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

How and When A Freelancer Should Collaborate

Several years ago, I was one of four Freelancers who collaborated on the development and presentation of a half-day marketing and sales themed professional development conference whose target audience was in-house sales and marketing professionals who had the authority to hire Freelancers to manage special projects at their respective organizations.  Each of us would cover an aspect of sales or marketing (I agreed to present a networking workshop, another would present B2B sales training, etc.).

The conference was the brain child of an experienced and successful marketing services competitor. She invited us to participate, assured us that she had relationships with more than a few corporate clients and acquaintances, at least a few of whom we could count on to attend, and she ran the show.  Rather a lot of time was spent on planning meetings. A few hundred dollars was spent on production expenses: printing the promotional fliers, the room rental fee (we received a good discount at a fancy law firm’s conference room) and continental breakfast for the attendees.  We charged maybe $69 to attend.

We managed to draw an audience of about 30, a number that we considered respectable, but the corporate prospects failed to materialize, apparently because my marketing competitor hugely over-stated her client relationships.  The audience consisted entirely of people just like us—Freelancers who were trying to make themselves more attractive to those who control billable hours and who were hoping, no doubt, to meet a corporate marketer or two.

The whole thing was a complete waste of time and money because,  as we three along for the ride came to realize, corporate types do not feel the need to attend such programs. They are not looking to upgrade their skills at a conference hosted by a bunch of Freelancers.  They don’t even turn out for conferences hosted by their local chambers of commerce, despite the fact that most of their companies are members.  In fact, it has become increasingly difficult to meet them at all,  except perhaps in certain social situations or in board service.

Collaborating with carefully selected colleagues can open up doors to success that would ordinarily be closed and can result in good clients added to your roster and more billable hours added to your Income Statement.  However, there are questions that you would be wise to ask your prospective collaborators and also yourself, to increase the chances that the collaboration will be a win-win for all involved, including the client.

Can the collaboration achieve worthwhile goals?

Precisely, what valuable tangible and intangible assets will the collaboration produce for you? The project mentioned above was highly speculative and as a result, risky. Partnering with a colleague or two as a strategy to win the bid on a lucrative or prestigious assignment is less risky than creating yet another professional development conference.  Collaborating to chase rainbows is not what you want.  Collaborate to more effectively compete for a valuable resource, such as a project that exists and has funding.

What resources will the collaborator provide?

Collaborations are formed to bring together entities that have complementary skill sets.  A few months ago, I collaborated with an author to provide for her book content editing, serve as photo editor and perform self-publishing services that she preferred to outsource.  In exchange, I gained experience, added book editing to my CV and obtained (minimal) payment.  Collaborations should be win-win propositions and the project(s) on which you and your collaborator(s) partner should reflect Aristotle’s recommendation, that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The trust factor

Collaborators must be able to trust one another for without trust, there can be no successful partnership. This is hugely important, because your reputation and client relationships, current and future, will be on the line.  If your collaborator(s) cannot or will not hold up their end, your brand can be damaged and unfortunately, you don’t really know anyone until you’ve either lived with or worked with them.  A discussion of the interpretation and practice of work ethic and customer service will give insight into the matter.

For example, if there is a big deadline looming, are collaborators willing to work and respond to emails on weekends, holidays and after 6:00 PM? How will collaborators respond to a high-maintenance client who emails at 9:00 PM on Sunday nights when there is no apparent emergency?

What will be the ROI?

The properly conceived and managed collaboration will allow the participants to offer additional services, exceed the client’s expectations, build good client and partnership relationships and enhance the possibility of referrals.  A good client will be added to the roster of each participant and billable hours that would not otherwise have been available will appear on Income Statements. The client will receive measurable ROI as a result of the venture.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Launch 2017 With Strategic Planning For Your Business

Happy New Year! My wish for all my readers is that 2017 will be filled with good health, good choices and prosperity and a year where you recognize opportunities and successfully move forward to attain what will benefit you.

Part of the process of realizing your goals may involve strategic planning. The process of strategic planning encourages business leadership teams to ask (the right) questions about the value that the business creates and sells at a profit, which is a reflection of its vision and mission.  The goals, objectives, business model and guiding principles (that is, culture and values) are likewise impacted by the organization’s vision and mission. Below are six strategic planning and positioning principles to enhance your planning.

Principle 1:  Sustained profitability

Economic value and the conditions for generating profits are created when clients value your product or service enough to pay more than it costs the business (you) to produce and provide it.  Strategic planning is all about Defining  business goals and objectives and devising strategies and action plans with the thought of ROI, in particular long-term ROI, in mind.  Assuming that profits will be inevitable when sales volume and/or market share are the most accurate measurements of success is not the best way to approach the matter.

Principle 2: Value proposition

First, be certain that what you consider to be the value proposition—that is, the most desirable benefits—matches what clients consider to be the value proposition. Be aware that strategy is not about offering services or products that will be all things to all prospective clients.  Businesses are in need of strategies that allow the venture to compete in a way that allows it to effectively and efficiently deliver what clients consider the value proposition.

Principle 3: Competitive advantage

The unique and desirable benefits that sustain the value proposition must be reflected in and supported by strategy that shapes them into a sustainable competitive advantage.  The successful enterprise will differentiate itself from competitors through the products or services offered, how those are packaged and/or delivered, customer service practices, branding, pricing and so on; those unique features and practices will matter to current and prospective clients.  Still, the company’s business model will likely resemble that of its rivals.

Principle 4: Choices and priorities

Resources are inevitably finite and choices about your products and/or services must be made, in order to define what is necessary and possible and therefore, a priority.  Some  product or service features will not be offered, so that the benefits (priorities) that clients have chosen as highly desirable can be optimized.  These priorities are what sets the business apart from competitors and define the brand.

Principle 5: Flow

Choices and priorities must be baked into the strategies that you and the leadership team devise, to enhance and enable the consistent  delivery of the value proposition. These strategies will be both stand-alone and interdependent, like dominoes.  Choices made to define the target customers that the business will pursue also impact product design and by necessity will impact choices that determine the manufacturing process and its cost.  Choices that determine what will be included in a service will be influenced by the expected target customers and will impact how that service is delivered and priced.  Choices about product positioning and branding will impact where the product is sold and the marketing strategy.

Principle 6: Direction

The late style icon Diana Vreeland, who served as editor-in-chief at both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar Magazines, once said that “elegance is refusal.” A company must define its unique value proposition and that will eventually cause certain potential choices to be declined, because they are contrary to the brand.  The product or service lines can be altered to satisfy customer demands over time and business models can be adjusted to reflect current or anticipated market conditions.  Nevertheless, the vision and mission must be upheld to maintain brand awareness and trust. Strategic direction will guide that process.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

SWOT Your Brand

Freelance consultants and small business owners rise and fall on the marketplace perception of their brand, also known as one’s professional reputation.  As a result, the brand/reputation merits ongoing enhancement, promotion and monitoring as a component of a strategy designed to support new business acquisition and encourage repeat business—in essence, the strategy you implement to build and maintain a good client list.  The brand can be reviewed and evaluated in several ways, one of which is through the prism of the gold standard of strategic planning, the SWOT Analysis.

Every year, self-employed professionals will benefit from examining the viability of their brand, to become aware of what actions and behaviors enhance the brand and what might undermine that precious resource.  Using the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats metrics will reveal this information.

Strengths: Professional expertise, competitive advantages, prestigious or lucrative clients, referral sources, valued business practices, strategic partnerships, educational or professional credentials, financial resources, influential relationships. This element is internal, within your control.

  • How can you leverage your resources to upgrade the types of clients you work with?
  • How can you persuade inactive clients to call you back for more project work and stimulate repeat business?
  • How can you obtain more billable hours?
  • How can you persuade clients to hire you for more complex and therefore more lucrative projects?

Weaknesses: Whatever undermines your brand, the opposite of your strengths, gaps in what or who you know, or deficiencies in the value that you bring to clients.  This element is internal, within your control.

  • Which of your gaps has the most negative impact on the business?
  • Which of your impactful detriments appear to be quickly, easily, or inexpensively remedied?
  • What can you do to shore up those handicaps and minimize your liabilities—are there business practices that you can modify, professional credentials you can earn, relationships you can successfully cultivate?

Opportunities: Conditions that favor the attainment of goals and objectives. This element is external and beyond your control, yet you may be able to position yourself to gain from the benefits created by its presence.  Good information about business conditions in your marketplace helps the Freelance consultant to objectively evaluate and envision the potential of short-term and long-term benefits and what must be done to earn the pay-off.

  • What new developments can you possibly take advantage of to bring money and prestige to your business?
  • Do you see financial reward in offering an additional service or product?
  • Is there a good client you should be able to successfully pursue and sign, or a lapsed client who, with some outreach, could be willing to reactivate?
  • Is there a developing niche market that you can pivot into, with some uncomplicated adjustments?

Threats: Conditions likely to damage the brand, or your ability to acquire clients and generate sufficient billable hours. This element is external and beyond your control, yet you may be able to position yourself to escape or minimize the catastrophe caused by its presence.  This category requires the immediate attention of you and your team, since it carries the potential to end, or seriously cripple, your brand and business.

Developing and implementing a strategy of protective action, for example a brand facelift or a pivot into more hospitable business turf, is absolutely necessary for survival, but inclined to be time-consuming and difficult to bring about.  Staying abreast of what is happening in the industries that you usually serve and the viability or priorities of your largest clients, will give you the resources of time and good information and prepare you to react and regroup.

  • Has a well-connected and aggressive competitor appeared on the scene, ready to eat your market share and client list by way of a better known brand, more influential relationships, a bigger marketing budget, or other game-changing competitive advantages? If that is the case, then do everything possible to offer superior customer service, assert your expertise, step up your networking, enhance your thought-leader credentials and nurture your client relationships (holiday cards really do matter).
  • Will some new technology soon render your services obsolete? If so, what skills do you possess, or what can you learn, that will allow you to successfully repackage your skills, reconfigure your brand and continue to appeal to clients who already like your work?
  • Has an important contact left his/her organization, leaving you at the mercy of the new  decision-maker, who has his/her own friends to hire? Or has there been a merger that resulted in the downgrading of the influence of your chief contact, who may lose the ability to green-light projects that you manage? If your client contact has moved on, absolutely take that person to lunch or coffee and do what you can to make the professional relationship portable.  If your contact has lost his/her influence, ask to meet the replacement, who may employ you at least for the next project if one comes up quickly (but may boot you out for all others, unfortunately).

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Client Retention Means Exceeding Expectations

Client retention and referrals are the best ways to build a good client list. Earlier in the year,  one of my clients referred to me a colleague who is in a closely related business.  I was so happy!  While working with clients new and long-term,  my mission is to do an excellent job and exceed expectations, so that I will create the conditions for a long relationship and the receipt of referrals.

The two clients are friends,  yet very different in working style.  The first is laid back and easy to deal with.  The new client, to be honest, has not yet developed trust in my abilities. There is a tendency to be more hands-on than I would expect and to assume that things may not have been done correctly on my part.  I’m not sure of the source of the client’s anxiety, but I’ve decided to view the matter as a learning opportunity that will keep me in top form.  I will be pushed to do my best work and have the opportunity to go into trust and credibility building mode.

I started on the client retention path by first learning who had referred me and then sending a thank you email.  Prior to that,  the client had received December holiday cards, as it is my custom is to send holiday cards to all clients I’ve worked with in the previous five years.

Regarding the new client,  my objective is to help that individual relax and know that I’m in control and will make him/her look smart and capable in the eyes of superiors and peers.  I’ve written previously about how to establish a good relationship with difficult and demanding clients. https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/how-to-manage-a-difficult-client/

Other tips include:

Be prepared

If you know that you’ll be asked to address a certain problem that the client must resolve, or you must make make recommendations about how the client might capitalize on an expected opportunity, do your homework and come to the meeting brimming with practical ideas and insightful questions.

Listen to the client

Listen and learn how the client views matters from his/her perspective, whether it’s how to implement the solution for the project you’re working on,  how to resolve a customer service glitch, or any other matter that is presented.  Show that you value the client’s opinions.

Respect the client’s ideas and suggestions

You may not have all the answers. The client’s lived experience matters.  Be open to incorporating the client’s ideas into your proposed solution.  Always agree with the client and validate his/her choices. Subtly adapt his/her suggested strategy into something that you know will be more effective, when necessary.  If the client mentions that another consultant has handled a similar project in a different way,  listen up and learn. You may receive valuable information on how to improve your business practices.

Communicate constantly

Misunderstandings cause relationships to fray and misunderstandings occur when communication is unclear and insufficient.  Meetings may be infrequent, but emails are a way to report on (in writing!) your many successes toward achieving the objectives and goals of the project.  I keep my clients apprised of what I’m doing.  This custom also helps when it’s time to send an invoice and billable hours must be justified.  What I don’t want is a client who questions why I’m claiming so many hours.  Moreover, if the client feels that some aspect of the project scope should be expanded or diminsihed,  adjustments can be made in a timely fashion.

Get it in writing

Take meeting notes and within 48 hours post-meeting, send an email to confirm what has been discussed and agreed-upon. Include project specs, the fee structure, the payment schedule, project milestones, the deliverables and the due dates.

Client retention is the foundation of every business.  It takes less time and effort to retain a client than to pursue and acquire a new one. Furthermore,  long-term clients are much more likely to bestow on you that ultimate affirmation, a referral.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Becoming Agile

Agile innovation first swept through the information technology sector and greatly increased success rates in software development, improved quality and speed to market. Agile management techniques are now spreading to many other industries and Freelance consultants ought to be aware of what is involved, both as regards the ways our clients and prospects may buy into agile practices and how we might incorporate certain aspects into our own consultancies.

More than in the recent past, business ventures large and small operate in a highly dynamic environments.  Customer priorities and technological advancements are known to change rapidly.  Keeping a finger on the pulse of new developments and innovating or adapting  as necessary  the line of products and services offered,  marketing buzz words used in marketing content, sales strategies employed or distribution channels utilized are how organizations thrive and grow.  But what does agile mean in practice?

Agile does not mean doing the usual thing, only faster. Darrell Rigby, a partner at Bain & Company consulting and Hirotaka Takeuchi, professor of strategy at the Harvard Business School and CEO of Scrum, Inc., a consulting and training firm, describe agile business practices as containing the following elements:

Scrum. Creative and adaptive teamwork that solves complex problems.

Lean development.  Focuses on the continual elimination of waste.

Kanban.  Focuses on reducing lead times and the amount of time to complete a process.

Along with IT,  agile management practices are particularly well-suited to strategic planning activities, marketing projects, resource allocation decisions and supply chain challenges.  Sales and accounting, for example, are not a natural fit for agile, according to experienced practitioners. In sum, agile works best where complex problems can be broken down into modules and assigned to specific teams.

When solutions to the problem are unknown, product specifications could be subject to change, the scope of the work to be done is not precisely known, cross-functional collaboration is presumed to be vital and time to market is sensitive are the ideal conditions in which to apply agile innovation or methods.

For independent Freelance consultants and small business owners agile will have a different meaning, but it may be useful nonetheless.  Small business owners can surely incorporate agile methods into their organizations and see improved functioning.  Freelancers may be more apt to use agile as a marketing buzz word that communicates to clients and prospects that we are on the cutting edge of forward-thinking business practices and in tune with their priorities.  Freelancers who are themselves agile will be trustworthy external talent who bring ROI to organizations for whom we work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim