The Right Way to Give Feedback

Even for those who are self-employed, everything in life is team work, am I right or what? When you’re working with others, at some point giving or receiving a quick progress report is a good thing and usually appreciated.  There is an art to giving feedback and if you want to reach and sustain a high level of productivity, to say nothing of preserving important relationships both business and personal, you may be interested in the recommendations that guide the process of giving effect feedback offered by Gwen Moran, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans (2010).

Integrate

When you are in the position to assess the quality of the project work, you have an obligation to speak up should you discover that something is amiss or the work is behind schedule.  Feedback should be instructive, timely and accepted as a normal part of management’s responsibilities.  Especially if assistance is needed, it is important that  the feedback is delivered in a way that is affirming of the worker, does not denigrate his/her skills or intelligence and effectively promotes appropriate actions.  Waiting to address insufficient work in a performance review is ineffective—-too late to help the worker understand and quickly make modifications that will produce what is expected.

Calibrate

Responses to feedback are individual and sometimes unpredictable.  The less secure are prone to becoming defensive and occasionally, combative.  A diplomatic approach is recommended, so that feelings are not hurt. Nevertheless, the manager or project overseer must alert workers whose performance is sub par and the sooner the better.

To promote a positive team spirit and sense of inclusion, it will be helpful to allow team members who are not performing well to “save face” and if that means you, the project overseer or department manager, must blame yourself because mistakes have been made, then so be it.  Avoid being labeled as either unsupportive and harsh, or a micromanager.

Educate

If ad hoc feedback is not bringing about the desired improvements, then invite into a meeting all who are working on the project.  Explain how the project is critical to the achievement of interdependent  company objectives and goals and why it is imperative that the work must be done in a certain way and completed within a certain time frame.  Team members will be able to ask questions in a nonjudgmental environment that will clear up misinterpretations and help them to understand the purpose of the project and their value as professionals.

Motivate

Strive to communicate positive observations about the team members’ work, because feedback is always necessary.  Do not fall into the habit of speaking up only when there is something negative to say.  Thanks and encouragement go a long way in motivating enthusiasm and excellent quality work.  Feedback contributes to the development of cohesive and high-performing teams. It is the responsibility of those in management positions to promote and support this outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library                                                  Vandamm Theatrical Photographs Collection 1900 – 1957

On Conducting an Interview

Because you are an ambitious Freelance consultant, you regularly provide content marketing that showcases your expertise and reinforces your brand with current and potential clients and, when good fortune intervenes, motivates them to give you some much-needed billable hours.  As you plan your activities, you may at some point reach out to a fellow Freelancer, a good client, or another expert and ask to include that individual in your content marketing by way of an interview.  Featuring another perspective every once in a while keeps your marketing content fresh and more interesting to the audience.  I’m thinking of doing exactly that sometime soon, if my target interview guest is willing to speak with me on the record.  Stay tuned.

At some point in your professional life it is likely that you may decide, or be asked, to interview someone, so you would be wise to learn the process.  Successfully conducted interviews hinge on good preparation.  While some of us may feel that interviewing is an intuitive skill and that we should be able to manage the process spontaneously, that will not be the case.  You could probably muddle through, but why not take a couple of hours and learn how to get it right?

Think first of an interview guest to invite.  Who do you know who might tell a good story, or share some useful information that will be appreciated by your audience and does it seem possible that you’ll be able to convince that person to speak with you? 

Second, consider the basic interview format. Will your guest agree to a face-to-face Q & A that will be required for a video, or will it be a phone interview that is suitable for your podcast, blog, or newsletter? Email interviews often do not produce the best results according to many journalists. 

Third, brainstorm questions or topics that might be interesting to your audience and play to your guests’ strengths. You may want to write up a list of potential questions, or make note of possible topics. Visit the Twitter feed, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and conduct an internet search to find out what may have been written by or about your proposed guest.

Invite your potential interview guests in a phone call. Some requests require a more personal approach than email.  Immediately upon reaching an agreement with your guest, send a confirmation email.  Two or three days in advance of the interview, send a second email to confirm the interview time and place and specify whether a phone call or in-person meeting will take place.

In all formats, introduce the guest to your audience and give a brief bio. If your interview will be video or podcast (audio), welcome your guest warmly and thank him/her for agreeing to appear. Your audience needs to hear, and see, this greeting. If the interview will appear in text you will still give a warm welcome and thanks and that exchange will appear in print.  

As you ask questions be friendly and upbeat, to help your guest to feel comfortable and safe.  Avoid “gotcha” questions designed to make the guest feel judged. Keep your mouth shut and practice active listening as you take notes as the guest speaks  (you can record as well and if you plan to do that, ask permission).  If you hear a particular word, phrase, or aspect of the topic that piques your curiosity or seems to give unexpected insight into the question, enter it into your notes and then ask a follow-up question. In this way, your interview will become a conversation, rather than a stilted Q & A session.  The best interviews are what seem to be a relaxed and intelligent conversation between the host and guest.

FYI, it is sometimes necessary to ask the same question two or even three times, in different ways, to persuade your guest to give a complete answer. It’s important to build rapport throughout the interview to make the subject feel comfortable sharing information.

You may need to nudge the interview back on track if your subject goes off on a tangent, in particular if this is a video or podcast conversation.  A useful phrase could be, “How does that relate to the big picture”? Conversely, you might draw out more information from a reticent guest when you ask, “Do you have a story that will illustrate your point”? At the end of the interview, thank your guest for participating and enlightening the audience.

If the interview will appear as a podcast or video, your guest may appear for 15 – 20 minutes, unless his/her topic is especially compelling.  If you are interviewing for your blog or newsletter, 15-20 minutes is probably still a good time limit for the conversation. Overwhelming your guest or audience is to be avoided.

Interviewing a guest for your chosen content marketing platform will build your audience and enhance the brand of your guest as well.  Create a win-win situation for you and the guest by carefully considering the benefits that will accrue to each of you through the proposed interview and be sensitive also to the interests of the audience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

The Power of Listening

Recently, I attended a reception at the women’s club where I’m a member.  When I attend programs, I make it a point to circulate and talk, usually joining three or four tables over the course of an event.  I’ve been fortunate to participate in dozens of conversations, meaningful and superficial, and I’ve formed some good relationships.  When in conversation, ideally, I listen more than I talk. That ebb and flow is the subtle dance of communication.

While in conversation, learning to keep one’s mouth shut and ears open, so that you can focus attention on the person who is speaking, requires mindfulness and discipline.  So often we do not really listen, we only pause, to formulate an answer that will help us win a debate or demonstrate expertise in the topic.  Conversation can become a game of one-upmanship, when we’re more interested in being clever, or seeming to be very wise or au courant.

When you take the time to listen, the ego must be set aside as you signal the unique value of the other person by allowing him/her to express thoughts and feelings, insights and knowledge.  You may appear to be passive but in reality, listening well is quite active.  When we listen with intention, most of our senses are activated.

We watch facial expressions and detect happiness, distress, interest, or boredom in the eyes and mouth and even the posture.  We hear the cadence of speech, the choice of words used and the tone of voice.  In this way, we take in the story as it is told and we begin to understand the other person’s values, worries, joys, competencies and humor.  Listening with conviction is the highest compliment that one can pay to another human being.  When we listen, we get to know people and build relationships.

Careful listening also allows you to grasp what a person does not say and that could be very revealing.  Hone your listening skills and learn to “listen between the lines,” so that you can more fully understand the motivations and perhaps hidden agendas of those with whom you interact.  Listen and get a sense of who is telling the truth and who is hiding behind a facade.  Whether you are in a negotiation with a client, interviewing a job candidate, or at dinner with someone you wonder if you should see again, listening well will guide your next steps.

Listening skills are a key ingredient of selling skills.  Listen carefully to your prospect and learn what is most important to him/her and then describe how your product or service will resolve the need and eliminate difficulties.  If you are a Freelance consultant who is interviewing with the hope of winning an assignment Dave Mattson, CEO and president of Sandler Training, the sales training firm, recommends that you get straight to the point and ask what three criteria define success for the project and then listen, and truly hear, the answer.  You will quickly discover whether you are a good fit for the project and what you must say and do to win it.

Finally, listening will allow you to adjust your style of communication to align with the person you are speaking with and that is a very important part of building trust, demonstrating proficiencies, telegraphing empathy and being persuasive, the building blocks of both good relationships and effective selling.  Essentially, your heightened listening will allow the two of you to speak the same language and that is the heart of effective communication.

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

A Superb Speaker Introduction

Excellent public speaking makes those who have it appear both credible and smart and those who wish to obtain or maintain the appearance of authority and expertise are advised to cultivate the art.  Public speaking not only refers to s/he who makes a featured presentation—keynote speakers, guest lecturers, panelists, moderators, or the toastmaster at a social function—but also includes s/he who introduces a speaker.

An invitation to introduce a speaker is an honor and a vote of confidence and you would be wise to prepare for the occasion.  The introducer bears the responsibility of preparing the audience to respect the speaker and trust his/her information or story line.  If you receive an opportunity to introduce a speaker, keep the following suggestions in mind:

Show that you have the credentials to make the introduction

S/he who introduces a speaker must earn the confidence of the audience.  The leader or some other high-ranking member of the sponsoring organization usually introduces speakers, and earns that confidence by way of the authority vested in his/her position. Alternatively, a VIP speaker may be introduced by a similarly ranked colleague or guest VIP, who earns the confidence of the audience and as well conveys the importance of the speaker.  The guest VIP who introduces the high profile featured speaker will merit his/her own introduction and that will be given by a member of the sponsoring group.

Direct audience attention to the speaker

A speaker introduction is in reality a sales presentation and obtaining audience buy-in for the speaker and topic is your mission.  Your first order of business is to persuade the audience to be fully present in the moment. Typically, audience members are engaged in other activities in the intervening moments between speaker presentations, or as they await for the program to begin.

Some will be in conversation with those nearby, perhaps discussing the previous speaker or the program agenda.  Others will be focused on electronic devices, checking email, sending texts, or posting social media updates.  Your introduction must provide a bridge that transports the audience away from distractions and leads them to the subject of your introduction, the speaker.

A clever way to gain audience attention is to capture their imaginations with a rhetorical question related to the topic.  Consider opening your introduction with “What if…?“, “What is it about…?“,  or “Have you ever wondered how…?” The question will allow you to segue into the topic, which ideally will be perceived as compelling, to validate the audience member’s decision to attend.

Endorse the speaker

Now that you have the audience’s attention and confidence, it’s time to portray the speaker as an expert who is deserving of the audience’s time, attention and money (if admission was paid).  Put them in the mood to hear the talk by saying something like… “I first heard (the speaker) about three years ago, at a reading s/he gave soon after his/her book (title) was published.  I’ve been anticipating the release of this new book (title).” “I’ve heard more than one expert address our topic this afternoon, but I believe that (the speaker) gives the most comprehensive and clear representation of the facts…”

You may in addition give a build-up that precedes the above by listing awards and honors that the speaker has received, if applicable, or reading quotes about the speaker that have appeared in important publications.

Create intrigue and excitement about the topic

Tempt the audience with a smidgen of how the speaker will meet or surpass their expectations for the talk.  Read a sentence or two of an early review of the book that will be discussed.  Describe a useful piece of information that audience members will receive as they listen to the presentation.  Make them know that a worthwhile pay-off awaits.

The introduction

Continue to demonstrate that you make excellent speaker introductions by weaving the sense of anticipation into your actual introduction, perhaps in this way… “Let’s all welcome (the speaker) and let him/her give us the real story about what’s going on.” “Let’s invite (the speaker) to tell us what happens next in the ongoing saga of this character. Please join me and give him/her a warm welcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Build Your Referral Network With Board Service

Volunteering has for many decades been a way for aspiring socialites, self-made millionaires, traditionally employed professionals climbing the ladder and Freelance consultants looking to meet future clients to expand their networks, build strategic relationships, obtain social credibility, learn new skills and sometimes even support a worthy cause. Volunteering is the best way to do well by doing good and the money you donate is tax-deductible.

The Machiavellian among us may choose an organization that appears to have either the best business networking or most social-climbing potential (or both!), but I recommend that those in search of a good volunteer opportunity start with a review of causes that are important to you.  Some prefer social service agencies, others are inspired by arts organizations and still others gravitate to religious or healthcare institutions. If you’re not sure where to start, try lending your services to your alma mater, your children’s school, or your local Rotary Club.  Rotary Club

Board service is at the top of the volunteer pyramid and not everyone is invited to participate at that level.  However, most not-for-profit organizations plan a big annual fundraising event and extra day-of-event volunteer help is sometimes needed. That could be your opportunity to see a snap shot of the organization, as well as the event committee, up close, in action and celebrating the vision and mission.

Joining a day-of-event subcommittee is often a good place to start your volunteer journey, so that you can meet and work with one or two board members, meet the executive director and learn about the qualifications and possibility of joining the board.  Be advised that many boards come with an expected level of financial support that can stretch into four-figure sums (and beyond).  Visit the organization’s website and speak with the administrative assistant about short-term volunteer opportunities.

There are also corporate boards on which one may serve, but those groups are for the very well-connected and influential.  A path to corporate board service might begin with relationships developed during volunteer board service, but one still must have very formidable professional credentials and superior job titles.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you contemplate your role as a volunteer:

Choose the right organization

You will feel much happier donating skills and money to an organization whose mission you strongly support and that should guide your choice.  Your work on the board should be for you a pleasure and a privilege and not a chore.

Be outstanding

Take your commitment to the board or committee seriously if you expect to be taken seriously by the influencers you hope to impress.  Be qualified to do the work.  Make the time to complete your pro bono work on time.  Be enthusiastic, if not passionate, and a good team player.  If you are sufficiently fortunate to be asked to chair a committee, graciously share credit for a job well done with your committee members.

Add value

While your volunteering may have at its core your professional or social agenda, you must nonetheless approach your volunteer service as someone who wants to contribute and make a positive difference.  Keep the organization’s mission and goals in mind, along with your own.  Raise your hand when leadership opportunities present themselves. Demonstrate how your unique skill set brings benefits to the organization.

Be a passionate visionary

As a board member, it will be your responsibility to prepare the organization to realize long-term goals that accurately reflect and enable the vision and mission.  Suggest that strategic planning be done, so that key staff members can join with the board and map out possible strategies for the future.  In any case, bring your creative energy and practical insights to every board meeting.

Be a team player

Make yourself look good and create the conditions wherein your fellow board and committee members will find satisfaction in their board service and find more success for yourself as you do.  Inspire fellow board and committee members to do their best work by modeling that behavior yourself.  Always acknowledge the good work and dedication of others on your committee and the board.

When you follow the guidelines detailed above, you will distinguish yourself as a superior board member who is a real asset to the organization.  Influencers who are in a position to refer those with your specialty will no doubt be eager to refer a colleague whose work they can personally endorse and your Freelance consultancy will reap the rewards.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Fixing Your Epic Fail

You’ve got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em. Know when to walk away, and know when to run.   “The Gambler”, written by Don Schlitz and made famous by singer Kenny Rogers

The Horatio Alger story remains the ultimate creation myth of the United States. Start out penniless.  Be clever, ambitious and ready to work very hard.  Recognize opportunities that others ignore.  Have the courage to take risks.  Summon the self-confidence and determination to stay the course in the face of disappointment.  Succeed wildly.  Make millions of dollars.

The most admired American heroes are the success stories, the big money makers. Paul Allen and Bill Gates, college drop-outs who pulled all-nighters to build Microsoft.  Madam C.J. Walker, a widowed young mother and one-time laundress who in 1906 created a hair care product in one of her wash tubs, out-maneuvered endemic sexism and racism, and became America’s first female and first non-white self-made millionaire (her line is now at Sephora).  Madam Builds an Empire

Striving is the template for life in this country.  Never give up.  Just do it.   However, quiet as it’s kept, certain dreams simply will not pan out because they cannot.  Some ventures are ill-conceived.  Some are very good, but the resources to launch them are not available.  For others, the timing is wrong and one either misses the market, or is too far ahead of the curve and prospective customers do not yet have the desire for the product (or service).  In these instances the smartest action is, sadly, to scrap the dream and walk away.  It is so painful, humiliating, even un-American.  Success is our brand and the whole world knows it.

One of the biggest questions we will encounter as we build a life is, when do you hold on tight to your dream and keep pushing forward through rejection and disappointment and continue to invest time, passion and money into an idea that might be doomed (or not) and when do you give up?

Failure, at some point, is inevitable.  It is demoralizing and damaging, if only to the ego.  It undermines self-confidence.  Repeated failure unravels and destroys a life.

According to behavioral psychologist James Clear, who studies and writes about performance and creativity, failure can be classified in three categories:

  1. Failure of tactics
  2. Failure of strategy
  3. Failure of vision

Clear categorizes Failure of Tactics as Stage 1 and identifies it as HOW mistakes are made.  According to Clear, Stage 1 Failure occurs as a result of poor planning, preparation, or execution.  The Vision may be sound and the chosen Stategy reasonable, but operations issues bring it all crashing down.  His remedy for Stage 1 Failure is to:

  • Examine the process of product and service delivery (service packages, sales distribution, quality control and customer service, usually)
  • Identify system failures in the sales process/ buying process as articulated by customers and employees.
  • Adjust systems and practices that impede an efficient and desirable customer experience and employee efficacy and morale

Stage 2 Failure results from a Failure of Strategy and Clear calls these WHAT mistakes. Stage 2 Failure occurs when the chosen strategy is unable to deliver the desired results.  Since there is no way to know in advance which of your presumed reasonable products, services, or proposals will succeed until there is a beta test, Clear recommends that after due diligence has been done, roll it out and monitor the progress.  His remedy for Stage 2 Failure is:

  • Launch the beta test quickly
  • Do it cheaply
  • Revise rapidly

Throw it up against the wall and see what sticks. If your strategy isn’t doing the job, have Plan B ready and give your concept another try.  Keep costs low to minimize the financial strain of do-overs.  Ideas are meant to be tested, it’s all about trail and error.

Failure of Vision constitutes Stage 3 Failure and it reveals the most basic reasons of WHY the plan failed. In this scenario, the purpose for taking the action was poorly understood.  Was there no measurement of demand for the product, service, or action taken? Did you overestimate access to target customers? Did you not acknowledge that you’d rather not commit the time and money necessary to build the business or carry out the initiative?

Some of us fail because we get pressured into taking certain actions by those whose motive is to continue a tradition or to exert control.  In these scenarios,  actions are taken to follow the expectations of others, rather than one’s own priorities and preferences.

For example, the brother of a good friend, because he was the only son, was expected to take over his father’s highly successful business.  But according to my friend, her brother was not cut out to run a large and complex business.  He lacked the necessary drive. Unsurprisingly, her brother eventually crashed the business.  Their father spent more than a million dollars trying to bail out his son, but the business went bankrupt.

If you’ve done your homework and can be reasonably confident that your vision is sound and you’re willing to invest your time and money testing Stage 2 issues (launch strategy) and perfecting any Stage 1 challenges (operational glitches), then ignore those who would dissuade you to abandon your vision.  Maybe you’ll never be wildly successful, but if you feel compelled to do what you can to realize your dream, then carry on! Avoid Stage 3 Failure in this way:

  • Determine your priorities and purpose and be clear about what you’re willing to do to make it a reality
  • Identify and stand by those parts of your dream that are non-negotiable
  • Accept that there may be naysayers

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Those Who Can, Teach

What’s a proven way for Freelance consulting service providers to demonstrate expertise, distinguish yourself from the many “me, too” competitors; position yourself as a thought leader; and work against being perceived as a commodity? Teaching! The old proverb, “Those who can, do and those who can’t, teach” doesn’t hold up in the 21st century marketplace.

Teaching is the smartest-ever marketing activity.  You get paid to do it, so along with being an effective marketing activity, teaching simultaneously benefits your cash-flow.  If that’s not enough, through teaching you will become a better speaker and better able to promote yourself as a keynote or a panel moderator.  In horse racing, they call that a trifecta!

First, let’s consider what you might teach.  Ideally,  you’ll teach a subject related to your business.  Artists since Michelangelo (at least) have taught art classes.  Authors of best-selling books are usually able to join a university faculty, where they earn steady money teaching creative writing classes.  Prize-winning journalists often teach journalism at colleges and universities, which is a superb addition to their CV.

In 2006,  I created five 90 minute sales skills workshops that I presented at an adult learning center (the nation’s oldest adult learning center, BTW) and two years after that, based on my teaching experience and curriculum development skills,  I was invited to teach an 18 week business plan writing course at a Small Business Association-affiliated women’s business development center.

When that assignment ended two years later, I developed a six-hour business plan writing workshop that I continue to present two or three times a year at the adult learning center where my teaching career began.  I’ve also developed a 90 minute networking skills workshop and a six-hour strategic planning how-to workshop that are occasionally presented.

Second, you may need to acquire or improve your teaching skills.  My recommendation is that you learn both curriculum development and gain or improve your teaching skills by writing a proposal to teach some aspect of your professional expertise at an adult learning center, library, or some other organization that offers workshops to the public for free or at a modest cost.  The proposals I’ve written for workshops became my lesson plans.

Third, identify a place to teach.  As noted, adult learning centers and libraries are good possibilities.  Explore the requirements of teaching and peruse the types of courses that are scheduled.  Read the instructor bios—I’ll bet most are Freelancers.  If you’ve earned a master’s degree and you have a minimum of five years of teaching experience, you may be able to teach at a local university.  Adjunct (that is, part-time, non-tenure track) teaching is great if you can get it,  but the market has become quite competitive.  I’ve taught a couple of semesters at a special seminar series, but I’ve been unable to secure any more adjunct work in the past five years, I’m sorry to say.

Once you’ve developed a workshop and learned how to successfully present it,  consider taking it online in a YouTube video.  E-learning is a growing field and becoming proficient in presenting an online course is to your benefit.  Schools are transferring ever more courses to an online format and if you have the know-how, you will be a more attractive candidate for those disappearing adjunct opportunities.

Web developers are able to teach students how to build a website.  Freelance bookkeepers can teach other Freelancers how to use Quickbooks.  Marketers can teach the basics of social media marketing.  Landscape artists can teach homeowners how to choose shrubbery and flowering plants for their yards,  or how to create and maintain a window box filled with lovely plants.  Developing proficiency in the ancient and noble art of teaching delivers numerous tangible and intangible benefits to Freelancers and their students.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

Vive la Difference: Coaches and Consultants

Freelance professionals are external consultants who bring agile talent to mission-critical special projects at thousands of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations throughout the world.  Freelance consultants play an increasing role in many organizations, providing vital ad hoc staffing as full-time work forces contract.  We are highly effective,  reliable and adaptable.  We work alone, usually from a home office, and that keeps our operating expenses low and our billable rates affordable.

We are disciplined self-starters who treasure our independence, but there is a downside. Every once in a while, it would be helpful to have team members in the office with us.  We have no one readily available to duck out and have a quick cup of coffee with, no one to help parse a tricky question or lend a sympathetic ear when we hit a rough patch.  We most likely have a support system of colleagues and friends,  but they are not on site and may not have the wherewithal to help us address some of our most important questions.

As a result, many Freelancers consult with a professional to help sort through the array of challenges and decisions that we all eventually face.  Working with the right coach or consultant can bring many benefits to one’s business or personal life.  You may feel the need to receive some expert guidance, but wonder which type of specialist you should hire?

Follow the wisdom of the late management guru Peter Drucker and ask (yourself) questions that will reveal the right answer. Before you call in a specialist, clarify your desires or dilemmas, at least superficially.

For example, you may have a time management problem that results in a work overload that undermines your ability to have a social life.  Your task is to determine its source.  Might you need to hire a bookkeeper to compile the monthly financials, or an administrative assistant to do your billing, or some other professional to take certain tasks off your plate? To resolve business matters,  a business consultant is the go-to person.

If your time management problem results from your inability to set boundaries and understand that you cannot say yes to everyone, which then results in a work overload that undermines your ability to have a social life, then it will be useful to see a business coach to help you to identify priorities and establish boundaries.

Let’s take a look at the focus of each specialty. A business coach will:

  • Help you to enhance competencies you already have and help to bring out the best in you.
  • Help you to identify your passions, acknowledge what motivates you and then brainstorm with you to discover avenues for their expression.
  • Acknowledge and remedy a fear of success, fear of failure, or self-sabotage that you may fall victim to.
  • Provide encouragement and accountability to ensure follow-through of the action plan that the two of you develop.

OUTCOME: An action plan that addresses business and personal development goals and strategies.

A business consultant will:

  • Work with you to assess business strengths and weaknesses and evaluate its preparedness to take advantage of opportunities and overcome obstacles.
  • Improve the viability of the business and position it for growth, scalability and sustainability.  Operational efficiencies, strategy development, the business model, customer acquisition and retention, packaging of services, strategic partnership possibilities, the marketing message, niche market development, pricing, technology needs, staffing and customer service protocols are among the areas that will be examined and evaluated.
  • Work  with you to set reasonable short and long-term goals and objectives for the business, devise strategies and create action plans and time tables to ensure that strategies are implemented.  Follow-up and further consulting services to support and enable your plans can be arranged.

OUTCOME: SMART goals for your business and a way to make them happen.

So which do you need? A coach is like a partner and a consultant is like an adviser. If working on aspects of your personal life, that is if behaviors are the issue, then a business coach may be the better choice, at least initially.  But if you would like to grow and optimize your business , then a business consultant is the way to get the best results.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Getting and Giving Advice: Tact

In my March 1 post, I introduced the matter of giving and receiving advice and I let readers know that over the next few months I would explore different aspects of this important and sensitive topic. Here is the link to that post, if you’d like the reference.

https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/getting-and-giving-advice-skill-set/

When offering advice to someone, especially if it is unsolicited, tact is an essential ingredient.  In today’s bombastic communications environment that is dominated by “reality”shows,  current events infotainment-style “news” shows and even presidential debates that not infrequently de-volve into scream fests, it appears that the use and value of tact have been greatly diminished.  Name-calling is in vogue, I’m sorry to say.

Tact comes easily for some but for most of us, tact requires first an awareness of its need, followed by lots of practice in its implementation.  When a difficult conversation must take place,  when in a negotiation, or even when relaxing and chatting with friends or family, tact is a useful skill. Tact adds subtlety and sophistication to your speaking style and makes you look more professional and competent.  Furthermore,  there will be no good relationships built without it, business or personal.

Being direct in one’s expression is also a useful skill,  but the ability to deliver a blunt opinion well is real talent. There is a right way to tell the outrageous truth.  The essence of tact is keeping one’s emotions in check, so that the impulse to blurt out hurtful (or semi-incoherent) statements will be curbed.  Consider keeping the following suggestions in mind as you work to incorporate the nuances of tact into your communications portfolio.

THINK FIRST

Especially in a conversation that seems to have the potential to become heated, pause, so that you can listen to what is being said by the other party and give yourself time to organize your thoughts and choose your words carefully.  By any means necessary, avoid attacks,  threats,  arm-twisting,  sarcasm,  accusations and disrespect.  You may be unhappy with what the other person has said or done,  but aim to express your displeasure in a polite and yet no-nonsense manner.  This approach is not to be confused with backing down.

SOFTEN NEGATIVE FEEDBACK

When you must address the stressful matter of unmet expectations or poor results,  the tactful approach is the best way to get you and the other person on the road to effecting a satisfactory solution.

First, search for a way to include a positive observation about the outcome. Next, discuss what came up short.  Be diplomatic with your criticism—it may be that you did not clearly communicate your request and thus caused the other person to misunderstand.  Make the conversation a teachable moment for both of you.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

It may not be possible to know in advance the best time to wade into a sensitive subject. If you attempt to force a discussion at an inconvenient time,  your message will not be well received and if your manner of approach reeks of entitlement,  you could damage the relationship.

Always ask if it’s a good time to talk.  If it appears that the other person can focus on choosing another time,  then ask to do so.  But if that person appears to be overwhelmed,  back off and revisit the subject at another date.  Respect for boundaries  is another cornerstone of tact and tact is good business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim