Cash-Flow Therapy

So many businesses in the U.S. are undercapitalized; insufficient cash-flow is a factor in the demise of many ventures that might otherwise succeed.  Cash is king, it is often said, and the wise business owner will do what is necessary to maintain adequate cash-flow in his/her organization.

Make friends with the basic three financial documents and learn to use them as analytical tools.  They exist to enable your success and they will signal you when corrective action must be taken.

Monitor the top line of your company’s Income Statement (sales revenue/ billable hours).  Observe the ebb and flow of the accounts receivable (who owes your business money) and payable (to whom you owe money) on your Balance Sheet.  Make note of the beginning and ending cash balances on your Cash-Flow Statement.  Also on the Cash-Flow Statement, notice the cash sales (representing billable hours payments received as checks, for example) and the operating expenses.

Seasonal variations in billable hours/ sales can potentially exacerbate cash-flow problems if that is an issue in your business (the Christmas to New Year’s slowdown, for example) and pop-up emergency expenses can do the same.  Unfortunately, the outcome for Freelance consultants or other business owners can be a cash deficit, an especially unwelcome state of affairs in a month that involves holiday expenses.

But the primary cause of cash-flow woes is usually a result of persistently insufficient billable hours for services rendered or product sales, perhaps secondary to an anemic client list.

Former Wall Street Journal Assistant Editor Serenity Gibbons points out that if you  struggle to generate enough at the top line, you’re probably facing one of the following challenges:

  • The optimum target clients have not been reached by your marketing campaigns, or the message doesn’t address their priorities or aspirations.
  • The product/ service has limited value to the target clients, or your offerings are overwhelmed by dominant competitors.
  • The product/ service is perceived as too expensive for the value delivered.

It’s time to take control and consider what can be done over the short and long-term to correct the problem.  Do some homework and discover the basic challenges, concerns and goals (as defined by their respective industries) that would motivate your prospective clients and guide their decisions.  Determine why they’re doing business with your competitors and not you.  Moreover, make sure that you are pursuing the best target markets for your products/ services.

A second issue is an administrative one that plagues many Freelancers—-we fail to invoice in a timely and regularly scheduled fashion.  Help your clients to take you seriously and treat you like a “real” business by invoicing when promised. Take measures to improve the odds of getting paid on time and in full.  I’ve lived through this challenge and can report that with a small amount of discipline, it can be overcome.

Third, watch your operating (fixed) and sales related (variable) expenses.  How much are you spending to generate sales revenues/ billable hours? Limit what must get dropped into accounts payable and expand what drops into accounts receivable.

There are usually ways to stem the tide of cash-flow problems, that is, if you take action early enough.  You might start with revisiting your pricing strategy.  Ensure that your pricing reflects the value of your product/ service; that your prices are comparable to what competitors in your area charge for similar services/ products; and that you charge close to the maximum of what clients expect to pay for what you offer. Do some in-depth pricing research, using GSA MOBIS, the federal contract system, as a benchmark.  http://gsa.federalschedules.com/industries/gsa-mobis-consulting-pss-874/

Another useful tactic that serves as a band-aid for cash-flow glitches that are more inconvenient than problematic is your business credit line.  While you’re still able to pay bills on time and have a respectable credit score, investigate obtaining a business credit card through your bank.

Resist the temptation to charge business expenses to your personal credit cards!  Keep business and personal expenses separate and get your arms around the spending in each sector.  Furthermore, a business credit card usually has a much higher credit limit than a personal line and that allows you to more easily make investments in your business and earn cash back and points as you do.

Finally, if inflated business expenses, whether fixed or variable, play a major role in your cash-flow problems, then you will have some decisions to make (re: the selling expenses) and negotiating to do (re: the operating).  If you regularly pay on time expenses for inventory purchases, credit cards, or insurance, for example, get on the phone and ask for lower interest rates or a lower premium.  If variable expenses seem high, reconsider how much you must spend on marketing, advertising, sales and client entertaining.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Baccarat at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, with Frank Sinatra (in black tie) as the card dealer (1959)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Baccarat at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV with Frank Sinatra (in bow tie) dealing the cards (1959)

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Persuading Your Client to Accept Reality

What does a Freelance consultant do when a client refuses to believe what should be an undeniable fact and instead chooses to believe something that is obviously incorrect? When a client denies or ignores the reality of circumstances in his/her organization—like a strategy that’s not producing the desired outcome or a decision that’s caused a problem to go from bad to worse—can an external consultant (or subordinate employee) tactfully open the boss’ eyes? Maybe.  But before you try, examine the alternate reality in which some of us will occasionally choose to live.

In a four-year study conducted by LeadershipIQ, a company that provides online leadership development seminars, 1,087 board members at 286 organizations that had ousted their CEOs were interviewed.  In 23% of the organizations surveyed, the dismissed CEOs failed to acknowledge, and therefore act upon, adverse business conditions or other obvious threats to the organization and that lapse was the pivotal factor in his/her demise.  In other words, those CEOs chose to deny reality and paid the price.

Business and other leaders, like everyone else, might at times choose to deny or ignore uncomfortable truths, a behavioral trait known as the ostrich effect, where the birds are said to hide their heads in the sand when faced with a threat (untrue, BTW).  There are those people who prefer to see the bright side because they are convinced that positive thinking brings about positive results.  Every once in a while, that is true.

For the resolutely rose-colored glasses crowd, however, you may have noticed that presenting accurate information is often ineffective because their denial is rooted in misplaced emotion.  With this group, facts do not win arguments.

There are a number of paths that might lead to faulty logic that prevents one from seeing and responding to reality.  The phenomenon of confirmation bias demonstrates that we humans have a tendency to seek out and interpret data and other information that is in line with our belief systems.  The sunk cost fallacy essentially means that one has so heavily invested in the truism of a particular decision’s outcome that there will be no backing down now.

In the backfire effect, we elect to dig in our heels when presented with facts that call into question the value of our self-worth, identity, worldview, or group belonging.  In many cases, presenting those facts causes the person to cling even more tightly to his/her incorrect or unsustainable beliefs.

Unfortunately, those who tell the truth to someone who is mired in denial, and most likely engaging in one of the above behavioral patterns, risk triggering an attack by the denier, in the classic shoot the messenger face-saving mechanism.  In this scenario, the realist cannot win because according to behavioral scientists, denial is more about identity than information.

Now to get back to the client we’re trying to persuade to do one thing or another—what can one do when demonstrable facts are not only insufficient, but are also capable of imploding your valuable relationship? Ohio State University behavioral scientist Gleb Tsipursky recommends that we sidestep a potential showdown by asking a few delicately phrased questions that might reveal the emotion behind the denial and idealy, allow the denier to back away from his/her original stance and save face as this occurs.

While it may have already become apparent that you hold another viewpoint on the matter,  your first objective is to portray yourself as trustworthy and not an enemy.  Say what you can to convey to your denier that you share his/her core values and concerns.  Rephrasing what that person has said could be useful, to demonstrate that you understand and (perhaps) agree with what is most meaningful to him/her.

Your second objective is to gently reveal to the denier that his/her position is actually in conflict with his/her core values and/or goals.  This will take a silver tongue, I admit.  You might be able to get the ball rolling by noting that the denier’s position is quite understandable, based on the available information at the time, or as a result of his/her experiences.

If you can follow that up with an example of when and how someone who is known to the denier subsequently changed his/her opinion or practices on a particular matter, so much the better.  You want to make it safe for the denier to make a tectonic shift and show him/her how to do it painlessly.  Revealing that others sometimes do so is validating.

Finally, reconfirm -your denial prone client’s goals and based on what the two of you now agree upon, cobble together a solution that the client can accept.  Since the client will substantively participant in the process, buy-in will be achieved and you will emerge with a signed contract.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Denial of St. Peter  Gerard Seghers, circa 1623                                                      Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art

 

 

 

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Those in the crisis communications sector of public relations will have a very Merry Christmas indeed.  Your client list is growing and billable hours are overflowing! Accusations of powerful men (and at least one woman—Mariah Carey) behaving badly have been flying thick and fast.  The professional, political, personal and financial fall-out will be enormous.  Whose brand will be resilient enough to survive the scandal?

Re: the accused, the smart (and probably most evolved) perpetrators quickly ‘fessed up, accepted responsibility and apologized to those who felt violated and hurt, whether a presumed victim or family member (e.g., soon to be ex-Senator Al Franken and comedian Louis C.K.).  My guess is that those with the pragmatism, if not decency, to own up early on will fare the best in the long run.  A couple of years of restorative PR may possibly allow them to re-enter polite society and re-start a public career,

The arrogant—-most notably, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer—are probably finished.  Their public careers are over and they’ve seen the last of good tables in the right restaurants.  The trophy wives of Lauer and Weinstein have jumped ship, now that indiscretions of which they were well aware have become public (Cosby’s wife opted to ride it out).

Yet the most arrogant and most teflon of all publicly accused violators—former President Bill Clinton—faced allegations so serious and believable that he was successfully impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998, only the second impeachment of a president in U.S. history (he was acquitted by the Senate in 1999).  Furthermore, he was compelled to pay a settlement that exceeded $850,000 to former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, who sued Clinton in 1994 for sexual harassment.

High profile feminists (Gloria Steinem, Senator Dianne Feinstein, et al.) defended Clinton to the end and they still do (as they attack President Donald Trump for less onerous and numerous incidents and remain silent on Weinstein, who’s been a big contributor to “liberal” causes).

Clinton never apologized to anyone for anything and he vociferously denied his actions (“I did not have sex with that woman!” [Monica Lewinsky]). Like it or not, it’s obvious that the Clinton brand is the strongest in the land (and the most controversial, too).

Regardless of the Bill Clinton style, effective leaders learn how to apologize.  What is an apology and why is making one necessary?  An apology is a statement in which an individual expresses sincere remorse for behavior that can be considered inappropriate and that person acknowledges that s/he has hurt, mislead, embarrassed, or betrayed another—the public trust, a friend, colleague, or intimate partner.  An explanation, not to be confused with an excuse, could be made, as might an offer to make amends or restitution.

Trust, respect, team building and performance will be positively impacted when you make it clear that you, the leader, are willing to hold yourself accountable for your behavior, including your missteps.  Your apology is the core of that process.

Lolly Daskel, President and CEO of Lead From Within, says that there is a wrong way and a right way to apologize and I’m sure that you’ll agree.  Most of us have received so-called “apologies” that were offered grudgingly, sometimes under duress, or given disingenuously, in an attempt by the perpetrator to evade responsibility for his/her actions.

An apology is a statement in which an individual expresses sincere remorse for his/her behavior and acknowledges that s/he has hurt, mislead, embarrassed, or betrayed the public trust, a friend, or an intimate partner.  An explanation, not to be confused with an excuse, might be made as might an offer to make amends or restitution.

THE WRONG WAY TO APOLOGIZE

Blaming

A former colleague from the my days in the corporate world was known to say “Never complain, never explain.” Lolly Daskel would add “and do not blame.” Pushing responsibility onto others when it was you who dropped the ball is the wrong thing to do, every time.  As temporarily uncomfortable as it may make you feel, put on your big girl pants and admit your mistake.  Apologize to those whom you offended or inconvenienced.  Make restitution when possible and move on.  You will when respect and admiration when you do.  Blamers are losers and they never win.

Excuses

While there may have been legitimate reasons for making a mess of a situation, or burning dinner,  or not completing an important assignment, be careful that you don’t devolve into making too many excuses as you explain to those who may want to know what happened.  Just say you’re sorry and that you should have stayed on top of things, or started earlier, or whatever.  Once again, it’s about taking responsibility for your behavior.

Justifying

Don’t even think about trying to defend your behavior when you’ve screwed up.  I mean, there goes your credibility, down the drain.  Own up and apologize.  Now.

Minimizing

When you’ve let someone down, it is imperative that you take their hurt or inconvenience seriously.   In no way are you entitled to deny the full measure of the outcomes that are the result of your failure to hold up your end.  That other person has every right to be upset when they’ve been let down.  If you did not come through as expected, squelch the temptation to resort to manipulation and accept responsibility, apologize and make amends ASAP.

Shaming

Those who feel that they are doing quite enough for you (whether or not that can objectively be considered the truth) may sometimes feel entitled to break promises large and small, if they eventually find fulfilling that obligation inconvenient or expensive in some way.   When you speak up they attack and accuse you of being ungrateful for all the “other” favors they’ve done for you.  You have a right to expect that someone will keep their word.  Shame on them for being both unreliable and manipulative.

Stonewalling

Refusing to apologize, discuss, or acknowledge your mistakes or bad behavior and the difficulties it causes other people is called stonewalling.  It is abusive behavior.  It is hugely disrespectful.  Seek therapy immediately if this is common behavior for you.

THE RIGHT WAY TO APOLOGIZE

Timing

An apology is much more meaningful when it is delivered sooner, rather than later.  The longer that the offending party avoids making a sincere apology, the greater the risk to the relationship.

Acknowledge

Admit what you’ve done and apologize for the inconvenience, misunderstanding, hurt feelings, or embarrassment that you’ve caused.  This is an important step toward maintaining or rebuilding the trust that the other person had in you.

Accept

Own your behavior.  Show the respect that you have for the injured party and the esteem in which you hold him/her when you make a proper apology.  Demonstrate that this person matters and is entitled to your integrity.

Express

The apology made must be sincere and not self-serving.  Be prepared to grovel a little, if you’ve really dropped the ball, or if the other person(s) is very hurt or angry.  You can explain why or how you miscalculated, but don’t fall into excuse making.  Ask for forgiveness.

Amend

Do what you can to mend fences, so that you can soothe hurt feelings compensate for disappointment,

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Secret Hearts #88, 1963  (the study for Ohhh Alright, 1964)  Roy Lichtenstein

Overcoming Income Inequality

Happy Halloween! Today, we’ll take a look at one of the ultimate Trick or Treat scenarios, the business model known as the Global Economy (the most recent version, that is—trade has been global at least since the glory days of Timbuktu) as well as other factors that will impact your income.  The Global Economy as we know it began about 20 years ago, midwifed by the internet.  There is plenty of evidence to show that the vast majority of the world’s 7.6  billion souls have received only a global Trick, while a fortunate “1% of the 1%” has received a nearly endless supply of economic Treats.  Most of the candy is in the goody bags of the 2,043 billionaires in the world, 233 more than there were in 2016.  In aggregate, they are worth $7.7 trillion USD. (Forbes Magazine, October 2017)

Earning a living isn’t getting any easier for the 99.99%.  In the October 8 and 15, 2017 issues of The New York Times, lengthy articles appeared and told sad tales about blue-collar workers.

From Indiana came the story of skilled factory workers who until recently earned $25/hour.  Those workers have now joined the growing ranks of low-wage and  underemployed workers, in the aftermath of the ball bearing factory’s move to Monterrey, Mexico.

Factory leaders appealed to the Indiana workers to train their Mexican replacements.  Despite significant peer pressure from most of their colleagues a few agreed to do so, primarily to receive the $5000 bonus that was promised to those who cooperated with the transition.  But once the replacements were trained,  factory leaders reneged on the $5000 bonuses.

Workers south of the border are paid less than $6/hour for their skilled labor.  Most of the former ball bearing factory workers in Indiana have secured other employment, but nearly all have seen their wages cut in half.  Financing their housing costs is an issue for many.

From Oslo, Norway, came the story of construction workers whose labor has remade the skyline of that city, capital of a nation that has become wealthy on profits from North Sea oil that was discovered in the 1960s.  Pay for construction workers remains generous, thanks to a strong union, but workers haven’t seen a pay raise in five years or more.  Further, workers from eastern and southern Europe are now being hired by local construction companies and factories at considerably lower wages than Norwegian citizens receive, so that the companies can compete successfully for projects that are put out to bid by national or global firms.

The global economy has caused workers everywhere to get low-balled on wages and benefits, whether we are blue-collar skilled labor or white-collar professionals.  Most companies fear losing a contract to a competitor; their strategy has become to keep internal expenses low, so that project proposals can include not only lower prices for the prospective customer, but also more in-house profit.  To minimize the heft of payroll, which is usually the biggest expense on the P & L statement, companies send jobs off-shore, recruit and hire foreign-born workers who desire a residency visa and are willing to accept a lower salary to obtain one , or clandestinely hire illegal aliens at bargain-basement pay.

Meanwhile, citizens who are employed at well-paying, full-time, benefits paying jobs are loath to complain or quit, because what are the chances of doing better financially at another company? For most, it’s smarter to grin and bear it.  Maybe you can rent out a spare bedroom on Airbnb or drive for Lyft or Uber to make extra money?

Another factor that depresses wages and impedes hiring is what appears to be lingering discrimination against 50% of the population.  Honeybook, a company that provides administrative support to the various specialties that service the special events and conference planning industry, in a 2017 report on the gender pay gap reported that on average, women earn 24% less than men and in the finance and insurance industries, women earn 29% less than their male counterparts.

Female Freelancers in the events and conference planning industry fare even worse. Honeybook analyzed 200,000 of the client invoices they prepare for affiliates from October 2016 – October 2017 and found that women who Freelance earn 32% less than men in the industry.  Female photographers make 40% less than their male counterparts and female event planners make 24% less than their male peers earn.  Regarding annual earnings, 42% of men earn more than $50,000 per year, while only 20% of women are paid at that rate; 20% of men earn at least $80,000 annually, while only 8% of women are able to do so.

Things are even more dismal for women at the top of the self-employment food chain, the venture capital funded start-ups.  The start-up database Crunchbase confirmed that globally, 43,008 venture capital-backed start-up enterprises were founded from 2009 – 1Q2017 and 6,791 (15.8%) of those companies had one or more female founders.

Crunchbase reports that in 2016, start-ups founded by men received a total of $94 billion in seed (angel) investment fundraising, while start-ups that had even one female founder received a total of only $10 billion.  Start-ups with one or more female founders raised 19% of all seed investment rounds, 14% of early-stage venture rounds, 8% of late-stage venture rounds.

Yeah, OK, so do we continue to cry into the champagne, or maybe do something substantive? The Honeybook crew strongly suggests that women (and men) who are Freelancing to negotiate rates and in fact, to come in with a project fee or hourly rate that reflects the quality and value of your work in the marketplace.  This is not exactly easy, however, and requires some courage. No one wants to lose a contract to a competitor, or to be challenged by a prospect.

Regarding negotiation, Freelancers have an advantage over the traditionally employed because fee negotiation is not unusual.  To succeed in a negotiation, it’s necessary to do a bit of research in advance to learn more about the project.  The process is quite simple—talk to your prospect and ask a few basic questions.  If you learn that your work will bring the client a significant ROI, or if a deadline looms, let that be reflected in your project fee or hourly rate.

If the client balks at your pricing, do not lower your fee.  Instead, adjust the scope of the work you’ll do.  If at all possible, avoid allowing a prospect to dictate your pricing terms.  Ask how much has been budgeted for the project and then decide how much work you can afford to perform for the money available.  Address the client’s most urgent needs and make him/her feel good about the value s/he will receive when your superior expertise and work ethic are applied.

Regarding female entrepreneurs, Crunchbase notes that there are now several angel investor networks funded by female investors who welcome women who lead venture capital backed enterprises.  Access to capital when it’s needed is crucial to a start-up venture’s success.  Women helping women is how we can climb the mountain.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Fendi sisters (l-r) Alda, Paola, Anna, Carla (who passed in June 2017) and Franca took over the business founded in Rome by their parents Adele and Edoardo in 1925.  Led by Carla, they transformed Fendi into an international brand that is now owned by LVMH.                               Photograph: REX (1988)

Surviving Rejection—Lemons to Lemonade

“To be, or not to be—that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them?”   Hamlet (William Shakespeare), Act III, Scene 1

Shakespeare understood so much about the problems and pleasures of life. I suppose that explains why, 400 years after he died (1564 – 1616), he remains the best-selling fiction author of all time, with an estimated four billion copies of his works sold (Wikipedia).  Shakespeare knew that life is about learning and sometimes the lessons presented to us are, or seem, harsh.

He understood that in order to build a satisfying life, we must learn to become ethical, wise and compassionate humans who are also equipped to take good care of ourselves and our families and manage to be good company along the way.  In his sonnets and plays, he showed us that resourcefulness and resilience, good judgment and good humor will help us to find the courage to face up to our faults and fears and learn how to overcome obstacles and disappointments.

Shakespeare’s lessons apply not only to the personal, but also to the professional zone of life.  Freelance consultants and business owners have many opportunities to show the world that we are capable leaders who can make our own way in the world, but there are the inevitable set-backs.  Acquiring a skill set that helps you move beyond rejection and defeat, as you make note of what you might have done differently, is the most effective way to bounce back from adversity.

Be objective

Realize that it was not you, the person, who has been rejected, but your business proposal.  There are numerous reasons that may cause a prospective business partner, investor, or client to turn you down in the final stage of evaluation, even if it seemed certain that you’d get the green light.  It is very painful to be unexpectedly denied and the incident can rock your self-confidence.  It is likely that once the facts were laid out and analyzed, the investor/ partner/ prospect realized that either s/he does not have the resources to participate, or that business strategies will require that they take a different direction and so your proposal must unfortunately be decline

Separate yourself from the proposal, look at what you might have been able to do better, if anything, and if you’ve found something lacking, and that could mean your choice of whom to do business with and not your proposal itself,  think about how to recognize a more promising prospect, or imagine how your intended might evaluate your proposal, so that you can correct obvious gaps or avoid potential misunderstandings.

Lessons learned

Depending on your comfort level with the prospect who rejected your proposal/ funding request/ partnership offer, you can ask why that was the case?  What is it that you are lacking, or what did you misunderstand? Maybe you can retool and make yourself a more viable candidate in the future.? Or maybe it is not a viable option for you after all and you finally accept that your efforts could be more generously rewarded elsewhere.

Without berating yourself, you can take stock of the new reality, even though it is not to your liking and devise a way to pick yourself up after disaster has laid you low.  You might choose to stay the course, with some adjustments (More specific talking points? A different target market?), or identify a new approach.  Maybe you can perform a beta test, or ask questions of a trusted colleague or client before you gamble on a roll-out.

Moving forward

If your proposals have been rejected rather regularly, consider that your intended target client group is not the best for you and that you might be well-advised to offer another product or service to a different cohort of clients, or pursue other types of business partners or investors.  If you are unable to get to yes with at least one or two clients, you must discover the problems and challenges that those in the target category really want to be resolved, regardless of what they admit to.  It could be so simple as the jargon used to describe either the problem or the proposed solution is not accurately expressed by one party or the other.

Disappointment is not easy to accept, but it is a part of life, part of the growing process.  How you handle yourself in the face of disappointment can help you to become resilient and resourceful and ultimately, better prepared to pursue and achieve success for your goals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Phaedra and Hippolytus, Pierre Narcisse Guerin (c. 1802)                                                   Image courtesy of Harvard Art Museums/ The Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA

 

Networking Starts With A Conversation

IMG_0018Happy Fourth of July! You may engage in celebrating today’s holiday as a party host or guest and either way, you’ll have the pleasure of expanding your social and possibly also your professional network.  From backyard barbecues to weddings, the meet and greet is on, for business or pleasure. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you will feel more at ease if when you encounter new people you can draw from a little repertoire of conversation starters that you can easily recall.

Here’s a list of conversation starters designed to make your summer celebrations a little more fun.  Keep in mind that when you approach a party guest, or a guest approaches you, smile and show that you welcome that person’s presence and you’d like to converse. While you might encounter the rare monosyllabic type who is too awkward to make small talk, in which case you can smile and slip away as quickly as socially acceptable, most partygoers and attendees at social or business functions are primed to meet and get acquainted with interesting people.  They’ll meet you halfway and together, you’ll create the conversation. You will likely be joined by others and that’s all for the good.

  1. Hi, I’m ______; and you are…? Nice to meet you! Do you live in the neighborhood ?
  2. Hi, I’m ______; and you are…? Nice to meet you! How do you know (the host)?
  3. Have you been having a good summer, so far?
  4. Do you like the summer holidays better, or winter holidays?
  5. Are you a summer vacation person, or a winter vacation person?
  6. I’m walking over to the drink table.  Can I bring you something?
  7. The buffet looks delicious (holding your plate and drink)—may I sit here?
  8. As you see, I’m checking out (the hosts’) books. They have a lot of good titles. Do you see something here that you’ve read?
  9. Who is that singing? Could it be Sarah Vaughan?
  10. OK, pop quiz–How many oceans are there on planet earth?

I hope you meet some good people both today and at the social and business functions that you’ll attend this summer and that you’re able to build one or two relationships that outlast the events you attend.  Relax and allow yourself to have a good time.

Show interest in the people you meet. Tailor your conversation topics to those with whom you are speaking. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Listen more than you talk and listen actively.  At some point in a lively conversation you may want to jump in with a witty retort, but try to avoid interrupting and one-upping.

Finally, don’t over-share and if you meet someone with whom it appears there could be a mutual interest to talk business, exchange cards and plan to follow-up a day or two after the party.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Tall Ships Parade in Boston Harbor. June 16, 1017    Photograph by Kim Clark

 

 

Stress Takes A Holiday

The holiday season has arrived and with it a boatload of potential stressors, good and bad. The delight of being a party host or guest are examples of good stress (and if this is not the case, your stress management assignment begins with asking yourself why you bother?).  The process of Christmas shopping and the associated costs of time and money, along with holiday cooking and cleaning, are examples of potentially bad stress.  In this post, I offer stress management techniques that can prove to be beneficial all year round.

Time management and boundaries

The always-on 24/7 lifestyle that so many of us feel compelled to lead is a huge stressor. The ability to set priorities and boundaries is more important than ever.  In most cases, there is no need to be available for professional matters before 8:00 AM or after 8:00 PM.

In your personal life,  learn to say no to controlling people and time-wasters, even if those individuals happen to be family members.  Have the courage to acknowledge what is important to you and distance yourself from manipulative people. Unhook your feelings of self-worth from the need to “save” people.  Help yourself to achieve goals and fulfill responsibilities by making lists and schedules and allow yourself sufficient time to complete tasks.  Learn to delegate.  Accept that some tasks are low priority and may need to be removed from your list.

Anger management

Learning to handle our emotions is a lifelong proposition.  Awareness is the first step.  Be advised that all of our emotions are “justified” because that is how we feel at that time.  It is your right and responsibility to define and acknowledge the emotions you feel.  The skill set called Emotional Intelligence teaches us to refrain from allowing our emotions to overwhelm us, cloud our judgment and lead us to do or say things that may damage our relationships and credibility.

Anticipate encounters with people who you may find upsetting and rehearse your responses to words and behaviors that you may experience as hostile and disrespectful.  Role play with yourself replies that could potentially defuse a stressful conversation and allow you to put distance between yourself and the stressor, limiting contact and helping you to control your emotions.  Be mindful that some people enjoy trouble and they are constant agitators.  They crave attention and control.  Do what you can to banish these individuals from your life.

Exercise

Exercise releases into the body hormones (endorphins and serotonin) that counteract the “fight or flight” response hormones that are released when we are under stress (adrenaline, ACTH).  Exercise also improves the functioning of the immune system and in the process helps us to fight off certain diseases.  Some experts recommend that we would be wise to participate in physical activity four or five days a week, for at least 45 minutes per session. You may play a sport, ride a bike, swim, walk, do aerobics, yoga, Pilates and/or lift weights. Experiment with different types of exercise to learn what you like and do it on a regular basis.  Exercise provides physical release and reduces tension and stress, calms and clears the mind, helps us to sleep better and improves self-esteem.

Meditation

The relaxation response is enabled by meditation and other self-regulated relaxation techniques.  Meditation requires only a few minutes of your time and a private, quiet and comfortable location.  Watch a YouTube video to show you what to do.  Shut off the television and your telephone.  Choose a word or short phrase to silently repeat to yourself as you close your eyes and breathe in and out, slowly and deeply.  Meditation enthusiasts recommend that you meditate early in the morning before starting your day, or in the evening just before dinner.

Sleep

Inadequate sleep is epidemic these days and it is seriously detrimental to one’s health and ability to manage stress.  Surprisingly, sleep deprivation contributes to weight gain by releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which increases appetite.  When we are fatigued, our choice of foods is usually unhealthy and laden with sugar for an energy boost, or high fat, or salty.  The stage is then set for taking on unwanted pounds.

Being tired undermines creativity, judgment and decision-making, productivity and self-discipline.  Do what you can to get in those eight hours each night.  Be advised that caffeine and alcohol are for many the enemies of sleep and intake should be limited near to bedtime.

Nutrition

Physical, mental and emotional stressors drain the body of complex nutrients that support optimal physical and cognitive functioning.  If these nutrients are not replaced fairly quickly, coping skills diminish, decision-making ability suffers, fatigue ensues, mood and emotional control deteriorate.

Avoid the temptation to consume foods high in fat, salt, or sugar, or consume excess caffeine or alcohol, while in the midst of a stressful event.  Do yourself a favor and eat a bagel with peanut butter, a rice bowl with vegetables, a sandwich, or a plate of pasta.  Over the long-term, eat a balanced diet that supplies adequate amounts of green vegetables, fruits, proteins and carbohydrates.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Stress Syndrome

We are on the cusp of the holiday season.  It’s a special time of year but sadly, it is often freighted with challenges.  Responsibilities metastasize and usually include some combination of peeling potatoes; coring and slicing apples; ironing table cloths; Christmas shopping; writing cards; and putting up decorations. Obligations such as attending workplace or family parties can feel like a burden. The expectation (sometimes forced) to have  fun might backfire and instead cause you to feel inadequate if you’re unable to get into a festive mood. Humbug!

Despite the bright lights and parties, the stress level for most of us reaches an annual high at this time of year. The Thanksgiving – Christmas – New Year’s Eve axis can overwhelm the best of us.  It’s easy to feel lonely, or even like a failure.  Business owners and Freelancers may be faced with the realization that income projections were not reached, adding to the anxiety.

What is the antidote? I suggest that a two or three-week out-of-town vacation is the ideal remedy.  Other than buying and writing cards (which can be done while away) and taking care of a short gift list, all other stress-inducing elements could be diplomatically sidestepped. Those unable to budget the time and money to de-camp to the Bahamas are encouraged to put into motion a comprehensive stress management program.

Regardless of the season, stress is a condition that spares no age cohort or socioeconomic stratum.  School children become stressed over homework and piano lessons. Their parents become stressed as a result of a long work commute or increased job responsibilities. Please know that there is good stress, too—buying a home, going away to college, getting married and starting a new job bring into your life stress that emanates from positive events.

The sources of stress will vary, but the need to manage those stressors and the related hassles and anxiety is constant. Giving some thought to how and why the stressful situation occurs is Step One of your stress management program and brainstorming possible changes that might remove or diminish the stress is Step Two.  Improving one’s ability to manage stress by developing coping skills and learning to relax is Step Three.

Stress management is a multi-disciplinary process that includes managing time, adequate sleep, good nutrition, exercise, anger management and relaxation techniques.  Next week, I’ll return with some specific suggestions.

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading,

Kim

Write an Effective Business Letter

All writing is about the intended reader (that is, the audience).  Whether it’s a book, song, movie, opera, website, marketing brochure, grant proposal, or fundraising letter, the one priority for the writer to keep in mind is that the intended recipient matters most.  Writing is a basic means of communication and we have many reasons to choose to express our thoughts or requests in writing, rather than verbally.  Usually, we write to make our thoughts official, to communicate with someone whom we do not know, or to communicate with a large number of people.

We write to express our point of view or to make a request.  We may write to persuade the reader to take a particular action based on information that is presented or to consider a new perspective and modify his/her opinion.  In other words, writing is selling. Writers will benefit from the following guidelines:

  1. Purpose: Why are you writing?
  2. Audience: Who is the reader (audience)?
  3. Outcomes: How can you persuade the reader to care about your subject or request?

The first question is actually about you, the writer.  What motivates you to write? Are you in search of funding for a project that you would like to advance and so you must write a business or grant proposal? Might your objective be to write a sales or marketing letter that will be sent to those who you feel are potential customers for your product or service? Are you producing content for a website or other promotional material that will communicate your expertise to potential customers and give them the confidence to contact you? You will be an effective writer only when you develop the self-awareness and confidence to acknowledge what you would like your written material to achieve, so that you will choose vocabulary that reflects your intent.

The second question ensures that you tailor your message and vocabulary to resonate with your intended reader or audience.  The successful writer will consider the point of view of the reader and craft a message that is likely be understood and accepted by that reader.  If it is a proposal that you will write, then you must address the interests of several stakeholders who will be able to speak favorably or unfavorably of your request.  Grant applications and business proposals always include financial information as well as operations and marketing information, for example, to satisfy those three important decision-making constituencies.

The final question addresses the perceived benefits that the reader or audience can expect to derive from what you have written.  Here, the writer must tightly focus on the readers’ priorities and preferences and consider the outcomes attached to the expression of the thoughts or creative expression, or the relative value of your request.  What will be in it for the reader if s/he buys your book, devotes time and money to attend a performance of your music, or approves your grant or proposal?

The writer is advised to utilize a communication style and vocabulary that are familiar and reassuring to the reader or audience,  as a way to build confidence, encourage acceptance and approval and result in mutual success.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Doing Business As

To forge a successful career as a Freelance consultant requires courage, resilience, possession of marketable skills, relationships with people who are willing and able to help you get hired into one money-making opportunity or another, an affinity for selling, the discipline needed  to set goals, a talent for big picture thinking and setting strategies, and an understanding of human nature and motivation. The ability to attract good luck and dodge bad luck helps, too.

Precious few Freelancers are able to just “go to the office” everyday and take on the usual work.  In order to generate an acceptable number of billable hours, we understand that multiple revenue streams must be created and that we must learn to recognize the marketability value of segments of our overall skill set and learn to  package, promote and sell those segments to prospective employers, as well as target clients.

Take my revenue streams, for example. When asked, my short form elevator speech is that I’m an external consultant who provides business strategy and marketing solutions to for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. What that means in reality is that I’ve facilitated strategic planning meetings at not-for-profit organizations; edited a book and also served as its photo editor and project manager (it was published by the sponsoring organization); developed curriculum for a series of 90 minute sales skills training workshops; periodically teach business plan writing; and was made a staff writer at an online magazine targeted for women entrepreneurs.

Yes, I continue to do the business strategy and marketing assignments, but the fact is that there are always assignment gaps and I’ve learned to branch out and offer related skills that enhance my brand as they allow me to make some much-needed money.  In my experience, it is the ability to leverage your additional competencies that help a Freelancer to create and sustain a profitable business venture.

My friend Adela is a busy educational consultant who works with college bound high school juniors and their parents to first identify suitable colleges for the student and next to navigate the application process.  Her business seems to be quite lucrative, yet she nevertheless teaches Spanish at a local college (Adela was born and raised in Mexico and came to the U.S. to attend Harvard University).

Jackie, a friend of many years, launched a small, full-service fitness center that became very successful in that highly competitive market.  Yet Jackie has continued to teach fitness classes and train clients at a large downtown gym. Why? Not only does she earn a few extra dollars that a mother of four can always use, but also gets to observe sophisticated fitness center management from the inside and also receive instructor training in new fitness techniques that she can evaluate for inclusion in her own gym. Sometimes you can get paid to research the competition!

My friend Carole toggles between Freelance marketing for technology companies and corporate positions in that sector.  She’s a Lotus alumna who’s also worked for tech giant EMC, distinctions that command respect and open doors in the tech industry.  In between corporate gigs, Carole goes out on her own to develop marketing strategies for tech start-ups.  A couple of years ago, she was offered a position as director of marketing at one of those start-ups, but when the inevitable reorganization occurs, she’ll re-enter the Freelance life.

Now you, Freelancer friend, what else can you do to create additional revenue streams for yourself and if possible, enhance your skill set or obtain useful competitive information?

Sometimes an opportunity that is outside of your brand and strictly for cash-flow may present itself and I suggest that you discreetly take it anyway.  As long as running into prospective clients is not a danger, if time and energy allow, a pragmatic Freelancer understands the necessity of promoting cash-flow whenever possible.  Build up your retirement account, or use the money to attend seminars that provide professional development and potentially good networking.  It’s all about doing business as a solvent and successful Freelance professional.

Thanks for reading,

Kim