Succeeding In A Niche Market

When operating in the B2B services sector, it is useful to keep in mind that “Elegance is refusal,” advice that is attributed to the late style icon Diana Vreeland, who was Editor-in-Chief at Vogue Magazine from 1963 to 1971.  Perhaps some Freelance consultants haven’t realized this, but the question in the mind of the prospect  you’ve been talking to is, “Does this guy (or gal) have the know-how to understand my problem and the expertise to solve it?” You’ve got to admit, that’s a very good question and you won’t make many sales until you figure out how to demonstrate that you do.

Early in my Freelancing career, I made the rookie mistake of trying to be all things to all potential clients, because I desperately wanted to get my business rolling.  I wanted billable hours and a growing client list.  It took a little while to figure out that presenting myself as a jack-of-all-trades (who was apparently perceived as a master-of-none) was the wrong strategy and was not winning me enough business.  Attempting to spread myself thin was not the way to persuade clients that I had a depth of knowledge that they could trust.

Eventually I realized that trimming a couple of service options would amplify, rather than diminish, my perceived expertise and make it easier to present myself as a knowledgeable authority who can deliver the outcomes that clients need.

Another benefit of concentrating your expertise in a carefully selected group of services is that it’s much easier to develop and implement an effective marketing strategy.  Creating a compelling elevator pitch is much easier when your focus is narrow and deep, as is putting together marketing messages and devising promotional campaigns, choosing key words for SEO, identifying competitive advantages, communicating the value proposition and building a trusted brand.

Once you are profitably operating within your chosen niche and have earned the trust and respect of a few good clients and referral sources, it’s good business to think about expanding your footprint and entering a sub-niche market.  Your goal will be to discover a secondary line of business that’s a natural add-on to what you’re doing now.  Leverage the success and relationships that you’ve built in your primary niche market to open doors to a new product or service that a subset of your current clients would be willing to buy from you.  You’re looking to discover a specific need, challenge, or frustration that certain of your clients routinely face and will pay to resolve.

You will do some research.  Start by paying attention to your clients’ businesses and where your products and services fit into the realization of their mission-critical goals, or challenges they must solve.  Test the depth of demand for what you might offer in a sub-niche market by conducting a Google search.  If there are many articles written on the topic, that demonstrates good potential for making a profit.  Read a few articles and learn what those in the industry say about the topic—what worries them and what motivates them to buy products or services to address this need?

Search next for businesses that currently provide products or services that address that need or problem.  The presence of competitors is a good sign, as long as the market does not appear to be saturated.  If companies are doing business in that space, then there is money to be made.  Visit at least three or four websites and study the features and described benefits of products and services offered for sale in your proposed sub-niche.  Take special note of the selling points, how services are delivered, bundled, or priced.  Also read the blogs, newsletters and client testimonials.  View client lists—are any of these businesses selling to your clients?

Once you’ve decided to enter a sub-niche market, you must conduct a vigorous marketing campaign to announce your presence.  Consider it your big chance to launch an email marketing campaign.  You’ll only contact clients and others who already know you, so your emails will likely be read.  This is also a good time to offer discount pricing, so that early on you’ll get experience in delivering the product or service to your sub-niche, allowing you to obtain client feedback and perfect the process.

The launch campaign will also involve your newsletter, blog, white papers, or case studies, plus updates posted to LinkedIn and any other of your social media platforms and, as soon as you can schedule an appearance, a webinar or podcast.  In 12-18 months, you may gain enough traction in your sub-niche to be positioned to invite a happy client to give a testimonial, perhaps in the form of a case study, so that you can reinforce the value you bring to those with whom you work.  Good luck!

Happy 4th of July and thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Boston Cremes (1962), Wayne Thiebaud  (b. 1920)                                               Courtesy of The Crocker Art Museum   Sacramento, CA

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Follow the Winners

In one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite movies, The Godfather Part II (1974), Michael Corleone (youngest son of the Godfather) says “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” That advice was quickly adopted by those in business, who interpreted the line as a warning to keep a sharp eye on competitors.  No one wants to be blindsided by the competition and made vulnerable to the loss of revenue and market share.  That fear can keep one awake at night.  But how much time and effort should be spent looking over one’s shoulder and how often does such behavior result in anything that’s actionable or profitable?

Some business experts recommend that rather than obsessing over competitors, perhaps wondering what you might copy, instead study successful business leaders in other industries. When looking to keep your organization relevant and vital, strategies implemented by leaders at successful companies in industries other than your own can provide lessons and inspiration that will benefit you and your business.

To launch and sustain a profitable business, it is essential that you offer products or services for which there is a growing market, that you recognize and articulate a strong value proposition that attracts customers and that you devise a smart and efficient business model to put it all in motion and deliver the goods.  It makes sense to study innovative entrepreneurs from a variety of industries, so that you can learn what worked for their organizations and think about how certain of those strategies and tactics might be applied to your venture.

You might start this unique form of competitive intelligence by walking into a bookstore and browsing through the business section. You’ll be certain to find at least one or two interesting books, perhaps in memoir form, written by entrepreneurs who overcame significant obstacles and setbacks, only to prevail and build multi-million dollar organizations.  You might also look for speaker programs at nearby colleges, local chambers of commerce, or other business organizations that from time to time are known to host speakers who tell the story of how s/he built a successful enterprise.

Finally, since so much in life hinges on relationships and developing a strong and supportive network, remember also to reach out to those whom you know.  When you stop and think, you’ll realize that you cross paths with business owners and leaders on a regular basis.  We see and interact with these smart, successful professionals at neighborhood association meetings, at the garden club, at our place of worship, while at the gym and when serving on a not-for-profit board.  I’m willing to wager that you’ll be able to develop a friendship with at least two of these individuals and find opportunities to talk business now and again.

So extend yourself and get to know a little better the people with whom you regularly interact.  Start with some friendly small talk and and work your way toward having real conversations that lead to developing relationships.  At some point, you may be able to segue into a conversation about business, at your organization and theirs.  If you reach the level of trust that includes sharing stories about business challenges and tactics, you’ll be fortunate to have found a friend and perhaps also a mentor.  The experience will be much more satisfying, and effective, than spying on and obsessing over your business rivals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Nike, goddess of victory, awards Heracles (Hercules) with the prize of a laurel wreath for his win at the 776 B.C. Olympics. Courtesy of the British Museum in London.

Every Freelancer Is Agile

New, presumably more innovative, effective, market-responsive and profitable business practices are like the tides—they arrive with a big splash and quietly recede after a while.  Who remembers Management By Objectives? Are any of you Six Sigma certified? Has anyone worked for or with a company that launched a successful disruptive technology or service? The Next Big Thing is Agile, which arrived in the early 2000s, born in the software development sector.

What is agile? Agile is the ability of an organization to successfully respond to change:

  • Smart and quick when adapting to shifting business conditions
  • Timely response to evolving customer preferences
  • Create and maintain competitive advanges

Experience shows me that agile business practices are a natural for Freelance consultants and small business owners because that is how we can thrive and grow our client lists and revenues. We must adapt to the continually changing priorities and concerns of our clients, as well as local and national business conditions.  Should our revenues dip for three or more quarters, for example, we must be willing to re-think and possibly re-calibrate the products and services that we provide and how we package and sell them, that is, once we’ve figured out what those adjustments should be.  We need to create or identify as many competitive advantages as possible and use them to build customer loyalty, revenues and profits.

Business experts claim that agile is best suited to innovation—the development of products, services, business processes and business models.  IT departments were the original home of the agile philosophy, but the practice is expanding into marketing, product development and even project management.  Agile organizations support achieving the best outcomes and they agree that innovation happens from the ground up.  Agile is the opposite of top-down management.

Agile practices are carried out by teams that are typically small and multidisciplinary, to enable creativity and efficiency.  Teams approach large or complex problems or projects by breaking the task down into manageable components.  Team members study the case at hand, next develop and test solutions for each component and finally integrate the solutions into the project as a whole.  Agile teams are accountable for outcomes: profitability, growth and market share, for example.

Organizations that promote agile teams put them into motion when a project or challenge is complex, solutions seem unclear and the team is able to collaborate with the client or end-user of the product or service.  Does that describe the situation of every Freelance consultant and small business owner, or what?  We were born to be agile.  We can now think about where and how to use our already agile skills and learn how to consciously incorporate the practice into our business.

The agile philosophy directs us to survey and assess our business goals and choose what will best respond—product/ service development (or tweaking what is currently offered), marketing, the business model and technology can be considered for your entrée into agile.  Next, develop your goals and list of desired outcomes.  For example, are you looking to attract certain clients to the business (big-ticket, for example)? Are you wondering if you should adjust your business model to better respond to shifting client preferences? Or has a new technology impacted the way your clients can engage with or do business with you but you wonder if the investment will likely deliver a good ROI?

Whatever you decide to pursue, once you choose a challenge to tackle, break it down into components and study each segment.  If it’s your business model that’s going under the microscope, agile will guide you as you examine the aspects of what makes a successful business model and help you avoid becoming overwhelmed with the size of the project or frightened by what is at stake.

With agile, you can look at the moving parts, basically turn them upside down and shake them and rationally hypothesize about what, if anything, you can do to tweak the money-making engine of your venture.  What can you do about your products and services? Is your sales strategy helping or hindering sales? Should you take on the expense of accepting credit cards to stimulate big-ticket sales? Small business owners who have employees can perhaps involve certain of their staff to weigh in on these matters, whether they have front-line customer involvement or back office operations experience.

With agile, you and your team can propose incremental improvements, test them in combat and incorporate what is successful.  The small successes will encourage you to move forward in your problem-solving and eventually you will achieve larger and more impactful outcomes and goals.

Agile practices  lead to greater efficiency and productivity and allow your organization to be more responsive to client needs. Agile will show you the way, step by step. It has great potential to deliver measurable improvements to your business, especially when you’re not sure what will work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Guru B.K.S. Iyengar, who founded the Iyengar yoga technique in the 1970s (photo date unknown)

Leverage Your Brand and Make Money

Hello Freelancer friend and thank you for coming back to continue our examination of how Freelancers who are just regular folks can leverage our know-how to generate a sufficient income in the 21st century knowledge economy.  For most, it is an uphill battle.

One very ambitious (and possibly overwhelming) monetization strategy is to write a business book that will either:

  1. tell your business creation story— how you overcame adversity and persevered until you prevailed, or breezed through every door and stumbled into lucrative assignments
  2.  function as a how-to guide that details how the reader can become a more proficient and successful public speaker, financial manager, business strategist, Freelance consultant, or the like

A business book is an evergreen PR tool and door opener.  Authors are often asked to give quotes to journalists and content producers, are more often invited to speak at business or professional association meetings, receive more adjunct teaching opportunities and are considered more qualified than non-authors by potential clients.

Podcasts are another promotional strategy, one that is more accessible than writing a book.  Ideally, podcasts will position a Freelancer to monetize his/her knowledge or skills and it’s not necessary to create a series that will attract thousands of listener downloads and a gaggle of advertisers.  For at least a handful of podcasters, several of their strategically selected guests have become clients.  However, in order to make that transition, one must be the host of the show and not merely a guest.

Yet, if one appears as a guest on enough podcast shows and moves up the food chain to appear on popular shows, it will be reasonable to apply that achievement to the pursuit of paid speaking engagements.  Preferably, speaker circuit bookers will find you, but it would nevertheless be worth your while to initiate contact.  You could possibly receive offers in the $250 – $750  per talk sector.  You won’t get rich, but you might create a modest revenue stream and enhance your ability to attract big-budget clients to your core business.  Along with your podcast appearances, become a panelist or moderator at conferences sponsored by neighborhood business associations, chambers of commerce, or professional associations, to hone your pubic speaking skills and enhance your presence and brand.

Finally, there is the growing popularity of creating and presenting online courses.  If you are an experienced teacher and comfortable in front of the video camera, you may want to brainstorm a course or two to create and present.  Essentially, this means you must identify a problem and then design a course to solve it.  Click the link and get information on how to  create your online course

In closing, I don’t see much of a solid business model in the new economy brand and knowledge monetization game, I’m sorry to say, and maybe that’s why so many Freelancers are struggling.  As I see it, a business model is similar to the template for a franchise.  The template is not as precise as a mathematic formula, but given similar business conditions and customer demographics,  one can produce the desired outcome.  In other words, if you buy a CVS or Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, you will make money if the store has the right location and management.  Unfortunately, our fortunes in the 21st century knowledge economy are not so predictable.

Dorie Clark (no relation), author of Entrepreneurial You (2017) and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, advises Freelance consultants to follow these steps to monetize our knowledge and brand:

  1. Cultivate an inner circle.  From this group, one receives feedback and  encouragement.  If some in your circle are well-connected, they may provide important client referrals and open other doors for you as well.
  2. Build an audience.  This is how you launch your monetization strategy.  Announce the roll-out in your blog or newsletter, on your website and on social media and YouTube.  The goal is to become visible.
  3. Build your community.  As your audience grows, you must encourage them to talk to each other and connect around your concept. The community will initially be nurtured online, probably through Facebook and Twitter. Eventually, you will solidify your community support with ticketed face-to-face gatherings where you are the featured speaker.
  4. Build trust.  Your community has to trust and respect you.  Continue to create content that they find relevant and be careful in what and how often you attempt to sell to them.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Screenshot of Paul Masson Wines advertising campaign. Academy Award winning writer (Best Original Screenplay 1941, Citizen Kane), producer, director and actor Orson Welles was the Paul Masson Wines (of California) brand ambassador from 1978-1981.

How to Monetize Your Brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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

Freelancers Need a Mission Statement

Mission statements are often associated with not-for-profit organizations, but they are not exclusive to 501(c)3s.  For-profit ventures may also have a mission statement.  A mission statement is useful for any type of organization and that includes Freelance consultancies.

Like all other organization leaders, Freelancers periodically need help to focus on our organization’s purpose, especially as we readjust business models and pivot and do whatever else it might take to stay relevant and solvent as the marketplace ground shifts beneath our feet.  Keeping the company mission statement in mind guides leaders as we make decisions and adjustments along the way, ensuring that the soul of the organization remains viable.

Further,  the mission statement shows company leaders and staff how to concisely communicate the purpose of our organization to potential clients.  There is a close parallel between the mission statement and your elevator pitch.

So what exactly makes a mission statement? The company mission statement explains the organization’s purpose and intentions, usually in two or three short sentences.  The mission statement concisely sums up what the organization is about for the public, for its customers and target markets and for the executive team, board of directors and support staff, who will be reminded that the products and services provided must reflect and advance the company mission and achieve its goals.

  • What the organization does
  • For whom the products or services are intended
  • Why the organization provided its products and services

The mission statement differs from a vision statement, which in one or two sentences describes how the world will look when the company mission is achieved. The vision statement is inspirational and aspirational.  The mission statement gives an overview of how the company will realize those intentions.  The company’s (mission-critical) fundamental goals are actions the company takes to enable the mission and realize the vision.

So Freelancer friends, I respectfully suggest that another worthy item for your summer to-do list is to write a Mission Statement for your consulting practice.  Should you decide to also write a Vision Statement, the inimitable Sir Richard Branson recommends that brevity is key and that you keep in mind the 140 character Twitter template to help yourself create an inspirational statement that you can keep real and make memorable.  Branson also recommends that you keep in mind both internal stakeholders (employees) and external stakeholders (clients) when writing either statement.

OXFAM  (Oxford, England)

  • Vision Statement  “A just world without poverty.”
  • Mission Statement  “To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and social injustice.”

AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS  (New York, NY)

  • Vision Statement  “That the United States is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.”
  • Mission Statement “To provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. “

SONY CORPORATION (Tokyo, Japan)

  • Vision Statement  “Our vision is to use our passion for technology, content and services to deliver kando, in ways that only Sony can.”
  • Mission Statement ” To provide customers with kando, to move them emotionally and inspire and fulfill their curiosity.” (Kando translates as the power to stimulate emotional response or emotional involvement.)

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library                                                                         The William Vaughn Tupper Collection “Cairo (Egypt) Streets and People” circa 1891-1895

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

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

Rethinking Your Services

Like lovers, clients can be fickle. Both will tell you that they love you and everything about you and everything you do, that is until they don’t, and they leave you for someone else.  I take this to mean that in business as in love, one should never get too comfortable.  Continuing to do the same things in the same way can become very predictable and therefore boring.  You could eventually be considered to be outdated or out of touch.

Clients and lovers want to be understood.  They crave a partner who is aware of their shifting needs and priorities, without being told.  Talking to clients and lovers to find out how they feel about the relationship is a useful exercise, but the conversation will not always elicit the truth.  It could be that our perceived lapses and failings do not become apparent until a competitor comes along and persuades them that they can do better.

To sustain healthy and satisfying business and intimate relationships, we must hone our intuition and be prepared to never rest on our laurels.  Continually affirming one’s value is key, in both short and long-term scenarios.  I suspect that the 24 hour news cycle and 140 character messages have contributed to the brief attention spans, impatience and need for instant gratification that seem to have overtaken us.

In defense, I suggest that periodically, a brand refresh that includes an update in how services are described and packaged will do some good.  Think of Lady Gaga as you engineer a little shake-up every three years or so.  Staying abreast with what is happening in the industries in which your clients operate will be helpful, so that you can learn about the challenges and priorities that your clients see and you may be able to see opportunities for you new or expanded services.  If nothing else, you’ll can become fluent in the jargon and terms that your clients use to describe themselves and that will add to your credibility when you echo that in your content marketing and client meetings. When you speak their language they will know that you “get it” and that you can be trusted to deliver the outcomes they need.

As a caveat, I also suggest that you beware the temptation of giving your clients precisely what they say they want in every instance and in particular, avoid being swayed by a vocal minority.  Keep client preferences in mind (especially if a clear majority raises the same issues), but understand that clients (and lovers) are not always able to articulate what will make them happy enough to stay with you.

This may be apocryphal, but it’s been said that when the late founder of Ford Motor Company, the legendary inventor and entrepreneur Henry Ford, was asked if he spoke with potential customers to learn what improvements they wanted to see in the transportation field, replied, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’ ”

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky advised that when playing, you have to skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been. CEOs from Warren Buffet to the late Steve Jobs have quoted that line because keeping that advice in mind is how one builds a successful company.  Where the puck is going will be impacted by recent innovations, the economic climate and even social and political developments.  Always, we must stay on top of developments because that is the only way that one who is in business can project what clients might want us to do for them, either next month or next year.

So what does a Freelance consultant do to find out what’s going on? The short answer is to keep your eyes and ears open and fully engage in your business and your life.  Read blogs, newsletters and business magazines. Occasionally listen to a webinar, attend a seminar and go to a business or professional association meeting. Talk to your clients and colleagues, friends and family.

There is a tidal wave of information to soak up, but it isn’t necessary to drink from the firehose and become overwhelmed.  Just be consistent.  Be open to how new information can benefit your clients and you can ask their opinions about some of what you’ve heard or read.  Invite your clients to interpret some things for you, since they are best positioned to do so.  You will then understand the  big picture and when you do, you’ll see where the puck is going to be.

Thanks for reading,

KIm

 

Consulting: This Is How We Do It

There are millions of Freelance consultants in the U.S. and our numbers continue to climb on a steep upward slope, fueled both by the reluctance of employers to offer stable full-time, benefits-paying jobs and the desire of workers to have more flexible schedules, whether single and childless or married with children.  There are different levels of Freelance consulting, from the one-off hourly paid short-term project to ongoing client relationships that may endure for several years.

Some Freelance consulting projects are very limited in scope: you are hired to design a brochure, build a website, facilitate a meeting, provide special event PR, or redecorate a living room. Other projects might start with a change management process that would benefit from the perspective and expertise of an external  professional and segues into implementation and training for impacted staff.

It is useful to break down the components of the consulting function because it will encourage us, its practitioners, to think about the sum total of what we do— the value that each component brings will remind us that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Further, when we speak with clients or generate our content marketing information or traditional advertising copy, having the components of our work and good sound-bites at the ready will keep marketing messages and elevator pitches fresh and relevant and help us to communicate to clients that we understand their needs and priorities and we would make a good hire for their mission critical project.  Below is a list  of a consultant’s core duties.

  1. Provide information.
  2. Diagnose (and maybe redefine) the client’s problem.
  3. Provide recommendations for the short and long-term based on the diagnosis.
  4. Propose one or more effective solutions that will resolve the client’s problem.
  5. Assist with the implementation of the chosen solution to the problem.
  6. Suggest how the client can encourage and sustain internal support for the solution.
  7. Facilitate training or learning, to allow impacted staff to resolve similar problems in the future.

When we Freelance consultants are called in to discuss a possible assignment with a client, we may want to ask a few questions of the project team or leader, to allow us to gain insight and context; to help reveal one or more potentially useful solutions; and to make it more likely that the client will accept and approve your recommendations:

  1. What solutions have been implemented or proposed in the past and what was the outcome?
  2. Which untried steps toward a solution does the client have in mind?
  3. Which, if any, related aspects of the client’s business operation are not going well?
  4. When a reasonable solution is recommended, how and when will it be implemented?
  5. What steps can be taken to encourage buy-in for the solution, to assist its successful implementation?

Thanks for reading,

Kim