The Right Way to Give Feedback

Even for those who are self-employed, everything in life is team work, am I right or what? When you’re working with others, at some point giving or receiving a quick progress report is a good thing and usually appreciated.  There is an art to giving feedback and if you want to reach and sustain a high level of productivity, to say nothing of preserving important relationships both business and personal, you may be interested in the recommendations that guide the process of giving effect feedback offered by Gwen Moran, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans (2010).

Integrate

When you are in the position to assess the quality of the project work, you have an obligation to speak up should you discover that something is amiss or the work is behind schedule.  Feedback should be instructive, timely and accepted as a normal part of management’s responsibilities.  Especially if assistance is needed, it is important that  the feedback is delivered in a way that is affirming of the worker, does not denigrate his/her skills or intelligence and effectively promotes appropriate actions.  Waiting to address insufficient work in a performance review is ineffective—-too late to help the worker understand and quickly make modifications that will produce what is expected.

Calibrate

Responses to feedback are individual and sometimes unpredictable.  The less secure are prone to becoming defensive and occasionally, combative.  A diplomatic approach is recommended, so that feelings are not hurt. Nevertheless, the manager or project overseer must alert workers whose performance is sub par and the sooner the better.

To promote a positive team spirit and sense of inclusion, it will be helpful to allow team members who are not performing well to “save face” and if that means you, the project overseer or department manager, must blame yourself because mistakes have been made, then so be it.  Avoid being labeled as either unsupportive and harsh, or a micromanager.

Educate

If ad hoc feedback is not bringing about the desired improvements, then invite into a meeting all who are working on the project.  Explain how the project is critical to the achievement of interdependent  company objectives and goals and why it is imperative that the work must be done in a certain way and completed within a certain time frame.  Team members will be able to ask questions in a nonjudgmental environment that will clear up misinterpretations and help them to understand the purpose of the project and their value as professionals.

Motivate

Strive to communicate positive observations about the team members’ work, because feedback is always necessary.  Do not fall into the habit of speaking up only when there is something negative to say.  Thanks and encouragement go a long way in motivating enthusiasm and excellent quality work.  Feedback contributes to the development of cohesive and high-performing teams. It is the responsibility of those in management positions to promote and support this outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library                                                  Vandamm Theatrical Photographs Collection 1900 – 1957

Which Conference Will Be Worth It?

The Events Industry Council reports that there are more than 1.8 million conventions, meetings and trade shows held in the U.S. held every year.  Big hotel chains and convention centers make oodles of money providing the space.  Along with the venue special events sales staff, whose careers are built on selling space to sponsoring organizations, the waiters and bartenders, concierges and doormen, even the cab drivers, love to see the events roll in.

No doubt, each of those meetings brings a lot of value to the target audience.  The speakers can be top drawer and topics compelling, the venue fabulous and audience members fascinating, but if none of this leads to even a limited number of billable hours, then you will not have received what you paid for.  Writing it off on your taxes yields only about a 35% savings and you don’t receive it until many months after the fact.

Many industry and premier networking group conferences can cost $500 for a one-day event that along with the speakers includes continental breakfast, lunch and light refreshments at two breaks.  Oftentimes, the admission fees are calculated with the expectation that attendees will be high-ranking corporate execs who are able to expense the cost to their companies.  As a result, independently employed professionals regularly forgo a number of conferences that draw the decision-makers they need to meet because unless one has been to a given conference previously, there is no telling if the networking will be good and therefore worth the risk of paying a high ticket price.

If you decide to go the high-profile marketing route and become an exhibitor, your cost is likely to resemble a full-page 4-color ad in an industry magazine.  The exhibitor booth fee can be $3500, with additional costs for Wi-Fi and branded give-aways like tote bags, pens, umbrellas and the like and the custom table-cloth you must order to display your company name and logo.  If you will stay overnight, add hotel bills that will include a discount but can nevertheless exceed $200 daily and the cost to park can be $40 per 24 hours.  Figuring out the attendance profile of a conference is paramount, so that you can calculate your ROI.

First, think about your business products and services and your ideal clients and start filtering out what doesn’t align with your objectives.  If your business is B2B, you’ll look for an audience of business people who give you either product sales or billable hours.  If you’re a start-up looking for investors, then you’ll look to attend programs that draw venture capital specialists.  You don’t need to attend the largest conferences, just those that put you in front of those people who have the motive to do business with you.

Further, if you are investing in an exhibitor booth, check the conference schedule and look for down time between speakers that will encourage attendees to visit the exhibitor area and get to know who is there.  If time has not been scheduled, you could find out that you’ve paid dearly to look at the other exhibitors and not interact with the target audience you hoped to meet.

But whether you will attend to make a marketing splash, find an investor, or recruit a good client or two through networking, you never know until you get there because every conference has its own personality.  At some events, the people talk and at others I’m sorry to say, they don’t.  Before you jump in and commit big money as an exhibitor, attend as a civilian and test the waters.  If the conference is two or more days, attend one day and be sure to attend the day that has a scheduled networking dinner or reception.

Now, may I share good news with you? My eighth anniversary as your faithful diarist, the author of “Freelance: The Consultant’s Diary,” occurred in June. I’ve earned the special citation from WordPress that you see here.  Heartfelt thanks to those of you who read!

Thank you for your support,

Kim

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Networking Starts With A Conversation

IMG_0018Happy Fourth of July! You may engage in celebrating today’s holiday as a party host or guest and either way, you’ll have the pleasure of expanding your social and possibly also your professional network.  From backyard barbecues to weddings, the meet and greet is on, for business or pleasure. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you will feel more at ease if when you encounter new people you can draw from a little repertoire of conversation starters that you can easily recall.

Here’s a list of conversation starters designed to make your summer celebrations a little more fun.  Keep in mind that when you approach a party guest, or a guest approaches you, smile and show that you welcome that person’s presence and you’d like to converse. While you might encounter the rare monosyllabic type who is too awkward to make small talk, in which case you can smile and slip away as quickly as socially acceptable, most partygoers and attendees at social or business functions are primed to meet and get acquainted with interesting people.  They’ll meet you halfway and together, you’ll create the conversation. You will likely be joined by others and that’s all for the good.

  1. Hi, I’m ______; and you are…? Nice to meet you! Do you live in the neighborhood ?
  2. Hi, I’m ______; and you are…? Nice to meet you! How do you know (the host)?
  3. Have you been having a good summer, so far?
  4. Do you like the summer holidays better, or winter holidays?
  5. Are you a summer vacation person, or a winter vacation person?
  6. I’m walking over to the drink table.  Can I bring you something?
  7. The buffet looks delicious (holding your plate and drink)—may I sit here?
  8. As you see, I’m checking out (the hosts’) books. They have a lot of good titles. Do you see something here that you’ve read?
  9. Who is that singing? Could it be Sarah Vaughan?
  10. OK, pop quiz–How many oceans are there on planet earth?

I hope you meet some good people both today and at the social and business functions that you’ll attend this summer and that you’re able to build one or two relationships that outlast the events you attend.  Relax and allow yourself to have a good time.

Show interest in the people you meet. Tailor your conversation topics to those with whom you are speaking. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Listen more than you talk and listen actively.  At some point in a lively conversation you may want to jump in with a witty retort, but try to avoid interrupting and one-upping.

Finally, don’t over-share and if you meet someone with whom it appears there could be a mutual interest to talk business, exchange cards and plan to follow-up a day or two after the party.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

Success Story: An Artist’s Collective Turns the Corner

The CLIENT

The arts economy in New England in general and Greater Boston in particular, is significant.  ArtsBoston, a 175-member not-for-profit arts service organization that researches  important statistics regarding the local arts community, found that more than 18 million visits are made to arts and cultural events every year, ticketed and free events, including dance, musical and theater performances; visits to museums and art galleries; and attendance at ethnic cultural festivals.

It has been my pleasure to work with two of the three most respected collectives of visual artists in Boston including the largest, whose membership exceeds 200.  Eighteen months ago,  the larger organization referred to me the smaller, 80-member, loosely  affiliated sister organization. The two have overlapping memberships, where nearly the entire membership of the smaller are also members of the larger group.  The membership of both collectives consists primarily of painters, sculptors and photographers, with a smattering of ceramacists and artisans such as bookbinders and calligraphers. Management for each group is separate and independent.

All artists in the collectives maintain studios in an art and design district consisting of several 19th century former warehouse buildings and the artists of the smaller collective are all located in one of those buildings.

Both collectives offer nearly identical special events programming as a method to reach out to potential art collectors.  Each holds an annual open studios art walk event, where member artists open their studios and invite the public in at no charge to see, discuss and when visitors choose, purchase artwork.  Since 1986, the larger group has held its signature open studios event in September and the smaller group holds its annual event in May.  Additionally, since about 1998, the smaller group has held the monthly open studios event branded as First Friday.

The CHALLENGE

The smaller arts collective was facing increasingly diminished audiences for First Fridays, which are held on the first Friday of every month from 5:00 – 9:00 PM January through December.  Attendance at its May open studios event was likewise softening. Artist membership in the group had stagnated.

Competition between the local artist collectives has in recent years become intense, the result of a proliferation of open studios events that has diluted the target audience of middle class to affluent collectors who reside in the tonier city and suburban enclaves.  Boston has 22 neighborhoods and 12 annual open studios events, with dates coordinated by the city and held from April to November each year.  Additionally, nearly every city or town contiguous to Boston, plus numerous outlying suburbs, have over the years launched open studios art walks.  In July and August the action moves to the historic summer artist colonies in MA, including Cape Ann, Provincetown and towns in the Berkshire mountains that beckon to vacationers from around the country.

The DECISION

The collective is managed by two member volunteers.  They reached out to their counterparts in the larger organization and asked how that group managed to maintain attendance for its annual open studios event, which has reversed previously declining numbers.

Within two weeks I met with the leaders of the smaller collective and after listening to their story,  recommended that an energized marketing plan would most likely provide the remedy.  Over the past three or four years,  a shortage of time and a dose of complacency had caused the managers to slack off on marketing their events to the target audience.  Recently, First Fridays had been listed in only one print and three online events listing services.

Member art sales were shrinking because fewer collectors or potential collectors visited studios.  Membership in the collective was dropping slowly, as artists re-examined the value of the collective at renewal time.  Operating income was negatively impacted. Artist participation in First Fridays waned, which could only cause the target audience attendance to wane.  It was an impending death spiral.

The SOLUTION

A comprehensive and consistently implemented marketing campaign was launched in an increased number of targeted print and online media outlets, which was the core of a strategy to greatly improve outreach to collectors and potential collectors.  More visits to studios would enhance the possibility of art sales and promote the conversion of aspiring collectors to collector status.  Over the subsequent months, additional media outlets were identified and included in the campaign.  Presently, 14 online media outlets and five print outlets now carry the First Friday listings each month and the listing for the annual open studios event in May.

A paid display ad (one-quarter page) will now appear annually in a free print publication that has high readership among tourists to Boston, since outreach to that group has become a priority.  To estimate the potential impact of tourist dollars on contemporary art sales in Boston, in 2016 the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston, which features 21st century art only, received 210,000 visitors, according to the Boston Business Journal (and the Museum of fine Arts, the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science each received in excess of 1.1 million visitors).

Content marketing is also part of the campaign launch, designed to reach the collective’s members and non-members through the collective’s newsletter.  Membership retention and recruitment are in many ways the heart of the marketing campaign for without active and engaged members who believe in the mission and are happy to carry it out, the collective will cease to exist.

The monthly newsletter now includes a member artist spotlight that features an image of the artist’s work plus a brief artist bio.  The artists volunteer to participate and the response has been enthusiastic.  As a way to persuade the 10 -15 non-members in the building of the collectives’ benefits, an annual newsletter customized to provide an update of the work that the collective’s members find especially useful and making an appeal to join is now being sent.

The RESULT

The number of visitors to First Fridays has gradually climbed to about 500 on average each month.  As documented by the managers, historic lows occur in January and February, when attendance can dip as the temperature drops, the snow piles up and only 200 or so art aficionados will attend First Friday.  Months with the highest visitors are April through June and September through December, when up to 700 visitors may appear.

Membership in the collective has risen over the past 12 months from just over 70 to 80 members.  There remains 10 -15 artists in the building who are non-members.  The group hopes that one or two non-members will sign up each year.

I hope you enjoyed the case study.  Thanks for reading.

Kim

 

 

Take Command of Your Online Brand

“Reputation, reputation, reputation. Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” (Cassio)  Othello Act II, Scene 3

According to WebpageFX, a digital marketing and SEO company headquartered in Harrisburg, PA, about 25% of a company’s market value is directly based on its reputation.  Along with word-of-mouth reviews, which are indisputably powerful but nevertheless comparatively limited, a company’s reputation is significantly impacted through online sources.  Management of your organization’s online reputation, which is part of your brand, is a must-do.

The online reputation starts with the look and content of the company website and also encompasses reviewing sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List and Trip Advisor and the array of social media platforms from Snapchat to Facebook.  If you throw in content marketing campaigns that are distributed through email marketing, I wonder if the 25% impact figure is generous enough?

WebpageFX also reports that organization leaders now take online reputation management very seriously and 15% of organizations have followed through on an online reputation management strategy and 87% agree that managing online reputation risks is even more important than managing strategic risks.  Think about it—strategic risks are potentially costly, but when paid and unpaid haters flood the comments section of an influential site, the hapless company that perhaps has done no real harm can be shoved into the abyss.

Online attackers spew a shocking amount of vitriol and their diatribes seem to have a million-year half-life.  Blackmail can be involved as well.  I’ve personally witnessed the strong-arming of the General Manager of a lovely B & B by –are you ready for this?– a retired police officer who faked a problem in his guest room, refused to be placated by what most would accept as fair settlement for the “inconvenience” and threatened to ruin the business with bad Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews if his request for a free two- night stay (worth $450) was not granted.  Rumor has it that he’s played the game to the detriment of several small guest houses across the country.  A shoot-out at the OK Corral might be easier to win.

WebpageFX data showed that 91% of consumers search businesses online.  When I’ve gone to meet new clients, in particular someone who has been referred to me and whom I’ve not met,  they frequently mention that they’ve read this blog and viewed my website.  80% of consumers (presumably B2B and B2C) changed their mind about doing business with a company and 67% will not buy from a company that has received from one to three negative reviews.

Regarding social media sites, participation on the various social media platforms is a given for most Freelance consultants, business owners and corporate and not-for-profit leaders. The extent of your B2B client’s social media engagement as regards their external labor force along with your time and inclination, will determine which social media platforms that you’ll use. Maybe you’ll use one or two platforms, plus publish long-form content sent out as an ongoing email marketing campaign.

Just because you don’t use every available social media platform doesn’t mean that you should ignore those that you don’t use. To the contrary, claim all business listings and social media platform addresses, so that a competitor or imposter cannot assume your identity.  Start with your website. Your business name should belong to you alone. Protect your business and buy when possible your business domain name in the .biz and .net formats.  if there is a name that is similar to your company name and it becomes available, buy it and save yourself the potential for headaches down the road. Ensure that an imposter cannot claim your name and make sport of you, bear false witness, or commit other devious acts.

On your preferred social media platforms, maintain a reasonably active and consistent presence as you bring value to your readers.  Post content that will benefit your organization’s reputation and sales revenues.  WordPress allows posting to LinkedIn and my 100 or so connections expect to hear from me every Tuesday.

Finally, if you should receive any negative feedback online, respond quickly and diplomatically. Demonstrate that you regret the mishap and you intend to make amends.  As you publicly clean up the mess, you may win a few customers who like the fact that you’re human and you care.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

IMG_0015    Tall Ships Parade in Boston Harbor June 16, 2017

Business Forecasting Helps You Make Money

Summer 2017 will officially arrive on June 21 and the warm temperatures promise to seduce us with sunshine and flowers. Summer is the primary vacation season and many businesses slow down with its arrival , with the exception of tourist industry service providers and wedding planners and their usual sub-contractors: caterers, florists, photographers, DJs and videographers, many of whom are Freelancers.  The rest of us, however, have to get creative and try to maintain our discipline and resolve as the heat and humidity conspire against ambition.  This lovely time of year can present a real financial challenge for Freelancers.  How can we remain productive and scare up some billable hours? Summer is the ideal time to devote attention to positioning  your venture to make money in the fourth quarter and beyond.

I suggest that you conduct business forecasting at your organization this summer. Business forecasting is the cornerstone of business planning and business planning is the foundation of enabling business profitability.  Forecasting helps business owners and Freelancers to objectively examine the monetary value of each revenue stream that the venture generates, so that it becomes very clear which lines of business are making money and the amount of profitability of each line.  Forecasting shows you where you should devote your resources and in that way generate increased billable hours, revenues and profits.

Forecasting in your Freelance venture is crucial: client work, teaching assignments, writing assignments, subcontracting work for other Freelancers and maybe even an under-the-radar odd job along the way to fatten the coffers are among the business activities in which we engage to maintain cash-flow.  It’s very useful to know which of these lines of business is worth more attention and those that you may want to drop, since the returns are meager.

Let’s face reality—we B2B Freelance service providers often don’t know when our next client will come along, or what s/he will want to spend on services when that happens.  It’s so easy to wind up scrambling from new client to new client without getting much repeat business, or adequate control over our earning capacity. That’s why it’s vital that we:

  1. Identify where the earning potential really is (and it might not be client work)
  2. Create strategies and action plans that promote successful participation in those of your business activities that are the most profitable

There are thousands of Freelancers who make their real money not from client work, which can be both scarce and erratic, but on other related business lines.  For hiilucky Freelancers who have national renown, that could be book sales, paid speaking engagements and paid writing assignments.  For others, it’s their coaching business that is the real profit engine.  In such cases, the client work is necessary to lend credibility and enable access to the other, much more profitable, activities.

So how does one conduct business forecasting? If you use Intuit QuickBooks software, you can build a model on that system.  If you have at least three or four years’ of client data in QuickBooks, you will receive much valuable, actionable information about your business, including:

  • Profitability and profit margins
  • Average revenue /client
  • Average billable hours /client

If you keep your financial data on Excel, review the past five years’ of invoices (or as far back as possible in a newer venture) and identify your top five or ten most lucrative revenue streams, whether that is client work or other related projects.  Invoice dates will reveal seasonal revenue generating patterns and the invoices will remind you of which of your services sells the most and which the least.  Billable hours and hourly or project fee rates should also be noted. It will take longer to generate the data, but as with QuickBooks, much valuable and actionable data can be extracted from your Excel based financials.

There are two basic methods of business forecasting, Qualitative and Quantitative. Qualitative forecasting models are based on market research and they’re most effective in predicting short-term cycles. Quantitative forecasting models are based on data and the approach is more effective than the qualitative model in predicting long-term cycles.

There are various types of quantitative forecasting approaches and for small and medium size business forecasting, the Time Series Method is most useful.  The Time Series Method uses historical financial data to predict future results.  When you go to your bank for a business loan and five years’ of your financials are requested, the loan officer is using the Time Series Method to predict whether you will be able to generate enough cash-flow and sales revenues to repay the loan on time.

Once you have your financials in hand, Step 2 of Business Forecasting is the development of a marketing plan that contains strategies and action plans that create the road map that your organization will follow as you seek to expand those business lines that generate the most revenues for you and consider dropping those that perform poorly.

When you see with irrefutable data that reveals which of your services brings home the most money, you will likely get a clearer picture of your ideal clients and the messages and marketing platforms that resonate with them.  An amended pricing strategy and/or sales distribution method may be instituted, as might tweaking of your business model.

Business forecasting reveals patterns in client activity that are often overlooked and the process allows you to anticipate demand for your services, reveals which services historically have produced the greatest sales revenues, reveals the types of clients that spend the most with you and in general, shows on what side the toast is buttered.

With objective confirmation of your best client categories and most popular services, you can concentrate on how to access those clients, including bigger budget clients within the categories and you’ll know how best to sell to them.  You will work not only hard, but also smart, to grow your client list and increase billable hours, revenues and profits and that will be the best use of your time during this glorious summer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

21st Century Email Marketing Tactics

Email marketing is dead.  Long live email marketing.  The pervasiveness of spamming has forever damaged the reputation of email marketing and yet the practice refuses to quietly fade away.  I’ll say that’s because email marketing remains a useful B2B communication platform.  It’s just that marketers need to be smart about how to utilize this valuable resource.  Email marketing in the 21st century means content marketing that addresses topics that interests your clients and delivers value to them and to you.  When planning an email marketing campaign, content is king.

Content does not mean sending out a stream of tweets that describe banal banter such as what’s going on in your office today, accompanied by an image of your morning coffee and pastry sitting next to your laptop.  Your clients are not interested in “fake news” that results in a slew of annoying emails that feature revelations about your perspectives only and are filled with links to Instagram photos of what you found to be amusing as you walked to the post office.

Content marketing means sharing relevant information that will make your clients  become better informed and help them do their jobs better.  You accomplish that by producing original material that addresses topics that your clients feel are useful and distributing it on a consistent basis through your weekly blog or monthly newsletter,

The logistics of that distribution are up to you, whether you develop an opt-in email list and distribute content through a marketing service like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, or if you post your blog or newsletter on a site like WordPress, that is visited by numerous readers, some of whom may be your clients.  In the latter scenario, there is usually an opportunity to subscribe to your content through alerts, individual emails or an RSS feed.

Regardless of your distribution platform, readers and clients appreciate an email /content marketing strategy that is customized and therefore more personal.  Developing an editorial calendar adds seasonal relevance to the topics that you present, for example, as does occasionally letting your content be influenced by the news or changes in government or tax policy.  It’s time-consuming, but the content that your organization provides weekly or monthly demonstrates your authority as evidenced by your expertise and judgment, as well as your opinions (don’t hesitate to have them!).  Freelance consulting specialists must always enhance the perception of our bona rides and content marketing plays a significant role.

As you write, learn to occasionally weave one or two of your products or services into the narrative because after all, the real purpose of producing and distributing content in B2B emails is to create billable hours (sales).  This could take the form of a client success story or news that you’ll appear on a panel, with a link to register embedded in your post.

If your email/ content marketing is sent through a marketing service as an individual email addressed to each subscriber, you are advised to pay particular attention to the subject line.  According to Silverpop’s 2016 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study, the mean open rate of emails sent is merely 20 %, meaning that four out of five email marketing communications are deleted.  A 2015 analysis of over 40 million emails  conducted by Mail Chimp revealed that some of the most effective subject lines are (60 – 87% open rate) :

1. (Insert business name) Sales and Marketing Newsletter

2. Eye on the (insert business name) Update (insert the week or month time frame)

3. (Insert business name and date) News Bulletin

4. (Insert business name) Newsletter, with date

5. (Insert business name) Invites You!

6. Happy Holidays From (insert business name)

In 2014, Digital Marketer analyzed 125 million emails that the company sent that year and found that your business name, along with the words urgent, upgrade, alert, new, available, free delivery and newsletter are among the most persuasive. Oh, and what’s the secret to writing a good email subject line, along with using the key words that charm readers? Make the subject line describe the email topic!

So the moral of the story is, don’t dismiss email marketing as being hopelessly retro and inferior to social media posts.  Instead, think about how to update and adapt its use to fit your needs and the interests of your clients.  If your clients are among your Facebook friends on your Fan Page or they follow your tweets, then by all means continue.  You might consider how some of that content and images might be repurposed to become part of long-form content in a blog or newsletter.  Several recent studies have found that clients respond well to long-form content.  You’ll figure it out and reap the benefits,

Thanks for reading,

kim

Building Your B2B Consulting Practice

Regular visitors to this blog will notice that over the past few weeks, I’ve devoted special emphasis to tactics and strategies that will help Freelancers keep our consulting practices alive and well.  Competition in the field is intensifying and clients are aware that they can be very exacting in their hiring requirements, since there is no shortage of available talent, especially in mid-size and large cities.  According to Statista, the number of management consultants has grown every year since 2012 and as of 2016, there area 637,000 management consultants working (or trying to!) in the U.S.

As we all know, ever since the late 1980s, when the concept of “downsizing” gained popularity in corporate offices and the ways to separate citizens from full-time, long-term employment became numerous, many workers who either found ourselves highly skilled but nevertheless unemployable, or who eventually tired of endless cycles of  hirings and firings (a common occurrence in the IT industry), decided to strike out on our own and exert some measure of control over our professional and economic destiny. What did we have to lose? We were already in trouble.  Manage the risk before the risk manages you.

When you’ve worked in the Knowledge Economy and find yourself contemplating whether to launch your own venture, by design or default, a solo consultancy that offers B2B services that you already know seems a simple and obvious choice.

Start-up costs are minimal—there’s nothing much to invest in for the launch, except for business cards and a website.  There’s no need to rent an office and no need to hire employees.  You already own a smart phone and some sort of computer.  At most, you might invite a couple of your unemployed coworker buddies to come in with you.  In no time, you’ll be ready to see clients and charge a pretty penny for the advice that you give. Easy, right?

Well, not exactly.  Unless you’ve worked for a consulting company that provides you with a stable of clients that know you and value your expertise and there’s no non-compete hagreement that prevents you from, ahem, stealing a few clients from your former employer and bringing them to you roster—-a time-honored and usually successful practice, BTW—you may find yourself floundering when it comes to obtaining clients.  If you’ve got a well-placed pal or two who is able and willing to divert a contract to you, you could be twiddling your thumbs for quite some time, despite the furious networking that you do and your growing social media presence.  The truth of consulting is, no one gets a client unless that client knows you and the value of your work.

The “catch 22” is that you can’t get a client without experience and you can’t get experience until you get a client.  A business plan that is in reality an extended marketing plan that encourages you to think strategically, rationally and in detail about the following items should be written. Bear in mind that your services are valuable only insofar as there is client demand.  There may be no market at all for several of your strongest competencies, alas.

  • Services for which there is demand and you have the expertise and credibility to deliver those services and prospective clients who will pay you to do so
  • How to price your services
  • How to make clients perceive that you are worth your asking price
  • Your access to clients with the motive and money to hire you
  • The need for a partner (or two) and how that person can help launch and sustain the venture

Without a pre-existing reputation in the industry, you’ll find the early days of consulting to be quite difficult. Lining up part-time employment will help your cash-flow. Teaching at the college level is always a good option because it enhances your credibility and pays well for a part-time gig.  Whenever possible, find work that not only gives you money, but also demonstrates your expertise to potential clients.

If you can become at least an occasional contributing writer to a noteworthy publication, or get articles included in a local business publication, you will enhance the perception of your expertise, as will college-level teaching of a subject related to your B2B services.  Joining a not-for-profit board that brings you into contact with potential clients and referrers who can watch you take on committee work that demonstrates your bona fides will be helpful. Becoming a mentor at a respected new venture start-up center will likewise enhance your credibility.

If you can participate in a webinar, YouTube video, or podcast, where you can elaborate on the application of your expertise and the results that you deliver, you will be able to post the link on your website and social media accounts, so that prospective clients can see you in action and hear what you know.

Those who do not have a ready stable of potential clients must work very hard and very smart to make up for that deficit, but it will not impossible to build a consulting practice that will support you financially and of which you can be proud. There are many paths that lead to a profitable B2B consulting practice and with a dose of god luck, you will find your path, too.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Staying Safe on Public WiFi

Public Wi-Fi is a most convenient resource and millions of mobile device users gratefully sign on when it is available.  Data plans are more costly in the U.S. than they should be and avoiding extra charges motivates users to dip into free service.  Not only that, your Skype, Go-To-Meeting, Dropbox, or Twitter app can use local hotspots to obtain internet access even if you do not sign on to unsecured public Wi-Fi.

File sharing and transfers are performed on several apps and that data can be intercepted.  Moreover, log-in credentials can be stolen, allowing cyber criminals to fully access your private accounts.  When using the internet as your phone service, eavesdropping on conversations can take place through the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).  If you are using a mobile device that belongs to a business, signing on to unsecured Wi-Fi networks gives hackers are able to access the networks of large organizations and do significant, costly and embarrassingly public damage.

Mobile device users are obliged to pay attention to this commonly occurring risk and take steps to protect our valuable data.  No one wants to clean up the toxic mess of a data breach, whether it’s malware that infects our data files or compromises of your financial account passwords. Antivirus protections and firewalls are effective methods of cyber defense, but these are useless against hackers that hide on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

DO:

  • Convert all password protected sites, such as your cloud-based email sign-in process, to two-step authentication.  For one email address, I receive an automated phone call that asks me to verify that I’m signing in, another sends me a unique code to punch in once I’ve verified via my mobile phone that I’m signing into the email system.
  • Use a VPN, virtual private network, that will encrypt all of your online activities.
  • Visit only https and avoid http websites when browsing on public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Purchase an unlimited data plan for your mobile phone, which for that device anyway, limits the need for free, unsecured Wi-Fi that makes you vulnerable.
  • Consider being especially strict and shutting off the automatic Wi-Fi network search feature from the settings app on your phone or tablet.

DON’T

  • Use your credit card to shop online or access your financial institution for automatic deposits, fund transfers, or any other banking business while using free Wi-Fi.
  • Connect to the hotspot of an unknown individual when searching for available public Wi-Fi.  That hotspot may belong to a cyber criminal who is waiting to do you harm.
  • Enable your device to automatically join networks that offer internet access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

On Conducting an Interview

Because you are an ambitious Freelance consultant, you regularly provide content marketing that showcases your expertise and reinforces your brand with current and potential clients and, when good fortune intervenes, motivates them to give you some much-needed billable hours.  As you plan your activities, you may at some point reach out to a fellow Freelancer, a good client, or another expert and ask to include that individual in your content marketing by way of an interview.  Featuring another perspective every once in a while keeps your marketing content fresh and more interesting to the audience.  I’m thinking of doing exactly that sometime soon, if my target interview guest is willing to speak with me on the record.  Stay tuned.

At some point in your professional life it is likely that you may decide, or be asked, to interview someone, so you would be wise to learn the process.  Successfully conducted interviews hinge on good preparation.  While some of us may feel that interviewing is an intuitive skill and that we should be able to manage the process spontaneously, that will not be the case.  You could probably muddle through, but why not take a couple of hours and learn how to get it right?

Think first of an interview guest to invite.  Who do you know who might tell a good story, or share some useful information that will be appreciated by your audience and does it seem possible that you’ll be able to convince that person to speak with you? 

Second, consider the basic interview format. Will your guest agree to a face-to-face Q & A that will be required for a video, or will it be a phone interview that is suitable for your podcast, blog, or newsletter? Email interviews often do not produce the best results according to many journalists. 

Third, brainstorm questions or topics that might be interesting to your audience and play to your guests’ strengths. You may want to write up a list of potential questions, or make note of possible topics. Visit the Twitter feed, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and conduct an internet search to find out what may have been written by or about your proposed guest.

Invite your potential interview guests in a phone call. Some requests require a more personal approach than email.  Immediately upon reaching an agreement with your guest, send a confirmation email.  Two or three days in advance of the interview, send a second email to confirm the interview time and place and specify whether a phone call or in-person meeting will take place.

In all formats, introduce the guest to your audience and give a brief bio. If your interview will be video or podcast (audio), welcome your guest warmly and thank him/her for agreeing to appear. Your audience needs to hear, and see, this greeting. If the interview will appear in text you will still give a warm welcome and thanks and that exchange will appear in print.  

As you ask questions be friendly and upbeat, to help your guest to feel comfortable and safe.  Avoid “gotcha” questions designed to make the guest feel judged. Keep your mouth shut and practice active listening as you take notes as the guest speaks  (you can record as well and if you plan to do that, ask permission).  If you hear a particular word, phrase, or aspect of the topic that piques your curiosity or seems to give unexpected insight into the question, enter it into your notes and then ask a follow-up question. In this way, your interview will become a conversation, rather than a stilted Q & A session.  The best interviews are what seem to be a relaxed and intelligent conversation between the host and guest.

FYI, it is sometimes necessary to ask the same question two or even three times, in different ways, to persuade your guest to give a complete answer. It’s important to build rapport throughout the interview to make the subject feel comfortable sharing information.

You may need to nudge the interview back on track if your subject goes off on a tangent, in particular if this is a video or podcast conversation.  A useful phrase could be, “How does that relate to the big picture”? Conversely, you might draw out more information from a reticent guest when you ask, “Do you have a story that will illustrate your point”? At the end of the interview, thank your guest for participating and enlightening the audience.

If the interview will appear as a podcast or video, your guest may appear for 15 – 20 minutes, unless his/her topic is especially compelling.  If you are interviewing for your blog or newsletter, 15-20 minutes is probably still a good time limit for the conversation. Overwhelming your guest or audience is to be avoided.

Interviewing a guest for your chosen content marketing platform will build your audience and enhance the brand of your guest as well.  Create a win-win situation for you and the guest by carefully considering the benefits that will accrue to each of you through the proposed interview and be sensitive also to the interests of the audience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim