Time-Tracking Freelance Work

  • How many of you use time-tracking so that you can accurately count your billable hours when on assignment? I still count hours the old-fashioned way and I know that I cheat myself out of no less than an hour or so every week. My bad! I’ve occasionally thought about time-tracking assistance, but I never knew where to begin. A new year will soon welcome us and that’s a traditional motivator to set goals and improve work habits.

As I suspected, time-tracking systems have their differences. Some are designed with remote teams in mind; others make a department manager’s life easier. Certain time-tracking systems have been created to address the needs of Freelancers and we’ll sort through a sampling here:

Due Time Tracking

Due Time is free and easy to use—just create a task, start the timer and launch your session. You can click and add notes to detail the project you’re working on. Due Time also includes an automatic idle time detection feature, so you’re able to make allowances for stepping away from your project now and again and still remain accurate in tracking your work hours.

You’ll be pleased to find that Due Time will generate hourly rate or project fee invoices when you enter the rate. Due Time makes it easy to organize client information by name, address, or even payment currency.  Due Time

TopTracker

Along with tracking the number of hours you spend on project tasks, Top Tracker offers screen shots and webcam shots that document your work. Screen shot pages can be deleted or configured to automatically blur before uploading, so that the image is recognizable to you but all text is obscured. The service works with nearly every freelancing platform and will produce a detailed project activity report to document your performance. The service is free.  TopTracker

Sighted Time Tracking and Invoicing

Sighted Time Tracking seamlessly integrates the functions of time-tracking and invoicing, packaged in either the free Basic Service plan or the Premium Plan at $4.00 /month. You can make detailed project notes for every session and also automatically send invoices for hours worked that are customized for billable hours or project fee.

Furthermore, users can send out quotes to prospects when invited to bid on a project and accept credit or debit card payments online and issue a receipt to the client. Plus, you can do it all on your desktop or mobile device.  Sighted

Tick

Each time you submit a time entry, Tick updates your project and task budgets in real time and reports it back to you.  If you regularly track your time against an hourly rate budget of project fee that involves an important deadline or penalties for late completion, then Tick may be your ideal time-tracking solution. It’s even possible to track time on multiple projects simultaneously.  While the service can be used by a solo Freelancer, it is especially suited for a team.

Tick is free if a single user employs the service for one project per month, $19.00/month for an unlimited number of users who’ll track a maximum of 10 projects/month and up to $149.00 /month for an unlimited number of workers to time track an unlimited number of projects.  Tick

Four more time-tracking options will be examined in the next post. Have a good week!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Sundial at the Gate of Honour at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridgeshire, England

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Selling to Small Businesses

While billion dollar revenue enterprise companies, along with disruptive technology focused start-ups and their Millennial Generation hoodie-wearing founders receive overwhelming attention in the business press, let’s remember that America is a nation of primarily small and medium-sized business ventures.

As documented in a 2018 report published by the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 27.9 million privately run businesses in the U.S. and 23 million are owned and operated by Solopreneurs.  SMBs employ 47.9 % of the private workforce (non-governmental, for-profit organizations), 58.9 million people. Twenty million SMBs have fewer than 20 employees; the median income of self-employed owners of incorporated businesses in 2016 was $50,347 and the median income of self-employed owners of sole proprietorships was $23,060.

The majority of SMBs have limited budgets for what some owners perceive as non-essential services—marketing, advertising, or IT, for example. Yet, SMB owners will from time to time of necessity feel the need to purchase such services. Timing most likely plays a big factor in your ability to make a sale but should the opportunity land in your lap, you must handle it skillfully. Selling to the SMB owner is a delicate business.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Demonstrate excellent value

Nevertheless, there is money to be made in the SMB market. The social media marketing company HubSpot and Google have made untold millions in profits by targeting SMBs. In your sales pitch, detail the story of a client who shared a similar goal or faced a similar challenge, so that the SMB owner can get a clear picture of how your product or service can help him/her achieve goals.

If you can provide a link to a case study that’s on your website or social media, so much the better. SMB owners are usually worried about how they can cover expenses and simultaneously make their desired profit and they are cautious about spending money.  Show your SMB prospect that your product or service will solve the problem or see to it that the goal is achieved.

Describe how your product or service can help grow the business

Profit, growth and financial stability are the big goals of SMB owners. If you want the sale, identify preferably tangible benefits that will enhance one or more of those metrics. New customer acquisition and customer retention are also important benefits to emphasize.

Deliver results in the near term

Whatever your product or service, the faster that some portion of the ROI can be documented, the better. Too many SMB owners are concerned about cash-flow and they need to see that their investment in your product or service delivers the expected results ASAP.  When considering whether to pursue the SMB market, evaluate whether your product or service can deliver benefits quickly, at least in part.

Follow up and follow through

When selling to the SMB owner, you would be wise to under-promise and over-deliver. Your enthusiastic sales presentation must carry forward into enthusiastic customer service as well. If there is difficulty with the implementation of the product or service you sold them, meaning that the ROI cannot materialize within the expected time frame, your SMB client may very well discontinue the service and cancel future orders if you do not quickly rectify the problem.

But if you are knowledgeable, transparent and dependable, you will be positioned to  receive repeat business from your client and referrals to colleagues in his/her network.  SMB owners are often part of a community of trusted fellow business owners and most will be happy to spread the word about your good work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Photograph: The Arthur Anderson Barber Shop in Mattoon, IL circa 1920. Mr. Anderson is standing at right, and employee Sidney Williams stands at left.                                 Courtesy of Eastern Illinois University

Who Gets the 1099?

The year is drawing to a close and we’re crossing into the 11th month. Before you become enmeshed in the celebrations and obligations that the holidays demand of us, do yourself a favor and commence your tax planning. Create an accounts receivable and  invoicing strategy once you’ve decided when it would be most advantageous to receive payment for services rendered in this calendar/ tax year or the next. IRS Form 1099-MISC will be at the center of the action; understanding when you’ll need it and when you might avoid it is your goal.

The payment in question is $600, whether it was paid or received by your organization. Review the accounts receivable history of clients for whom you performed small jobs earlier in the year.  If a client paid you less than $600 in this calendar year, you will not receive or need to file a Form 1099-MISC for the money earned on that assignment.

Start with the easy stuff.  If you find yourself in mid-contract with a client as December approaches and the project isn’t urgent, might it be possible to work until just before Christmas and then resume work in the first week of January, if it appears that will allow you to cap your billable amount at less than $600 for the client in this calendar/ tax year?  That can be one less 1099-MISC to file and a little more money added to your P & L.

If the client has a deadline don’t even think of such a thing but if there is no urgency, why not ask the client if s/he might find it more convenient to take a “holiday break” starting in mid or late December? Many employees take vacation days at the end of the year in a “use it or lose it” strategy and offices can be short-handed just before Christmas and through the end of the year.  I suggest that you refrain from mentioning the tax implications.  Frame your suggestion as a way of being sensitive to what may be going on in the client’s office, i.e., customer service.

Similarly, might you be able to defer until the New Year certain invoices, as a way to keep a lid on this year’s income and taxes and wait until the first week of January to send accounts receivable for work that was performed in December? Let a couple of hours work spill over into January and make your New Year invoice legal.

Now let’s consider the 1099-MISC forms that you will generate and send.  Did you hire any sub-contractors to help you fulfill the terms of a project? Have you hired a part-time bookkeeper or social media expert or editor for your newsletter? If you paid $600 or more to anyone for business services or rents in this calendar/ tax year, then you must send that individual/ company a Form 1099-MISC no later than January 31 of the upcoming year.

So that you will have the information to complete the Form 1099-MISC, it will be necessary to request that all of your vendors and other business services providers complete a Form W-9, ideally before the work they perform commences.  Download Form W-9

Among the important pieces of information that the W-9 will surface is if your service provider’s business is incorporated as a chapter C or S entity, or an LLC or partnership that is taxed as a C or S corporation.  Along with commercial rent paid to or through a property management company (instead of the property owner), a 1099-MISC will not be required for those types of entities when payments for services rendered meet or surpass $600.

Payments for services rendered made by gift card, debit, or credit card are not to be included in the 1099-MISC tally.  Instead, the card issuers will send a Form 1099-K to your subcontractors, vendors, or you when the amount paid for business services rendered meets or surpasses $600.

Obtaining the 1099-MISC is an adventure. You must order forms from the IRS, or visit an IRS service center and pick up a few. The form is not available for downloading.  Click here to order Form 1099-MISC.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Tax Collector, 1542   Marinus van Reymerswaele (1490 – 1546)                  Courtesy of Alte Pinakothek Museum in Munich, Germany

Optimize Your Press Release For Social Media

The social media tsunami shows no sign of abating. According to 2018 data supplied by Statista, 68% of US adults have a Facebook profile and 75% of that group logs on daily. According to data supplied by the social media management platform Hootsuite, 21 % of US residents are active users of Twitter in 2018; 22 % are age 30 – 49 years and 18 % are age 50 – 64 years.

Instagram claims the loyalty of 20 % of the US population, 38 % of users are women and 26 % are men. Thirty-three percent of Instagram active users are age 30 – 49 years and 18 % are age 50 – 64 years. Sprout Social, the social media management platform, reports that 71 % of US businesses have an Instagram account.  Instagram data shows that 80 % of its users follow at least one business and 60 % of users have learned about a business through the platform.

I think you’ll agree that we  may reasonably conclude that exploiting social media’s hold on the population is a wise business decision.  Social media platforms are widely accepted in both the business and personal sectors and as indicated by the statics above, its influence continues to rapidly expand as innovators and thought leaders continually pioneer creative uses for it.

The tried-and-true press release has recently been pulled into the social media orbit.  Why not make your company’s next press release stand out to journalists and bloggers and kick it up a notch with social media tools? A press release optimized with the right social media platforms can be a savvy promotional add-on that complements the standard format you’ll send to media outlets.

Step One is to create a traditional press release that concisely and dynamically describes the who, what, when, where and why of your announcement and communicates why readers of your target media outlets, as well as your clients and social media followers, will appreciate the information.

Step Two is to customize your press release with social media that make your story pop and hook your target audience.  Let’s review the building blocks of a well-written press release:

Headline
Devise an attention-grabbing hook for your headline. Use SEO key words, wherever practical.

Sub-Headline (if needed)
There may be a second, follow-up headline that enhances or clarifies the primary headline. Use SEO key words here.

Contact
Who do interested parties contact for follow-up or more information? Include the name, title and preferred method of contact specifics.

Summary
A two or three sentence overview of the key message(s) of the press release may be appreciated, especially if it is longer than one page.

Body
Place the selling points of your media pitch here, in language that resonates with readers.  Incorporate key words for those who may be searching the topic.

Company info
Include a brief company bio with links to the company website and social media.

Social media links
Optimize your press release with social media links that enhance its storytelling power and go beyond the traditional text format. Include a brief video, two or three still photos and links to additional text that will support your story and resonate with your intended readers.

Media kit links
A soft-sell promotion of your company will be achieved when you dip into the media kit and include links to previous press releases, whether social media optimized or not. If your company has been favorably mentioned in the press, especially in articles that support the purpose of your press release, provide links.

Tags
Share your social media optimized press release on your company’s Facebook Fan page, Twitter hashtags and social bookmarking sites.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Image: A poem for “The Pavilion with Various Views,” attributed to Mi Fu (1051 – 1107) Northern Song Dynasty, China

Trick or Treat! Bring Back Your Lapsed Clients

Halloween will soon arrive and ghosts and goblins are on our minds—and candy, too. All Hallows Eve (October 31), along with the Christian feast days of All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2) have got me thinking about bringing lapsed clients back from the great beyond and gently returning them to active status. While some clients give us only a one-off project, others are worth a steady, even if sometimes modest, stream of billable hours and as such, they are worth the comparatively small effort it takes to try and lure them back. Here are some statistics you’ll find persuasive:

1. It costs 5 times more to acquire a new client than it does to retain an existing one.
2. You have a 60% – 70% chance of selling to an existing client and only a 5% – 20% chance of selling to a prospect who has never done business with you.
3. Existing clients are 50% more likely to try your new product or service.
4. Existing clients on average spend 31% more than your newest clients.

So you see that we save time and money, as well as make more money, when we return to our lapsed clients. Surprisingly, only 18% of businesses have a defined client retention strategy, according to a recent marketing survey, but you now know that means money is being left on the table, something you cannot afford to do. Begin your client retention strategy as soon as you’re hired for a project. Shift your perspective—you haven’t just closed a sale, you’ve opened the door to a relationship.

Because marketing experts report that 89% of companies recognize that the client experience is a key factor in driving loyalty and retention, do your business a favor and devise a quick client satisfaction survey, maybe five or six questions, and get some post-project feedback. Clients always appreciate that you value their insights on how your organization does business. You might receive information that will make your business more competitive and therefore more favorably positioned to both win back and acquire clients.

The December holidays are approaching and that gives you the most golden opportunity for client outreach, the holiday card. Start thinking about your cards NOW. Would you like to have your local Sir Speedy or Kinko design a card for your clients? That will take some time and you want to be ready to mail in the first week of December. Remember that holiday cards intended for clients have a “Happy Holidays” message and not a religious message.

If you publish a newsletter or blog, clients past and present are ideal candidates for your mailing list. Clients have willingly shared their contact information and that gives you permission to send each a courtesy copy. Your content is an effective way to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your business acumen, making it similar to an ongoing audition for future assignments. Your newsletter or blog are effective ways to keep your organization at top of mind. Nevertheless, include an opt-out feature for those who prefer to discontinue.

Finally, you can offer a 20 % discount to any client who has not worked with you for the past three or more years. You might include the notice in two successive issues of your blog or newsletter, or send a separate email announcement, or both. However you get the word out, I suggest that you honor the discount for any client who requests it, even if it’s a year after the announcement appeared and you just competed a project with that client last month.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Jonathan Frid as vampire Barnabas Collins in the ABC-TV gothic horror soap opera “Dark Shadows” (1966-1971)

What’s Your Problem?

Whether your customers are B2B, B2C, or B2G, no matter if you sell products or services, tangible or intangible, you will, through trial and error, lost sales and big paydays, develop good stories that convince customers and make sales. Over the years you will trot these warhorses out again and again because they take you to the bank.

Your selling stories can take any number of approaches depending on what and to whom you sell, but one tried-and-true selling story category is the Problem Story. In a Problem Story you demonstrate that you can relate to the prospect’s pain points, you understand what is driving the prospect’s situation and you’re prepared to work with him/her to come up with an effective and reasonably priced solution (that just so happens to reside in your product or service line).

The best Problem Stories have a basic format that you can then adapt and apply to any prospect. Learn to personalize your Problem Story with a visit to your prospect’s website, an internet search to read what’s appeared in the press and if you met the prospect at a business association meeting or similar event, a call to the membership chairperson to get additional info about the prospect and his/her business. Get the back story and begin to comprehend the big picture of your prospect’s goals and understand what really matters. Now you can put together and customize a winning Problem Story.

For example, I provide event planning and PR services for a couple of large annual art events that are sponsored by an artist’s organization. The project specs describe the event planning responsibilities and event promotion public relations campaign that I’m hired to manage, but the unspoken purpose of my job is to persuade art lovers, art dealers, museum curators and the curious public to attend the event and buy art. My service enables the meeting of the relevant parties, so that business can be done.

When I write for the women entrepreneurs magazine where I am a staff writer, my unspoken purpose is to provide compelling content that persuades readers to click on my articles. Those clicks are tallied and they measure both my value to the magazine and the magazine’s value to advertisers, whose budgets sustain the publication.

Problem Stories communicate your understanding of what the prospect is facing and why s/he needs your help. Problem Stories communicate your authenticity because they entail sharing and not just telling. You “get it” and you care. A Problem Story is the opposite of a canned, impersonal sales pitch.

BTW, problem Stories can have a life beyond your conversations with prospects. With client permission if you’d like to reveal names, your Problem Stories make excellent case studies that you can upload to your website, Facebook page and LinkedIn profile, or share with the listening audience when you are a pod cast guest. Make use of your Problem Story wherever and whenever you’d like to demonstrate expertise, build trust and grow your customer base.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Academy-Award winning actor (“Network,” Best Actor 1977) Peter Finch (1916 – 1977) as Howard Beale in “Network” (1976). Directed by Sidney Lumet.

Can You Bring Blockchain into Your Business?

The technology known as Blockchain has received loads of attention in the business and tech press over the past three years or so but until recently, I never understood what it and never thought it would apply to me, anyway. Blockchain is for the big guys, right? Not really. The benefits of Blockchain play to many audiences.

Before we go any further, let’s understand what Blockchain is. Blockchain is a record-keeping ledger that is accessible only to its participating creators. Blockchain is also the ultimate permanent record because information entered into a Blockchain document cannot be deleted and will be stored forever. Registered participants may enter new data into the Blockchain ledger to update it, but nothing can be deleted.

Blockchain data is secure and permanent and each document entered into the network has an unique software code. Once the document is triggered, that’s it—the document is forever locked down. If it becomes necessary to make substantive changes, one must start over with a new Blockchain document.

Companies that deliver complex services or offer a wide array of products that are purchased from numerous sources are a natural fit for Blockchain. Think of retail operations that order inventory from overseas manufacturers. Cultural business practices, language differences and the processes of ordering, shipping, payment and confirming arrival of the goods creates many opportunities for the ball to be dropped. Blockchain enables all parties to monitor in real time every action-oriented element in a contract and can even link payments to meeting milestones that demonstrate fulfillment of terms.

Freelancers, professional service providers and small business owners can also find practical uses for Blockchain technology. For example, the Blockchain Smart Contract has potential for broad usage. Your Smart Contract is registered with the network and legally cleared as a valid agreement. Each point of agreement specified in the contract, e.g., the scope of work, milestones, deadlines and the invoicing schedule, is then automated and when fulfilled, that element is triggered and recorded as complete. That achievement allows any incentives connected to its fulfillment to be approved and awarded.

Let’s say that you contract to write a certain number of social media posts for a client. When your post is received by the client, or when you’ve uploaded it to the the client’s account, your Blockchain Smart Contract will signal that you are eligible to be paid for your work and you will not need to send an invoice to request payment. What a relief!

Blockchain can simplify and speed accounts receivable payments and as a result, enhance your cash-flow. Moreover, if you hold client credit card information that is used for automated payments, the information will be super- secure in the Blockchain network. Clients will feel more confident when doing business with you when you deliver your services with cutting-edge efficiency that includes an added layer of protection for their financial information. In other words, Blockchain is a brand and customer service enhancer.

For more information on how to set up Smart Contracts for your important projects, visit https://applicature.com/smart-contracts-development/. Plan on $500 for reusable Smart Contract development.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Image: “Signing the Marriage Contract” (1905) by George Sheridan Knowles (private collection)

Is Your Idea a Business or a Dead End?

Ha! So you think you have an idea that you can parlay into a good business, whether it’s a cutting edge technology or a tried and true formula, like a car wash.

Regardless of the industry that you’d like to enter, there is a more or less standard checklist of factors you should consider before investing your money, time and hopes. Before fantasies of entrepreneurship carry you away, do yourself a favor and answer these questions first. You’ll know how to proceed from here, whether it means that you meet with the Branch Manager at your bank to learn about business financing options, or you take a trip back to the drawing board.

1. Who are the target customers and what is the size of the market?

Define your market demographic. Who will pay to buy what you plan to sell? Is this a product or service that is growing in popularity, or maintaining its broad appeal, or is there a shift in customer preference on the horizon as those who would be your customers learn about a new choice that may persuade them to switch to The Next Big Thing?

In addition to demand for your intended product or service, are there enough customers in your location to support the business? By the way, how are your competitors doing? Do they appear to be thriving?

2. What is the problem that target customers want to solve or avoid when they do business with companies like your proposed venture?

Understand the back story of why customers would buy the solutions that you plan to sell. What is it that they’d like to achieve or avoid? One calls a window washer when the windows are dirty because clean windows demonstrate the owner’s desire to protect and enhance the value of his/her home.

3. How are target customers meeting their need today?

What businesses would be your primary three or four competitors? What factors persuade their customers to do business with them—a convenient location, exceptional product variety, discount pricing, the right relationships?

What advantage can you offer that customers might be drawn to—more convenient hours of operation, for example? Can you provide a product or service that meets a need that is valued but not currently addressed?

4. What is your solution (product or service)?

Describe your proposed product or service. You should be able to easily and clearly describe (and sell) your product. Develop an off-the-cuff sales pitch, record your delivery of it, then listen and evaluate. Would you buy this product or service?

5. How will you reach your customers?

If your business is B2C and requires a physical location, can you afford to set up shop in an area that potential customers will visit? If your business idea is B2B, do you have a plan to access customers and referrals? If your plan is for e-commerce, how will potential customers learn about your website?

6. Do you have the credibility and credentials to do business in this industry?

Especially if you plan to enter the B2B sector, be certain that your education and experience will command respect and trust. If obtaining certain licensing, certifications, or an educational degree is vital (even if not required), investigate the process, plus the time and money involved.

7. Do you have the funding to launch the business?

Research the expected business start-up costs and think objectively about how long it might take you to start making sales you can live on.

Pay your bills and get your credit score. Build up your savings. Whether you expect to self-finance, ask to borrow from friends, family, or your retirement account or apply for outside funding, you will need a lump sum of cash on hand when you launch a business.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Financial District, Boston, MA. Kim Clark, September 23, 2018

Resources to Grow Your One Person Shop

Every business owner dreams of growing his/her venture into a thriving entity and some even enact plans to make that happen. Once in a while, a business owner has the good fortune to create a venture that takes off like a rocket but usually, building a business is a slow boil. Whatever your circumstances, it will take time and resources to grow and expand your enterprise.

Most business owners and Freelancers think first of investment capital, an additional product or service line, or increasing the client list and billable hours when contemplating what it will take to grow revenues and profit, but the process of building a bigger business almost always requires additional staffing as well. For the typical business, that means deciding whether new staff members will be full or part-time employees. Freelancers face a different picture, however, since most work alone. Still, additional staffing will make it possible for you to more quickly and effectively position your Freelance consultancy for growth.

So what kind of hired help might a Freelancer bring on, once the growth strategy has been determined? Start by considering which of your business functions might be successfully outsourced, perhaps to a fellow Freelancer. Specialized tasks, such as your quarterly tax preparation and filing, can be performed by a Freelance bookkeeper. Your new bookkeeper will also be able to prepare and send 1099 forms to those who bill $600 or more/year to you for professional services rendered. Furthermore, your bookkeeper can ready the information that you’ll deliver to your accountant for the annual tax preparation and filing.

Accounts receivable and accounts payable functions are other tasks that a bookkeeper can take on, since these are financial transactions. Accounts receivable management means invoicing, a task that many Freelancers have difficulty keeping up with. You’ll have to supply information about the project fee, payment schedule, hourly rate and hours worked for each billable client, but the invoices will be prepared and emailed on time. Moreover, a savvy bookkeeper will give you valuable advice about maintaining healthy business cash-flow and other financial management suggestions.

Marketing tasks, including the editing of your blog and/or newsletter (which you may prefer to continue writing yourself), is another business function that might be successfully outsourced to a fellow Freelancer. If LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms play a regular part in your marketing campaigns, then contact a social media marketing expert to discuss how s/he can help your organization.

A talented marketing expert will bring a fresh perspective and innovative ideas that can reinvigorate your overall marketing strategy, refine your approach to social media and also manage social media postings on your preferred platforms. Not only that, your Freelance marketing specialist will read and analyze statistics for each platform and use the info to guide future campaigns.

When you’ve removed a few important, yet time-consuming, tasks from your plate, you can then freely direct a laser focus on finding and creating opportunities that will ensure that you achieve business goals. You’ll design and implement an effective launch strategy for the new products or services you plan to introduce. You’ll have time and energy to network your way into a longer client list or pursue new or niche markets that will enlarge your customer base and pump up your billable hours and sales revenue. You might also explore outside funding sources that will allow you to purchase new equipment or open your first office.

Now that you understand the role that staffing plays in business growth, let’s take a look at the hiring process. Personal referrals are usually a good place to start and no doubt between the contacts you’ve made at business association events that you at least occasionally visit and your list of contacts, potential candidates will surface. You might also try an online resource such as LinkedIn ProFinder or Upwork. The Freelancers on these sites are carefully vetted and closely monitored to ensure that they meet client expectations. As you interview potential hires, keep a few things in mind:

EXPERIENCE—Does the candidate possess the necessary skill set to be an asset to you and your business? Ask to see examples of the kind of work that you’ll request.

RAPPORT—You will discuss matters close to your heart with this person, so it will be important that the two of you communicate well and get along.

AVAILABILITY—Does the candidate have time to take on the projects that you need to get done? If you envision just 4-6 hours of work per month, for example, is the candidate willing to take on such an assignment? Also, if you expect emails and phone calls to be answered on the same business day, make that known. Get agreement on when the business day begins and ends and how each of you expects requests made over the weekend to be handled.

FEE—Shop around and get quotes from three or four service providers, but understand that the lowest fee may not result in the best value for dollars spent.

REFERENCES—Inquire as to the types of clients your candidate has worked with. Ask to speak with two current or former clients, so that you understand the depth of expertise and the type of customer service that your candidate provides.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Nina Leen, 1948. Eileen Ford (1922-2014), co-founder with her husband Jerry Ford (d.2008) of the Ford Modeling Agency, at their New York City office. Ford Modeling Agency represented supermodels through the decades, including Cheryl Tiegs, Lauren Hutton, Naomi Campbell, Suzy Parker and Jeannie Shrimpton.

How to Make Better Decisions

Making good decisions is a crucial life skill and a defining component of success in life and business but so many times we wonder what the best course of action might be. Theoretically, we make decisions after evaluating the available information, weighing the potential impact of our actions (or inaction) and determining what appears to be the best option. But truth be told, we rarely have all the information that could guide us as we decide and as a result, decision-making is loaded with unknowns. Not only that, our perception of the best course of action is inevitably shaped by our past experiences and personal biases.

Fortunately, methods exist that have been designed to limit some percentage of the unknowns and biases inherent in decision-making. One approach, a type of strategic planning known as scenario planning, has been attributed to 1950s era executives at the RAND Corporation.

In its most simplified form, scenario planning involves imagining three possible future environments for each decision alternative: a future where things get better, a future where things get worse and a future where they stay about the same. Scenario planning also allows decision-makers to factor in variables: what you know, what you don’t know and what you don’t know you don’t know.

Scenario planning requires decision-makers (and strategic planning teams) to think outside the box and imagine what might happen if a certain road is taken and then create a story line that “paints a picture” of what your life or business will look like while on that road.

When faced with an important decision, we all tell ourselves a story that describes an idealized version of what our life will look like if we do (or avoid) a certain thing. For example, if you’re thinking of changing careers, you tell yourself a story of how much more satisfying and/or lucrative work will become if you make the change. If you’re considering a move to a warmer climate because you’ve had enough of winter, your story focuses on the avoidance of snow and ice and the warm, soft breezes that await in the new location.

If you include a scenario planning exercise in your decision process, you’ll be encouraged to fill in a few more potentially relevant details that go beyond the rosy picture that you paint as you daydream about new possibilities. If you’re seriously considering a job change, scenario planning will guide you to fully investigate, among other things, the credentials or professional experience you must earn to successfully change careers and how much time and money that will cost you. The ROI of the career change is another component you’ll examine as you objectively evaluate your likely job prospects and reasonable expectations for professional advancement and earning ability.

In addition to scenario planning, there is also a clever decision-making support tactic called the “pre-mortem” that was developed by psychologist Gary Klein, Ph.D. and his team in 1989. Inspired by the post mortem, when a coroner or hospital pathologist performs an autopsy on the deceased to determine the cause of death, Klein’s pre-mortem technique flips the script. “Our exercise,” Dr. Klein explains, “is to ask decision-makers to imagine that it is months into the future and that their plan has been carried out—-and it has failed. That is all they know; they have to explain why they think it failed.”

So you think you want to move to Florida? OK, so you move down in early November, just ahead of winter. You’ve got no snow to shovel and that’s a relief. But there are alligators on the golf course and you know, those things eat pets and people. You’ve been down there for 8 months and you’ve had to call an exterminator 3 times because there are these scary bugs crawling through your house. Not only that, but Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas when the temperature was 80 degrees. Oh, and in the winter everyone you know begged to stay with you for a week so they could escape the snow and ice but you were in no mood to entertain people because your vacation is scheduled for August. Maybe this move was not the greatest choice? The pre-mortem will make you think about many potential downsides to your decision and help you understand if you can live with the fallout.

Klein attests that the pre-mortem has proved to be a much more effective way to recognize the lurking flaws in a decision. Magical thinking, from groupthink to confirmation bias, blinds us to potential pitfalls once we’ve become attached to a decision. By forcing ourselves to imagine scenarios where a decision turned out to be disastrous, we can discover the holes in the plan.

Eventually you must pull the trigger and commit to a decision. In some cases, working through the initial phases of decision-making will lead to an obvious choice. But if a decision you can accept still seems unattainable, the final phase can be completed with an old-school pros and cons list. What have you got to lose?

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Image: Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848 – May 8, 1903) detail of “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (1978-98) courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston