Form 1099 Changes for Tax Year 2020

Freelance Consultants will soon receive from clients who were billed $600 or more in tax year 2020 the IRS Form 1099 and as many of you may have heard, changes were made. The general rules concerning who must file the form remain the same, but there are now two versions —-the 1099–NEC and a recalibrated 1099–MISC. Freelancers must receive their appropriate Form 1099 no later than February 1, 2021. The 1099–NEC cannot be downloaded online, but must be ordered from the IRS website.

1099–NEC (non-employee compensation) will be filed by Freelancers and that includes attorneys. Clients must send out this version of the 1099 when:

1. Payments of at least $600 were made during tax year 2020 to an individual (or company) who provided services to the client company but who is not formally employed by the client company.

2. Payment was made for services rendered and not for products or merchandise.

3. Payment was made to an individual, partnership, or other unincorporated entity. With the exception of attorneys or law firms, payments to either C or S corporations are not recorded on Form 1099–NEC or 1099–MISC.

Freelancers who file 1099–NEC will report their income on IRS Schedule C (Profit or Loss from Business), a supporting document of Form 1040. Your client should ask you to complete IRS Form W-9 if you bill, or expect to bill, $600 or more in the year.

Clients would traditionally mail to the Freelancer a hard copy of 1099-NEC (copy B), but the client may ask, or Freelancers can request, that an electronic copy be sent instead. Email correspondence between client and Freelancer, in which the Freelancer consents to receiving an electronic 1099–NEC from the client, is all that’s required to authorize the electronic format.

1099–MISC will be filed by recipients, including Limited Liability Companies (LLC), of $600 or more in rent payments (landlords), plus prize and award winners who receive $600 or more and recipients of royalties in excess of $10.

Other types of 1099–MISC income includes payments to an attorney or law firm for fees other than legal services, payment received from a legal settlement, fishing boat proceeds and non-qualified deferred compensation.

Freelancers and merchants who accept credit and debit card payments (maybe on Square, Stripe, or PayPal) will receive Form 1099–K from payment processors if those payments amounted to $20,000 or more and 200 or more transactions took place during calendar year 2020.

The card transaction income reported on 1099–K confirms for both the business and the IRS that income reported on 1099–K and Schedule C aligns. However, the business may also receive checks or even cash, so Schedule C income may be greater than 1099–K income.

The 1099 is part of federal taxes, but 39 states also require it to be filed with annual taxes. States that do not require the 1099 to be filed at that time are: Alaska, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

Did I mention that 4Q2020 taxes are due on Friday January 15? Just saying.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

2021: The Comeback

It’s a New Year and now is the time to engineer a fresh start for you and your business. Take a few deep cleansing breaths to clear your mind and allow the big picture of your business, competencies, clients and relationships to come into view. Now you’ll be able to pull up the strategic insights and resourcefulness you’ve honed over the years and brainstorm how you can reposition your company to outwit the COVID-created obstacles that have hemmed all of us in over the past nine months. If the virus can adapt and retrench, so can you!

Predictions for the viability of several once thriving industries is less than optimistic, I’m sorry to say, but some Freelancers and business owners will be buoyed by other industries that flourished during the pandemic and can be expected to continue to do so. Among those fortunate few are:

All aspects of healthcare, from Freelance grant writers who work to obtain funding for life sciences research, which includes the development of vaccines, to start-up entrepreneurs who seek to patent and sell medical devices, to owners of medical billing services.

All aspects of technology, from Bitcoin entrepreneurs, to experts in cloud computing solutions, including digital data storage, to those who provide Artificial Intelligence solutions.

Prepared meals, available for curbside pick-up or delivery, were already trending upward and sales have skyrocketed since the advent of pandemic quarantining. While some who got an early start in the marketplace are succeeding by offering meat-potatoes-and gravy American standard menus, recent successful home meal caterers seem to be following the advice of 1930s burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee—-you’ve gotta have a gimmick. The popularity of Keto, vegan, organic, vegetarian, gluten-free and Paleo menus are claiming an increased market share.

Because so many of us are at home all day, unemployed, underemployed, working from home, overseeing children’s online schooling and unable to access our usual social outlets and networks, the cocktail hour has taken on a renewed luster. In other words, business is brisk at wine and liquor stores.

If you’re not a good cook, not a techie, you’re not an engineer who can develop a product, you have no interest in writing grants and could never raise the start-up capital needed to open a liquor store, all is not lost. The second-oldest Freelance career, real estate, is still going strong, particularly in the residential sector.

Condominium and co-op sales at the 8-figure top of the market in big cities have been softening for about two years now, but sales in sun belt states and suburban communities are doing very well. COVID has caused all of us to spend much more time at home and families require more living space now that the adults are often working from home and both need a home office. Children need not just a playroom, but also an in-home classroom for virtual school.

Furthermore, many who now work from home are looking to get out of small and expensive city apartments and move to the suburbs. Now that there is no more commute to the office or access to the entertainment, culture and networking opportunities that once justified the price of urban life, why continue to feed your greedy landlord?

Freelancers who have at least mid-level sales skills and are curious about entering the real estate field should first explore the trends in their locale. Finding a friend who is a licensed agent to tutor you in the ins & outs of the business would be a useful step two. Next, obtain a real estate license and try your luck with rental property to start. Maybe your real estate mentor will recommend you to a company who’ll bring you in as an agent.

Expect and prepare for change

Have you noticed that those who so cavalierly lecture others to welcome and embrace change are nearly always untouched by the change they tell the rest of us to welcome? Change may be inevitable but it is nevertheless unsettling and is sometimes destructive. We have good reason to fear change because the outcome can be ruinous. That said, life is all about managing risk, avoiding or overcoming obstacles and recognizing and pursuing opportunities.

We must all prepare for change, whether we see it approaching or get blind-sided by its sudden impact. Create your ongoing risk management strategy by keeping up with professional development. Regularly read up on developments in your industry so that you’re not caught unawares by policy or customer preference changes. Investigate technologies that will make your company more appealing and responsive to clients and make doing business with your organization more efficient. Always, look for ways to conserve cash.

Stay abreast of customer priorities

Understanding the needs and emerging priorities of clients enables you to recognize future business opportunities for your company and that information will be a crucial component of your nimble response to change and crafting a successful comeback. Including a short customer survey with an invoice will give clients a chance to voice how they feel about your products and services, tell you how your organization can improve and might even give you early warning on the next big thing.

Talk to your clients and learn what you can, politely and over time, to learn what keeps them awake at night and what they’re prioritizing now, or may prioritize in the near term.

Expand your client list, even if you’ve been lucky enough to work with an organization that has prospered during the pandemic and is giving you generous billable hours or sales. As we know, things can change. Back up, back up, back up.

Work smart

I don’t care what anyone says, I still feel that good luck, good timing and knowing influential people are the determining factors in building a successful business enterprise. Hard work matters, too, but billions of people on planet earth work hard every day and starve as they do. Working smart is the better choice, even if your luck and timing aren’t so great and no one’s looking out for you.

Meeting the right people is helpful, but it’s always been random and is difficult to do by way of videoconference, a method of communication that is not conducive to bonding with new colleagues and friends. It’s probably best to look for ways to refresh relationships with strategically placed friends and colleagues who you feel may be inclined to help you. You should also consider ways that you might help them as well and make that known, to get the reciprocity rolling.

Be ready for whatever good luck or timing might come your way by being visible and looking viable. Participate in virtual business or social events so that you’ll see and be seen. Use the chat function to message colleagues and privately say hello and potentially suggest a socially distanced coffee or drinks meet-up.

There are no guarantees but taking steps to package and present yourself and your company as prepared, proactive, nimble and viable is the surest route to your successful comeback.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Sylvester Stallone (L) and Burgess Meredith in the Academy Award winning movie Rocky (Best Picture, 1977)

Pandemic Sales Tactics

The New World Order ushered in by the coronavirus has forced all Freelancers and business owners and leaders to learn to be resilient and to steward our organizations in ways that are forward-thinking and flexible. Selling the company’s products and services to generate revenue has taken on an even more central role. There is heightened recognition that the roles of marketing, branding, public relations, advertising, networking and social media are to encourage sales, to attract qualified prospects and convert them to customers.

Now that the COVID era is here, whatever your company previously did to promote sales must be adjusted to get in step with the new reality. As of this writing it appears that we won’t return to “business as usual” anytime soon, if ever. Consider this the wake-up call to update the selling protocols at your organization and prepare to compete more effectively in today’s marketplace.

Selling is the purpose

As noted, it is no longer possible to put the components of a company’s sales process on automatic pilot. Nurturing the brand, revving up the social media presence, strategic networking, targeting of content marketing posts and the like are all relevant but bear in mind that those activities are the “way to the way.” The way a company survives is by making sales. The purpose of a company’s sales process is winning business and that function is the real-time measure of all your imaginatively conceived business strategies.

It’s vital that the sales team (that means you, Freelancer Friend and small business owner) the information and other resources needed to sell effectively, because there’s less business available now.

Start by learning what your clients fear and what they’re prioritizing, in response to how COVID has impacted their organizations. You have likely been in touch with your current clients at least once or twice since the shutdown and subsequent (partial) reopening but if you haven’t done so, send a New Year’s card and follow it up with an outreach themed phone call or email—you’re just checking in to see how the client is doing. How’s business? How are they managing? Listen well and empathize.

Deliver what customers value now

Dive into the social media accounts of past, current and prospective clients to get intel on how they’re communicating with their customers and discover what is being promoted now. The goal is to obtain insights into as many specific reasons as possible that might incline clients and prospects to do business with your company rather than the competition.

You want to understand the issues that may drive customer decisions. This is also your method to discover any obstacles that could potentially impact the use of your products and services, for better or worse. Remember that COVID has collapsed some industries and revitalized others.

Based on what your investigation shows, forecast the perhaps now revised client needs that your organization can address, what new (or ongoing) problems you can help clients resolve. Then, build a strategy to capitalize on what you’ve learned and repackage your offerings.

Map the new sales process

Get used to it, your sale will most likely take place by videoconference. You’ll be at an advantage when sales calls are with clients you already know. When meeting with new prospects you’ll have to work a little harder, but that is always the case. Regardless, do yourself a favor and hire a videoconference tech for three hours to set up your call and monitor it in progress, and allow yourself to focus on how to use your platform’s technology to communicate and connect with your prospect and sell.

Consider presenting a (video) show and tell for a product sale or a pre-taped video testimonial featuring a happy client who’s had a good experience with the product or service you’ll discuss (client success story/ verbal case study). Call in a guest speaker on your team who is an expert on using the product (engineer or the product manager) to provide additional information, take questions and reassure the prospect. If selling a B2B service, a few slides that show the ROI would also help the sale.

Perfect the sales experience

If the prospect is working at the office, or if you happen to know his/ home address, why not add a flourish and have lunch or coffee and pastry simultaneously delivered to the prospect and yourself? You and your prospect can still enjoy a meal together, relax and begin to bond, even if remotely. Morning meetings could benefit when coffee + is delivered at the start, but lunchtime and other afternoon meetings will probably be best served when food is delivered at around the half way point.

Thoughtful planning that keeps the client at the center of the sales process will guide your organization to refocus its sales process in ways that benefit client expectations and the experience. Relationships and referrals that will set your venture on an upward trajectory begin here, with how you manage the sale.

Thanks to all of you for reading my posts! YourHappy New Year,

Kim

Image: Actress Myrna Loy (R) sells cigarettes to actor William Powell (L) and his wife Diana Lewis at a 1940 Franco-British War Relief charity event held at the Cocoanut Grove supper club in Hollywood.

Create a New Client Onboarding Process

Freelancers and other business owners and leaders understand the importance of periodically reviewing and assessing the experience they present to those who agree to pay for their products and services. Business owners and leaders must continuously strive to offer the best experience possible to those willing to do business.

For B2B service providers, creating a pleasant and efficient process that welcomes, i.e. onboards, new clients is Step One in affirming that the decision to do business with your company was sound. Good onboarding is good business.

Sets the stage for a good working relationship

Demonstrates your organization’s competence and efficiency

Brand-enhancing

Kicks-off the customer retention strategy (begin with the end in mind!)

Develop an onboarding process that skillfully guides your clients and demonstrates that your organization anticipates needs and questions and take extra steps to eliminate miscommunication that may lead to misunderstanding, confusion, or disappointment. The goal is to assure your new client at every step that you’ve got this.

A videoconference call or an email from the project leader, perhaps joined by one or two other company leaders, is a good basic onboarding gesture. Do this to personally welcome the new client and express how excited you are to work with him/her. If you have a case study or two and you haven’t already shared them, send them now, to reinforce your experience and expertise in providing the solutions your client requires.

In a videoconference call or basic phone call, ask the client to review what a successfully completed project will look like. The answer will confirm exactly what your organization must deliver to fulfill or exceed expectations and make yourself eligible for repeat business. Take notes to ensure you understand the metrics the client will use to define success—results such as sales conversion rate or quarterly revenue or a deliverable such as a website upgrade or new logo.

On the call, confirm the project timeline, project milestones and payments linked to the contract signing and milestones. Confirm all resources that the client will provide to support the work, such as support staff and what that individual will provide.

You want to know early in the process if you have the labor needed to do the work and how it would impact the preferred timeline. Bear in mind that because this process includes client input, your organization receives instant client feedback and agreement and demonstrates your ability to communicate and collaborate.

Confirm all agreements in an email to the new client to complete the onboarding process. Top it off with a few branded swag items if you have any—pens, note pads, tote bags, water bottles and the like, if you have them, shipped to your client’s office.

After reviewing and confirming the project scope and milestones on the call, confirm in an email to further cement everyone’s understanding. Your client will appreciate your attention to his/her needs. Make it obvious that your goal is to do excellent work and make the client look good to the higher-ups at his/ her company.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Cunard Line’s Queen Mary made her maiden voyage in May 1936.

Virtual Assistant Technology to Support Your Business

Enter the New Year with a mission to explore and utilize virtual assistant technology as part of your strategy to create operational efficiencies and competitive advantages for your organization competitive in 2021 and beyond. The negative effects of the COVID economy should lend some urgency to your efforts.

You already know that Intelligent Virtual Assistants can quickly answer common questions posed by website visitors because you’ve most likely used chat bots yourself. You’ve probably also pulled out your phone many times to ask those voice-controlled Intelligent Virtual Assistants named Siri and Alexa questions like where you can get an ice cream cone, or the location of the nearest hardware store. In other words, you’re comfortable with Intelligent Virtual Assistants and you’re ready to brainstorm how to use them in your business.

IVAs have many uses, including pairing with artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to guarantee secure business transactions and contracts, a benefit that has become more valuable in the work from home virtual communication-dependent COVID environment. Along with tech-enabled administrative, operational and customer service functions, IVAs can seamlessly supply an array of other services.

IVA and LeadGen

Use IVA to stimulate both online and in-store sales by suggesting purchases to online shoppers who’ve either previously bought items on your site, or merely visited the site. You get to select the triggers, the contact schedule and the manner of marketing outreach—an ad or a marketing email, for example.

Have you ever visited the website of a grocery chain and a minute later discovered ads for grocery delivery in your online feed? That’s IVA- driven drip marketing at your service. There are other time-saving and money- making possibilities that IVA can deliver. For a not overwhelming sum each month, depending on the service, you can position your company as being at the technological forefront and build confidence in your organization and its operations as a result.

IVA and email marketing

Hunter.io will ferret out those elusive email addresses of decision-makers you’d like to contact and engage with as you lay the groundwork for selling and brand building or opportunities. Just enter the company name and the person you’d like to reach and receive a list of email addresses that contain that domain name. Try the no-pay trial option and receive 50 free email searches or sign on for 500 email searches, verifications and several more useful email marketing campaign services for just $49/month.

IVA and PR/ Marketing

Maybe you want to be a guest on the right podcast? IVA technology will search podcasts that should be a fit for your products or services. IVA will also create your email marketing pitch for the targeted podcast hosts to launch a campaign to get you on a broadcast or two. The email will be sent from your business account and will suggest topics you’d like discuss that would appeal to the podcast listeners and add value to the show.

If you’d like to get on the radar screens of blogger- influencers in your location or industry, or introduce yourself to key print or digital journalists, the same tactic can be applied. Furthermore, IVA technology can be used to help you effectively recycle still relevant content marketing posts from your blog or newsletter into social media posts, whether text or video format.

As Freelancers and all business owners and leaders continue to grapple with the challenges presented by the COVID economy and its impact on activities we once took for granted, incorporating IVA technology into your company will become essential in what will be an increasingly digital world.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: George and Jane Jetson with Rosie, their IVA household help. Animated sitcom The Jetsons (Hanna-Barbera) aired in prime time on ABC from September 1962 – March 1963, then spent many years in syndication.

Upgrading Leadership Skills

As we approach the close of a difficult year, the first thing I’ll ask you to do is give yourself a pat on the back for making it through. Sure, you may have dropped a stitch or two as you struggled to find your footing as clients canceled jobs and the ground gave way beneath your feet.

This is a scary time for Freelance consultants and business owners, including those who steward multi-million dollar corporate enterprises. Those who’ve managed to hang on and find a way to either pivot or turn a corner and rebuild are to be congratulated.

Regardless of your circumstances, periodically assessing your leadership capabilities will always bring you to a better place, professionally and personally. One’s leadership ability is the foundation of not only decision-making that helps to successfully guide your business through the storm but also to rally the team to shore up confidence and productivity.

How you say what you say

Good communication is a hallmark of an effective leader. Knowing how to connect with, empathize and inspire the team are essential competencies. A leader depends on the team, because they are the folks needed to achieve the goals and support the leader’s, and the company’s, success.

Team members are highly attuned to their leader’s style of communication. It really is not so much what you say, as how you say it. We all have an inborn communication style and when we are mindful, we can refine that style and make it more effective. One method of communicating company goals is to use storytelling.

Express the goal and key elements involved in its achievement as a story, if not an adventure. Share with the team why the goal is important, what it means to the company’s survival and stature and how the company (and by extension its employees) will benefit. Communicate your excitement about being chosen to participate in achieving the goal. Emphasize your confidence in the ability of team members to take the ball and run with it.

As well, allow team members to add their viewpoints and give voice to their questions, doubts and/or what some may feel as innovative ways to get the job done. In other words, demonstrate your respect and reinforce mutual trust. Barking orders and demanding performance damages morale and is rarely effective in the long run.

Listen to the team

Team members should feel comfortable speaking with you, their leader, both on the record and off the record. What you hear may occasionally make you wince, but at the end of the day you’ll feel empowered because you are trusted and that means you are held in high esteem. There is no better compliment.

Share credit and be a cheerleader

If you want to get the most out of team members, be generous with your compliments and praise. Do that and they’ll go to the ends of the earth to make you proud of them. Remember that you stand on their shoulders. Be generous with your sincere appreciation and respect for their skills and dedication.

Be willing to learn

Learning how to learn will improve any aspect of life, professional or personal. Adapting to change and understanding whether it would be the best gamble to tweak, pivot, or batten down the hatches and stay the course requires an understanding of current and anticipated marketplace forces and that understanding is acquired through updated knowledge.

Successful leaders use their industry intel to anticipate strategies that may be needed to maintain market share and profitability. Read regularly about what products are on the horizon in your industry and their potential impact as a whole and your organization in particular. Do new products, or new policies or new companies, represent an opportunity or a challenge?

Coach and mentor

While on a path to increase your own learning, encourage team members to do the same and enable the process. At least twice a year, schedule a skills building workshop, preferably facilitated by an outside expert.

If you notice that there are areas of struggle, have a private nonjudgmental and encouraging talk to investigate the root of the problem and set up a confidential remedial plan. For those at the top of their game, privately discuss career goals and paths to promotions. Remember that those you promote will become your best allies at the organization.

Own your mistakes

When you drop the ball, acknowledge and apologize. Nothing quite undermines the reputation of a leader like dodging culpability and responsibility. It’s humbling and it doesn’t feel good, but owning up never fails to enhance a leader’s credibility—-and credibility is what leadership is all about.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Elizabeth II leaves Westminster Abbey after her coronation as queen of Great Britain and the British Empire on June 2, 1953.

Optimize Your Virtual Events

Videoconference technology has emerged as the savior of the pandemic era. In the midst of the disruption, if not near destruction, of numerous formerly multi-billion dollar industries, notably restaurant, hotel, wedding, airline and fitness, virtual communication has helped all of us to function and survive. I suspect we’ll all agree that face2face interaction is preferable, but videoconferencing has done an admirable job of helping us weather the storm.

Videoconferencing has greatly expanded online distance learning and allowed schools to continue educating students. Wedding planners are helping couples stage small ceremonies that allow potentially hundreds of guests to witness and virtually join the festivities. Fitness instructors and trainers are coaching their devotees via laptop webcams in living rooms and kitchens and ballet instructors are doing the same for their students.

Managers are holding video meetings for their teams. B2B sales professionals are introducing new products and services to prospects by way of video sales calls. Conference planners are scheduling and producing everything from panel discussions to district meetings. It’s all good, but it’s time to pay attention to videoconference production values and the viewer / participant experience. Things can go wrong and the program can go down in flames. As with face2face events, an action plan is needed to optimize your virtual event so that objectives will be realized.

Let’s start with the basic technical set-up. Virtual events are nearly always viewed on a small screen—tablet or laptop–and for that reason virtual event content planners, producers and speakers would be wise to think of television. Whatever the purpose of your program, be it a classroom lecture, B2B sales call, music lesson, or company meeting, content planners and producers should visualize a small screen perspective as their guide.

If the budget allows, hiring an event technology manager will be money well spent. Event tech managers will ensure that the sound, lights and background set are appropriate for the occasion. Placement of the laptop is integral to locating the most flattering camera angle for the speaker. Two or possibly three microphones may be used to adequately capture the speaker voices. Lighting is everything in show business and the event tech will position the lighting so that the set is neither too dim or too bright and speakers are not in shadows. The set background must also be considered. Having a bookcase in view is always a plus, as are a couple of healthy plants or modest floral arrangements. The company name and logo should also be visible, but its presence need not overwhelm.

Regarding the presenters, panel discussion participants are typically seated, whether all are in a room together and socially distanced or reporting in from remote locations. It is usually preferable for featured speakers to stand while delivering their presentation, since standing telegraphs energy and allows the speaker to use body language that is more communicative and engaging.

Next, think of shaping and delivering program content in a way that will connect with and hold the attention of its virtual audience. Psychologists have documented that virtual events tax our attention span because they’re literally difficult to watch for extended periods of time. Experienced producers of virtual events recommend building in some sort of a diversion about every 20 minutes, to keep everyone’s brain comfortable during the proceedings. Explore the options and learn to use the special features available on your videoconferencing platform. Polls, yes/no questions and small group chatrooms (breakouts) make the viewing experience more enjoyable for audience members. An event tech manager can be helpful with this process as well.

Pace the event content flow by breaking it down into 20 or so minute chunks and interspersing the text with interactive activities that draw in audience members and make them part of the show. Speakers and other performers have always used certain tactics to engage live audiences and now in the 21st century, speakers, event content planners and producers are discovering new, tech-based tactics to win over virtual audiences. It’s show business history in the making, folks.

Finally, there is the increasingly common hybrid classroom or special event to master, where part of the audience is live and the rest are viewing the proceedings virtually. Hybrid events pose a challenge, but they are not insurmountable. If it’s in the budget, renting or buying one or more big screens will create a more immersive and rewarding experience for both virtual viewers and the on-site audience. Interaction between face2face and virtual participants could create exciting possibilities. Q & A, simultaneous polls, contests and games can get them talking to each other as they watch the action happen live. Confer with your event tech manager and find out how to optimize the experience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

5 Health Insurance Plans for Freelancers

The open enrollment period for obtaining health insurance, or changing to another insurance provider or modifying your plan options, began on November 1 and will end on Tuesday December 15, 2020. Your new or renewed health insurance plan will activate on January 1, 2021.

If there have been changes in your household status or income, report those changes to your current provider, since the change may impact the insurance you’ll need and/ or its cost. If you were married earlier in the year, or if you and your spouse became parents, that represents a change in household. If your income has significantly declined, perhaps because of a COVID related loss of business, that information should also be shared with your current insurance carrier, particularly if you’re enrolled in a Marketplace plan (update your application).

Freelancers should remember to deduct the cost of medical and dental insurance premiums on your annual tax return. Be advised that you cannot deduct more than the amount of your net profit for the year. If the business didn’t make a profit, you don’t get the health insurance tax deduction.

With Freelance consultants in mind, Investopedia Magazine examined 15 health insurance companies and determined that the plans listed below offer the most comprehensive coverage for individual purchasers (i.e., Freelancers) at the best price. The cost of insurance will vary by state, applicant age, family size, the type of plan and factors such as smoking.

Medical, dental, vision, Medicare, Medicaid, supplemental insurance and prescription drug coverage are available in most plans listed here. Sign up through the insurer’s company website, your state health insurance exchange, or at http://healthcare.gov. The plans are presented in ranked order.

BlueCross BlueShield

In business since 1929 and probably the most familiar health insurance provider in America, BlueCross BlueShield is actually an association of 36 independent companies that operate nationwide. It could be said that the company’s primary advantage is its extensive healthcare provider network and the familiarity of its brand.

The BCBS network serves 107 million member customers in 50 states plus Washington, D.C. and is affiliated with 96% of hospitals and 95% of physicians in the country. Americans living overseas are able to obtain coverage and receive healthcare services through the BCBS global network of providers.

Dental, hearing, vision, supplemental, Medicaid and Medicare are available in most states.

UnitedHealthcare

Along with offering health insurance in all 50 states, UnitedHealthcare is known for its technology, which is said to enable its providers to deliver care and related administrative services more efficiently and as a result, do so at s lower cost than comparable competitors.

UnitedHealthcare Group is the largest health insurance company in the nation, operating in all 50 states plus 130 countries. In 2019, the company counted 1.3 million physicians and other healthcare professionals plus 6,500 hospitals in its network. Medical, dental, vision, prescription drug, Medicaid, Medicare and supplemental coverage is available.

Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente has a focus on preventive care, based on the company philosophy that prevention of illness keeps customer members healthier and saves them money in the long run. The company is known for a high level of customer satisfaction and retention.

The downsides are that Kaiser operates in just eight states —-California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington plus Washington, D.C. Moreover, it’s physician and hospital network is lacking. Kaiser serves a whopping 12.4 million members, but there are just 23,261 physicians, 63,306 nurses and 39 hospitals in its network.

Cigna

The company was founded in 1792, making it one of the oldest corporate entities in the country. That said,the company is ahead of the curve in responding to the new normal and was out in front of the competition in offering virtual medical, including behavioral/ mental health appointments and prescription drug delivery in partnership with Express Scripts, the largest pharmacy benefits manager in the U.S.

Cigna is international and provides health insurance to 180 million member customers in 30 countries. In its global network there are 1.5 million healthcare providers and facilities—-physicians, nurses, hospitals and others.

In the U.S., Cigna offers individual plans in just 10 states—-Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia and there are 500 hospitals in the U.S. network. Depending on where you live, dental, vision, Medicare and Medicare Supplemental will be available.

Oscar

New kid on the block Oscar was launched in 2012. The company’s calling card is customer service, a consideration that may be especially attractive to Freelancers and other business owners who are left to navigate the complexities of health insurance on our own.

Oscar currently operates in 19 states—-Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. In 2021, the company expansion plan is to enter major markets in the states where it does not yet operate. Currently, Oscar provides primarily HMO health insurance and Medicare plans to 420,000 member customers and does not cover out-of- network provider claims.

Oscar offers its Doctor on Call feature that gives free, 24/7 access to a healthcare provider. Another featured offering is The Concierge, where a dedicated team of guides and nurses will answer your questions and help you save money. Oscar members can access the services of Doctor on Call and The Concierge through a mobile app that also gives access to your medical records, laboratory results, deductibles and other related information.

For more information on obtaining medical and also dental insurance, Freelancers can explore what is offered through the Freelancers Union. https://www.freelancersunion.org/insurance/health/

Happy Thanksgiving,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Optimize LeadGen and CRO

Digital marketing company HubSpot has recently released data that examined the importance of Lead Generation and Conversion Rate Optimization in the success of building and tracking marketing campaigns. Effective marketing brings in paying customers by way of increasing company name recognition and communicating the value of its products and services. Building loyalty, which encourages repeat business, and encouraging customer referrals are other important benefits derived from marketing activities.

If the desired objectives are not consistently being achieved then something needs to change, be it the basic approach (inbound or outbound), the type of outreach (blog, newsletter, social media posts, case studies, print ads), platforms used (LinkedIn, Facebook, SnapChat, etc.), or the messaging. The HubSpot survey found that just 22% of businesses are satisfied with the sales conversion rates of their marketing campaigns.

Calls to Action that address a solution that is meaningful to target audience readers will deliver the best quality leads and enhance the sales conversion rate produced by the sales funnel. The most effective calls to action incorporate popular search terms and increase sales funnel conversion rates by 87%. Anchor Text, i.e., highlighted and often paragraph heading text, that includes a search- friendly call to action can increase leadGen by 93%.

On the other hand, sounding too sales-y is a turn-off. Remember best practices as you create headlines and anchor text that deliver information and maybe a surprising statistic, too.

The Pareto Principle, commonly known as the 80/20 Rule that was introduced by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1896, continues to hold up. First, when writing articles titles matter and the data revealed that 80% of online visitors get no farther than the article’s title and just 20% delve in to read.

Note to content marketers—-do key word searches and help yourself create clever article titles and anchor text to present calls to action that address problems your readers want to solve. BTW, 36% of readers are drawn to headlines and Anchor Text that includes a number.

Videos continue to be valuable marketing tools because they deliver results. Marketers reported that their companies received 66% more qualified leads when videos are used in marketing tactics. Most video platforms will allow a copy-paste-embed of your leadGen form into the video. Lead conversion rates derived from video content are about 40%. Furthermore, 54% of consumers of digital marketing content reported that they’d like to see more video content and 88% of marketers reported that they’re satisfied with the leadGen and sales conversion performance associated with video marketing tactics.

Oh, and you can ignore your English comp or journalism professor and communicate with your content readers in the second person—-you! Readers want to be spoken to, they respond to personal appeals.

Finally, HubSpot survey data officially verified that marketers want more followers and subscribers for online content, as a way to increase the number of leads (and conversion to sales). HubSpot recommends that you create a Feature Box to guide reader eyes to your company’s opt-in offer and when you do, that metric will increase by 51%.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Client Gifts: 10 Under $25.00

It’s that time of year again. The sales and marketing bonanza known as The Holidays are fast approaching. In this most unusual year, when many Freelancers and other business owners have had little to no contact with our clients since March, thanks to the shutdown, the December holidays represent a hugely important relationship maintenance opportunity. This is our big chance to reach out to clients without looking either pushy or desperate and reminding them that we’re still relevant.

Sending holiday gifts and/ or cards to clients with whom you’ve worked in the past 3 – 5 years is one of the smartest and most effective marketing campaigns that can be run. Holiday outreach positions you and your company as a class act. The company name, and by extension its products and services, lands directly in front of decision-makers in a most pleasing way. Your acknowledgement reminds clients of a great working experience as you create yet another great experience by showing that you’re thoughtful.

You can’t lose. Not only that, you might get some work again when business picks up. Holiday shopping must start early this year. Shipping, which has grown exponentially during the shutdown, will be much more busy during the gift giving time. More holiday gifts will be shipped this year than the industry has ever seen.

Please see the 10 gifts below. I recommend shopping no later than December 6 (for domestic shipping) and sending cards by December 10. Remember that mailing to a client who’s working from home will be complicated by the need to transport items from client’s office to client’s home and the mechanism to do that probably doesn’t exist at this time. Call office building concierges before Thanksgiving and ask about mail and package deliveries.

1. Make working from home a little cozy with a warm throw blanket $20.

https://www.wayfair.com/decor-pillows/pdp/gracie-oaks-aronson-patterned-reversible-sherpa-fleece-throw-w002716118.html

2. Find the AirPods in their case when they’re needed. $25.

https://riflepaperco.com/clear-wildflowers-airpods-pro-case

3. Luscious chocolates from Serenade Chocolatier, a favorite place $25.

Fall 16 Piece Selection

4. Pet lovers will adore the Tiny Tent, a clever item that gives cats and small dogs a place to play hide’n’seek or take a nap while Mom and Dad are working from home $20.

https://www.rei.com/product/162912/tiny-tents-tiny-tent?cm_mmc=aff_AL--192425--243833-_-NA&avad=243833_a1dd2bc41

5. A personalized post-it note cube brings style to a utilitarian desk item $17.49 (sale price, $24.99 regular).

https://www.personalizationmall.com/Personalized-Sticky-Note-Cubes-Personally-Yours-p11550.prod?sdest=dept&sdestid=1098&sdest=CheckOut&sdestid=9&storeid=9&categoryId=1098

6. Wild, wacky, luxurious soap and lotion gift sets from Lush $14.95 – $24.95.

https://www.lushusa.com/shop-by-price/gifts-under-25/

7. Plants bring beauty and healing energy to every space. The Hedgehog Aloe requires bright, indirect light, no drafts and water every 7 – 10 days $19.95.

Hedgehog Aloe Plant

8. Home cooking is more fun when the chef wears a 100% cotton apron by Ayesha Curry, cookbook author, Food Network chef and wife of basketball star Stephen Curry. In aquamarine or burgundy $19.95.

https://www.kafhome.com/licenses/ayesha-curry/aqua-crossback-canvas-apron-adult.html

9. A dollop of ripe fruit sparked with a cocktail spritz creates a yummy jam condiment your clients will love $24.

https://www.uncommongoods.com/product/cocktail-jam-sampler

10. COVID evenings at home become more satisfying with soft lighting provided by candles shaped like wine corks $20 (12 candles).

https://www.uncommongoods.com/product/wine-cork-candles-set-of-12

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark