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.

COVID-19 Crisis Management

How are you holding up? I assume that you are taking steps to manage the impact of our coronavirus crisis and that you’re feeling somewhere between frightened and overwhelmed? This thing has hit like a tidal wave that has upended all business and taken nearly every Freelancer under, at least in the short term.

The shelter in place orders that panicked public officials have instituted have the ability to do particular harm to self-employed professionals and small business owners. We are concerned about public health and we understand more than most about the need for decisive action because our livelihoods depend upon it and our money and our brand are always on the line. We wish that along with epidemiologists, economists and even ethicists would also be invited to the decision-making tables.

The strategy that’s seen as quick fix crisis management by ventures large and small is to shed all or most Freelance workers and review all supplier and vendor contracts, with the purpose to renegotiate and trim fees.

I agree that cost-cutting measures are prudent and if I presided over a larger entity I would recommend such actions to my leadership team. Yesterday, I read that Exxon Mobil will follow exactly the same strategy.

Yet being perceived as expendable does nothing to improve one’s ability to sleep nights, to say nothing about one’s ability to pay living and business expenses. If a survival strategy ever was needed, the time is now! So what can we do? The short answer is to get practical, be resourceful and use online tools wherever possible because the practice of social distancing will be with us for a number of months.

TECH ENABLED TOOLS

I teach business courses and present workshops and that means I have an audience. Or maybe I should say I had an audience. For the time being, public speaking and gatherings as we have known them are over. I’ve already been in contact with two clients to discuss how educational programs will proceed.

One client has been doing online workshops for a number of years and they’re conducted over Skype and so my ID for that platform has been sent to them. Unfortunately, what was scheduled in the near term was cancelled, but since they have clients to satisfy and need me to achieve that imperative, I know that by late April I’ll be presenting on Skype.

To another client I recently sent an email and suggested that we postpone by a couple of weeks the workshop that I was scheduled to present and repackage it as a webinar. I offered to come to their place of business to use their equipment (and also guarantee a quiet studio, something that a home broadcaster can seldom provide what with the sirens of emergency vehicles passing by, however occasional).

A third client has for a number of years hosted social events that regularly attract 500 – 1000 visitors. I will soon reach out to my contacts there and suggest that they experiment with an online format. The logistics, format and flow will have to be carefully considered, but for several years many people have attended meetings virtually and the concept is no longer novel.

While on a recent (audio only)conference call meeting of 18 participants, three or four spoke up about using online platforms to conduct social events that have been successful. One caller spoke of online dinner parties that she and her husband share with their adult children who now live in other parts of the U.S. Another caller spoke of attending and enjoying a virtual cocktail party, where participants dressed up, poured themselves a cocktail or glass of wine, nibbled hors d’oeuvres and engaged in conversation with other guests all from their kitchen or dining room tables. Apparently, they had a blast.

Finally, to the writers among you, this crisis is the perfect time for clients —and Freelancers ourselves—-to review marketing strategies and update our messages and materials where needed. Stay the course and be brave.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Star Market, Prudential Center Boston MA March 23, 2020

Continue reading

5 Clients You Need to Fire

It takes all kinds of people to make a world and unfortunately, from time to time one is destined to encounter an individual whose mission in life, so it seems, is to attack others and make them unhappy. Such people obtain a perverse pleasure from making the lives of others miserable. These people like to criticize, demean, diminish, bully, gaslight and even humiliate those with whom they interact, professionally and personally.

I’ve met more than my share of these damaged creatures (even one is too many!) and my recommendation is to keep them at arm’s length and whenever possible, cut ties with them altogether. There is no relationship compelling enough to justify any level of abuse as the price of interaction. Forget about keeping the peace. Troublemakers never worry about keeping the peace (but they will throw that excuse at a target, as a way to maintain control).

Some relationships are difficult to avoid but when it’s a client (or for that matter, a close relative), I guarantee that there is nothing positive that will ever be derived from a dysfunctional relationship. The best course of action is to politely cut the cord. Have you met any of the characters in this rogue’s gallery listed below? Deport and build the wall!

Commitment phobics

Some prospects prefer to shop around and consider several options before they decide which solution to invest in. That’s a smart thing to do; shopping is not a problem as long as the prospect is really a prospect and serious about finding a good solution for their needs. However, some “prospects” fall into analysis-paralysis quicksand and never move forward to get the project done, no matter what they promise you. They just string people along and waste time.

Fee hagglers

Start-up entrepreneurs, more than a few small business owners and many Freelance consultants, whether their venture has high growth potential or is likely to become only modestly profitable, may have limited funds. Likewise, leaders at not-for-profit organizations may direct as much of their financial resources as possible into supporting the mission, which may be a cause about which s/he feels passionate.

If you are offered an assignment that while it has a very modest budget but that you nevertheless feel is worthwhile, whether it advances a cause about which you are also passionate, or you’ll be able to take on a project that will, for example, allow you to expand into a niche that you’d like to enter and therefore has significance for you, then accept a lower than usual fee. Just don’t allow yourself to get bullied and frightened into lowering your fee by someone whose aim is to exploit. Respect that you must adequately cover the time and expertise that you will devote to this project. Be aware of what matters to you and set clear boundaries when deciding whether to accept “charity” cases. Establish a “walk-away” amount for every fee negotiation and accept nothing less (it’s not easy, I know).

Abusive

Along with time, expertise, judgment and resourcefulness are among a Freelancer’s most valuable and marketable attributes. In order for us to perform at peak efficiency, so that we can fulfill the needs and expectations of our clients, it is tremendously helpful, if not necessary, that those with whom we work, our clients, respect who we are and what we can do for them. Uncommunicative, uncooperative, unethical or just plain obnoxious clients greatly diminish our ability to do our best.

Behavior that persistently negative, undermining, passive-aggressive, micro-managing or outright verbally abusive are unacceptable and should never be encountered in the professional (or, for that matter personal) sector. Watch and listen for sign of this type of behavior in client meetings. If you see a red flag in the distance, back away quickly. You may need a contract, but you’ll pay back every dime that you earn in misery.

Complainers

Some clients are never satisfied, no matter what you do to please them. When clients provide negative feedback about your pitch or the work you’ve done, it’s important to determine its validity and make improvements as indicated. But some people make it a habit to continually criticize and complain about everything because nothing is ever good enough for them. It makes sense to avoid these clients whenever possible.

Slow payers

Late payers (or God forbid, no-payers) have no place in a successful business. A business requires steady cash-flow. Clients who don’t pay invoices on time disrupt your financial viability and make it difficult to effectively manage business and personal finances. Slow pay/ no pay clients can even prevent you from making important investments in the business or yourself.

Clients who constantly delay payment don’t appreciate the value that you and your organization bring to their business. While in fee negotiations with a client, remember that the best defense is a good offense; establish a protocol that will minimize, if not eliminate, the slow-pay/ no-pay risk.

A reasonable risk management fee collection strategy is to request a certain amount of the total fee at the signing of the work contract, maybe 15 %, before commencing work. Get agreement from the client on one or two project milestones and tie payments of 25% to them. Invoice the client for the final amount within two weeks after project completion and ask for payment upon receipt of the invoice.

Thanks for reading. Stay healthy!

Kim

P.S. Apologies for not publishing this post on March 17, as was my intention. The publish button was clicked and I thought that the post had published.

Image: “ The Scream, “ 1893, by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (December 1863 – January 1944) courtesy of The National Gallery in Oslo, Norway.

Create Your Crowdfunding Campaign

Crowdfunding has caught on among entrepreneurs in need of funding for their start-up ventures and numerous business incubators across the country now offer information on crowdfunding sources. Crowdfunding veterans know that the fundraising campaign is won or lost before the campaign goes live and that the most important decision a campaigner will make is to choose the most suitable platform for the business or project that will be funded. Please see my March 3rd post for a sampling of crowdfunding platforms.

To get an insider’s understanding of how a smart crowdfunding campaign is created and managed I spoke with Alice, a neighbor who is a documentary filmmaker. Alice said that she spent about 8 – 10 weeks, working about 4 -5 hours each day, to prepare for her campaign kick-off and another 4 weeks or so running and managing the campaign while it was live on Indiegogo. The post-launch phase was easier, focused on follow-up and updates.

To create her campaign, Alice asked a friend to build a 6 page campaign website, she filmed a pitch video (she is a filmmaker, after all) and developed a synopsis to further explain and “sell” her film concept. She even planned a small campaign kick-off party to encourage friends and family to participate on day one and create momentum and good results that often make the difference between reaching the fundraising goal or falling short.

Once the campaign was in motion, Alice estimated that she spent about 10 hours/ week on upkeep during the second, post-launch, month. This phase involved follow-up, consisting mostly of engaging updates and donor outreach on social media and in emails.

Keep at top-of-mind that your campaign is unlikely to succeed without a total commitment on your part. Think of crowdfunding as a full-time job while you’re driving your campaign goals. Leverage every relationship and marketing channel available to you. Crowdfunding campaigns are a lot of work but if you build it right, you can possibly meet and or even exceed your funding target. 

Storytelling

Help potential funders understand how backing your product or business idea can benefit them. Tell them who you are, what you’re planning to do, where the project idea came from, what your budget is and why you’re passionate about it. Show that you’ve thought through your idea, which helps prove the legitimacy and credibility of your project. Communicating your story through visual imagery is particularly effective and many successful fundraisers create a 5 (or so) minute video.

Make sure to create an eye-catching campaign landing page image as well as a persuasive video pitch. The video quality must be good, your story must be clear and compelling and your product must shine. Show that you are knowledgeable and articulate as you clearly outline your concept and the benefits and demonstrate exactly how it works.

Connect emotionally by expressing your story in a way that helps potential backers to relate. Show and tell why your product is desirable and unique. People need to know what problem you can solve and why the solution will appeal to target customers. Be advised that your backers are of primary importance. When you show them that you care, they’ll be more willing to trust you and may even reach out to friends to share your campaign with them.

Funding goal

Research your business start-up or expansion costs. Prepare 12 month P & L and Cash Flow Statements, plus a Break-even Analysis, to confirm with confidence both your expenses and when you expect that sales will equal and then surpass expenses. Furthermore, be realistic about your fundraising potential as you estimate how many of your friends and family might be willing to donate. Based on that information, set your fundraising target. Alice predicted that while your campaign might attract the attention of new people, most of your support will come from those who know you. BTW, your fundraising goal cannot be changed once you’ve started the campaign.

The rewards

People will support your project if they think it’s worthwhile, but it’s always good to have interesting donor perks, since people expect a little swag. You might check out the Kickstarter Creator Handbook to figure out what you can and cannot offer, as there are some common restrictions that you’ll need to know. Also, be mindful as you structure your rewards in terms of price points. It’s fine to promise big rewards, but remember that delivery can take considerable time and effort.

Promoting and updating

Your Crowdfunding platform may have built-in tools that allows campaigners to update project backers and send messages to them and you should take advantage of these tools. Email marketing, your blog or newsletter (you might create either or both for the campaign) and social media can be effectively employed to spread the message about your campaign and its progress. Continually keep your project backers in the loop as you move forward with the campaign. Fail to share regular updates and you risk losing donor interest and that can result in a smaller donor pool. Be positive, yet transparent, in your updates. If things aren’t going quite as anticipated, let folks know.

Encourage product feedback

One of the most important things to do before starting a crowdfunding campaign is to run a beta-test and obtain some product reviews. Feedback is essential to making helpful product or process improvements before launching the campaign. You may have an amazing product or service, but that doesn’t mean it can’t become even better with a little extra work.

Deliver on rewards and promises

Your crowdfunding campaign isn’t over if and when you reach your funding goals. It’s over when you’ve fulfilled your promises. This means completing your project, delivering your perks or rewards and continually communicating with your supporters. Only when fulfillment is complete can you truly say you had a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: ©Lai Afong, Hong Kong photographer and founder of Afong Studio, one of the first in China. Afong was considered the most influential Chinese photographer of 19th century China. His photograph shows men betting on and playing a game of Fan-Tan in Canton (Guangdong), China circa 1890s.

Crowdfunding for a Business

What do you do when you need money to either launch or expand your business venture and the bank won’t give you enough money? For many entrepreneurs, crowdfunding is the answer. Originally used to fund charity drives or creative projects like recording music or film making, crowdfunding is now recommended as a business financing strategy by organizations that support aspiring entrepreneurs.

That said, I remain skeptical. I understand the allure of crowdfunding—people will give someone money to finance a creative project or business venture and that person will, ideally, achieve the goal without taking on debt. In exchange for the financial support, the entrepreneur, in many cases, will promise to give backers a reward, or even a small equity stake (ownership) for certain investors.

But ask yourself—why would a total stranger contribute to a crowdfunding campaign for a start-up, unless it’s a not-for-profit venture and I believe in the cause and would like to support it? Well, some folks are just of a mind to be a part of someone’s success and that’s the best reward. However, campaigners are advised to align the reward offered with the project.

If the campaign will fund the production of a big special event, for instance, the campaigner might offer free admission, backstage passes, or even a chance to hop up onstage and jam with the band. For consumer products, the most obvious reward would be to provide backers with a digital or physical copy of the item in advance, or offer a purchase price that is far less than the typical retail value. Bear in mind that creativity pays: among the most consistently popular rewards are those that offer personal or unique touches, or provide singular opportunities, e.g, lunch with the founders or the inclusion of donors’ names in the new software product’s credits.

Since there is growing interest in the entrepreneurial community about this nontraditional funding source, I decided to research. Here’s the first half of what I learned. Next week, I’ll follow-up and examine how one might create a successful crowdfunding campaign for a business.

WHICH PLATFORM IS FOR YOU?

CircleUp—Best for fitness, food & beverage, technology

  • Campaign types: Equity, credit
  • Industry focus: Early-stage consumer brands
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing
  • Funding fees: N/A
  • Payment fees (US): N/A
  • Startup locations allowed: Worldwide

If you’re an entrepreneur working to get your consumer product on the market, CircleUp offers an excellent array of services, including a platform for connecting with accredited investors, insights from machine-learning technology and access to special lines of credit for start-ups. Accredited investors must have a net worth of at least $1 million and earnings of $200,000 a year or more, per SEC regulations. In other words, the investors are quite affluent and capable of writing big checks.

While the focus is on early-stage companies, the platform is nevertheless best suited for more established start-ups looking to scale, rather than companies in their infancy.  CircleUp doesn’t charge any fees for friend and family investments and provides special access to funding through partnerships with Procter & Gamble and General Mills. 

Fundable

  • Campaign types: Equity, rewards
  • Industry focus: Healthy startups ready to expand
  • Funds you can keep: Whatever you raise for equity; all or nothing for rewards
  • Funding fees: $179 monthly subscription
  • Payment fees (US): 3.5% + $0.30 per transaction for reward campaigns
  • Start-up locations allowed: Must be headquartered in the US

Most crowdfunding platforms, whether equity or reward, take a percentage of funds raised. However, this platform just charges a flat monthly subscription fee. As long as you’re subscribed, you can create campaigns to raise money.

The flat fee makes it a great deal for many successful crowdfunding campaigns. The only problem is that campaigners must pay the fee whether or not one is successful. A failed campaign will lose you money, so Fundable is best for start-ups that have a high-potential business model.

But if you’d like a little extra help with your campaign, Fundable offers consulting services and will do everything from design assets to market your campaign. These consulting services do cost more than Fundable’s monthly fee; contact Fundable to obtain pricing.

GoFundMe—Best for not-for-profits and charitable causes

  • Campaign types: Reward, donation
  • Industry focus: People and causes
  • Funds you can keep: Whatever you raise
  • Funding fees: 0% for personal campaigns in the US; 5% for charities and countries outside the US
  • Payment fees: 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • Start-up locations allowed: 19 countries

GoFundMe campaigns are donation-based and focus on not-for-profit start-ups and charities. If you operate a not-for-profit, or are trying to raise money for a cause, this is the preferred platform.

IFundWomen—Best for women entrepreneurs

  • Campaign type: Reward
  • Industry focus: Women-led businesses
  • Funds you can keep: Whatever you raise
  • Funding fees: 5% of all funds raised
  • Payment fees (US): 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • Start-up locations allowed: 23 countries

Women entrepreneurs, who own a growing share of new startups, still face significant challenges in securing investment capital to get their businesses off the ground. iFundWomen offers a a solution to some of those challenges. The founders created the platform as a “fundraising ecosystem for women-led startups and small businesses.” It also provides coaching, marketing and other services for start-up owners.

Unlike some reward-based crowdfunding sites, iFundWomen lets campaigners keep whatever funds they raise. Of the money the site earns from funding fees, 20% goes back into supporting campaigns and services that benefit women business owners.

Indiegogo

  • Campaign types: Reward, equity
  • Industry focus: Tech and innovation
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing; whatever you raise
  • Funding fees: 5%
  • Payment fees (US): 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • Start-up locations allowed: Worldwide

A big plus is that Indiegogo allows campaigners to choose to structure either a fixed or flexible funding arrangement for your campaign. If you choose flexible funding, you still get the money even if you don’t fully reach your goal. Fixed funding is the same as all campaigns on Kickstarter. Reach your funding goal or the funds are returned to prospective backers (see below). Either way, campaigners must deliver the equity and/or rewards that you promised to supporters.

The site has millions of visitors and the traffic can, in theory, be great for your campaign. If you get featured in your category, your project will be exposed to a ton of people and possibly bringing in many backers. The problem with the mega-sites is that it’s difficult to get featured and your campaign can easily get lost in a sea of other aspirants.

Kickstarter

  • Campaign type: Reward
  • Industry focus: Creative arts
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing
  • Funding fees: 5% of successful campaigns
  • Payment fees (US): 3% + $0.20 per pledge $10 and over; 5% + $0.05 per pledge under $10
  • Start-up locations allowed: US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands

Red alert people! Kickstarter campaigns are all or nothing. Meaning, if you can’t meet or exceed your funding goal, all the money is returned to your prospective backers. You had better know that you have enough check-writing friends to get your campaign to the first milestone and that the strength of your project, supported by a very compelling marketing outreach, will carry you across the finish line.

On top of that, the platform is highly competitive and carefully selects the projects allowed on the site. You cannot fund just any business on Kickstarter—you must “create something to share with others.” Your project also needs to fall under one of site’s curated categories, such as arts and crafts, fashion and design, film and photography, games, and technology.

Moreover, investors will expect some type of reward, so you’ll need something of value for the swag bag you must distribute to investors (and you must categorize rewards by their value, to correspond with the amount of donations). So if you’re trying to scale your Public Relations business, what might your reward be—3 years of free press releases? I dunno.

Kiva—Best for micro-loans

  • Campaign type: Debt
  • Industry focus: Startups interested in microloans
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing
  • Funding fees: N/A
  • Payment fees (US): N/A
  • Start-up locations allowed: United States

If you will accept taking on debt, this not-for-profit style platform could be your most affordable option. Successfully funded Kiva campaigns give your start-up a 0% interest loan, the best of all borrowing options.

The loan must be repaid, but there are no funding or payment fees for you to worry about. Since Kiva requires that you prove your social capital by kicking off your campaign with donations from family and friends, that means convincing people you know to fund your business—but were’t you going to do that anyway?

Note that Kiva loans top out at $10,000; this is micro loan territory. But if you want affordable debt crowdfunding for your small fundraising goals, Kiva’s worth a look.

Publishizer

  • Campaign type: Equity
  • Industry focus: Book publishing
  • Funds you can keep: Whatever you raise
  • Funding fees: 30% of money raised
  • Payment fees (US): 2% – 4% per PayPal transaction
  • Start-up locations allowed: United States

Not all crowdfunding sites are giants, as are GoFundMe, Indiegogo and Kickstarter. In fact, most are smaller, niche-specific platforms, such as Publishizer, which was designed specifically to help authors crowdfund their books. Authors can certainly still use Kickstarter or Indiegogo, but this platform gives the benefit of having a specialized audience that supports authors and books.

Republic

  • Campaign types: Equity, reward
  • Industry focus: Start-ups with a focus on diversity
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing
  • Funding fees: 6% for the startup + 2% Crowd SAFE fee
  • Payment fees (US): 3.5% per transaction
  • Start-up locations allowed: United States

As an equity-focused crowdinvesting platform, Republic is the new kid on the block and with it’s highly selective curated selection of companies, it’s not for everyone. But for growing U.S. companies with large revenue potential, Republic’s 95% success rate for selected campaigns make it one of the most enticing platforms for connecting with willing investors. Furthermore, Republic also looks for organizations with diverse founder teams.

SeedInvest

  • Campaign type: Equity
  • Industry focus: Technology startups
  • Funds you can keep: All or nothing
  • Funding fees: 7.5% of successful campaigns + 5% equity fee
  • Payment fees (US): $0 paid by the startup; 2% paid by the investor
  • Start-up locations allowed: United States

Founded by MBA graduates and experienced investors, SeedInvest started as a way to give technology startups access to capital from people willing to make sizeable equity investments.

To start, you need at least a minimum viable product or prototype, proof of concept and two or more team members. If you make the cut, you’ll get access to both accredited and non-accredited investors for campaigns starting at $100,000.

SeedInvest’s biggest drawback is its expensive 7.5% placement fee on all successfully funded campaigns. Still, the site has a growing base of investors and successful companies, as well as a positive reputation in the entrepreneur community.

I’ll be back next week with information on how to set up your campaign. Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: ©David Cairns/ Getty Images. Roulette at the Playboy Club in London, England early 1960s

Press Release: To Send or Not to Send?

I’m impressed! You have news that you’d like to share with the world, with a particular emphasis on those who are potential clients and referral sources for your business venture, and you are sophisticated enough to think outside the box in an old-school way and consider sending—-ah ha!!—a press release. Yes, a press release remains a relevant tool, the standard route to media outreach.

While most everyone else chooses to make big announcements by way of social media you, sophisticated Freelancer friend, understand the reach and power of traditional media outlets, be it radio, neighborhood newspapers, or digital-format regional business magazines. Social media is great outreach but there are times when you want to get beyond your followers and obtain third-party support that implies objectivity and real world legitimacy.

Be aware that a press release is a marketing and sales tool. The idea is to communicate a message to customers and prospects through the vehicle of a print or online article, adding the authority and credibility of the publication to the message.

Before you go online and remind yourself how to write a press release—Who, What, When, Where, Why and How—first ask yourself these two questions and follow a couple of pointers. These may sound stringent but they’ll help you make a rational decision regarding media outreach for your organization.

  1. Am I newsworthy? Do you or your company that regularly receive media attention? If so, then you are newsworthy. Press releases by larger, established, household-name companies receive more attention than smaller companies and startups. Have you or your enterprise received any media attention at all? If so, that puts you at an advantage. Or, have you served on the board of your local chamber of commerce, library, or neighborhood business association? Are you a long-term and active member of a neighborhood group, school, Rotary Club, or place of worship? In other words, are you well-known in your community and can you leverage your renown to persuade an editor or reporter that you have sufficient name recognition among the media outlet’s readers or listeners that would motivate them to learn more about you?
  2. Is my story/announcement news? To get your message communicated through the publication, you’ll need to convince a reporter or editor that your message (or the story surrounding it) is newsworthy. Your story must have the potential to appeal to the readership of the publication, or listening audience if podcast or radio. So if your goal is to fill seats at a conference, don’t send a press release. The most important element of a press release is that it’s helpful to reporters, by offering them news of interest to their audience. Journalists don’t care to help fill seats at your conference.                                                                                                3. Write like a reporter   If your press release looks and feels like a real article, reporters will often just file it as a story with minimal editing. Therefore, it’s up to you to make sure that your press release looks and feels like a real news item. Avoid using business jargon.                                                     4. Call media outlets to confirm interest in your story Before sending a press release, call all media outlets on your wish list and ask to speak to the (business) appropriate editor or reporter. Do yourself a favor and read 3 – 4 issues to familiarize yourself with the types of stories that are carried and the names of reporters who cover your topic. Then, contact the reporters that you really want to cover the story. Mention that you’ve read their stories and name at least two. If you reach an editor, still make it known that you are familiar with other stories in your category.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: (circa 1988) Phil Donahue (L) and candidate for president George H.W. Bush on The Phil Donahue Show.

How B2Bs Use Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

A 360 Degree View of Your Brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

The Hidden Codes of Body Language

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

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

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

The box—trustworthy and truthful

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

Hold the ball—commanding, dominant and in-charge

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

Pyramid hands—calm and self-assured

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

Wide stance—confident and in control

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

Palms up—honest and accepting

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

Palms down—strong and assertive, yet calming

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Your Business Advisor

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

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

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

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

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

Ask questions

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

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

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

Expectations

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

Job specs

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

On your end

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

The money talk

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

References

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

Contract

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

7 Kinds of Business Financing

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

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

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

Line of credit

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

Short-term loan

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

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

Secured loan

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

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

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

Term loan

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

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

Equipment loan

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

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

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

Purchase order financing

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

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

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

Invoice financing

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

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

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

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

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

Business type Payment Tax return Payroll Tax

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

Single LLC Member draw 1040/ Sched. C Yes

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

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

C Corporation Dividends 1040 dividends not on dividends

Sole Proprietor

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

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

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

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

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

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

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

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

Corporations

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Elevator Pitch: Master Class

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

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

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

Skills or functions?

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Keepin Up with Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What business leaders can do

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

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

Happy New Year and thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Multiplication Table: Inclusive Interpretations of Business Growth

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

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

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

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

Churn

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

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

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

Referrals

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

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

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

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

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

Kim

Photograph: © The School Run

Getting Clients: The Reboot 2020

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

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

KNOW YOUR NICHE

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

GETTING CLEAR ON CLIENTS

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

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

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

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

MARKETING CREDIBILITY

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

KNOW YOUR COMPETITION

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

CASE STUDIES

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

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

EASY TO DO BUSINESS

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

10 Great Client Gifts for Under $25.00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

2019 Tax Prep + Deductions

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

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

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

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

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

Business-related travel, meals and lodging

Membership in business and professional associations

Office required equipment or materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Google Says You Are What You EAT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading,

Kim

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

10 Qualities Leaders Need to Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Guiding Light: Your Business Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

2020 Health Insurance Open Enrollment: The Facts

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

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

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

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

The open enrollment period differs in these states: 

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

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

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

Marketplace Open Enrollment is for health insurance only

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

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

Remember to enroll!

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

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

Update your plan during Open Enrollment only

What you can do during open enrollment:

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

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

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

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

ACA Premiums set to decrease for some plans

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

Choose a level of health plan coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

The average premiums for individual coverage according to eHealth:

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

The average premiums for family coverage according to ehealth:

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

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

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

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

Not all states require health insurance

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

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

I hope you found this information helpful.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Got Power? 6 Types You Should Recognize

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

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

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

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

Formal Power

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

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

Kingmaker Power

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

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

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

Expert Power

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

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

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

Charismatic Power

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

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

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

Relationship Power

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

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

Coercive Power

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

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

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

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

Happy Halloween and thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Defining and Delivering Good Customer Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Date night at the malt shoppe 1930s USA

Bad Decisions: Or, Why We Screw Up

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

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

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

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

Decision fatigue

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

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

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

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

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

Insufficient information

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

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

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

Multi-tasking

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

Analysis Paralysis

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

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

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

Emotions

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

5 Genius Questions for Your Customer Survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Prediction: Emerging Social Media Platforms 2019 – 2020

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

Lasso

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

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

Steemit

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

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

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

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

TikTok

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

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

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

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

Vero

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

How Freelancers Scale Up

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

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

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

Scale the Brand

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

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

Scale client acquisition

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

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

Scale your network

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

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

Scale your skills

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

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

Scale your creativity

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

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

Scale your systems

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

6 Questions to Ask a Prospect

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

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

  1. How can I help you?

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

2. What is the problem or pain point?

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

3. What is your goal?

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

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

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

4. Have you done anything about it so far?

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

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

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

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

6. What would you like to see happen next?

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

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

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

 SIMPLIFIED GRAPHIC DESIGN

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

MANAGE RECEIPTS AND EXPENSES

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

ACCOUNTING AND INVOICING

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

NEWSLETTERS AND EMAIL MARKETING

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

SCAN BUSINESS CARDS

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

VIDEO CONFERENCES

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

TEAM COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION

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

BILLABLE HOURS MANAGEMENT AND INVOICING

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Pricing B2B Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Bragging Rites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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