How to Monetize Your Brand

In the internet age, there are numerous Freelancers who gain significant notoriety through social media platforms, mainly Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or their blogs.  Their accounts have thousands of subscribers and followers.  Paid advertising deals have come to about all of them and provide a revenue stream.  However, advertising deals are not all equal and advertising rates received can be too low to substantively impact one’s financial status.  Often, the achievement of notoriety earns these Freelancers little money.

Among the primary differences in earning a living in the 20th and 21st centuries is that in the former, one made money by doing a particular activity, such as law, medicine, secretarial, writing, or being a musical entertainer.  In this century, there are proportionately far fewer traditionally employed full-time workers and many more of the self-employed.

A 2017 study by Intuit (maker of QuickBooks) reports that 34% of U.S. workers are self-employed, swelled by Lyft and Uber drivers who join the usual plumbers, electricians, website developers and event planners.  The path to money for Freelancers is to skillfully parlay the achievement of notoriety into a series of revenue streams that create a sustainable income.

For example, Freelance writers of magazine articles were formerly paid $1.00 per word or more and many publications would regularly hire writers to produce 500 – 1500 word articles. The writing life was good.  Even those who wrote for a mid-level daily newspaper and occasionally submitted a story to a middle-brow magazine could be financially comfortable.

Then the internet age arrived and turned the world on its head, in more ways than one.   Online ads may sometimes be clever but they are apparently perceived as less compelling than the full-page ads that once fattened your Sunday newspaper and as a result, online ads command a lower price.  Advertising revenue is tanking and has caused publishers to cut back on editors’ salaries and perks.  Compensation for writers at online magazines is a mere pittance.  In the literary world, advances to writers have become smaller and less frequent.  Book tours are for big-name authors only.  Publishers and editors-in-chief have much smaller budgets and the chauffeured town car to take them to the office is about to disappear.  The Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone editors-in-chief recently announced their retirements.

Musical entertainers of every level made money from record sales, singles and albums, plus touring.  But in the late 1990s that began to change when Napster brought about peer-to-peer sharing of music files. Today, music is downloaded and performers from Nicki Minaj, who is the face of MAC cosmetics, to Lady Gaga for Tiffany & Company, use their famous brands to generate millions of dollars for the corporation and themselves by appearing in ads.  Touring remains relevant but music sales, for decades the very reason for being for a musical entertainer, are greatly diminished.

In the 21st century, one must learn to generate a livable and sustainable income as a result of one’s writing, or other expertise.  This is an unprecedented shift in the way an economy works.  The big challenge for those of us who are self-employed and following the playbook as regards developing a strong online presence, teaching at the university level, speaking at business and professional associations will not appear in an auto advertisement any time soon monetize their comparatively modest brand and perhaps superior expertise?  For those who no longer find an open door to full-time, benefits paying employment, making a living only becomes more difficult as time goes on.

So what does one do? Suggestions on how to make money by building on your brand will be featured in next week’s post.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Academy Award winning actress Joan Crawford (Best Actress 1945, Mildred Pierce), who was the Pepsi Cola brand ambassador, in Frankfurt, Germany (1963).  Photograph: Tony Evanoski/Stars and Stripes (publication that has served military personnel since 1936)

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Freelancers Hiring Freelancers

Are you preparing to submit a proposal for a big assignment you hope to win and know that the project specifications will cause you to subcontract some of the work? Congratulations! You will have the pleasure of hiring one or more of your Freelancer peers. Together, you will become a team whose mission will be to produce the client’s deliverables by achieving outcomes of the highest quality, on or in advance of the project deadline and on budget.

You, the external team leader, must understand the skills that the project requires, know how much it will cost to secure the services of your Freelancer team and write a winning proposal.  Project management is an everyday reality for Freelance consultants and the bigger the project, the more planning is involved. Your reputation is forever on the line and when subcontracted work is involved, you must be diligent in your search to identify the best talent to bring on board.  Read on and get some helpful advice on how to assemble a winning team that will enhance your brand and your billable hours, current and future.

Get budget estimate

Get a reliable project budget estimate from your client, if possible.  If the client prefers playing possum with that amount, then make sure you are able to accurately estimate both the quantity and quality of work the project requires so that you can first, calculate your own labor cost and target profit margin and next, understand what you must budget to pay your subcontractors.

Hire specialists

Directly ask candidates you interview and confirm that the skill you need is a competency in which that candidate excels and that s/he has performed often enough to claim deep experience.  You are in no position to train someone on the job.  You must guarantee superior results.

Pay well

Why not ask candidates what they want to make as a subcontractor on the project? Start by researching the going rate range for that specialty, so that you’ll know what to expect to pay and you can rule out those who attempt to take advantage of you.  People will do their best work when they feel valued. They’ll be happy to give extra to make you look good and make themselves shine along with you.  They’ll go above and beyond because they’ll want to be hired to work with you again since you value their capabilities.

If you encounter someone who seems a perfect fit for the project but his/her subcontracting fee is somewhat beyond what you planned to offer, then ask what perks might make that person happy, in addition to money.  You may be able to get who you want for a little less money if you give a little more in another area that demonstrates how you value the skill set.

Set clear expectations

If the project is on a tight time frame and in order to meet the deadline long hours and a seven-days-a-week schedule will be needed then you, the external team leader, must present this schedule information to your candidates in the interview.  You need team members who are able to block out the necessary time and are willing to work hard.  If time is an issue, expect to pay a premium to your subcontractors and add a premium to your own fee as well. Develop a contract for your subcontractors, so that all responsibilities, relevant milestones, the project deadline and the rate of pay are in writing.

Communicate often

Request weekly or bi-weekly written progress reports from your subcontractors and send similar updates to your client.  Announce to the client and your subcontractors whenever a project milestone has been met.  Interim victories will give you an opportunity to thank and congratulate your subcontractors and inspire them as you do.  Learning that you and your team have reached a milestone gives your client confidence in you.

View work samples

In the subcontractor interviews, be sure that work samples provided correspond with the project specs, to confirm that you are evaluating what is relevant.

Check references

Ask to speak with two of your candidate’s clients.  Confirm the type of work that the candidate has done for each reference.  Inquire about the quality of that work and the candidate’s willingness to do what was needed to get the job done.  Ask what it’s like to work with the candidate—is s/he positive and upbeat, or a constant complainer? Finally, ask if there’s anything else you should know about the experience of working with the candidate.

Paperwork

Once you understand the project specs, the role that your subcontractors will play and what you will pay for their services, you can then write a draft contract.  Also, download from the IRS website tax form W-9 for your subcontractors to complete and return to you. You’ll retain the W-9 and use it to prepare and mail to subcontractors IRS form 1099 before January 31 of the following year if payments to any subcontractor reach $600.

Finally, set up an accounting method that will allow you to easily and accurately calculate hours worked and dollars earned for each subcontractor.  If you’ve seldom worked with subcontractors, then speak with a bookkeeper or accountant for more information.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Seven Samurai (Japan, 1954) Directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune (foreground)

 

When Negotiating A Project Fee

There are ways to strong-arm a highly competent Freelance professional who is ready to give a client his/her best work into accepting less than that Freelancer’s proposed project fee.  So many desperadoes are willing to work for pennies and that can make it difficult for those whose work quite simply is more valuable because s/he brings expertise and work ethic that ensure the project work will be flawless and client expectations will be met.  Those qualities should justify almost any project fee.  But sometimes, clients like to low-ball.

What do you do when s/he who would be your client tells you that you charge rather more than others for the same work? Remember that the best defense is a good offense and start justifying your pricing strategy from your initial contact with the prospect. Continuously model professionalism and expertise that separate you from the hoi polloi.

Remember also that Rule Number One in the consultant’s bible is to never cut your price. Not-for-profit organizations can receive a 10%- 25% discounted rate, but under no circumstances do you lower your hourly or project fee for any client.

Instead, add in a modest service upgrade at no charge, to make the price more palatable.  You can also scale back the work and that would be associated with a fee reduction, but one does not do the originally requested work for less money.  If the client becomes adamant about receiving the original project specs at less than your proposed fee, then find the courage to walk away.

I know that billable hours may not be falling out of trees, but you cannot participate in a race to the bottom.  Do not get sucked into competing with online Freelance service mills.  Read on and learn to create your rebuttal.

Exhibit your expertise

Clients get what they pay for and pay for what they get! Let prospective clients know that when you are hired, a task can be completely handed over to you and you will own it. Furthermore, you are willing to use your expertise to make suggestions that might improve the quality of the project deliverables.  You are a first-rate service provider who is dependable, responsive, talented and trustworthy.  Your work is done correctly the first time and there will be no need for either micromanaging or do-overs.  The client’s role in completing the project will be much lighter and that adds up to value.  These practices and competencies are reflected in your project fee and hourly rate.

Reveal your responsiveness

Especially when an important deadline looms, reassure your prospect that you are prepared to work hard and ensure that project milestones and the deadline are met.  You understand that sometimes, late nights, weekends and holidays must be at least partly devoted to work.  Your admirable work ethic is reflected in your project fee and clients who are in a hurry find your fee structure reasonable.  Your project fee includes timely communications, responding to feedback, generating ideas and more.

Demonstrate your dependability

Clients can be confident and relax when you are on the job because they know and trust your work, attention to detail and diligence.  You make life easier and allow the client to attend to other duties while you manage the project.  Project work is reliably completed as requested and within budget.  Your clients look good to their superiors, peers and direct reports.  No one winds up with egg on their face when they hire you.

Trot out your testimonials

In addition to your LinkedIn recommendations and endorsements, you no doubt will be able to supply client testimonials from one or two satisfied customers who will speak on the record with a prospective client.  If you have one or two client success stories on your web site so muh the better, as these are case studies that detail the client journey and spell out the wonderful work you can do.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Mike Tyson (left) by Milo threeoneseven for ESPN (date unknown)

 

 

The Subtle Art of Managing Up

“Managing the boss is the way to have a win-win situation where everyone, including the organization and the project, wins.”   Wayne Turk, management consultant and author of CommonSense Management  (expected publication 2018)

Management is about listening and observing, planning and training, encouraging teamwork, developing talent and communicating, all in service of consistently producing excellent results.  The exceptionally effective manager is astute enough to realize the benefits of managing both up and down the organization chart.

Freelance consultants, organization outsiders who must swiftly and expertly put together a plan for successful project management, are advised to learn to manage up as a way to understand the stated and perhaps also unstated expectations of your client.  Manage up and learn what to say and whom to say it to when you must get results that get you noticed by the right people for the right reasons.  Managing up helps you develop the insight and relationships to become an admired, trusted and respected professional who reliably produces the project deliverables and obtains referrals from satisfied clients.

There is also the process of managing down, which could be implemented when you hire Freelance subcontractors to assist with aspects of a project.  In your role as hiring manager, manage down to ensure that your subcontractors receive the information, tools and support to do their best work.  Describe the project mission in writing, along with the subcontractor project specs,  give them what they need to get the job done and then get out of their way and let them show their talent.

Never micromanage, praise and reward excellent performance, be an advocate and communicate always. Don’t keep them in the dark about what is going on at the organization.  Do this and you will be rewarded with a high-achieving and loyal team that makes you look good to your client.

Communication is the heart of managing up or down and when you manage up, be mindful that the client has more power than you and they can use that power to either help you or crush you.  Note the preferred communication style of your client contact and present information (and requests) accordingly.  What seems to make him/her most comfortable when communicating, or how can you make information, questions or requests seem clear to him/her?

If face-to-face talks are preferred, then ask to sit down over coffee or lunch and talk things through.  If your client is more of a reader than a listener, communicate by email.  If s/he is visual, use charts, graphs and/or photographs to tell your story.  Sell your client in the way that s/he likes to be sold and make it easy for you to obtain information and get approval for requests you may have along the way.  I cannot overstate this element of managing up, for it is a key element in relationship building and access to many oh-so-important benefits that can be awarded to those who can communicate effectively with the higher-ups.  You’ll gain their trust and confidence and doors could be opened for you.

Understanding your client’s perspective and his/her agenda.  You may not always agree with the point of view, but you are obliged to understand it and work within its parameters.  You will be unable to communicate effectively until you know where s/he is coming from, until you know what resonates or repels.

Packaging and presenting problems and solutions may be a necessary tactic for clients who only want to hear good news.  Part of managing up involves guiding the client to face reality and resolve an issue before it gets out of hand.  it will be to your credit if you are able to suggest one or two reasonable solutions to your client should a problem be discovered.

Don’t go over your client contact’s head. Speak to the client first if you feel that something is amiss, or change would be helpful.  If there is a serious problem with the project and your requests to confront and resolve the matter are continually rebuffed, then you may need to go around your primary client contact, discreetly and confidentially.  If there is illegal behavior happening, such as harassment or inappropriate handling of project financing, would also signal the need to go over your client contact’s head.

Ask for feedback and don’t get defensive if the brutal truth is delivered.  It could be the greatest thing your client does for you.  Listen, learn, incorporate.  The client will be thrilled to see his/her suggestions implemented in your working style and that will make you look responsible and dependable.

Be loyal and trustworthy.  Do not talk behind your client’s back and never betray a confidence.  Always do an exceptionally good job and if you don’t understand how to make that happen, then ask for help.  You want to be seen as dependable and highly competent.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards and Ed Asner as her boss, Lou Grant The Mary Tyler Moore Show CBS-TV (1970 – 1977)

Growing Good: Philanthropy Grows Your Network, Your Skills and Your Business

Are you looking for another option to add to your ongoing marketing and branding campaign, one that is neither content nor traditional marketing and yet has the potential to greatly enhance your professional network, increase your opportunities to acquire new clients and referrals and even allow you to enhance your skill set?  Add philanthropy to your marketing campaign, as expressed by volunteerism, corporate social responsibility, sponsorships and donations and watch your sales grow!

Corporate social responsibility is now considered a best practice and there is a growing expectation that business and civic leaders, in particular, will “give back” and make a contribution to their community.

When Freelance consultants and leaders of for-profit organizations large and small, participate in philanthropy, it is a carefully evaluated business decision that’s part of a long-term personal branding and marketing campaign.  Just because your payroll is small doesn’t mean that philanthropy will not deliver significant ROI to your brand and business.  The selection of an organization to support will be strategic.

The first guideline is that you affiliate with organizations that have a mission you can support.  Second, the organization should operate and be headquartered locally, to support your objective of  having an impact among the movers and shakers in your business community, people who could become your customers or referral sources.

Third, if possible, aim to lend your pro bono support to an organization that somehow is connected to your product or service, or will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise or strengthen skills you’d like to build.  Volunteering can provide avenues for professional development, as you take part in projects and committee work that allow you to stretch and acquire additional competencies.

For example, if your financial management skills are weak, merely listening to finance reports and discussions around them at board meetings can be instructive.  Finance Committees even at small not-for-profits are often headed by very astute professionals.

Getting started

Becoming a sponsor of a local charity event, from the Boy Scouts to an educational or skills development center, is an effective, possibly low-cost and minimal commitment method to get an inside look at an organization that interests you.   A business card size ad in a fundraising event program book is a useful entrée and might cost as little as $200.  Your ad will not hurt your marketing strategy and will be tax-deductible, as well.

Alternatively, you can take the sweat-equity route and volunteer your time and labor as an event day helper at a fundraising program.  This strategy will allow you to attend the event and observe how the leadership interacts with its largest and most devout supporters.  A board or event committee member will be appointed to supervise the volunteers, so  you will be able to meet an insider and ask a few questions, along with getting a sense of the working style of the leaders (a very important consideration, BTW).

Speaking of sweat, you might decide to run, walk, bike, swim, or play golf or tennis in an athletic event sponsored by your chosen not-for-profit and ask friends and colleagues to sponsor you and help you donate to the organization.  All gifts will be tax-deductible. Plus, you’ll have lots of networking opportunities and a good time.

Finally, if you can muster a larger philanthropy budget, you can simply call the organization, express your interest in its mission and ask to visit and take a tour.  The Executive Director or another senior-level staff or board member will be happy to oblige.  You may be recruited on the spot to join a committee, as a pathway to an invitation to join the Board.  Be advised that there may be an expected annual donation of perhaps $500 or more.

Build relationships

Your experiences in charity event participation or sponsorships, or in board or committee service, will over time bring you into contact with many people.  Meeting C-Suite professionals during your volunteer activities breaks down barriers and has the potential to facilitate building relationships with VIPs who will see you in action as you perform board or committee work.

If you need a well-placed reference, it will likely be granted and  you may receive a referral or two as well, which would help your client list.  You might even get so lucky as to find a well-connected sponsor who will champion you and your work and help you to grow your business (or career).

Publicize your philanthropy

Let current and prospective customers know about your philanthropic activities.  In your curriculum vitae, bio, website and LinkedIn page, make note of your philanthropy, especially if you’ve joined a board or become an annual sponsor of, or participant at, a charitable event.  In a 2013 study Cone Communications, a Boston-based PR and marketing firm and Echo Global Logistics, a provider of transportation and supply chain management systems headquartered in Chicago, found that 82% of B2B and B2C purchasers preferred to do business with organizations that practiced corporate social responsibility and 91% of responders said they would switch brands to one that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality.

I leave you with this: Luke Weil, founder of Andina Acquisition, which invests in companies in the Andean region of South America, encourages us to give without expecting anything in return. Your generosity and selflessness generate good Karma and positive energy and the spiritual benefits will do wonders for your psyche.  Pay it forward.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Woman Giving Alms (date unknown, private collection), by Janos Thorma (Hungary, 1870 – 1937)

Survey Discussion: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Today we have recommendations on how Freelance consultants and small business owners can implement as needed the results of a survey of 1,700 of our peers that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners http://FreshBooks.com .

Given the limited time that Freelancers and small business owners have available to devote to new client acquisition and once we’ve accepted the fact that the pool of new clients must be constantly replenished, it is essential that what we do has a very good chance of delivering the necessary results.

The survey indicates that devoting one’s marketing activities to tactics that are ranked as highly effective across all three age cohorts and then diversifying the tactics utilized, has the potential to reap tangible benefits for all age cohorts, despite the fact that each has a clear preference for certain activities and an ROI track record to defend those practices.

Exceeding client expectations of the work you are hired to do is the recipe for obtaining referrals from satisfied clients. Building relationships with peers that you meet at the chamber of commerce, on volunteer boards, at the gym, or at your religious institution, for example, is often a highly successful marketing and business development tactic for Baby Boomers, with 67% relying on referrals to find new clients. The ability to obtain referrals from business and personal relationships will become more accessible to Generation X and Millennials over time, as their personal and client relationships expand.  There is no more effective advertising than word of mouth.

Millennials have made hay with content marketing tactics and 42% of the age cohort use that marketing tactic. I will guess that a certain percentage of what is called email marketing, which has an adoption rate of 24% across the three age groups, overlaps with content marketing because email is how newsletters are sent. Generation X and especially Baby Boomers are advised to step up the use of content marketing if for no other reason than several surveys have demonstrated its satisfactory ROI.

Content marketing is poised to surpass the use of paid advertising because it seems that B2B prospects find advertisements insufficiently credible or engaging and they have gravitated to the brand story approach that is content marketing. Commissioning a marketing case study to put on one’s website and can be used in other marketing activities, is another highly effective method of content marketing (but it is not inexpensive).

Public speaking in the form of teaching, speaking, training (and I will stretch to say it also includes podcasts, webinars and appearing on a panel as speaker or moderator) is acknowledged by 39% of  survey participants across all three cohorts as being a highly effective marketing tactic and I respectfully suggest that you adopt the practice if you have not already done so.

It may be a little intimidating for Millennials to assume the role of expert, but appearing as a guest on a webinar or podcast seems less of a stretch than teaching business courses or speaking at professional association meetings. Your diarist is in the Baby Boom generation and I’ve done a fair amount of teaching and speaking over the years, but I’ve never directly received either a client or referral from any engagement. Rather, prospective clients are always seem impressed when I mention those activities, so be advised that you may see your teaching and speaking ROI indirectly.

Finally, since the survey explored financial management, we might pause and consider that topic as well. While only 20% of survey responders financed their businesses with bank loans, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need help managing the business finances (and their personal finances).  One third of the responders has a relationship with a bank and yet 52% report that they feel big banks are not a good fit for small business owners and Freelance consultants.

Survey findings indicate that Freelancers and small business owners with the greatest financial acumen operate the most successful ventures and enjoyed self-employment the most.  That description applied to 25% of responders.  Overall, responders are wary and uninformed about new financial software that might help them better understand and optimize their financial record-keeping data and learn how to use either what they already own, or software they could buy, and learn to understand and manage the financial aspects of their businesses.

The FreshBooks people recommend that Freelancers and small business owners invest in financial management training.  Courses are either regularly or sporadically available at adult learning centers, libraries, business networking groups, professional associations and the Small Business Administration.  https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/manage/manage-your-finances-business-credit

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Falmouth (MA) Road Race August 21, 2016 courtesy of Joseph Cavanaugh

 

 

 

Survey Results: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Hello everyone and welcome to post-summertime reality.  We’re heading into the fourth quarter and whether or not you’re on track to meet your 2017 earnings goal, the time for a big push to help you end the year strong has arrived.  Marketing will play a big role in your revenue-generating strategy, but as was discussed in my August 15 post, do what you can to create a marketing budget so that your clever strategies and tactics will make it off the drawing board Your Marketing Plan Is Meaningless Until You Assign A Budget

In this post, I’ll share the results of what appears to be a credible survey of 1,700 Freelancers and small business owners that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud-based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners  http://freshbooks.com.  Let’s look at what the folks at FreshBooks have to tell us about the practices, priorities and challenges of Freelance consultants and small business owners:

Who were the survey participants?

  • 65% male and 35% female
  • 51% Baby Boomers (age 50 + years);  34% Generation X (age 35 – 49 years);           15% Millennials (age < 35 years)
  • 65% have earned at least a Bachelor’s degree
  • 55% operate as Sole Proprietors, with no formal legal business structure
  • < 10 employees in the business
  • 15% in business < 2 years
  • 42% have no retirement account (median survey age was 50 years)
  • 23% earned < $20K in 2016
  • 23% earned $21K – $50K in 2016
  • 29% earned $51K – $100K in 2016
  • 24% earned $101K + in 2016

What kinds of marketing tactics are most often used?

Tactics considered most effective:

  • 67% ask for referrals, from clients or personal relationships
  • 47% have referral partners (e.g., at business association networking groups)
  • 39% speak and/or teach
  • 23 % use content marketing (especially blogs and newsletters)

Tactics considered somewhat effective:

  • 51% attend industry/ professional association events
  • 48% join business networking associations (e.g., chambers of commerce)
  • 44% entertain prospects (anything from coffee to drinks and dinner)
  • 44% use social media marketing
  • 24% use email marketing

Tactics considered least effective:

  • 32% purchase ads in print or online publications
  • 19% post on industry online forums (e.g., LinkedIn groups)

Age has a statistically significant impact on the types of marketing tactics employed and on the success rate of those tactics.  Baby Boomers have a much better success rate obtaining referrals, probably because they’ve lived long enough to develop those types of relationships.  Millennials have great success with content marketing and social media, no doubt because they grew up with the internet and they’re comfortable and adept with online communications.

Millennial Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 42% Content marketing
  • 30% Social media
  • 30% Referrals

Baby Boom Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 47% Referrals
  • 26% Content marketing
  • 22% Social media

Finally, marketing and sales are the mechanisms that promote market share and revenue growth and put the venture on the road to earning the desired profit margins that will secure its financial standing.  Yet, small business owners and Freelance consultants devote little time to business development (i.e., prospecting for new client acquisitions). which is supported by the right marketing strategies and tactics.  Most feel that signing new clients and retaining them is difficult:

  • 65% feel they need to find new clients
  • 85% consider business development a challenge
  • 75% devote less than one-quarter of their time to business development
  • 51% feel that they’re too busy with client work to prospect or sell
  • 40% devote one-tenth or less of their time to prospecting
  • 37% are uncomfortable selling
  • 25% feel they’ve found the right balance between making sales calls and performing client work

In order to build and sustain the business, it is necessary to attract and retain clients that you can reliably bill at a certain minimum amount; figure out how to describe and sell a value proposition that makes your services appear desirable to a critical mass of clients; performing client projects that you can price to ensure the desired profit margin; and effectively managing the business’ financial strategies.  As was discussed in my August 22 post, Only Those Who Have Money Can Borrow Money , the survey also examined the access to capital that Freelance consultants and small business owners have, or don’t have:

  • 20% used bank financing to launch their ventures
  • 25% were turned down for business
  • 52% feel that big banks are not designed to serve the needs of Freelancers or small business owners

Next week we’ll weave together the threads laid out here,  examine and analyze the picture that emerges and use some small data to help our respective business ventures get big ROI as we enter the fourth quarter.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Japanese surfer works his plan to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics   Photograph: Kyodo News (2017)

 

 

 

AI and U: Bye, Bye Billables

The trouble hasn’t trickled down to us middle grade Freelance consultants or small boutique consulting companies yet,  mostly because we are not servicing Fortune 500 C-Suite clients, but apparently, the Artificial Intelligence phenomenon is being positioned to impact in particular the high-end management consultants and not for the better.  Eventually, our comparatively modest stratum will be touched as well, depending on the services that your consultancy provides.  I’ve got no love for the consulting giants Bain and McKinsey, but I’m worried by this trend.

AI is already at work, automating routine tasks such as maintaining calendars, but it is now poised to support decision-making functions in HR, marketing, finance (budgeting) and resource allocation.  It seems safe to say that AI will in the near future be used as a strategic planning tool.

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. businesses spent $58.7 billion on management consulting services in 2016, a 7.1% increase over 2015, and the bulk of the business was generated by the financial services industry.  The primary expertise of high-end management consultants is data analysis and presentation and facilitating long-range strategic planning.  It is becoming obvious that AI can execute many functions as well as an elite consultant, and can perform more accurately, faster and at a fraction of the cost of a consultant’s billable rate.

Do you have an iPad or iPhone? Then you are part of the AI revolution yourself whenever you ask voice-activated Siri to give you directions or show you the lunch menu at a new restaurant.  Alexa, the AI voice-activated digital personal assistant app for your tablet or smart phone developed by Amazon, will already allow you to control your smart home features such as lighting, heating/ air conditioning and keyless entry for your doors.  Presently, Alexa has the capability to answer economic questions for clients of the Swiss global financial services giant UBS Group AG.  The Wall Street Journal reported that Alexa will answer UBS client queries by using information provided by its chief investment office.  Alexa is expected to soon begin analyzing markets and may also be used to buy and sell stocks.

Meanwhile Boston-based Blackrock, the financial planning and investment management outfit, which happens to be the world’s largest asset management firm, used by institutions and individuals, is rolling out computer-driven algorithms and models in a move toward management by smart machines, that is, employing passive management rather than active management of their funds.  In other words, a machine will become the asset manager of Blackrock’s funds and not human, salary, bonus and benefits receiving employees.

Like the 1992 candidate for president Ross Perot predicted, that sucking sound you hear is your job going out the window.  The middle class is about to shrink some more.  Happy Labor Day.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph of Lost in Space, the CBS-TV series 1965 – 1968                                                          Jonathan Harris (as Dr. Smith) and the robot

Only Those Who Have Money Can Borrow Money

Here is a typical story: A passionate would-be entrepreneur launches a venture, often with the romantic and exciting intention of bootstrapping the finances.  But realistically, bootstrapping is not the correct description of the financial plan.  The term that applies here is under-capitalized.  The idea may have been realistic,  but before our intrepid entrepreneur could get traction with the concept, the money ran out.  The only thing remaining was debt.

Our hero would like to start over, since valuable lessons were learned and baked into business plan and model 2.0.  However, start-up capital that was not requested in the first go-round must be sought now, because the realization that there will be no success without adequate funding is now apparent.  What can be done to give our story a happy ending in a world where it takes money to make money? Let’s take a look at some possible funding options, some common and others less so.

Friends and family financing

Besides your own bank account, the most obvious place to look for start-up capital is with friends and family, that is, if you have a very good idea of whom you can do business with and those relatives or frenemies who must be avoided.  Many business ventures are funded in this way.

If you choose to borrow from family and friends, put into writing the loan amount, terms and repayment schedule and agree only to what you are certain you can uphold.  According to CircleLending’s Business Private Loan Index, the average current interest rate on business loans made by family members and friends is 7.6%.  Do everything possible to preserve relationships and not let money divide you.  The last thing you want are tense holidays (there are more than enough ways for that to occur as it is).

Micro-lenders and web-based lenders

There are several non-bank lenders found only online that offer micro-loans to small entrepreneurs.  The loan amounts are usually between $5000 – $25,000 and these outfits can be excellent sources of start-up and expansion capital for entrepreneurs with debt and /or limited resources.  There is sometimes a potentially very useful credit repair feature available through certain of these lenders when loan repayments are reported to credit bureaus.  On-time payments will raise your credit score, improve your credit rating and lower your future interest rates.

Here are sites to visit, including the Small Business Association’s Micro-loan Program:  http://prosper.com   http://www.zopa.com   http://www.accion.com https://www.sba.gov/loans-grants/see-what-sba-offers/sba-loan-programs/microloan-program

There may as well be small not-for-profit organizations that are micro-lenders in your state, but they may not be found online.  To obtain contact information on these loan source possibilities, please visit  www.microenterpriseworks.org

CircleLending data demonstrated clearly that comparison shopping is a must-do.  The loan interest rate at Accion was 12%, while the rate at Prosper was more than 20%, for those with poor credit.

In 2016, the National Small Business Association found that 73% of small businesses used some type of funding to launch a venture, expand a business, purchase inventory or equipment, or strengthen the company’s financial foundation.  The 2012 U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners found that 57% of start-ups launched the venture with personal savings; 8 % used personal credit cards; 6% used other personal assets (retirement account?); and 3% used a home equity loan. Only 8% used a bank loan.

While it is possible for individuals who are in tight financial constraints to obtain bank loan financing and business credit cards as noted above, interest rates are high.  More than that, even those who might qualify for bank loans are not going there.  You want to put your money not into interest payments, but rather into building your venture into a successful enterprise and paying off debts, in that way positioning yourself to save and invest capital and build for yourself a strong financial future.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Triple Dollar Signs, Andy Warhol (1982)   Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Your Marketing Plan Is Meaningless Until You Assign A Budget

Oh, how you love to talk about planning—your business plan, financial plan, vacation plan and what I think is most often discussed—your marketing plan.  Congratulations to you if you’ve drawn up an official marketing plan for your venture.  But if you intend to transfer your plan from the page to reality, you must assign it a budget.  Somehow, that practical reality is sometimes glossed over.  Ask a Freelancer or business owner what the company’s annual marketing budget is and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare or incoherent stammering.  That is not the ideal response, my friend! So today, let’s learn how to estimate a reasonable budget for a B2B annual marketing plan.

Laurel Mintz, founder and CEO of Elevate My Brand, a Los Angeles digital marketing agency, has developed what she calls “marketing math,” to help her clients determine what would be  a realistic B2B marketing budget range for their organizations.  According to Ms. Mintz:

New companies in business for one to five years would be wise to allot 12 – 20 % of  gross or projected revenues on marketing activities.

Established companies in business for more than five years are advised to commit 6 – 12 % of gross or projected revenues to marketing activities.

Those figures seemed rather hefty, at least they did to me and maybe you agree.   According to Laurel Mintz,  if a new business generates just $35,000 in after-tax bottom line revenues, she nevertheless feels that the owner should devote $4,200 – $7,000 annually to a marketing budget.  Ouch! I mean, how does one pay the living expenses and taxes and health insurance when in the salad days of a start-up?

Think of it like this—no one said that self-employment, whether Freelance solopreneur or entrepreneur, was going to be either easy or inexpensive.  Just like you set aside money for other vital expenses, marketing deserves a budget, too, because without marketing you could wind up presiding over a stunted venture that never gains traction and never fulfills its potential.

Marketing activities, whether innovative or predictable, give the venture a needed push into target markets.  Marketing promotes the expansion of prospective clients who will flow into the sales funnel, distinguishes the organization from competitors, establishes and promotes the brand, justifies the pricing structure and keeps the enterprise at top of mind and positioned to beckon clients and referrers.

Now for the cold water—there are no guarantees in marketing and the ROI is notoriously tricky to quantify.  But realize that marketing is all about testing and that means (calculated) risk.  If you approve a certain sum of money to devote to the year’s marketing activities, you might achieve all of your marketing campaign goals, or do twice as well, or only half as well as you projected

Risk is real in marketing, but it’s mitigated by your awareness of how your clients have been known to respond to the marketing tactics that you can afford.  Research shows that if you conduct marketing  activities that resonate with your target clients and are within budget, then over time,  the marketing campaigns will enhance the bottom line and your brand.  Treat marketing activities as an investment that will surely pay off and allocate funds each year.

Marketing  campaigns are all about planning, budget and execution.  If meager finances make you feel that the budget formula given here is too risky for your venture, then focus on planning and execution and roll out “sweat equity” campaigns that utilize tactics that cost time instead of dollars, such as content marketing, face to face networking and social media.  Just do it.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Director and actress Ida Lupino on the set of The Hitch-Hiker (1953)                    Photograph courtesy of RKO Pictures/ Photofest