Christmas Party Networking: What Would Santa Do?

Holiday season is here, hooray!  OK, maybe not hooray for everyone.  Not everyone celebrates Christmas.  Those who do sometimes feel pressured to spend more money and time on gifts and activities than they’d like, all the while projecting a façade of holiday cheer, in order to avoid disappointing others.  But the season is what it is and it’s not going to change.  If you can talk yourself into the right frame of mind, it’s probably possible to get something more valuable out of Christmas than 10 extra pounds and a stack of bills to pay.  Let’s talk about it.

Holidays mean parties and parties are about renewing and creating relationships.  If you go to the right parties you will have a good time, if you let yourself.  So why not go for it and make the holidays work for you?

Christmas party invitations will slip into your inbox and give you decisions to make.  Chances are you will not have the time, energy, or money to accept all of your invitations.  One way to plan your December calendar is to divide your party possibilities into business and social categories and edit from there.

It might be most enjoyable for you to attend a mix of business related and social occasions, to promote a healthy work-life balance for yourself.  Social invitations can be ranked according to your relationship with the host.  You’ll be happy to turn out for a party given by a dear friend or favorite cousin with a bottle of wine or some other host gift in hand, because you are a good friend and a good guest.  If you are a member of a social organization, you may choose to attend that party as well.

Professional association parties require a more carefully crafted strategy, because networking with the goal of identifying someone with whom you can create a potentially profitable business relationship will be on your mind.  Which parties are likely to offer good networking opportunities along with an atmosphere that makes it fun to catch up and schmooze with colleagues? There will be an admission charge and cash bar.  Where might you get the best value-added? Ask yourself two questions and evaluate your choices:

  1. Who are my best business prospects?

To which industries do you sell your products and/or services? Are your customers B2B, B2C, or B2G, for-profit or not-for-profit, small, medium or Fortune 1000? What are the job titles of the decision-makers and key influencers?

     2.   Where might I meet those prospects?

If your customers are small businesses, then chambers of commerce or neighborhood business associations are good places to find business owners, who are the decision-maker for all important products and services.

If your customers are Fortune 1000 or even prosperous mid-size businesses, you’ll be better off joining a committee or the board of a not-for-profit organization, or exploring service clubs such as the Kiwanis or Rotary Club, which are hubs for professionals who want to volunteer their services.  You will be much more likely to find decision-makers at the philanthropic organizations.  Invest your time and talent and get to know potential prospects and referral sources as you demonstrate your competencies and leadership skills through the service work that you do.

If networking is your purpose for attending a party, you’ll have more success meeting people when you go alone.  You’ll be forced to introduce yourself and talk with others and in so doing, you’ll meet people whom you may not have met if you brought along your spouse, good friend, or colleague.

Nearly all party invitations are now sent by Evite and that gives guests the huge advantage of seeing who has signed up to attend.  Otherwise, if you have the right relationship, call the host to RSVP by phone and tactfully inquire about the guest list.  Don’t be ashamed to perform an internet and social media search to help yourself prepare talking points and questions for guests you’d like to reconnect with or meet.

Finally, figure out the party dress code.  A Sunday afternoon tree trimming party at the home of friends or family means relaxed business casual attire.  Wear business attire to professional association parties, which are nearly always held on a week night. Gatherings at someone’s home or at a social organization on a Friday or Saturday evening can mean that guests will wear anything from black-tie to more relaxed, yet festive attire.

Now, go check your email!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Roman Sarcophagus (detail), 240-260 BC    Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art  Kansas City, MO

 

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Make Your Marketing Content Pop

Long time readers of Freelance: the Consultant’s Diary  noticed that a few months ago, I was inspired to regularly add artwork to the posts, something that in the 9 years I’ve been writing for you had been done only four times (including one movie trailer video).  Regularly including artwork with the posts occurred to me after I went to see the Tall Ships Parade at Boston Harbor one Saturday afternoon in mid-June.  I used my iPhone to take photos of those amazing ships and decided to post one on my LinkedIn site and another on a blog post.  I loved the look of the photo with the post, even if it in no way referred to what was written.  I was just giddy over the fact that I took a group of nice-looking photos, something that is not guaranteed with me! I was off to the races.

But where could I obtain interesting, free and legal images on a regular basis? In the U.S., intellectual property laws are  enforced and using the work of a photographer or painter without permission or (sometimes) payment could result in a lawsuit.

Some of you will recall that a few months ago I served as an (uncredited) editor and photo editor for a short women’s history book.  My job was to source mostly historic (and preferably free) photographs.  I visited the Boston Public Library website, which has links to Flickr and  Digital Commonwealth collections that were very helpful.  You’ll find thousands of historic and other photos on the site and nearly all have no copyright restrictions and are free to use.  BPL appreciates a line of attribution, “Photograph (or image) courtesy of Boston Public Library.”

The New York Public Library is another excellent source of (mostly) free historic photographs  Wallach Collection of Prints and Photographs . NYPL would also appreciate a credit for images used in your published content.  Be sure to confirm who has rights to the image and follow the directions for inclusion in your content.

Not every photo is free to use.  From the British Museum in London’s site (where there are hundreds of thousands of images of paintings, photographs and fine art objects), there are guidelines to keep marketers and researchers on the right side of the law  copyright and permissions . I’ve requested and received permission for three or four photographs.  Lucky me, I obtained those permissions within 24 hours, but if a photographer or other artist is deceased and the work is now controlled by a foundation, it could take a month or more for the board to review your request and make a decision. BTW, copyright and IP laws are applied more loosely for a blog or newsletter that features no advertising and more strictly for a book.

When looking for free contemporary stock photos, you’ll find 200,000 mostly in color on Unsplash .  The photographers would appreciate a credit line and a thank you sent.  Morguefile  is another site that I’ve successfully used, with its 350,000 mostly color photographs to comb through.  Be aware, however, that stock photos often do not resonate with viewers, even if what you find illustrates the story you are telling.  That is why most of my blog photos are fine art paintings or photographs.

The images that you include in your newsletter, website, blog, ads, or social media should reflect your brand and reinforce the story you tell.  Searching for appropriate images is time-consuming, but I consider it time well spent.  You, gentle reader, are well worth the investment.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving,

Kim

Image: Freedom from Want (The Thanksgiving Picture)  Norman Rockwell, 1942   Courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA

 

Client Retention: Surpass the Minimum

In 1990, the consulting group Bain & Company and Earl Sasser of the Harvard Business School analyzed the costs and revenues derived from serving clients over their entire purchasing life cycle and found that regardless of the industry, the high cost of acquiring clients will render many business relationships unprofitable during their early years.

Acquiring a new client can cost up to five times more than it does to retain a current client.  It is only over time, when the cost of serving a long-term client falls as the volume of their purchases rises, that these relationships generate big returns.

The Bain-HBS review found that when the client retention rate increases by 5%, profits increase by 25% – 95%.  Also, long-term clients are more likely to refer new clients to the business and increase sales revenues and profits accordingly.

That said, an ongoing client retention strategy is a must-do for all Freelance consultants and business owners.  Read on and discover how your organization can embed client retention practices in nearly every step of your client interactions.

Context and expectations

When you propose a solution designed to help your client resolve a problem or achieve an objective, include in the conversation your rationale for presenting that particular path rather than another.  Make it possible for the client to better appreciate your decision-making process and divulge how you carefully considered his/her priorities, values, budget, staffing, or other factors that impacted your recommended solution.

We may infrequently discuss the behind-the-scenes thinking that guides the possibilities we envision for a client and his/her organization.  Revealing your big picture thinking demonstrates the depth of the value you attach to the client and his/her unique circumstances and that builds loyalty, trust and a good relationship.

Become an adviser

Don’t shy away from asking questions that will surface your client’s sometimes unexpressed expectations or concerns.  You may discover a solution that is ideally tailored to the clients’ needs when you employ the consultative approach to selling.  You and your client can collaborate on the development of the solution if s/he is comfortable with that process.  Buy-in is a given when the client is a co-author of the process.

Along the way, let your client know what to expect as the solution is implemented; it will also be helpful to review what success looks like.  Communicate often, so that the client understands where you are with the project, especially as regards milestones, Key Performance Indicators, the deadline and other agreed-upon metrics.

Moreover, depending on your product or service line, recommend services to your clients, based on their previous purchases.  According to a 2015 survey of marketers, this personalized touch generates a high ROI.  It shows that you’ve paid attention to client preferences and it is a compliment.

Finally, we are nearing Holiday time.  Make sure that you send cards to clients you’ve interacted with over the past five years.  Who among us does not appreciate a card at this time of year, when we reach out to those who matter?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Corine Vermuelen (2013)  Alicia and John George, owners of Motor City Java House in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood

 

 

The Confidence Game

More than a dozen years ago, after being laid off from a Fortune 100 company and learning that hiring managers were not interested in our skills, or they were not interested in those skills when attached to someone over age 40, a work colleague and I each launched ourselves into the self-employed life, specializing in different aspects of business strategy and marketing services.

We each suffered through lean financial times, but eventually I broke through to regularly generate a comfortable, although by no means extravagant, level of business earnings.  Unfortunately,  my friend and colleague has continued to struggle, if not starve.

I was recently inspired to estimate the value that the projects I’m hired to manage bring to my clients’ organizations (an important factor when calculating the project fee, BTW) and concluded that the impact of my work is worth a five-figure sum to the client.  My clients’ confidence in me extends to an unspoken but consistent (monetary) value.  I am trusted to manage the five-figure tier of responsibility for the small and medium size for-profit and not-for-profit organizations on my client roster.

I imagine the limitation is at least partly related to the fact that I work alone (although I have colleagues to enlist if a project exceeds my ability to fulfill the scope).  My projects are mostly ongoing and modestly paying contracts, interspersed with short-term, more lucrative, assignments.  When invited to meet with a prospective client, I usually get hired.

My friend, who also works as a Freelance consultant, is infrequently called to speak with prospective clients about her marketing services and when she is invited to discuss a project, she is seldom hired.  The projects that she aspires to manage can be confidently estimated to have a seven-figure value to her prospects’ organizations.

My theory is that my friend is so seldom hired because even her most solid prospects remain uncomfortable about the capability of a one-person shop to successfully get the job done and help them achieve very important, high price-tag goals.  Her prospective clients apparently do not trust her to successfully manage and impact that tier of responsibility and so she is not hired

At a cocktail party last weekend, I had the unexpected opportunity to meet a lady who does precisely what my friend would like to do.  But this lady does not work alone.  She is part of a three or four person team that offers clients a comprehensive package of services that my friend could never deliver.  I doubt that she could ever persuade those with the necessary expertise and experience to work with her because she lacks the professional stature that would give them the confidence to do so.  My friend and colleague is out of her league and refuses to acknowledge it.

Another acquaintance recently closed her business, rather than sell it (I wonder if she preferred not to disclose financial statements that would reveal to potential buyers that she’d been using her own money to float the organization for five years or more). About three years ago, she invited me to her office to discuss how the two of us might do some business.  We were together for about half the day and we were joined by her second-in-command. Her goal was very straightforward—-win back former clients and acquire new ones.

I suggested the creation of a monthly newsletter, a form of content marketing that has been shown to be an effective client outreach tool if properly chosen topics are featured.  I would be happy to produce the newsletter and take on as much of its production as was mutually agreeable.

That time, I was not hired.  No one was hired and there was no content marketing campaign.  It became obvious that this very elegant lady, who over 50+ years built a business with an enviable client list that was now quite diminished, did not warm up to the current marketing methods, including an e-newsletter.  She did not trust the process.

So what can we learn from these three tales?  First, we can acknowledge that trust and confidence play a foundational role in all relationships, business and personal.  Second, those who elect to go into business or self-employment are advised to offer products or services in which you have the deep knowledge and experience that gives prospective clients and potential referral sources the confidence to hire or recommend you.  Do that and you will succeed in business.

In closing, let’s heed the advice of entrepreneur and selling skills trainer Grant Cardone, author of Sell or Be Sold  (2012), who says that getting sales is often not about money (pricing), but about the buyer having confidence in three things:

  1. Confidence in the product or service
  2. Confidence in the salesperson
  3. Confidence in the company

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-81), Pierre-Auguste Renoir