Get Power Point Right

All right,  we’re concluding the  “make the most of summer”  theme by taking a look at Power Point and how we can buff up our expertise.  As we all know,  a vital ongoing business goal for Freelancers is staying visible within our client and referral pool.  That means one of your objectives as we approach September and the fourth quarter is to nail down a speaking gig at a business or professional association that is frequented by potential clients and referral sources.  That could cause you to use Power Point.

The technology has been around for 20 years but most people,  including frequent users,  still get Power Point wrong.  We put too much stuff on our slides.  Someone tells us we should liven things up and recommends that we use Clip Art,  so we throw that in plus some cheesy slide transitions,  too,  to make sure that our audience stays awake.  We use too many slides because we depend on Power Point like a crutch to move our presentation along,  rather than using our words and insights to create the flow.

I understand that when teaching a course there will be perhaps many slides and more text than in a presentation for a meeting or conference.  Nevertheless,  instructors and presenters need to unchain themselves from Power Point tyranny and learn to use the technology to its full advantage.  Here are a few guidelines that will help you to finally get Power Point right:

  • Tell a compelling story that the audience will value and understand.  The story must have a beginning,  middle and end.
  • Frame the big issue that you must address at the beginning; then discuss the major challenges and opportunities that will impact that challenge; state the solution at the end.  Conclude with a summary of key points to wrap things up.
  • Distill the major points: give broad strokes and avoid complex details.
  • Sprinkle in a few relevant charts and graphs that support your story.  They also provide visual interest.
  • Use bullet points.  Communicate in short and powerful statements,  not paragraphs.
  • Do not clutter your slides with text.  Do not use  “busy”  charts or graphs.  Make the slides clear and easy to read.
  • Check your spelling and grammar.
  • Keep the fonts consistent and background colors and designs appropriate to your topic and audience.  Avoid Clip Art and distracting slide transitions.
  • Practice your presentation and ensure that your dialogue and slides work together smoothly.
  • Be enthusiastic,  be confident and engage your audience.  Have fun!


Thanks for reading,


Take a Vacation

It’s a counterintuitive approach,  but if you want to work smarter and be more productive,  then take a few days off and go away on vacation.  I realize that can be easier said than done for Freelancers and others in the billable hours universe.  Especially in a soft economy,  many of us are doing all we can to cover the monthly bills and the thought of slacking off on business pursuits is almost unthinkable.

Yet,  numerous researchers have demonstrated that vacations are comparable to a process improvement in your business,  resulting in increased productivity and efficiency.  Vacation does not mean that you no longer value the clients.  In order to avoid burnout and keep your batteries charged,  taking time off and traveling to a place that allows you to relax and unwind is a wise business strategy that pays personal and professional dividends. 

Every once in a while,  humans need to forget about work and relax and enjoy ourselves.  Recent research has shown that  a three to five day mini-vacation,  rather than the traditional two week time frame,  gives the most enjoyment.   As luck would have it,  that is exactly what fits well into a Freelancer’s often erratic project-based schedule.

A 2010 study by Jeroen Nawijn,  a lecturer at Breda University of applied Sciences in The Netherlands,  found that for most people,  the planning activities and anticipation provide more satisfaction than the actual vacation.  Nawijn suggests that if possible,  several three to five day trips should be scheduled throughout the year to reap the maximum benefits of the vacation experience,  starting with the fun we have doing the planning and enjoying the anticipation of the big adventure.  As further evidence,  psychologists Leigh Thompson of Northwestern University and Terence Mitchell of the University of Washington came to the same conclusion in their 1997 study of the psychological effects of vacations for workers.

Thompson and Mitchell suggest that vacationers participate in activities that completely absorb their attention.  Lolling on the beach and drinking pineapple rum punch is very nice,  but activities are more effective in helping us to disengage from work and business pressures and get the process of true relaxation underway.  That could be visiting museums,  touring the city,  hiking,  touring vineyards,  browsing at the bazaar,  or whatever else strikes your fancy.

It’s also recommended that you unplug your electronic toys and take a break from email and voicemail.  You might miss something,  but you’ll get over it.  In exchange,  you’ll receive the many benefits our brains and psyches derive from decreased stress.  A 2009 Boston Consulting Group study showed that taking time off results in improved communication skills,  decision-making ability and problem-solving ability,  plus decreased burnout and stress and higher productivity. 

I guess we can sum it up by saying that if we don’t take a few days off work every now and again,  we’ll just get tired and cranky and less effective.  We also won’t absorb information or learn as well,  which is why public schools give students 5 days off every three months or so.

I’m happy to tell all of you that I finally took a vacation myself,  after not taking any time off in about three years.  I spent 5 days on the coast of Maine.  I did not check email or voicemail.  I also missed my friend Jeremiah’s party (damn!),  but what can I say?  I had a great time soaking up sunshine,  drinking wine,  eating lobster,  visiting art galleries and taking in the sights.  I feel so much better!

Thanks for reading,


Business Books to Read Summer 2011

Our Summer idyll will end in just a couple of weeks, but there’s still time to squeeze in some all-important professional development and maybe a meeting with a promising prospect, too.  Freelancers cannot afford to merely work hard when September rolls around.  We must also work smart.  I’m lucky to have discovered a trove of worthwhile business books that will make me smarter and I’m happy to pass along my take on what I’ve read.

The books will teach us effective ways to turn prospects into clients (sell only to VITOs),  how to devise business goals and strategies that will ensure our long-term success (because the red ocean is where you’ll drown)  and that  y=f(x) —and how to apply that formula to make both our own and our clients’ business processes operate more efficiently and profitably (what’s your sigma?).

The Borders book chain is going out of business, so why not make the most of that sad event and scoop up a few titles on the cheap? What’s not left on the shelves at Borders can be checked out of your local library.  Get started now on creating both a strong fourth quarter and laying the groundwork for a financially healthy 2012.

The Secrets of VITO: Think and Sell Like a CEO (2002)  Anthony Parinello
If Freelancers expect to convince decision-makers to award us assignments,  it is imperative that we understand what motivates them to hire us.  This astute and sophisticated book helps Freelancers understand the standard concerns,  priorities and mindset of the typical CEO or organization leader.  Learn how to win trust and convey expertise.  Learn smart ways to approach, persuade,  negotiate with and sell to those who can either veto or green-light our projects.

Blue Ocean Strategy (2005)  W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

Blue Oceans represent untapped markets and undiscovered customer preferences.  Who knew they craved Sony’s Walkman or Apple’s iPod until the marketing campaign told them so?  Red Oceans represent mature,  shrinking and highly competitive markets.  Remain there and your business will surely operate in the red and perish. This classic guide to innovative strategy development shows Freelancers,  business owners,  corporate execs and nonprofit organization leaders how to pursue fearless, rational and uncomplicated approaches that will redefine and energize strategic direction,  articulation of the value proposition, the business model and marketing.

Six Sigma for Dummies (2005)  Neil DeCarlo, Craig Gygi and Bruce Williams

Six Sigma is a highly sophisticated and exacting data-driven process improvement system that was originally designed for manufacturing companies.  However,  the system can be successfully applied to service delivery as well,  from hospitals and health clinics to restaurants and financial institutions.  Six Sigma will substantively minimize errors and inefficient practices in product manufacturing and service delivery systems.  The material is complex,  but the book is well-written and very clear.  I found that anyone whose work involves operations,  strategy or finance will benefit from exposure to the basics of Six Sigma, whether or not you become formally trained in its tenets.  You’re bound to gain useful insights on how to accurately measure, assess and streamline the delivery of your organization’s products or services.

Thanks for reading,

Summer Reading List

For just about all of us,  the school year Summer Break meant having fun: hanging out with friends,  going on picnics and trips to the beach,  summer camp and family vacations.  Yet Summer was not all fun.  When I reached high school,  Mom and Dad made sure I got a job every year,  so I would earn some money and learn the habit of saving when they insisted that I bank half of my paycheck each week.

Also,  students at my college-prep public high school were required to read two books  (from the school’s list)  over the Summer and submit a book report for each when we returned to school in September.  I’ve always been an avid reader,  so the reading assignment was never a chore for me  (although I disliked writing the book reports).

This year,  I decided to renew that tradition and get into some business-themed books.  It had been a while since I’d mined that category and I had the appetite to make up for lost time.  Here are three books I’ve read since June.  Maybe you’d like to suggest a few titles that you’ve found to be useful?

TouchPoints  (2011)     Douglas Conant and Mette Norgaard

Freelancers,  corporate execs,  nonprofit organization leaders and business owners all require leadership training.  This excellent and informative book provides first-rate lessons for experienced leaders and those new to the club.  Learn how to create a leadership model that reflects your unique style and values,  rather than merely mimicking a cookie-cutter template.  Learn how communication skills promote leadership skills.  Explore the existential question of why you choose to lead.

Knowing Your Value  (2011)     Mika Brzezinski

Although this book’s intent is to confirm that women deserve to receive appropriate financial reward for their professional gifts and teach them how to successfully negotiate a raise,  salary or contract fee  (and other perks)  that accurately reflect the value they bring to the organization for which they work,  I recommend this useful and enjoyable book for both genders.  The Haves are shamelessly using the weak economy to withhold money from the Have-nots and that means we all need to learn how and when and under what conditions we can respectfully request money and recognition  (plus a good title!).

Black Faces in White Places  (2011)     Randal Pinkett and Jeffrey Robinson

The title of this book is misleading.  It is not primarily a book about survival strategies designed to assist people of color who work in Euro-American dominated environments.  Randal Pinkett was the winning contestant on  “The Apprentice”  in 2005  and he is the only African-American to be named the winner.  The authors do speculate as to why no other  “Apprentice”  winner has ever been asked to consider sharing the prize.  Was it subtle racism?  Only Trump knows.  But who among us has not been treated unfairly at some point?  The authors posit that the most reliable way to triumph in life and business is to deliver excellence and that is the subject of this well-written,  dense and absorbing book.  Pinkett and Robinson  (who run a lucrative consulting firm)  provide a detailed roadmap that is applicable to Freelancers,  business owners and all professionals of all races.  Learn to identify your passions and your purpose,  nurture beneficial relationships,  develop and consistently deliver excellence and give back generously,  to pay it forward and mentor others.

I’ll be back next week with the rest of my Summer reading list.

Thanks for reading,


More Smart Responses to Common Objections

You’re a smart,  ambitious Freelance cookie and you’ve set up appointments this Summer with prospective clients who could award contracts that will pay you in fourth quarter and perhaps beyond.  You’ve thanked the saints for finally allowing you to sit down with a much sought-after prospect and the last thing you need is an objection slithering into your Garden of Eden,  ready to poison the victory.  Here are more smart approaches to common categories of objections that will help you put them to rest and start building a lucrative client list.

I.    Too Small

Your prospective client may be impressed with your insights and proposed solutions,  yet fear that your consultancy lacks the capacity to successfully execute complex projects.  There is a fear that the job you’re discussing is too big for your plate.  To counter,  reassure your prospect by emphasizing that his/her needs and priorities will always receive prompt and meticulous attention because all aspects of the project will be personally overseen by the principal—you.  Stress that you are always immediately responsive and able to elegantly customize all required services.  Furthermore,  should more hands be needed,  you have a carefully curated group of associates to call upon to handle specific tasks,  when necessary.

II.   No Money

Especially when looking to perform consulting services at not-for-profit organizations,  remember that meager budgets are an issue and the problem will continue to bedevil NFPs for the foreseeable future.  I’ve been burned by NFPs who’ve invited me in to discuss projects for which  (unknown to me)  there is no extant budget.  Getting reliable information about the financial reality may be difficult; even executive directors and board chairs can be evasive and coy about money.  They are not afraid to waste your time.

The game most often will be played by a small organization that has fingers crossed about receiving grant money.  However,  the hoped-for grant may not arrive and the client could disappear on you.  Protect yourself by trying to encourage transparency by breaking the project down into smaller bites.  Start by asking the NFP prospect what he/she would like to achieve and clarify what your role will be.  Diplomatically inquire as to whether a budget has been established for the project.

Next,  ask for project needs to be prioritized:  the  “must-do”,  the  “would be helpful” and “this too, if we can afford”.  In your written proposal,  package and price your services in ascending tiers,  thus scaling the project in accordance to client priorities and budget.  Clearly emphasize the ROI of the project and how it is an investment in furthering organization objectives and its future.

Thanks for reading,