LinkedIn Special Report: B2B Selling in the COVID era

In our uncertain times, for-profit organizations have elevated selling, the means by which revenue is generated, to the highest priority. Sales revenues are the life blood of a business and enable its survival. As a result, sales professionals are under significant pressure to identify, connect with, engage and bring in new clients, as well as obtaining additional business from existing clients.

No surprises there. Making sales is the role of sales reps. It’s just that thanks to COVID, the playing field has undergone a seismic shift. Once-thriving industries, most notably restaurants, hotels and fitness, have been greatly diminished. Commercial real estate sales and leasings are staggering, as legions of white collar professionals cobble together DIY offices and work from home. How can sales representatives reach prospects when they’re usually no longer in the office? How can they introduce themselves and their products and services when they can no longer meet prospects face2face?

Virtual technology has solved most of the communication problem, but virtually enabled conversations do not make it easy for sales reps to meet and lay the groundwork for building new relationships. Furthermore current or previous clients, who now work from home, are often overwhelmed as they strive to meet the new and growing expectations of their jobs. Receiving a request from a sales rep to schedule yet another videoconference call does not spark joy.

LinkedIn has issued its fourth annual State of Sales Report after interviewing some 1,000 B2B buyers and sellers in several countries, including Brazil, Canada, France, the UK and the US. Here are some key takeaways.

Good data matters

To clarify and justify their buying decisions, the report found that 49 % of prospective B2B buyers feel that objective data is a required element of a sale and data- driven decisions have grown in popularity in the COVID era. Data adds value. Sales professionals need only to determine which metrics matter to the prospect?

Doing some homework and asking a few questions is the way to learn what information will persuade your prospect. Now when you send an email to request a videoconference call, you can tempt your prospect with a couple of data tidbits that signal you understand what matters. Now you present yourself as being a problem-solver. Present some data and ask what other information will be useful.

Getting to know your prospect as you get to know their business challenges and objectives is part of engagement. Demonstrate that you’re not just trying to make a sale, you’re trying to help the prospect do solve, or avoid, a problem.

Be a problem-solver

Problem-solving emerged as an attribute that 47% of B2B buyers value highly. As always, effective selling means knowing the customer. One way to engage prospects is to ask about their business and learn as much as politely possible about why and how your product or service could help the organization achieve important objectives. In short, what do they really need to do and how can you help them get there?

Furthermore, you might ask prospects how they did what they need to do before you and your product or service came along? Now you’ll pick up some useful intel on competitors and know how to position your offering as superior, as you assume the role of problem- solver.

When sellers focus on client objectives and provide meaningful data it’s possible to position oneself as a problem-solver, if not as a trusted adviser and collaborator for the prospect. In this way B2B sellers earn trust. For 75% of B2B buying decision-makers, the amount of trust that they have for a seller is the number one factor that leads a buyer to do business with a particular company.

Expect change

In sum, 70 % of survey respondents feel that leading through change is now a required competency for sales managers and is more important than it was five years ago. Sales leaders are wrestling with the question of what the change in the business environment means for their organization and their team. In a separate LinkedIn survey of sales managers conducted in March 2020, 55 percent of the 200 respondents feared that a decrease in their sales pipeline is inevitable.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Over tea, Moroccan Berbers (Amazigh) build a relationship and discuss the potential sale of a rug.

Strategy: Win a Business Award

One often-overlooked business strategy that brings many benefits to a company is competing for (and winning!) a business award. Competing for a business award and being named a finalist, that is, eligible to win first, second, or third prize, is a big vote of confidence for the chosen organizations. The recognition sets your business apart from competitors, implies credibility and expertise, enhances your company’s brand and stature and is almost certain to increase the number and quality of prospects, clients and referral sources your business receives.

There are more ways to win than you might think. Sponsoring organizations are typically generous with the number of awards and categories they choose to honor. More awards and more categories are an incentive for business owners and leaders to become contestants because there will be more opportunities to win. More contestants means more entry applications received by the sponsor and more tickets sold to the awards banquet (when those activities resume), since every finalist will buy at least one ticket and some will buy a table.

In addition to its role as a revenue enhancer, sponsoring awards is good PR for the organization, which could include the bank where you keep your business account. The awards not only distinguish the group as a prominent member of the business community, but also attract and help to retain members (or customers). In the best of American traditions, business awards are a way for many to make money. That could mean you, too.

Full disclosure—-as a result of the destabilizing impact of the coronavirus shutdown, I declined to accept an invitation to return as a preliminary round judge in The Stevie Awards/ Women in Business category (there are eight in all), an honor I’ve been happy to receive for six of the past eight years. Judges are neither paid, nor do we pay to participate. I do it because I enjoy experience and it looks good in my bio. https://stevieawards.com

Be advised that as with any marketing campaign, there are expenses involved. You’ll be required to join the sponsoring organization. You must pay the award entry fee for every award category that your company pursues—-best new product launch, business of the year, best workplace, social responsibility award and so on. You must buy one or more tickets to the ceremony (even when it’s virtual). The awards process could represent the entirety of your outfit’s annual marketing budget.

The time needed to prepare your award entry and determine which supporting documents will best communicate who you, your team (if applicable) and your company is another cost. Creating an impressive and persuasive entry application can be a laborious and time-consuming undertaking.

Furthermore, an assessment of your company’s readiness to pursue an award may reveal that it would be advantageous to build for 12-24 months before your organization is prepared to compete for an award. But that’s OK. Taking steps to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your organization (are not most of us facing the threat of the COVID economy?) will pay dividends in and of itself. Just be objective about your company’s chance of winning and understand the time and money likely to be involved.

Choose a target award

Potential contestants are advised to do some homework and discover awards that are sponsored by local, regional and national organizations, whether business networking organizations (chambers of commerce), industry-specific associations (such as the Bar Association for attorneys), or your business bank. I recommend that your initial forays into awards campaigns focus on local sponsors, particularly for those of you who are Freelance consultants and small business owners generating less than $500,000 in annual gross revenue.

After compiling a draft list of possibilities, check the award entry criteria. It’s likely that candidates must join the organization in order to compete for an award and that will be your first expense. Annual dues may run from a few hundred dollars to $1000 or more, depending on the sponsor. Confirm also when new members will be eligible to compete for an award. Next, investigate other entry facts—-the entry application deadline, the fees and whether candidates must be nominated to compete for the award.

Read the specs and select the categories in which you can expect to do well—-excellence in your field, customer service, new product or service launch, community outreach, environmentally-friendly, for example. Within the categories offered, where might your company step to the front of the pack?

Finalize your choices and prepare to compete, being sure to give yourself ample time to collect, evaluate, or create the supporting resources you’ll need to enter. The good news is that if you plan to enter more than one category, most of the content developed can be used in multiple entry forms.

Tell a compelling story

On nearly every award entry, there’s a section that asks for more details about your business, your team and you. Be sure to provide all of the information that is requested and as well, tell a story beyond the statistics. Let the judges feel your personality and understand what makes your business stand out. Here, you can share unique information that might not fit elsewhere in the entry application. Customize your message by sharing relevant success stories and achievements that address the award category you are entering.

Construct a strong beginning, middle and end for your story. Reveal how you overcame challenges to reach new heights and back up your claims with hard evidence. Feel welcome to include good visuals like charts and graphs, or the persuasive appeal of client testimonials. Keep your application punchy and concise, using short sentences and statistics to underline key points. Bullet points are an effective way to ensure that judges can absorb your performance metrics quickly.

Describe what motivated you to launch the company. Detail the company’s vision, mission, guiding principles and values and what you and your team are passionate about and which accomplishments make you most proud. Tell your story from your heart. Before hitting the send button, or sealing the envelope for a hard-copy mailing if required, add a personal note and thank the sponsoring organization and the judges for their consideration of your entry. Then conjure up some positive thoughts!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The inimitable Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Grammy Award winning actress-singer-dancer Judy Garland in A Star is Born (1954), for which she won the 1955 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical

Clubhouse: A Social Media Platform for the Beautiful People

Trending

The newest entry to the social media scene is Clubhouse, an invitation-only platform built around what is called “drop-in audio chat”. Call it an audio chat social network. Users download the platform app and are welcomed to drop into real time, voice only chat room conversations that they may participate in, or decide to just sit back and listen to. Or, one might request to “own” a room, choose a format and topic and invite folks to drop in and chat. Clubhouse conversations are ephemeral—when the chatting stops, what was said disappears forever. Nothing is recorded.

Created by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, reportedly seeded with $12 million by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and officially launched about when the coronavirus entered the U.S. in First Quarter 2020, Clubhouse has attracted a swath of high-profile member users that now number about two million. The app can only be downloaded on an iPhone, at least for now. Android downloads will be available soon. The service is not optimized for iPad.

The velvet rope

You have to know someone to get in. Clubhouse is a gated community. Access is available by personal invitation only. Members can invite just two people to join, but will earn more invitation credits as they use the app.

Any iPhone user can download the app and reserve a username, but will be placed on the waiting list. It is allegedly possible that a current member could be notified that someone s/he knows would like to join and would appreciate an invitation. Otherwise, aspiring members who lack the right connections will twist in the wind.

Clubhouse has quickly built up considerable social cachet, most likely the result of its exclusivity business model. Having the app on your phone is like getting into Studio 54, the 1970s Manhattan disco where everybody who was anybody went to party hard. The platform has become the darling of A-List entertainers and the tech entrepreneur crowd. Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, R & B superstar Drake, Chris Rock and Mark Cuban are members.

Another factor that may enhance its popularity is that Clubhouse users speak to each another in real time. People can talk and it all feels more intimate than other forms of online conversation. People tend to prefer the natural rhythms of speaking that we use when talking face2face, rather than typing back and forth on a keyboard.

Format

Members can follow their fellow members and also topics of interest, as they do on other social media platforms, and also join themed “clubs.” They have access to a selection of chat rooms that focus on different subjects, many of which are attuned to what is currently trending.

Some rooms will have just a few people chatting informally. Others might contain hundreds or even thousands of people listening to a panel of experts discuss a national or international issue, or a top-selling author, or a well-known entrepreneur. If someone in the room would like to contribute to the conversation or ask a question, a hand raise signal is given and the room’s “owner” can give speaking privileges.

Chat rooms visitors are identified by their profile photo, which is required for each user. Those in the room can browse the profiles of others in the room, which also includes a list of whom everyone follows. The Clubhouse algorithm takes all this into account when offering content choices to members.

Why you want in

Clubhouse members are able to hear, and even participate in, the often relaxed and sometimes very candid conversations of famous and powerful people. You may hear a political debate, a comedy routine, a book club discussion, or billionaires talking business. Uber-famous music producer and performer Kanye West is scheduled to appear in a Clubhouse chat room. Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have already done so.

But what will being there do for your business? It depends on the ecosystem in which you operate. If you feel that prospective clients will be impressed when you casually name-drop a celebrity or some other nationality known high roller, then consult your Rolodex and devise a strategy to get past the door man.

Voice is the future

It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Clubhouse will soon face direct competitors. A powerful vote of confidence for the rising appeal of audio social networking platforms is coming from Facebook, who recently announced that the company is in the early stages of experimenting with social audio features. Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Mark Cuban, a Clubhouse member, has announced that he is involved with building an audio-focused social platform called Fireside, which will compete with Clubhouse and he plans to launch this year.

Twitter added a voice feature for tweeting in June 2020 and is testing a separate audio chat-room product called Spaces, according to a company spokeswoman. LinkedIn was ahead of the curve on the chat trend when it added voice messaging in July 2018.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Kardashian (left) with a Sidekick and Paris Hilton checks her Blackberry circa 2003.

Meeting New Clients When They’re Virtual

As we journey through the COVID business landscape, B2B product and service providers have mostly found that the process of selling to their current clients has successfully been transferred to virtual methods, that is, videoconferencing and the telephone. But the biggest shortcoming of virtual communication is revealed when the goal is to meet and cultivate new clients.

As business (and education, government, fitness, worship, et al.) has transitioned to remote functioning one glaring truth has emerged— it’s much easier to shift existing relationships into virtual mode than it is to create new relationships, business or personal, by way of Zoom. That’s especially true in B2B sales. While many Freelancers and other business owners and leaders have directed resources toward strengthening existing client relationships, facilitating new client acquisition has folks wringing their hands.

It’s been conclusively demonstrated that it costs at least five times more time and money to acquire a new client than it costs to maintain a current client, but it remains a fact that every business must put into motion a client acquisition strategy. New clients represent the potential for future growth and they are an essential component of a healthy business ecosystem.

The problem is, relationships are more easily created during face2face interactions and we’re just not able to meet people anymore! The lockdown has either closed or severely restricted nearly all public gathering spaces. Video and voice calls keep us connected, albeit at a distance, but those relationships are in many cases already established.

So our question of the day is—-how can a business effectively grow its client list when access to new prospects is unexpectedly limited? Let’s consider some alternatives to the once customary networking formulas.

Low hanging fruit and a system reboot

Mine your client data, knowledge and relationships to discover how you might persuade those with whom you’ve been doing business to do more business. Find the low hanging fruit on a tree familiar to you. In some instances, it may be necessary to reboot certain relationships if clients were forced to cease or curtail operations due to the shutdown and its aftershocks.

Create reasons to contact clients whose organizations were adversely but not fatally impacted, perhaps by emailing COVID business resource information as a conversation starter. While trading emails or calls, you’ll be able to inquire about the location of where business is now conducted—in the office or from home.

Ask those clients how they’re responding to the COVID environment and listen carefully for a way, however small, you can help get his/her company up and rolling again. You may rewarded with a handful of billable hours as conditions improve. This strategy is working for me, BTW.

Conversely, some businesses are experiencing growth during the pandemic and you should make it a point to identify those organizations and include those for whom your products or services can be a fit in your marketing efforts. Maybe you can get a referral from a friend, family member, or client?

Encourage referrals

Referrals confer to you the golden status of being considered a known and trusted quantity. Other than a Super Bowl ad, there is no better endorsement for your business than a referral. People who read reviews of books, movies, restaurants, or hotels are in reality searching for a business whose customers give it good referrals.

Create the conditions for good word-of-mouth about your service by excelling at superior customer service at every client touch point. Present a 360 degree pleasant and efficient experience from the intuitive navigation of your website, the relevance of your content marketing posts, to your follow-up and willingness to go the extra mile to provide the necessary solution, to your project proposals and invoicing.

Give your clients lots of good things to say about doing business with your organization. Ask them to spread the word. On client invoices, offer a 15% or so discount on their next invoice if a referral is made and a sale results.

Case studies and testimonials showcase how clients feel about your finest work. They are a form of referrals and business owners and leaders are advised to include such valuable endorsements on the company website and on social media platforms.

Get found with Inbound Marketing

Revisit your understanding of the ideal clients for your company’s products or services. Do you know who the decision-makers is? Do you know who is likely to influence the decision-maker and other important stakeholders? When writing your content, it’s imperative to know to whom you are speaking.

With a heightened sense of your ideal client in mind, evaluate, refine and expand your company’s online presence and popularity with content designed to fill the sales funnel with prospects who have authority, who make decisions, who have influence. Create email marketing subject lines that catch the eye and resonate with those prospects. Align your white papers, blog, newsletter and case studies to address goals and questions that are meaningful to your prospects. Appeal to what motivates prospects to take the leap and do business with you. Post content to Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook to expand your reach.

Finally, why not experiment with developing relationships through online communities? Investigate LinkedIn groups, for example, and search for one or two that seem like a good fit. Follow conversations and learn what active members discuss. When you feel ready, pose a question or respond to one. Whenever you participate, your LinkedIn contact info is accessible to interested parties and the seeds of follow- up are planted.

The sales landscape has changed for the time being, but the fundamentals of selling remain. If your product or service solves a problem, provides a solution, for a potential buyer, if a price can be agreed upon a sale will be made. Pursuing introductions and attempting to build relationships with new prospects in the virtual space is not without challenges but it also brings certain advantages. Geography is no longer a barrier.

Moreover, most prospects begin the buying journey online, searching Yelp and other rating sites to find out who can and cannot be trusted, cruising through social media and visiting websites that appear in the top 10 of their text or voice searches (those would mostly be big companies, for those wondering why there is no mention of SEO here).

Buyers are acclimating to the virtual space, becoming more accepting of the new normal and what it entails. The scope of relationships hatched in the virtual space may not be quite what we’re accustomed to, but I predict that both buyers and sellers will adapt as necessary to do business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Athena, a special guest character on Lost in Space (CBS-TV 1965-1968) appeared in season 2, episode 16, of the series on January 4, 1967.

Build Your Email Contact List

Despite numerous predictions of its imminent demise that have splashed across the headlines of business publications for several years now email marketing, in various formats, continues to march forward in vigorous health because it works. If email marketing didn’t produce quantifiable ROI we would have abandoned it years ago. Nope. Email marketing remains an efficient communication pathway that allows companies to announce a product launch, register attendees for a podcast or webinar, deliver to subscribers this week’s installment of your blog, entice mailing list members with an invitation to your virtual book launch, or inspire potential students with news of the debut of your online course.

Despite the popularity of half a dozen social media platforms that are experiencing an upward trend that shows no sign of slowing down, email marketing continues to be accepted by those on the receiving end, so long as the number from any one source does not overwhelm. When email list members value the sender, they seem to like updates delivered to their inbox.

So building a quality email list that’s populated with prospects who are interested in you and your company is good business. Today, we can identify a few smart, simple tactics that are fast-acting, free and can potentially create for your organization a brand building, money making email list.

  1. Social media

An effective and obvious way to quickly and organically build a robust email contact list at no cost is to post content on social media platforms and the more platforms you post content to, the faster you’ll collect names and email addresses. How so, you ask? Because sooner or later, readers of your content will respond to what you’ve written and when they do, you’ll capture their name and email address. It’s likely that those willing to give a like to your posts or make a comment will also be willing to join your email contact list.

Another easy email capture tactic can be done on your Facebook page, by way of the Call to Action button. Hover your cursor on the CTA and select the “Edit Button” option, then change the text to read “sign up” or “join” so that you can invite Facebook Fans to your email contact list.

LinkedIn users are able to send emails to all of their primary connections but to quickly grow your email list, you’ll want to reach out to your second degree (the connections of primary connections) and third degree connections (secondary connections, once removed). There is a free service called Snovio that allows account holders to install an email finder extension which, by way of a gmail account, allows LinkedIn users to find the email addresses of those distant cousins. Click to learn more. https://app.snov.io/register?lang=en&signup_source=blog&signup_page=snov.io%2Fblog%2Fhow-to-get-the-contact-details-of-your-2nd-and-3rd-connections-on-linkedin-in-two-easy-steps&cta_type=link

2. Website sign-ups

Upload to your website reasons to collect names and email addresses. For some, that will be the “Contact us” form—website visitors who have questions or want more information about the company’s products or services are required to fill out a contact form and provide their name and email address. Other common website signup tactics are surveys, free telephone (video call) consultations, registrations for webinars and requests for free special publications—-your e-book, case studies, or white papers, for example. All are effective conduits for collecting names and email addresses that grow a viable email contact list.

3. Call to action

On your website landing page, on your white papers, blog, or newsletter, invite people to connect. You may be pleasantly surprised with the positive results of a straightforward appeal for email contact info. The share button and invitation to subscribe to or follow your blog and/ or newsletter will also bring in names and email addresses if your content is well- written and relevant.

Add a chat bot plug-in to your WordPress hosted website so that visitors can quickly obtain answers to basic questions about your products and services. Bot analytics will reveal the names and email addresses of your chat bot users, who are all set to join your growing email list.

Finally, get more mileage from your email signature block and invite recipients of your emails to opt-in and subscribe to your blog, newsletter and notices about other interesting things you’re doing.

4. YouTube videos

YouTube is the second- largest search engine in the world and about six billion videos are viewed on the site every day. People like visuals and videos are the favorite visual. Production value matters, so ask around to find out who you know with equipment that’s a level or two more advanced than your cell phone. Your public library may have equipment to use and a quiet room that will be all yours for an hour or two.

What story can you tell? You’ll have a few and you can make one or two of them sound appealing with a little thought and some rehearsal time. Providers of B2B services don’t have a product to show but we can do a convincing 5 minute promo on a course we’re set to teach, or a virtual talk we’ll give, or panel we’ll participate on.

If you’re rolling out a new service, pivoting your business, or embarking on a collaboration with colleagues that you and your partners can make sound exciting and useful to certain of your clients and prospects, include a video pitch in the launch campaign.

Remember to conclude your videos with both a verbal and text Call to Action. Ask for the business and direct viewers to click a button and be directed to your squeeze page, a landing page you can create that collects the names and email addresses of those who want to know more about your topic (i.e., what you’re selling). Learn to create a Wordstream squeeze page here. https://www.wordstream.com/features/cro-toolkithttps://www.wordstream.com/features/cro-toolkit

After posting your pithy little video promo to YouTube, also get it onto Instagram stories, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and your website. Write a short teaser sentence to accompany a link to your video and include them in your email signature block.

5. Join business groups

All meetings are virtual and will remain so for the time being, but by attending events hosted by the group you join—-the chamber of commerce, a neighborhood business group, the local alumni chapter of your school, or other professional development and networking associations—-the benefits of membership include access to the member directory.

I don’t recommend that you import the directory and spam fellow members by sending your content without permission, because that will do you no favors. But one easy way to obtain the names and email addresses of desirable contacts is to attend virtual programs and make a pitch through the chat function.

During the final 15 minutes or so of the program send an all-person chat message to briefly introduce yourself and offer to send your blog, newsletter, e-book, or other content to anyone who’ll (privately) provide their name and address.

Attend one or two virtual events each month and you’ll be almost guaranteed to add 4-5 worthwhile names each month from this one source. This type of ask was originally done during the face2face conversations that took place during pre- event meet & greets (remember those?), but they can migrate to a virtual format without feeling awkward.

Building a robust email marketing prospect list is one of the best growth strategies business owners and leaders can do. If you’re able to add 10-20 contacts each month, declare victory. List building is an ongoing process—- it never stops. I’ve personally witnessed Freelancers who have 5000+ names on their list politely, skillfully, relentlessly, invite every potentially good contact to join their email list.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Replica of a vintage mailbox

Quick Tips: Increase Traffic to Your Website in 30 Days

“I know I could bring in lots more business if only I could get people to my website!” Do you hear the sound of your own voice in this lament? There may be more than a grain of truth in that statement. I’ll wager that at least 20% of those who visit a B2B website are doing research in advance of making a buying decision (according to the 80/20 Rule, that says on average a bus gets 80% of its sales from 20% of its customers).

When you greet site visitors with compelling content that supports decision-making, along with a respectable number of site visitors, a typical B2B Freelance service provider should be able convert window shoppers into paying customers about once or twice a year. That would be a victory for many Freelancers and small business B2B entities. But first, you’ve got to persuade prospects to come and look at the display window that is your website.

The first quick and overall most effective website enhancement strategy to put in motion is to create a compelling landing page that attracts and holds the attention of, in particular, self-identified prospects who are looking to buy what your company sells. Links to content marketing posts, videos and relevant updates are how your intriguing and persuasive content is brought to site visitors’ attention.

When site visitors are greeted with content that entices them to read posts and page through the site, the behavior nurtures the buying process. On your landing page, provide links to your blog, newsletter, case studies and/ or white papers. If you have video testimonials from happy clients, include a landing page link. If you have speaking engagements, list those as well on the landing page.

Your next fast-acting and free site traffic enhancement strategy is to maximize the visibility of the content you’ve posted there. If you know that your target clients trust and visit certain social media platforms, then establish a presence on those platforms. From time to time, do join conversations on trending topics to which you can speak intelligently (say, the PPP loans) but primarily, you’ll cross-promote selected content marketing posts and videos from your website onto social media and extend your reach.

Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube are the usual suspects but if some of your content seems appropriate for the ephemeral, one day only lifespan featured on SnapChat (and your target clients include Millennials/ Gen Z), then upload and monitor the results.

If readers and viewers appreciate your content, they’ll visit your website at some point. This is a great way to continually fill the top of your sales funnel (TOFU) and ease a few into the middle (MOFU) as well.

Serious shoppers do online searches from their keyboard and voice searches on mobile phones through Siri and Alexa. While single keywords get all the attention in SEO, descriptive phrases used by those looking for information about your business category, known as long- tail keywords, are far more effective in putting your company into search results than single keywords.

The goal is to get your company into the top 10 (page 1) of search results and increase the chance that a prospect will see your website and click. It’s worth a try, but be advised that smaller companies rarely get page 1 placement.

Start by brainstorming possible search phrases that a prospect might use when looking for your service and make a list. Next, go to Google and type those long- tail keywords into the search box and examine the search results. Which phrases are relevant for your business? Try also your long- tail keywords on http://Soovle.com and http://ubersuggest.org which open the door to search engine results other than Google.

When you discover which phrases bring up companies that match with yours, ease them into your content (three long- tail keywords in one 1000 word post max). Overuse of keyword phrases will help neither your content nor your credibility.

Finally, installing an AI-powered chat bot is another great website enhancement that you can use to increase website traffic, indirectly. Chat bots encourage and enable website visitors to ask questions and almost immediately receive answers through Natural Language Processing, that simulates a Live (but limited) conversation. Chat bots help visitors save time, so benefit derived is that bots combat website abandonment as they assist the decision-making process.

A web developer can install your chat bot but you can DIY if so inclined. Omnichat, The WordPress chat bot is a plug-in option available for owners of WordPress websites. Chat bot analytics will tell you who has used the bot and delivers a second ROI by allowing you to harvest emails to build your contact list. You’ll also learn the most frequently asked questions that will guide you to expand or refine the answers provided.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image:

2021 Financial Tune-up

We’re at the top of the year, after closing out a particularly trying nine months of the previous. It seems that rough sailing will continue but we know what to expect now, more or less, and our experiences will enable us to brainstorm and identify strategies to help ride out the storm.

Whatever you’d like to achieve this year, money is likely to be necessary. In fact managing money may be the singular focus of your plan for the new year. For example, a practical goal for your business enterprise may be to conserve cash as a risk management strategy as the pandemic economy grinds on and on. Alternatively, saving money that will make it possible to take aim at your personal bucket list, which may include buying a home or trading up, or becoming more diligent about retirement savings, are or her motivators for managing and saving money.

Create a budget

The ultimate money-tracking and management tool is the budget. A budget accounts for anticipated revenue, which Freelancers are advised to conservatively estimate, and balances that amount against expenses that will be due, be they predetermined obligations such as rent or mortgage, transportation and groceries or discretionary expenses, such as new clothing purchases.

It’s also necessary to factor into your budget room for mundane expenses such as routine or emergency auto maintenance, technology needs and occasional home repairs and accessories, as well as allowances for fun expenses such as holiday and birthday gifts, occasional dinners out, or a weekend trip.

If one is both prudent and fortunate, revenue will exceed expenses most of the time and you’ll be able to save a few dollars every month. So budgeting should not be viewed as punishment; to the contrary, your budget is your friend. Why wouldn’t you want to know how much money you can expect to earn in a month or quarter and compare that amount to the typical expenses you expect to pay in that time period?

We all need to keep close tabs on cash-flow. The idea is to make money and avoid deficit spending. Budgets can be monthly, quarterly, or annual but a personal budget probably works best on a monthly cycle.

Get started by finding your 1099s and adding them up to identify the previous year’s gross revenue. Because 2020 was a year of diminished revenue for most Freelancers and we don’t know how much of a bounce forward 2021 will bring, income averaging 2019 and 2020 revenue could be a reasonable predictor of 2021. If you have dividend paying investments or interest bearing accounts that actually amount to something, be sure to include that income as well. Who knows, maybe you have a modest trust fund to include as well (it must be nice!).

Next, document 2020 expenses. Consult credit card statements, ATM withdrawals, mobile payment apps and checking account statements. Be honest with yourself about all the little ways that you spent money, from impulse purchases in the grocery store check-out line to chocolate therapy ice cream emergencies.

You will soon need to consider how to format your budget. Some will like an Excel spreadsheet and others will download a budgeting app such as what’s shown here. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/budgeting-saving-tools/ I find The Balance website to be very helpful. https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-make-a-budget-1289587

Watch your caffeine

In life, so often it’s the little things that matter. Small expenses can easily add up to a bigger drain on your income than you realize. In other words, beware the $5.00 caffeine drinks. The most frugal option is to buy a good coffee maker or tea kettle + accessories and make your own brew. However, if stepping out for a break helps you to be a more effective work from home professional, find a local restaurant to visit. You may be able to save money as you have the pleasure of supporting a local business.

Monitor other expenditures as well. Not all of your small but life-enhancing pleasures will have to end, but making note of their impact on your finances may change your mind about a few things. If possible, maintain a couple of indulgences that mean the most and let the rest go.

Pay on time

Late fees for many bills are $25.00 or more and some companies consider them to be a line of business. You don’t want to go there. Late paying clients can force a Freelancer into that trap and I’ve been there. Help yourself by invoicing on time and finding the courage to send a gently worded reminder email to collect unpaid receivables that are approaching 60 days.

Moreover, when discussing a project with a client, ask for 20% – 25% of the total fee before you commence work. Tie subsequent payments to successfully completed project milestones. Avoid leaving more than 30% due at the project’s completion and therefore leaving yourself vulnerable to an unscrupulous operator who decides not to pay the full amount, now that s/he has want they want.

Finally, you may notice that planning to save money may inspire you, Freelancer Friend, to become more ambitious and disciplined about keeping your sales pipeline filled, enacting client retention strategies and even devising a campaign pitch to move regular clients to retainer agreements. When you make a commitment to yourself to manage money, you’ll want to be able to predict, and ideally increase, your revenue in order to achieve the savings target.

Thanks for reading,

Kim


			

Form 1099 Changes for Tax Year 2020

Freelance Consultants will soon receive from clients who were billed $600 or more in tax year 2020 the IRS Form 1099 and as many of you may have heard, changes were made. The general rules concerning who must file the form remain the same, but there are now two versions —-the 1099–NEC and a recalibrated 1099–MISC. Freelancers must receive their appropriate Form 1099 no later than February 1, 2021. The 1099–NEC cannot be downloaded online, but must be ordered from the IRS website.

1099–NEC (non-employee compensation) will be filed by Freelancers and that includes attorneys. Clients must send out this version of the 1099 when:

1. Payments of at least $600 were made during tax year 2020 to an individual (or company) who provided services to the client company but who is not formally employed by the client company.

2. Payment was made for services rendered and not for products or merchandise.

3. Payment was made to an individual, partnership, or other unincorporated entity. With the exception of attorneys or law firms, payments to either C or S corporations are not recorded on Form 1099–NEC or 1099–MISC.

Freelancers who file 1099–NEC will report their income on IRS Schedule C (Profit or Loss from Business), a supporting document of Form 1040. Your client should ask you to complete IRS Form W-9 if you bill, or expect to bill, $600 or more in the year.

Clients would traditionally mail to the Freelancer a hard copy of 1099-NEC (copy B), but the client may ask, or Freelancers can request, that an electronic copy be sent instead. Email correspondence between client and Freelancer, in which the Freelancer consents to receiving an electronic 1099–NEC from the client, is all that’s required to authorize the electronic format.

1099–MISC will be filed by recipients, including Limited Liability Companies (LLC), of $600 or more in rent payments (landlords), plus prize and award winners who receive $600 or more and recipients of royalties in excess of $10.

Other types of 1099–MISC income includes payments to an attorney or law firm for fees other than legal services, payment received from a legal settlement, fishing boat proceeds and non-qualified deferred compensation.

Freelancers and merchants who accept credit and debit card payments (maybe on Square, Stripe, or PayPal) will receive Form 1099–K from payment processors if those payments amounted to $20,000 or more and 200 or more transactions took place during calendar year 2020.

The card transaction income reported on 1099–K confirms for both the business and the IRS that income reported on 1099–K and Schedule C aligns. However, the business may also receive checks or even cash, so Schedule C income may be greater than 1099–K income.

The 1099 is part of federal taxes, but 39 states also require it to be filed with annual taxes. States that do not require the 1099 to be filed at that time are: Alaska, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

Did I mention that 4Q2020 taxes are due on Friday January 15? Just saying.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

2021: The Comeback

It’s a New Year and now is the time to engineer a fresh start for you and your business. Take a few deep cleansing breaths to clear your mind and allow the big picture of your business, competencies, clients and relationships to come into view. Now you’ll be able to pull up the strategic insights and resourcefulness you’ve honed over the years and brainstorm how you can reposition your company to outwit the COVID-created obstacles that have hemmed all of us in over the past nine months. If the virus can adapt and retrench, so can you!

Predictions for the viability of several once thriving industries is less than optimistic, I’m sorry to say, but some Freelancers and business owners will be buoyed by other industries that flourished during the pandemic and can be expected to continue to do so. Among those fortunate few are:

All aspects of healthcare, from Freelance grant writers who work to obtain funding for life sciences research, which includes the development of vaccines, to start-up entrepreneurs who seek to patent and sell medical devices, to owners of medical billing services.

All aspects of technology, from Bitcoin entrepreneurs, to experts in cloud computing solutions, including digital data storage, to those who provide Artificial Intelligence solutions.

Prepared meals, available for curbside pick-up or delivery, were already trending upward and sales have skyrocketed since the advent of pandemic quarantining. While some who got an early start in the marketplace are succeeding by offering meat-potatoes-and gravy American standard menus, recent successful home meal caterers seem to be following the advice of 1930s burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee—-you’ve gotta have a gimmick. The popularity of Keto, vegan, organic, vegetarian, gluten-free and Paleo menus are claiming an increased market share.

Because so many of us are at home all day, unemployed, underemployed, working from home, overseeing children’s online schooling and unable to access our usual social outlets and networks, the cocktail hour has taken on a renewed luster. In other words, business is brisk at wine and liquor stores.

If you’re not a good cook, not a techie, you’re not an engineer who can develop a product, you have no interest in writing grants and could never raise the start-up capital needed to open a liquor store, all is not lost. The second-oldest Freelance career, real estate, is still going strong, particularly in the residential sector.

Condominium and co-op sales at the 8-figure top of the market in big cities have been softening for about two years now, but sales in sun belt states and suburban communities are doing very well. COVID has caused all of us to spend much more time at home and families require more living space now that the adults are often working from home and both need a home office. Children need not just a playroom, but also an in-home classroom for virtual school.

Furthermore, many who now work from home are looking to get out of small and expensive city apartments and move to the suburbs. Now that there is no more commute to the office or access to the entertainment, culture and networking opportunities that once justified the price of urban life, why continue to feed your greedy landlord?

Freelancers who have at least mid-level sales skills and are curious about entering the real estate field should first explore the trends in their locale. Finding a friend who is a licensed agent to tutor you in the ins & outs of the business would be a useful step two. Next, obtain a real estate license and try your luck with rental property to start. Maybe your real estate mentor will recommend you to a company who’ll bring you in as an agent.

Expect and prepare for change

Have you noticed that those who so cavalierly lecture others to welcome and embrace change are nearly always untouched by the change they tell the rest of us to welcome? Change may be inevitable but it is nevertheless unsettling and is sometimes destructive. We have good reason to fear change because the outcome can be ruinous. That said, life is all about managing risk, avoiding or overcoming obstacles and recognizing and pursuing opportunities.

We must all prepare for change, whether we see it approaching or get blind-sided by its sudden impact. Create your ongoing risk management strategy by keeping up with professional development. Regularly read up on developments in your industry so that you’re not caught unawares by policy or customer preference changes. Investigate technologies that will make your company more appealing and responsive to clients and make doing business with your organization more efficient. Always, look for ways to conserve cash.

Stay abreast of customer priorities

Understanding the needs and emerging priorities of clients enables you to recognize future business opportunities for your company and that information will be a crucial component of your nimble response to change and crafting a successful comeback. Including a short customer survey with an invoice will give clients a chance to voice how they feel about your products and services, tell you how your organization can improve and might even give you early warning on the next big thing.

Talk to your clients and learn what you can, politely and over time, to learn what keeps them awake at night and what they’re prioritizing now, or may prioritize in the near term.

Expand your client list, even if you’ve been lucky enough to work with an organization that has prospered during the pandemic and is giving you generous billable hours or sales. As we know, things can change. Back up, back up, back up.

Work smart

I don’t care what anyone says, I still feel that good luck, good timing and knowing influential people are the determining factors in building a successful business enterprise. Hard work matters, too, but billions of people on planet earth work hard every day and starve as they do. Working smart is the better choice, even if your luck and timing aren’t so great and no one’s looking out for you.

Meeting the right people is helpful, but it’s always been random and is difficult to do by way of videoconference, a method of communication that is not conducive to bonding with new colleagues and friends. It’s probably best to look for ways to refresh relationships with strategically placed friends and colleagues who you feel may be inclined to help you. You should also consider ways that you might help them as well and make that known, to get the reciprocity rolling.

Be ready for whatever good luck or timing might come your way by being visible and looking viable. Participate in virtual business or social events so that you’ll see and be seen. Use the chat function to message colleagues and privately say hello and potentially suggest a socially distanced coffee or drinks meet-up.

There are no guarantees but taking steps to package and present yourself and your company as prepared, proactive, nimble and viable is the surest route to your successful comeback.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Sylvester Stallone (L) and Burgess Meredith in the Academy Award winning movie Rocky (Best Picture, 1977)

Pandemic Sales Tactics

The New World Order ushered in by the coronavirus has forced all Freelancers and business owners and leaders to learn to be resilient and to steward our organizations in ways that are forward-thinking and flexible. Selling the company’s products and services to generate revenue has taken on an even more central role. There is heightened recognition that the roles of marketing, branding, public relations, advertising, networking and social media are to encourage sales, to attract qualified prospects and convert them to customers.

Now that the COVID era is here, whatever your company previously did to promote sales must be adjusted to get in step with the new reality. As of this writing it appears that we won’t return to “business as usual” anytime soon, if ever. Consider this the wake-up call to update the selling protocols at your organization and prepare to compete more effectively in today’s marketplace.

Selling is the purpose

As noted, it is no longer possible to put the components of a company’s sales process on automatic pilot. Nurturing the brand, revving up the social media presence, strategic networking, targeting of content marketing posts and the like are all relevant but bear in mind that those activities are the “way to the way.” The way a company survives is by making sales. The purpose of a company’s sales process is winning business and that function is the real-time measure of all your imaginatively conceived business strategies.

It’s vital that the sales team (that means you, Freelancer Friend and small business owner) the information and other resources needed to sell effectively, because there’s less business available now.

Start by learning what your clients fear and what they’re prioritizing, in response to how COVID has impacted their organizations. You have likely been in touch with your current clients at least once or twice since the shutdown and subsequent (partial) reopening but if you haven’t done so, send a New Year’s card and follow it up with an outreach themed phone call or email—you’re just checking in to see how the client is doing. How’s business? How are they managing? Listen well and empathize.

Deliver what customers value now

Dive into the social media accounts of past, current and prospective clients to get intel on how they’re communicating with their customers and discover what is being promoted now. The goal is to obtain insights into as many specific reasons as possible that might incline clients and prospects to do business with your company rather than the competition.

You want to understand the issues that may drive customer decisions. This is also your method to discover any obstacles that could potentially impact the use of your products and services, for better or worse. Remember that COVID has collapsed some industries and revitalized others.

Based on what your investigation shows, forecast the perhaps now revised client needs that your organization can address, what new (or ongoing) problems you can help clients resolve. Then, build a strategy to capitalize on what you’ve learned and repackage your offerings.

Map the new sales process

Get used to it, your sale will most likely take place by videoconference. You’ll be at an advantage when sales calls are with clients you already know. When meeting with new prospects you’ll have to work a little harder, but that is always the case. Regardless, do yourself a favor and hire a videoconference tech for three hours to set up your call and monitor it in progress, and allow yourself to focus on how to use your platform’s technology to communicate and connect with your prospect and sell.

Consider presenting a (video) show and tell for a product sale or a pre-taped video testimonial featuring a happy client who’s had a good experience with the product or service you’ll discuss (client success story/ verbal case study). Call in a guest speaker on your team who is an expert on using the product (engineer or the product manager) to provide additional information, take questions and reassure the prospect. If selling a B2B service, a few slides that show the ROI would also help the sale.

Perfect the sales experience

If the prospect is working at the office, or if you happen to know his/ home address, why not add a flourish and have lunch or coffee and pastry simultaneously delivered to the prospect and yourself? You and your prospect can still enjoy a meal together, relax and begin to bond, even if remotely. Morning meetings could benefit when coffee + is delivered at the start, but lunchtime and other afternoon meetings will probably be best served when food is delivered at around the half way point.

Thoughtful planning that keeps the client at the center of the sales process will guide your organization to refocus its sales process in ways that benefit client expectations and the experience. Relationships and referrals that will set your venture on an upward trajectory begin here, with how you manage the sale.

Thanks to all of you for reading my posts! YourHappy New Year,

Kim

Image: Actress Myrna Loy (R) sells cigarettes to actor William Powell (L) and his wife Diana Lewis at a 1940 Franco-British War Relief charity event held at the Cocoanut Grove supper club in Hollywood.

Create a New Client Onboarding Process

Freelancers and other business owners and leaders understand the importance of periodically reviewing and assessing the experience they present to those who agree to pay for their products and services. Business owners and leaders must continuously strive to offer the best experience possible to those willing to do business.

For B2B service providers, creating a pleasant and efficient process that welcomes, i.e. onboards, new clients is Step One in affirming that the decision to do business with your company was sound. Good onboarding is good business.

Sets the stage for a good working relationship

Demonstrates your organization’s competence and efficiency

Brand-enhancing

Kicks-off the customer retention strategy (begin with the end in mind!)

Develop an onboarding process that skillfully guides your clients and demonstrates that your organization anticipates needs and questions and take extra steps to eliminate miscommunication that may lead to misunderstanding, confusion, or disappointment. The goal is to assure your new client at every step that you’ve got this.

A videoconference call or an email from the project leader, perhaps joined by one or two other company leaders, is a good basic onboarding gesture. Do this to personally welcome the new client and express how excited you are to work with him/her. If you have a case study or two and you haven’t already shared them, send them now, to reinforce your experience and expertise in providing the solutions your client requires.

In a videoconference call or basic phone call, ask the client to review what a successfully completed project will look like. The answer will confirm exactly what your organization must deliver to fulfill or exceed expectations and make yourself eligible for repeat business. Take notes to ensure you understand the metrics the client will use to define success—results such as sales conversion rate or quarterly revenue or a deliverable such as a website upgrade or new logo.

On the call, confirm the project timeline, project milestones and payments linked to the contract signing and milestones. Confirm all resources that the client will provide to support the work, such as support staff and what that individual will provide.

You want to know early in the process if you have the labor needed to do the work and how it would impact the preferred timeline. Bear in mind that because this process includes client input, your organization receives instant client feedback and agreement and demonstrates your ability to communicate and collaborate.

Confirm all agreements in an email to the new client to complete the onboarding process. Top it off with a few branded swag items if you have any—pens, note pads, tote bags, water bottles and the like, if you have them, shipped to your client’s office.

After reviewing and confirming the project scope and milestones on the call, confirm in an email to further cement everyone’s understanding. Your client will appreciate your attention to his/her needs. Make it obvious that your goal is to do excellent work and make the client look good to the higher-ups at his/ her company.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Cunard Line’s Queen Mary made her maiden voyage in May 1936.

Virtual Assistant Technology to Support Your Business

Enter the New Year with a mission to explore and utilize virtual assistant technology as part of your strategy to create operational efficiencies and competitive advantages for your organization competitive in 2021 and beyond. The negative effects of the COVID economy should lend some urgency to your efforts.

You already know that Intelligent Virtual Assistants can quickly answer common questions posed by website visitors because you’ve most likely used chat bots yourself. You’ve probably also pulled out your phone many times to ask those voice-controlled Intelligent Virtual Assistants named Siri and Alexa questions like where you can get an ice cream cone, or the location of the nearest hardware store. In other words, you’re comfortable with Intelligent Virtual Assistants and you’re ready to brainstorm how to use them in your business.

IVAs have many uses, including pairing with artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to guarantee secure business transactions and contracts, a benefit that has become more valuable in the work from home virtual communication-dependent COVID environment. Along with tech-enabled administrative, operational and customer service functions, IVAs can seamlessly supply an array of other services.

IVA and LeadGen

Use IVA to stimulate both online and in-store sales by suggesting purchases to online shoppers who’ve either previously bought items on your site, or merely visited the site. You get to select the triggers, the contact schedule and the manner of marketing outreach—an ad or a marketing email, for example.

Have you ever visited the website of a grocery chain and a minute later discovered ads for grocery delivery in your online feed? That’s IVA- driven drip marketing at your service. There are other time-saving and money- making possibilities that IVA can deliver. For a not overwhelming sum each month, depending on the service, you can position your company as being at the technological forefront and build confidence in your organization and its operations as a result.

IVA and email marketing

Hunter.io will ferret out those elusive email addresses of decision-makers you’d like to contact and engage with as you lay the groundwork for selling and brand building or opportunities. Just enter the company name and the person you’d like to reach and receive a list of email addresses that contain that domain name. Try the no-pay trial option and receive 50 free email searches or sign on for 500 email searches, verifications and several more useful email marketing campaign services for just $49/month.

IVA and PR/ Marketing

Maybe you want to be a guest on the right podcast? IVA technology will search podcasts that should be a fit for your products or services. IVA will also create your email marketing pitch for the targeted podcast hosts to launch a campaign to get you on a broadcast or two. The email will be sent from your business account and will suggest topics you’d like discuss that would appeal to the podcast listeners and add value to the show.

If you’d like to get on the radar screens of blogger- influencers in your location or industry, or introduce yourself to key print or digital journalists, the same tactic can be applied. Furthermore, IVA technology can be used to help you effectively recycle still relevant content marketing posts from your blog or newsletter into social media posts, whether text or video format.

As Freelancers and all business owners and leaders continue to grapple with the challenges presented by the COVID economy and its impact on activities we once took for granted, incorporating IVA technology into your company will become essential in what will be an increasingly digital world.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: George and Jane Jetson with Rosie, their IVA household help. Animated sitcom The Jetsons (Hanna-Barbera) aired in prime time on ABC from September 1962 – March 1963, then spent many years in syndication.

Upgrading Leadership Skills

As we approach the close of a difficult year, the first thing I’ll ask you to do is give yourself a pat on the back for making it through. Sure, you may have dropped a stitch or two as you struggled to find your footing as clients canceled jobs and the ground gave way beneath your feet.

This is a scary time for Freelance consultants and business owners, including those who steward multi-million dollar corporate enterprises. Those who’ve managed to hang on and find a way to either pivot or turn a corner and rebuild are to be congratulated.

Regardless of your circumstances, periodically assessing your leadership capabilities will always bring you to a better place, professionally and personally. One’s leadership ability is the foundation of not only decision-making that helps to successfully guide your business through the storm but also to rally the team to shore up confidence and productivity.

How you say what you say

Good communication is a hallmark of an effective leader. Knowing how to connect with, empathize and inspire the team are essential competencies. A leader depends on the team, because they are the folks needed to achieve the goals and support the leader’s, and the company’s, success.

Team members are highly attuned to their leader’s style of communication. It really is not so much what you say, as how you say it. We all have an inborn communication style and when we are mindful, we can refine that style and make it more effective. One method of communicating company goals is to use storytelling.

Express the goal and key elements involved in its achievement as a story, if not an adventure. Share with the team why the goal is important, what it means to the company’s survival and stature and how the company (and by extension its employees) will benefit. Communicate your excitement about being chosen to participate in achieving the goal. Emphasize your confidence in the ability of team members to take the ball and run with it.

As well, allow team members to add their viewpoints and give voice to their questions, doubts and/or what some may feel as innovative ways to get the job done. In other words, demonstrate your respect and reinforce mutual trust. Barking orders and demanding performance damages morale and is rarely effective in the long run.

Listen to the team

Team members should feel comfortable speaking with you, their leader, both on the record and off the record. What you hear may occasionally make you wince, but at the end of the day you’ll feel empowered because you are trusted and that means you are held in high esteem. There is no better compliment.

Share credit and be a cheerleader

If you want to get the most out of team members, be generous with your compliments and praise. Do that and they’ll go to the ends of the earth to make you proud of them. Remember that you stand on their shoulders. Be generous with your sincere appreciation and respect for their skills and dedication.

Be willing to learn

Learning how to learn will improve any aspect of life, professional or personal. Adapting to change and understanding whether it would be the best gamble to tweak, pivot, or batten down the hatches and stay the course requires an understanding of current and anticipated marketplace forces and that understanding is acquired through updated knowledge.

Successful leaders use their industry intel to anticipate strategies that may be needed to maintain market share and profitability. Read regularly about what products are on the horizon in your industry and their potential impact as a whole and your organization in particular. Do new products, or new policies or new companies, represent an opportunity or a challenge?

Coach and mentor

While on a path to increase your own learning, encourage team members to do the same and enable the process. At least twice a year, schedule a skills building workshop, preferably facilitated by an outside expert.

If you notice that there are areas of struggle, have a private nonjudgmental and encouraging talk to investigate the root of the problem and set up a confidential remedial plan. For those at the top of their game, privately discuss career goals and paths to promotions. Remember that those you promote will become your best allies at the organization.

Own your mistakes

When you drop the ball, acknowledge and apologize. Nothing quite undermines the reputation of a leader like dodging culpability and responsibility. It’s humbling and it doesn’t feel good, but owning up never fails to enhance a leader’s credibility—-and credibility is what leadership is all about.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Elizabeth II leaves Westminster Abbey after her coronation as queen of Great Britain and the British Empire on June 2, 1953.

Optimize Your Virtual Events

Videoconference technology has emerged as the savior of the pandemic era. In the midst of the disruption, if not near destruction, of numerous formerly multi-billion dollar industries, notably restaurant, hotel, wedding, airline and fitness, virtual communication has helped all of us to function and survive. I suspect we’ll all agree that face2face interaction is preferable, but videoconferencing has done an admirable job of helping us weather the storm.

Videoconferencing has greatly expanded online distance learning and allowed schools to continue educating students. Wedding planners are helping couples stage small ceremonies that allow potentially hundreds of guests to witness and virtually join the festivities. Fitness instructors and trainers are coaching their devotees via laptop webcams in living rooms and kitchens and ballet instructors are doing the same for their students.

Managers are holding video meetings for their teams. B2B sales professionals are introducing new products and services to prospects by way of video sales calls. Conference planners are scheduling and producing everything from panel discussions to district meetings. It’s all good, but it’s time to pay attention to videoconference production values and the viewer / participant experience. Things can go wrong and the program can go down in flames. As with face2face events, an action plan is needed to optimize your virtual event so that objectives will be realized.

Let’s start with the basic technical set-up. Virtual events are nearly always viewed on a small screen—tablet or laptop–and for that reason virtual event content planners, producers and speakers would be wise to think of television. Whatever the purpose of your program, be it a classroom lecture, B2B sales call, music lesson, or company meeting, content planners and producers should visualize a small screen perspective as their guide.

If the budget allows, hiring an event technology manager will be money well spent. Event tech managers will ensure that the sound, lights and background set are appropriate for the occasion. Placement of the laptop is integral to locating the most flattering camera angle for the speaker. Two or possibly three microphones may be used to adequately capture the speaker voices. Lighting is everything in show business and the event tech will position the lighting so that the set is neither too dim or too bright and speakers are not in shadows. The set background must also be considered. Having a bookcase in view is always a plus, as are a couple of healthy plants or modest floral arrangements. The company name and logo should also be visible, but its presence need not overwhelm.

Regarding the presenters, panel discussion participants are typically seated, whether all are in a room together and socially distanced or reporting in from remote locations. It is usually preferable for featured speakers to stand while delivering their presentation, since standing telegraphs energy and allows the speaker to use body language that is more communicative and engaging.

Next, think of shaping and delivering program content in a way that will connect with and hold the attention of its virtual audience. Psychologists have documented that virtual events tax our attention span because they’re literally difficult to watch for extended periods of time. Experienced producers of virtual events recommend building in some sort of a diversion about every 20 minutes, to keep everyone’s brain comfortable during the proceedings. Explore the options and learn to use the special features available on your videoconferencing platform. Polls, yes/no questions and small group chatrooms (breakouts) make the viewing experience more enjoyable for audience members. An event tech manager can be helpful with this process as well.

Pace the event content flow by breaking it down into 20 or so minute chunks and interspersing the text with interactive activities that draw in audience members and make them part of the show. Speakers and other performers have always used certain tactics to engage live audiences and now in the 21st century, speakers, event content planners and producers are discovering new, tech-based tactics to win over virtual audiences. It’s show business history in the making, folks.

Finally, there is the increasingly common hybrid classroom or special event to master, where part of the audience is live and the rest are viewing the proceedings virtually. Hybrid events pose a challenge, but they are not insurmountable. If it’s in the budget, renting or buying one or more big screens will create a more immersive and rewarding experience for both virtual viewers and the on-site audience. Interaction between face2face and virtual participants could create exciting possibilities. Q & A, simultaneous polls, contests and games can get them talking to each other as they watch the action happen live. Confer with your event tech manager and find out how to optimize the experience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

5 Health Insurance Plans for Freelancers

The open enrollment period for obtaining health insurance, or changing to another insurance provider or modifying your plan options, began on November 1 and will end on Tuesday December 15, 2020. Your new or renewed health insurance plan will activate on January 1, 2021.

If there have been changes in your household status or income, report those changes to your current provider, since the change may impact the insurance you’ll need and/ or its cost. If you were married earlier in the year, or if you and your spouse became parents, that represents a change in household. If your income has significantly declined, perhaps because of a COVID related loss of business, that information should also be shared with your current insurance carrier, particularly if you’re enrolled in a Marketplace plan (update your application).

Freelancers should remember to deduct the cost of medical and dental insurance premiums on your annual tax return. Be advised that you cannot deduct more than the amount of your net profit for the year. If the business didn’t make a profit, you don’t get the health insurance tax deduction.

With Freelance consultants in mind, Investopedia Magazine examined 15 health insurance companies and determined that the plans listed below offer the most comprehensive coverage for individual purchasers (i.e., Freelancers) at the best price. The cost of insurance will vary by state, applicant age, family size, the type of plan and factors such as smoking.

Medical, dental, vision, Medicare, Medicaid, supplemental insurance and prescription drug coverage are available in most plans listed here. Sign up through the insurer’s company website, your state health insurance exchange, or at http://healthcare.gov. The plans are presented in ranked order.

BlueCross BlueShield

In business since 1929 and probably the most familiar health insurance provider in America, BlueCross BlueShield is actually an association of 36 independent companies that operate nationwide. It could be said that the company’s primary advantage is its extensive healthcare provider network and the familiarity of its brand.

The BCBS network serves 107 million member customers in 50 states plus Washington, D.C. and is affiliated with 96% of hospitals and 95% of physicians in the country. Americans living overseas are able to obtain coverage and receive healthcare services through the BCBS global network of providers.

Dental, hearing, vision, supplemental, Medicaid and Medicare are available in most states.

UnitedHealthcare

Along with offering health insurance in all 50 states, UnitedHealthcare is known for its technology, which is said to enable its providers to deliver care and related administrative services more efficiently and as a result, do so at s lower cost than comparable competitors.

UnitedHealthcare Group is the largest health insurance company in the nation, operating in all 50 states plus 130 countries. In 2019, the company counted 1.3 million physicians and other healthcare professionals plus 6,500 hospitals in its network. Medical, dental, vision, prescription drug, Medicaid, Medicare and supplemental coverage is available.

Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente has a focus on preventive care, based on the company philosophy that prevention of illness keeps customer members healthier and saves them money in the long run. The company is known for a high level of customer satisfaction and retention.

The downsides are that Kaiser operates in just eight states —-California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington plus Washington, D.C. Moreover, it’s physician and hospital network is lacking. Kaiser serves a whopping 12.4 million members, but there are just 23,261 physicians, 63,306 nurses and 39 hospitals in its network.

Cigna

The company was founded in 1792, making it one of the oldest corporate entities in the country. That said,the company is ahead of the curve in responding to the new normal and was out in front of the competition in offering virtual medical, including behavioral/ mental health appointments and prescription drug delivery in partnership with Express Scripts, the largest pharmacy benefits manager in the U.S.

Cigna is international and provides health insurance to 180 million member customers in 30 countries. In its global network there are 1.5 million healthcare providers and facilities—-physicians, nurses, hospitals and others.

In the U.S., Cigna offers individual plans in just 10 states—-Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia and there are 500 hospitals in the U.S. network. Depending on where you live, dental, vision, Medicare and Medicare Supplemental will be available.

Oscar

New kid on the block Oscar was launched in 2012. The company’s calling card is customer service, a consideration that may be especially attractive to Freelancers and other business owners who are left to navigate the complexities of health insurance on our own.

Oscar currently operates in 19 states—-Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. In 2021, the company expansion plan is to enter major markets in the states where it does not yet operate. Currently, Oscar provides primarily HMO health insurance and Medicare plans to 420,000 member customers and does not cover out-of- network provider claims.

Oscar offers its Doctor on Call feature that gives free, 24/7 access to a healthcare provider. Another featured offering is The Concierge, where a dedicated team of guides and nurses will answer your questions and help you save money. Oscar members can access the services of Doctor on Call and The Concierge through a mobile app that also gives access to your medical records, laboratory results, deductibles and other related information.

For more information on obtaining medical and also dental insurance, Freelancers can explore what is offered through the Freelancers Union. https://www.freelancersunion.org/insurance/health/

Happy Thanksgiving,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Optimize LeadGen and CRO

Digital marketing company HubSpot has recently released data that examined the importance of Lead Generation and Conversion Rate Optimization in the success of building and tracking marketing campaigns. Effective marketing brings in paying customers by way of increasing company name recognition and communicating the value of its products and services. Building loyalty, which encourages repeat business, and encouraging customer referrals are other important benefits derived from marketing activities.

If the desired objectives are not consistently being achieved then something needs to change, be it the basic approach (inbound or outbound), the type of outreach (blog, newsletter, social media posts, case studies, print ads), platforms used (LinkedIn, Facebook, SnapChat, etc.), or the messaging. The HubSpot survey found that just 22% of businesses are satisfied with the sales conversion rates of their marketing campaigns.

Calls to Action that address a solution that is meaningful to target audience readers will deliver the best quality leads and enhance the sales conversion rate produced by the sales funnel. The most effective calls to action incorporate popular search terms and increase sales funnel conversion rates by 87%. Anchor Text, i.e., highlighted and often paragraph heading text, that includes a search- friendly call to action can increase leadGen by 93%.

On the other hand, sounding too sales-y is a turn-off. Remember best practices as you create headlines and anchor text that deliver information and maybe a surprising statistic, too.

The Pareto Principle, commonly known as the 80/20 Rule that was introduced by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1896, continues to hold up. First, when writing articles titles matter and the data revealed that 80% of online visitors get no farther than the article’s title and just 20% delve in to read.

Note to content marketers—-do key word searches and help yourself create clever article titles and anchor text to present calls to action that address problems your readers want to solve. BTW, 36% of readers are drawn to headlines and Anchor Text that includes a number.

Videos continue to be valuable marketing tools because they deliver results. Marketers reported that their companies received 66% more qualified leads when videos are used in marketing tactics. Most video platforms will allow a copy-paste-embed of your leadGen form into the video. Lead conversion rates derived from video content are about 40%. Furthermore, 54% of consumers of digital marketing content reported that they’d like to see more video content and 88% of marketers reported that they’re satisfied with the leadGen and sales conversion performance associated with video marketing tactics.

Oh, and you can ignore your English comp or journalism professor and communicate with your content readers in the second person—-you! Readers want to be spoken to, they respond to personal appeals.

Finally, HubSpot survey data officially verified that marketers want more followers and subscribers for online content, as a way to increase the number of leads (and conversion to sales). HubSpot recommends that you create a Feature Box to guide reader eyes to your company’s opt-in offer and when you do, that metric will increase by 51%.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Client Gifts: 10 Under $25.00

It’s that time of year again. The sales and marketing bonanza known as The Holidays are fast approaching. In this most unusual year, when many Freelancers and other business owners have had little to no contact with our clients since March, thanks to the shutdown, the December holidays represent a hugely important relationship maintenance opportunity. This is our big chance to reach out to clients without looking either pushy or desperate and reminding them that we’re still relevant.

Sending holiday gifts and/ or cards to clients with whom you’ve worked in the past 3 – 5 years is one of the smartest and most effective marketing campaigns that can be run. Holiday outreach positions you and your company as a class act. The company name, and by extension its products and services, lands directly in front of decision-makers in a most pleasing way. Your acknowledgement reminds clients of a great working experience as you create yet another great experience by showing that you’re thoughtful.

You can’t lose. Not only that, you might get some work again when business picks up. Holiday shopping must start early this year. Shipping, which has grown exponentially during the shutdown, will be much more busy during the gift giving time. More holiday gifts will be shipped this year than the industry has ever seen.

Please see the 10 gifts below. I recommend shopping no later than December 6 (for domestic shipping) and sending cards by December 10. Remember that mailing to a client who’s working from home will be complicated by the need to transport items from client’s office to client’s home and the mechanism to do that probably doesn’t exist at this time. Call office building concierges before Thanksgiving and ask about mail and package deliveries.

1. Make working from home a little cozy with a warm throw blanket $20.

https://www.wayfair.com/decor-pillows/pdp/gracie-oaks-aronson-patterned-reversible-sherpa-fleece-throw-w002716118.html

2. Find the AirPods in their case when they’re needed. $25.

https://riflepaperco.com/clear-wildflowers-airpods-pro-case

3. Luscious chocolates from Serenade Chocolatier, a favorite place $25.

Fall 16 Piece Selection

4. Pet lovers will adore the Tiny Tent, a clever item that gives cats and small dogs a place to play hide’n’seek or take a nap while Mom and Dad are working from home $20.

https://www.rei.com/product/162912/tiny-tents-tiny-tent?cm_mmc=aff_AL--192425--243833-_-NA&avad=243833_a1dd2bc41

5. A personalized post-it note cube brings style to a utilitarian desk item $17.49 (sale price, $24.99 regular).

https://www.personalizationmall.com/Personalized-Sticky-Note-Cubes-Personally-Yours-p11550.prod?sdest=dept&sdestid=1098&sdest=CheckOut&sdestid=9&storeid=9&categoryId=1098

6. Wild, wacky, luxurious soap and lotion gift sets from Lush $14.95 – $24.95.

https://www.lushusa.com/shop-by-price/gifts-under-25/

7. Plants bring beauty and healing energy to every space. The Hedgehog Aloe requires bright, indirect light, no drafts and water every 7 – 10 days $19.95.

Hedgehog Aloe Plant

8. Home cooking is more fun when the chef wears a 100% cotton apron by Ayesha Curry, cookbook author, Food Network chef and wife of basketball star Stephen Curry. In aquamarine or burgundy $19.95.

https://www.kafhome.com/licenses/ayesha-curry/aqua-crossback-canvas-apron-adult.html

9. A dollop of ripe fruit sparked with a cocktail spritz creates a yummy jam condiment your clients will love $24.

https://www.uncommongoods.com/product/cocktail-jam-sampler

10. COVID evenings at home become more satisfying with soft lighting provided by candles shaped like wine corks $20 (12 candles).

https://www.uncommongoods.com/product/wine-cork-candles-set-of-12

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

You Can Scale During a Pandemic

Unlikely as it may seem, it is possible to scale a business during the COVID era or any difficult economic times, including war. Some businesses enjoyed unexpected increases in market share and sales revenue as a direct or indirect consequence of the shutdown and there were no lay-offs. Virtual communications platforms, liquor stores, grocery stores chief and delivery services have prospered.

Ripple effect revenue has accrued to tech specialists who set up and manage virtual conferences. Real estate agents who handle choice suburban and even rural locations are selling more properties, the result of affluent professionals who now work searching for residences that are spacious enough to accommodate his-and-her home offices and children’s schooling and play rooms. Teachers who administer private lessons to small groups of children have created pod learning environments. Elegant picnics are the new pivot for caterers, who provide food, wine, flowers, candles, stylish ground coverings and cushions to create al fresco dining experiences for those who shy away from restaurants.

If sales are increasing at your organization, celebrate the good fortune by maximizing the opportunity. Seize the day, plan your strategy and scale.

Operational efficiencies

When an organization grows, everything gets more complicated. How can the company deliver its products and services to twice as many customers? Building in operational efficiencies is an essential component of preparing a company to scale successfully. Business owners or leaders must ensure that the processes of acquiring or manufacturing company products and providing services are seamless and meet consistency and quality control expectations. E-commerce functions, the shipping method, invoicing or other payment system and customer service protocols must be secure, dependable and user-friendly.

An HR workforce specialist and/or operations/process improvement expert can guide company owner/ leaders to identify additional job functions that will be needed to support the scale, as well as the ideal employee qualifications for those positions and what to include in the job specs.

Upgrade marketing strategies and campaigns

So the company is generating more revenue and that has given you the confidence to scale—great! How about pinpointing who these new customers are and learning how and why they discovered your business? Are certain products or services suddenly more popular and if so, what’s driving the phenomenon? Or did a customer make a referral to someone with a big budget?

A more sophisticated and comprehensive marketing strategy is another key component of a successful scale. Update the company marketing strategy and campaign tactics to attract and welcome more of the new customer demographic. A website refresh or an entirely new site may be in order. The usefulness of content marketing, perhaps in the form of case studies, a monthly blog or newsletter or white papers that are posted to the website and selected social media platforms may become apparent. Include a short survey on the website (and also on certain social media platforms) to pose questions that reveal why customers choose to do business with your company and what might encourage them to continue doing so.

Revisit the company brand story and promotion strategy and incorporate language that builds trust, conveys expertise and encourages a sense of community and shared values with customers. Values are a growing priority and customers are inclined to patronize companies that support what they themselves support. Sponsoring local events may be a good way to communicate company values (and sending press releases that announce company participation to select media outlets may result in beneficial publicity).

Monitor the results of the marketing tactics used to learn what customers, both the new and the loyal friends, respond favorably to. The goal is to constantly fill the sales pipeline with good prospects. Make marketing personal by inviting customers to fill out profiles that provide name, email address, physical address and birthday, so that they can receive notice of new merchandise, special sales, birthday wishes and holiday greetings.

Ensure customer service

In fact as the company scales, owners and leaders should take on the perspective of both a curious prospect and a repeat customer, to gain insight into how to create a satisfyingly memorable customer experience. Good word of mouth is the best advertisement and often results in referrals. Positive reviews on Yelp, Angie’s List, or other online rating sites are effective marketing tools that bring in customers.

Remember that data security is also an important facet of good customer service. If an e-commerce feature is part of product or service distribution, hire a web designer to add an SSL certificate to the website, to obtain encryption that protects credit card and other personal data (and as a bonus benefit, gives the company a boost in search engine rankings). While speaking with the web designer, make sure that the page lay-out is intuitive and easily navigable. Consider adding a chat bot so that visitors can ask (anticipated) questions and receive answers ASAP, which saves time.

Finally, make product returns and exchanges efficient and painless. Have adequate staff to answer phone calls and emails, so that customers will not become frustrated. Use Facebook and/or Twitter to further support customer service and have adequate staff to update information, monitor activity and address and resolve problems and questions.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. A lift helps workers scale and work at the Christian Science Mother Church in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.

Passive Income? Well…

Ah, passive income. It has become the romanticized ideal of how to make money, the American dream redefined. “I can be on the golf course or sailing on my 38 foot boat because I don’t sweat to be rich. I’ve created a lucrative passive income stream. I am smarter and richer than you.” Sigh…

I’m not here to criticize the aspiration of creating a passive income stream. I wish I had one (or two)! My goal today is to tell the passive income backstory because in reality, creating a passive income stream is not as easy as it may look. Furthermore, a passive income stream usually will not make it possible to quit your day job and retire early. Most of all, be aware that creating a passive income stream is an active process. To make it happen, you may have to work harder, smarter and maybe for a longer period of time than you might have imagined.

Even if you’re able to create a passive income stream (and that is not guaranteed), the ROI might be underwhelming. The passive income stream that you have the wherewithal to create may only be enough to pay your cell phone and Wi-Fi bills, not a mortgage and car note. Still, even a modest passive income stream is nothing to sneeze at. It’s just that everyone daydreams of it being so much more.

Passive income defined

Before diving in, let’s clarify the term. Passive income is a reliable, long-term revenue stream that you receive but do not work full-time to generate. Passive income is sort of like a no-show job—work 8 hours and get paid for 40 (or work 20 hours; more about that later).

The ultimate passive income stream is a trust fund. To become a beneficiary, the only work that must be done is arrange to be born into the right family and after that, you’re golden. Heck, you might be able to live off the interest (the ne plus ultra). But alas, not all trust funds are generous; most pay in the low five figures annually. Still, even a trust fund that pays $1000/ month provides a nifty little cushion that no one would refuse, not even Bezos.

Dividend-paying stocks, bonds, or mutual funds are another source of passive income. Selling advertising space on a blog or newsletter is yet another method of generating passive income. Rent received from an investment in commercial or residential property is the most popular form of passive income because it is the most profitable.

Passive income starts with active work

If generating a passive income stream is the goal, accept the fact that time, effort, a particular skill set and (often) start-up capital will be required. Those who are now collecting a reliable passive income stream had to work for it, unless they are lucky trustafarians.

A fair amount of research, the ability to interpret and apply the data, plus good luck, good timing and good investment advice are needed to reliably earn quarterly dividends on Wall Street investments that will make even a modest positive impact. Following your investments and getting a sense of when to put in a buy or sell order, or having the courage to hold when your fund is down for the third week in a row, takes a strong stomach. Even if you have a better-than-average proficiency in investing, you’ll be very lucky to regularly earn $500/ quarter in dividends and in fact, most people lose money in the stock market. Earning an extra $2000/ year is nice but does not make much difference, especially when balanced against the work required to generate it. But then again, maybe you like the adrenaline rush?

Rental property brings in a much better ROI, but getting into the game is expensive. A two-family house in many areas will cost north of $500,000 and a 10 % down payment plus closing and other costs push the price of entry beyond the reach of many. Couples and other partner groups make the business more approachable and while profits (and expenses and losses) must be split in proportion to one’s investment stake, group buying power allows for more properties to be purchased and the potential to generate a more sizeable revenue stream.

Most rental income investors start by purchasing a multi-unit building and moving into one of the apartments as they collect rents from the others. The rent received is expected to fund the property’s mortgage, taxes and estimated building maintenance budget and that is usually possible. Aspiring owners must research the rental occupancy rate and average rental price of similar buildings in their locale and balance that figure against projected expenses.

Bloggers and newsletter writers must be highly knowledgeable in their selected subject and have boots-on-the-ground experience that gives credibility and earns the trust and respect of readers. Skillful writing that informs and entertains readers is another primary must-do.

Mommy bloggers must be mothers. Food bloggers must be excellent cooks, or at least imaginative and entertaining cooks or alternatively, have the funds to regularly dine in high-end or very trendy restaurants (getting comped may be possible but to maintain credibility, it’s best to pay).

Having expertise in a topic that has better-than-average potential to draw the six-figure audience that advertisers demand makes the climb much easier. Mommy blogs, foodie blogs, travel and fashion blogs are among the most popular in the writing sector. Publishers of business blogs or newsletters trail far behind that flashy crew, I’m sorry to say. Writing a popular business book, usually in conjunction with a VIP client list, a regular column in The Wall Street Journal or some other lofty publication, or a TED Talk, gives much-needed traction.

Travel blogs are not quite a thing in the COVID era but when they were hot, the capital to fund trips to destinations that are either lavish or modest is necessary. Available time to travel is another requirement. Unless one is a flight attendant, who can take a vacation every month?

Fashion blogs require a big wardrobe investment in addition to taking a deep dive into the collections of numerous designers who are based on three continents. In the pre-pandemic era, having the connections or savvy to sneak into the season shows in New York, Paris, Tokyo, or Milan is a big plus for readership and acquiring ads.

Passive income, active maintenance

Time, effort, or money will likewise be required to sustain a passive income stream once it’s launched. Continuing to sell ad space on a blog or newsletter is predicated on maintaining, if not expanding, a big readership or ads will be pulled and passive income lost. Compelling topics must continually be presented. Three or more audience-grabbing social media accounts that are designed and continually tested for maximum audience appeal must be maintained, to promote the publication and deliver the readers to advertisers.

Investors must study the mutual funds, bonds, precious metals, commodities, or stocks that have historically produced results that beat the market (such as Index Funds). Researching companies to learn about potentially market rocking products and services that are due to be released and can be expected to have a positive impact on the company stock price is an ongoing responsibility of successful investors. At least weekly monitoring the performance of one’s portfolio goes without saying.

Rental income, while it usually produces a very good ROI, can be a real headache because one must deal with people, the tenants. Their lives and problems can become your drama. The pandemic affiliated job losses have caused millions of Americans to be unable to pay their rent on time and in full. This outcome has put thousands of small investor property owners in jeopardy regarding the big mortgage they may owe on their recently purchased property. If that weren’t enough, taxes are only going up and maintenance costs are never-ending. The real estate market, while still lucrative and reliable, is more risky of late.

Going forward

If you have a certain skill set, time and capital resources to create a passive income stream by way of a potentially lucrative activity or business proposition, do yourself a favor and develop a comprehensive strategy, in fact a business plan, to improve your chance of success. Identifying, launching and sustaining a reliable passive income stream is essentially starting a business. Considerable up-front effort and capital may be required and there are no guarantees, only management of risks.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. At the Prudential Mall in the Back Bay of Boston, someone who might be working on creating a passive income empire.

Virtual Meeting Primer

Virtual meetings and virtual classrooms are here to stay no matter what happens with the coronavirus or any other virus—or tornado, or earthquake, or blizzard. If you have not yet presided over a virtual meeting, maybe to touch base with your team, or discuss a product or project with a prospective client, the tea leaves say that you will. So let’s get you ready so that you’ll perform at your best.

Everything done to prepare for a face2face meeting will likewise be done to prepare for a virtual meeting. Propose a draft agenda. Invite the stakeholders and any others who have the authority to impact the initiative that will be discussed. Suggest a meeting date and time. Decide who should be invited to speak at the meeting and include those persons on the agenda.

If Power Point slides will be used by any speakers at the meeting, ask for their slides to be sent to you 48 – 72 hours in advance of the meeting, so that you can have them ready for each speaker. Send the confirmed agenda and necessary hand-outs to all participants one day before the meeting (so they don’t get lost in anyone’s email).

The facilitator of the meeting, whether face2face or virtual, has a few unspoken duties to ensure a positive outcome for the meeting and it is in these fine points that the differences between face2face and virtual emerge. Meeting participants are not in a room together and while it is tremendously more convenient than traveling to the meeting venue, communications will be adversely affected.

Reading nonverbal cues, facial expressions and even tone of voice can be difficult and cause misinterpretation. Those who are not scheduled to speak can easily turn themselves into virtual wallflowers and say not a word beyond the initial round of greetings.

For those reasons, virtual meetings require a higher level of facilitation skills. If the meeting platform you’ll use has a tutorial by all means take it, so that you’ll know how to use tools that will enhance the meeting experience, and therefore outcome, for everyone. Give yourself an hour, or even two. There are just a 4-5 simple things to learn, study up to ensure that you’ll be at ease when implementing them.

Meet & greet

First, ask participants to sign on 5 minutes ahead of the announced start time to make the introductions easy and avoid the need to introduce late arrivals. Late arrival is more awkward in a virtual meeting because it’s not possible to see that person slip into the room and a new face popping up on screen may not be noticeable to everyone.

As close to start time as is practical, thank participants for attending and give a general greeting. Then kick-off a round robin of introductions and greet everyone by name. Better still, if you’re at the controls, flash each person on screen and invite him/her to self-introduce. Here is when you get people talking. This step is an ice-breaker.

If there are participants who have not met before, request that self- introductions include first and last name, plus title and department. Announce late arrivals as soon as is practical. If it’s not too disruptive, invite late arrivals to introduce themselves.

Tools tutorial

Walk meeting participants through the virtual tools, because some participants may not be especially proficient. Chat, hand-raise, yes or no, break-out room and poll are the most common items. These tools are very useful in keeping meeting participants focused on the agenda and discourage the temptation of wandering attention.

As you plan the agenda, think about how you can judiciously create an opportunity for a poll, a hand-raise, or even a break-out session that will allow small groups of two or more participants to have a short, tightly focused discussion and then take their findings back to the main meeting for a general discussion.

Hand-raise

Strictly speaking, a hand -raise sign indicates that a participant would like to speak, just like in a face2face meeting. You, facilitator, will acknowledge the hand raise as soon as practical and give that the individual the floor. The hand-raise can also be used as a vote or poll, but you have other tools for those questions and as a way to keep the content interesting, I suggest you use those.

Yes/ No

The green Yes and red No checkmarks are useful for a quick, general question that you, or a presenter, puts to the group. The question can be as easy as “Would we like to cover this one additional subject and keep the meeting in session for another 15-20 minutes?”

Chat

The chat function allows for public or private chats and participants should get a tutorial on how to utilize each. A chat can be used to ask a question to the presenter and s/he can address the question during the presentation. One participant may have a question for another participant and can use the private chat function to do so.

Polls

There may be times when a speaker may want to get the opinion of those in the room and polls allow participants to express opinions anonymously, which encourages honesty. The facilitator will type in the question, or prepare a question in advance and have it ready. Click and all participants will be given time to indicate and submit their answers.

Break-outs

If there are perhaps 8 or more participants it may be useful to allow groups of 3 – 5 people to discuss a specific question. Break-outs are good for relationship building because their use allows a small group of participants to get to know one another in a safe, small space where they may be more comfortable speaking freely.

Power Point slides

The facilitator must learn how to operate the slides, since s/he will be at the controls. As in any meeting, Power Points will visualize and enhance the speaker’s presentation. A short slide presentation will be yet another way to maintain the focus, attention and engagement of your virtual meeting participants.

Lastly, I recommend that virtual meeting facilitators request that a technically adept person be on- site during the meeting. Regardless of what the facilitator understands to be a correct technical set-up, crashes can occur and someone with better than average IT skills may be needed to re-start the platform. I know this from humiliating personal experience.

Yet if your virtual meeting tanks, all is not lost. Another useful tech back- up is our old friend, the conference call. Have a dial- in conference number ready. If disaster strikes, email the conference number and Power Points to participants. A/V material can be downloaded and opened on laptops or tablets as you work through the agenda on your mobile.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

The Captain and the Team

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report that documented business activity through the first 37 weeks of 2020 (i.e., 3Q2020), COVID-19 related business closures, some temporary and some permanent, have resulted in an unexpected outcome. Counterintuitively, there have been relatively few personal bankruptcies but rather a surge of legal entity applications filed by Freelancers and entrepreneurs who will likely to hire employees. It is clear that lay-offs and furloughs have convinced many former American workers to trust their own skills and ambition more than the uncertainty of being rehired.

Applications to obtain limited liability company or corporation status by Freelancers increased 16% over the same period last year, according to Census Bureau data. Might the urge to become one’s own boss be fueled not only by doubts about re-employment, but also the infusion of stimulus money? The price of entry into self-employment is low for B2B service providers and stimulus money is a natural for bankrolling start-up costs.

Still, self-employment as either a Freelancer or business owner and employer is no cakewalk. The biggest challenge to self-employment success will be acquiring clients; savvy and consistent marketing and your relationships will go a long way to help the business, but selling a product or service that has an adequate customer base is the deciding factor.

2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that 20% of small businesses fail in the first year of operation and only 50% or so will survive into year five (there is no data collected for Freelancers, sole proprietors or those with a legal entity). There is a lot to plan for when launching a business, plus Key Performance Index metrics to monitor, interpret and act upon (or not).

First, know there is a sufficiently deep market for the products or services. Second, know how to access the customers. Third, devise a sustainable and appealing business model. Fourth, secure adequate funds to provide working capital that allows the operation to cover expenses and otherwise function.

Another important resource for Freelancers and business owners is a team of experts from whom you can seek advice and guidance. Freelance consultants and even small business owners are responsible for all decisions. The stress can be overwhelming. It’s impossible to be highly knowledgeable in several fields simultaneously and qualified to make wise decisions all or most of the time. It is very helpful to put together a stable of specialists on whom you can rely when important decisions must be made. Below are professionals whose guidance and advice nearly every Freelance consultant or business owner will need from time to time.

Accountant

An accountant will make sure that the business quarterly estimated taxes are acceptable and filed on time, so that the annual April 15 filing will not result in a surprisingly expensive tax bill due. A good business accountant will also review the financial statements and can make useful fiscal management suggestions. An accountant will also advise you on whether to incorporate the business or form a limited liability company. Finally, if obtaining a loan or taking on investors or partners is a possibility, your accountant will provide invaluable advice. Yes, a business attorney can advise you well on the choice of legal entity for the business and also the matter of taking on partners or investors, but will not prepare tax forms.

Graphic Design

Maybe you’d like to update your business cards or some other marketing collaterals, such as a stand-out Capability Statement that makes the company appear highly reliable and trustworthy, a real asset when approaching a prospective client. Or maybe updating the look of the company newsletter or blog is the goal. Knowing a good graphic design specialist is always useful.

Human Resource

Have you read your medical or dental insurance policy lately? Hire an H.R. benefits specialist to look it over and verify that you’re covered in the way you intended. You might also speak to an H.R. guide about your retirement plan or employee retirement plan options you offer. If outsourcing a function or hiring an employee are decisions you are pondering, an H.R. job analyst and design specialist will figure out the type of employee you and the organization need. An H.R. compensation specialist will help you set the pay scale.

Insurance

If you had met with an insurance agent 12 months ago, perhaps you would have known to purchase business interruption insurance for your organization and the COVID-19 shutdown would have been less financially damaging. The type of business you operate will determine the type of insurance it would be wise to buy. Be advised that the business legal entity does not protect a company from every type of liability.

Mentor

Whether things are going swimmingly or the world feels as if it’s crashing in, having a trusted peer to talk things over with is so reassuring. Strictly speaking, a mentor is someone who is more experienced than you and is positioned to make beneficial recommendations and introductions. In practice, you may find a mentor (or two) who is likewise in business, is successful and is your peer and good buddy. If your mentor can make a good client referral every once in a while, it’s a special blessing. If you can return the favor, so much the better.

Technology

If the business has employees, it is almost guaranteed that several computers will be used and that requires a professional to install and program the computers and also ongoing network support. Disaster recovery services to save company data in the event of a system crash, data breach, or other type of hacking incident is another necessity. Maintaining website functionality is yet another requirement. If the company plans a virtual webinar or meeting of some type, bringing in a specialist to do the technical set-up and keep it operating is more important than you may know.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Forget About Bouncing Back—Bounce Forward!

A pandemic viral infection stalking the earth is not the only beast that can give any business a deadly wallop. An aggressive competitor, economic instability, technological advances that makes your biggest product obsolete, or the bankruptcy of an important client can take a business under like a riptide.

It’s a scary moment and no business is immune to a set-back. How can the business founders or leaders right the ship and head for calmer waters? Let’s take a couple of deep cleansing breaths, tap into your storehouse of resilience and figure out how to not just bounce back from business troubles, but bounce forward and stage a re-entry on higher ground.

When the realization sets in that the business is in a perhaps irreversible tailspin, the most common emotions the business founders/ leaders will ordinarily feel are fear and panic, followed closely by sadness and feeling like a failure. The enterprise that once made them so proud has been wrenched away. The body and soul ache.

You are encouraged to own your feelings. Denial, as revealed by a “take it in stride, carry on as usual” attitude is not recommended, but it is inadvisable to wallow in sorrow for an extended period. Recovery, personal and professional, lie in a rational examination of what went wrong and an informed decision about what to do next.

Start with SWOT

The old chestnut strategic planning technique that was first popularized in the early 1970s is still relevant today. Use SWOT to tally and measure the value of resources available to the company, assess current and projected business conditions and decide how to rebuild. A well-chosen and executed pivot or strengthening of the original business model, perhaps with the addition of an untapped niche market or infusion of capital, may be the healing recipe.

Strengths are valuable resources that can be leveraged—-still popular products or services; skills held by the founder and team members; the company brand/ reputation; strategic relationships; the client list; the email list; well-developed social media networks; cash reserves. Bundle the right set of strengths and propel your enterprise toward a profitable bounce forward.

Weaknesses are gaps and shortcomings that put the company at a disadvantage relative to competitors. Some organizational weaknesses cannot be eliminated because attempting to do so would not be practical. Instead, do what is possible in the near term to shore up, minimize, spin, or work around them. Primarily, it’s important to honestly and fully take stock of and plan around what has the potential to derail a forward bounce.

Opportunities are developments or circumstances in the environment that the company may be able to use to its advantage. Pursuing an opportunity is an offensive strategy that facilitates a bounce forward. However, one may search the horizon and find not a single lifeboat in sight. It may be necessary to pause and figure out how to create an opportunity, or wait for one to arrive.

While in limbo, finding a part-time j.o.b. may be the stopgap solution you need. I’ve been there and can testify that the strategy can aid a bounce forward. Search for a low-visibility gig that offers a desirable benefit in addition to money (which is probably inadequate). The idea is to get paid to discover and learn something that can contribute to the relaunch of the business and your professional life.

At my low-paid, part-time j.o.b., I eventually realized that my public speaking skills were greatly improving. That led me to search for and obtain a teaching position that continues to provide an intermittent but helpful revenue stream. Teaching enhances the brand and the cash-flow of Freelancers and business owners. That same j.o.b. required me to work with groups and I also came to realize that I could lead mastermind groups, where non-competing business owners and independent consultants meet each week or month to share experiences and insights that serve to support and inspire one other to achieve goals and become more effective leaders.

Threats are obstacles, challenges, or other developments in the environment that stand to undermine a company’s profitability and survival. Changing demographics, tornadoes and earthquakes, political or economic developments, computer hacking or data breach and the coronavirus pandemic are examples of threats. A company typically has little or no control over these events, which are external.

Guarding against threats is a risk management, defensive strategy. The best offense is a good defense. Keeping an eye on technology developments that may impact the desirability of the company’s products and services as well as being aware of potentially influential direct or indirect competitors who could cut into the client list are essential defensive actions. The idea is to limit or avoid the impact of harmful business conditions.

Market research

When you’ve discovered what appears to be the best direction for the company, curb your enthusiasm and take time to investigate the most advantageous business strategy before taking action. You owe it to yourself to lay the groundwork for sustainable success.

Research the market size, target market purchasing habits, the competitive landscape and your ability to access customers. Confirm that demand for your products or services is growing and not flat or shrinking. Consider business model possibilities that could work well. Talk to someone at the Small Business Association’s (free) SCORE business development mentoring program and discuss your restart plan with experienced business leaders before investing time and money.

Market strategy

Articulate an appealing marketing message and pencil in the olaunch campaign. Will the business have a new name? How will you introduce this newly configured venture? How will you describe and explain your pivot or redesign to current customers? A from the ground up marketing plan must expertly package, explain, persuade and promote to enable the bounce forward.

Budget

Whether it becomes necessary to build a new website, order new business cards, or take a workshop that will enhance your credentials and perceived credibility in the minds of new and original customers, it’s important to project business start- up costs.

Develop a 24-36 month financial plan and ensure that working capital will be available. Plan to have income as the new business ramps up. This could mean remaining employed in the j.o.b. for another year. When escaping a set-back, one must do what one must do to nail a successful bounce forward.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Strategies to Manage Stress

The American Psychological Association defines stress as “any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral reactions.” Stress is part of daily life, as we know. Not all stress is bad and in fact, stress that induces the “fight or flight” response to a potentially dangerous situation is necessary for survival.

But chronic stress that results from an inability to eliminate or control an overwhelming or upsetting set of circumstances may precipitate serious health and behavioral complications, including hypertension, obesity, drug or alcohol abuse and depression.

Self Care

Busy people, whether highly stressed or not, are wise to set aside special time several days each week to devote to self-care. The activities can take the form of cross-training—-kick-off Monday with a run, swim, bike ride, or power walk, Tuesday for yoga or tai chi, Wednesday weightlifting at the gym, Thursday at home for prayer or meditation and Friday can belong to boxing or ballet.

Exercise, meditation and prayer have been confirmed through scientific research to deliver more benefits than I can remember, but among them are improved energy/ stamina, improved self-esteem, lower blood pressure, improved joint mobility, enhanced mood, improved cardiac functioning and a decreased incidence of stress. In other words, everything we need in the physical, cognitive and psychological realms gets better when we move our body and nurture our soul.

Eat well

Good nutrition supports one’s physical health. Maintaining a balanced diet enhances energy, stamina, cognitive functioning, the immune system response and helps the body defend itself against toxic stress. There will be times when deadlines or other intense situations might derail healthy eating habits and fried food bingeing rules.

Refuse to succumb to that temptation over the long- term. Get back on track ASAP and eat simply prepared fresh food, homemade or takeout, to feel, work and even sleep better. When faced with high-level physical, cognitive, or psychological demands, overdosing on sugar, salt and fat could leave one vulnerable to a crash of some sort, because unhealthy food does not adequately nourish.

Caffeine and alcohol are also not your friends when their intake surpasses a certain threshold. Listen to your body. A 20 ounce coffee or tea may get you going in the morning and a glass or two of wine, or a couple of cocktails, may help you to relax in the evening. Jittery feelings, heart palpitations and inebriation are warning signs and if they appear, dial back.

Sleep well

When starting or leading a business, there will be times when burning the midnight oil, if not burning the candle at both ends, will be the story of life. The opportunity and ability to sleep could easily be diminished. Yet it is advisable to guard against long-term sleep deprivation.

Arm yourself to take on difficult challenges by keeping your diet healthy and continuing with exercise and other forms of self-care (e.g., massage or energy work) that provide the stamina, cognitive functioning and decision-making ability that enable peak performance. Getting the work done makes it a lot easier to sleep and maintain a defense against the harmful effects of stress on the body and the psyche.

Medical and psychological researchers have published dozens, if not hundreds, of studies that document the relationship between inadequate sleep and stress. Sleep, like food and drink, is a biological need and we cannot survive without it (but the precise reason is unknown). The National Sleep Foundation has confirmed the long-held consensus that the average adult requires about eight hours of sleep/day. Teens may need 10 hours/ day. Some adults can perform well on just six hours/ day.

If sleep difficulties are the result of the stress related to getting things done, an executive coach may be able to identify ways to resolve workflow and time management issues that will make the to-do list more manageable, improve productivity and make falling asleep and sleeping through the night possible.

While you’re working on rectifying conditions that may be causing toxic amounts of stress, I recommend what I call The 90 Minute Rule, that pulls together a few NSF recommendations: 1) Evening workouts should conclude at least 90 minutes before bedtime, to allow the body to relax. 2). Dinner should be consumed at least 90 minutes before bedtime, to allow the body to digest. 3). Take a bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime to promote the release of melatonin, a hormone that encourages sleep.

Delegate/ outsource

The struggle to get the work done is sometimes stress-producing, as noted in the preceding paragraphs. Learning to prioritize is integral to time management. An examination of projects and tasks that only the business founder/ leader is equipped to do is Step 1 of time management. The founder/ leader can then delegate other tasks to team members, if employees have been hired, or outsource to Freelancers or other business specialists, in the absence of staff.

Just say no

Saying no is occasionally necessary, even when it disappoints someone. Saying no may enable you to better manage time, energy, or other resources and become more productive.

Say no to enforce your boundaries. Say no to what you feel is unacceptable. Say no to honor your values, self-respect, or priorities. Say no to stress.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual philosophy with roots in China and derived from Buddhism, meditate on Boston Common.

Collaborating in the Digital Realm and IRT

Collaboration is a soft skill that in the COVID era rapidly acquired big implications. Even more than in the recent past, the ability to achieve efficient and effective collaboration within work teams, and in fact within organizations, is recognized as a fundamental leadership skill. Collaboration today plays a defining role in driving successful business outcomes.

Because it is now common practice for team members to work from either home or office and to be scattered across city, state, national or even international borders, in addition to occupying various time zones, it is critical to ensure that all players are on the same page. Freelance consultants would do well to diplomatically encourage a collaborative environment on every project in which they participate. A project that yields less than stellar results will weigh most heavily on the Freelancers’, and not the employees’, reputation. The opportunity to receive referrals and repeat business sometimes rests on making one or politically savvy suggestions.

Collaboration is born of trust, respect, communication and, ultimately, sharing information and responsibility. These attributes and actions promote both camaraderie and good decision-making. Teamwork begins when team members understand their project mission; understand how their project supports organizational objectives; have the data, tools and authority to carry out their work; and know whom to consult when questions arise. Think about how you can advance those ideals on your next project.

Digital workflow systems such as Asana, Slack, Trello, or Microsoft Teams are excellent tools that provide access to all relevant documents, support continuity, allow all team members to view and contribute information as work progresses and document progress. Study the project specs. Visit the websites of the digital workflow systems mentioned here or recall your experience with other systems. In the kick-off team meeting, raise your hand (virtually or In Real Time) and suggest a workflow system that will both expedite the work and promote transparency and collaboration.

Virtual check-in meetings may find some team members in a makeshift home office, on a park bench surrounded by greenery, or in their familiar workplace office but nevertheless, if trust and respect have been properly seeded and nurtured, open communication that also allows for differing perspectives, will support candid assessments of project progress, about what may not be working and enable the wisdom of the team to devise solutions that all will support.

Follow-up is where the team pulls together to implement whatever useful suggestions for improvement that surfaces at check-in progress meetings. It is often said that half of life is about showing up. Surely, the other half is follow-up.

Follow-up moves the team and the outcome they produce from good to great. Top teams never assume that someone else took care of an important detail— they make sure it’s been done, the right way. Dot the i’s, cross the t’s and deliver excellence.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Nursery school students collaborate on their project (the morning walk).

SnapChat and the Power of Ephemeral Content

SnapChat, still a rising star among social media platforms, burst onto the scene in 2011 with an innovative feature that was catnip to the under 35 age cohort. Skillfully catering to the fickle attention span of its target audience, SnapChat allowed uploaded photos and videos just a 24 hour lifespan before disappearing them, bringing the Fear of Missing Out to a fever pitch.

Rumors of the platform’s death have been greatly exaggerated. The market research firm Statista predicted that in 2020, SnapChat will be used by 101.4 million visitors in the U.S. alone, a 20.5 % increase over 2019 (55 % of users live outside the U.S.).

The marketing analytics firm Hootsuite data revealed that the concept pioneered by SnapChat, allowing access to content for a limited time only and known as Ephemeral Content, continues to be a growing phenomenon among the target audience. 62 % of SnapChat Stories viewers reported that their interest in a product or service is intensified by the Ephemeral Content tactic.

The prevalence of mobile devices also plays a role in popularizing Ephemeral Content. First, mobile capability stokes the appetite for online everything, from ordering groceries to reading news articles to sending texts to keeping up with social media.

Second, FOMO mixed with mobile devices adds up to an audience that is often online and searching for something that will entertain or inform. Holders of mobile devices will anticipate Ephemeral Content if it’s known to be posted on a regular basis. When it comes to posting, people want predictability. When it comes to content, they want to be surprised.

So now you know what younger audiences (24% of SnapChat users are young adults) and mobile device owners respond to and your current and prospective clients are members of one or both of those cohorts, whoever they are. Now—-what 4 or 5 photo spread or 2-3 minute video can you and your team conjure up to tell a little story, or give a back stage look, into you company, its products, or services?

It will probably take a healthy dose of creativity to pull off in the B2B sector, but maybe you can put something interesting together once a quarter to include on your favorite social media platforms for a week—or SnapChat for just one day? When the second or third round of Ephemeral Content is posted and creates a little champagne fizz for your company, you’ll be on your way to cultivating followers who will be positioned to become paying customers. This is about LeadGen.

To get going on SnapChat, set up a business account. Encourage followers with your unique Add Me URL, that is accessed through the Settings icon, which brings users to the Username tab and then to the URL that’s already been created. Also at Settings and waiting for you to access will be your unique SnapCode badge that functions like a QR code to carry users directly to your content when the SnapCode is scanned with a mobile device. From Settings, click SnapCodes, then My SnapCodes. Finally, make use of SnapChat Insights, the free analytic tool that breaks down who your visitors are and the type of content that brings in good leads.

But—-but—-what if your clients and prospects are older than 40? What about maintaining content for a week? Then post your Ephemeral Content to Instagram, Twitter and/or your Facebook Fan (business) page. Just remember to delete your little teaser before a week goes by and keep your followers hungry for more.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark, February 2019. Your diarist gets ephemeral in Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston by William Forsythe (choreographer who works with world-class ballet companies)

8 Skills Everybody Needs

Whatever work one does, from start -up founder to pastry chef, automotive mechanic to chief financial officer, it is interesting that we all need the same short list of skills to become successful.

Consultants are often advised to hone and promote fluency in the skills listed here but everyone who works—-business owner, Freelancer, or employee—-taps into these skills on a regular basis. Your hair stylist and the guys who do your yard work use the same skills as your bookkeeper and your periodontist and if they didn’t, you wouldn’t have hired them. Let’s remind ourselves of what we really need to know in life.

Adaptability

Because when we wake up in the morning, we never know what the day will bring. One may learn, for example, that a potentially lethal and highly contagious virus, for which there is no reliable antidote, has entered our country by way of a meeting of executives employed by a prestigious biotechnology company.

When those who attended the meeting returned home and went about their daily lives, some of them infected people with whom they interacted. Very quickly first hundreds, then thousands, of citizens contracted the virus and many died. In an attempt to block the spread of the virus, governors in all 50 states ordered nearly half of commercial enterprises, plus all schools, government offices, libraries, museums and other public spaces, closed. So what did we citizens do?

We adapted as much as possible, that’s what. Grocery stores, the post office and other entities deemed essential were allowed to remain open. Many business owners and leaders found ways to keep their ventures functioning, with revisions.

Millions of knowledge economy workers used their personal computers to work from home, as department heads kept their teams united with videoconference meetings. Schools quickly switched from classroom to online learning (many colleges long ago added online courses).

Retail stores sold merchandise through their already robust e-commerce websites. Personal trainers and fitness instructors contacted their clients and followers and invited them to participate in outdoor workouts. We did what we had to do and we got by.

Creative thinking

Whether or not an out-of- the-box solution is needed, every once in a while it’s fun to bring innovative flair to a plain vanilla task. Whatever the motivation, resourcefulness and creative thinking are appreciated, because the need for an end run or a work-around can be part of daily life. Sometimes, one needs all of that just to get through the morning commute!

Creative thinking is often associated with the arts or architectural design. But during the COVID shutdown wedding planners, who were watching the ground give way beneath their feet, flexed their creative genius to reimagine weddings for panicked brides and grooms. That often meant broadcasting the ceremony virtually and rescheduling the reception for the following year.

Creative thinking can also reach back into the past for an innovative solution. This year, the New York Film Festival, barred from using shuttered movie theaters, will debut its contenders at drive-in theaters in the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs.

Credibility

Dependability, judgment and expertise are the three pillars of professional credibility. These attributes add up to trust and trust is what gets one hired and motivates customers to give referrals. People do business with people they like. They do more business with people they trust.

Communication

As it is often said, it’s not necessarily what you say, but how you say it. You’ve got to know how to talk to people.

One of the best ways to communicate with someone is to not talk (much), but tlisten. Use nonverbal cues to demonstrate that you are following the narrative. Ask questions to clarify or confirm what you think you’ve heard. Pay attention and let others know that you value them and their opinions (even when you see things differently).

Decision-making

Here’s the reality—-when a big decision is on the table, we seldom have access to as much information as we feel would be helpful as we weigh the possibilities. It is frustrating, to be sure, and we’ve all been there. The thought of taking the wrong path makes the stomach queasy.

But at some point, one must make a move and travel to the left or right, say yes or no, or leave well enough alone. Or, one can elect to put the matter aside and revisit it within a certain period of time.

If a decision carries impact, it cannot be ignored. The fear inspired tactic known as analysis- paralysis, where information is considered and reconsidered ad nauseum, is counterproductive. The best way to improve the quality of information to use as a guide for wise decision-making is to ask the right questions.

Problem-solving

Nearly every purchase one makes is intended to solve a problem, from a bottle of juice (thirst) to calling Lyft (door2door, on-time transportation). Whether the items your company sells are products or services, you’ll make more money when you 1.) understand the business you are really in, by thinking through the underlying motive for the purchase, beyond the obvious, and 2.) design your marketing strategies and sales pitch to reflect item #1.

Teamwork

Many hands make for light work. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Teamwork and collaboration lie between those warring poles and a real professional will persuade others to join him/her in the sweet spot.

Someone must step up and take the lead on a project of any magnitude. Those responsible can draw up an action plan, complete with due dates. Milestones or a mid-point check-in will help to keep everyone on schedule and ensure that mistakes have not been made.

If everyone holds up their end and the project is completed on time, you’ve got a team. If a mistake is discovered and corrected in a timely fashion with the help of your colleagues then congratulations, you’ve got a high-functioning team.

Time management

The ability to prioritize and organize, enabled by an action plan that includes target completion dates, are the three pillars of time management. Understand and get agreement from stakeholders and decision-makers regarding mission- critical tasks. Confirm that team members and other collaborators have the time to produce what has been asked of them within the desired time frame.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark, February 2019. Choreographic Objects, installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston by William Forsythe (a choreographer who works with world- class ballet companies)

Return to the Office, Safely

Happy September everyone! We are on our way to Labor Day Weekend, the symbolic end of summer. This year, Labor Day Weekend is also our cue to move beyond the pandemic pause that in mid-March disrupted the operations of nearly half of the nation’s businesses. Enough is enough. Business owners and leaders must prepare to tackle the COVID workplace logistics at their organizations and settle into the new normal.

The sorting out process of who will work from home and for how many days per week is underway. Office hours and days of operation are under review. Whether or not the organization needs the same amount of office space, which inevitably leads to a discussion of a possible move, is being considered. Everything is potentially up for grabs, including the products and services that are sold.

After following hastily devised processes that were enacted in the early days of the shutdown, the vital matter of how forward-facing team members will engage with prospective customers in a way that makes all parties feel comfortable must be resolved. Is it smart or risky at this point to invite customers to the office for socially distanced face2face meetings? Will prospects respond to a video sales pitch? So much is unknown.

Then there is the matter of what the safely reopened office will look like and what it will feel like to work there. How will your organization incorporate social distancing guidelines, infection control protocols, personal protective equipment and new normal staff and customer interactions?

What other changes can workers expect when they get back to the office? Will the kitchen be open and can coffee or tea be made? Can lunches still be stored in the fridge? Can we microwave?

The Centers for Disease Control and state public health commissions have established guidelines for places of business. Your insurance company can help your company to interpret the regulations that now apply. Click here for the CDC office building guidelines. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html

To move forward with your office reopening, promote staff buy-in of the anticipated changes by inviting the team, or representatives from each department, to assist in planning and executing the new office lay-out and infection control procedures.

Create a sign-up sheet that lists categories such as office entry/ lobby, conference room. photocopy room, restroom, workstations and kitchen and ask team members to volunteer to suggest the lay-out of the office sectors with the new regulations in mind. Members of each team can be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the space they volunteered to manage.

But the best solution will be to apply whatever available funds to hiring a space planning firm that specializes in helping companies institute COVID practices as mandated. Let the experts design a space and suggest office furniture that will enhance traffic flow, protect privacy, be attractive and make the best use of available space.

Health screening

Large office buildings have tasked their building entry concierge team to first conduct a quick health screening of all who enter, in addition to the usual ID check, appointment confirmation and badge ritual. Those running a fever are denied entry.

Smaller office buildings may leave health screenings to each tenant and perform only the ID protocol. Regardless of your building’s protocol, be sure to post a sign at the office entrance to announce that masks will be required. A basket of free surgical masks to offer will be a nice touch.

Disinfecting

Lysol, Clorox and 70% alcohol solutions are known to kill the coronavirus, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Daily wipe downs are a must for items such as shared desks, conference tables, chairs, computer keyboards and nearly all surfaces in the en suite kitchen and restroom. Providing a bottle of hand sanitizer in high traffic areas will be helpful.

Door knobs, counter tops, microwave oven doors and handles. water faucets, remote control devices, light switches, heat or air conditioning knobs, product displays, telephones and cash registers/ point of sale devices are likewise virus (and bacteria) breeding grounds and in need of one or more disinfecting wipe downs every day.

Speaking of hand sanitizer, the pandemic has shown us that Mom was right about keeping our hands clean, whether with hand sanitizer or soap and water. We must also learn how to wash our hands. First. remember to wash the area between the thumb and the other fingers. Second, when performing a soap and water scrub, lather up for 20 seconds —-the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song—before rinsing.

Social distancing

We all know the drill by now—-6 feet of separation, as per CDC recommendations. We want to do whatever is possible and practical to retard the spread of the air-borne coronavirus. Most offices already have at least 6 feet between desks, but some work stations will need an adjustment.

Computers and keypads placed at common work stations will need a re-thinking. Conference tables will likely need several chairs removed. There may be limits on the number of people who may occupy the office kitchen or restroom or photocopy room at any one time.

Working from home

Many white collar workers can simply turn on their personal laptop, desktop, or tablet and commence office hours. A daily videoconference meeting or two is usually sufficient to keep team members on their paths, supplemented by brief phone calls when useful. Videoconferences can also be used to promote staff camaraderie.

A survey of 25,000 workers that was conducted by IBM in April 2020 showed that 75% of respondents hope to continue working from home at least partially after the pandemic. Millions of white collar workers apparently expect the work from home trend to continue and as a result, home sales in the suburbs and exurbs that border big cities have increased dramatically, as people search for living quarters that allow more space for a home office (or two). Space for at-home schooling is another consideration.

PPE

While in the office workers will be masked at all times, except when on the telephone, eating, or drinking. Masks, surgical gloves and hand sanitizer should be made available to as a courtesy to all who enter the premises. Some workers may prefer to wear a face shield. It is constricting but for the time being, it’s what we do.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. The health screening checkpoint at the Prudential Tower in Boston. The concierge conducts a body temperature reading using the laptop computer shown. If the computer reads an individual as afebrile, s/he is next invited to approach the ID checkpoint.

5 Business KPI Metrics to Follow

Success in business is a numbers game and every business owner and leader would be wise to pay attention to certain metrics, which are Key Performance Indicators. Depending on the business, owners and leaders may follow the daily sales receipts, weekly gross sales, monthly inventory purchases, monthly in-house projects and of course the big three monthly, quarterly and annual financial documents—-Income Statement (Profit & Loss), Cash Flow and Balance Sheet.

KPIs are like vital signs and lab tests; they indicate the health of the organization. Owners and leaders examine, analyze and confirm the venture’s health (read: profitability) or discover and diagnose a problem, for which a strategy is devised to provide the treatment.

Today, we’ll dive into sales and marketing KPI metrics that business owners and leaders would do well to monitor—-Lead Conversion Rate, Sales Cycle Length, Client Acquisition Cost, Churn Rate and Client Lifetime Value. When steps are taken to bring these KPIs into what represents an acceptable range for your industry, a tangible positive impact on the organization will result.

Lead Conversion Rate

Grab a spoon, Love, and get ready to taste test our flavors of the day—-TOFU, MOFU and BOFU. I promise that you’ll enjoy them all, most especially BOFU. Let us begin.

Marketing = Lead Generation, the fuel that feeds the sales engine that keeps the business moving forward. This KPI reveals the strength of the company’s marketing strategies and tactics. First, verify that the marketing mix is actually producing leads that convert to sales. Second, leads that converted to sales should be examined to discover which tactics enabled conversions. Bonus points will be awarded for discovering which marketing tactics bring in a particular type of client—-low or high dollar volume, repeat business or one-off, or a certain product or type of project.

Marketing announces the presence of a business to its target audience and it’s designed to both arouse curiosity and inspire confidence in the product, service, or company that is featured. The intent of marketing is to entice target audience members to linger and browse the marketing outreach. These early-stage browsers are leads at the top, the front door, of the marketing/ sales funnel. They are called TOFUs, Top of the Funnel. Most TOFUs are window shoppers.

Now let’s suppose a TOFU decides to follow the company blog, or interact with the business on Instagram or Facebook. Or maybe the TOFU finds an e-book and after reading the promo, requests a copy. TOFU will then advance through the marketing/ sales funnel and enter the Middle of the Funnel. TOFU will become a MOFU.

MOFU is where lead conversion really begins. MOFU is a fish on the line. To become a client, MOFU must be skillfully led into the VIP Room at the Bottom of the Funnel, BOFU, where intentions are revealed, needs are discussed and commitments are confirmed.

How to do it? If MOFU is in deal-making mode, those who subscribe to the blog or newsletter, or especially those who request an e-book, white paper, or case study, will contact the company to ask for additional information. MOFU will ask to schedule a 15- minute free consultation. If you meet MOFU at the virtual workshop you presented, there will be a request for follow-up. “Can we Skype?”

A well thought-out marketing/ sales funnel draws in TOFUs that sometimes become MOFUs who have reason to turn themselves into BOFUs. That is effective lead generation.

Business owners and leaders must continually review the operation of the marketing/ sales funnel to ensure that a good number of prospective clients are entering at TOFU. They will monitor the percentage of MOFUs who advance to BOFU and the percentage of BOFUs who become clients.

Sales Cycle Length

Determining how long on average it takes for TOFUs to become MOFUs, then BOFUs and finally paying customers, is useful for cash-flow planning. There may be no way to shorten the marketing/ sales funnel journey and speed up the sale, but getting an idea of when money will arrive, or will not, is essential.

If there are recognizable points in the funnel when it may be possible to speed up the sale, that will be money in the bank. When a prospect reaches MOFU, demonstrations of the company’s expertise, VIP clients, superb customer service, or sterling reputation can be presented to convince the prospect to continue the sales journey. BOFU is the time to make tempting deals—-a desirable upgrade that costs little to deliver, for example. Get the deal done as quickly as possible.

Client Acquisition Cost

It is worthwhile for every business owner, business leader and Freelance consult to ascertain the ballpark cost of the time and money associated with bringing in new clients.

After calculating the time spent writing a newsletter and/ or blog; the time devoted to perfecting social media posts and uploading, to say nothing of creating, videos and photos that support the company’s brand story; the time needed to create a presentation that will be delivered at the chamber of commerce or other venue, along with the Power Point slides and hard copy hand-outs that are typed up—-what dollar value should be attached to the labor devoted to promoting the company, its products and services, and yourself as its public face? Get your arms around that one, will you!

I estimate that I spend 10 -15 hours/ week on marketing activities (mostly this blog) and I’ve allowed myself to claim $35/hour as the wholesale value of my labor (because creating content, taking blog photos and typing are not all billed at the same rate). I’ve decided it’s fair market value to claim that I spend 50 hours/ month, $1,750/ month, on marketing. Wow!! Am I getting the right ROI on client acquisition? Maybe I can learn to type faster? It would help.

I am not signing a new client every month. However, I do get repeat business, plus the occasional referral, and that lowers my customer acquisition cost significantly. This is yet another reason to exceed client expectations and provide superb customer service, so that repeat business and referrals are more likely to be received and marketing dollars will produce a greater ROI. Furthermore, if it’s possible to determine which marketing activities attract high dollar volume projects, prioritize those tactics.

Client Churn Rate

Business experts often warn that it costs at least five times more to acquire a new client than it does to retain a current client. Surprisingly, many, if not most, companies lack a client retention strategy and action plan. The rate at which clients stop doing business with an organization is called the churn rate.

Churn rate is calculated by counting the number of clients that no longer use company products or services, expressed as a percentage of the total client list. % churn rate = # Defections / # Retained If there are 50 clients on the company roster and 5 haven’t made purchases in 12 months, then the churn rate is 5/50 = 0.1 x 100, a 10 % churn rate.

If the company churn ratio creeps up through the year, the culprit could be inadequate customer service. Include a short survey with your invoice to encourage clients to tell you how to improve their customer experience.

Client Lifetime Value

Unless the company has history with a client, lifetime value is a projection, an educated guess. Nevertheless, it is important to think strategically about every prospect, since some are worth pursuing and others, not so much.

When evaluating marketing activities, Freelance consultants, business owners and leaders will examine the revenue potential of the target audience and decide the level of resources that should be devoted to the client acquisition process. This KPI, actual or projected, reveals the amount of revenue that can be generated, in a year, or perhaps a quarter, by way of a particular (or the average) client.

When considering prospects who could become clients, prioritize and invest marketing resources only in those with high revenue and/or repeat business potential. Don’t waste resources on low dollar volume clients. Follow the money.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Trading prices are the KPIs of the New York Stock Exchange.

Pandemic Era Businesses to Launch in 2020 – 2021

It appears that the pandemic era is settling in to become our nightmare new normal. Working from home will continue in many companies. Public schools and universities will not open their classrooms and will offer virtual instruction once again. Musicians, dancers, actors and singers cannot take to the stage and perform. Baseball teams are competing in empty stadiums, with no fans to cheer them on.

Billions of dollars have been lost and there’s no end in sight. Yet parallel to the turmoil, business continues to be done where permitted and plenty of money is being made, admittedly by a much smaller cohort than in pre- pandemic times. Whether the economy is expanding or shrinking; whether the stock market is up or the bond market is down; no matter if war breaks out or peace reigns, someone will make money. Maybe this time it will be you?

Please look over the short list of new business opportunities that I’ve put together. Business experts have identified these ventures as being able to either largely escape losses associated with the pandemic or directly benefit from its presence. The barriers to entry for these businesses are comparatively low, aside from the time and money invested to attain the necessary educational and certification requirements. Just one option requires a significant financial outlay to start the business.

Should you decide to open a business or become a Freelance independent expert, make the most of your entrepreneurial aspirations by writing a business plan. Include in your plan a business model, to give yourself hyper-focus on how to find customers and make sales.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that when a business fails, 82% of the time it is because of inadequate financial resources. Examine your expenses and spending habits and take steps to pay off debts and accumulate savings, to prepare for either self-financing or bank financing. Be advised that customer acquisition and pricing are the top two elements a business owner or Freelancer must get right. Making sales and pricing correctly are the principal money-making enablers. Create a thorough and realistic financial plan for your business, with the guidance of a business accountant.

Skilled trades

The skilled trades have long been a professional path that paid off, in particular if there are a good deal of building and infrastructure projects planned in your area. Home renovations can also be a very lucrative avenue, spurred on by popular television shows.

Most college educated people are unfamiliar with the depth of training that blue collar tradesmen must earn. They may earn a 2-year degree in mechanical, electrical, or civil engineering, for example, in addition to completing the intensive training/ apprenticeship and certification/ licensing required to enter their particular field.

Many in the trades will eventually launch a business that may be small or grow to employ dozens. Other tradesmen prefer to be Freelance solopreneurs. Start-up costs are relatively low: the tools of the trade, business cards, website and a small truck or van.

Among the lucrative specialties are plumbing, welding, carpentry/ general construction (the profession of both of my grandfathers), electrician, masonry, HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration) and steel working.

Bicycle sales, services, rental

The League of American Bicyclists reported that in the period 2010-2017, commuting by bicycle grew by 43%. The health benefits derived from the vigorous exercise involved, the incremental lowering of air pollution and the modest easing of rush hour traffic has inspired numerous city and state officials to invest in bike lanes to make the practice safer for peddlers, pedestrians and drivers.

If you, or you and a friend or two, are cycling enthusiasts and at least one of you knows bike repair basics and maintenance servicing, then owning a bike shop will allow you to monetize your passion. Online bike sales are robust, so be sure to budget for a well-designed and high- functioning e-commerce website.

In terms of product diversification, there is a niche market for electronic bikes (good for those who live in a hilly geography), which have a small battery powered motor that makes pedaling much easier. E-bikes are also useful for those who’d like to bike to work but face a long commute. Bike rentals are also popular.

Self storage units

As real estate prices escalated, the ability to afford a home that could house all of our treasured possessions became a challenge, if not impossible. In the mid-1980s, the basement storage space that nearly every apartment building provided as a standard benefit disappeared, as landlords began to create basement apartments. With increasing frequency, people who lose a job also, tragically, lose their home. They may be forced to give up their apartment and move in with family.

The growing demand for storage space has outstripped supply in some locations and prices per square foot are rising in many metro areas. The start-up costs for this venture are hefty because storage space entrepreneurs must either construct a new building or rehab an existing structure, and parking is a must (except in very high- density cities). But there is money to be made.

If the high-end appeals to you, then build a high-security, climate controlled facility that customers will use for fine furniture and art. Otherwise, minimal temperature control and a bring your own padlock system will suffice (and that is the norm). Commercial enterprises also rent storage units to hold merchandise and supplies. Tradesmen sometimes keep their tools in a self-storage unit. Whatever you can afford to invest, the rental income you’ll be able to command will quickly guide this enterprise to break-even and into robust profitability.

Videoconference and webinar tech support

The newest tech support career has arrived, born of the COVID-19 work from home craze. Many thousands of organizations have switched over to virtual communication to maintain contact with their team and with their clients. Videoconferences are mostly straightforward, but webinars and classroom instruction are more complicated.

Organization leaders, including school administrators, are mostly out of their depth with the technology and know that they have only one chance to make a good first impression now that they’ve persuaded a client or prospect to participate in a video sales call. A knowledgeable video tech support professional can be much in demand.

IT pros who pursue this avenue must be proficient in cloud computing, Windows (including Power Point), IoT and Linux (CentOS).

Videoconference and webinar support is part technology, part show biz. In advance, an assessment of the client’s tech equipment, including the webcam, audio quality (headset mic, or lavalier [mini-mic] could be needed). Identifying flattering lighting for the speaker’s face is another critical duty, as is recommending the right visual scene behind the speaker: the company logo or a bookcase are good choices. The lighting behind the speaker is another important aspect when setting the webinar or videoconference stage.

Private Tutor

If you are a certified teacher with classroom experience and hold at least a master’s degree in the subject that you’d like to teach, your services will be much in demand right now in the affluent communities of America for the duration of pandemic-related school closings and perhaps beyond. Zoom may be helpful to keep education going in a crisis, but it is not equivalent to face2face instruction.

There is at present a free-for-all patchwork of teaching solutions that worried parents are exploring, including home schooling and “pods,” which are small group training. Parents may hire a tutor to buttress the child’s understanding of what the school lessons cover, or add subjects that have been dropped in the transition from classroom to video.

Tutoring can cover any subject taught in a classroom—-geometry, English grammar, American history, biology—-and enrichment subjects—-music lessons, physical fitness, art, foreign language. There are tutors for special needs children as well.

Requests for tutors are trending on social media and educators will find many opportunities to evaluate, from becoming part of a pandemic pod teaching team to traditional private tutoring.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Bike shop on Tremont Street in Boston’s South End neighborhood.

New Normal Marketing Strategies

We are all painfully aware that business and life are different now that the ambitious coronavirus has burst into the scene and shows no inclination to leave center stage. Adaptions and workarounds are our new normal; creativity, resilience and perseverance have been shifted into overdrive.

What Freelancers and business owners who are determined to win are doing is continually surveying and assessing their business conditions so that they might reasonably predict what things might look like in 6-12 months and prepare accordingly. These folks have set aside for now any products or services that are no longer viable and have honed in on how they can best accommodate the needs of clients now and into the next year or two.

Virtual communication looks as though it will be with us for a while, regardless of when a coronavirus vaccine is approved in the U.S. or other countries. Our clients have transitioned to virtual quite comfortably and until the appetite for face2face interaction reappears (prediction: 3 years), smart Freelancers and business owners are ramping up their online capabilities in every way.

Website

Update your company website to showcase those products and services that can be sold with a new normal message. What have you provided that can be sold online or reconfigured and carried out virtually? If you can add text that communicates your company’s response to your clients’ potential concerns, do so. If you can communicate how your company can help clients better serve their clients, be sure to include those reassurances.

Do you have Call to Action buttons on your website? If you’ve ever needed a way to encourage clients to ask questions and engage and build a relationship with your organization, it is now. On your website landing page and on any pages that describe products or services, a Call to Action come-on should be available to bring visitors to an online chat, telephone number that allows a click to dial, or a pre-addressed email that encourages website visitors to type a question and hit send.

Good Call to Action phrases include “Click here for more information,“ “Click here to speak with a customer service rep “ “Click here to receive our monthly newsletter,” “Click here to register for our free training course,” or “Click here to place your order.”

Content marketing

Show your empathy and understanding of the predicament that many of your clients find themselves in through the topics you address in your content marketing posts—-like what I’ve been doing in this column since the shutdown. My goal is to help you stay motivated, stay resilient, get creative and remain in business. How am I doing?

Social media

Social media is micro, it’s personal. designed for you to promote interactive communication with clients and build a community. Social media is visual and tailor-made for behind-the-scenes looks at your organization.

Draw in your clients and other followers with a few still photos or a 5-minute video of you and your team preparing for a podcast guest spot or an online course that you’ll deliver. Do you have some new, or newly reconfigured, product or service to announce? Speak to the camera and tell your fans personally.

Your clients can even get to know one another as they get to know you and your business. Demonstrating that you understand their new concerns and responsibilities gives your company credibility and that equals trust.

Marketing and more marketing

Just keep promoting yourself and your business capabilities. Can you get an article published in a business newspaper or magazine? Can you get a quote in an article? Can you be a guest on a podcast? Are you sharing and reposting your content marketing posts—-newsletter, blog, case studies, white papers—-on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or other outlets?

Marketing will help you get to know your clients and prospects, allow them to get to know you and gives your organization the something extra that gets you ahead of the competition. Marketing always pays off. Make the effort, reap the rewards.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Social Justice Warriors deliver a message that promotes their cause in a live taping at the steps of the MA State House in Boston on August 11, 2020.

Questions that Move a Sale Forward

Well cha-cha-cha! You were able to resurrect a pre-COVID conversation you were having with a potentially good prospect and not for anything, you need to consummate this sale. Selling a prospect is like a dance and s/he who is selling must learn to lead with style and grace.

Step 1 is to understand what the prospect needs and the job specs, the specific work that must be done. Step 2 is to confirm that you’re able to do the work within the requested timeframe and allotted budget. Step 3 is to convince the prospect that you have mastered Step 1 and can achieve Step 2.

Since the shutdown, the ground has been quaking beneath our feet. Business owners and leaders are in various shades of panic, searching for answers and in need of reliability and support from their Freelancer colleagues. The need to establish trust cannot be overestimated. Your prospect must believe that you will not disappoint.

If you have not worked with the prospect before and the discussion will take place over Skype or other video platform, establishing the familiarity and comfort level that are the ingredients of trust will be more of a challenge. Turn up your listening skills and empathy because you’ll need those qualities more than usual. See my post https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/what-scientists-know-about-virtual-meetings/

The 12 questions below are designed to 1. Display your empathy and ability to become a trusted resource; 2. Confirm the prospect’s intentions; 3. Specify the work you would perform; 4. Learn if your prospect is the decision-maker; and 5. Get an estimated starting date. At the conclusion of the conversation, the prospect should invite you to submit a proposal. If that does not occur, I would follow-up with a thank you email and then put this company on the back burner.

“In light of the new business environment, how has your process changed?”

“What are you doing that’s working well right now?”

“What’s hardest for you now?”

“What can you still do that you were doing before the shutdown?”

“Do you see what seem like good opportunities on the horizon?”

“Are there plans or intended projects that have been cancelled or put on hold?”

“Confucius said that a journey of 10,000 miles begins with the first step. What first step can I help your organization take?”

“Is the project we’re about discuss today something you planned to do before the shutdown, or is this a new initiative?”

“Is there something that is blocking you from taking the next step forward, or causing you to hesitate ?”

“What is the solution that would give the most impactful long-term benefits to the company?”

“How can I be a good resource to you and help you move forward?”

“If you were the only decision-maker, what would be your preferred start and completion dates?”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Dancing to the music at the 2019 Tito Puente Latin Music Series at Villa Victoria in Boston’s South End neighborhood.

Anatomy of a Pivot

As was reported in a July 20, 2020 post featured in the Harvard Business Review, companies are scrambling to minimize the damage caused by the COVID-19 shutdown. There is determination to survive and get in position for the expected recovery. Owners and leaders are taking a close look business models, to tease out a clever pivot that will first, start some cash-flow ASAP and second, open the door to sustainable long- term profitability and growth.

Talk of engineering a pivot always sounds impressive when discussed in a strategy meeting but as we know, not every pivot leads to success. One can pivot the enterprise into a ditch, unfortunately, if an unwise choice or sloppy execution take place.

The HBR authors explain that a pivot is a lateral move that creates a logical extension of the products or services that the venture is already known for, making it comfortable for customers to trust the updates.

Music streaming platforms such as I ♥️ Radio and Spotify have long provided loads of advertising-funded free online music and both companies were able to convert freebie loving listeners to subscribers with a pivot into podcasts and specialized playlists. Fees generated by those subscription services softened the blow caused by advertisers who vanished during the shutdown.

Barnes and Noble bookstores long ago pivoted into the coffee shop business through a hybrid franchise deal with Starbucks. Don’t we all love to sit down and have an artisanal coffee as we look over the new books and magazines we just bought?

My favorite pivot was pulled off at Diva by Cindy, a hair care products company based in Washington, DC. Founder Cindy Tawiah left the salon business, a field where she’d found only intermittent success, and dropped all hairstyling services. Tawiah’s company now focuses exclusively on what are normally salon revenue enhancers, hair products.

The reformatted business now sells the newly created private label Diva by Cindy line of hair care products. Her pivot also incorporated an innovative sales strategy that places the shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays and such only in vending machines and kiosks stationed in airports and malls.

Three conditions are required to set up a good pivot:

1. The pivot will align the company with one or more long-term trends.

A pivot that reflects how we’re living and working during the COVID-19 era may help to pull your organization through an immediate billable hours and cash-flow crisis and allow the company to survive long enough for improved business conditions to arrive.

When trying to envision your company’s pivot, think about how working from home has caused many to rely more on technology and spend more time at home. Think about how shorter supply chains have made the locavore movement, which began 25 years ago, still more attractive. Remember also the Do It Yourself and craft movements, which began a few years ago and are significantly increasing.

Can you see how your business pivot can make use of these trends, which are predicted to be with us for three years or more?

2. The pivot will be a logical extension of the company’s core products or services.

Your venture’s pivot must align with the company’s core products or services and add value for customers by creating or transitioning to a logical adaptation.

Diva by Cindy already had deep experience in the hairstyling sector and a roster of clients. The company already knew what customers valued and the acceptable product price points. Her breakout was to develop her own private label line, which was an extension of her brand, along with the daring and innovative sales strategy of using vending machines stationed at the Baltimore Washington Airport.

3. The pivot offers recognized value and opens a door to sustainable profits.

It goes without saying that the pivot is not successful unless it strengthens the value of the brand, as evidenced through increased market share and sales revenue. The HBR authors predict that while the COVID-19 crisis will not necessarily spell the end of entire industries, there will be a weeding out of companies unable to keep up with the trends of social distancing and virtual communication, remote work, shorter supply chains and an increased, more highly sophisticated use of technology.

Thanks for reading.

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Canada geese swim into a pivot on the Muddy River in the Emerald Necklace, Boston, MA.

# Red Light

So off you go, on a mission to reconnect with clients you haven’t worked with since the four month long COVID-19 shutdown began. You gracefully maneuver to position yourself to grab some billable hours before all of your Paycheck Protection Plan money runs out. You’re also on the hunt for new clients, maybe picking up the thread on leads you were checking out in the first quarter, before the rug was pulled out from under.

If good fortune prevails, you’ll bag a live one and generate some much-needed revenue. But do keep your senses tuned to any “off notes” while you and the prospect discuss the project specs. You are trying to work with this person, or someone on his/her team, and by no means do you want to walk into a toxic environment because you will fall. You will not be able to perform at your best. You will not be able to use that client as a reference.

it is important to notice and acknowledge the behavioral cues displayed and statements made by every prospective client. Do not get carried away by a seductive mix of need and excitement. Yes, making money is the point and you may also crave a project that you find not just lucrative, but also exciting. There may be a special skill that you own but rarely have the opportunity to display and at last you could be able to flaunt it.

But if the prospect makes you feel uncomfortable before the project work has begun, the smart Freelancer must find the strength to stop and walk away from someone who is already telling you that they’re a jerk who is out to hurt you. Assuming that this individual even pays the full amount of your invoice, in the end you will have to admit that the money earned from working with this guy or gal was not work the aggravation.

The best damage control that a Freelancer can take is to stop the process and walk away. Let’s examine a few examples of bad guy/ gal behavior:

“I’ve tried working with Freelancers before. I never get what I want.”

This prospect either doesn’t understand how to write and explain the project specs; doesn’t know what actions will achieve company goals; doesn’t understand and refuses to provide the support or authority a Freelancer needs to successfully complete the task; is a rabid micro-manager who is never satisfied by any work other than his/ her own; or cannot/ will not allocate the budget to hire a Freelancer who is able to do the work.

Do you see yourself swallowed by a giant whirlpool? You should. Stop. Turn around. Walk away.

Prospect don’t trust your references

You’ve supplied two or three solid references, clients for whom you’ve done work similar to what the prospect is looking to get done and the clients were very pleased. You exceeded expectations and created a positive experience. But the prospect is not convinced. Your references are not good enough, as far as s/he is concerned.

A dear friend of mine has often said that there are some people who will not take Yes for an answer. This prospect is not ready to become your client, for whatever reason. Maybe the prospect now feels uncomfortable with outsourcing this project to any outside expert?

Whatever. You cannot satisfy this individual. Shake hands and say goodbye, while you can still pretend to smile.

Prospect questions your fee and the value you’ll bring

The shutdown caused most businesses to take a significant financial hit and the impulse to keep all costs low is in the air. Freelancers are wise to be flexible about balancing their project fee against the work that clients need to do to get their ventures moving forward and the lower budgets that clients now live with. However, exploitation is never acceptable and must never be tolerated by a Freelancer.

Before your proposal is in writing, project specs should be discussed, including a ball park budget figure. Using that information, Freelancers can with confidence draw up a proposal with budget and submit it to the prospect. In this way, there will be no surprises. When the prospect shares some indication of the earmarked project budget along with the project specs, the Freelancer will quickly know whether or not s/he can do the job for that price.

But when the prospect wants to be secretive, it’s a bad sign. People need to be transparent and if they don’t want to do that, it will be unpleasant to work with them. Moreover, if the prospect alludes to the fact that his/ her team has the ability to do the job themselves, you may need to diplomatically hint that they might need to do just that because the work to be done demands a certain amount of time and skill.

You are willing to be flexible, you are willing to do a smaller piece of the job for the money that the client has suggested for the entire project, but you cannot give your work away. Then shut up and hear what s/he says in response. The specs will either shrink or you’ll walk.

Project timetable and other guarantees are unrealistic

Timetables and deadlines may require some help from the client if they are to be met and the smart Freelancer will put into writing the kind of resources that the client will provide and by what date. Furthermore, in certain cases the full scope of the project cannot be known until the work has been started. Obtain as much information as possible about the project specs to minimize risks and promote client satisfaction.

If you’re having trouble either reconnecting with current clients or signing new ones, you may need to tweak your pre-COVID-19 business model. Things have changed. No one has a written-in-stone game plan. Pivot has become the word of the month, if not the word of the year. Your first assignment may be to get a fix on what services are in demand now and how you can package and promote your entity to be considered a trustworthy and reliable purveyor of those services.

When speaking with current clients, even if you send out an email to say hello and get the ball rolling, ask how doing business has changed and make it known that your goal is to help them cross the river without taking any more of a bath than they may have already done.

When approaching a prospect, a version of the previous question can be asked, perhaps as a statement, “As you and your team work to help the organization regain its bearings and serve your customers in the way they now want, or legally must be, served, I’d love to talk to you about how I can help you do that efficiently and cost- effectively.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Massachusetts Avenue leaves the Back Bay and enters the South End.

What Scientists Know About Virtual Meetings

Experience has shown us that video meetings and face2face meetings are not interchangeable. Videoconference meetings, while very appealing in ways too numerous to list, nevertheless come with some noticeable drawbacks.

Video meetings are often a little stilted and sometimes borderline awkward. Participants can have trouble signing on. Wavering WiFi signals will cause one or two people to drop out for a couple of minutes, leaving them to struggle to reconnect, maybe by walking to another part of the room in search of a better signal.

Still, video meetings are great for remote team check-ins and board or committee meetings. We are social creatures and enjoy being able to see who we’re talking to. But as the meeting progresses it becomes clear that communication does not flow nearly as well as in our face2face meetings.

On top of access and connectivity issues that interrupt the meeting pace, normal conversation rhythm is also stymied, because video signals are slightly delayed. We try to compensate for unnatural pauses that cause people to talk over one another by waiting (usually too long) to respond.

Scientists who study human perception say that aside from the technical annoyances, the big problem with video is that it disrupts normal eye contact, especially how long and how often we look at each other. In a study led by Isabelle Mareschal, PhD, Psychology Department Chair at Queen Mary University in London, and her colleagues at their visual perception lab asked experiment subjects to watch a video of a face that turned to look directly at them. Study subjects initially found the gaze enjoyable, but after as little as three seconds most found the gaze to be unsettling.

Now consider the protocol at a virtual meeting—- we are expected to maintain unbroken eye contact with the speaker or risk being considered inattentive, if not rude. It’s just that our brain is uncomfortable with this practice. No wonder we find more than one videoconference per day to be draining.

Videoconferencing also disrupts what is known as synchrony, the unconscious call and response speaking rhythm that we lapse into when communicating face2face. Synchrony also persuades us to unwittingly mimic the body language and posture of the person we’re speaking with.

So we smile when we receive cues that our conversation partner will respond favorably if we do, or we’ll put on a serious facial expression when people in the room look worried or upset. “People start to synchronize their laughter and facial expressions over time,” says Paula Niedenthal, PhD, a psychologist and expert in the science of emotion at the University of Wisconsin/ Madison. She continues, “That’s really useful because it helps us predict what’s coming next.”

The ability to unconsciously and accurately predict our conversation partner’s emotional state is crucial to feeling connected, research shows. The problem with videoconferencing is that so many facial expressions—-that sparkle or cloud in the eyes, or subtle posture and hand gestures—-are obscured. We cannot consistently predict and validate the nonverbal cues of virtual meeting participants. We become vulnerable to feeling awkward and eventually, alienated.

Andrew S. Franklin, PhD, a psychologist at Norfolk State University in VA, says the first problem with Zoom is that the platform is programmed to continually show the user an image of him/herself, “So you’re trying to get out of the habit of staring at yourself.” That fascination, or discomfort, breaks the participant’s attention, drawing it away from the speaker and disrupting the transmission of whatever facial and body language cues one might otherwise pick up. Worse, that Brady Bunch Zoom meeting line-up, whether shown in a horizontal or vertical configuration on your device, brings in too many pairs of eyes to confront.

Daniel Nguyen, PhD, a scientist and director of (the global consulting firm) Accenture Lab in Shenzhen, China, investigated how people bonded (or not) while videoconferencing. For the experiment, Nguyen and his team divided study subjects into pairs: some conversing pairs used a video set- up that showed only faces; another video pairing set- up displayed face and upper body; the third conversation design was an in-person chat. As revealed in observations, the in- person pairs developed the strongest bonds and the face and torso set- up elicited bonding that was fully twice that of the face only set- up.

Furthermore, Nguyen prefers the vertical screen view on our phones over the horizontal screen view that desk models, laptops and tablets give us because the vertical view showcases more of the body and less background scenery.

Guided by the results of their experiment, Nguyen and his co-authors now sit a few feet away from their keyboards when in video meetings, so that their upper body will be visible. Providing your videoconference partners with a more expansive view of you helps them achieve synchrony with you and the potential for mutual bonding will be enhanced.

Nguyen and colleagues also have recommendations for your videoconference vocal style. “Ramp up the words that you’re saying,” he advised, “and exaggerate the way you say it.” To be honest, I don’t know how to interpret that bit of stage direction. How about we just avoid speaking in a monotone and add a little energy to our speech, taking care to speak a little more slowly and remembering to enunciate clearly?

Probably the most formidable obstacle of videoconference communication is how to develop trust when doing business. It’s not easy to build bonds, to truly get to know someone and develop lasting rapport through online encounters, even when you see who you’re talking to. Nguyen said his research found that, “In a videoconferencing situation, trust is quite fragile.” He and his team demonstrated that in video, “Trust is diminished overall.” Nguyen suggested that when building trust is critical, opportunities to meet in person at least some of the time will help build bonds that make remote collaboration more successful.

Elena Rocco, PhD, in a 1998 study at the University of Michigan Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work, demonstrated that groups that connect solely online (in her study email was the online format) do not collaborate effectively. But when her study subjects were able to meet face2face for brief periods, their willingness to cooperate and collaborate rose dramatically. Face2face meetings make a difference and opportunities to allow in person meet- ups should be made, even when online communication is more convenient.

I feel that although working from home is all the rage now, in two or three years companies will move to reverse the trend and bring employees back to the office, at least for part of the week. Without reading any studies, I knew that virtual meetings can never adequately replace face2face interactions.

Ben Waber, President and co-founder of Humanyze, a company that creates software that allows organizations to map internal communications, understands very well how employees communicate and how their communication correlates to their company’s health.

Waber suspects that in the long run, a company’s culture and creativity risk declining in a heavily remote-working structure. Employees can’t get to know one another as well when they don’t regularly interact face2face. He predicts that profitable companies will initially continue to be profitable despite their significant dependence on virtual communication but damage will become evident a year or two down the line, when the quality of new ideas become less bold and innovative. He concludes, “I think we’re going to see this general degradation of the health of organizations.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Doorway of the original location of the Forsyth Dental Infirmary for Children.

Business Building Essentials

While you’re thinking about how to give your business an injection of growth hormone, uniquely formulated to push your billable hours up and out of the doldrums, it’s also a good idea to reconsider some ground level business building essential practices that will confirm what you’re doing right and reveal what needs an edit.

Business founders must perfect not only the functionality and value of the products or services that are sold, but also create the organizational structure that will launch and support those products or services. You, founder and owner of the company, must ensure that you have your arms around each of these six elements discussed here. If ownership is shared by partners, then the responsibilities will be divided between you.

One division of labor method can be based on the percentage of the business owned, governed by abilities and preferences. Another method is to let ability and preference rule and choose a Managing Partner. That individual might own the largest share or the smallest share of the business, it doesn’t matter.

Managing Partners are compensated for the work they do, beyond the share of profit (or loss) that their ownership share entitles them to. Whether the business structure is Inc. or LLC, a W-2 salary can be paid to the Managing Partner. Discuss the matter of partner duties and compensation with your business attorney and put the agreement in writing.

A third option for monitoring and managing these responsibilities is to hire a W-2 employee or a 1099 Freelance consultant. There is no shame in calling in outside experts.

Positive cash- flow

The responsibility for positive cash flow belongs to the Finance Department, but the Sales Department is responsible for generating the revenue that keeps the business solvent. The Finance expert will monitor Accounts Receivable and Payable and enable a healthy cash-flow. In addition to generating sales, invoicing on time is critical to the process.

Operations

Inventory, quality control, managing employees and Freelancers, product manufacturing, delivery of core services, insurance and licenses and permits all land in this far- ranging category. IT, the telephone system and HVAC are other responsibilities that land in the Operations in- basket.

Operations functions are the nuts and bolts, where the rubber hits the road, hands-on aspects of the business. Excellent organizational ability is the key factor in successful operations management. Ownership of these duties can be assigned to whomever is best qualified to handle them. Sharing of theses duties by the partners and/ or hiring outside experts to oversee specific sectors will be wise.

Metrics to measure

The metrics used to measure business performance will change over time, but do some research of similar organizations and get insight into what numbers you should follow and the story they will tell, separately and together.

Plan to pivot

Doing business is so volatile now, it’s safe to say that a pivot is on your future, so why not anticipate it? Think about potential Plans B and C. Should your business venture falter, whether a flashy and well-funded competitor moves in or, gasp, you must contend with an unheard-of government mandated shutdown of your enterprise, how might your organization retool, pivot and survive?

You can help yourself by engaging and communicating with your customers to confirm why they buy from your company. You can also find out what competitive products and services may be appealing and why. In this way you can learn what you might adapt and hold on to customers should the business environment change. Staying abreast of new technologies on the horizon, new legislation, new competitors and even changes in local zoning

Culture and values

Bake into your business practices integrity, the expectation of excellence, first-rate customer service and, when necessary, the willingness to admit that a mistake has been made and an apology and/or a do over is in order. Let your customers, partners, suppliers, vendors, employees, Freelancers and most of all yourself see your humanity and your humor, too.

Coaching and mentoring

The founder(s), C-Suite leaders and staff deserve opportunities to sharpen their skills and even discover and nurture new competencies. Company sponsored professional development benefits a business in so many ways. Employees (and leaders) who feel confident about their skills and career possibilities and trajectories are nearly always happy to give back and do their best work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Construction site on Ipswich Street adjacent to Fenway Park.

Jump Start Revenue Right Now

State governments are slowly allowing more businesses to open after what has been about a four month shutdown for something like half of U.S. businesses. It’s been rough slogging for many citizens, but for a chosen few, the shutdown has been a money-making bonanza.

A handful of Freelancers were gifted with a new way to rake in billable hours like my friend Matt, a techie who is now earning a small fortune running virtual meetings and webinars on platforms like Go-to-Meeting and Zoom for colleges and big companies.

Most Freelancers have faced a business slowdown but have managed to crawl along, sometimes by shifting their focus to services that can be sold during the pandemic, such as teaching virtual classes or writing. Some of us will be able to recover relatively quickly from the shutdown but others, in particular those in the weddings and special events sector, unfortunately must grapple with a steep uphill climb this year.

One thing for certain is that nearly every Freelancer and business owner needs a jump start right now to first, entice current customers to return and second, to recruit new customers. Nothing that I recommend here is new or earth-shattering. The main thing to remember about business strategy—- and the Harvard Business School will back me up on this—-is that one must execute.

The most revolutionary strategy to rock the planet will be useless unless you get busy and put it in motion. Taking action on even one or two items can positively impact your business within six months.

Keep marketing

Especially when billable hours become sparse, it is so tempting to pull back and succumb to the fetal position. A short- lived pity party won’t hurt you and it may be just what you need in the moment. Sometimes one has to lick the wounds. Ice cream helps. But after 3 – 4 weeks, it will be time to regroup and snap out of it.

Shake up your marketing activities by trying something that’s low or no- cost, or double down on your usual tactics, as you first reality test by making sure that the target audience has found you and what you’re putting out there resonates.

Might you know a colleague who hosts a podcast? Have you ever done a 30 minute guest spot? Do you have 2 – 3 topics that seem like a good fit for the listening audience? Even if you have just one potentially interesting podcast topic, make contact and pitch it. If you host a podcast, raise the bar on who you invite as guests as a way to increase your reach and build your brand. Who do you know with big social media followings and/or extensive newsletter or blog lists? Reach out and touch. This strategy also is effective for webinars.

Are you a writer? Thank goodness I was invited to submit a few more articles to Lioness Magazine, the digital magazine targeted for female entrepreneurs that I’ve written for since 2014. There are many digital magazines in the business theme space and all are hungry for good content. The pay may be low to nonexistent, but being a published author has always been smart marketing. http://LionessMagazine.com

Assess social media

In last week’s post we examined the best days & times to publish on a few popular platforms. This week, you can think about how to implement what you learned.

My guess is that you’re already using the platforms you intend to use. Still, rethinking where you’ve chosen to have a presence and an assessment of the ROI derived—-credibility?brand awareness? lead gen?—-is an essential exercise as you look for ways to push your organization out of the doldrums. Have you chosen the right platform for what you’d like to achieve? For that matter, have you chosen the right goals?

Education

Whether you receive the education or deliver it, you and your business stand to benefit. Search for free classes on LinkedIn. Lots of them are worthwhile and all of them provide a certificate that can be uploaded to your profile to make you look smart and ambitious. In the Fall when schools reopen you can explore semester long (online) classes that will enhance your credibility to clients.

As well, take advantage of the COVID-19 attendance limits that are still widely enforced and compel networking organizations to go all-virtual and inquire as to who might invite you to present a short skills building workshop or give your expert opinion on some aspect of doing business.

These organizations are under significant pressure to remain relevant to their members and if you are a member, the organization managers will probably invite you in. It’s more than likely that you won’t get paid, but you’ll have an announcement that will be oh so perfect for your blog, newsletter and social media accounts and that is just the kind of business jump starting strategy that we’re talking about here!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. The twice weekly farmer’s market at Copley Square reopened last Friday, with strict anti-coronavirus measures.

Social Media —-Best Time to Post

You already know that timing is everything in business and life and that calculation also applies to when one should ideally post content on the social media platforms of choice. According to social media content marketing experts, there are days and times when your audience will either be more likely to login and read posts on a particular platform or will be in a receptive frame of mind when they do check in.

Social media management sites, including Buffer, Hootsuite, Hubspot and SproutSocial, have studied the potential best timing for publishing and sharing posts and published those results, but the most exhaustive research seems to have been done by the Bismarck, ND digital marketing management company CoSchedule. Highlights of the company’s research are cited in this post and in its entirety at this link. https://coschedule.com/blog/best-times-to-post-on-social-media/

Still, I suggest that you experiment with your own study and look for indications that your posts perform better or worse on certain days and times. Because I had a long career in B2B face2face sales, I knew to avoid posting on Monday (too busy) or Friday (livin’ for the weekend). Tuesday seemed like a good day to publish, so I went with it. LinkedIn is my social media platform and I’ve shared my posts there each week for the 11 years that I’ve published.

Here’s a rundown of platforms that appeal most to B2B marketers and the suggested prime times to publish content, according to a review of 20 studies that was conducted by CoSchedule. To dig more deeply into this topic, click the link to the study. B2B, B2C and age will potentially impact your prime publishing times.

Facebook

The evaluation of 20 studies revealed that the overall best time frame to post on Facebook is Thursday to Sunday from 1:00 – 3:00 PM. However, users can quickly and accurately identify their individual prime posting times by opening the Insight tab at the top of the page and inspecting the tracking graph.

Google Plus

What users really want to do to find out what’s going on is to use the Steady Demand tool, that reports out not only what your business, but also competitive businesses, are doing. You’ll have to pay, though. Otherwise, Wednesday mornings at 9:00-ish reportedly yields the best results when publishing. https://www.steadydemand.com/services.php

Instagram

Users who have a business account with the platform should head straight to Instagram Analytics to receive customized performance results. Those who do not have a business account are recommended to investigate a free tool that is known to provide reliable data, such as Union Metrics. https://unionmetrics.com/free-tools/instagram-account-checkup/

LinkedIn

The platform is all business and users are in a business frame of mind when they check in, but according to statistics, Tuesday through Thursday 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM wins by a nose (hey, that’s when I publish!). My LinkedIn connections will know that I’ve shared a blog post via a message that appears at their Notifications tab.

TikTok

These 500 million active monthly users, heavily represented by the highly coveted Generation Z demographic, continue to fascinate nearly every marketer, especially in the B2C space. Business owners and leaders want to recruit them as customers now and work on cultivating a longstanding relationship that will yield millions of dollars in sales.

Marketers dream of their company’s videos being seen by a large segment of a GenZ audience that will become loyal to their company and who will comment on and give likes and shares to company posts. Some clever and lucky posters, they imagine, will attract devoted followers who like their videos enough to click the icon that includes the video creator’s profile to find the heart ♥️ and ask to be a follower.

What may not have been considered is that this group is not known for long term loyalty. They are known for skepticism and changing their minds. The best posting times have been difficult to pin down, but morning and evening commute, plus lunchtime, seem the best for publishing new content.

Twitter

Wednesdays and Thursdays have emerged as the preferred days for tweeting, but users can verify their power hours by way of Twitter Analytics. Click “tweets” Overall, the best time frame for publishing is 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM- ish.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Trending: Remote Work

A recent survey of 500 + venture capital backed tech company founders conducted by the Kung Group, a San Francisco Bay Area organizational development consulting firm, revealed that the most prominent response employers have had to the coronavirus pandemic has been the launch of the work from home culture.

70% of Kung Group survey responders said they planned to allow some or all of their employees to continue to work from home when their office reopens.

76% of responders reported that their employees had either maintained or increased business productivity while working from home.

66% of responders plan to reassess their company’s future use of and need for office space, as a result of their company’s success with the work from home strategy.

The predictive value of the survey results has been confirmed by prominent technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Square and Twitter, indicating that a significant portion of employees will continue to work from home when the shutdown ends. Facebook projects that in 5 – 10 years, 50% of its employees will work from home.

Remote work is poised to become a defining feature of the early 21st century work place—-work from home, work from anywhere. The new normal for millions of Americans will not include returning to the office. Some employees are already considering a change in their living arrangements, as they contemplate trading cramped and expensive city apartments for houses in the suburbs, or even rural locales, where a home office (single or his & hers) can easily coexist with their personal lives.

Amid the enthusiasm for the shrinking of the corporate office, business owners and leaders would be wise to give serious thought to the practical functionality of the company. In particular, how to build cohesive and productive teams that theoretically might stretch from Ghana to Georgia to Goa?

Needless to say, exceptional communication and collaboration proficiency will be needed. For certain projects, companies may learn that face2face interaction produces the best results.

In support of that approach Apple has decided to continue the company culture of in-house collaboration and is in the process of moving 12,000 employees back into the Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, CA. Even Facebook is hedging its bets on remote work; it’s been reported that the company plans to create hub offices in the (moderately priced) cites of Atlanta, Dallas and Denver.

But the question for readers of this column is, what will happen to Freelancers in the office space shake-up? It remains to be seen, of course, but there may be reasons for cautious optimism.

If so many team members are working remotely, we Freelancers may have a better chance of inspiring the trust and confidence of decision-makers because to a certain extent, a significant percentage of the workforce will operate in a similar fashion to Freelancers, with the exception of submitting a monthly invoice. Freelancers can much more easily position ourselves as another remote team member.

Furthermore, the shutdown encouraged businesses to re-evaluate many jobs and discover that an unexpectedly wide range of tasks can be performed remotely. The consensus is that most tasks relegated to employees working remotely have yielded satisfactory results. The expectations of their customers have been met.

So the outcomes of remote work have been demonstrated and it bodes well for Freelancers. As businesses recover from the shutdown and need more hands on deck to get things done, decision-makers will feel more comfortable about bringing us on board. Ka-ching.

Harshvendra Soin, Chief People Officer at Tech Mahindra, a multinational technology company headquartered in Pune, India, recently said, “We hire gig workers for niche or scarce legacy skills which are not immediately available internally.” Tech Mahindra has an AI based talent marketplace called Talex that identifies gig workers internally. Soin elaborated, “ We have built an external marketplace called Flex.ai, that allows employers to seamlessly tap into the Freelance workplace.”

Top Freelance skills in demand include business planning, brand strategy, cloud computing, data analytics, digital marketing and SAP implementation. Now you’re smiling.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: A traveler passing through South Station in Boston, MA gets some work done remotely.

Moving Past Panic

Slowly, tentatively, businesses around the country are being allowed to reopen and at least partially end the COVID-19 shutdown that began in the U.S. in mid-March. Last week, houses of worship were allowed to hold services in some localities, with plenty of social distancing mandated by state legislatures. Restaurants in many cities and towns are now able to seat patrons for outside dining only, with tables spaced wide.

A theater company in the Berkshire Mountains of western MA, an area that for 100 years has featured high quality plays, music and dance performances during the summer months, is negotiating with Actor’s Equity, the powerful union, to get permission to hire actors and stage a production or two in July and August.

So we can finally shift gears from park to drive and the forward motion is a relief after 10 weeks of a mandated standstill. But do we know where we’re going now and how to get the show back on the road?

Businesses large and small are in agreement on at least one thing and that is, we cannot go back and pick up where we left off. It has been said that one never steps into the same river twice because it keeps flowing and changing before our eyes. In the post- shutdown world, those who lead a business must make some adjustments.

Reframe capabilities

Quite simply, business owners and leaders are now tasked with discovering and responding to how customers and prospects feel about and are inclined to use products or services in the reopening. How might your organization address the now reframed experiences and expectations of customers and prospects as they, too, emerge from the shutdown? How can you repackage what you sell? What should your marketing message be now? How can content marketing and social media tell your story in a way that resonates with today’s redefined customer experiences?

Reframe operations

It’s almost a given that you’ll have to retool. Must you change how you deliver services because so many of your clients’ employees now work from home? Are client meetings now videoconferences? Have you been invited to deliver a workshop virtually?

Communication with clients will be key as you learn how your organization can most effectively deliver the value of your products and services to the end user.

Reimagining how to deliver your services online is an operational paradigm shift that your company must make immediately. You must also make the delivery of your services frictionless and engaging, for maximum perceived effectiveness.

Reframe relationships

Relationships may be the most important segment of your organizational response to the new and evolving business environment. Without appearing to violate boundaries, position yourself to clients as a partner. Encourage honest communication and share information that could be helpful to clients. Be generous in your pricing and payment structures when necessary and possible for your cash-flow and revenue needs. Make referrals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. The former Algonquin Club on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston has been reframed as The Quin, a private club set to open in Spring 2021.

Defensive Marketing

In sports and in business, well-planned and executed strategies and tactics are necessary to win the day. Some sports or business plays or strategies come from the Offensive side. Those strategies are proactive—-the opening salvo, aggressive and attacking, putting out a direct challenge to the competition.

Introducing a new product and all the activities related to the launch are an example of Offensive Marketing. One might also think of push marketing tactics, e.g., email marketing that announces a new product or service.

Your company is in expansion mode, perhaps entering a new market or geography and battling for the attention and support of new customers.

In contrast, Defensive Marketing strategies and tactics, on the playing field or in the board room, are designed and utilized to protect your turf. Tactics and strategies are reactive. When responding to an attack, whether it’s the other team positioning itself to chip away at your lead or a competitor cutting into your market share, assume a Defensive stance and take steps to protect what has been achieved. Position your entity to maintain or reestablish dominance.

When a Defensive Marketing strategy is required, the company objective is to retain clients and market share, to refine product positioning messages, strengthen customer relationships, or enact other reparative therapy. Crisis communications, i.e., the response to a public set-back or scandal, is a classic Defensive Marketing move.

Depending on what a business needs to achieve, marketing strategies that work from an Offensive or Defensive stance can be employed separately or simultaneously. In the coronavirus business climate, that our politicians seem inclined to prolong, Defensive Marketing rules the day.

Everyone is hunkered down, if not outright shut down. Nevertheless, those businesses allowed to operate are doing just that, even if employees are working from home. The companies have budgets. Some are hiring Freelancers.

Just because many companies have curbed their spending doesn’t mean that they don’t have a modest budget available for certain types of high-value projects, as owners and leaders define it.

Put on your thinking cap—-What might motivate your clients to spend money these days? Chances are they’re working hard to protect what they’ve built up over the months that preceded the shutdown. It’s likely that your clients are shoring up systems and resources and reaffirming relationships with their customers. Your clients are probably positioning their organization for long-term success.

The question is, how can we Freelancers package, describe and promote our organization to effectively communicate to current and prospective clients that we can assist their Defensive Marketing campaigns?

To predict how your services might fit into the picture, take time to think objectively about the client’s business and what could be considered logical long-term objectives that could reap benefits over the next 5 or so years.

Nurturing and promoting their most important, biggest selling products or services is a safe bet, as is protecting and/ or upgrading business continuity processes and also insurance, disaster recovery systems in nearly every stripe, from hardware and software to the physical plant. However, some organizations might go on the Offensive and begin making some surprisingly aggressive moves as they pursue customer acquisition.

Keep in mind that scaling back on what is considered spending on nonessentials should not be mistaken for the cessation of spending. The organizations could be merely reflecting the economic or political climate and allowing their expenditures to reflect the new normal.

Good customer knowledge and relationships, along with agility and adaptability, will support proprietors of Freelance consultancies as we respond to yet another set of difficult business conditions. Our clients are either thinking of what must be done today to get their business back in motion, or looking at how the distant future might look and how they can engineer safe passage. Defensive Marketing strategies will predominate.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. The Boston Common tennis court.

Rethink the Customer Experience

Well now this seems obvious, doesn’t it? Like the divide between BC and AD, the au courant paradigm shift is Before Coronavirus and After Coronavirus. Navigating life and business will change in ways that we cannot necessarily anticipate.

It is safe to assume that our clients are anxious to get back to the office and into the driver’s seat, to work on generating profits. But it’s probably also safe to assume that clients are uncertain about how to make things happen again.

In the After Coronavirus world, their reliable golden touch business model may no longer make the cash register ring. What were once considered business best practices may no longer apply. There may be new public health regulations to follow, such as the number of employees who can work on site at a given time, or the number of customers who can enter the premises, all in observance of social distancing.

Many businesses have lost a great deal of money as they simultaneously paid employees, rent, insurance, utilities, software licensing fees and other fixed expenses. The owners/ leaders are relieved that the doors are open again but there can be confusion about what “open for business” will look like now, at least in the short term. Added to the list of worries may be the possibility that certain employees might continue to work from home until further notice and the impact that will have on productivity, work flow and team communication.

In the After Coronavirus business environment, nearly every operation will undergo a shakeout and no one can predict the length of that period or the needs of the business as the new normal unfolds. As a result, the client experience that your organization has dependably provided will have to shift in response. The usual benefits linked to the usual client touch points have already lost their relevance and luster.

As noted in previous posts, trust, dependability and communication will be among your most valuable intangible competencies and may I also suggest that you add good listening skills to your toolkit? Listening, empathy, trust, dependability, flexibility, agility and big-picture thinking are the qualities and skills that will help you to help your clients rebuild. Listen actively and figure out your strategy.

Face2face meetings I think will be most useful as you refresh client relationships, but there are also ways to make virtual meetings both fun and profitable.

Surprise and delight your client by adding a personal touch to a virtual meeting with a take out order that arrives 10 minutes before the meeting start time. Send over something tasty, be it afternoon tea complete with scones or gourmet pizza and Italian sodas. Deliver the same menu to yourself and your team. When the videoconference goes live, tah- dah! everyone will share a meal and a memorable experience, whether simple or elaborate.

Your services may also need to adapt to the new universe that your clients now inhabit, so do your best to customize your offerings. Furthermore, your usual payment payment schedule, if not the pricing itself, may need to be adjusted. While keeping an eye on one’s own revenue and cash-flow needs, do what is possible to encourage sales and make pricing attractive.

As your clients rebuild, they bring you with them. None of us will get through these trying times alone. Collaboration and cooperation are the way.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Bank of America office on Washington Street in Boston, MA 02111.

Your Technology Recovery Plan

We’ve been tethered to our tech devices over the past few weeks and they enabled our productivity in many ways. However, now that several states are in the process of cautiously discontinuing quarantine protocols, I think it’s time for us to rethink our heavy tech dependency. Too much of a good thing can lead to unfortunate consequences.

Unzip Zoom

I suspect that those who shifted from going to the office to working from home were particularly entangled in videoconference technology, which can eventually send team members into diminished productivity (or maybe just annoyance) if overdone. Well meaning managers inexperienced in the mechanics of leading an entirely remote team are known to hold many meetings and because videoconferencing technology exists, some managers will hold a (probably Zoom hosted) meeting every morning at 9:00 AM, for example, so everyone will be in the loop and, especially, the big bosses will know that your boss is getting the work done (or doing a good job at making it look that way!).

Despite the technology’s surging popularity, there is no need for every meeting to be a videoconference call. Audio only conference calls remain useful, especially when they are of less than 30 minutes duration. Furthermore, the matter at hand might be resolved in a two paragraph email. Resist the temptation to use video calls as your default communication tool because that’s not what it was designed to be.

Moreover, no one who is working from home should on a regular basis feel the need to assess the Home & Garden Magazine readiness of their home/ office space whenever they need to talk business. Not only that but your home may not have the best WiFi service. Your neighbors are also working from home, participating in videoconference meetings while their children are home schooling lessons on Skype or Google Hangout. Your internet signal could slow down or freeze up. Videoconferences are pressure and one does not always need to take it on to get the job done.

Physical over digital

As was discussed in the last post, suggest a face2face meeting with your VIP and arrange to have at least a beverage on the table when you meet. Oh, it’s been so long since we’ve been able to grab a coffee or whatever and sit down at a table and talk. Oh, how powerful that simple ritual is and how we took it for granted until it was gone!

Now that it is, or soon will be, within our grasp again, why not pay homage and invite a client you’re reconnecting with to meet you for ice cream now that warmer days are here? Surprise and delight!

Daily tech break

Rest your eyes and hunched shoulders and schedule two 30 minute tech tool breaks every day (unless you’re on project deadline). Believe it or not, taking a couple of short breaks during your work day is a time management technique that boosts energy, concentration power, creativity and productivity. We all need to periodically unplug and refresh ourselves physically, psychologically and emotionally because resting is necessary.

Pencil and paper

It’s also possible to walk one’s use of technology all the way back and periodically remind yourself of the charms of paper and pencil. The next time you (and your team or client, for that matter) need to brainstorm ideas or make a list, pull out a sheet of paper and a pen and write in longhand. Whether you’re in a face2face or videoconference meeting, don’t be afraid to go low tech old school every once in a while. You can use the white board in your office and plot a timeline in longhand. When you’ve completed it, take a picture with your phone and send it around. The raw, in the moment look of your notes will be the soul of creativity and authenticity.

Finally, you can cut back your screen time and reclaim the lost art of reading a physical book or newspaper. Every Sunday I buy the paper and read it in sections throughout the week. My eyes and brain appreciate the break; I enjoy it and find it relaxing.

Whenever I grab something to eat, I almost always also grab something to read as well. If I want to share an article with someone, I go online to find the link and copy/ paste, reminding myself that technology maintains its advantages.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark May 19, 2020. Office at Chase Bank 800 Boylston Street Boston, MA.

Bouncing Back

Can we at last peek out from under the covers and think about ending the shutdown and getting on with life and business? I certainly hope so! A few businesses are beginning to reopen, depending on local regulations, Apple, Microsoft and Panera Restaurants among them. The definition of reopening may be limited but a few small steps are being taken and more will join in soon.

In reality, Freelance consultants did not so much close down but either ceased or continued operations according to what clients were doing. Some of my clients temporarily closed because they could no longer function, as was the case with a well-known arts organization. Their twice-a-month live events abruptly ended and were last held in February.

Might local officials allow the group to reopen in September? When will their audience feel comfortable to return? Might the organization regain full capacity by Spring 2021?

Most of us intuitively know that a “new normal” is ahead of us and we don’t yet know what it will mean for business, whether our clients’ or our own. Resilience will be among the most valuable resources we Freelancers can bring to bear and we must call it up from within ourselves and learn how to apply it.

Honor your feelings

Are you frightened by the potential outcome of the shutdown, which is unprecedented in the history of the U.S. if not the world? Do you wonder if your Freelance entity will survive and how you’ll be able to support yourself if it collapses?

Being deeply concerned about the future viability of what you’ve built and its ability to sustain you in even the near term is only natural in light of what the national economy has been through. Whatever you’re feeling is normal for you. Acknowledge and own your emotions.

The only thing we cannot do is become paralyzed by fear. We are compelled to move forward because life demands it and our clients expect it. Constructive action is required and to fulfill expectations—-remember that meeting or exceeding expectations is the core of consulting—-Freelancers must tap into and magnify our ability to recover from setbacks.

Share your feelings with peers and mentors

Selectively share your worries and doubts, questions and potential answers, with those whom you trust and respect. Fear is a widely experienced emotion these days and you will find yourself in good company. Talking with others will make you feel supported and will give you the confidence to recognize and act on solutions and opportunities that will help you get back on your feet.

Get perspective

I grew up hearing my parents, aunts and uncles tell moving stories about the 50 year long polio epidemic which took a devastating toll on many countries. I heard about children being confined to the iron lung. I saw polio survivors, and be aware that the fatality rate far exceeded that of COVID-19 no matter how much the media plays it up, and the outcome was not pretty.

Polio nearly always severely crippled those that it did not kill. BTW, everyone went to work or school and the only social distancing that occurred was when my grandparents every so often would not allow my (eventual) parents and their siblings go to the movies or otherwise be in crowds.

I was myself in business during the 2009 Great Recession and I suffered. But failure was not an option. I found an under the radar, low wage part time job to help cash-flow and stayed on a rebuilding course.

I continued to post these columns weekly and found another site to post them on as well. In two years, my posts were featured on a national (and now international) digital publication whose target readers are female entrepreneurs and that gave me a nice title and a little money. I was resilient and you can do the same.

Prioritize

As I think about it, the most important thing that Freelancers can do to rebuild is to reestablish the trust, dependability and empathy that our clients need to know are present before they’re comfortable doing business with us again.

When a client who has recently reopened reaches out to you, rather than just trading emails why not suggest a meeting over lunch or morning coffee to set the stage for a real connection? Offer to meet them at a convenient restaurant, or arrange to bring in some food and drink (you’ll pick up the tab, of course).

Now you can discuss what it appears the new normal could mean for your client and his/ her relationship with their clients and how recalibrated expectations will impact what will be needed from you. Articulate your awareness of the fact that so much has changed thanks to the shutdown and your willingness to be creative, flexible and resourceful in formulating solutions that will position your client to regain, if not improve, market position.

Model resiliency in your thoughts and actions

Yesterday evening, I received an email from a woman who was born to a prosperous family, has a part-time grant sponsored job at an influential global not-for-profit organization and a good and talented husband. Yet, she sought me out for some apparently much-needed encouragement. What is so funny is that I’m just a Freelancer, unmarried and not well-connected, who’s trying to maintain middle class solvency in America. Still, this very affluent woman, who I love talking to BTW, calls me when she needs a little hand-holding.

In other words, I do what I can to bring resilience into my life and I’m willing to share the resource with friends and colleagues to help them sort things out when they need. On a regular basis I also practice self- replenishing rituals to keep my physical strength and positive mental energy flowing because burnout will make it all come crashing down. I encourage you to think about your own resilience, how you can strengthen and expand it and share it when necessary.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Panera restaurants are reopening for takeout only. This one is on Huntington Avenue near Symphony Hall.

Pandemic Home Office

There is an art to working from home and not everyone can master the craft. Before COVID-19 dominated our lives, working from home was not a government mandate, but a privilege for the traditionally employed and a practical adaptation for Freelancers. The traditionally employed considered the ability to work from home a valuable perk that became a point of negotiation in employment contracts and employee annual reviews.

Those who work from home save time and money associated with commuting. One can avoid at least some aspects of office politics and those impromptu meetings that might ruin one’s work schedule. As long as water, electricity, Wi-Fi and heat or AC are working, you’re good.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken away some of the work from home luster, I’m sorry to say. Working from home still eliminates the time and money associated with commuting but it now also means that you might share your workspace with roommates who are also working from home; roommates who are home but not working; an intimate partner who now works from home, or does not; and children who must be alternately home-schooled, entertained and refereed because school and all after-school activities are cancelled, which effectively means that your kids are at the office with you.

The work from home life has become a radically changed landscape, filled with potential landmines that threaten to upend your carefully cultivated office environment. The internet is slow and Skype is freezing up because too many people are streaming data. The noise level is distracting. Your once de facto private workspace is now crowded and people are barging in and asking where the peanut butter went. Working from home is starting to feel like an out-of-control co-working space and you hate it.

Guy Winch, Ph.D., a New York City psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid (2014) told the New York Times in April 2020 to “…establish office rules and get granular.”

‘What are our work hours?

Where do we go in the house when one of us needs to take a call?

Where will our individual work stations be?

Who keeps an eye on the kids and when?’

At the end of each day during the first week of following a work from home plan that you and household members create, Winch recommends that you all “Check in with each other and say something like, ‘Just in terms of being work colleagues, what worked for us today? What would we like to change? Was it useful for us to take a lunch break at the same time?’ “

Most of all, be mindful of the emotions involved as those at home work, or don’t work, study, or put on a brave face as they wonder what will happen to their job when it’s time to return to work. Below are a few tactics that will keep you in a good work from home groove.

1. Create an office space

If you are able to have a room in your home to use as an office space, you are fortunate. City dwellers might place a small desk or writing table in the corner of their bedroom. Keep your work space clean and organized, as recommended by feng shui experts and also the neatness guru Marie Kondo. Orderly and attractive environments put us in a good mood and that state of mind boosts energy, creativity, confidence and productivity.

2. Establish boundaries

Teach household members to understand that when you step into your office space, you are at work. You cannot referee spats; you cannot chat with your mother-in-law; you cannot drive anyone to the post office. Shut the door and work. Noise canceling headphones may be helpful. Encourage yourself to take regular coffee and lunch breaks. When possible, take your breaks off-site to give yourself a battery-charging change of venue.

3. Dress for success

The popular image of those who work from home is of someone who is in sweats or even a bathrobe all day. Remind yourself and those with whom you live that you are a professional who takes your work seriously. Shower daily, brush your teeth, comb your hair and dress for work, whether in business casual attire or jeans and T-shirt.

4. Keep regular work hours

Go to work every morning, Monday to Friday. You may have the luxury of starting your work day in mid-morning, after a 5 mile run or a bike ride that gives you a burst of energy or ending work in late afternoon to do your workout after close of business.

Of course if you’re tied to an office – based team, you must align your work hours accordingly and that includes the time zone. At least some will be able to allow either their biorhythms or projects on their desk guide the work schedule. Resist the temptation to be either a workaholic or a slacker.

5. Stay connected

Working from home is by its very nature isolating, although some thrive on the independence. Still, maintaining and creating your professional ties is important.

At least every two weeks, schedule a video chat with a colleague so that you’ll stay in the loop with what’s happening at the office if you happen to be a remote team member. Furthermore, participate in your team’s group conference calls that allow you to check in and stay abreast of front burner projects as well as get advance word about what’s on the horizon. Write reports that document your contributions to reaching project milestones and goals achieved.yo

Enhance your professional skills and listen to a (sometimes free!) webinar. Promote your thought leader status, showcase your expertise and expand your network when you present a webinar or become a podcast guest.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Co-working office spaces are available at WeWork in the (adjacent) neighborhoods of Fort Point and the Financial District in Boston, MA.

COVID-19 Cash-Flow Update

The nationwide economic shutdown that went into effect in mid-March has done the vast majority of U.S. businesses no favors. In fact, the shutdown has been devastating for business owners and Freelance consultants alike.

According to an April 18, 2020 survey of 16, 620 business owners conducted by Alignable, an online referral and business development organization for business owners and self-employed individuals that claims 4 million members, 43% of businesses in America have had to temporarily close. Of those that remain open, 28% report that business is down by 75%; 15% said that business is down by 50%; 11% found that business is down by 25%; and a lucky 2% report that the shutdown has been good for business (maybe grocery and liquor stores?). The enormous impact of COVID-19 on the economy has compelled the federal and state governments to offer financial assistance to U.S. citizens.

The Payroll Protection Program, which is designed to help businesses that employ fewer than 500 workers to retain those workers on the company payroll in the face of often drastic revenue reductions brought on by the coronavirus business shutdown, ran through the original $349 billion appropriation approved by Congress in less than two weeks. Happily, Congress has just pushed through another bill that will not only add $320+ billion to PPP but also earmark $60 billion of the funding for small banks, credit unions and community based lenders.

Furthermore, business owners and Freelance consultants can apply for a loan that’s up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll of the business, not to exceed $10 million per entity.

Remember, the PPP loan can flip to a grant if the recipient Freelancer or business owner applies 75% of funds received to payroll expenses (I including the owner’s draw) and 25% of the funds to business operating expenses. Otherwise the loan, which must be repaid within 2 years, is payable at 1% interest.

The Small Business Administration has also played its customary role in assisting business organizations large and small through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. EIDL provides loans and also a maximum $10,000 immediate cash advance to businesses financially harmed by the shutdown. The SBA reported that as of April 20, nearly $3.3 billion in EIDL grants and $5.5 billion in EIDL loans had been awarded. Congress is expected to approve an additional $60 billion in EIDL funding, bundled with the $320+ billion initiative to replenish PPP.

Still more help will be made available to Freelancers by way of the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program , a variation of Unemployment Benefits and therefore administered by the states, is set to provide up to 39 weeks (maximum) of unemployment benefits to those who have historically been excluded , i.e., us—- independent contractors, the self-employed Professionals, or gig workers.

To be eligible, applicants must provide self-certification to demonstrate that they are available to work but are prevented from doing so as a result of COVID-19 or actions related to it, including one’s own illness due to the virus or a close family member who contracts the virus. Even workers who are collecting sick pay or other benefits that amount to less than one’s weekly pay, or those who are working fewer hours, resulting in diminished income, might nevertheless be eligible to collect PUA benefits. For more information, search Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in your state.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark 4/23/2020. The Doc Martens store on Newbury Street in the Back Bay.

The Beat Goes On : Visit the Job Boards

As the coronavirus continues to stalk the land and our political leaders and many citizens continue to see a business shutdown as the only response, making a living has become very difficult for the 57 million Freelance Professionals in the U.S. (Statista). If our clients don’t work, neither do we.

Federal government relief was rumored to be on the way, but I don’t see any evidence of it. It’s probably going to be smarter to put one’s energy into finding projects from a mix of new and current clients (same as it ever was!).

Still, maintaining the discipline and enthusiasm required for a job hunt is difficult and discouraging when the prospects for success appear bleak. But if you can make yourself surf through job board listings three times per week, you might come up with a project, however small.

I am most grateful that my largest client came through and asked me to provide a one hour marketing consultation with one of their clients, an RN/ Nurse Practitioner and midwife who recently launched a Freelance business that focuses on hormone management in women, from post-partum to menopausal. BTW, I sent Easter/ Passover cards to a select group of clients, including this one, and thank heaven my outreach paid off!

Among the marketing strategies the RN will pursue as she builds her Freelance consultancy is a new website, which will function as a lead generator. I was so excited to be able to refer to the RN a Freelance web developer with whom I had worked a few years ago. I’ve reached out to him and as soon as his schedule allows, I’ll conduct an email introduction and hope that the relationship will be fruitful.

That is how we’ll make it through this never-before-experienced crisis, my Freelancer friends. We must rally forward and do some job hunting at least two or three times each week for at least an hour at a time and as well we ought to remember to refer our colleagues along the way.

Now about the job boards—-I found a few possibilities, some familiar and others unexpected, to help you jump-start the client building work,

Aquent

Specialties covered include Management, Marketing, IT Design, Managed Services and Professional Development. Some workers can qualify to receive benefits. Free online training courses for workers are also available. http://acquent.com

This company is strictly top- drawer and seeks only cream of the crop gig workers. Extended Workforce Services is what the company provides and the work assignments may not be remote; there are 35+ offices around the world, primarily in the U.S.

Guru

The site boasts that prospective employers will work with among the most talented professionals in the field, regardless of the assignment. Among the services provided are translation/ writing, legal services, architecture & engineering, marketing & sales, business & finance, software development & programming and administrative services. https://www.guru.com/d/jobs/

LinkedIn ProFinder

The ProFinder algorithm sends jobs to your inbox, thus eliminating the need to continually search for employment possibilities. Only five proposals are accepted for each assignment, so time matters for assignments that appear very attractive .

Proposals are short, which allows bidders to quickly put themselves into consideration but limits one’s ability to sell oneself in some instances.

I’ve submitted 8 -10 proposals over the past 12 – 18 months, and I came close to being hired only once. The project was interesting and the rate of pay offered was very decent. The lady who interviewed me over the telephone was very nice and also honest.

That said, I still recommend that you sign up for ProFinder, create a profile and compete for assignments. The first 10 submitted proposals are accepted at no charge but to submit additional proposals the job seeker must join LinkedIn Premium at $60/ month and that is steep. Depending on your luck, you may decide to pay up and roll the dice on being hired. Or you’ll pull the plug on this service.

However, none of my other proposals was ever acknowledged, including one submitted by a man who had once written for the New York Times. What was his motive for the job posting? Maybe he thought he just felt my writing isn’t good enough? http://LinkedIn.com

The Creative Group

Freelancers looking to earn money and work on interesting projects may be very happy with this site. It’s the place for advertising whiz kids, marketing rock stars, genius art directors, amazing website designers and super organized account managers, too. Full time and project work is available, both on-site and remote.

The company is a division of the global giant Robert Half Staffing Agency. https://www.roberthalf.com/submit-resumeglobal

TopTal

TopTal announces to both job seekers and prospective employers that the site features the top 3% of Freelancers from around the world. software developers, finance experts, product managers, marketers, graphic designers and project managers are the principal hires. ://www.toptal.com/careers#positions

Upwork

I’ve gotten a couple of small jobs on the site but I abandoned ship when it was announced that it would cost money to submit a proposal. On top of that payment, there will be a 20% fee attached to each invoice submitted. Furthermore, Upwork clients like to low-ball on fees, so there is not a lot of revenue to be generated, unless one specializes in software development and other IT functions.

I was lucky enough to start work on a sales training manual but then the client pulled the plug and regards was the end. She claimed to really like my work. The fee charged was less than half of what it should have been. I suspect that the client suddenly got spooked by the business start-up costs Oh. well. I sometimes think about reaching out to say hello to the client. She was great to work with. http://Upwork.com

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Runner on Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay neighborhood (Boston, MA) on Monday April 20, 2020, what would have been the Boston Marathon.

Coronavirus Cash Flow

Because federal and state governments chose to require most businesses to cease operations as a way to decrease public exposure to COVID-19, those entities have recently decided to throw a few dollars back at the citizens, to help us manage our financial obligations as the shutdown grinds on. As you may have predicted, the response may be inadequate and imperfectly distributed, but it will help a little bit.

CARES Act Economic Impact Payment

Every citizen and legal resident not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return is eligible to receive an EIP, that is, a Stimulus payment of up to $1200 per person, or $2400 per couple, plus an additional $500 for each child.

Eligibility for financial assistance will be calculated from one’s 2018 (or 2019, if filed) tax filing, so make sure that one or both are completed and in the hands of the Internal Revenue Service and your state Department of Revenue. The new tax filing deadline date is July 15, 2020 for 2019 federal taxes and most states have assigned that date as a deadline as well, but I suggest you verify that ASAP.

Filing for extensions on the federal or state level remains April 15, 2020. To keep abreast of this fast-changing situation on the federal level, check in at http://irs.gov/coronavirus.

Single filers whose Adjusted Gross Income was $75,000, joint filers whose AGI was $150,000 and marrieds filing separately (head of household) whose AGI was $112,500 in 2018 (or 2019) will receive the full amount of the award (see above).

Single filers whose 2018 AGI was between $75,001 – $99,000 and marrieds whose AGI was $150,000 – $198,000 will lose $5.00 for every $100 that their AGI exceeds the $75 K and $150 K single or married filers thresholds. Regarding those whose AGIs are below the thresholds, there doesn’t appear to be a plan in place.

Children who qualify for the Child Tax Credit can help their family receive an extra $500 each. Dependent students aged 17 – 24 years will not bring the Stimulus benefit to the family but working students aged 18 – 24 years who file their own taxes and are not listed as a dependent on the tax return of another are eligible to receive a Stimulus payment for themselves.

The Department of the Treasury prefers to send Stimulus payments electronically so if you’d like to receive payment more quickly, make sure that your bank or debit card info is on file. If the IRS does not have direct deposit information for you as a result of previous tax refunds, there will soon be a website to allow filers to add that information.

CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program

This program was originally created to help business owners who employ fewer than 500 workers to retain their employees in those essential operations that are sanctioned to remain open during the shutdown. The PPP is technically a loan program that has the potential to become a grant. Those who apply need not prove any lost income or financial hardship. It’s recommended to apply for the loan through your business banker.

If 75% of the loan money is applied to payroll expenses and 25% is used to pay operating expenses such as rent and utilities, the loan will then be forgiven and essentially become a grant. If that formula is not followed, the business owner will pay a 1% interest rate, payable over two years, with the first payment not due for six months.

Freelance consultants benefit when the payroll portion of the loan calculation is instead applied to our revenues as determined by one’s “net earnings, wage, commissions and/or income from the self- employment venture.” If the Freelancer employed any full or part- time workers, they must remain on the Freelance entity’s payroll for a minimum of 8 weeks, at the original rate of pay, in order to qualify for the loan, as is the case with typical business owners. If the Freelancer hired other Freelancer contract workers to help out on a project, those contract Freelancers are not covered in the PPP calculation; they may apply on their own for the benefit and include that income.

FYI, PPP loans may be administered only by a pre-approved list of banks and the word is that for the most part, only existing business banking customers will be approved for the loan.

There are now millions of Freelance workers in the U.S. and the demand for PPP loans, which if handled as described above can become a grant, is high. It’s rumored that Congress is weighing the possibility of adding $250 million to the original $500 million appropriated for PPP, so that the Small Business Administration can expand the list of approved lender banks. To be continued.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Shopping at the South End Whole Foods Market in Boston, MA.

Rituals and Recovery

This week I have another coronavirus coping strategy for Freelancers to r reand it boils down to this—do what you’ve always done, except when you have to pivot or adapt. Psychologists, sociologists and others who observe human behavior know that routines and rituals have real power. Michael Norton, professor at Harvard Business School and member of Harvard’s Behavioral Insights Group and Francesca Gino, professor of organizational psychology at Harvard Business School and author of Sidetracked: Why our Decisions get Derailed (2013) found that routines and rituals are stabilizers that ground us and help us to keep going when we’re feeling out of sorts, when we’re grieving the loss of a loved they keep families and friends closer they help to maintain the bond between martial partners.

There is a psychological benefit when, in times of uncertainty and stress, we return to our old routines and habits. Some routines that we turn to can be harmful, it is true. Binge eating, smoking and drinking come to mind. If those activities have been among your habits, I suggest that you leave them in the past. As we crawl our way through the coronavirus shutdown it will be the good rituals and habits, the sometimes silly and often idiosyncratic ways about us, that will nurture us and give us the strength and determination to see our way through this long dark tunnel.

Weddings, christenings, funerals and holiday dinners are all steeped in ritual (that is, habit). That is why whenever someone makes a change to the Thanksgiving or Easter dinner menu, there might be a mini riot. Even those who don’t love mashed turnip or mincemeat pie may complain long and loud if those items are not served on the fourth Thursday in November. The decision to serve an Easter ham or Easter lamb could lead to an armed standoff.

Routines and rituals are often small habits. One always wakes up at a certain hour, so as not to feel lazy. One always exercises in the morning (or in the evening) because at first it fits a schedule but now it is defining act that supports and even comforts.

Oddly, Norton and Franco found that a ritual or routine did not have to be practical or useful to be habit-forming and compelling. Competitive athletes are known to sometimes wear a favorite pair of socks or necklace, or eat a certain food for the pre-competition dinner because they feel the need for a good luck charm.

So what can you do to keep it together as you push through what is probably the most formidable challenge a Freelance consultant will face? As I said earlier, keep doing what you’ve been doing. If you always woke up at 6:30 AM on the weekdays, then continue to do so. If you always headed out to the gym at 7:00 AM, here is where you pivot and make an adaptation. Because gyms are closed, devise a combination run and power walk routine that lasts for 30 minutes.

This is a holiday week for Christians and Jews and I suggest that you apply the ritual usually practiced during the December holidays and send cards to your clients. Because you don’t know who is working from home and who is in the office, send an e-card (I use Jacquie Lawson).

Create a new ritual and visit online gig economy sites such as LinkedIn and Upwork. Tell yourself that you’ll check in on Tuesdays and Thursdays (or Mondays and Wednesdays) and use self-discipline to keep the routine going throughout the shutdown and beyond, because we all need money and we need lots more cash than the government stimulus will provide.

Another ritual that you can either continue , learn, or resuscitate is meditation and focused breathing. Both medical and psychological research has demonstrated that this technique promotes healing of the body and mind.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Long-time Boston favorite Giacomo’s Ristorante pivots out of sit-down service and into takeouts, per the Commonwealth of Massachusetts coronavirus rules.

A View From the Lockdown

I am one who likes to be productive. I’ve grown weary of the enforced furlough that the civil servants have foisted upon the good citizens (and properly documented guests) of the empire. Sitting on the bench as life passes us by is a tragic waste of time and as we know, time and the tides wait for no one. We can never reclaim our lost days.

It occurred to me that education can soften the blow, at least somewhat. If we educate ourselves, we’ll come out of this madness better than we were when we went in. I’ve heard that many parents are taking a stab at home schooling their children and there’s no reason why we grown-ups cannot home school ourselves.

So after you’ve rearranged closets, done laundry, dusted & vacuumed, put spring plantings into the garden and window boxes and ranked the client list according to revenue potential, you might feel ready to pursue some professional education, ideally in the form of short workshops that are offered at no charge or low charge (because you may not be getting paid for a while). LinkedIn could have what you need.

LinkedIn Learning has 15,000+ workshops and tutorials that will grow your knowledge and the price range seems to be $20 – $40. A revolving sample of workshops are free at any given time and I’ve taken three. All were useful and very well presented. https://www.linkedin.com/learning

Whatever your specialty, you are sure to find a LinkedIn Learning workshop that will supply you with relevant information that will help you serve your clients more effectively. Not only that, but you’ll earn a certificate that will look nice on your profile.

What follows here is a sampling of workshop topics that nearly every Freelance consulting specialist and business owner might appreciate.

Business Finance

So many business owners and Freelancers shrink from the financial management aspects of our ventures. It can be intimidating. A good teacher will break it down and show you that you already know how to do most of this stuff if you’ve ever had a job and paid rent and other expenses.

What is needed is confidence and big- picture thinking. Discover the guidance that business finance workshops will provide to support the growth and health of your venture.

Financial Modeling and Forecasting Financial Statements will explain the basics of your financial statements and how to learn from them, help you figure out cash-flow, plus teach you how to use your company’s past financial data to predict future financial performance.

Brothers Jim and Earl Kay Stice will lead you through step by clearly explained step. Earl Kay Stice holds a Ph.D. in Accounting from Cornell University and he teaches the subject at Brigham Young University. Jim Stice received his Ph.D. in Accounting from Brigham Young University, where he is the Distinguished Teaching Professor of Accounting.

Microsoft Excel

There are numerous Excel workshops and tutorials available and I am ready to dive into two or three of them, at minimum.

Excel spreadsheets make data analysis so much easier. There are even tutorials on functions as basic as filling the cells and adding highlighting color and fonts to make your data pop.

There are workshops that teach learners how to create a basic dashboard and how to create charts in Excel, from classics like bar graphs and pie charts to more recent configurations such as funnels and Pareto.

Value Based Pricing

Your business will not be optimally profitable until you learn how to properly price your products and services. Pricing for B2B services is especially challenging. The concept of Value Pricing is an excellent strategy and you can learn how to apply the principles to your venture after dipping into this most useful course.

Strategic Planning

Take your pick—Strategic Planning Foundations, Strategic Planning Case Studies and Assessing & Improving Strategic Plans, all taught by Mike Figliuolo, author, West Point graduate, former assistant professor at Duke University, author and former McKinsey consultant.

Listening Skills

I took a great one hour listening skills workshop taught by Dorie Clark, adjunct professor at Duke University School of Business, author and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review. Excellent communication begins with active, meaningful listening. Listening well will help you to become more persuasive, a better negotiator, a more successful sales professional and an effective leader.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Social distance grocery shopping March 2020.