Take Command of Your Online Brand

“Reputation, reputation, reputation. Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” (Cassio)  Othello Act II, Scene 3

According to WebpageFX, a digital marketing and SEO company headquartered in Harrisburg, PA, about 25% of a company’s market value is directly based on its reputation.  Along with word-of-mouth reviews, which are indisputably powerful but nevertheless comparatively limited, a company’s reputation is significantly impacted through online sources.  Management of your organization’s online reputation, which is part of your brand, is a must-do.

The online reputation starts with the look and content of the company website and also encompasses reviewing sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List and Trip Advisor and the array of social media platforms from Snapchat to Facebook.  If you throw in content marketing campaigns that are distributed through email marketing, I wonder if the 25% impact figure is generous enough?

WebpageFX also reports that organization leaders now take online reputation management very seriously and 15% of organizations have followed through on an online reputation management strategy and 87% agree that managing online reputation risks is even more important than managing strategic risks.  Think about it—strategic risks are potentially costly, but when paid and unpaid haters flood the comments section of an influential site, the hapless company that perhaps has done no real harm can be shoved into the abyss.

Online attackers spew a shocking amount of vitriol and their diatribes seem to have a million-year half-life.  Blackmail can be involved as well.  I’ve personally witnessed the strong-arming of the General Manager of a lovely B & B by –are you ready for this?– a retired police officer who faked a problem in his guest room, refused to be placated by what most would accept as fair settlement for the “inconvenience” and threatened to ruin the business with bad Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews if his request for a free two- night stay (worth $450) was not granted.  Rumor has it that he’s played the game to the detriment of several small guest houses across the country.  A shoot-out at the OK Corral might be easier to win.

WebpageFX data showed that 91% of consumers search businesses online.  When I’ve gone to meet new clients, in particular someone who has been referred to me and whom I’ve not met,  they frequently mention that they’ve read this blog and viewed my website.  80% of consumers (presumably B2B and B2C) changed their mind about doing business with a company and 67% will not buy from a company that has received from one to three negative reviews.

Regarding social media sites, participation on the various social media platforms is a given for most Freelance consultants, business owners and corporate and not-for-profit leaders. The extent of your B2B client’s social media engagement as regards their external labor force along with your time and inclination, will determine which social media platforms that you’ll use. Maybe you’ll use one or two platforms, plus publish long-form content sent out as an ongoing email marketing campaign.

Just because you don’t use every available social media platform doesn’t mean that you should ignore those that you don’t use. To the contrary, claim all business listings and social media platform addresses, so that a competitor or imposter cannot assume your identity.  Start with your website. Your business name should belong to you alone. Protect your business and buy when possible your business domain name in the .biz and .net formats.  if there is a name that is similar to your company name and it becomes available, buy it and save yourself the potential for headaches down the road. Ensure that an imposter cannot claim your name and make sport of you, bear false witness, or commit other devious acts.

On your preferred social media platforms, maintain a reasonably active and consistent presence as you bring value to your readers.  Post content that will benefit your organization’s reputation and sales revenues.  WordPress allows posting to LinkedIn and my 100 or so connections expect to hear from me every Tuesday.

Finally, if you should receive any negative feedback online, respond quickly and diplomatically. Demonstrate that you regret the mishap and you intend to make amends.  As you publicly clean up the mess, you may win a few customers who like the fact that you’re human and you care.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

IMG_0015    Tall Ships Parade in Boston Harbor June 16, 2017

Business Forecasting Helps You Make Money

Summer 2017 will officially arrive on June 21 and the warm temperatures promise to seduce us with sunshine and flowers. Summer is the primary vacation season and many businesses slow down with its arrival , with the exception of tourist industry service providers and wedding planners and their usual sub-contractors: caterers, florists, photographers, DJs and videographers, many of whom are Freelancers.  The rest of us, however, have to get creative and try to maintain our discipline and resolve as the heat and humidity conspire against ambition.  This lovely time of year can present a real financial challenge for Freelancers.  How can we remain productive and scare up some billable hours? Summer is the ideal time to devote attention to positioning  your venture to make money in the fourth quarter and beyond.

I suggest that you conduct business forecasting at your organization this summer. Business forecasting is the cornerstone of business planning and business planning is the foundation of enabling business profitability.  Forecasting helps business owners and Freelancers to objectively examine the monetary value of each revenue stream that the venture generates, so that it becomes very clear which lines of business are making money and the amount of profitability of each line.  Forecasting shows you where you should devote your resources and in that way generate increased billable hours, revenues and profits.

Forecasting in your Freelance venture is crucial: client work, teaching assignments, writing assignments, subcontracting work for other Freelancers and maybe even an under-the-radar odd job along the way to fatten the coffers are among the business activities in which we engage to maintain cash-flow.  It’s very useful to know which of these lines of business is worth more attention and those that you may want to drop, since the returns are meager.

Let’s face reality—we B2B Freelance service providers often don’t know when our next client will come along, or what s/he will want to spend on services when that happens.  It’s so easy to wind up scrambling from new client to new client without getting much repeat business, or adequate control over our earning capacity. That’s why it’s vital that we:

  1. Identify where the earning potential really is (and it might not be client work)
  2. Create strategies and action plans that promote successful participation in those of your business activities that are the most profitable

There are thousands of Freelancers who make their real money not from client work, which can be both scarce and erratic, but on other related business lines.  For hiilucky Freelancers who have national renown, that could be book sales, paid speaking engagements and paid writing assignments.  For others, it’s their coaching business that is the real profit engine.  In such cases, the client work is necessary to lend credibility and enable access to the other, much more profitable, activities.

So how does one conduct business forecasting? If you use Intuit QuickBooks software, you can build a model on that system.  If you have at least three or four years’ of client data in QuickBooks, you will receive much valuable, actionable information about your business, including:

  • Profitability and profit margins
  • Average revenue /client
  • Average billable hours /client

If you keep your financial data on Excel, review the past five years’ of invoices (or as far back as possible in a newer venture) and identify your top five or ten most lucrative revenue streams, whether that is client work or other related projects.  Invoice dates will reveal seasonal revenue generating patterns and the invoices will remind you of which of your services sells the most and which the least.  Billable hours and hourly or project fee rates should also be noted. It will take longer to generate the data, but as with QuickBooks, much valuable and actionable data can be extracted from your Excel based financials.

There are two basic methods of business forecasting, Qualitative and Quantitative. Qualitative forecasting models are based on market research and they’re most effective in predicting short-term cycles. Quantitative forecasting models are based on data and the approach is more effective than the qualitative model in predicting long-term cycles.

There are various types of quantitative forecasting approaches and for small and medium size business forecasting, the Time Series Method is most useful.  The Time Series Method uses historical financial data to predict future results.  When you go to your bank for a business loan and five years’ of your financials are requested, the loan officer is using the Time Series Method to predict whether you will be able to generate enough cash-flow and sales revenues to repay the loan on time.

Once you have your financials in hand, Step 2 of Business Forecasting is the development of a marketing plan that contains strategies and action plans that create the road map that your organization will follow as you seek to expand those business lines that generate the most revenues for you and consider dropping those that perform poorly.

When you see with irrefutable data that reveals which of your services brings home the most money, you will likely get a clearer picture of your ideal clients and the messages and marketing platforms that resonate with them.  An amended pricing strategy and/or sales distribution method may be instituted, as might tweaking of your business model.

Business forecasting reveals patterns in client activity that are often overlooked and the process allows you to anticipate demand for your services, reveals which services historically have produced the greatest sales revenues, reveals the types of clients that spend the most with you and in general, shows on what side the toast is buttered.

With objective confirmation of your best client categories and most popular services, you can concentrate on how to access those clients, including bigger budget clients within the categories and you’ll know how best to sell to them.  You will work not only hard, but also smart, to grow your client list and increase billable hours, revenues and profits and that will be the best use of your time during this glorious summer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

21st Century Email Marketing Tactics

Email marketing is dead.  Long live email marketing.  The pervasiveness of spamming has forever damaged the reputation of email marketing and yet the practice refuses to quietly fade away.  I’ll say that’s because email marketing remains a useful B2B communication platform.  It’s just that marketers need to be smart about how to utilize this valuable resource.  Email marketing in the 21st century means content marketing that addresses topics that interests your clients and delivers value to them and to you.  When planning an email marketing campaign, content is king.

Content does not mean sending out a stream of tweets that describe banal banter such as what’s going on in your office today, accompanied by an image of your morning coffee and pastry sitting next to your laptop.  Your clients are not interested in “fake news” that results in a slew of annoying emails that feature revelations about your perspectives only and are filled with links to Instagram photos of what you found to be amusing as you walked to the post office.

Content marketing means sharing relevant information that will make your clients  become better informed and help them do their jobs better.  You accomplish that by producing original material that addresses topics that your clients feel are useful and distributing it on a consistent basis through your weekly blog or monthly newsletter,

The logistics of that distribution are up to you, whether you develop an opt-in email list and distribute content through a marketing service like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, or if you post your blog or newsletter on a site like WordPress, that is visited by numerous readers, some of whom may be your clients.  In the latter scenario, there is usually an opportunity to subscribe to your content through alerts, individual emails or an RSS feed.

Regardless of your distribution platform, readers and clients appreciate an email /content marketing strategy that is customized and therefore more personal.  Developing an editorial calendar adds seasonal relevance to the topics that you present, for example, as does occasionally letting your content be influenced by the news or changes in government or tax policy.  It’s time-consuming, but the content that your organization provides weekly or monthly demonstrates your authority as evidenced by your expertise and judgment, as well as your opinions (don’t hesitate to have them!).  Freelance consulting specialists must always enhance the perception of our bona rides and content marketing plays a significant role.

As you write, learn to occasionally weave one or two of your products or services into the narrative because after all, the real purpose of producing and distributing content in B2B emails is to create billable hours (sales).  This could take the form of a client success story or news that you’ll appear on a panel, with a link to register embedded in your post.

If your email/ content marketing is sent through a marketing service as an individual email addressed to each subscriber, you are advised to pay particular attention to the subject line.  According to Silverpop’s 2016 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study, the mean open rate of emails sent is merely 20 %, meaning that four out of five email marketing communications are deleted.  A 2015 analysis of over 40 million emails  conducted by Mail Chimp revealed that some of the most effective subject lines are (60 – 87% open rate) :

1. (Insert business name) Sales and Marketing Newsletter

2. Eye on the (insert business name) Update (insert the week or month time frame)

3. (Insert business name and date) News Bulletin

4. (Insert business name) Newsletter, with date

5. (Insert business name) Invites You!

6. Happy Holidays From (insert business name)

In 2014, Digital Marketer analyzed 125 million emails that the company sent that year and found that your business name, along with the words urgent, upgrade, alert, new, available, free delivery and newsletter are among the most persuasive. Oh, and what’s the secret to writing a good email subject line, along with using the key words that charm readers? Make the subject line describe the email topic!

So the moral of the story is, don’t dismiss email marketing as being hopelessly retro and inferior to social media posts.  Instead, think about how to update and adapt its use to fit your needs and the interests of your clients.  If your clients are among your Facebook friends on your Fan Page or they follow your tweets, then by all means continue.  You might consider how some of that content and images might be repurposed to become part of long-form content in a blog or newsletter.  Several recent studies have found that clients respond well to long-form content.  You’ll figure it out and reap the benefits,

Thanks for reading,

kim

Building Your B2B Consulting Practice

Regular visitors to this blog will notice that over the past few weeks, I’ve devoted special emphasis to tactics and strategies that will help Freelancers keep our consulting practices alive and well.  Competition in the field is intensifying and clients are aware that they can be very exacting in their hiring requirements, since there is no shortage of available talent, especially in mid-size and large cities.  According to Statista, the number of management consultants has grown every year since 2012 and as of 2016, there area 637,000 management consultants working (or trying to!) in the U.S.

As we all know, ever since the late 1980s, when the concept of “downsizing” gained popularity in corporate offices and the ways to separate citizens from full-time, long-term employment became numerous, many workers who either found ourselves highly skilled but nevertheless unemployable, or who eventually tired of endless cycles of  hirings and firings (a common occurrence in the IT industry), decided to strike out on our own and exert some measure of control over our professional and economic destiny. What did we have to lose? We were already in trouble.  Manage the risk before the risk manages you.

When you’ve worked in the Knowledge Economy and find yourself contemplating whether to launch your own venture, by design or default, a solo consultancy that offers B2B services that you already know seems a simple and obvious choice.

Start-up costs are minimal—there’s nothing much to invest in for the launch, except for business cards and a website.  There’s no need to rent an office and no need to hire employees.  You already own a smart phone and some sort of computer.  At most, you might invite a couple of your unemployed coworker buddies to come in with you.  In no time, you’ll be ready to see clients and charge a pretty penny for the advice that you give. Easy, right?

Well, not exactly.  Unless you’ve worked for a consulting company that provides you with a stable of clients that know you and value your expertise and there’s no non-compete hagreement that prevents you from, ahem, stealing a few clients from your former employer and bringing them to you roster—-a time-honored and usually successful practice, BTW—you may find yourself floundering when it comes to obtaining clients.  If you’ve got a well-placed pal or two who is able and willing to divert a contract to you, you could be twiddling your thumbs for quite some time, despite the furious networking that you do and your growing social media presence.  The truth of consulting is, no one gets a client unless that client knows you and the value of your work.

The “catch 22” is that you can’t get a client without experience and you can’t get experience until you get a client.  A business plan that is in reality an extended marketing plan that encourages you to think strategically, rationally and in detail about the following items should be written. Bear in mind that your services are valuable only insofar as there is client demand.  There may be no market at all for several of your strongest competencies, alas.

  • Services for which there is demand and you have the expertise and credibility to deliver those services and prospective clients who will pay you to do so
  • How to price your services
  • How to make clients perceive that you are worth your asking price
  • Your access to clients with the motive and money to hire you
  • The need for a partner (or two) and how that person can help launch and sustain the venture

Without a pre-existing reputation in the industry, you’ll find the early days of consulting to be quite difficult. Lining up part-time employment will help your cash-flow. Teaching at the college level is always a good option because it enhances your credibility and pays well for a part-time gig.  Whenever possible, find work that not only gives you money, but also demonstrates your expertise to potential clients.

If you can become at least an occasional contributing writer to a noteworthy publication, or get articles included in a local business publication, you will enhance the perception of your expertise, as will college-level teaching of a subject related to your B2B services.  Joining a not-for-profit board that brings you into contact with potential clients and referrers who can watch you take on committee work that demonstrates your bona fides will be helpful. Becoming a mentor at a respected new venture start-up center will likewise enhance your credibility.

If you can participate in a webinar, YouTube video, or podcast, where you can elaborate on the application of your expertise and the results that you deliver, you will be able to post the link on your website and social media accounts, so that prospective clients can see you in action and hear what you know.

Those who do not have a ready stable of potential clients must work very hard and very smart to make up for that deficit, but it will not impossible to build a consulting practice that will support you financially and of which you can be proud. There are many paths that lead to a profitable B2B consulting practice and with a dose of god luck, you will find your path, too.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Staying Safe on Public WiFi

Public Wi-Fi is a most convenient resource and millions of mobile device users gratefully sign on when it is available.  Data plans are more costly in the U.S. than they should be and avoiding extra charges motivates users to dip into free service.  Not only that, your Skype, Go-To-Meeting, Dropbox, or Twitter app can use local hotspots to obtain internet access even if you do not sign on to unsecured public Wi-Fi.

File sharing and transfers are performed on several apps and that data can be intercepted.  Moreover, log-in credentials can be stolen, allowing cyber criminals to fully access your private accounts.  When using the internet as your phone service, eavesdropping on conversations can take place through the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).  If you are using a mobile device that belongs to a business, signing on to unsecured Wi-Fi networks gives hackers are able to access the networks of large organizations and do significant, costly and embarrassingly public damage.

Mobile device users are obliged to pay attention to this commonly occurring risk and take steps to protect our valuable data.  No one wants to clean up the toxic mess of a data breach, whether it’s malware that infects our data files or compromises of your financial account passwords. Antivirus protections and firewalls are effective methods of cyber defense, but these are useless against hackers that hide on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

DO:

  • Convert all password protected sites, such as your cloud-based email sign-in process, to two-step authentication.  For one email address, I receive an automated phone call that asks me to verify that I’m signing in, another sends me a unique code to punch in once I’ve verified via my mobile phone that I’m signing into the email system.
  • Use a VPN, virtual private network, that will encrypt all of your online activities.
  • Visit only https and avoid http websites when browsing on public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Purchase an unlimited data plan for your mobile phone, which for that device anyway, limits the need for free, unsecured Wi-Fi that makes you vulnerable.
  • Consider being especially strict and shutting off the automatic Wi-Fi network search feature from the settings app on your phone or tablet.

DON’T

  • Use your credit card to shop online or access your financial institution for automatic deposits, fund transfers, or any other banking business while using free Wi-Fi.
  • Connect to the hotspot of an unknown individual when searching for available public Wi-Fi.  That hotspot may belong to a cyber criminal who is waiting to do you harm.
  • Enable your device to automatically join networks that offer internet access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

On Conducting an Interview

Because you are an ambitious Freelance consultant, you regularly provide content marketing that showcases your expertise and reinforces your brand with current and potential clients and, when good fortune intervenes, motivates them to give you some much-needed billable hours.  As you plan your activities, you may at some point reach out to a fellow Freelancer, a good client, or another expert and ask to include that individual in your content marketing by way of an interview.  Featuring another perspective every once in a while keeps your marketing content fresh and more interesting to the audience.  I’m thinking of doing exactly that sometime soon, if my target interview guest is willing to speak with me on the record.  Stay tuned.

At some point in your professional life it is likely that you may decide, or be asked, to interview someone, so you would be wise to learn the process.  Successfully conducted interviews hinge on good preparation.  While some of us may feel that interviewing is an intuitive skill and that we should be able to manage the process spontaneously, that will not be the case.  You could probably muddle through, but why not take a couple of hours and learn how to get it right?

Think first of an interview guest to invite.  Who do you know who might tell a good story, or share some useful information that will be appreciated by your audience and does it seem possible that you’ll be able to convince that person to speak with you? 

Second, consider the basic interview format. Will your guest agree to a face-to-face Q & A that will be required for a video, or will it be a phone interview that is suitable for your podcast, blog, or newsletter? Email interviews often do not produce the best results according to many journalists. 

Third, brainstorm questions or topics that might be interesting to your audience and play to your guests’ strengths. You may want to write up a list of potential questions, or make note of possible topics. Visit the Twitter feed, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and conduct an internet search to find out what may have been written by or about your proposed guest.

Invite your potential interview guests in a phone call. Some requests require a more personal approach than email.  Immediately upon reaching an agreement with your guest, send a confirmation email.  Two or three days in advance of the interview, send a second email to confirm the interview time and place and specify whether a phone call or in-person meeting will take place.

In all formats, introduce the guest to your audience and give a brief bio. If your interview will be video or podcast (audio), welcome your guest warmly and thank him/her for agreeing to appear. Your audience needs to hear, and see, this greeting. If the interview will appear in text you will still give a warm welcome and thanks and that exchange will appear in print.  

As you ask questions be friendly and upbeat, to help your guest to feel comfortable and safe.  Avoid “gotcha” questions designed to make the guest feel judged. Keep your mouth shut and practice active listening as you take notes as the guest speaks  (you can record as well and if you plan to do that, ask permission).  If you hear a particular word, phrase, or aspect of the topic that piques your curiosity or seems to give unexpected insight into the question, enter it into your notes and then ask a follow-up question. In this way, your interview will become a conversation, rather than a stilted Q & A session.  The best interviews are what seem to be a relaxed and intelligent conversation between the host and guest.

FYI, it is sometimes necessary to ask the same question two or even three times, in different ways, to persuade your guest to give a complete answer. It’s important to build rapport throughout the interview to make the subject feel comfortable sharing information.

You may need to nudge the interview back on track if your subject goes off on a tangent, in particular if this is a video or podcast conversation.  A useful phrase could be, “How does that relate to the big picture”? Conversely, you might draw out more information from a reticent guest when you ask, “Do you have a story that will illustrate your point”? At the end of the interview, thank your guest for participating and enlightening the audience.

If the interview will appear as a podcast or video, your guest may appear for 15 – 20 minutes, unless his/her topic is especially compelling.  If you are interviewing for your blog or newsletter, 15-20 minutes is probably still a good time limit for the conversation. Overwhelming your guest or audience is to be avoided.

Interviewing a guest for your chosen content marketing platform will build your audience and enhance the brand of your guest as well.  Create a win-win situation for you and the guest by carefully considering the benefits that will accrue to each of you through the proposed interview and be sensitive also to the interests of the audience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Portfolio Style Consulting

The typical Freelance consultant offers to the marketplace a flagship tangible or intangible professional service that is accompanied by several quasi-related supporting services that s/he is qualified to deliver, according to the needs and budgets of clients.

Freelance consultants find it necessary to create multiple revenue streams generated from an array of  services as a way to make the Freelance life financially and professionally rewarding.  Even in the best of times, consulting projects can have infamously long sales cycles and Freelancers must guard against significant revenue gaps. Furthermore, offering more services is a way to attract more clients and billable hours.

While some Freelancers are able to make a good living in consultation with just one or two clients, an arrangement that is no doubt considerably less stressful and time-consuming than juggling several responsibilities, each with its own location, decision-makers, deadliness, cultures and invoicing rhythms, that is nonetheless a very vulnerable position.  Just as the tide comes in, it eventually recedes; any client can choose to decrease billable hours or terminate the relationship altogether, just because.

So we spread our eggs amongst several baskets as a way to appeal to a broader range of clients and mitigate risk.  We must be aware, however, that explaining our various competencies in trust-inspiring language that successfully bundles everything together under one inclusive brand umbrella is perhaps the greatest challenge of marketing and selling the services of a Freelance consultancy.

Like it or not, clients tend to pigeon-hole the consulting contractors that they know, to make it easier to remember whom to call when the need for external expertise arises.  As a result, the Freelancer has two self-branding promotional tasks that will help clients understand how and when our services might be useful:

  1. Position oneself as a highly knowledgeable and trustworthy expert.
  2. Become known as the go-to consulting expert for a given competency.

Convincing “verbal packaging” is urgently needed.  I’ve recently seen the term portfolio suggested as an elegantly simple way to describe how Freelancers help clients to achieve mission-critical goals.  The portfolio system allows Freelancers to present our unique skill sets, the sum of our experience and judgment and the outcomes we regularly deliver, packaged similarly to financial services products, a format that is familiar to your prospects.

Your portfolios will contain marketing, rather than financial, strategies but that does not diminish their value. Plus, clients will agree that diversified portfolios provide the smartest investment solutions and that is what the successful Freelance consultant delivers, every time.

Like a financial services expert sells the advantages of his/her investment portfolios, assign value to and spotlight the ROI derived from the services available through the portfolios contained under the umbrella of your consultancy.  Introduce the portfolio system to your consulting practice by first categorizing and grouping your services into distinct portfolios and then articulating the benefits and outcomes associated with each.  Develop “verbal packaging” to tie them together in a way that helps prospective clients to understand how and when to do business with you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Your Business, Positioned To Succeed

Since you’ve made the commitment to go into business, as a Freelance Solopreneur who offers B2B or B2C services or an Entrepreneur, who employs a leadership team to operate a complex venture you, the founder and leader, will be expected to position your enterprise for profitability and success.

Strategic planning is the process by which business leaders aim to create sustainable success for their organization and it is the essence of business planning.  Strategic plans typically forecast the upcoming 36 months.  Strategic planning is eventually undertaken by all business leaders who fully grasp their responsibilities.

Freelance Solopreneurs might request that their advisory board members participate in the strategic plan development.  Entrepreneurs can count on their team leaders and they may also invite other staff members to contribute to the process.

Step 1: A SWOT Analysis to reveal where the organization is today

Suggest that the planning team use the classic strategy planning tool, the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis matrix.  SWOT asks the planning team to acknowledge and document the current reality of the organization, in preparation for deciding how and when to move forward with plans for growth.

In the SWOT, basic information such as identifying resources that can be considered competitive advantages and factors that are considered minuses, start the process. Note that the Strengths and Weaknesses categories ask the team to acknowledge internal factors, that is, conditions that the organization can influence.  The Opportunities and Threats categories hold external factors that the organization can strive to exploit or avoid as needed, but are unable to control.

Perhaps the most important document for the planning team to examine is the Income (Profit & Loss) Statement.  Over the previous 8 to 12 quarters, have total net sales revenues met the forecast projections? What is the trajectory of (top line) gross sales? The P & L includes categories for each product and service that is sold and reveals the history of sales, gross and net.  That data allows for reasonable projection forecasts to be made for sales revenue performance in the near term and up to three years out.  From the P & L. the team will also acknowledge production or acquisition costs of goods sold for each product and service; all marketing and advertising costs; selling costs; fixed operating expenses; payroll expenses; and taxes, local and federal.

Your accountant will be an excellent resource for financial data analysis (whether or not your team includes a fiscal controller) and will be able to recommend attainable goals that will strengthen the company’s fiscal future, information that is essential to the SWOT process.

Statistics and other Information on market share, current and newly arrived competitors and changes in technology, government regulations, or the priorities and preferences of target markets, which can either help or hurt the plans for long-term growth and success, can be culled from quarterly or annual marketing data and reviewed during the SWOT process.  Quality control, operational processes and customer service protocols should likewise be included in the SWOT Analysis.

Step 2: Use the SWOT results to determine your company’s best growth goals

Once the strategy planning team has a clear picture of the current conditions of the business, the next step is to decide what growth could look like for the organization.  It is strongly recommended that the team research potential growth opportunities for the business, to first understand where expansion can be expected to be sustainable and second, the short and long-term expectations for the proposed expansion.

Plans for operational efficiencies, such as improvements in service delivery, customer service protocols, quality control and inventory management could also be evaluated and strategies for improvements formulated during the SWOT, since these elements can impact business growth and perception of the brand.

Decision-making is a huge part of leadership and the team will demonstrate its prowess here. in Step 2. Your team will have been guided by a comprehensive and candid SWOT Analysis, which allows the team to develop plans and move forward with confidence.

Step 3: Strategies, Action Plans, Monitoring and Review

Once the direction for growth has been determined and the financial and operational upgrades needed to promote that growth have been identified, then a list of growth objectives can be proposed and agreed upon by the planning team.  Once the growth objectives have been officially accepted, then the affiliated strategies and action plans, with time tables and milestones to mark interim demonstrations of success, can be developed, discussed and accepted by the team,

Major planning initiatives benefit from monthly or quarterly review, so that incorrect assumptions and forecasts can be quickly revealed and corrections made.  An internal communications plan designed to keep plan participants and non-participating staff apprised of the strategic plan’s progress supports the motivation to continue to carry out the action plans that drive success on the ground.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Why Won’t the Client Call You Back?

You were thrilled to be invited to submit a proposal for a project that will bring in a good amount of billable hours wrapped in a most respectable fee structure.  In the meeting with your prospective client, you asked all the right questions–

  • Confirmation of the decision-maker, s/he who can green-light the project
  • Details of the project timetable and deadline
  • The approximate start date
  • The value of the project outcomes and deliverables to the organization
  • The project  budget

You have every reason to believe that the project is legitimate and that there is organizational money and motive to get it done.  You may have worked previously with this client and you relish the prospect of working with him/her again.  Or, you’ve not worked with this client before and the project represents a step-up for you.  You can’t wait to add this brand enhancing and validating client to your roster and you plan to do whatever it takes to exceed expectations and become a preferred vendor.

Because you met with the project advocate and decision-maker, your comprehensive and professionally presented proposal is essentially a confirmation of what was discussed and agreed upon.  The deliverables and deadline are confirmed.  Your proposed financials are within budget.  You’ve submitted on time.  You were told when the answer would be given.

But uh, oh, that date passed three weeks ago and you are now tense with worry.  Where are they?  You try sending a diplomatically written email, but receive no reply.  A week later you call the project advocate and s/he has stopped answering the phone, regardless of when you call, early or late.  In resignation you leave a voicemail and of course, there’s no reply to that, either.

Why do clients play these passive-aggressive games? What the hell are they made of? Here are some behind-the-scenes reasons that will let you see the other side and I hope, avoid feeling like a failure and a fool.

  1. There’s no answer yet

Just because your prospect told you that s/he is the decision-maker does not mean that s/he is the sole decision-maker.  Group decisions are the norm.  Your prospect is most likely one of three or four “decision-makers,” the one who is assigned to speak with all vendor candidates, or maybe just one or two.  Alternatively, your prospect may be one of several team leaders who at the end of the month (or whenever) sit down and review all pending projects and discuss proposals received.

Depending on what is going on at the organization, the team leaders will agree to move forward on certain projects, delay one or two and put the remaining on hold.  Your prospect may advocate for funding, but a project that is more urgent, or more favored by other team leaders, could overrule your prospect and kill your project.  Your project advocate will speak with you only when a definitive answer can be given to you.

2.  Waiting for a favored vendor

One of the group of decision-makers may have the power to push in a vendor candidate with whom s/he has worked previously (and who may have the inside track).  That vendor candidate might be a late entry and no decision will be made until his/her bid is received and reviewed.  One of the vendors might have a powerful friend on the decision-making team and that friend plans to push his/her preferred vendor candidate into the project (whether or not that vendor is the best qualified, or offers the most competitive price).  Your prospective client is too busy politicking to speak with you.  S/he would like to say yes, but a battle must first be won, s/he hopes.

3.  Your decision-maker advocate has had an unexpected emergency 

Things happen.  An unexpected problem or opportunity may draw your advocate’s attention away from your project, which is no doubt #1 in your life, but is only one of many possibilities that exist in the constantly shifting landscape that is the new economy.  Short-term priorities and putting out fires are the order of the day.  Your prospective client is too busy to speak with you.

4.  An unexpected loss of support

Second-guessing is practically an Olympic sport in organizations today.  I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t take much to pour cold water on a project and reverse a decision that once earned the favor of the decision-making team.  It could be that the heaviest heavyweight on the team, when all is said and done, does not feel that the project ROI is worth the investment of time, staff attention and money.  Your advocate and perhaps others may believe in the project and they’re scrambling to keep it alive and included on this year’s calendar.  Your project advocate is too embarrassed to talk; s/he feels humiliated and powerless.

5.  Project funding may not yet be officially awarded, or has been lost

Your project advocate and prospective client may have spoken too soon about the availability of an adequate budget for the project.  There could have been a last-minute decision to fund another project that is now perceived as more important by one or more of the decision-making team.  Maybe a project that was previously put on hold will now be given the green light?

Your advocate must now 1.) Confirm if there will be available money in this fiscal year, or the next, and 2.) Confirm the amount of money that will be earmarked for your project.  Your prospect is too frustrated to speak with you now; s/he has lost face.

6. Your proposal was used to get pricing info and to create a budget

Sometimes a Freelancer gets no respect and it’s a terrible thing.  Prospects who are not ready to commit may nevertheless wonder how much it would cost to get a certain job done and so they’ll seek out a Freelancer or two and request a proposal.  They ask Freelancers who they don’t know.  Avoid sending a proposal to an unknown “prospect” who mysteriously sends you a Request For a Proposal The Unexpected RFP .

7.  You were not awarded the project

Your proposal was not selected and the prospect who was not meant to be wants to avoid disappointing you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Spring Training: Perfecting Your Elevator Pitch

We get only one chance to make a good first impression and beyond the visual presentation that your clothing and accessories communicate, followed by how you greet those that you meet (with a pleasantly firm handshake, friendly eye contact and a warm smile), what you say means a great deal.

In business-related gatherings or meetings the direct communication of your elevator pitch must grab the attention of the listener, inspire confidence and entice him/her to want to hear more.  Your elevator pitch is a sales technique wrapped in a conversational tone that piques the interest or even curiosity of the prospects, referral sources, investors, or strategic partners that you meet and entices them to want to know more about you and what you do.  Your elevator pitch is Step 2 in the process of meeting and winning over a VIP (getting the meeting is Step 1).

An elevator pitch (or elevator speech) is your official business introduction.  In it, you state what you do, for whom you do it and the outcomes and/or benefits that you provide to your clients, all in about 30 seconds.  As the story goes you step into the elevator, encounter someone who would like to know who you are and you roll out your spiel between floors.

A well-designed and delivered elevator pitch answers the (unspoken) question, “What can you do for me?” If good luck is on your side, you’ll have a business card handed to you, with a request to call that afternoon at 5:15 PM.  Your elevator pitch should address at least three of the following points:

  • The problem or need that you solve, i.e., the purpose or mission of your venture.
  • Identify your usual or ideal target clients (for-profit, not-for-profit, life sciences professionals, B2B, B2G, Fortune 1000, etc.).
  • Identify one or two of the primary results that your organization provides.
  • Name one or two of the primary benefits that your clients receive as a result of your services.

Depending on what you do, your (heavy-hitting) client list, the person or group that you’re addressing, or your mood, don’t shy away from getting a little bold about the value that you bring.  Even introverts can step up in their own quietly determined way.  If you have some credible (and demonstrable) metrics to attach to the outcomes and results that you produce, so much the better.  That is, if you can truthfully say, for example,  that 9 out of 10 of the marketing campaigns that you design for clients are routinely associated with a 15% increase in top line (gross) revenues within a 12 month period, then include that information in your elevator pitch.

Alternatively, you can keep your pitch very stripped-down and simple and state something like, “You know when this (problem or need) crops up? I fix it.”

Ideally, whoever you’re speaking with will want to hear more but if s/he doesn’t give much of a response, that means you are not speaking with a prospective client and it’s useful to know that up front.  Your elevator pitch will separate the wheat from the chaff and help you recognize who deserves your time and who does not.

If you’ve delivered a good elevator pitch that portrays you as a knowledgeable and trustworthy professional, you may get a client or you may get a referral.  You could also get an invitation to appear on a panel, speak at a business association meeting, or an inquiry about your teaching skills.  An effective elevator pitch is an integral component of the first impression that you make.  Be certain that what you say communicates your brand in the best possible way and it will open doors for you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim