contribution: $56,000

Traditional or Roth 401(K)                                                                                                     $6000 annually $7000 if age 50 years +

SEP IRA                                                                                                                                               The lesser of 20% of net self-employment income, or $56,000 annually

 

HEALTH INSURANCE

The open enrollment dates to purchase health insurance for 2020 on the Affordable Care Act exchange will be November 1 – December 15, 2019.  Open enrollment for 2020 through the national health insurance exchange will also be run from November 1 – December 15, 2019.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Market Research: Social Media Sleuthing

How many articles have you seen that counseled business owners to “deliver value”,  “know the client’s pain points”, or “create a marketable business model”?  It’s great advice, but no one tells you how to do it.  How can a Freelancer or small business owner who is not armed with a 5-figure marketing budget unearth such information quickly and inexpensively?

You already know that it’s essential to communicate to clients, in a number of ways, that you understand their needs, the results they’re trying to achieve and that you’ve got the know-how to get the job done.  When invited to speak with a decision-maker about a potential role in a project, I recommend that you turn to the company’s social media feeds, ranking sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor and the website and take notes on what you find—and you will find! Social media platforms and websites contain posts, newsletters, case studies, videos and/or audio reels that provide a treasure chest of information that you can use:

  • Marketing messages promoted to current and prospective customers
  • News about upcoming product and service launches
  • Indication of the products and services their customers prefer
  • Customer service complaints and compliments
  • Special promotional events
  • How the company positions itself against key competitors
  • Insights into whether customers skew male or female
  • The age range of customers
  • Job titles of customers if the company is B2B

Once you understand the prospect’s customers more completely, you can identify discussion topics and questions that will make you shine when you and the prospect meet. You’ll develop a winning sales pitch that speaks directly to the prospect’s needs, including perhaps matters that were not fully articulated when you first spoke with the prospect.

  • You’ll portray yourself as a highly competent, capable, trustworthy problem-solving professional who has the expertise to not only get the job done, but also to exceed expectations.
  • Your asking price will reflect the above conditions, meaning you’ll be able to command a premium price for your product or service (as determined by the client’s budget).

Now what if you are in the midst of writing a business plan to launch a new company, or conducting a business model refresh, perhaps in response to some inevitable disruption in the market place? Once again, social media sleuthing will reveal information that will ensure your business model will appeal to the evolving tastes and expectations of your target customers. You’ll be positioned to predict what factors will resonate for target customers, from their preferences regarding product or service features in your category, to the best way to express the perceived benefits and designing the ideal customer experience.

Social media postings will bring to light the big picture of your target customers and help you understand what makes them unique. You can then explore how your products and services can appeal to those distinctive attributes and conditions, in particular those needs and preferences that are either not fulfilled or are insufficiently served by competitors. Your product or service line, marketing materials, advertising and marketing campaigns, packaging, hours of operation, pricing and payment options will be structured to accommodate the distinguishing needs of your target customers.  You will capture your target market and your business will thrive as a result.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Peter Sellers in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

 

5 Ingredient Recipe to Make a Profit

It is useful to simplify and de-mystify processes that are prone to confuse or intimidate, frustrate or overwhelm.  Stripping complex processes down to their basic ingredients allows a clear picture to emerge and reveals how the gears and levers really work.  It is then easier to understand how to build out, alter, or sustain as needed.  A recipe (or formula, if you will) can de developed and codified.

Just like your favorite cookie or potato salad recipes, there are recipes that can be used to develop a profitable business enterprise. Let’s look this profit-making ingredient list:

LEADS

That is, prospects. Those individuals who consider doing business with you.  You may meet them in person anywhere and if they pose serious questions about your business that seem to make follow-up discussion appropriate, then consider that person a prospect.  If someone visits your website and pages through in search of information about your products and services, those visitors are also prospects.

CONVERSION RATE

Prospects who do business, whether they purchase a product or sign a contract for your company to provide a service.

AVERAGE DOLLAR SALE

You can calculate the average sale on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.  Divide the accounts receivable amount by the number of hours invoiced.

AVERAGE NUMBER SALES

Depending on your business, you may have only two or three projects in house at a given time.  Intangible service providers often have bigger ticket sales (projects) that are fewer in number than tangible service or product providers.

PROFIT MARGIN

This metric will be much easier to determine in a retail business, where wholesale acquisition costs or product production costs are readily verified.  Service providers must estimate their wholesale cost to produce that which is sold to clients.  If you provide graphics services or shoot videos, what does it cost you to provide the service? That estimated amount will be deducted from the hourly or project rate that you bill the client and that will reveal the profit margin.

  1. Leads X Conversion rate = Clients
  2. Clients X Average Dollar Sale = Revenue
  3. Revenue X Profit margin = Profit

Consider this example.  In your business, you, your newsletter or blog, social media accounts and your website make contact with an average 20 leads a month and you manage, on average, to convert one in every five of those prospects into a paying client, giving your organization a 20% conversion rate.

Leads (20) x Conversion rate (20%) = Clients (4/month) 

A reasonable estimate of the wholesale value of your time —-considered your production expense—to provide one of your services is $40.00/hour.  You typically bill at $65.00/hour, meaning that your hourly net income is $25.00/hour.

To calculate your profit margin, determine the amount of revenue (before deducting expenses) that your business earned during the calculation period.  For this example, we’ll have you bill those four clients a total of 100 hours/month, as 25 hours each per month, invoiced at your usual $65.00/hour for a total of $6500.00 gross revenue (sales) earned monthly. You invoice each client $1625.00 a month. Your $25.00/hour net income amounts to $2500.00 in a typical month.

Clients (4) x Avg. Dollar Sale ($1625)  =  Revenue $6500.00

The profit margin is calculated by dividing the monthly net income of $2500.00 by the gross monthly revenue (sales) of $6500.00 to reveal a monthly profit margin of 38.46%.  The profit (in contrast to either gross or net revenue) is calculated by multiplying the profit margin of 38.46% X  the gross revenue (sales) of $6500.00, that equals $2500.00/ month profit. You may recognize that figure as your monthly net income!

Revenue ($6500.00) x Profit margin (38.46%) = $2500.00

So there you have it.  As you can deduce, proprietors of service businesses that see few clients each month can, after doing research that helps determine a reasonable wholesale cost of your labor when providing services, can really impact profit by appropriately pricing services offered.  An increase of just $5.00/hour will add $500.00/month to the four client, 25 hours/month per client, total of 100 hours/month scenario presented here.

You’d invoice each client at $1750.00 per month, rather than $1625.00, and your monthly gross revenue (sales) would be $7000.00, a nice improvement over $6500.00/ month. To account for the inevitable fluctuations in Freelancer earnings, I estimate that for 10 months/ year one can reasonably expect to earn at the projected level shown here.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph:  © Girl Scouts of America, circa 1960

Challenges That Impact the Solopreneur Enterprise

There are always challenges associated with operating one’s own business venture. Some challenges are formidable while others are merely annoying.  Many are common and probably inevitable.  Anticipation and preparation are the best defenses and can mostly be addressed in your business plan and its subsequent updates.

TIME CONSTRAINTS

Employees can, on occasion, walk into their office, close the door, and choose to be non-productive for most of the day.  Solopreneurs do not have that luxury.  We must meet or exceed the expectations of clients and prospects every time and hit a home run whenever we walk up to the plate.

Solopreneurs are often faced with a lengthy daily to-do list— client work to perform, a meeting to attend, a workshop to develop, a class to teach, an event with probable networking potential to attend.  Furthermore, there are business operations to maintain, such as financial management, marketing, prospecting and customer service. Every item is mandatory.

Over time, fatigue and a sense of being overwhelmed can develop.  Even depression can manifest. The successful Solopreneur must learn to manage and prioritize routine tasks and in fact consider removing some from the plate through outsourcing.  The judicious use of technological tools that save both time and money is smart management, as they help business processes and customer service operate seamlessly.

Click  here  and  here  to assess no-cost and low-cost apps that not only record the time you spend on project work, but also invoice clients and in some instances, accept accounts receivable payments online.

FOUNDER’S SYNDROME

The reality of a single-person shop is that services that generate billable hours cannot be delivered unless the founder is on the job and able to produce them. That means, if you’d like to attend a multi-day skills training session or take a one or two week vacation, be certain to allow adequate time to make key preparations that will help you to discreetly step away from center stage for a few days.

Tasks that you’ve outsourced, e.g. invoicing or bookkeeping, can continue as pre-arranged, but the production and delivery of the services that are the business must be put on hold until you return.  Learn how to prepare your business for your absence (in this case, a vacation) when you click here.

HOW TO GROW

You work alone and that is why you are called Solopreneur.  To promote the expression of your creativity and ingenuity, it will be wise to remove certain routine tasks from your plate, as noted above.  Grow your organization by giving yourself adequate time to concentrate on the money making functions of a business owner: client acquisition and retention, recognizing potential new revenue streams, including niche markets you might enter, effective and timely business strategies to implement, collaborations, beneficial partnerships and networking.

If you elect to continue to perform all administrative tasks as you work to grow and sustain the business, quality control might become an issue.  Spreading oneself too thin is inadvisable and may result in sub par work, diminished customer service, poor decision-making and fatigue. It is far more preferable to spend the money on outsourced help so that you can maintain or enhance the expectations of your brand.

In closing, I reiterate that when you write a business plan, you will be encouraged to acknowledge and prepare in advance for most of the business challenges mentioned.  The initial marketing plan, financial plan and business model will keep you from falling prey to client list, money management and growth challenges.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Mosaic depicting the Amazon queen Melanippe, courtesy of the Haleplibahce Museum in Urfa, Turkey.

 

Work Smart: Your New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year! Thank you for starting the year with Freelance: The Consultant’s Diary.  This is the 10th Anniversary Year.  I am grateful for your support—subscribers, followers and occasional readers.

Let’s get the year off to a good start and talk about how to maximize the time and effort that you devote to operating your business.  Time is our most valuable resource because it’s irreplaceable.  Smart people are aware that if the goal is to build and sustain a successful venture, then one must formulate strategies designed to produce the best results ASAP.  Working hard is a given, but working smart will get you where you want to go, faster and easier.  The following are behaviors anyone can follow to support the competitive advantage of working smart.

Wake up early

Biologist Christoph Randler, Professor of Biology at the University of Tuebingen in Germany, recommends the early to bed, early to rise philosophy attributed to the American statesman Benjamin Franklin for those who want to become high achievers.

Dr. Randler says early risers are “better positioned for career success because they’re more proactive than people who are at their best in the evening.” Randler theorizes that their success stems from the discipline and conscientiousness associated with the preference for an early wake up call and the tendency of those individuals to make plans and to-do lists to ensure that tasks for the day ahead are completed.

Start your day with an early morning workout and give yourself a blast of energy that keeps you going all day long.  Numerous credible studies have demonstrated that moderate to vigorous exercise of 30-60 minutes duration performed at least three days each week makes us smarter, more resilient and healthier.

Never stop learning

Read books and other publications that address business topics relevant to your industry.  Attend workshops and conferences.  Join a professional association and/or your local chamber of commerce or local business association.

The SBA  and your local public library and/or adult learning center regularly sponsor workshops designed for independent business professionals.  Research the availability of courses that will upgrade your skills in any number of business sectors, from finance to Microsoft Excel, content marketing to selling skills.

In other words, if your goal is to become successful, or to sustain your success, then get some education.  Investigate also the dozens of free courses presented by top-ranked universities that are available on-line at sites such as Open Culture/Business and Coursera.

Ask for help

If you wonder how Freelancer colleagues have been able to build successful ventures that leave yours in the dust, the answer is that they most likely have highly marketable capabilities (perhaps only perceived) and relationships that you do not have.  When choosing to go into business, the smart thing to do is enter a field in which you have expert-level experience that you’ve earned at a company where you also had a job title that not only conveys leadership and but will also guarantee that you’ll know people who will become your first customers.

Along with skills and connections, your successful colleagues most likely had additional help that they hired. A graphic artist with website building talent may have created the beautiful website that navigates so well.  A marketing specialist could have shaped website text to inspire trust and convert visitors into prospects and prospects into customers.

If billable hours are sub par, get creative and consider how you can obtain some free or low-cost help that will guide and support your plan to expand your customer base and grow sales revenue.  Inquire at a local adult learning centers and your public library to investigate development programs.

As well, your local SBA will have retired executives happy to share useful marketing advice and even help you develop effective sales talking points.  In the process, you may refine your ability to recognize which demographic groups have the most potential to become your customers.  Insights into how to price your tangible or intangible services can be another valuable piece of advice you might seek out, since pricing is a cornerstone of a profitable enterprise.

Set boundaries

Sometimes it’s necessary to back away from certain people.  You know, those who seem to have many creative strategies designed to pull you away from that which you must or would like to do, either with finesse or the blunt force of badgering or guilting.  When you’ve made a plan for the day, the last thing you need is some controlling, manipulative person to burst into your life with a mission to upend it.

Pulling away from those who do not respect your boundaries will probably be difficult because boundary bandits are not afraid to make others feel uncomfortable.  They have entitlement issues and they are relentless about enforcing their agenda.  Some will wheedle and whine.  Others will arm-twist and put you up against the wall.  All are out to shake you down.  None is good for your life or your business.

Be strong, fight back and put them in their place.  You alone are authorized to control your time and priorities and not even your parents or siblings have the right to hijack you.  Some relationships may need to be significantly curtailed, if not severed.  It’s sad, but it’s on them and not you.  Your boundaries are nonnegotiable.

Thank you for reading. I wish you the best year ever!

Kim

Image: Hauling Nets on Skagens North Beach, 1883 by Peder Severin Kroyer (Denmark, 1851 – 1909) courtesy of Skagens Museum in Skagen, Denmark

Common Challenges That Impact Solopreneur Ventures

Starting a business is an impressive achievement that’s guaranteed to make you proud, but the real victory lies in your ability to grow and sustain the venture.  A Solopreneur business owner must be both leader and manager, competencies that seldom co-exist within the same person.

Leadership skills support your ability to formulate a guiding vision for your enterprise, recognize business opportunities, devise strategies, find new customers and develop marketing plans, as well as inspire potential investors, collaborators and employees.

Management skills direct your  focus to administrative functions, as well as business operations, financial management, risk management, quality control and customer service.

While it’s recommended that Solopreneurs cultivate both skill sets, it’s probably inevitable that the average person will favor one competency over the other.  Nevertheless, it is important to hone both leadership and managerial capabilities so that you are better prepared to position the venture to overcome the challenges that visit every business, regardless of industry, annual sales revenue, or number of employees.  Discussed below are two of the five common business challenges that we’ll examine.

CLIENT LIST

How many active clients are on your roster? How many do you bill at least $1000/ month, on average? I completely understand that for a Solopreneur, every client counts and that it’s so comfortable to provide services to just one or two clients who are generous with billable hours.

However, succeeding in business means pushing beyond comfort level and actively discouraging one’s tendency to become complacent. Furthermore, depending on one or two big clients for the lion’s share of annual revenue places the business in a vulnerable position.

What will happen to your billable hours if your contact at that company moves on? There can be no guarantee that the next person will continue to send projects your way.  Be advised that the new person has Solopreneur friends with whom s/he has previously worked and it’s reasonable to believe that it will be game over for someone who’s thought to have ridden the gravy train for a number of years.

Demonstrate your leadership skills and protect your venture as you pursue potential prospects to nurture your sales pipeline.  A diversified active client list is an insurance policy.  Furthermore, growing your list of viable prospects encourages you to operate as a real Solopreneur and not just a sub-contractor for a larger entity.

MONEY MANAGEMENT

Early in the life cycle of a business, the most important money matter is simply to earn enough to pay the bills, for the business and your personal life.  On the next rung, you’ll begin to consider the amount of investment capital needed to finance upgrades that will make you and the company appear more competent and trustworthy to clients, prospects and referring colleagues and friends.

The company website must have a professional look and download quickly.  Printed marketing materials must reinforce the superior quality of your brand and communicate your expertise.  Even the look of your invoice matters.  You’ll also need enough revenue to occasionally attend conferences to upgrade your skills and expand your networking options.

BTW, to promote a predictable cash flow, it is not uncommon for Soloprenuers to take a job, whether it’s an under the radar gig such as  bartending or waitressing, or a more typical opportunity such as teaching, where one’s professional skills are parlayed into an arena other than the usual client work.

Unless you have a background in finance, consulting with a good accountant and/ or bookkeeper is the best way to ensure that your venture has astute financial management.  Meet quarterly with a bookkeeper and semi-annually with the accountant to learn how to take the necessary steps to strengthen your business finances.

I’ll return to discuss more common business challenges.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Members of the Acorda Capoeira perform on a roof top in Rio de Janeiro (July 2016)

Shaping the Customer Experience

For all products and services, from the lunch you buy at a favorite restaurant to the purchase of a luxury automobile, the experience of the buying process matters more than ever, it seems. “Service with a smile” barely scratches the surface today. Buying a product or service has officially become a journey, a series of experiences that Freelancers and business owners must create and perfect. There are three phases:

  • The pre-purchase experience, when prospective customers browse advertisements, search company websites and scrutinize social media feeds and online reviews to obtain information about product/ service choices and prices to confirm or modify their expectations.
  • The purchase itself, when product or service choices are finalized, size and color are selected and payment is made. All aspects of the purchase process must be convenient and seamless.
  • The post-purchase experience, as needed, where typical customer service matters such as the (on-time) delivery date will take place and resolution of questions or problems must be quickly and expertly resolved.

As you and your team take steps to design a website that keeps browsers visiting pages and has a good (sales) conversion rate, present across social media channels a story-telling narrative that engages visitors and builds credibility and has excellent and reliable customer service protocols, below are a few things to keep in mind:

Customers want information  The pre-purchase phase continues to grow in importance.  Prospective customers want to know about you and also your competitors, so that comparisons can be made and the product or service that appears to offer the best value will be purchased.

The buying process may begin with an advertisement that you placed.  If your product or service piques interest, the pre-purchase phase will progress to a visit to your company website.  While on the website, social media icons will be clicked and the story you tell on those platforms will be read with interest.  Pre-purchase research often concludes with a visit to online reviewing sites, such as Trip Advisor and Yelp, to confirm the value of your organization, product, or service.

Customers want convenience.   It is imperative that doing business with your organization will be no-stress and easy.  If you don’t have the best turkey sandwich in the neighborhood, you can make up for it by being very convenient for customers to buy from you, online or in person (even as they complain about your product or prices).

Master logistics.  Especially if yours is an e-commerce business, your website must be fully operational as well as easy to navigate, with an intuitive flow.  Last week while shopping for client holiday gifts, I found a lovely little shop that sells very nice air plants, housed in interesting containers and in the right price range.  But the website was down and I didn’t have time to visit the store.  Sadly, I could not buy from my small business colleague. Why the owner felt it would be a good idea to re-do a website in mid-December is beyond me.

Once an order is placed, there is the (outsourced) delivery system on which you depend. Your delivery service will be compared to Amazon, so it’s advisable to take every step to ensure that merchandise deliveries meet customer expectations. If items are out of stock, make sure that you are able to give a very good approximation of when the item(s) will be available.  Finally, packing must be expert to eliminate the chance of damage during transport.

Technology.  There’s no need to splurge on every technology product that’s available, but do invest in those tools that will make a noticeable difference in the ease of doing business with you, in the pre-purchase, purchase, or post-purchase phases of the buying process.  Make it easy to browse, make it easy to get questions answered, make it easy to buy, make it easy to arrange and receive delivery, make it easy to resolve problems.

Timely communication.  The trick is to communicate with customers only when they will perceive the contact as beneficial. Depending on your business, that could be once a month or once a quarter.  Signing customers up for a monthly or quarterly newsletter is an excellent way to keep customers up-to-date about new products or discounts on your products or services. Remember to give an opt-out choice.

Information that you’ve included in your newsletter can be recycled through your social media platforms and website.  During the December holiday season, send cards to customers, including lapsed customers with whom you’ve not received an order in five years.

If there’s been a problem with your product or service, or if a product is out of stock, quickly contact the customer and if the problem is serious, or the customer is upset, a telephone call is recommended.

Building and sustaining a profitable business takes planning and careful execution.  Providing a superior buying experience that carries through the three buying process phases will bring customers to your organization and promote referrals, which continue to be the most effective form of advertising.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Chefs at Sushi Sho Saito in the Akazaka district of Minato, Tokyo

The December Holiday Client Outreach Plan

OK troops, you have just a few days left to take advantage of the biggest and easiest client outreach, retention and relationship building opportunity that we’ll have all year—the December holidays.  No doubt you have favorite clients whom you’d like to thank as well as retain, occasional clients with whom you’d like to work more often and lapsed clients whom you’d be thrilled to welcome back and December is the time to activate this most important component of your client outreach plan.  Whether you will limit your outreach to sending a card, or you’ll present a well-chosen gift to special clients, you must act very soon.  I recommend that you mail cards and distribute gifts no later than December 15, to promote the impression that you are always on top of things.

Congratulations to those of you who wisely placed an order in early November for a holiday card that has your business name professionally printed inside and printed on the envelope, the recipient name and address, plus your business return address.  You’re all set to add a brief note of thanks, stamp, seal and mail.

Those who are not quite so organized still have a handful of days to find a box or two of cards that are suitable for clients, meaning the card will contain neither an overt Christmas theme nor religious message.  Good tidings that “celebrate the season” are best for business relationships.

In addition, clients with whom you have a long-term relationship, or who provide you with generous billable hours (or you’d like to increase the chance that you will soon be on the receiving end of same) consider sending a holiday gift.  Your gift is a lovely gesture that demonstrates gratitude for the business you’ve received and the relationship that has developed.  You needn’t spend a lot of money.  Many useful or attractive gifts can be bought for $50.00 or less.

This year, I’ll give two jars of jam that are made by an acquaintance and I’ll hand deliver them to a short list of clients no later than December 18, with my holiday card tucked into the gift bag.  Home made chutney or artisanal honey also make excellent gifts.  Fruit or other gift baskets are a perennial holiday favorite and I’ve seen prices range from $40.00 to $400.00, depending on contents.  An appealing take on the holiday gift basket is the California Sunflower arrangement of premium dried fruits, priced at $50.00 + shipping.

If you know that a client still finds traditional pocket calendars more convenient, I recommend the pocket diary  by Time Traveler USA.  I’ve happily used the brand for several years.  The calendar offers a one-month view and has space to write in appointments.  There’s also include a weekly view that’s spread over two pages. Diaries come in several colors and are $15 each, plus $2.50 for the gift box.

Then again, you might consider buying a tech gift.  Even non-techies might appreciate potentially useful gifts such as Skullcandy wireless headphones , priced at $35.00 + shipping.  Finally, if you have little time and money to spend on client gifts, look at air plants that come in attractive containters (and be sure to include the care instructions).  Mahoney’s Garden Center has a nice selection at various prices and they’ll ship.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: 18th century Rajasthani painting by Nihau Chand

 

Goal Setting Guidelines

Happy December! Here we are in the last month of the year and like the two-headed Janus, we’re simultaneously looking backward to count our successes and forward to finish the year strong and decide which goals appear to hold the most promise for seeding a successful 1Q2019 and beyond.

There is traditionally much talk about goal-setting at this time of year and many of us climb aboard the train out of a sense of obligation, or even guilt. But maybe we should first spend some time vetting the goals we choose to pursue? For starters, our goals should be tied to benefits that substantively improve our personal or professional lives.

SMART Goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely—are the accomplishments we’d be wise to pursue.  SMART Goals are worthy of the planning, money and other resources that we expend to achieve them. We owe it to ourselves to confirm that the goals we choose are within our capacity to reach them and that they will further our agenda to build a fulfilling professional and personal life.  Ensure that the goals you choose are right for you.

SPECIFIC   Increasing your client list is a worthwhile goal and you’ll have a better chance of achieving it if you define the industry, type, or size of the organizations you’d like to add to your roster.  For example, rather than randomly looking to work with larger not-for-profit organizations, specify your mission. You may elect to pursue not-for-profit organizations that have 100 or more employees and/or an annual operating budget of $1,000,000 – $5,000,000.

MEASURABLE   Identify metrics and milestones that will monitor your progress and inspire you to continue on your path.  The measurements need not be complicated. If you are able to meet with a coveted prospective client, that’s a milestone.  The size of your client list, the number of billable hours and the amount of sales revenue from quarter to quarter are also easy-to-follow and relevant metrics, if they document your progress.  Just be sure to measure that which demonstrates achievement. The last day of each quarter is a good time to examine and evaluate your milestones and metrics.

ATTAINABLE   If earning more money is your goal, give yourself a realistic figure to reach for.  If your average monthly sales revenue is $5000, think about how you can add $500 – $1000 /month.  Expecting to earn $10,000 /month is probably too steep, unless you have one heck of a competitive advantage or you’re about to sign a very big client who will give you game-changing billable hours.

You may be able to eventually earn an additional $500 – $1000/ month with a savvy new marketing plan that’s combined with other strategies, such as a new client acquisition plan, an exciting new product or service that seems to have good sales potential, or an initiative to win back certain lapsed clients.

RELEVANT   Your goals should make sense for your life and business. Keeping up with or surpassing your perceived rivals is not a valid reason to set a particular goal.  Acknowledge the objectives behind the goals and be honest about why you want to pursue them.

TIMELY   The desire to retire at age 50 is still in fashion, but it will be more realistic to start planning no later than age 40, to give yourself a decade to get in touch with what might make you feel fulfilled in your post-working life and understand how you’ll earn enough to make it possible.

What might retirement mean to you? Maybe it means you’ll leave your traditional job and start a home-based craft making business that will see you selling your wares on Etsy and at local Christmas Village markets. Or perhaps it means you’ll not work and instead devote yourself to volunteering and taking long winter vacations spent on the ski slopes? whatever your choice, you’ll need to plan your retirement money carefully. Should you buy investment property that will give you a steady stream of rental income, or invest more aggressively in the surging stock market?

The process of setting goals for yourself and/or your business enables you to define and recognize what success looks like and means to you.  You’ll learn to think strategically about how to grow your business and the resources needed to achieve that growth.  You’ll calculate the money needed for an expansion plan or new equipment, make notes for a first draft of the marketing plan you’ll need to devise, consider the relationships you may want to renew or develop and/or estimate the new staff you may need to hire.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up someplace else.”                   –Peter “Yogi” Berra, former NY Yankees catcher and Baseball Hall of Fame member

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Academy Award winning actor (Best Actor El Cid, 1961) Charlton Heston (center) as Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur (1959)

Contacting the Prospect: Phone or Email?

Email is the preferred business communication format for most of us and the choice usually makes sense.  An email provides a written record of what the parties have discussed and any agreements that have been proposed and accepted (or not).

However, certain nuances of meaning may not be effectively transmitted in an email and for that reason, it is useful to understand when it might be advantageous to discuss certain subjects by telephone.  It is also useful to recognize when a face-to-face meeting will most likely be the ideal communication method.  Much depends upon your purpose, message and relationship with the other party, whether the topic pertains to a business matter or your personal life.

Furthermore, be sensitive to the time you choose to reach out, whether by telephone or email.  Your request for contact may get lost in the shuffle if you email or telephone on Monday morning, late afternoon on Friday, or on the day before a big holiday. 

Telephone when you would like to:

  • Build a relationship
  • Explain a complicated matter
  • Apologize for a product or service failure
  • Close a sale quickly and successfully

On the telephone, you will more easily convey your authenticity, express concerns, telegraph empathy and build trust as compared to what is usually possible through email exchanges, which can sometimes cause the writer to seem cold and can therefore lead to misunderstanding of intent.

For important goals, be advised that it’s sometimes easier for a prospect to say no when communicating by email, so if you’re hoping to get the green-light for a project or sale, pick of the phone and wager that speaking with you personally will persuade your decision-maker prospect to say yes.

When you must contact someone whom you do not know in order to jump-start a sale, picking up the telephone is what you do. A cold-call prospect who receives an email from an unknown party is almost guaranteed to interpret the outreach as spamming and no ethical sales professional wants that ugly slur attached to his/her name and reputation.  Over the telephone, you’ll be positioned to demonstrate that you are both legitimate and trustworthy.

Cold-calling takes considerable resolve and reliable sales data report that it’s effective only about 5% of the time, but you’ll improve your chance of success when you telephone the probable decision-maker.  If you encounter difficulty in reaching the prospect, experiment with the time frame; call at 7:30 – 8:30 AM (except on Mondays) or 4:30 – 6:00 PM (not on Fridays or the eve of a holiday).  When the prospect answers (s/he will!), ask if it’s a good time to speak. 

Choose email when you’d like to:

  • Simultaneously communicate with several people
  • Generate a written record of the discussion and resulting agreements
  • Follow-up
  • Ask a quick question

Should your cold-call prospect agree to evaluate information beyond what you’ve shared in the phone call, follow-up with an email in which you document the highlights of the conversation, especially time-sensitive action items. Remember to thank the prospect for taking time to speak with you and assess the usefulness of your product or service in his/her organization.

When evaluating which communication method might be most effective when planning to approach a sales prospect, consider first his/her rank within the company and probable decision-making authority, along with what you can learn or infer about his/her priorities, concerns, schedule and even age.  Younger and less senior staff members may respond more favorably to email or even SMS (text).

Both the telephone and email have their advantages throughout the sales process.  Know the preferences of whom you are communicating with (ask), remember your objectives and use the communication format that will bring to you the preferred outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Natalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl  (1964)

Time-Tracking Options for Freelancers

We’re back with a review of more time-tracking services that are especially useful for Freelance consultants. Accurately documenting the time spent on project assignments is important in many ways, primarily to ensure that billable hours charged to clients are correct.  Plus, most time-tracking services will generate an invoice that you can click and send and some will also allow you to accept online payments with bank-level security.

In addition, time-tracking services generate useful reports that show the number of hours you spend on certain types of assignments, information that is useful when creating proposals for projects that you’d like to take on, since it will be necessary to predict the time you expect to spend on the proposed project, which will impact your pricing and determine whether it will be most advantageous for you and the client to choose an hourly rate or project fee payment arrangement.

Harvest

Track time spent on projects easily and efficiently with Harvest, even when you need to follow several projects that contain different tasks that are priced differently. Furthermore, when coordinating a team project, you’re able to assign and time-track various tasks within a project for specific team members.

Reporting is a strength: raw time sheet data will be presented in a visual summary that depicts how your time or the team’s time has been utilized, with key project metrics collated into intuitive reports. The service also generates professional-looking invoices based on your project fee or hourly rate, as determined by the time you’ve logged.  Click and send invoices to clients and receive online payment, confident that site security is bank-level.

Harvest is free for one person to track maximum two projects/month and $12 for one person to track an unlimited number of projects/month.  Harvest

RescueTime

Freelancers who’d like to document how they’re spending time when working on a project and who are not kept on a short leash by a manager will appreciate RescueTime.  It’s not possible to send reports to your client, but you can nevertheless track your time and obtain an accurate picture of your productivity.  You will also receive detailed reports that show you the apps and websites you visited.

As well, RescueTime will record time spent on email and the amount of time you linger on any website. If you’d like to limit the time spent on non-work related websites, then ask the system to block your browsing on any chosen site after a certain amount of time.  Further, you can set goals to inspire yourself to stay on schedule with your project. The premium service plan also allows tracking of off-line time for activities such as telephone calls and meetings. RescueTime Lite is free and RescueTime Premium costs $9.00/month, or $72.00/year.   RescueTime

Tick

Each time you submit a time entry, Tick updates your project and task budgets in real time and reports back to you.  If you regularly track time against an hourly rate determined budget, or a project fee that involves an important deadline or penalties for late completion, then Tick may be your ideal time-tracking solution. It’s also possible to track time on multiple projects simultaneously.  While the service can be used by a solo Freelancer, it is especially suited for a team.

Tick is free if a single user employs the service for one project per month, $19.00/month for an unlimited number of users who’ll track a maximum of 10 projects/month and up to $149.00 /month for an unlimited number of workers to time track an unlimited number of projects.   Tick

Toggl

If you neglect to click the session start button, the service will allow you to enter your working time after the fact, which is helpful for those who are very busy and prone to forget. The service is structured with a team in mind, but it works well for solo professionals.

The service works on all devices, desktop and mobile. Helpful analytic reports will be generated, so you’ll get the big picture of where your time is spent, depending on your assigned tasks.  There is a free version, plus Starter and Premium.  The $9.00 /month Starter package appears to give the best value to Freelancers.   Toggl

Klok

Most helpfully, the service lets users recall and analyze data from previous projects, information that enables you to develop proposals for future projects that will more accurately reflect the time needed to reach key milestones and achieve deadlines. The historical time-tracking data will also help you to price at a level that is fair to both you and the client.

The basic package includes a visual display of your time as you work, plus screenshots, exporting of time sheets, dashboard reporting and invoicing all for a one-time purchase price of $20.00 for up to three users.  Klok Cloud Sync, Klonk Pro and Klokwork Team Console are also available.   Klok

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Orloj, the famous 15th century astrological clock in Prague, Czech Republic

Time-Tracking Freelance Work

How many of you use time-tracking so that you can accurately count your billable hours when on assignment? I still count hours the old-fashioned way and I know that I cheat myself out of no less than an hour or so every week. My bad! I’ve occasionally thought about time-tracking assistance, but I never knew where to begin. A new year will soon welcome us and that’s a traditional motivator to set goals and improve work habits.

As I suspected, time-tracking systems have their differences. Some are designed with remote teams in mind; others make a department manager’s life easier. Certain time-tracking systems have been created to address the needs of Freelancers and we’ll sort through a sampling here:

Due Time Tracking

Due Time is free and easy to use—just create a task, start the timer and launch your session. You can click and add notes to detail the project you’re working on. Due Time also includes an automatic idle time detection feature, so you’re able to make allowances for stepping away from your project now and again and still remain accurate in tracking your work hours.

You’ll be pleased to find that Due Time will generate hourly rate or project fee invoices when you enter the rate. Due Time makes it easy to organize client information by name, address, or even payment currency.  Due Time

TopTracker

Along with tracking the number of hours you spend on project tasks, Top Tracker offers screen shots and webcam shots that document your work. Screen shot pages can be deleted or configured to automatically blur before uploading, so that the image is recognizable to you but all text is obscured. The service works with nearly every freelancing platform and will produce a detailed project activity report to document your performance. The service is free.  TopTracker

Sighted Time Tracking and Invoicing

Sighted Time Tracking seamlessly integrates the functions of time-tracking and invoicing, packaged in either the free Basic Service plan or the Premium Plan at $4.00 /month. You can make detailed project notes for every session and also automatically send invoices for hours worked that are customized for billable hours or project fee.

Furthermore, users can send out quotes to prospects when invited to bid on a project and accept credit or debit card payments online and issue a receipt to the client. Plus, you can do it all on your desktop or mobile device.  Sighted

Tick

Each time you submit a time entry, Tick updates your project and task budgets in real time and reports it back to you.  If you regularly track your time against an hourly rate budget of project fee that involves an important deadline or penalties for late completion, then Tick may be your ideal time-tracking solution. It’s even possible to track time on multiple projects simultaneously.  While the service can be used by a solo Freelancer, it is especially suited for a team.

Tick is free if a single user employs the service for one project per month, $19.00/month for an unlimited number of users who’ll track a maximum of 10 projects/month and up to $149.00 /month for an unlimited number of workers to time track an unlimited number of projects.  Tick

Four more time-tracking options will be examined in the next post. Have a good week!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Sundial at the Gate of Honour at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridgeshire, England

Selling to Small Businesses

While billion dollar revenue enterprise companies, along with disruptive technology focused start-ups and their Millennial Generation hoodie-wearing founders receive overwhelming attention in the business press, let’s remember that America is a nation of primarily small and medium-sized business ventures.

As documented in a 2018 report published by the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 27.9 million privately run businesses in the U.S. and 23 million are owned and operated by Solopreneurs.  SMBs employ 47.9 % of the private workforce (non-governmental, for-profit organizations), 58.9 million people. Twenty million SMBs have fewer than 20 employees; the median income of self-employed owners of incorporated businesses in 2016 was $50,347 and the median income of self-employed owners of sole proprietorships was $23,060.

The majority of SMBs have limited budgets for what some owners perceive as non-essential services—marketing, advertising, or IT, for example. Yet, SMB owners will from time to time of necessity feel the need to purchase such services. Timing most likely plays a big factor in your ability to make a sale but should the opportunity land in your lap, you must handle it skillfully. Selling to the SMB owner is a delicate business.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Demonstrate excellent value

Nevertheless, there is money to be made in the SMB market. The social media marketing company HubSpot and Google have made untold millions in profits by targeting SMBs. In your sales pitch, detail the story of a client who shared a similar goal or faced a similar challenge, so that the SMB owner can get a clear picture of how your product or service can help him/her achieve goals.

If you can provide a link to a case study that’s on your website or social media, so much the better. SMB owners are usually worried about how they can cover expenses and simultaneously make their desired profit and they are cautious about spending money.  Show your SMB prospect that your product or service will solve the problem or see to it that the goal is achieved.

Describe how your product or service can help grow the business

Profit, growth and financial stability are the big goals of SMB owners. If you want the sale, identify preferably tangible benefits that will enhance one or more of those metrics. New customer acquisition and customer retention are also important benefits to emphasize.

Deliver results in the near term

Whatever your product or service, the faster that some portion of the ROI can be documented, the better. Too many SMB owners are concerned about cash-flow and they need to see that their investment in your product or service delivers the expected results ASAP.  When considering whether to pursue the SMB market, evaluate whether your product or service can deliver benefits quickly, at least in part.

Follow up and follow through

When selling to the SMB owner, you would be wise to under-promise and over-deliver. Your enthusiastic sales presentation must carry forward into enthusiastic customer service as well. If there is difficulty with the implementation of the product or service you sold them, meaning that the ROI cannot materialize within the expected time frame, your SMB client may very well discontinue the service and cancel future orders if you do not quickly rectify the problem.

But if you are knowledgeable, transparent and dependable, you will be positioned to  receive repeat business from your client and referrals to colleagues in his/her network.  SMB owners are often part of a community of trusted fellow business owners and most will be happy to spread the word about your good work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Photograph: The Arthur Anderson Barber Shop in Mattoon, IL circa 1920. Mr. Anderson is standing at right, and employee Sidney Williams stands at left.                                 Courtesy of Eastern Illinois University

Who Gets the 1099?

The year is drawing to a close and we’re crossing into the 11th month. Before you become enmeshed in the celebrations and obligations that the holidays demand of us, do yourself a favor and commence your tax planning. Create an accounts receivable and  invoicing strategy once you’ve decided when it would be most advantageous to receive payment for services rendered in this calendar/ tax year or the next. IRS Form 1099-MISC will be at the center of the action; understanding when you’ll need it and when you might avoid it is your goal.

The payment in question is $600, whether it was paid or received by your organization. Review the accounts receivable history of clients for whom you performed small jobs earlier in the year.  If a client paid you less than $600 in this calendar year, you will not receive or need to file a Form 1099-MISC for the money earned on that assignment.

Start with the easy stuff.  If you find yourself in mid-contract with a client as December approaches and the project isn’t urgent, might it be possible to work until just before Christmas and then resume work in the first week of January, if it appears that will allow you to cap your billable amount at less than $600 for the client in this calendar/ tax year?  That can be one less 1099-MISC to file and a little more money added to your P & L.

If the client has a deadline don’t even think of such a thing but if there is no urgency, why not ask the client if s/he might find it more convenient to take a “holiday break” starting in mid or late December? Many employees take vacation days at the end of the year in a “use it or lose it” strategy and offices can be short-handed just before Christmas and through the end of the year.  I suggest that you refrain from mentioning the tax implications.  Frame your suggestion as a way of being sensitive to what may be going on in the client’s office, i.e., customer service.

Similarly, might you be able to defer until the New Year certain invoices, as a way to keep a lid on this year’s income and taxes and wait until the first week of January to send accounts receivable for work that was performed in December? Let a couple of hours work spill over into January and make your New Year invoice legal.

Now let’s consider the 1099-MISC forms that you will generate and send.  Did you hire any sub-contractors to help you fulfill the terms of a project? Have you hired a part-time bookkeeper or social media expert or editor for your newsletter? If you paid $600 or more to anyone for business services or rents in this calendar/ tax year, then you must send that individual/ company a Form 1099-MISC no later than January 31 of the upcoming year.

So that you will have the information to complete the Form 1099-MISC, it will be necessary to request that all of your vendors and other business services providers complete a Form W-9, ideally before the work they perform commences.  Download Form W-9

Among the important pieces of information that the W-9 will surface is if your service provider’s business is incorporated as a chapter C or S entity, or an LLC or partnership that is taxed as a C or S corporation.  Along with commercial rent paid to or through a property management company (instead of the property owner), a 1099-MISC will not be required for those types of entities when payments for services rendered meet or surpass $600.

Payments for services rendered made by gift card, debit, or credit card are not to be included in the 1099-MISC tally.  Instead, the card issuers will send a Form 1099-K to your subcontractors, vendors, or you when the amount paid for business services rendered meets or surpasses $600.

Obtaining the 1099-MISC is an adventure. You must order forms from the IRS, or visit an IRS service center and pick up a few. The form is not available for downloading.  Click here to order Form 1099-MISC.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Tax Collector, 1542   Marinus van Reymerswaele (1490 – 1546)                  Courtesy of Alte Pinakothek Museum in Munich, Germany