Resources to Grow Your One Person Shop

Every business owner dreams of growing his/her venture into a thriving entity and some even enact plans to make that happen. Once in a while, a business owner has the good fortune to create a venture that takes off like a rocket but usually, building a business is a slow boil. Whatever your circumstances, it will take time and resources to grow and expand your enterprise.

Most business owners and Freelancers think first of investment capital, an additional product or service line, or increasing the client list and billable hours when contemplating what it will take to grow revenues and profit, but the process of building a bigger business almost always requires additional staffing as well. For the typical business, that means deciding whether new staff members will be full or part-time employees. Freelancers face a different picture, however, since most work alone. Still, additional staffing will make it possible for you to more quickly and effectively position your Freelance consultancy for growth.

So what kind of hired help might a Freelancer bring on, once the growth strategy has been determined? Start by considering which of your business functions might be successfully outsourced, perhaps to a fellow Freelancer. Specialized tasks, such as your quarterly tax preparation and filing, can be performed by a Freelance bookkeeper. Your new bookkeeper will also be able to prepare and send 1099 forms to those who bill $600 or more/year to you for professional services rendered. Furthermore, your bookkeeper can ready the information that you’ll deliver to your accountant for the annual tax preparation and filing.

Accounts receivable and accounts payable functions are other tasks that a bookkeeper can take on, since these are financial transactions. Accounts receivable management means invoicing, a task that many Freelancers have difficulty keeping up with. You’ll have to supply information about the project fee, payment schedule, hourly rate and hours worked for each billable client, but the invoices will be prepared and emailed on time. Moreover, a savvy bookkeeper will give you valuable advice about maintaining healthy business cash-flow and other financial management suggestions.

Marketing tasks, including the editing of your blog and/or newsletter (which you may prefer to continue writing yourself), is another business function that might be successfully outsourced to a fellow Freelancer. If LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms play a regular part in your marketing campaigns, then contact a social media marketing expert to discuss how s/he can help your organization.

A talented marketing expert will bring a fresh perspective and innovative ideas that can reinvigorate your overall marketing strategy, refine your approach to social media and also manage social media postings on your preferred platforms. Not only that, your Freelance marketing specialist will read and analyze statistics for each platform and use the info to guide future campaigns.

When you’ve removed a few important, yet time-consuming, tasks from your plate, you can then freely direct a laser focus on finding and creating opportunities that will ensure that you achieve business goals. You’ll design and implement an effective launch strategy for the new products or services you plan to introduce. You’ll have time and energy to network your way into a longer client list or pursue new or niche markets that will enlarge your customer base and pump up your billable hours and sales revenue. You might also explore outside funding sources that will allow you to purchase new equipment or open your first office.

Now that you understand the role that staffing plays in business growth, let’s take a look at the hiring process. Personal referrals are usually a good place to start and no doubt between the contacts you’ve made at business association events that you at least occasionally visit and your list of contacts, potential candidates will surface. You might also try an online resource such as LinkedIn ProFinder or Upwork. The Freelancers on these sites are carefully vetted and closely monitored to ensure that they meet client expectations. As you interview potential hires, keep a few things in mind:

EXPERIENCE—Does the candidate possess the necessary skill set to be an asset to you and your business? Ask to see examples of the kind of work that you’ll request.

RAPPORT—You will discuss matters close to your heart with this person, so it will be important that the two of you communicate well and get along.

AVAILABILITY—Does the candidate have time to take on the projects that you need to get done? If you envision just 4-6 hours of work per month, for example, is the candidate willing to take on such an assignment? Also, if you expect emails and phone calls to be answered on the same business day, make that known. Get agreement on when the business day begins and ends and how each of you expects requests made over the weekend to be handled.

FEE—Shop around and get quotes from three or four service providers, but understand that the lowest fee may not result in the best value for dollars spent.

REFERENCES—Inquire as to the types of clients your candidate has worked with. Ask to speak with two current or former clients, so that you understand the depth of expertise and the type of customer service that your candidate provides.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Nina Leen, 1948. Eileen Ford (1922-2014), co-founder with her husband Jerry Ford (d.2008) of the Ford Modeling Agency, at their New York City office. Ford Modeling Agency represented supermodels through the decades, including Cheryl Tiegs, Lauren Hutton, Naomi Campbell, Suzy Parker and Jeannie Shrimpton.

Advertisements

How to Make Better Decisions

Making good decisions is a crucial life skill and a defining component of success in life and business but so many times we wonder what the best course of action might be. Theoretically, we make decisions after evaluating the available information, weighing the potential impact of our actions (or inaction) and determining what appears to be the best option. But truth be told, we rarely have all the information that could guide us as we decide and as a result, decision-making is loaded with unknowns. Not only that, our perception of the best course of action is inevitably shaped by our past experiences and personal biases.

Fortunately, methods exist that have been designed to limit some percentage of the unknowns and biases inherent in decision-making. One approach, a type of strategic planning known as scenario planning, has been attributed to 1950s era executives at the RAND Corporation.

In its most simplified form, scenario planning involves imagining three possible future environments for each decision alternative: a future where things get better, a future where things get worse and a future where they stay about the same. Scenario planning also allows decision-makers to factor in variables: what you know, what you don’t know and what you don’t know you don’t know.

Scenario planning requires decision-makers (and strategic planning teams) to think outside the box and imagine what might happen if a certain road is taken and then create a story line that “paints a picture” of what your life or business will look like while on that road.

When faced with an important decision, we all tell ourselves a story that describes an idealized version of what our life will look like if we do (or avoid) a certain thing. For example, if you’re thinking of changing careers, you tell yourself a story of how much more satisfying and/or lucrative work will become if you make the change. If you’re considering a move to a warmer climate because you’ve had enough of winter, your story focuses on the avoidance of snow and ice and the warm, soft breezes that await in the new location.

If you include a scenario planning exercise in your decision process, you’ll be encouraged to fill in a few more potentially relevant details that go beyond the rosy picture that you paint as you daydream about new possibilities. If you’re seriously considering a job change, scenario planning will guide you to fully investigate, among other things, the credentials or professional experience you must earn to successfully change careers and how much time and money that will cost you. The ROI of the career change is another component you’ll examine as you objectively evaluate your likely job prospects and reasonable expectations for professional advancement and earning ability.

In addition to scenario planning, there is also a clever decision-making support tactic called the “pre-mortem” that was developed by psychologist Gary Klein, Ph.D. and his team in 1989. Inspired by the post mortem, when a coroner or hospital pathologist performs an autopsy on the deceased to determine the cause of death, Klein’s pre-mortem technique flips the script. “Our exercise,” Dr. Klein explains, “is to ask decision-makers to imagine that it is months into the future and that their plan has been carried out—-and it has failed. That is all they know; they have to explain why they think it failed.”

So you think you want to move to Florida? OK, so you move down in early November, just ahead of winter. You’ve got no snow to shovel and that’s a relief. But there are alligators on the golf course and you know, those things eat pets and people. You’ve been down there for 8 months and you’ve had to call an exterminator 3 times because there are these scary bugs crawling through your house. Not only that, but Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas when the temperature was 80 degrees. Oh, and in the winter everyone you know begged to stay with you for a week so they could escape the snow and ice but you were in no mood to entertain people because your vacation is scheduled for August. Maybe this move was not the greatest choice? The pre-mortem will make you think about many potential downsides to your decision and help you understand if you can live with the fallout.

Klein attests that the pre-mortem has proved to be a much more effective way to recognize the lurking flaws in a decision. Magical thinking, from groupthink to confirmation bias, blinds us to potential pitfalls once we’ve become attached to a decision. By forcing ourselves to imagine scenarios where a decision turned out to be disastrous, we can discover the holes in the plan.

Eventually you must pull the trigger and commit to a decision. In some cases, working through the initial phases of decision-making will lead to an obvious choice. But if a decision you can accept still seems unattainable, the final phase can be completed with an old-school pros and cons list. What have you got to lose?

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Image: Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848 – May 8, 1903) detail of “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (1978-98) courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Post-Speech Q & A

Everything has gone swimmingly with your presentation. The room is full, you held the attention of audience members and your timing was spot on. There are 10 minutes left for the question and answer session. You think you’ve won, but you have no idea how vulnerable you are.

Speakers often don’t realize it, but those brief minutes in the post-speech Q & A session have the potential to become your Achilles’ heel. The post-speech Q & A is un-mapped territory. You don’t know what’ll be thrown at you. The Q & A is a variable that few speakers prepare for, because they assume they can’t prepare for it and so they wing it and figure they’ll muddle through. Not!

As Tesla CEO Elon Musk now knows, winging the Q & A can be a grave mistake. At the conclusion of a May 2018 investor’s meeting speech, Musk had a heated exchange with a financial analyst who asked a couple of apparently incisive questions. Musk didn’t come out of it looking good. You may have heard that Musk has recently said “lack of sleep” and “stress” have been wearing him down. Sorry, it’s a weak excuse.

Executive Coach and speaker John Millen points out that when speakers mishandle post-speech or other questions, they can appear uninformed, hostile, or even dishonest. “How leaders answer questions is enormously important in building trust. If you come into a high-stakes situation talking to investors, employees, regulators (or a potential client) and you don’t communicate properly, there can be huge problems.” So let’s consider tactics that can bring you through your next post-speech Q & A with flying colors.

PREPARE

Take all precautions to avoid being perceived as clueless, shady, or defensive. If a question is posed for which you don’t have an answer, say “That issue is under review and I don’t yet have enough information to answer.” You can also turn it around and ask the questioner “Why is that important to you?” The answer may open your eyes to aspects of the subject that you had not previously considered and can be a teachable moment for you.

Start the process by thinking your subject through so that you can anticipate questions that could be asked. Next, do some audience research and ask the program organizer if there might be audience members who could oppose your goals or point of view, so you can rehearse answers designed to neutralize a campaign to undermine you.

CALL IT OUT

Be mindful of aspects of your speech that could potentially seem controversial to certain audience members. A good defensive tactic is to proactively address a possibly sensitive matter in your speech, preferably toward the end or in your concluding remarks. Acknowledge the elephant in the room.

“That way, when it comes up again from the audience you could say ‘Right. As I said earlier…,’ Millen advises. “Then you are reinforcing your answer and it feels more truthful and honest.” Also, you’ll avoid allowing an angry questioner to set the tone. “You can get it out there on your own terms,” Millen notes.

CHERRY PICKING

Sometimes a speaker is hit with a multi-part question and when that happens, the recommendation is to answer that part of the question you can answer most adroitly, the part that reinforces your viewpoint or supports your goal. Speakers can usually get away with this tactic because audience members may not remember the entire question and in fact, they may have little patience with a complicated question. So cherry pick those parts that you want to answer and slide away from what you are unable or unwilling to answer.

NEUTRALIZE OPPOSITION

Unfortunately, there could be an audience member who doesn’t so much have a question, but an axe to grind or s/he is in search of attention. Jo Miller, founder and CEO of Be Leaderly, a professional development training consultancy based in Cedar Rapids, IA, cautions speakers against getting defensive when encountering such a questioner. “The best way to deal with those questions is to maintain a confident and unapologetic posture,” she says. Miller suggests that adopting a tone of amusement can help get the audience on your side. She adds “Respond as if you are enjoying a game of intellectual ping-pong.”

EXPERT HELP

If you are a company leader who will speak to employees, investors, an important client, or others with whom you must build trust and meet or exceed expectations, bring along two or three ranking team members and have them ready to step in and answer questions aligned with their areas of expertise. In other words, defer to the experts, share the spotlight and promote leadership skills development as you do.

End the Q & A on an upbeat, positive note and if possible, after you’ve given a well-received response to a question. If you are asked two or more challenging questions, Millen recommends that you
“Tell them they’re asking the right questions, then bring it back to your overall message. They (the audience) shouldn’t leave with a bad taste in their mouths.”

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Image: Cesare Maccari 19th century fresco depicts statesman, lawyer and orator Cicero (January 3, 106 BC – December 7, 43 BC) as he excoriates Senator Lucius Sergius Catilina (108BC – 62 BC) in the Roman Senate for Catilina’s role in the conspiracy to overthrow the Republic and, in particular, the aristocratic Senate. Courtesy of the Palazzo Madama (Rome).

Update Your Competitive Intelligence

At any point in the life of your business, it’s wise to update your competitive information. Depending on the type of enterprise that you operate, refreshing your competitive info can be as easy as taking a 30 minute walk around your neighborhood and making note of new businesses that are preparing to open. Reading local newspapers is also useful, since there is frequently mention of new stores and restaurants that are scheduled to open.

Your customers can be excellent sources of competitive information as well, in particular if your venture draws primarily from customers who live or work in the immediate neighborhood, and that’s another reason why you, business owner friend, want to develop good relationships with customers.

B2B service providers don’t have it so easy when it comes to obtaining vital or actionable competitive information, I’m afraid. The problem is, there’s often no way to know the identities of competitors. Everyone who offers services similar to what your organization offers, everyone who works with clients of a similar profile ($1 million or less in annual revenue, $1 million to $10 million in annual revenue, and so on) and everyone who submits a proposal for an assignment on which you’ve also bid is a competitor. It’s nebulous, to say the least, but nevertheless I encourage you to find ways to extract relevant competitive data from every available source.

Reading your industry and other business journals and joining a networking or skills development organization tailored to your specialty is probably the most effective way to confirm which services that clients you want to work with are requesting most often as well as the services they may request in the future.

It won’t hurt to create a more or less formal Competitive Analysis document (an Excel spreadsheet will work nicely) for your information, so that you can review and update as desired. In your Competitive Analysis spreadsheet you can identify your direct and indirect competitors and perhaps choose to focus on four or five, maximum. If you can learn enough to evaluate their strategies and determine their strengths and weaknesses in comparison to your business, so much the better, but it’s more likely that you’ll only be able to document the products and services they offer and check out their client lists. If you see ways that you can rename or repackage one or more of your own services in the hopes of making yourself more marketable, then by all means go for it.

Another compelling and potentially actionable reason to perform a Competitive Analysis is to enable yourself to evaluate what makes your products and services unique in ways that appeal to clients. It’s especially important for B2B service providers to articulate any distinct competitive advantages you have over the competitors you’ve identified.

Furthermore, you can refine your data and clarify the picture by grouping competitors according to how directly they compete against you. It may be helpful to ask yourself questions that will serve to further describe your competitors. These questions include:

1. Who are your top three direct competitors and how busy are they?
2. What services do competitors offer that you don’t and vice versa? What might that mean to clients?
3. Can you assess your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses?
4. In which media outlets do competitors advertise and how frequently do the ads run?
5. What other types of marketing do your top three direct competitors do?
6. What potential threats do your competitors pose to the marketing of your products or services?
7. Do you see additional opportunities for marketing your products and services, in terms of new customer groups, niche markets, or reconfigured service packages?

Pricing is also a big factor in competitive information and once again, B2B service providers are at a disadvantage when it comes to obtaining pricing information about competitors. However, there is a way to gain insight into the pricing of similar services in different parts of the country by checking out the bidding prices listed in the U.S. Government contracting system MOBIS. See “view catalogue” on the far right. Choose a company and click. Scroll through and find pricing info for that company.

MO
BIS

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Newsletters, the Jewel in the Crown of Content Marketing

Email marketing remains a highly effective way to engage and connect with clients, prospects and referral sources.  Email marketing can take several forms and according to marketing experts, newsletters are the most effective format.  There are few content marketing tactics that do a better job of attracting, retaining and even winning back lapsed clients than a newsletter that contains well-presented, relevant information that arrives on a regular basis.

Whether readers discover your newsletter while browsing your website or it’s delivered to inboxes by an email marketing service, a newsletter (or blog) will build and enhance your brand, keep your business at top-of-mind, drive traffic to your website and encourage prospective clients and referral sources to learn more about your products and services.  Listed here are building blocks that will help you create a newsletter that will reflect well on your expertise, your business and your brand.

  1. Goals   The newsletter will be one component of your overall marketing /content marketing strategy.  Acknowledging that your newsletter is the cornerstone of your content marketing strategy and that your content marketing strategy plays a leading role in your overall marketing strategy will help you to identify appropriate goals and metrics that will monitor the success rate of your marketing activities. Consider how launching a newsletter will support your organization’s marketing goals.  Are you looking to generate leads and sales? Or are you attempting to establish yourself as a thought-leader and expert as a way to build trust and attract more prestigious clients, expand referrals, get a teaching appointment, or speaking engagements?
  2. Frequency   Decide what your schedule will allow you to do in terms of researching sources and publishing original content.  Be realistic about your time, because sticking to a predictable publishing rhythm will be important to your readers.  Choose as your publishing schedule a date (like the 1st, 15th, or 30th of the month) or a day (the 3rd Tuesday, for example).  A monthly newsletter will help you to build readership most efficiently, but a bi-monthly schedule might be OK.
  3. Template   Reinforce your visual brand and use the colors and graphic style elements used in your business cards and website also in your newsletter design.  An online search will bring you to numerous free newsletter templates and email marketing services will have templates as well.  Choose a template that you like and that will be easy to read.  Readers should be able to quickly scan topic headlines.  Make sure that your template will allow you to upload images as desired. Hubspot, the Cambridge, MA content marketing firm, in a recent survey found that 65% of email marketing readers prefer images to text when reading newsletters.  It’s also important to choose a template that will give sufficient “above the fold” space for you to create headlines that encourage readers to dive in. “Above the fold” is a newspaper industry term that describes the area above the fold in the newspaper.  In a digital newsletter, above the fold refers to what readers can see without scrolling.  Place your best headlines above the fold to reel in readers.
  4. Mobile friendly   A 2018 study by Adestra, a U.K.-based email marketing service, found that 59% of emails are first opened on mobile devices but according to Marketing Land, a digital publication whose target readers are marketing professionals, only 17% of marketers regularly send responsive emails.  Take the steps to format your newsletter in responsive design, so that it will be easy to read on a smart phone or tablet.
  5. Newsletter content   Create a newsletter that consistently delivers to readers  information that they are likely to find interesting and useful.  There are those whose idea of a newsletter consists of links to articles that have appeared in industry journals, sometimes accompanied by a personally written prelude.  That’s probably OK to do two or three times a year, but I highly recommend that you research a topic or two and write 800 – 1500 words of original content.  Your newsletter does not have to exceed two pages, including photos or short videos.
  6. Subscriber base   Your mission will be to capture as many email addresses as ethical behavior allows (no spamming please!).  Take a passive approach and make it possible for readers to subscribe on your website.  Take an active approach and initiate a business card exchange as you meet people in your travels.  Mention that you have a newsletter that covers a particular topic and ask if they’d like to receive it.  If the answer is yes, then you’ll add a new name to your list.  Include an unsubscribe feature in your newsletter template.  Check the statistics of your newsletter, in particular the bounce rate and open rate.  Correct or remove bad email addresses, to keep the list clean and your statistics accurate.  According to Mailchimp, the average newsletter open rate is 20%.  However, when you publish a newsletter that consists of original content that readers value, the open rate can be much higher.  From 2012 – 2016, I was the principal author of a women’s club newsletter (I am still a member) and the open rate approached 70%.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Bob Bernstein (l) and Carl Woodward at The Washington Post in May 1973. The two won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973 for their reporting on the Watergate story.  ©Associated Press

Freelance Projects: Cover Legal Bases and Manage Expectations

The number of Freelance professionals working in the U.S. continues to increase. According to a 2017 survey jointly conducted by Upwork, the online marketplace that connects prospective employers with Freelance professionals in search of project work and The Freelancers Union, a not-for-profit organization that provides advocacy and health insurance to Freelance workers, 36% of the U.S. labor force derives at least some portion of annual income from Freelance work assignments.  The survey authors predict that by 2024, the percentage of Freelance workers in the U.S. will grow to include 50% of adults employed full-time.

1099 or W2?

If your organization plans to increase staffing, make it a priority to understand worker classification rules.  The Internal Revenue Service and state Departments of Revenue are watching and you don’t want to run afoul of the law.  There are three factors that help employers determine whether their staffing plan points to hiring a Freelance contract worker who will receive a 1099 form in January, or a part-time or full-time employee who will receive a W2 form in January.  If the answer to one or more of the questions below is yes, your new hire would be classified as a Freelance contractor.

1. Is there an expectation that the worker has the right to simultaneously provide  similar services for other organizations?

  • Does the worker have a business website and/or social media accounts
  • Does the worker have a business bank account
  • Does the worker have his/her own business cards and other marketing materials
  • Did the worker form a legal entity for his/her business (LLC or corporation)
  • Can the worker choose when and where the work is performed

2. Does the worker use his/her own equipment and office supplies when at work?

3. Must the worker invoice your organization to receive payment for services rendered?

Project specs in writing

Whether expressed in a formal contract or in an email, a smart Freelancer will commit to writing all duties that a client requests.  The project deadline, milestones and total fee should also be included.

Copyright exception

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, the general rule is that the person who creates a work is its legal author and owner.  The exception to that rule is “work made for hire,” i.e., a creative project or work assignment that is specially commissioned by the hiring company and produced by a non-employee.  When project work qualifies as a work made for hire the commissioning party, i.e. the company, is considered to be the work’s author and legal owner.

It’s worthwhile to include in any Freelance work contract a clause that describes the work produced for the company by the Freelancer as work made for hire, to make clear the ownership of any text, body of work, or images produced by the Freelancer.

Project payment schedule

The client and the Freelancer will discuss and agree to the project fee and its format, whether flat fee or hourly rate.  Especially in a flat fee agreement, clients are often asked to pay the Freelancer some portion of the fee in advance of beginning the project work.  When that advance is paid, it is expected that the Freelancer will immediately begin the project work.

Interim payments may be tied to the achievement of agreed-upon project milestones, or to an agreed-upon timetable.  Final payment is made at the conclusion of the project, typically within 30 days of completion.

The Freelancer should specify if credit card payments are accepted, or if checks are preferred.  How the check should be made out must be specified and tax ID information must be provided when the amount of the project will reach or exceed $600, per IRS rules.

To sum up, the Freelancer will draw up a contract that will include all important points of the work agreement. Ideally, the contract that will be signed by employer and Freelancer and each will retain a copy (but an email will suffice in most cases). 

  • Duties for which the Freelancer will be responsible
  • Project milestones
  • Project deadline
  • Work made for hire agreement
  • Project fee total amount and the payment schedule

The employer will send to the Freelancer a W9 form, which will provide the information necessary to create the 1099–MISC form that is required when payments to the Freelancer will reach or exceed $600 in a given year.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Perry Mason (CBS-TV Season 1, Episode 9, November 16, 1957) l-r Raymond Burr (Attorney Perry Mason), Pierre Watkin (Judge Keetley), Carol Leigh (Veronica Dale)

Storytelling Made Simple

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?“—Travis Bernard, content marketing guru at TechCrunch, the leading technology industry blog based in San Francisco, CA

Whaddaya say we learn how to put together a good story for your marketing content? Some people are natural storytellers and others aren’t, but it’s always useful to develop and hone the art of storytelling when one is a public speaker and that includes Freelancers, business owners and sales professionals who must speak with prospective clients to generate sales or billable hours.  Your story need not be long and elaborate.  In fact, a concise narrative will be more memorable and impactful.

Your content marketing story will describe a client experience journey.  The story will feature three main characters—the hero, the villain and the mentor.  The story will have a beginning, middle and end.  A call-to-action, when you encourage your content reader to act on the information that you’ve shared, will be the story’s epilogue.

The hero of the story will have a problem to solve or avoid, a challenge to overcome, and that is the goal.  The hero will be waylaid or deceived by the villain, that is, an obstacle that is preventing him/her from achieving the goal.  The hero must seek knowledge and guidance from a mentor during the journey and that is your role, storyteller friend.

Act I is when the hero acknowledges that there is a problem to solve.  There is a goal to achieve and an effective solution will be necessary.

Act II will describe the magnitude of the problem and the failures of various less than stellar solutions that the hero has tried and discarded (homegrown remedies or competitive products).

Act III is where you come in, the mentor who helps the hero make sense of the possible solutions and explains how your product or service can resolve the matter.  The hero agrees to adopt your product or service and the problem is resolved.  The hero looks like a genius to his/her superiors and colleagues.

The Epilogue features the call-to-action, when you show the content reader how to obtain an effective solution for his/her goal, a solution that will overcome the challenge and make the content reader look like a hero to the higher-ups.

Be advised that the hero of the content story is never the product or service.  The hero of the story is the protagonist, s/he who takes action and moves the journey forward to its triumphant conclusion.  The client is always the hero of the story.  You, the storyteller and possessor of expertise, serve as a mentor, to ensure that the hero will prevail and achieve the goal.  Your product or service supports the hero by overcoming the challenge and enabling achievement of the goal.

The purpose of your content/ story is to persuade the reader to act upon the information that you’ve delivered.  Integral to persuading the reader is to build trust in you as a mentor/ expert and confidence in the solutions that you recommend and provide. You may be able to persuade content readers to give your post a Like, or share it with others.  The ultimate validation is when content readers are so confident in your proposed solution that they click through to your website shopping cart or contact you to ask questions about how you might handle a project.

Finally, you’ll need a specific story to tell (and eventually, you’ll have two or three more). Without naming names, your content/ story will the based on a client who has successfully used your product or service.  If you will tell your company’s brand story to promote awareness, your content story will illustrate why company founders were motivated to form the venture and include mention of the mission, values and guiding principles.

Client experience journey content stories, or your company’s brand story, can be included in your blog, social media posts, white papers, videos and so on. You’re sure to find that they help prospects envision their own circumstances and how your products or services can be useful.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Portrait of Clementina Maude (circa 1862) taken by her mother, Lady Clementina Hawarden (Viscountess Hawarden of England, 1822-1865)

Content Marketing Survey Findings

In 2016 the PA based marketing services company Clutch surveyed 300+ producers of online B2B content to obtain insight into how readers find, engage with and act on digital business-themed content.

The Clutch Content Marketing Survey 2016 interviewed 300+ expert content marketing writers from across the U.S. to determine how those who produce B2B content can most effectively create, publish and promote content for their organizations.  Key findings were:

  • 88% of online B2B content consumers read business content at least once a week
  • 45% of online B2B content consumers read content to stay current with trends in their respective industries
  • 20% of online B2B content readers use content to help make decisions about whether to purchase products or services
  • 45% of online B2B content consumers read about technology, 24% read about small
    business and 21% read about workplace/ HR topics
  • 87% of online B2B content readers visit search engines to look for business content
  • 85% of online B2B content readers commonly find business content on social media

Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer at the Content Marketing Institute in New York City, emphasizes that “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable information to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” In other words, the goal of your content marketing posts, videos, podcasts and images should be to develop a relationship with your customers, using relevant content to win them over.

main goals for content marketing

Furthermore, the expert content marketers surveyed advised that target audience personas are the most important attributes to consider when developing your content marketing strategy. “Most businesses have an idea about their audience and how it is segmented but, when it comes to taking those audiences into a content marketing strategy, they often flounder,” said Quinn Whissen, Marketing Director at Vertical Measures, a content marketing agency in Phoenix, AZ.

types of content enterprise companies create most frequently

Although challenging, clearly identifying and defining target audience personas is the foundation of an effective content strategy.  Understanding who will read the content determines the information to include and the best platforms for presentation.

content that performs best

Content marketing can be an effective tool for creating brand awareness and generating leads that convert to sales or billable hours, but realize also that it can generate benefits that go beyond a page one article ranking in Google or driving traffic to your website. Consider how content might help your organization to meet key business objectives.  How can your content increase sales?”

HubSpot, a marketing services firm based near Boston, MA, found that the more marketing content a potential customer reads on the company website, the more likely s/he is to buy their software.  Jeffrey Vocell, Senior Manager of Product Marketing, reports that HubSpot follows up with a customized email after a user reads three or four articles.

Metrics matter

  • Expert content marketing writers prioritize their brand story, mission statement and content types when creating their content strategy
  • 49% say that brand awareness is their main goal for content marketing
  • Research/original data, infographics, product reviews and blog posts are the most effective types of content
  • Metrics that reflect sales (32%), content readership (29%) and lead generation (29%) are more important than content sharing metrics (10%)
  • Paid advertisements outperform organic efforts when promoting and distributing content

content marketing metrics

Survey findings yield three core recommendations for content marketing:

  1. Tailor all marketing content to specific audiences.  First identify the different reader personas, then create content that matches their needs, interests, aspirations and behaviors.
  2. Identify the business goals you aim to achieve and consider how your content can enable that. For example, if you want to obtain more links back to your website, be sure to generate research/original data, infographics, product reviews, videos, blog posts and case studies.
  3. Spend less money on content creation and more on distribution.  Creating high-quality content is useless if you don’t dedicate enough effort or resources to getting it in front of your target audience.  If you can’t afford paid advertising, focus on media outreach, such as traditional journalists and influencers.

tactics used to distribute content

Regarding the most effective content distribution methods, the survey found that expert content marketers most often use paid advertisements  including pay-per-click (71%), organic social media (70%) and traditional marketing channels (69%), i.e. print media, TV, radio and direct mail.

Distribution and promotion of the content must be customized to the target audience.  For example, “If content distribution and promotion is done for recent college graduates, it has completely different channels and focuses, compared to content aimed at executives,” explains Andrea Fryrear, Chief Content Officer at Fox Content of Boulder, CO.

Finally, remember that content marketing can deliver benefits to your company that go beyond achieving a page one Google listing for an article you’ve posted or driving traffic to your website. “We don’t simply want to have an impact on marketing, but rather on the entire business unit within that organization,” said Chad Pollitt, Vice President of Audience at Relevance, an online content marketing publication based in MD.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Vaudeville and film star W.C. Fields as a carnival sideshow barker in Two Flaming Youths (Paramount Pictures, 1927)

Negotiate Your Way into Healthy Cash-Flow

Lovely summer is here, generously rewarding us with warm breezes, long days and abundant sunshine.  Summer gives us many gifts but unfortunately, a generous amount of billable hours may not be one of them.  Two possible solutions to the impasse are to step up your networking activity starting in early spring, to help yourself meet and connect with potential clients who are in hiring mode and to let family, friends and referral sources know that you’re looking for projects.  Don’t be shy!

As a self-employed professional, you are the captain of your ship and it is your responsibility to take all reasonable measures to improve your financial position.  Your survival depends on it.  Smart marketing and prudent financial management are the foundation of a successful enterprise.

The most critical aspect of financial management for Freelance consultants and small business owners is to collect accounts receivable as quickly as possible, so that adequate cash-flow is maintained and accounts payable, employees and subcontractors can be paid on time.  Regarding your accounts receivable, I recommend that you take the following actions to encourage on-time payments:

  1. During the project specs discussion propose a payment schedule, perhaps tied to the timing and achievement of certain project milestones.
  2. Request a down payment of 20% – 35% of the total project fee and unless you’ve previously worked with the client, don’t start the project work until it is in hand.
  3. Invoice according to the agreed-upon payment schedule.

I cannot overstate the importance of these three actions.  Accountants estimate that in a given year, 5% – 10% of professional services providers’ invoices will be uncollectible.  The client is not always entirely at fault.  Freelancers must demonstrate that we intend to get paid and that’s done by being serious about the project payment schedule, requiring a project fee down payment and on-time invoicing.

Another helpful tactic is to make money by saving money.  Examining your accounts payable might help you gain a few dollars each month.  The number one accounts payable tactic is to avoid paying late fees by any means necessary.  Several years ago, many companies recognized that late payment fees are a very lucrative passive revenue stream and so they doubled, or even tripled, their penalties.  Some also shortened the length of their grace period window, when a late fee could be avoided.  Defend yourself from this predatory practice by flagging all accounts payable with their due dates as they arrive and make every effort to pay on time.

Another reason to pay on time is that a good payment record can sometimes be used to negotiate a lower credit card interest rate or request that certain fees might be waived or reduced at your bank.  While you’re on the phone and in the mood to negotiate, call your cell phone company and internet service provider and see what they can do to lower your monthly bill.

Adequate cash-flow is the life blood of every business, required to finance all business operations, including marketing campaigns, technological upgrades, professional development and other activities that support the venture.  No business can function effectively, much less grow and thrive, without healthy cash-flow.  Your diligence and negotiation skills can contribute substantively to its maintenance.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Fruit and Vegetable Seller (1631) by Louise Moillon (France, 1610 – 1696) Courtesy of La Musee du Louvre, Paris