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.

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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

Optimize Your Press Release For Social Media

The social media tsunami shows no sign of abating. According to 2018 data supplied by Statista, 68% of US adults have a Facebook profile and 75% of that group logs on daily. According to data supplied by the social media management platform Hootsuite, 21 % of US residents are active users of Twitter in 2018; 22 % are age 30 – 49 years and 18 % are age 50 – 64 years.

Instagram claims the loyalty of 20 % of the US population, 38 % of users are women and 26 % are men. Thirty-three percent of Instagram active users are age 30 – 49 years and 18 % are age 50 – 64 years. Sprout Social, the social media management platform, reports that 71 % of US businesses have an Instagram account.  Instagram data shows that 80 % of its users follow at least one business and 60 % of users have learned about a business through the platform.

I think you’ll agree that we  may reasonably conclude that exploiting social media’s hold on the population is a wise business decision.  Social media platforms are widely accepted in both the business and personal sectors and as indicated by the statics above, its influence continues to rapidly expand as innovators and thought leaders continually pioneer creative uses for it.

The tried-and-true press release has recently been pulled into the social media orbit.  Why not make your company’s next press release stand out to journalists and bloggers and kick it up a notch with social media tools? A press release optimized with the right social media platforms can be a savvy promotional add-on that complements the standard format you’ll send to media outlets.

Step One is to create a traditional press release that concisely and dynamically describes the who, what, when, where and why of your announcement and communicates why readers of your target media outlets, as well as your clients and social media followers, will appreciate the information.

Step Two is to customize your press release with social media that make your story pop and hook your target audience.  Let’s review the building blocks of a well-written press release:

Headline
Devise an attention-grabbing hook for your headline. Use SEO key words, wherever practical.

Sub-Headline (if needed)
There may be a second, follow-up headline that enhances or clarifies the primary headline. Use SEO key words here.

Contact
Who do interested parties contact for follow-up or more information? Include the name, title and preferred method of contact specifics.

Summary
A two or three sentence overview of the key message(s) of the press release may be appreciated, especially if it is longer than one page.

Body
Place the selling points of your media pitch here, in language that resonates with readers.  Incorporate key words for those who may be searching the topic.

Company info
Include a brief company bio with links to the company website and social media.

Social media links
Optimize your press release with social media links that enhance its storytelling power and go beyond the traditional text format. Include a brief video, two or three still photos and links to additional text that will support your story and resonate with your intended readers.

Media kit links
A soft-sell promotion of your company will be achieved when you dip into the media kit and include links to previous press releases, whether social media optimized or not. If your company has been favorably mentioned in the press, especially in articles that support the purpose of your press release, provide links.

Tags
Share your social media optimized press release on your company’s Facebook Fan page, Twitter hashtags and social bookmarking sites.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Image: A poem for “The Pavilion with Various Views,” attributed to Mi Fu (1051 – 1107) Northern Song Dynasty, China

Trick or Treat! Bring Back Your Lapsed Clients

Halloween will soon arrive and ghosts and goblins are on our minds—and candy, too. All Hallows Eve (October 31), along with the Christian feast days of All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2) have got me thinking about bringing lapsed clients back from the great beyond and gently returning them to active status. While some clients give us only a one-off project, others are worth a steady, even if sometimes modest, stream of billable hours and as such, they are worth the comparatively small effort it takes to try and lure them back. Here are some statistics you’ll find persuasive:

1. It costs 5 times more to acquire a new client than it does to retain an existing one.
2. You have a 60% – 70% chance of selling to an existing client and only a 5% – 20% chance of selling to a prospect who has never done business with you.
3. Existing clients are 50% more likely to try your new product or service.
4. Existing clients on average spend 31% more than your newest clients.

So you see that we save time and money, as well as make more money, when we return to our lapsed clients. Surprisingly, only 18% of businesses have a defined client retention strategy, according to a recent marketing survey, but you now know that means money is being left on the table, something you cannot afford to do. Begin your client retention strategy as soon as you’re hired for a project. Shift your perspective—you haven’t just closed a sale, you’ve opened the door to a relationship.

Because marketing experts report that 89% of companies recognize that the client experience is a key factor in driving loyalty and retention, do your business a favor and devise a quick client satisfaction survey, maybe five or six questions, and get some post-project feedback. Clients always appreciate that you value their insights on how your organization does business. You might receive information that will make your business more competitive and therefore more favorably positioned to both win back and acquire clients.

The December holidays are approaching and that gives you the most golden opportunity for client outreach, the holiday card. Start thinking about your cards NOW. Would you like to have your local Sir Speedy or Kinko design a card for your clients? That will take some time and you want to be ready to mail in the first week of December. Remember that holiday cards intended for clients have a “Happy Holidays” message and not a religious message.

If you publish a newsletter or blog, clients past and present are ideal candidates for your mailing list. Clients have willingly shared their contact information and that gives you permission to send each a courtesy copy. Your content is an effective way to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your business acumen, making it similar to an ongoing audition for future assignments. Your newsletter or blog are effective ways to keep your organization at top of mind. Nevertheless, include an opt-out feature for those who prefer to discontinue.

Finally, you can offer a 20 % discount to any client who has not worked with you for the past three or more years. You might include the notice in two successive issues of your blog or newsletter, or send a separate email announcement, or both. However you get the word out, I suggest that you honor the discount for any client who requests it, even if it’s a year after the announcement appeared and you just competed a project with that client last month.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Jonathan Frid as vampire Barnabas Collins in the ABC-TV gothic horror soap opera “Dark Shadows” (1966-1971)

What’s Your Problem?

Whether your customers are B2B, B2C, or B2G, no matter if you sell products or services, tangible or intangible, you will, through trial and error, lost sales and big paydays, develop good stories that convince customers and make sales. Over the years you will trot these warhorses out again and again because they take you to the bank.

Your selling stories can take any number of approaches depending on what and to whom you sell, but one tried-and-true selling story category is the Problem Story. In a Problem Story you demonstrate that you can relate to the prospect’s pain points, you understand what is driving the prospect’s situation and you’re prepared to work with him/her to come up with an effective and reasonably priced solution (that just so happens to reside in your product or service line).

The best Problem Stories have a basic format that you can then adapt and apply to any prospect. Learn to personalize your Problem Story with a visit to your prospect’s website, an internet search to read what’s appeared in the press and if you met the prospect at a business association meeting or similar event, a call to the membership chairperson to get additional info about the prospect and his/her business. Get the back story and begin to comprehend the big picture of your prospect’s goals and understand what really matters. Now you can put together and customize a winning Problem Story.

For example, I provide event planning and PR services for a couple of large annual art events that are sponsored by an artist’s organization. The project specs describe the event planning responsibilities and event promotion public relations campaign that I’m hired to manage, but the unspoken purpose of my job is to persuade art lovers, art dealers, museum curators and the curious public to attend the event and buy art. My service enables the meeting of the relevant parties, so that business can be done.

When I write for the women entrepreneurs magazine where I am a staff writer, my unspoken purpose is to provide compelling content that persuades readers to click on my articles. Those clicks are tallied and they measure both my value to the magazine and the magazine’s value to advertisers, whose budgets sustain the publication.

Problem Stories communicate your understanding of what the prospect is facing and why s/he needs your help. Problem Stories communicate your authenticity because they entail sharing and not just telling. You “get it” and you care. A Problem Story is the opposite of a canned, impersonal sales pitch.

BTW, problem Stories can have a life beyond your conversations with prospects. With client permission if you’d like to reveal names, your Problem Stories make excellent case studies that you can upload to your website, Facebook page and LinkedIn profile, or share with the listening audience when you are a pod cast guest. Make use of your Problem Story wherever and whenever you’d like to demonstrate expertise, build trust and grow your customer base.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Academy-Award winning actor (“Network,” Best Actor 1977) Peter Finch (1916 – 1977) as Howard Beale in “Network” (1976). Directed by Sidney Lumet.

Can You Bring Blockchain into Your Business?

The technology known as Blockchain has received loads of attention in the business and tech press over the past three years or so but until recently, I never understood what it and never thought it would apply to me, anyway. Blockchain is for the big guys, right? Not really. The benefits of Blockchain play to many audiences.

Before we go any further, let’s understand what Blockchain is. Blockchain is a record-keeping ledger that is accessible only to its participating creators. Blockchain is also the ultimate permanent record because information entered into a Blockchain document cannot be deleted and will be stored forever. Registered participants may enter new data into the Blockchain ledger to update it, but nothing can be deleted.

Blockchain data is secure and permanent and each document entered into the network has an unique software code. Once the document is triggered, that’s it—the document is forever locked down. If it becomes necessary to make substantive changes, one must start over with a new Blockchain document.

Companies that deliver complex services or offer a wide array of products that are purchased from numerous sources are a natural fit for Blockchain. Think of retail operations that order inventory from overseas manufacturers. Cultural business practices, language differences and the processes of ordering, shipping, payment and confirming arrival of the goods creates many opportunities for the ball to be dropped. Blockchain enables all parties to monitor in real time every action-oriented element in a contract and can even link payments to meeting milestones that demonstrate fulfillment of terms.

Freelancers, professional service providers and small business owners can also find practical uses for Blockchain technology. For example, the Blockchain Smart Contract has potential for broad usage. Your Smart Contract is registered with the network and legally cleared as a valid agreement. Each point of agreement specified in the contract, e.g., the scope of work, milestones, deadlines and the invoicing schedule, is then automated and when fulfilled, that element is triggered and recorded as complete. That achievement allows any incentives connected to its fulfillment to be approved and awarded.

Let’s say that you contract to write a certain number of social media posts for a client. When your post is received by the client, or when you’ve uploaded it to the the client’s account, your Blockchain Smart Contract will signal that you are eligible to be paid for your work and you will not need to send an invoice to request payment. What a relief!

Blockchain can simplify and speed accounts receivable payments and as a result, enhance your cash-flow. Moreover, if you hold client credit card information that is used for automated payments, the information will be super- secure in the Blockchain network. Clients will feel more confident when doing business with you when you deliver your services with cutting-edge efficiency that includes an added layer of protection for their financial information. In other words, Blockchain is a brand and customer service enhancer.

For more information on how to set up Smart Contracts for your important projects, visit https://applicature.com/smart-contracts-development/. Plan on $500 for reusable Smart Contract development.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Image: “Signing the Marriage Contract” (1905) by George Sheridan Knowles (private collection)

Is Your Idea a Business or a Dead End?

Ha! So you think you have an idea that you can parlay into a good business, whether it’s a cutting edge technology or a tried and true formula, like a car wash.

Regardless of the industry that you’d like to enter, there is a more or less standard checklist of factors you should consider before investing your money, time and hopes. Before fantasies of entrepreneurship carry you away, do yourself a favor and answer these questions first. You’ll know how to proceed from here, whether it means that you meet with the Branch Manager at your bank to learn about business financing options, or you take a trip back to the drawing board.

1. Who are the target customers and what is the size of the market?

Define your market demographic. Who will pay to buy what you plan to sell? Is this a product or service that is growing in popularity, or maintaining its broad appeal, or is there a shift in customer preference on the horizon as those who would be your customers learn about a new choice that may persuade them to switch to The Next Big Thing?

In addition to demand for your intended product or service, are there enough customers in your location to support the business? By the way, how are your competitors doing? Do they appear to be thriving?

2. What is the problem that target customers want to solve or avoid when they do business with companies like your proposed venture?

Understand the back story of why customers would buy the solutions that you plan to sell. What is it that they’d like to achieve or avoid? One calls a window washer when the windows are dirty because clean windows demonstrate the owner’s desire to protect and enhance the value of his/her home.

3. How are target customers meeting their need today?

What businesses would be your primary three or four competitors? What factors persuade their customers to do business with them—a convenient location, exceptional product variety, discount pricing, the right relationships?

What advantage can you offer that customers might be drawn to—more convenient hours of operation, for example? Can you provide a product or service that meets a need that is valued but not currently addressed?

4. What is your solution (product or service)?

Describe your proposed product or service. You should be able to easily and clearly describe (and sell) your product. Develop an off-the-cuff sales pitch, record your delivery of it, then listen and evaluate. Would you buy this product or service?

5. How will you reach your customers?

If your business is B2C and requires a physical location, can you afford to set up shop in an area that potential customers will visit? If your business idea is B2B, do you have a plan to access customers and referrals? If your plan is for e-commerce, how will potential customers learn about your website?

6. Do you have the credibility and credentials to do business in this industry?

Especially if you plan to enter the B2B sector, be certain that your education and experience will command respect and trust. If obtaining certain licensing, certifications, or an educational degree is vital (even if not required), investigate the process, plus the time and money involved.

7. Do you have the funding to launch the business?

Research the expected business start-up costs and think objectively about how long it might take you to start making sales you can live on.

Pay your bills and get your credit score. Build up your savings. Whether you expect to self-finance, ask to borrow from friends, family, or your retirement account or apply for outside funding, you will need a lump sum of cash on hand when you launch a business.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Financial District, Boston, MA. Kim Clark, September 23, 2018

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.

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)