How B2Bs Use Social Media

Take a look at the pie chart above. In response to the question, “I am able to measure the return on investment (ROI) for my organic social media activities,” only 44% of marketers in a recent survey that examined the use of social media in the B2B and B2C sectors agreed they were able to measure the performance of their organic social activities. This challenge has plagued marketers since the format appeared. Social media marketing is now included in most marketing strategies, yet a demonstrable ROI still eludes many. In my experience as a Freelance marketing professional, business owners and leaders still haven’t figured out how to effectively use the medium, measure its success or, for that matter, establish reasonable expectations for its benefits.

The wrong platforms are used. Content doesn’t fit platform. Investments are made in platforms that customers do not follow. Postings, after an initial burst of energy, appear only erratically after four or five months. Most of all, in an effort to both save money and simplify, social media all-too-often becomes  the company’s marketing strategy, rather than one component of the strategy.

The 2019 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, released by Social Media Examiner, surveyed more than 4,800 marketers with the goal of understanding how they use social media to grow and promote their organizations. for the past five years, the top benefits derived from social media are increased exposure in the marketplace and increased website traffic. Company exposure grew to 93% (from 87% in 2018) and website traffic improved to 87% ( up from 78% in 2018). Lead generation increased to 74% from 64% in 2018 and, most importantly, sales rose to 72% from 2018’s 53%, solidly demonstrating that B2B and B2C marketers see positive results derived from investment in social media. https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/social-media-marketing-industry-report-2019/

Facebook remains the number one social media platform for both B2C and B2B marketers, who together account for 94% of business use on the platform. When B2C and B2B are examined separately, however, LinkedIn takes the number two spot for B2B, at 80%, while the number two B2C pick is Instagram, at 78%. Facebook and Instagram were the top two favorites of marketers overall in 2018.  

YouTube is still the number one video channel for marketers (57%) and Facebook’s native videos hold second place (50%). When the survey separated B2C and B2B responses, B2B marketers were found to choose LinkedIn native videos, while B2C marketers preferred Instagram stories and Facebook native videos. 

Of the platforms marketers regularly use for social media ads, Facebook is far and away the number one choice but once again, when separating B2B and B2C, the results show that B2B marketers use more LinkedIn ads while B2C marketers favor Facebook and Instagram ads.

Now, let’s look more deeply into 2020. A serious contender, at least in the B2C space, will be TikTok, an already massive platform beloved by Generation Z and Millennials. Launched in 2016, the site has more 500 million + active users worldwide; over one million of its 15 second videos are viewed every day. In January 2020, Statista reported that 37.2 % of TikTok users are age 10 -19, 26.3 % are age 20-29 and 16.7 % are age 30-39.

TikTok now has a shopping feature called “Hashtag Challenge Plus” that allows users to browse products that are associated with a sponsored Hashtag Challenge, all without leaving TikTok’s platform. Customers have now spent $50 million on TikTok purchases and 42% of all TikTok revenue now comes from the USA.

Did someone say influencer marketing? In 2020 and beyond, it’s safe to say that global brands whose customers skew to tweens and young adults will seize upon TikTok to spread their brand voice, engage with audiences and attract younger consumers, the golden key to future sales.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

A 360 Degree View of Your Brand

I recently gave a talk on branding, a term that we know gets used quite a bit, but I wonder if Freelance consultants and business owners fully understand what a brand means and how the brand can be put to work in service of the business? It is vitally important to first, recognize certain identifying characteristics of the business, which need not be complex or unique, and then spin those characteristics into a mythology or a story, a brand narrative or creation story, that is then packaged and marketed as a brand, destined to become a powerful selling tool.

Depending on your business, you might even build a brand around your location. Maybe you own a restaurant, or a hardware store, in Idaho. Common impressions that Idaho natives and Americans in general have about Idaho—rugged, outdoorsy, resilient, folksy, friendly, mountainous, beautiful—can be used to build a distinctive and compelling brand narrative. The essence of Idaho can become a defining characteristic of the brand.

Other branding possibilities are grandmas recipes (restaurants), the size of the establishment (large and comprehensive or small and curated), the longevity of the business, the number of generations that the same family has owned and operated the business, prestige clientele, expertise in a niche market, or superb customer service.

The function of a brand is to communicate. The brand is the reputation of the business. What a business leader must decide is the primary message that should be communicated and how to articulate that message.

What can the brand tell current and prospective customers? The brand tells them what to expect when doing business with you and your company—the available products and services, that the business can be trusted to deliver what they expect it to deliver, for starters. Branding is about reassuring. Branding is about consistency, predictability, trust, dependability, familiarity, the customer experience and comfort.

If the business owner or leader does it right, the brand will become habit-forming and the list of repeat customers will grow. Customers will be motivated to refer their friends, family and colleagues to the business. They will endorse the business on rating sites like Angie’s List, Yelp and Trip Advisor.

When examining and/or refreshing the brand, remember that the brand is two-sided. There is the internal brand and the (better-known) external brand. The internal brand represents what the business owner and leaders feel describes the brand. The external brand is how the business is perceived by the public, i.e., customers. The internal brand is self-image and the external brand is reputation.

It’s easier to start the brand examination internally—what do you, business owner or leader, want your organization to be known for? What do you interpret as its competitive advantages? What do you see as the value proposition or distinguishing characteristics?

The external view can be assessed by talking to customers, whether the best customers or occasional users of the products or services. In both cases, it’s important to ascertain what has persuaded them to do business with you. What brought them to your establishment, how do they feel about the experience and was the problem solved or objective achieved? Who is motivated to do business with you again and why? Who will not do business again with you and why?

In this way, business owners and leaders can determine what customers and prospects consider to be the defining competitive advantages and selling points. Conversations, face-2-face or by social media, and customer surveys are among the useful ways to learn what makes a difference and keeps customers coming back—or drives them away. If something can be summed up in a clever tagline, so much the better. Most of all, the business must promote what customers value most and express that message in language and symbols that will resonate.

When the value proposition, i.e., the value that the products or services will deliver to customers, perceived competitive advantages and selling points have been recognized and articulated, the business owner and leaders can confidently spread the word by way of promotional channels that customers and prospects trust and put the brand to work for the business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock,” whose approach to branding has both a physical and professional dimension.

The Hidden Codes of Body Language

On Monday February 10 at 6:00 PM I’ll give a 1-hour presentation on the basics of branding your business — or yourself! Find me at Staples/Government Center in Boston. Learn how to sharpen your image and tell your story in 2020. Please click the link and RSVP to attend. Free. (and I will work on my body language!) https://www.eventbrite.com/e/your-brandknow-it-own-it-work-it-tickets-92254605007

Kasia Wezowski, co-Founder (with husband Patryk Wezowski) of the Center for Body Language, a firm based in Antwerp, Belgium that teaches body language training and decoding to business executives and co-author (with her husband) of The Micro Expressions Book for Business (2012) says that non-verbal communication is powerful behavior that can accurately predict one’s success or failure. Wezowski claims her research has proven that decoding someone’s body language can predict the outcome of everything from presidential elections or one’s inborn potential to have an advantage when in negotiations.

The Wezowskis have studied successful leaders across a range of fields and they’ve identified several positions which their data indicates are effective and persuasive body language that will help you bring listeners around to your way of thinking. In 2013, they delivered a popular TEDx Talk How Microexpressions Predict Success.

The box—trustworthy and truthful

Early in the political career of former President Bill Clinton, he would often punctuate his speeches with big, wide arm gestures that had the boomerang effect of leading audiences to perceive him as untrustworthy. To help Clinton keep his body language under control, his public speaking coach taught him to imagine a box in front of his chest and mid-section that would contain his hand movements within it. Since then, “the Clinton box” has become a popular term in the public speaking field.

Hold the ball—commanding, dominant and in-charge

Gesturing as if one held a basketball between the hands helps the body signal confidence and control. Do this and the audience will feel that you, learned presenter, literally have the facts at your fingertips. The Apple Computers co-Founder Steve Jobs frequently used this hand position while delivering one of his legendary speeches.

Pyramid hands—calm and self-assured

When people are nervous, their hands often flit about and fidget. When one feels confident and in control, one is usually also calm and still. Help yourself to communicate this state of being by clasping both hands together in a relaxed pyramid. Many business executives employ this gesture, so beware of overuse or pairing this technique with facial expressions that may telegraph anger or contempt. The idea is to show that one is relaxed, not smug.

Wide stance—confident and in control

How people stand is a strong indicator of their mindset. When facing an audience, one does not want to slouch! Instead, stand in this strong and steady position. The feet are about shoulder width apart; knees are relaxed and not locked. The spine will be erect and the neck and shoulders will also be relaxed. Now the speaker signals that s/he has important information to share and that s/he feels confident. In a 2012 TEDGlobal talk Your Body Language Shapes Who Your Are, social psychologist Amy Cuddy sparked a sensation when she modeled this and other so-called “power poses.”

Palms up—honest and accepting

This gesture indicates openness and honesty.  Media impresario Oprah Winfrey makes frequent use of this tactic during her speeches. She is a powerful, influential figure who also appears willing to connect sincerely with audiences, be it one person or a crowd of thousands.

Palms down—strong and assertive, yet calming

The opposite movement can be viewed positively too—as a sign of strength, authority and assertiveness. Former President Barack Obama has often used this technique to calm a crowd right after moments of rousing applause in response to his speech.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: © Christopher Simon Sykes/Hulton Archive. Ronnie Wood (L) and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones strike Gods of Rock n’ Roll power poses at Madison Square Garden in New York City (1975 on the Tour of the Americas)

Your Business Advisor

As I go about my life, I will sometimes meet the owner of a small to mid-size business who, when I say that I’m a Freelance business strategy and marketing consultant who works with companies that need a professional to solve problems and get the company on track to grow and become profitable, or achieve other important objectives, they tell me about a business goal or obstacle they’re wrestling with. They ask if we can grab a coffee and talk sometime soon?

The stories that the business owners share are familiar—marketing problems, especially social media and content marketing questions; cash-flow bottlenecks; how to best launch a new product or develop a niche market; branding; pricing; and how can we scale and grow the company? Maybe a consultant can help?

Hiring a Freelance consulting expert can be helpful. The right specialist will give business owners and leaders an unbiased “view from 30,000 feet” of the business, making it possible to pinpoint problem areas and recommend strategies that will guide the organization to growth and profit. A consulting specialist can be brought in to address nearly any business need, from accounting, management and marketing to selling skills, IT, operations and even telephone etiquette.

If you hire the right person, the consulting fee will more than pay for itself, and save or make money for the organization. Consulting specialists work only on specific, predetermined business needs and do not add to the company payroll.

“Consultant” is a generic term; there are at least four types. Business consultants have a specific area of expertise based on their work experience and educational background—strategy, marketing, branding, sales training and financial management are common specialties. Process consultants develop practical solutions to improve a company’s day-to-day operations and overall functioning. IT consultants solve problems for those who need help with technology, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, cloud, cyber security and the Internet of Things. Executive coaches are counselors who guide clients through a wide variety of business or personal challenges. Increasingly, executive coaches do not have business expertise; many are psychologists (PhDs). Here’s a seven-point strategy to ensure you get the most from the consultant you’d like to hire.

Ask questions

Interview a prospective consultant before you hire. Questions to ask include: “What is your experience in my industry or field? Can you describe problems similar to mine that you’ve handled? Can you offer me full confidentiality and represent me without conflict of interest with your other clients?”

Also, confirm that the consultant will regularly communicate with the company contact person and prepare periodic progress reports. Request a written proposal that spells out how s/he plans to approach the organization’s problem, the approximate time needed and the fee you’ll be charged. If the business owner approves, that will serve as the contract.

As you evaluate a consultant’s experience and skills, consider your working relationship. Do you like and trust the person? Do you have a good rapport with him/her?

Expectations

A consultant is an advisor, not a miracle worker. If your marketing campaign hasn’t increased sales for the past six months, don’t expect a consultant to turn business around overnight. If someone promises to do so, be skeptical. You want a consultant who is knowledgeable in your industry or field and can recommend a workable solution, which is often not a quick fix.

Job specs

The business owner must decide what tasks to pursue and commit that to writing. The more specific, the better. There can be no confusion about the assignment. Asking for a strategy to increase sales by 10 % within 12 months, or increase social media followers by 25 % in a similar time frame, will ensure that the consultant understands the expectations.

On your end

The business owner should anticipate the information and resources that the consultant will likely need to do the job. Consider what documents, metrics, history are essential, along with any office equipment, office space, supplies, or team members that can make the job progress at a smooth and efficient clip.

The money talk

Some consultants charge flat rates or bill by the hour, the day, or the project. Others charge a contingency fee, in which the amount paid is based on the results. For instance, if a consultant reduces business operating expenses by $10,000, s/he might receive 10 % of the savings as the total fee or as a bonus in addition to the flat rate. I estimate that the average full-time consultant charges $75 to $150 per hour.

References

Ask the prospective hire for three recent references—and call them. You want to know if the consultant accomplished what was promised within the agreed-upon deadline, if s/he communicated regularly and if the company would hire the consultant again. Ideally, the consultant will have worked for at least one client who operates a businesses similar to yours.

Contract

Prepare a written agreement (the project proposal referenced above will usually suffice) that clearly spells out the terms of the arrangement. Define the services to be performed, the starting and ending dates, the fee schedule and how it will be paid, milestones, expenses that the business owner agrees to pa, and services the consultant will provide. For contracts $10,000 or more, the business owner is recommended to ask a business attorney to review and edit/ approve the agreement.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: © Paramount Pictures. Robert Duvall ([L]as attorney and advisor Tom Hagen) shares information with his only client, Marlon Brando (as family business CEO Vito Corleone) in the multi-Academy Award winning film The Godfather, Part I (1972).

7 Kinds of Business Financing

Is 2020 your year to launch a business, or is growth and expansion of your existing venture on this year’s must-do list? If so, congratulations and best of luck to you! I’m sure you’ve thought of the most advantageous way to obtain the required financing for your plans and we’ll look at some good options right now.

A study conducted by the National Small Business Association found that 19% of small business owners cite a lack of available capital as the biggest challenge to plans for future growth and 82% of businesses outright fail because of cash flow management issues. In preparation for borrowing, I remind you that financial institutions will evaluate your credit score, so make paying off bills and boosting your savings immediate priorities.

According to the 2018 Small Business Lending Index, big (national) banks approve 25% of loan applications made by small business owners and smaller (community and regional) banks approve nearly 50% of loan applications made by small business owners. So whether it’s your food supply or your money supply, keeping it local is a good thing, am I right? https://www.biz2credit.com/small-business-lending-index/january-2018

Line of credit

A business line of credit functions like a credit card and it’s available to borrowers with either good or less than perfect credit. Borrowers can be approved for a potentially generous amount of funding that can be accessed immediately. The application process to obtain a line of credit is usually quick, and many businesses receive approval in a day or two. Interest rates range from 7% – 25% and repayment terms are usually between six months and one year, (meaning that one cannot run a balance ad infinitum) depending on the business’ revenue and credit score.

Short-term loan

Pursue this type of loan to, for example, bridge cash flow gaps, stock up on inventory that is available at an attractive price, or take advantage of a lucrative business opportunity. Surprisingly, borrowers often don’t need a great credit score to be approved for a short-term loan and that can be an advantage. In fact, the borrower could use the loan to pay off higher-interest debt and improve the credit score. Furthermore, short-term loans tend to involve less paperwork and processing is usually fast, making funds available quickly.

Short-term loans must be repaid in rather a short amount of time, often in just one year, and payments are usually due weekly, not monthly. They also generally come with a relatively high interest rate when compared to other types of loans and loan amounts are usually capped.

Secured loan

Secured business loans require a specific piece of collateral, such as a business vehicle or commercial property, that the lender can claim if the borrower fails to repay the loan. Unsecured loans, on the other hand, are not attached to collateral. Personal loans, student loans and credit cards are common examples of unsecured loans. Unsecured loans have higher interest rates and stringent approval requirements, to ensure that lenders gets their money back. Secured loans are often easier to obtain and may also have a lower interest rate, because the lender has a guaranteed way to recoup money lost to default by selling the borrower’s collateral.

Because of the increased risk an unsecured loan represents to the lender, borrowers may be asked to sign a personal guarantee in order to receive approval. If the borrower defaults on the loan, s/he will then be personally liable for repaying it. While a creditor can’t seize business property under a personal guarantee they can legally claim the borrower’s personal assets, including bank accounts, cars and real estate, until the loan is repaid.

Another common method used by institutions to mitigate the risk associated with secured loans is by reserving the right to file a blanket lien against the borrower’s business assets. Most business loan terms include a blanket lien clause that allows the lender to claim and resell business assets to collect the debt.

Term loan

Term loans, also known as long-term loans, are best for business owners with great credit and who are requesting a big loan. They may not be a good option for those who are launching a new business, however, since lenders usually want to see a track record of success (evidenced by 3- 5 years of business financials) before taking on the risk. 

The term loan application process is lengthy. If the application is accepted, borrowers must pay a principal amount plus interest each month until the debt is paid in full. Term loans are most often used to buy real estate, acquire another business, remodel or renovate a commercial space, or support long-term business expansion.

Equipment loan

Owners of businesses large and small often need to purchase, replace, repair, or upgrade various kinds of equipment to process, manufacture, or produce their products and equipment loans are essential to this process. These loans can be a great option for start-ups as well as established businesses, and they can be used to finance nearly every type of business equipment, including company vehicles. Owners of new businesses can take advantage of an equipment loan because the equipment secures the loan, regardless of the success or failure of the company. Interest rates are often reasonable and will reflect the individual’s or business’ credit rating and financial picture.

Be aware that excellent credit is required for most equipment loans. In general, borrowers will be able to finance 80% of the total purchase price of the equipment. A down payment of about 20% is typically required for most small business equipment loans.

Borrowers with less than stellar credit should investigate the terms of leasing the desired equipment. Leasing typically does not require a down payment and that especially benefits businesses that have little or no available working capital. When a down payment is required, it is typically relatively small compared to what a traditional loan down payment would be.

Purchase order financing

To qualify for purchase order financing, the company must sell finished goods (not raw materials or product components) to B2B or B2G customers with profit margins of at least 15%. Start-ups can qualify for PO financing because approval is based primarily on the creditworthiness of, and borrower history with, those customers and suppliers. The chances of being approved are even greater if customers and suppliers are well-established, reputable companies.

PO financing can present a great opportunity for start-ups that receive lots of orders but don’t have the cash to fulfill them. In these cases, similar to invoice financing, the purchase order secures the loan. Once the business receives a purchase order from a customer, the lender directly pays the supplier to manufacture and deliver the product to the customer. Once delivery is accepted, the customer pays the lender. The lender then deducts their fees from this amount and pays the remainder to the borrower, which can be counted as profits. 

PO financing is a great way to help your business grow without taking on bank debt or selling equity in your company. If sales outpace your incoming cash flow, then purchase order financing might be a good strategy to fulfill big orders.

Invoice financing

Also known as accounts receivable financing or factoring, this loan allows Freelance consultants to survive slow-paying clients. Small and medium- sized businesses will be able to manage the increasingly common practice of “net 90” receivables payment that large companies impose on smaller organizations, in exchange for big orders.

With invoice financing, lenders advance to borrowers the value of accounts receivable, less a fee of perhaps 15%. The borrower will pay a weekly fee while waiting for the customer to pay up. Invoice financing helps businesses improve cash flow, meet the employee payroll, pay vendors and suppliers and reinvest in operations and growth earlier than they could if they had to wait for clients and customers to pay their balances in full.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Money Lenders (1784) an etching by Thomas Rowland. The aspiring borrower (L) is George, Prince of Wales (George IV 1820 -1830).

Paying You: How to Pay Yourself When You're the Business Owner

Freelance consultants and business owners dedicate a considerable chunk of mental bandwidth to thinking about how to generate business, because the top line matters. We think a lot about making money, but we may not devote much time to thinking through the mechanics of paying ourselves once the money arrives.

Sole Proprietors and single person LLC owners may consider the self-payment process a no-brainer—as invoices are paid, one simply deposits the money into the business bank account. But like so may actions that seem easy at first glance there is usually a right way, a smart way, to pay oneself as a self-employed person.

So—are you on your business’ payroll or do you take payments from your business in the form of owner draws? Do you and your business partners take guaranteed payments (salary)?  Are you paying yourself too much or not enough? How can you tell? Also, where in your business financials are the payments recorded?

Business type Payment Tax return Payroll Tax

Sole Proprietor Owner’s draw         1040/ Sched. C     Yes                                

Single LLC Member draw 1040/ Sched. C Yes

Multi LLC Member share 1040/ Sched. K-1 Yes

S Corporation Dividend/ wage 1040/ Sched. K-1 Yes

C Corporation Dividends 1040 dividends not on dividends

Sole Proprietor

Business owners and Freelancers who adopt this, the default business structure, pay themselves through an owner’s draw, i.e., the amount of money taken from business earnings, after expenses and taxes, by the owner for his/her personal use. The payment is called a draw because money is drawn out of the business.

Sole Proprietors usually take draws by writing a check to themselves from their business bank accounts. Smart Sole Proprietors will then deposit that check into a personal bank account and avoid co-mingling business and personal funds, a practice that inevitably leads to accounting and tax complications. The owner’s draw doesn’t affect business taxes because the net income has already been taxed. The draw is also not a business expense. From an accounting and tax perspective, the owner’s draw is income distribution. Owner draws are recorded on the Balance Sheet.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

LLC owners, who are known as members, are not (always) considered employees of the entity and therefore they do not (always) take a salary as would an employee. LLC members, especially single member entities, usually pay themselves with a member’s draw, which is taken from the member’s capital account (business bank account). Multiple owner LLCs are considered to be partners in the business and pay themselves with a member’s share distribution, also taken from the member’s capital account. 

While members may periodically draw from their capital account, a draw is in reality an early withdrawal of anticipated year-end profits, a goal that is perhaps at top-of-mind at multi-member LLCs. Whenever a member receives a draw during the year, his/her capital account decreases, but if the business shows a profit at the end of the year, the member’s capital account will increase in accordance with the percentage of ownership. If a member owns 25 % of the LLC, then s/he can expect to receive 25 % of year-end profits. Single member LLCs own 100 % of the entity and are entitled to 100 % of the profits. Member draws are recorded on the Balance Sheet.

A working member in a multi-member LLC has the option of either receiving a guaranteed salary amount as an LLC employee, or paying oneself with a member’s share distribution, as will a single member LLC owner. Members who are strictly silent partner investors and do not work in the business are not entitled to period draws, but will receive their member’s distribution of profits in accordance with their ownership percentage at the end of the tax year. 

The member salary, known as a guaranteed payment, is not based on the percentage split agreed upon in the LLC operating agreement but based on the work the member performs in the business. Unlike member distributions, guaranteed payments are recorded on the Profit & Loss (Income) Statement and are taken from business profits.

The LLC must be diligent about filing the correct tax forms on behalf of members and maintain accurate accounting histories for everyone throughout the year, to reflect member payment choices. Members paid as LLC employees must file IRS Form W-4 to calculate the amount of payroll tax withholding taken from from each paycheck. The member is then treated as a W-2 employee of the LLC. If the member is paid as an Independent Contractor, then s/he must file IRS Form W-9 with the LLC and the LLC must file IRS Form 1099-MISC by the end of the year. All member draws or distributions are deducted from the amount of profits assigned to the capital accounts, based on ownership percentages.

Corporations

An S Corporation is in reality either an LLC or C Corporation that has elected for special tax treatment with the IRS. S Corp income, losses, deductions and credits pass through to its shareholders’ personal IRS Form 1040. Shareholders then report the business’s income and losses on form 1040 and are taxed at their individual income tax rates. C Corps are subject to double taxation—a separate corporation tax and when dividends are paid to shareholders, that amount is recorded on IRS 1040 (but there is no payroll tax).

S and C Corporation owners who work in the business pay themselves a regular “salary” and also distribution payments. S Corp owners are usually employees of the business. Owners who work as employees must be paid a “reasonable salary” before profits (dividend distributions) are paid and the salary is subject to payroll taxes. The IRS has guidelines that define a reasonable salary, based on job responsibilities. Salaries are generally taken from business profits.

Owners of C Corps can elect to pay its shareholders a cash dividend, which is a distribution of company profits. However, the C Corp board may choose to retain either the entirety or some portion of business net profits and decline to pay a dividend in a given quarter or year. If a dividend is paid, that amount is added to income reported on the shareholder’s personal IRS Form 1040. The company records dividend payments on the Balance Sheet.

S corporation owners have been known to request that their corporations pay them little or no salary, since salaries are taxed, and instead take payments as dividend distributions, which are not taxed. The IRS has stepped up enforcement on this issue and in 2000 audited thousands of S Corps whose owner the IRS concluded had received a suspiciously low salary and very generous dividend distribution, in an apparent attempt to evade payroll taxes by disguising their salary as corporate distributions.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Pay day on a U.S. Navy cruiser (1942)

Elevator Pitch: Master Class

Every Freelancer has an elevator pitch, but few of those pitches are as effective as they could be. My own could use some work, to be honest. Freelancers are hunters and we thrive only when we bring in clients who trust us with lucrative and/or long-term projects. Arguably, the most important facet of a Freelancer’s skill set is the ability to quickly assess whether that interesting someone we’ve just met might have the potential to green light our next payday.

Street smart Freelancers anticipate the opportunity inherent in every meeting by using our hunter’s instinct to take aim and expertly deliver an elevator pitch that gets bells ringing in the head of a listener. In the conversation that’s sure to follow, these Freelancers ask a handful of smart questions designed to quickly weed out window shoppers, tire kickers and those whose needs do not align with our skill set.

The hunt starts with the pitch and Freelancers must build it with precision and deliver it in 30 seconds. The biggest mistakes Freelancers make in elevator pitch content are: (1) merely stating their skill set or job title, rather than giving a brief description of the problems they solve for clients and (2) failing to communicate the value they provide, the practical application of their expertise, that makes a persuasive case for working with them.

Skills or functions?

“I’m Bob Rossi, a business lawyer who also edits a digital business management magazine.” The information is accurate but Freelancer Bob has not expressed what is uniquely worthwhile about his business, he has not presented a story or any information that might persuade a listener to take notice. Expecting his job title to interest the listener is unrealistic because that alone doesn’t necessarily help anyone understand why s/he should care who Freelancer Bob is and envision how his products or services might be useful.

Whatever your job title and skill set, there are most likely dozens, if not hundreds, of highly skilled professionals who do some version of the same thing. There are many types of lawyers and business writers in the world. The successful hunter-Freelancer knows how to present a tidy little narrative of an elevator pitch that puts the listener at its center. In this much more compelling version, the Freelancer succinctly (1) names his/her specialty— the kind of work that you do best or most often (or your most popular product)— and how you add value; (2) identifies the types of clients you usually work with; and (3) gives three or four examples of article topics that regularly appear in the magazine (marketing, sales, finance and tech, perhaps).

“Hello, I’m Bob Rossi. I help business start-ups solve their management and legal issues, including LLC, incorporation and partnership set-ups. I also edit a nationally known monthly digital business management magazine that addresses topics that are important to business owners, entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals, primarily finance, marketing, sales and tech.”

It’s critical to wordsmith an elevator pitch that will convince the listener to pay attention and, if your timing is right, think of how s/he can use your know-how and imagine bringing you into a project that needs to get done in the near term. A money-making elevator pitch can convert a listener into a prospect who wants follow-up, who will say “take my card and shoot me an email, or call me at around 5:00 PM on a Tuesday.”

Finally, like the old joke says, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!” Nothing sounds worse than clumsy delivery of an elevator pitch. You will be dead in the water and the VIP will never give you a second chance. Like an actor or an athlete, Freelancers must constantly rehearse and refine the elevator pitch, working it so that it slides off the tongue effortlessly. Because we never knows when a fortunate encounter with a VIP will occur, practice your elevator pitch often. Edit and edit again, until the wording is perfect and the cadence natural. Learn to step up to the plate on a moment’s notice with confidence, energy and enthusiasm and hit a home run every time.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: ©TV Guide. Deluca (Giacomo Gianniotti) delivers his elevator pitch to Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) in Season 15, Episode 9 of Grey’s Anatomy.

Keepin Up with Expectations

The question “What do my customers want?” is maybe even more confounding than the 3000 year old Riddle of the Sphinx. Guessing incorrectly in either case brings the same fate—death (of the business, if not the owner). I suppose we can lay it all at the feet of digital innovation, which has raised the bar on customer expectations. Customers now expect the same level of end-to-end prompt, seamless performance and service from the small and mid-size companies that they still (thankfully!) patronize as they receive from well-funded and staffed multinational corporations. The little people must now work smarter, be evermore creative and resourceful and OMG hustle if we want to be viable.

According to a 2018 Salesforce CX Report, where 6,700 B2B and B2C buyers answered survey questions on technology, trust and the customer experience, 80 % of responders feel that the buying experience a company provides is as important as the products and services it provides. The report also found that if customers are dissatisfied, they’re ready to jump ship—75 % agree that it’s easier than ever to take their business elsewhere. So just because your customers are cozying up to you now doesn’t mean that they won’t look over your shoulder to see who else is in the room. https://c1.sfdcstatic.com/content/dam/web/en_us/www/assets/pdf/datasheets/trends-in-integrated-customer-experience-salesforce-research.pdf

The State of the Connected Customer, a 2019 Salesforce survey of 8,000 B2B and B2C buyers, found that customers will switch brands for what they perceive as a better customer experience. The survey concludes that customers expect good-to-great experiences from companies they know or would like to try out. The report also shows that trust and company values are important building blocks of customer relationships. https://www.salesforce.com/content/dam/web/en_us/www/documents/infographics/2019-state-of-the-connected-customer-infographic.pdf

At the same time, customer expectations are continually shifting as a result of their ongoing interactions with the world around them. For business owners and leaders, this means that in order to get a handle on creating the most desirable customer experience it is necessary to reexamine / reevaluate the customer experience at our organizations, this time from the customer’s perspective.

By way of understatement, customer expectations are not always predictable. How a customer judges their experience will not always align with what business owners and leaders have assumed about the experience their company provides. According to a 2017 report compiled by the uber consulting firm Accenture, 73% of B2B buyers want the customer experience to resemble that of a B2C company. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-60/Accenture-Strategy-B2B-Customer-Experience-PoV.pdf#zoom=50

We also know that the personal touch is highly valued. In 2015, The Harvard Business Review reported that companies that successfully master the art of personalization for their customers can reduce customer acquisition costs by as much as 50 %, increase revenue by as much as 15 % and increase the effectiveness of marketing dollars spent by up to 30 %. https://hbr.org/2015/11/how-marketers-can-personalize-at-scale

The fact is that the customer experience is impacted by customer expectations and those expectations play a significant role in how our customers perceive and judge our organization. Customers today expect the companies with which they do business to know their preferences and they want those preferences reflected in every interaction, whether online or face-2-face. 

What business leaders can do

First, recognize and define what the ideal customer experience in your organization looks like and take steps to ensure that the standard is consistently met. Remember to assume the viewpoint of the customer and guard against internal bias. Second, stay abreast of market research that reports on your industry to discover trends and evaluate what your organization can afford to do and what it can’t afford to not do, in response. Third, guarantee that all customer-facing staff understands the value of delivering a first-rate customer experience and empower staff to support the delivery of that first-rate customer experience. Training is often necessary to show organization leaders how to create an empowered culture for employees and teach customer-facing staff how to graciously and effectively meet (reasonable) customer expectations.

Creating a superior customer experience at your organization requires significant planning and flawless execution. Be aware that every facet of your organization has a contribution to make as you respond to your customer’s evolving expectations. As you prepare your organization to study and improve the customer experience provided, consider how customers and prospects might view your company’s website content and functionality, sales distribution methods, payment systems, content marketing, social media, sales distribution, business hours and other factors that directly or indirectly impact the buying and customer experience at your organization.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: © Richard Termine for The New York Times. Samantha Barks (center) in the Broadway musical Pretty Woman (2018).

Multiplication Table: Inclusive Interpretations of Business Growth

I’m not much of a gambler, but I’ll wager that at least 75% of those who aim to track the growth of their business or self-employment venture follow just two metrics—net profit and market share (or the length of the client list). The two are reliable indicators of business performance and so most will look no further. But if you think about it, limiting one’s assessment of a business to just two metrics is short-sighted and will not yield a comprehensive measurement of business performance. Furthermore, focusing exclusively on revenue means one is likely to overlook other metrics that demonstrate growth.

A business is a complex organism that consists of numerous variables that play a role in its success or failure. In order to thoroughly measure the performance of a venture, Freelancers and business owners would be wise to look beyond the usual suspects and broaden their view and understanding of what’s going on.

It’s a beautiful thing to regularly monitor Key Performance Indicators. It’s even better to know which KPIs, when considered together, will accurately reflect the state of the venture. Revenue and profit are the king and queen of KPIs, but forward-thinking business leaders also monitor less obvious but still powerful growth indicators.

Let’s consider two metrics that matter in every business, churn and referrals. Churn occurs when customers who could reasonably be expected to at least periodically do business with a company instead sever contact and take their business elsewhere, presumably to a competitor. The opposite of churn is customer retention. Referrals are recommendations of potential customers to a business, made by current customers of that business or those who are familiar with the business. A business leader should not only monitor referrals and the churn rate, but also create strategies to encourage the former and discourage the latter. Let’s talk about it.

Churn

A high churn rate indicates that the business is not retaining customers and this has an adverse effect on top line (and bottom line) revenue and profit. Now the type of business must be taken into consideration. Wedding planners, for example, can be expected to do business with a bride only once and repeat business is rare. But if customers are severing contact with a business and seeking out a competitor, it signals a big problem and an urgent need for corrective action.

Limiting churn has a positive impact on customer retention. It has been demonstrated by a number of researchers that it costs a business at least five times more to acquire a new client than it does to keep a client. Reducing churn is an indirect multiplier of revenue and profit and is therefore worth the effort.

A well-written customer survey that communicates the company’s commitment to meeting or exceeding expectations and creating a positive customer experience may yield a surprise or two and, most importantly, information that is actionable. Finding opportunities to have face-to-face conversations with customers who have remained may also surface information that will clue business leaders in on modifications that should be made.

Referrals

I am in business to help business leaders identify goals and strategies that will take their venture to the next level. I also frequently collaborate on the branding, marketing, content marketing and social media campaigns associated with that process. Reducing churn to increase customer retention, as well as bolstering referrals, supports both the top and bottom lines of a business.

A great way to pump up your referral numbers is to launch a campaign focused on referrals themselves. The simplest referral campaign is to just ask a customer to “tell your friends.” Another useful tactic that can motivate customers to make referrals is to offer a 10% – 15% discount off their next order, or a product or service upgrade, for every customer who is referred and makes a purchase.

The referral process can be taken online with an easy referral link in team members’ signature blocks. Offer incentives to existing customers, extra services that are valuable to those making referrals to you.

Referrals are a huge vote of confidence because they signal that the company is trustworthy, dependable and doing something right. Referrals are the warmest, most qualified leads a business will encounter and often little more than clarifying the choice of specific product or service features and confirming a delivery date and price are all that’s needed to close a sale. Yippee!

Happy Chanukkah, Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa! Enjoy your favorite holidays and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: © The School Run

Getting Clients: The Reboot 2020

For us freelancers to find reliable, long-term clients is a job unto itself and not an easy one. We have no choice but to invest thought and time into showing prospective clients and those who might refer us to prospective clients why we could be the best choice for providing the solution(s) for their problem.

To get ourselves inspired and off to a running start in the New Year, let’s review how we might best package and promote ourselves and our services to prospects, potential strategic partners and referral sources and update how to stand out and appear highly competent, trustworthy and an overall good hire for the Next Big Project.

KNOW YOUR NICHE

It can be so tempting to not want to limit ourselves to a specific niche, but the truth is, “If you’re talkin’ to everybody, you’re talkin’ to nobody.”
The biggest mistake that Freelancers make when going out on our own is that we try to be all things to all people. But when we create a niche, we can more effectively express what we do for our clients and how those clients benefit. That helps those who know and trust us to make referrals on our behalf. A clearly defined and easily described niche service or product is also easier to market to potential clients, because the message is easy to articulate and understand.

GETTING CLEAR ON CLIENTS

Getting clear on your niche and how we serve our clients is only step one. The real magic happens when we learn to consistently communicate in a way that resonates with target client groups. Speaking their language makes all the difference. Do you want to stand out to prospects? Know your ideal client!

It is to our advantage to be clear and concise about whom we can help and why. Tell (don’t sell) the story and talk just like you’d talk to a colleague. Embody the tone and attitude of one who cares, who understands their pain and can help them. Paint the “after” picture, i.e., the picture of their future after working with you. Offer credentials and tell client success stories that speak to their unique needs and concerns. In short, be all about your client.

INSIDE THE CLIENT VIEWPOINT
Christy Geiger, founder of Synergy Strategies Coaching and Training in Austin, TX https://synergystrategies.com/, says that one of the most difficult challenges in marketing is to identify and articulate one’s unique value and then sell that value to prospective clients.

Christy recommends that we flip the message and describe our service fromthe client’s perspective. Rather than presenting a list of self-promoting attributes that paint you as Mr. or Ms. Wonderful, discuss instead how your expertise ensures that clients are able do what they need to do and achieve goals and objectives.

MARKETING CREDIBILITY

As a Freelancer, the best way to stand out from competitors is to build your marketing around our credibility. Content marketing is very useful for this mission. Produce content that will help both bring visibility to your products and services and it help to establish you as an expert in your industry.

KNOW YOUR COMPETITION

Research others who provide products and/or services similar to your organization. What do they offer, what do they charge (if you can determine that)and how do they differentiate themselves in the marketplace? Then, ask yourself what could be realistically portrayed as valuable differences between your operation and those of your closest competitors? How might you be able to successfully distinguish yourself, your business practices, your qualifications, your products and/or your services and how might you persuade clients that these attributes make you the preferred provider?

CASE STUDIES

When clients hire us Freelancers, we expect that there will be a “discovery phase,” when they check us out—visiting our LinkedIn profile and social media presence, finding and reading articles we may have written and media quotes or features, for example. They’ll visit our websites and peruse our client list to find out who (else) they know who’s worked with us. To verify our work ethic, they may have a good talk with the referring party, if that was how the parties were introduced, or they may just call one (or more) of the clients on our list and discuss the quality of the results of the deliverable.

Freelancers can help both ourselves and our prospective clients reduce by sharing two or three well-written and descriptive case studies that demonstrate what we do, how we do it and the (exceptional!) results that we produce.

EASY TO DO BUSINESS

We Freelancers wear many hats. We’re the Chief Marketing Officer, the Vice President of Product Development, the Director of Sales, the Comptroller and company President. Our products and services may be excellent, but we would be advised to employ business practices and customer service protocols that make it is easy for customers to access what we have to offer. Setting up online purchasing or appointment booking, returning inquiries promptly and following-up as promised make a big difference. If customers have to jump through hoops to work with us, they will go elsewhere.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Steve McQueen (1930 – 1980), the “King of Cool,” in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968).

10 Great Client Gifts for Under $25.00

Hello all, have you bought your holiday client gifts yet? What are you waiting for? The clock is ticking. I bought mine yesterday afternoon (whew!).

Any and all clients for whom you do ongoing work, regardless of how small the billable hours, deserve an acknowledgement from you at this time of year. A client who gifted you with a big invoice this year definitely deserves a gift. Everyone with whom you’ve done business for the past five years deserves a holiday greeting card.

Devising client outreach tactics that skirt the appearance of a sales pitch is one of the indications of a well-designed marketing strategy. The best thing about the holidays is that we don’t have to dream up an occasion and fret over how to deliver the message—the occasion is self-evident. I invite you to browse these 10 practical, business appropriate and inexpensive gift options, which I hope will quickly solve your search.

1. Tech Compatible Gloves $24.00 A meaningful gift for those who live in a cold climate! Now your client can maximize efficiency and work on his/her devices wherever and whenever, whatever the weather, thanks to the knit-in touch-screen capability on the thumbs and index fingers of the gloves. Wear them alone when it’s not too cold and slip them into another pair of gloves on colder days. https://www.rei.com/product/873158/smartwool-liner-tech-compatible-gloves?cm_mmc=aff_AL--40661--55097-_-NA&avad=55097_c180e7139

2. Vinluxe Pro Wine Aerator $23.50 For those who like wine, a wine aerator is used to expand the wine’s surface area, allowing air to mingle with the wine. An aerator forces air to be circulated through the wine, resulting in a wine with more of an aromatic profile and softer tannins. It’s an alternative to swirling the wine. An Andre Lorent product, the Vinluxe was rated one of the top seven wine aerators in 2019 by the California Wine Advisor. https://www.andrelorent.com/

3. Hamilton Beach Electric Kettle $24.99
The kettle holds 1-liter (almost 34 ounces) and it’s stainless steel. It will heat water even faster than a microwave! For safety, the kettle has auto shut-off with boil dry protection features and for convenience, a water-level window. There is also a removable mesh filter and the heating element is concealed. https://www.hamiltonbeach.com/1-liter-stainless-steel-electric-kettle-40998

4. Anker Wireless Power Station  $16.99 
If you know someone who is constantly watching something on their phone, give them this stand that also doubles as a wireless charger. It works at 10W for Samsung phones and 5W for iPhones. sleek and practical, the Anker wireless charger will look great on your client’s desk. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DBXZZN3/ref=as_li_ss_tl?SubscriptionId=AKIAJO7E5OLQ67NVPFZA&ascsubtag=991011980-2-1278882471.1575921784&tag=shopperz_origin1-20

5. Southern Sampler Gift Box   $23.95
This sampler includes our most popular items: a World Famous Praline, Milk Chocolate Bear Claw, White Chocolate Bear Claw, Glazed Pecans and Peanut Brittle. Yummy! https://www.riverstreetsweets.com/product/Southern-Sampler/Gourmet-Gift-Boxes-and-Assortments

6. Business Card Holder/Desk $20.75 Here’s a nice desk item that is practical, versatile and unique—a business card holder with picture frame, to serve a dual purpose in a way that your client will appreciate. Available in rosewood or cherry wood finish. You Personalize your gift by laser engraving the card holder with the client’s company logo. Dimensions: 4″ x 2 3/4″ x 3 3/4″ https://www.e-corporategifts.com/Pop-Up-Business-Card-Holder-and-Frame.html

7. Cheese Board $19.95 This slate cheese board is the perfect size for your client’s office. The board features natural edges and velvet mounting to protect counter tops. It comes with food safe soapstone chalk to note the type of cheese, or write a message for your guests. An innovative take on a staple product for your home. Food-safe. Natural slate. Soapstone chalk. Dimensions: 8″ x 16″ https://www.greatgatherings.com/entertaining-essentials/barware-serveware/slate-cheese-board

8. Sponge Holder $24.00 Challenge: how to add flair to storing a mundane cleaning tool? This cheeky yet practical kitchen or bathroom accessory is made of decorative beach stones and a base cut from salvaged granite, connected by three aluminum posts that hold your sponge in style. The durable rubber bottom pad protects surfaces from scratches. This elegant holder also makes a great wallet valet, inviting cocktail napkin holder, or artful mail caddy. Handmade by Arra David and Anne Johnson in Windham, NH. https://www.uncommongoods.com/product/sea-stone-splash-sponge-holder

9. The Bullet Pen $22.95 Writes at any angle, even in Zero Gravity. Simply the most versatile pen ever made. This amazing pen is constructed of raw, unfinished brass. Over time, each pen will develop an unique patina as it responds to its environment, the owner’s body chemistry and the way s/he handles the instrument. Writes at any angle, even in Zero Gravity. It is simply the most versatile pen ever made. The pen also will write in extreme temperatures from -30F to 250F. Each Fisher Space Pen is precision assembled, hand tested in the USA and carries an unconditional lifetime guarantee. http://www.mypilotstore.com/MyPilotStore/sep/4551?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIlOSu—h5gIVRNyGCh14PQPlEAQYASABEgJNPfD_BwE

10. MagLite Pro Mini Flashlight $25.73 We’re over budget here (sorry!) but this is a great little gift—introducing the all new Mini MagLite Pro LED Flashlight. MagLite is based in California and makes its entire product line in the U.S.A (all right!). The Mini has the latest generation LED that makes its beam super bright. Turn on and focus the light by simply twisting its head. A black polypropylene belt holster and 2AA alkaline batteries are included. https://www.homedepot.com/p/Maglite-Black-2AA-Pro-Mini-LED-Flashlight-SP2P01H/203457057

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: © Houston Ballet. A 2015 performance of The Nutcracker by The Houston Ballet Company

2019 Tax Prep + Deductions

The Holidays are upon us and there is so much to do! Shopping (remember to buy gifts for special clients), holiday cards (everyone you’ve worked with over the past 5 years will receive one), parties and catching up with dear friends and colleagues. You may also find it advantageous to change your health insurance plan before open enrollment ends in your state, or make a retirement account contribution before January 1. It also makes sense to review the years’ invoices to calculate gross revenues and decide how to handle December billings.

Especially for invoices that are due on or after the 15th, should you keep those earnings in this year and invoice at the usual time, or invoice on January 2 and push earnings into next year? If you earned more than expected this year, consider pushing earnings forward, to limit taxable income. You could also make a retirement plan contribution, if you haven’t reached the year’s maximum amount (whether you bill clients in this year or the next). Here are a few more tax season preparation tactics to consider:

Find all invoices and confirm that they’ve been paid. Send a reminder to those clients who have not paid up. As noted above, calculate your revenues (i.e., income before deductions) and determine whether to invoice on time or later. Of course you can do other good things with your windfall, if you have one, such as registering for a class that will be held in the new year and paying for it now (and taking the deduction in this tax year).

Calculate your self-employment tax. In addition to our regular income tax, Freelancers are responsible for paying the 15.3 % self-employment tax levied on the first $132,900 of net income and 2.9% of net income beyond that amount. This tax represents the Social Security and Medicare taxes that traditional employees have taken out of their paychecks automatically. The amount includes as well the employer portion of those taxes, since Freelancers are considered both employer and employee.

Freelancers are able to write off business expenses for these categories:

Business-related travel, meals and lodging

Membership in business and professional associations

Office required equipment or materials

Home office. Most Freelancers work from home and are therefore eligible to take this deduction. The Internal Revenue Service allows independent workers to write off a corresponding percentage of rent/mortgage and utilities when our home is also our office. Get out your measuring tape and determine the dimensions of your workspace as a percentage of the square footage of your home to calculate the amount of your deduction. Be advised that office space must be used exclusively for self-employment work. One cannot, for example, “borrow” a child’s bedroom from 9:00 to 5:00 and consider that your home office.

Office equipment and supplies. One of the downsides of being a Freelancer is that we are unable to use an employer’s computer, scanner, printer, staples, or paper clips. We pay for that stuff out of our own budgets. But since we need certain resources to do client work, the IRS allows us to deduct their cost from gross sales revenues. To avoid IRS problems, keep your business and personal expenses separate. For example, check in with a smart accountant before you decide to deduct your cell phone or Internet service while using them only partly for work.

A real benefit for those who will buy office equipment is the Section 179 Deduction, which allows the business owner (or Freelancer) to write off the entire purchase price of qualifying equipment for the current tax year, up to $1,000,000. Qualifying items include office furniture, computers and software programs such as QuickBooks and InDesign.

Travel, meals, lodging. This category of deductions is the most confusing for Freelancers and business owners. We are allowed to deduct the costs of traveling to our work assignments, client meetings and conferences, including gasoline, tolls, parking, trains, planes, buses, or Uber/ Lyft. One cannot deduct costs associated with commuting to your separately leased or owned office space. Hotel/ airbnb/ B&B rooms are 100% deductible, except for personal expenses such as movie rentals or the mini-bar.

The cost of taking clients and prospects out for a meal are deductible at a 50% rate, while costs associated with company-wide parties, picnics and restaurant meals when at least half of your employees attend are 100% deductible. Keep all receipts —take a picture with your phone as back-up.

As with all Freelancing expenses, deductions must directly relate to one’s business. We cannot write off the tuition for a workshop on baking or flower arranging if one is a website developer, nor can we write off education that trains us for a new occupation. But if we take classes to earn certifications in our field or to enhance business knowledge, then we can typically write off all associated costs. The same is true for any licensing, registration, or certification costs that we incur.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Illustration: Henry Holiday The Tax Collector at Work, created for the Lewis Carroll poem The Hunting of the Snark (1876)

Google Says You Are What You EAT

Freelancers and business owners must do whatever is possible and practical to promote our ventures and one perennial item on our marketing to-do list is the matter of Search Engine Optimization. Basically, that means how does our website fare in the all-important Google page ranking? Just the other day, I received an email marketing notice that examined whether email marketing or blogging was more effective for increasing Google page ranking and the answer was blogging (so I guess these folks will no longer send marketing emails?)

Google’s ever-evolving algorithms are a source of OCD -level obsession for many Freelancers and business owners. Big-budget companies spend thousands of dollars annually to follow the formula that will keep their business in the top 10 (i.e., page one) of Google searches. In February of this year, Google actually released a white paper that addresses the ranking issue, framed as an explanation of how they fight disinformation. In short, Google claims that we are what we EAT.

E-A-T in Google-speak stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. This concept is discussed is detailed in its Quality Raters’ Guidelines. Demonstrating good EAT both on your website and social media platforms can potentially improve your company’s ranking. An excerpt from the report says, Our ranking system does not identify the intent or factual accuracy of any given piece of content. However, it is specifically designed to identify sites with high indicia of expertise, authority and trustworthiness (EAT).”

At the heart of the ranking system is a category of businesses that Google defines as Your Money or Your Life (YMYL). Introduced in 2014, its purpose is to protect those searching for medical, legal, financial, or safety-related articles and websites, along with other information deemed vital. Attorneys, physicians, dentists, mortgage brokers, banks and eCommerce sites are placed in the YMYL category, since consumers often must divulge personal information and payment details on those websites.

But let’s get to the meat of this thing, i.e., what does Google suggest we do to elevate page ranking? See below:

  1. Quality content
    YMYL industries are monitored because they impact people’s health, happiness, or finances and Google wants to ensure that these websites give enough information to make an informed decision possible. If you’re in this category and motivated to re-do your website, take care to tell prospective customers what they need to know about your products or services, so that an informed decision can be made and be concise as you do.
  2. Optimize your ‘About us’ page. Google will likely use your About us page to assess your team’s EAT. Include in About us:
    – History of your business
    – Notable team members, their photos, bios, qualifications and awards
    – Business awards, nominations and other recognition
    – Positive press about the business
    – Company values
  3. Reputation management
    Third-party endorsements that appear to be unbiased are a must. You may be very active online, frequently posting updated content on your website and social media platforms in an effort to convince prospects that your business is reliable, but your claims will not be adequately persuasive unless they’re supported by customers who’ve done business successfully with your company. Case studies are an excellent way to describe the customer journey and give detailed insight into how your business provides solutions that work.

    To boost visibility in search engines, make connections with online news sites and industry blogs and ask if they’ll quote you or link to your company’s blog or white papers. Forget about buying backlinks. Only submit your URL to reputable sites that have earned good online results. Signing up with Help A Reporter Out (HARO), a free service where members receive invitations every day to give a quote to a media outlet, is a good idea. I’ve been quoted twice in 12 months.
  4. Website’s security
    Google absolutely must be assured that searcher information will be safe when they visit a website. Having an up-to-date SSL certificate is important to them. While an SSL certificate is not a legal requirement, if there is a data breach on your site and your company is sued, your LLC or incorporation status may not protect you, since not having the SSL certificate could be called negligence. Be advised that 86.73% of the top 20 websites in Google search results use https:// (have an SSL certificate) and not just http:// in their web address. The SSL protects all user information submitted to the site. For the user, credit card and personal informational are protected and for the website owner, user login details are protected. Not all SSL certificates are equal, meaning the free services found online aren’t necessarily trustworthy. Check your website security (accurately, for free) by entering the URL into an SSL checker will help pick up any potential problems. In fact, Google sees non-secure websites as irrelevant and even flags them in their algorithm system. The less relevant your website, the farther down you are on the results pages and the less your company is seen. If you’re considering saving money by creating a free website, you may want to think again. Unless an SSL certificate comes with your domain (if you’re registering one), you’re most likely not going to have an encrypted website. Penny wise, pound foolish. The best thing you can do is go with a trustworthy website developer who can provide everything you need, from (maybe) hosting to (definitely) website design and content all at once. If your site is up and running, check security at no charge https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/ or https://www.thesslstore.com/ssltools/ssl-checker.php

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Roberto Bompiani (Rome 1821 – 1908) A Roman Feast (late 1800s) courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA

10 Qualities Leaders Need to Succeed

What makes a great leader? Possessing qualities such as confidence, vision, decisiveness, integrity and persistence are often cited. Pictured above is Shahjahan Begum (1838 – 1901), who was the popular and effective Nawab Begum of Bhopal, the princely state in central India, from 1868 – 1901. During her reign she achieved several noteworthy operational efficiencies, including conducting a census, modernizing the weaponry of her military troops, raising the salaries of her troops, improving the tax revenue system and issuing the first postage stamps of Bhopal. Listed below are 10 characteristics often attributed to great leaders.

Vision During the devastating 1974 famine that struck Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi economist, banker and social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus was inspired to make a small start-up loan ($27 U.S.) to a group of 42 families, so that they could purchase materials and make items to sell without borrowing from a bank and paying a predatory interest rate. He discovered that even a very small loan could make a tangible difference to poor people but unfortunately, banks refused to lend to them at a reasonable interest rate due to a perceived high risk of default.

 To confirm his initial observation about the power of micro loans, Yunus launched a research project at Chittagong University, where he was on the faculty of the Economics Department, to design and study a credit delivery system that would provide banking services to the rural poor. In October 1983 his project was authorized by Bangladeshi national legislation to operate as Grameen Bank. In 2006, Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding Grameen Bank and pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance.

Authenticity Madam C.J. Walker, the orphaned daughter of freed slaves and a former laundress, in 1905 founded a hair care products company, the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. That she was both female and African-American in a time of enormous discrimination and limitations placed on those of her gender and race was apparently beside the point. As all successful entrepreneurs do, Walker saw a problem, set about solving it and monetized the solution. She was not afraid to dream big and take action.

Initially, Walker made batches of hair care potions herself, in a washtub, and personally sold them door to door to friends and neighbors in Denver, CO, where she had moved to give herself a fresh start after marrying at age 14, becoming a mother at age 17 and widowed at 20 years old. To persuade women to try the products, she gave free demonstrations that created the necessary buzz.

By 1908, Walker had hired and trained a team of female sales representatives and by 1910 she employed 950 representatives who crisscrossed the country, making sales and creating loyal customers. The company expanded internationally, when her products became available in the Caribbean and South America. By 1917, Walker had become the nation’s first female self-made millionaire, founder and Chief Executive of the country’s most successful African-American and woman-owned business.

Integrity Honesty and integrity are foundational ingredients in developing trust and essential to establishing credibility. A leader’s credibility is central to his/her ability to influence others and provide strong leadership.

Warren Buffett, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, the multinational holding company that wholly owns Duracell Batteries, Geico Insurance, Netjets, Dairy Queen and other well-known companies, pays very strong attention to integrity and honesty both when evaluating potential investments and when selecting managers for his businesses. “You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person,” says Buffett, “intelligence, energy and integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.”

Passion Tony Hsieh, CEO of the online shoe sales giant Zappos, has made customer satisfaction and company culture his mission and he is passionate about both. Hsieh regularly states that money shouldn’t be the most important company goal and that passion has been a key element in the enormous success of Zappos. Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose (2013) was written with the intention of spreading the message of using passion to both find one’s purpose and turn a profit.

Innovation In a July 2019 interview for the influential business-themed podcast Masters of Scale, host Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, interviewed Tory Burch, co-founder of her eponymous women’s wear company, to share key insights about how Burch so effectively scaled her company, which now has more than 250 boutiques on five continents and the collection is carried in more than 3,000 department stores and specialty shops around the world.

“I’ve always been a risk-taker,” Burch confessed as she detailed a strategic decision that in 2005 saw her launch an e-commerce website to make her merchandise available online, a practice that was nearly unimaginable in high-end retail at the time. Along the way, she “did trunk shows in different cities across the country and got a feel for where it would make sense to open more boutiques.”

Patience As Burch and Hoffman spoke more specifically about the episode’s theory of how a company might successfully scale, Hoffman observed, “It’s this combination of patient watchfulness and explosive speed that lets companies grow fast and go the distance.” Hoffman said of Burch, “You may have noticed as she spoke that she has clarity. You have to know what you’re building and what you’re waiting for.” Patience takes courage and confidence and demonstrates the leader’s faith that worthwhile results will be achieved when the time is right.

Decisiveness Strategic decisiveness is among the most vital success attributes for leaders in every position and every industry. Indecisiveness can severely cripple both your business and your life, potentially stunting growth, limiting financial success and diminishing personal satisfaction.

In a 2010 study, Psychologist Georges Potworowski at the University of Michigan found that certain personality traits (e.g., emotional stability, social boldness and feeling in control) predict why some people are more decisive than others. Decisively gifted leaders make it clear from the beginning that while they will carefully consider the opinions of others, they will ultimately choose what they judge to be best for their team. These leaders make the decision early on and move quickly to enlist all parties to implement that decision. Some members of the team may not be thrilled with the choice but in the end, most are quietly pleased to have clarity of direction.

Persistence Jewelry designer Tal Man, cofounder of Talia Jewelry, initially opened a small workshop where she designed and sold custom-made fine jewelry. As her customer list grew, she transitioned from operating a small custom jewelry house to becoming the creative director of a much larger enterprise that has customers on every continent.

Man faced the challenges associated with rapid growth and expansion boldly as her company scaled. She is happy to inspire fellow entrepreneurs, advising, “Never take no for an answer. I don’t even hear the word ‘no.’ When someone closed the door in my face, I went in through the window.” Additionally she says, “Know who you are seeking business advice from. Know what that person’s fear is. Is that person afraid of trying new things or going in a new direction? Or is the person’s fear about losing money? Don’t listen to the fears of others. Ask the right person for advice, ask someone who doesn’t have fear.”

Communication It’s a two-way street if you’re doing right. Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways and (now defunct) Virgin Records says, “Listening is one of the most important skills that anyone can have. That’s a very Virgin trait. Listening enables us to learn from each other, from the marketplace and from the mistakes that must be made in order to get anywhere that is original and disruptive. I learn so much from guests and employees that way.”

“Researching the competition has never been the Virgin way. Many of our products and services come about because we pay attention to what the market is missing or what’s not being done well. The commitment is about doing things differently.”

Accountability “The buck stops here” is a phrase that was popularized by U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who kept a sign with that phrase on his desk in the Oval Office. The phrase refers to the notion that a leader has to make the decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Nawab Shahjahan Begum (1838 – 1901) has been credited with the authorship of several books, written in Urdu. One book discussed socio-political conditions that existed during her reign and another examined the customs of purdah and the hijab followed by women in Asia and Egypt.

Guiding Light: Your Business Plan

Business plans and email marketing have something in common. The two stalwarts have often been declared dead by so-called experts, yet both continue to demonstrate value to current and aspiring business owners. Despite the naysayers, business plans are the foundation of business success, for the unavoidable reason that many new businesses fail.

Of the 400,000 companies started in 2014, 44% had failed by year four and just 18% of first-time Entrepreneurs were able to launch and sustain a successful entity. As the saying goes, “No one plans to fail. They just fail to plan.” Don’t let that be you, Dear.

The primary reason for aspiring Freelance consultants and Entrepreneurs to write a business plan is to test assumptions about the viability of the business idea against credible information that reveals the likely demand for the product or service and customer groups that have the money and possible motive to buy those products and services. The potential viability of a business is revealed in factors such as the size of the market (i.e., those with money and motive to buy), the founder’s access to potential customers (a big factor in B2B and B2G sales), competitors who sell an identical or similar product or service (are they thriving or just hanging on?) and the amount of money required to set up shop and start doing business.

A second compelling reason to write a business plan is to develop strategies that provide a roadmap, or blueprint, that will guide the founder as s/he builds and launches the venture. Confirming target customers, identifying possible niche markets, choosing the pricing strategy and the sales strategy; creating the financial plan, the operations plan, a realistic business model and selecting the most advantageous legal structure will also be thought through in advance of the company launch.

During the process, the founder will make discoveries that may persuade him/her to refine certain aspects of the products and services intended to be sold, or adjust perceptions of who the ideal customers will be. This information may have the power to substantively improve the venture’s chances of success and sustainability.

A third reason that motivates aspiring Freelance consultants and Entrepreneurs to write a business plan is the need to seek financing for their venture, whether the funds will be used to launch or scale the company. The financing source may be a bank or credit union, a micro financing organization, private investment (friends and family), or even self-financing. Those holding money will use the business plan to make funding decisions, so founders would be wise to develop a realistic financial blueprint that projects three years into the future, as well as a credible marketing plan that accurately defines target customer groups and identifies key competitors.

In sum, a powerful business plan needs to be three-dimensional, so it distills lessons from the real world and allows the founder(s) to test and when necessary revise assumptions. This ongoing process will give the business the highest chance of success while also increasing your credibility with investors, your team and most of all, yourself.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: © Ubisoft Entertainment SA, artist’s rendering of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The lighthouse stood on the island of Pharos, guiding ships as they entered the harbors of Alexandria, Egypt on the Mediterranean coast. The structure was built during the reigns of Ptolemy I and II, c. 300 – 280 BC. With a height of over 330 feet, the lighthouse was so impressive that it was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Now lost, the lighthouse was a welcomed navigational aid for over 1600 years.

2020 Health Insurance Open Enrollment: The Facts

Hello Freelancer Friend, the enrollment period for health insurance is here, now through mid-December (in most states). Because health insurance is a vital topic, I decided to defer to an expert and pass along info compiled by Les Masterson for Insure.com. For more detailed information, please visit the site. https://www.insure.com/health-insurance/open-enrollment-for-individual-health-insurance.html

We have 6 weeks to make a decision on individual/ family health insurance or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges plan (in most states). We can sign up for health insurance on our state’s health insurance exchange or individual marketplace only during the annual open enrollment period, unless one has a “qualifying life event.” Those events include getting married or having a baby.

If buying health insurance on your own, there are several options for purchasing a policy:

  • Your state’s health insurance marketplace — see healthcare.gov https://www.healthcare.gov
  • Directly from a health insurance company
  • Sites like Insure.com that offers insurance quotes from multiple carriers
  • A health insurance agent
Open enrollment for 2020 individual and family health insurance plans
Begins Ends
November 1, 2019 December 15, 2019

The open enrollment period differs in these states: 

  • CA – Oct. 15, 2019 to Jan. 15, 2020
  • CO – Nov. 1, 2019 to Jan. 15, 2020
  • DC – Nov. 1 , 2019 to Jan. 31, 2020
  • MA – Nov. 1, 2019 to Jan. 23, 2020
  • MN – Nov. 1, 2019 to Dec. 23, 2019
  • NY – Nov. 1, 2019 to Jan. 31, 2020
  • RI – Nov. 1, 2019 to Dec. 23, 2019

If you buy after December 15 in the states that are extending the enrollment period, confirm when the coverage will start. Most states require you to obtain your plan by December 15 for a January 1 start date. If you buy late, your plan might not start until February 1 or March 1.

Those who qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can enroll at any time, because they are state/ federal programs created for people with limited incomes or disabilities.

Marketplace Open Enrollment is for health insurance only

The Open Enrollment period does not apply to life insurance, long-term care insurance, or Medicare. The fall open enrollment period for Medicare is October 15 to December 7, 2019. If you qualify for employer-sponsored health insurance, you will want to buy health insurance through your employer. Individual insurance usually costs more than employer-sponsored plans.

That said, if you qualify for subsidies based on your income, you may find an inexpensive plan on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Exchange. Many states offer financial help for people with income below 400% of the federal poverty limit. You can find out more about these subsidies at insure.com. 

Remember to enroll!

It is not possible to sign up for coverage if you miss open enrollment, unless one qualifies for one of the special enrollment periods. The following events may grant entrance into a special enrollment period:

  • Divorce
  • Marriage
  • Birth or adoption of a child
  • Death of a spouse or partner that leaves you without coverage
  • Your spouse or partner, who has you covered, loses his/her job and health insurance
  • You lose your job and with it your health insurance
  • Your hours are cut making you ineligible for your employer’s health insurance plan
  • You are in an HMO and move outside its coverage area

Update your plan during Open Enrollment only

What you can do during open enrollment:

  • Renew your current individual or family health insurance plan
  • Choose a new health insurance plan through the marketplace in your state or through private insurance

If currently enrolled in a marketplace health insurance plan, it will automatically renew. However, the plan may make changes to its provider network, co-pays, co-insurance and drug coverage. Your plan must send you a notice of any changes it will make for 2020.

Read the health insurance update notice to learn what it means for youConfirm that your doctors and preferred hospital are still in your network. Be aware that you may be able to use out-of-network doctors and hospitals if you’re willing to pay more. That’s an option in Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans. In some cases, such as Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans, you’re covered if you go out of network. That means you’ll have to pick up the costs. 

Prescription drug coverage also could change. The plan may no longer cover the drugs you take to manage your chronic conditions. Confirm your plan’s drug benefits for 2020 before you allow it to renew. You may need to find a different plan for your needs and now’s the time to do it. Health plans must provide an online link to the list of drugs they will cover, known as formularies.

ACA Premiums set to decrease for some plans

The premium you pay depends on several factors, including income, your state and the plan type. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the average ACA federal exchange plans premium costs dropped for the first time this year. However, because not all plans will be cheaper, it’s still important to shop around to find the right plan for you. 

Choose a level of health plan coverage

Plans in the health insurance marketplace are divided into 4 categories:

  • Bronze – highest out-of-pocket expenses for services (lower premiums)
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Platinum – least out-of-pocket expenses for services (higher premiums)

Each level indicates how much cost-sharing each requires. Cost-sharing includes deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance that we must pay until the annual out-of-pocket maximum limit is reached.

Bronze plans have the highest deductibles and other cost-sharing expenses. That means more out-of-pocket costs when one uses healthcare services. Silver plans have lower cost-sharing than Bronze and Gold plans even lower than Silver. Platinum plans have the lowest deductibles and co-pays. Once one signs up for a level of coverage, changes are not allowed during that year. If you choose a Bronze plan and discover you need surgery, you cannot change to a plan with a lower deductible.

Generally, the more you pay in premiums the lower your cost-sharing.

In a 2019 report, eHealth estimated that 2-person families paid more than $1,000 in premiums monthly for the first time in the individual market in 2019. Premiums for individual coverage for a single person was $448 in 2019. 

The average premiums for individual coverage according to eHealth:

  • Bronze — $440
  • Silver — $481
  • Gold — $596
  • Platinum — $706

The average premiums for family coverage according to ehealth:

  • Bronze — $1,080
  • Silver — $1,179
  • Gold — $1.426
  • Platinum — $1,460

The health plans, no matter the level, must provide some coverage for at least 10 essential benefits. They are:

  • Outpatient care including chronic disease management
  • Emergency care
  • Hospitalization
  • Pregnancy and newborn care
  • Mental health and substance abuse services
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitation services and devices
  • Lab tests
  • Preventive and wellness services
  • Dental and vision care for children

The level of coverage for these services can vary. All the plans in the marketplace must provide consumers with a brief, understandable description of what they cover and how their plan works. The Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) must be posted on the plan’s website. Check out the SBCs for the different plans you are considering. This is a good way to compare plans and benefits.

Not all states require health insurance

The ACA once required nearly all Americans to have health insurance. However, Congress decided in 2017 to eliminate the individual mandate penalty. Although the individual mandate is technically still on the books, the tax penalty is not. Still, a growing number of states have implemented their own individual mandate. Here are states that have an individual mandate in 2020:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey 
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

I hope you found this information helpful.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Thomas Eakins (Philadelphia 1844-1916) The Agnew Clinic, 1899 courtesy of The Philadelphia Museum of Art. The painting was commissioned to honor the anatomist and surgeon David Hayes Agnew, on his retirement from teaching at the University of Pennsylvania.

Got Power? 6 Types You Should Recognize

“Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Robert G. Ingersoll (1833 – 1899, NY), orator and author of Some Mistakes of Moses (1879) and known as The Great Agnostic

“Power tends to get to people’s heads. We’re not really trained to handle power well.” Nicole Lipkin, Ph.D., psychologist and author of What Keeps Leaders Up At Night (2013)

Power is sexy, seductive and sometimes addictive. Power is heady, power is magnetic, power brings perks—money and sex, fast cars and prime real estate, fame, prestige and respect. Perhaps it is evolutionary imperatives that drive certain personality types to seek out power more than others: males, alpha personalities and extroverts.

Powerful people, whether they obtained power through achievement, birthright, marriage, or fortunate friendships are favorably positioned to acquire leadership positions, through which they acquire still more power. Yet not everyone knows what to do with power once they have it. In 1959, psychologists John R.P. French and Bertram Raven identified sources of power that leaders commonly gain.

Formal Power

This power is derived from holding a leadership position in a hierarchical organization, e.g., Admiral or General in the military, Mayor or Senator in the political sector, CEO, Executive Director, or President in for-profit or not-for-profit sectors. Individuals who wield Formal Power have considerable control over the lives of others.

However, Formal Power is in reality transferred to the individual. Formal Power resides in the title and such power will be lost when the title is relinquished, whether by choice or by force. Only the organization’s founder(s) truly hold power (of the Expertise variety) because they’ve earned it by inventing or launching a significant, long-lasting product, service, or organization that has impact and influence. Earned power cannot be completely taken away by force, even if the organization ceases operations or is the target of a hostile takeover. The founder(s) will forever own the achievement.

Kingmaker Power

Powerful people who desire to prolong or amplify their power by installing allies into positions of power are known as Kingmakers. These individuals are power brokers who sponsor and groom favored candidates for leadership positions, through which they will ascend to Formal Power. Kingmakers arrange for their protoges to receive training, high-profile assignments and other types of support that enable the chosen ones to receive credientials, experience, visibility and ultimately, inevitability.

The Kingmaker’s goal is to persuade both key influencers and rank-and-file members of the organization that their preferred candidate is deserving of a top leadership position. Developing trust and confidence in the candidate is essential, so that decision-makers will accept and nominate him/her for leadership and power.

Oftentimes, Kingmakers are themselves unable to ascend to the highest rungs of leadership, but they wield enough power and respect to influence decision-makers when future leaders are chosen.

Expert Power

In the 1970s, western societies entered the Information Age and in the 1990s entered the Knowledge Economy, both fueled by expertise and information. Expert Power is derived from the belief that others, especially thought leaders and powerful people, have about the superiority of a person’s capabilities. If enough of the right people feel that an individual has clearly superior knowledge and proficiency in a subject that society has decided is high-value, that person is considered an expert and s/he earns power.

Expert Power is held by architect Frank Gehry, whose talent for creating distinctive designs, in particular museum designs, has enabled institutions to become world-renowned attractions that have had game-changing impact on the communities, local and regional, in which they were built (see the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain). Bill Gates and the late Paul Allen, co-founders of Microsoft, are another example of Expert Power. Their development of Windows software helped spark the microcomputer revolution and Microsoft became the largest personal computer software company in the world.

Expert Power is the easiest power to acquire and because it is earned, it cannot be taken away. Study hard and it may be yours! However, its holders must continually study, do research, make process improvements, or operational efficiencies in order to stay ahead of the curve and maintain their power.

Charismatic Power

Here we have the cult of personality, rock star appeal. Their supporters are sometimes more akin to fans, if not disciples. Integrity, discipline, talent, trust and likability are its pillars. “People with high Referent (Charismatic) Power can highly influence anyone who admires and respects them,” Lipkin says.

Their associates/ followers are very loyal and happy to do their bidding. People believe in those with Charismatic Power and will strive, and sometimes compete, to please them, in order to win favor and approval. Charismatic Power holders are tremendously persuasive and they excel at rallying supporters around a cause. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Ho Chi Minh used their Charismatic Power to launch successful civil rights movements on behalf of those who were systematically disenfranchised and abused (by those who held Formal Power that descended into Coercive Power).

Charismatic Power is self-generated and cannot be given, but the discovery of unethical behavior will break the spell and power will be lost forever.

Relationship Power

This person derives power from whom s/he knows and to whom s/he has access. Relationship Power can be acquired from the powerful family into which one was born, marriage, or a fortunate friendship. Those with Relationship Power are wise to carefully nurture the relationship, to ensure that the gravy train continues.

The holders of Relationship Power are positioned to receive many benefits through their relationship(s). They glide through doors that lead to coveted business or employment opportunities. Proprietary information helps them find the house of their dreams or make the right investments. Introductions to still more powerful people amplify their benefits. They may use their Relationship Power to leapfrog into a position that gives them Formal Power.

Coercive Power

This individual may have acquired power by any means, but s/he abuses that power. Unfortunately, we’ve all witnessed this type of scenario and it is enormously stressful for those who must live or labor in proximity to its toxic presence. Coercive power is harmful according to any metric. Abusive parenting is the most tragic example of Coercive Power.

This power is enforced and maintained with threats, intimidation, lies, manipulation and sometimes actual physical or sexual violence. Shockingly, those who elect to wield power in this fashion can become enormously successful and even admired by their peers (who sometimes know of their transgressions but find it convenient to ignore the problem).

A recent example of the long-term and highly rewarding use of Coercive Power can be found in reports about the now-disgraced and unemployed co-founder of Miramax Entertainment Harvey Weinstein, who became the prime focus of the #metoo movement. For 20 years Weinstein basked in the fawning favor of two U.S. Presidents, dozens of members of Congress, Hollywood and television stars and leaders of Fortune 500 companies, the result of sky-high box office grosses and robust profits earned by films and television programs produced by Miramax.

It’s all over now, though. Dr.Lipkin cautions, “There is not a time of day when you should use it. Ultimately, you can’t build credibility with coercive influence—you can think of it like bullying in the workplace.”

Happy Halloween and thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: “Off with her head!” The Queen of Hearts, here confronting Alice, embodies Coercive Power. Illustration by Sir John Tenniel (1820 – 1914, UK) for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865)

Defining and Delivering Good Customer Service

Superior customer service is a cornerstone of the customer experience and the customer experience is a foundational element of the sales journey. I see the customer experience as governing everything that leads up to the sale and customer service as governing what happens after the sale. Along with designing a confidence-building customer experience that persuades prospects to become customers once the need for your products or services is established, to remain viable, every business must develop customer service protocols that support customer retention and encourage referrals.

As reported in Forbes Magazine in May 2018, American businesses lose $75 billion annually due to poor customer service and the U.S. Small Business https://www.forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2018/05/17/businesses-lose-75-billion-due-to-poor-customer-service/#5777314e16f9 Association reported in 2018 that 68% of customers stopped doing business with a company due to poor customer service. It is worthwhile to review your company’s customer service from time to time. Below are suggestions that might guide a refresh of your company’s approach to customer service:

  1. Answer the phone.  When a prospective customer calls for information, s/he does not want to leave a voicemail message and wait for an answer. The prospect wants to speak with a live person now who can answer questions quickly and correctly, in a friendly and professional manner. Hiring the optimal number of front-line staff is the antidote. Freelancers who work alone and receive a fair amount of incoming calls can hire a telephone answering service to take calls when you cannot.

2. Take the extra step. When the intention is to help a prospective customer, understand that doing the minimum is not enough. For example, when speaking with a prospect who has questions about your products or services, merely directing him/her to the company website to obtain more information does not exemplify good customer service. Instead, ask the customer about the problem that must be solved, inquire as to what s/he would like to achieve and then discuss how your product or service can (or cannot) provide the desired solution.

3. Be helpful. If it is discovered while speaking with a prospect that your product or service cannot provide the necessary solution, do not be afraid to refer the prospect to a competitor or another company that can meet his/her needs. Your generosity will be remembered and may be returned with future business and referrals.

4. Listen. Let the customer talk. Allow the customer to ask questions or describe a problem. You (or front-line staff) ask clarifying questions along the way, to demonstrate that you are listening and evaluating how your products or services might be useful (or not) to the customer. The more front-line staff know about your customers and their needs, the more of an asset they will be to your company and customers. Prospects and customers will appreciate the empathy and product knowledge and that will almost certainly increase customer retention, new business and referrals.

5. Resolve problems quickly. No business owner enjoys receiving complaints, but those complaints reveal product or process breakdowns that you have the opportunity to fix. Customers gain confidence when a business quickly responds to and resolves complaints. Apologize profusely and throw in something extra (an upgrade or gift certificate, based on the price of the item purchased) to demonstrate that you value the customer and regret the inconvenience that you’ve caused. If handled correctly, you will win repeat business and a source of referrals (instead of bad-mouthing on Yelp).

6. Train staff. Make training a key element of front-line staff on-boarding. Conduct a product boot camp for new hires, plus an annual refresh for all staff, to ensure that employees are familiar with your product and service lines (bring in a Freelance colleague with sales training experience to conduct the annual training session). Give front-line staff the tools and information they need to support customers as efficiently as possible. Empower them to make those small customer-pleasing decisions, so they’ll rarely have to say, “I don’t know, but the owner will be back at…”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Date night at the malt shoppe 1930s USA

Bad Decisions: Or, Why We Screw Up

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

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

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

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

Decision fatigue

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

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

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

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

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

Insufficient information

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

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

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

Multi-tasking

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

Analysis Paralysis

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

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

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

Emotions

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

5 Genius Questions for Your Customer Survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Prediction: Emerging Social Media Platforms 2019 – 2020

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

Lasso

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

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

Steemit

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

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

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

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

TikTok

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

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

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

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

Vero

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

How Freelancers Scale Up

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

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

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

Scale the Brand

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

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

Scale client acquisition

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

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

Scale your network

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

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

Scale your skills

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

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

Scale your creativity

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

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

Scale your systems

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

6 Questions to Ask a Prospect

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

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

  1. How can I help you?

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

2. What is the problem or pain point?

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

3. What is your goal?

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

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

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

4. Have you done anything about it so far?

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

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

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

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

6. What would you like to see happen next?

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

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

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

 SIMPLIFIED GRAPHIC DESIGN

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

MANAGE RECEIPTS AND EXPENSES

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

ACCOUNTING AND INVOICING

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

NEWSLETTERS AND EMAIL MARKETING

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

SCAN BUSINESS CARDS

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

VIDEO CONFERENCES

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

TEAM COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION

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

BILLABLE HOURS MANAGEMENT AND INVOICING

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Pricing B2B Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Bragging Rites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Business Failure: Autopsy and Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

Unanticipated start-up costs and low sales revenue

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

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

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

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

Receivables collection problem

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

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

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

Powerful competitor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Pitching to Prospects: 5 Tactics That Work

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

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

Pitch to the right person

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

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

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

Speak to their needs

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

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

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

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

Establish credibility

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

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

Follow-up

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

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

Know what you want

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

Thanks of reading,

Kim

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

Can You Say No To a VIP?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Summer Reading List 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

 3. Dare to Lead (Brene Brown)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Kim

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

On Being Persuasive

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

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

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

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

ETHOS (Character)

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

LOGOS (Reason)

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

PATHOS (Emotion)

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

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

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

METAPHOR (Comparison)

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

BREVITY

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Free Media Exposure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

10 Steps to Fortify Your Business

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

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

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

  1. Analyze your financials

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

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

  1. Conduct SWOT Analysis

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

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

  1. Rank clients

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

  1. Network

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

  1. Streamline work processes

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

  1. Create strategic alliances

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

  1. Reduce expenses

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

  1. Refine marketing strategies

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

  1. Target competitors’ clients

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

  1. Eyes and ears open

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks

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

Best

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

Regards

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

Cordially

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

Sincerely

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

Cheers

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

Talk soon

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

Yours truly

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

Kind regards

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Revitalize Your Networking Chops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Make Your Next Impromptu Speech Great

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

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

Attention

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

Credibility

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

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

Acknowledge success/ Identify problem

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

Solution

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

Call to action

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

Re-cap

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

10 Raw Truths About Cold Calling

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Factors to Include When Planning to Launch a Business

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Full Frontal LinkedIn

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

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

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

LinkedIn users

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

Content Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead generation 

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Ask Better Questions

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

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

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

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

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

Follow-up

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

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

Sequencing

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

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

Tone

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

Group dynamics

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

Art of the response

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

 

 

Making Social Media Work for B2B Companies

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

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

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

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

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

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

ToFu: Top of Funnel

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

MoFu: Middle of Funnel

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

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

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Finally, A Social Media Strategy for Your B2B Company

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

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

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

Where to start

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

Facebook

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

 

Instagram

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

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

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

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

LinkedIn:

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

 

Twitter

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Ramp Up Your Customer Service Protocols

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

 

Email Writing Perfected

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

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

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

Subject line

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

Action                                 Meet

Decision                             Request

FYI                                      Sign

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

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

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

MEET: Consult your calendar and reserve time.

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

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

Bottom line up front (BLUF)

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

Active voice

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

Cut to the chase

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Typist, circa 1930s.

 

How to Target Content Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

Tofu: Top of Funnel 

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

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

MoFu: Middle of Funnel 

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

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

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

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

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Combat Customer Churn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: 1950s, photographer and location unknown

More Sales Channels Means More $ales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

The 10 Faces of Guerilla Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Keep it Going: Sustaining Your Success

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

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

Pay taxes

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

Smart celebration

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

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

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

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

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

Save money

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

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

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

Keep doing what it was that made you successful

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Figuring Out Your Brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Be concise

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

2.  Be straightforward

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

3.  Seek what is representative or characteristic

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

4.  Stay authentic

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

5.  Seek what is timeless

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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