How Freelancers Scale Up

According to the Small Business Association in 2018, there were 30.2 million small businesses (< 500 employees) in the US and 80%, 24.3 million, were one-person ventures, i.e., Solopreneurs. Although just under 6 million small businesses have paid employees, those businesses nevertheless employ 47.6% of private sector workers, 59 million of 124 million employed Americans (factoring out government and not-for-profit organizations—schools, hospitals, social welfare agencies, the arts, religious institutions). BTW, there are fewer than 20,000 large businesses in the country—19, 464 in 2018. 2017/08/04125711/Frequently-Asked-Questions-Small-Business-2018.pdf

I suppose it can be said that in American business small is beautiful, or perhaps more accurately, small is the reality. Many of those 24.3 million Solopreneurs attempt to turn what could easily be called a Weakness in the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) strategic planning matrix into a Strength (me!) and use terms such as “boutique” to describe our business, along with marketing-spin phrases such as “personalized service” to communicate to prospective customers that the experience of doing business with us will be very positive and that no one is treated as a commodity.

Operating a boutique business is all well and good, however “boutique” can easily turn into “broke” if the proprietor continues to just scrape along, trying to bring in enough customers to pay the rent and keep the lights on. In order to make a go of being a business owner/ operator, it is necessary to scale the business. A business has successfully scaled when it can deliver its products and services to a significantly larger customer base while maintaining or improving operational efficiency and quality control. Good strategy and execution are needed to scale, but it’s often do-able. Read on and learn tactics and inspiration that will help you decide how to scale your venture.

Scale the Brand

The process for scaling your Freelance business starts with knowing, articulating and communicating your Brand. To attract more clients so that you can double or even triple your roster over a 3-year period, for example, you must communicate in various ways—client testimonials, case studies, LinkedIn recommendations, social media, company website, your newsletter or blog and other marketing channels—that you are highly competent, trustworthy and dependable. You deliver every time and you meet and often exceed client expectations. You bring value. Invent a Branding tagline to help yourself stand out from the 24 + million Freelancers in America and add it to your email signature block.

Be advised that Branding doesn’t simply refer to the colors you use for your business card or logo. Branding encompasses all client touch points during which your client encounters or interacts with you and your company, from the initial contact with you, interaction with employees, the tone of emails, visiting and navigating your website, your payment and billing systems, social media posts, advertising and everything in between. Articulating and communicating your Brand not only enhances the perception of your know-how as a Freelancer, but also makes it easier to scale your business in the future.

Scale client acquisition

Freelancers tend to get stuck in a rut of competing for projects in the same way over and over. We find a tactic that works, whether it’s cold emailing potential clients or applying for jobs posted on sites like Upwork.com and Guru.com. One will eventually figure out how to get hired on those sites, but you’ll still leave a lot of work on the table. It’s been reported that 27% of Freelancers find assignments via referrals made by friends, family and clients; 24% find projects through online job boards, email marketing and social media platforms like LinkedIn ProFinder. How can you make the most of these sources?

You don’t have to chase down all possibilities but do get into the habit of exploring alternative client acquisition methods, to get your name and expertise in front of a wider audience. Your current clients are also a potential source of referrals (I’ve been lucky enough to have that happen). Get the ball rolling by making a referral for your client first, so that you will come to mind if one of the client’s colleagues could use your services. BTW, unless you’re in IT, job boards attract clients who low-ball the money. Not only that, but Upwork now requires Freelancers to pay to submit a proposal and then pay again 20% of the fee when one is hired. I will not pay to apply for a job and that service is off my list.

Scale your network

Networking can potentially deliver significant benefits that accrue from the relationships you build. Networking helps us meet new friends, find a future spouse, get invited to join a board, learn of a house for sale when we’re looking to move, or get a job referral. Networking will also bring to you potential collaborators, for those times that you need to bring in a Freelancer colleague in order to take on a bigger project, or the gift of community support when it would be helpful (and when is it not?).

Start building your professional network ASAP, compiling connections who are Freelancers themselves and maybe also potential clients. Try connecting with fellow Freelancers in the comment section of industry blogs and industry-related LinkedIn and Facebook groups and participating in relevant Twitter discussions.

Scale your skills

Whatever one does for a living there is always training and development involved, that is, if one is lucky, because professional development is an investment in you and no one can take it away once you have it. In order to find work, the Freelancer must be considered a trusted expert. To be considered an expert, one must be better than the rest and that means your knowledge and skills must be bleeding edge current.

When preparing to scale your business you have to grow as a person and a professional and that means learning new skills, keeping up with the newest trends and learning to use applicable tech tools. This can be challenging, as well as time consuming, but what you learn can perhaps lead to new business ideas, smarter planning for the future and implementing new systems and approaches. Online education sites like Coursera, Udemy and Codecademy are a good place to start. Serving on a board, teaching and even judging a business award (I’ve judged the Stevie Awards/ Women in Business category https://stevieawards.com/women for 6 years) are other ways to keep skills current and learn new competencies (and network as you do).

Scale your creativity

To effectively scale your Freelance gig and transform it into an enterprise, you need to break out of your service-based mentality and the best way to do that is to create a product to sell. Think about it—once you’ve created your e-book, course, or physical product, you can sell it over and over, whereas you’re limited to providing a certain amount of services per week to clients.

Not only does a product give you the ability to reach many more people, but creating a product also provides you with passive income, giving you more time to work on other areas of your business. Put on your thinking cap and see what you can dream up. An e-book or online courses are probably the most accessible products for B2B service providers to produce. I don’t have an online course to sell (yet), but I’ve been teaching business-related subjects for more than a dozen years.

Scale your systems

In order to grow, one needs the tools to keep revenue consistently coming in at a steady and abundant pace. To support opportunities for that business growth, it pays to systematize certain business functions and responsibilities. Outsourcing gives you the pleasure of employing a fellow Freelancer as you devote more time to the pursuit of lucrative clients or identifying another product to sell.

Invoicing, bookkeeping, newsletter or blog editing and social media account management are popular outsourcing functions because they do not require a deep knowledge of your business. Outsourcing (or automating) routine tasks gives you the time you need to work on your business, not in your business and that will enable you to scale.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: (Reuters) Master Baker Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ and star of the reality television show Cake Boss (TLC)

Business Failure: Autopsy and Recovery

Failure and setbacks in a business venture can take many forms, from a botched new product or service launch, to cash-flow insufficiency, losing the lease on the perfect storefront or office location, to the appearance of an aggressive new competitor. Business failure is painful and humiliating.

Even if the pre-launch planning and start-up capital are inadequate, significant research and planning and usually a large sum of money (that may have been borrowed) are nevertheless invested with the hopeful intention of bringing a new product, service, or company to life. If things don’t pan out, it’s inevitable that those involved feel crushed and demoralized.

The intricacies of launching and operating a business can cause any venture to falter, even if the founder is not directly responsible for the downfall. The many moving parts of a new venture can cause the founder to overlook essential factors, resulting in a failed launch.

Yet, in some cases,  it’s possible to recover and relaunch after an autopsy has been performed and you and your team (if there is one!) have figured out why things unraveled and how to avoid that problem and maybe others, too, in a second attempt. Common stumbling blocks include insufficient operating capital, an ill- conceived business model, an inadequate assessment of what target customers value and improper pricing.

Many Freelancers and entrepreneurs, after allowing themselves to grieve the loss, are able to move forward with determination and a better plan (and additional resources, most likely) to do much better in the next iteration. Take a look at these common causes of business failure and make note of the lessons to learn:

Unanticipated start-up costs and low sales revenue

Whether you self-financed and bootstrapped your business or borrowed from a bank or investors, you can find yourself in financial quicksand if your projections of start-up costs were underestimated and expectations for customer acquisition were blue-sky optimistic. It’s very easy to rack up big credit card debt and then succumb to panic that leads to making reckless decisions, such as second- mortgaging your home or borrowing from friends and family, as you struggle to successfully launch and create adequate business revenue. Unfortunately, you might find yourself unable to repay as expenses mount and customers are slow to arrive.

THE LESSON IS, do your homework. Thoroughly research the amount of money that will be required to launch your new business, or new product/ service, and make a rational plan for how to acquire the funds, whether you go to the bank, self-finance, ask to borrow from selected family and friends, or take on partners.

Regarding target customers, your first task is to figure out who will buy what you propose to sell, whether products or services. Is there a viable and growing market? Moreover, can you access those prospective customers, something that can be a challenge in the B2B sector.  Realistic financial projections will protect you, especially a Break-Even Analysis, which helps you predict when customer sales can be expected to pull into profit-making territory.

Finally, develop a profit-making business model. You must anticipate the start-up costs, be able to access the targeted customers, you must have the right method of delivering the products or services and pricing must be acceptable to the customers and profitable for the company.

Receivables collection problem

“They’d take sometimes 3 – 4 months to pay and it was killing my cash flow,” she said. “I couldn’t pay my suppliers without difficulty. (The company) refused to pay with a credit card. I was trying to get paid.” Lara O’Connor Hodgson, Co-Founder of the NOWaccount

As counter-intuitive as it seems, a business owner can have orders flying out the door and be totally broke. The problem, as described above by Lara O’Connor Hodgson, is that customers can be slow pay and the difficulty in collecting accounts receivable has put many businesses under.

THE LESSON IS, healthy cash-flow is essential to sustaining a viable business. Investigate the NOWaccount, which guarantees that invoices will be paid on time and in full (both you and the customer must have good credit). Those in a service business (me!) are advised to ask clients who contract to pay a project fee for an assignment to pay 15 % – 20 % of the total fee at the contract signing and link additional payments to project milestones or specific dates (at 30 day intervals, for example). The final payment owed should be no more than 25 % – 35 % of the total fee. In this way, you will receive regular infusions of cash and be much less vulnerable to a payment default by ghosting.

Powerful competitor

Facing a big new competitor is scary, but take a couple of deep breaths and take heart. If you’ve been in business for at least a year and managed to attract customers and deliver your products and services adequately, then you have a chance to hang on and continue with a growth trajectory. Just don’t panic; shift your adrenaline to market analysis instead. In reality, your competitor probably does not offer better quality products or services but rather has resources (like a generous advertising budget) that your organization lacks.

THE LESSON IS to 1.) analyze your competitor’s operation and determine the obstacles you need to overcome or what you need to do differently, i.e. smarter; 2.) refresh your customer knowledge to learn how their expectations and concerns may have changed to make them susceptible to switching their business to the competition; and 3.) avoid competing on price, which is usually an unwise strategy for smaller operations.

Larger companies have more money to work with and that allows them to hire more employees, offer a wider range of products and services, roll-out splashy marketing campaigns, stock more inventory and more flavors or colors and also offer lower prices because they can afford to buy in volume from the wholesalers.

Your defense is to brand your business well and customers reasons to think twice about opting for the competitor. Because no two businesses are alike, you must define for current and prospective customers why they’ll do better by doing business with you.

The heart of branding is defining and constantly communicating a company’s unique selling points, so you must 1.) understand the competition’s unique selling points and 2.) learn to clearly define and articulate your organization’s unique selling points so that you can build on the attributes that set your company apart and potentially make you valuable to customers.

When you understand your competition’s unique selling points and update your customer knowledge to learn as many specifics as possible about what resonates with them, at least theoretically, about the competitor’s unique selling points, you’ll see how to tweak your offerings in ways that reflect your company’s “house style.”

New and small businesses should definitely put an emphasis on excellent customer service. The digital revolution has not meant that customer interactions aren’t essential, even though face-to-face communication has become more limited for many.  To the contrary, customer service is even more vital in today’s business world.  Present a customer first attitude and create a pleasing customer experience. Go the extra mile to surprise and delight and your business will quickly become trusted and loved.

If you have employees, you also want to ensure you are the best employer in the industry. Having motivated and skilled staff will provide benefits for your customers and that will translate into benefits for your ability to successfully compete.

Some of the most successful entrepreneurs have suffered the frustrating experience of a business failure. For Scott Adams, creator of the world-famous Dilbert cartoons, life’s path wound through many jobs, failed startups, useless patents he applied for and countless other indignities. In his memoir, Adams shares lessons learned about keeping himself motivated, healthy and happy while racking up the failures that ultimately led to his success.

It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”  Bill Gates, Co-Founder and former Chairman and CEO of Microsoft Corporation

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood (1891 – 1942 Anamosa, Iowa, USA) courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. The painting depicts an Iowa farmer and his daughter.

Market Research: Social Media Sleuthing

How many articles have you seen that counseled business owners to “deliver value”,  “know the client’s pain points”, or “create a marketable business model”?  It’s great advice, but no one tells you how to do it.  How can a Freelancer or small business owner who is not armed with a 5-figure marketing budget unearth such information quickly and inexpensively?

You already know that it’s essential to communicate to clients, in a number of ways, that you understand their needs, the results they’re trying to achieve and that you’ve got the know-how to get the job done.  When invited to speak with a decision-maker about a potential role in a project, I recommend that you turn to the company’s social media feeds, ranking sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor and the website and take notes on what you find—and you will find! Social media platforms and websites contain posts, newsletters, case studies, videos and/or audio reels that provide a treasure chest of information that you can use:

  • Marketing messages promoted to current and prospective customers
  • News about upcoming product and service launches
  • Indication of the products and services their customers prefer
  • Customer service complaints and compliments
  • Special promotional events
  • How the company positions itself against key competitors
  • Insights into whether customers skew male or female
  • The age range of customers
  • Job titles of customers if the company is B2B

Once you understand the prospect’s customers more completely, you can identify discussion topics and questions that will make you shine when you and the prospect meet. You’ll develop a winning sales pitch that speaks directly to the prospect’s needs, including perhaps matters that were not fully articulated when you first spoke with the prospect.

  • You’ll portray yourself as a highly competent, capable, trustworthy problem-solving professional who has the expertise to not only get the job done, but also to exceed expectations.
  • Your asking price will reflect the above conditions, meaning you’ll be able to command a premium price for your product or service (as determined by the client’s budget).

Now what if you are in the midst of writing a business plan to launch a new company, or conducting a business model refresh, perhaps in response to some inevitable disruption in the market place? Once again, social media sleuthing will reveal information that will ensure your business model will appeal to the evolving tastes and expectations of your target customers. You’ll be positioned to predict what factors will resonate for target customers, from their preferences regarding product or service features in your category, to the best way to express the perceived benefits and designing the ideal customer experience.

Social media postings will bring to light the big picture of your target customers and help you understand what makes them unique. You can then explore how your products and services can appeal to those distinctive attributes and conditions, in particular those needs and preferences that are either not fulfilled or are insufficiently served by competitors. Your product or service line, marketing materials, advertising and marketing campaigns, packaging, hours of operation, pricing and payment options will be structured to accommodate the distinguishing needs of your target customers.  You will capture your target market and your business will thrive as a result.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Peter Sellers in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

 

5 Ingredient Recipe to Make a Profit

It is useful to simplify and de-mystify processes that are prone to confuse or intimidate, frustrate or overwhelm.  Stripping complex processes down to their basic ingredients allows a clear picture to emerge and reveals how the gears and levers really work.  It is then easier to understand how to build out, alter, or sustain as needed.  A recipe (or formula, if you will) can de developed and codified.

Just like your favorite cookie or potato salad recipes, there are recipes that can be used to develop a profitable business enterprise. Let’s look this profit-making ingredient list:

LEADS

That is, prospects. Those individuals who consider doing business with you.  You may meet them in person anywhere and if they pose serious questions about your business that seem to make follow-up discussion appropriate, then consider that person a prospect.  If someone visits your website and pages through in search of information about your products and services, those visitors are also prospects.

CONVERSION RATE

Prospects who do business, whether they purchase a product or sign a contract for your company to provide a service.

AVERAGE DOLLAR SALE

You can calculate the average sale on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.  Divide the accounts receivable amount by the number of hours invoiced.

AVERAGE NUMBER SALES

Depending on your business, you may have only two or three projects in house at a given time.  Intangible service providers often have bigger ticket sales (projects) that are fewer in number than tangible service or product providers.

PROFIT MARGIN

This metric will be much easier to determine in a retail business, where wholesale acquisition costs or product production costs are readily verified.  Service providers must estimate their wholesale cost to produce that which is sold to clients.  If you provide graphics services or shoot videos, what does it cost you to provide the service? That estimated amount will be deducted from the hourly or project rate that you bill the client and that will reveal the profit margin.

  1. Leads X Conversion rate = Clients
  2. Clients X Average Dollar Sale = Revenue
  3. Revenue X Profit margin = Profit

Consider this example.  In your business, you, your newsletter or blog, social media accounts and your website make contact with an average 20 leads a month and you manage, on average, to convert one in every five of those prospects into a paying client, giving your organization a 20% conversion rate.

Leads (20) x Conversion rate (20%) = Clients (4/month) 

A reasonable estimate of the wholesale value of your time —-considered your production expense—to provide one of your services is $40.00/hour.  You typically bill at $65.00/hour, meaning that your hourly net income is $25.00/hour.

To calculate your profit margin, determine the amount of revenue (before deducting expenses) that your business earned during the calculation period.  For this example, we’ll have you bill those four clients a total of 100 hours/month, as 25 hours each per month, invoiced at your usual $65.00/hour for a total of $6500.00 gross revenue (sales) earned monthly. You invoice each client $1625.00 a month. Your $25.00/hour net income amounts to $2500.00 in a typical month.

Clients (4) x Avg. Dollar Sale ($1625)  =  Revenue $6500.00

The profit margin is calculated by dividing the monthly net income of $2500.00 by the gross monthly revenue (sales) of $6500.00 to reveal a monthly profit margin of 38.46%.  The profit (in contrast to either gross or net revenue) is calculated by multiplying the profit margin of 38.46% X  the gross revenue (sales) of $6500.00, that equals $2500.00/ month profit. You may recognize that figure as your monthly net income!

Revenue ($6500.00) x Profit margin (38.46%) = $2500.00

So there you have it.  As you can deduce, proprietors of service businesses that see few clients each month can, after doing research that helps determine a reasonable wholesale cost of your labor when providing services, can really impact profit by appropriately pricing services offered.  An increase of just $5.00/hour will add $500.00/month to the four client, 25 hours/month per client, total of 100 hours/month scenario presented here.

You’d invoice each client at $1750.00 per month, rather than $1625.00, and your monthly gross revenue (sales) would be $7000.00, a nice improvement over $6500.00/ month. To account for the inevitable fluctuations in Freelancer earnings, I estimate that for 10 months/ year one can reasonably expect to earn at the projected level shown here.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph:  © Girl Scouts of America, circa 1960

Goal Setting Guidelines

Happy December! Here we are in the last month of the year and like the two-headed Janus, we’re simultaneously looking backward to count our successes and forward to finish the year strong and decide which goals appear to hold the most promise for seeding a successful 1Q2019 and beyond.

There is traditionally much talk about goal-setting at this time of year and many of us climb aboard the train out of a sense of obligation, or even guilt. But maybe we should first spend some time vetting the goals we choose to pursue? For starters, our goals should be tied to benefits that substantively improve our personal or professional lives.

SMART Goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely—are the accomplishments we’d be wise to pursue.  SMART Goals are worthy of the planning, money and other resources that we expend to achieve them. We owe it to ourselves to confirm that the goals we choose are within our capacity to reach them and that they will further our agenda to build a fulfilling professional and personal life.  Ensure that the goals you choose are right for you.

SPECIFIC   Increasing your client list is a worthwhile goal and you’ll have a better chance of achieving it if you define the industry, type, or size of the organizations you’d like to add to your roster.  For example, rather than randomly looking to work with larger not-for-profit organizations, specify your mission. You may elect to pursue not-for-profit organizations that have 100 or more employees and/or an annual operating budget of $1,000,000 – $5,000,000.

MEASURABLE   Identify metrics and milestones that will monitor your progress and inspire you to continue on your path.  The measurements need not be complicated. If you are able to meet with a coveted prospective client, that’s a milestone.  The size of your client list, the number of billable hours and the amount of sales revenue from quarter to quarter are also easy-to-follow and relevant metrics, if they document your progress.  Just be sure to measure that which demonstrates achievement. The last day of each quarter is a good time to examine and evaluate your milestones and metrics.

ATTAINABLE   If earning more money is your goal, give yourself a realistic figure to reach for.  If your average monthly sales revenue is $5000, think about how you can add $500 – $1000 /month.  Expecting to earn $10,000 /month is probably too steep, unless you have one heck of a competitive advantage or you’re about to sign a very big client who will give you game-changing billable hours.

You may be able to eventually earn an additional $500 – $1000/ month with a savvy new marketing plan that’s combined with other strategies, such as a new client acquisition plan, an exciting new product or service that seems to have good sales potential, or an initiative to win back certain lapsed clients.

RELEVANT   Your goals should make sense for your life and business. Keeping up with or surpassing your perceived rivals is not a valid reason to set a particular goal.  Acknowledge the objectives behind the goals and be honest about why you want to pursue them.

TIMELY   The desire to retire at age 50 is still in fashion, but it will be more realistic to start planning no later than age 40, to give yourself a decade to get in touch with what might make you feel fulfilled in your post-working life and understand how you’ll earn enough to make it possible.

What might retirement mean to you? Maybe it means you’ll leave your traditional job and start a home-based craft making business that will see you selling your wares on Etsy and at local Christmas Village markets. Or perhaps it means you’ll not work and instead devote yourself to volunteering and taking long winter vacations spent on the ski slopes? whatever your choice, you’ll need to plan your retirement money carefully. Should you buy investment property that will give you a steady stream of rental income, or invest more aggressively in the surging stock market?

The process of setting goals for yourself and/or your business enables you to define and recognize what success looks like and means to you.  You’ll learn to think strategically about how to grow your business and the resources needed to achieve that growth.  You’ll calculate the money needed for an expansion plan or new equipment, make notes for a first draft of the marketing plan you’ll need to devise, consider the relationships you may want to renew or develop and/or estimate the new staff you may need to hire.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up someplace else.”                   –Peter “Yogi” Berra, former NY Yankees catcher and Baseball Hall of Fame member

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Academy Award winning actor (Best Actor El Cid, 1961) Charlton Heston (center) as Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur (1959)

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

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

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)