Bouncing Back

Can we at last peek out from under the covers and think about ending the shutdown and getting on with life and business? I certainly hope so! A few businesses are beginning to reopen, depending on local regulations, Apple, Microsoft and Panera Restaurants among them. The definition of reopening may be limited but a few small steps are being taken and more will join in soon.

In reality, Freelance consultants did not so much close down but either ceased or continued operations according to what clients were doing. Some of my clients temporarily closed because they could no longer function, as was the case with a well-known arts organization. Their twice-a-month live events abruptly ended and were last held in February.

Might local officials allow the group to reopen in September? When will their audience feel comfortable to return? Might the organization regain full capacity by Spring 2021?

Most of us intuitively know that a “new normal” is ahead of us and we don’t yet know what it will mean for business, whether our clients’ or our own. Resilience will be among the most valuable resources we Freelancers can bring to bear and we must call it up from within ourselves and learn how to apply it.

Honor your feelings

Are you frightened by the potential outcome of the shutdown, which is unprecedented in the history of the U.S. if not the world? Do you wonder if your Freelance entity will survive and how you’ll be able to support yourself if it collapses?

Being deeply concerned about the future viability of what you’ve built and its ability to sustain you in even the near term is only natural in light of what the national economy has been through. Whatever you’re feeling is normal for you. Acknowledge and own your emotions.

The only thing we cannot do is become paralyzed by fear. We are compelled to move forward because life demands it and our clients expect it. Constructive action is required and to fulfill expectations—-remember that meeting or exceeding expectations is the core of consulting—-Freelancers must tap into and magnify our ability to recover from setbacks.

Share your feelings with peers and mentors

Selectively share your worries and doubts, questions and potential answers, with those whom you trust and respect. Fear is a widely experienced emotion these days and you will find yourself in good company. Talking with others will make you feel supported and will give you the confidence to recognize and act on solutions and opportunities that will help you get back on your feet.

Get perspective

I grew up hearing my parents, aunts and uncles tell moving stories about the 50 year long polio epidemic which took a devastating toll on many countries. I heard about children being confined to the iron lung. I saw polio survivors, and be aware that the fatality rate far exceeded that of COVID-19 no matter how much the media plays it up, and the outcome was not pretty.

Polio nearly always severely crippled those that it did not kill. BTW, everyone went to work or school and the only social distancing that occurred was when my grandparents every so often would not allow my (eventual) parents and their siblings go to the movies or otherwise be in crowds.

I was myself in business during the 2009 Great Recession and I suffered. But failure was not an option. I found an under the radar, low wage part time job to help cash-flow and stayed on a rebuilding course.

I continued to post these columns weekly and found another site to post them on as well. In two years, my posts were featured on a national (and now international) digital publication whose target readers are female entrepreneurs and that gave me a nice title and a little money. I was resilient and you can do the same.

Prioritize

As I think about it, the most important thing that Freelancers can do to rebuild is to reestablish the trust, dependability and empathy that our clients need to know are present before they’re comfortable doing business with us again.

When a client who has recently reopened reaches out to you, rather than just trading emails why not suggest a meeting over lunch or morning coffee to set the stage for a real connection? Offer to meet them at a convenient restaurant, or arrange to bring in some food and drink (you’ll pick up the tab, of course).

Now you can discuss what it appears the new normal could mean for your client and his/ her relationship with their clients and how recalibrated expectations will impact what will be needed from you. Articulate your awareness of the fact that so much has changed thanks to the shutdown and your willingness to be creative, flexible and resourceful in formulating solutions that will position your client to regain, if not improve, market position.

Model resiliency in your thoughts and actions

Yesterday evening, I received an email from a woman who was born to a prosperous family, has a part-time grant sponsored job at an influential global not-for-profit organization and a good and talented husband. Yet, she sought me out for some apparently much-needed encouragement. What is so funny is that I’m just a Freelancer, unmarried and not well-connected, who’s trying to maintain middle class solvency in America. Still, this very affluent woman, who I love talking to BTW, calls me when she needs a little hand-holding.

In other words, I do what I can to bring resilience into my life and I’m willing to share the resource with friends and colleagues to help them sort things out when they need. On a regular basis I also practice self- replenishing rituals to keep my physical strength and positive mental energy flowing because burnout will make it all come crashing down. I encourage you to think about your own resilience, how you can strengthen and expand it and share it when necessary.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Panera restaurants are reopening for takeout only. This one is on Huntington Avenue near Symphony Hall.

Pandemic Home Office

There is an art to working from home and not everyone can master the craft. Before COVID-19 dominated our lives, working from home was not a government mandate, but a privilege for the traditionally employed and a practical adaptation for Freelancers. The traditionally employed considered the ability to work from home a valuable perk that became a point of negotiation in employment contracts and employee annual reviews.

Those who work from home save time and money associated with commuting. One can avoid at least some aspects of office politics and those impromptu meetings that might ruin one’s work schedule. As long as water, electricity, Wi-Fi and heat or AC are working, you’re good.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken away some of the work from home luster, I’m sorry to say. Working from home still eliminates the time and money associated with commuting but it now also means that you might share your workspace with roommates who are also working from home; roommates who are home but not working; an intimate partner who now works from home, or does not; and children who must be alternately home-schooled, entertained and refereed because school and all after-school activities are cancelled, which effectively means that your kids are at the office with you.

The work from home life has become a radically changed landscape, filled with potential landmines that threaten to upend your carefully cultivated office environment. The internet is slow and Skype is freezing up because too many people are streaming data. The noise level is distracting. Your once de facto private workspace is now crowded and people are barging in and asking where the peanut butter went. Working from home is starting to feel like an out-of-control co-working space and you hate it.

Guy Winch, Ph.D., a New York City psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid (2014) told the New York Times in April 2020 to “…establish office rules and get granular.”

‘What are our work hours?

Where do we go in the house when one of us needs to take a call?

Where will our individual work stations be?

Who keeps an eye on the kids and when?’

At the end of each day during the first week of following a work from home plan that you and household members create, Winch recommends that you all “Check in with each other and say something like, ‘Just in terms of being work colleagues, what worked for us today? What would we like to change? Was it useful for us to take a lunch break at the same time?’ “

Most of all, be mindful of the emotions involved as those at home work, or don’t work, study, or put on a brave face as they wonder what will happen to their job when it’s time to return to work. Below are a few tactics that will keep you in a good work from home groove.

1. Create an office space

If you are able to have a room in your home to use as an office space, you are fortunate. City dwellers might place a small desk or writing table in the corner of their bedroom. Keep your work space clean and organized, as recommended by feng shui experts and also the neatness guru Marie Kondo. Orderly and attractive environments put us in a good mood and that state of mind boosts energy, creativity, confidence and productivity.

2. Establish boundaries

Teach household members to understand that when you step into your office space, you are at work. You cannot referee spats; you cannot chat with your mother-in-law; you cannot drive anyone to the post office. Shut the door and work. Noise canceling headphones may be helpful. Encourage yourself to take regular coffee and lunch breaks. When possible, take your breaks off-site to give yourself a battery-charging change of venue.

3. Dress for success

The popular image of those who work from home is of someone who is in sweats or even a bathrobe all day. Remind yourself and those with whom you live that you are a professional who takes your work seriously. Shower daily, brush your teeth, comb your hair and dress for work, whether in business casual attire or jeans and T-shirt.

4. Keep regular work hours

Go to work every morning, Monday to Friday. You may have the luxury of starting your work day in mid-morning, after a 5 mile run or a bike ride that gives you a burst of energy or ending work in late afternoon to do your workout after close of business.

Of course if you’re tied to an office – based team, you must align your work hours accordingly and that includes the time zone. At least some will be able to allow either their biorhythms or projects on their desk guide the work schedule. Resist the temptation to be either a workaholic or a slacker.

5. Stay connected

Working from home is by its very nature isolating, although some thrive on the independence. Still, maintaining and creating your professional ties is important.

At least every two weeks, schedule a video chat with a colleague so that you’ll stay in the loop with what’s happening at the office if you happen to be a remote team member. Furthermore, participate in your team’s group conference calls that allow you to check in and stay abreast of front burner projects as well as get advance word about what’s on the horizon. Write reports that document your contributions to reaching project milestones and goals achieved.yo

Enhance your professional skills and listen to a (sometimes free!) webinar. Promote your thought leader status, showcase your expertise and expand your network when you present a webinar or become a podcast guest.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Co-working office spaces are available at WeWork in the (adjacent) neighborhoods of Fort Point and the Financial District in Boston, MA.

COVID-19 Cash-Flow Update

The nationwide economic shutdown that went into effect in mid-March has done the vast majority of U.S. businesses no favors. In fact, the shutdown has been devastating for business owners and Freelance consultants alike.

According to an April 18, 2020 survey of 16, 620 business owners conducted by Alignable, an online referral and business development organization for business owners and self-employed individuals that claims 4 million members, 43% of businesses in America have had to temporarily close. Of those that remain open, 28% report that business is down by 75%; 15% said that business is down by 50%; 11% found that business is down by 25%; and a lucky 2% report that the shutdown has been good for business (maybe grocery and liquor stores?). The enormous impact of COVID-19 on the economy has compelled the federal and state governments to offer financial assistance to U.S. citizens.

The Payroll Protection Program, which is designed to help businesses that employ fewer than 500 workers to retain those workers on the company payroll in the face of often drastic revenue reductions brought on by the coronavirus business shutdown, ran through the original $349 billion appropriation approved by Congress in less than two weeks. Happily, Congress has just pushed through another bill that will not only add $320+ billion to PPP but also earmark $60 billion of the funding for small banks, credit unions and community based lenders.

Furthermore, business owners and Freelance consultants can apply for a loan that’s up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll of the business, not to exceed $10 million per entity.

Remember, the PPP loan can flip to a grant if the recipient Freelancer or business owner applies 75% of funds received to payroll expenses (I including the owner’s draw) and 25% of the funds to business operating expenses. Otherwise the loan, which must be repaid within 2 years, is payable at 1% interest.

The Small Business Administration has also played its customary role in assisting business organizations large and small through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. EIDL provides loans and also a maximum $10,000 immediate cash advance to businesses financially harmed by the shutdown. The SBA reported that as of April 20, nearly $3.3 billion in EIDL grants and $5.5 billion in EIDL loans had been awarded. Congress is expected to approve an additional $60 billion in EIDL funding, bundled with the $320+ billion initiative to replenish PPP.

Still more help will be made available to Freelancers by way of the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program , a variation of Unemployment Benefits and therefore administered by the states, is set to provide up to 39 weeks (maximum) of unemployment benefits to those who have historically been excluded , i.e., us—- independent contractors, the self-employed Professionals, or gig workers.

To be eligible, applicants must provide self-certification to demonstrate that they are available to work but are prevented from doing so as a result of COVID-19 or actions related to it, including one’s own illness due to the virus or a close family member who contracts the virus. Even workers who are collecting sick pay or other benefits that amount to less than one’s weekly pay, or those who are working fewer hours, resulting in diminished income, might nevertheless be eligible to collect PUA benefits. For more information, search Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in your state.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark 4/23/2020. The Doc Martens store on Newbury Street in the Back Bay.

The Beat Goes On : Visit the Job Boards

As the coronavirus continues to stalk the land and our political leaders and many citizens continue to see a business shutdown as the only response, making a living has become very difficult for the 57 million Freelance Professionals in the U.S. (Statista). If our clients don’t work, neither do we.

Federal government relief was rumored to be on the way, but I don’t see any evidence of it. It’s probably going to be smarter to put one’s energy into finding projects from a mix of new and current clients (same as it ever was!).

Still, maintaining the discipline and enthusiasm required for a job hunt is difficult and discouraging when the prospects for success appear bleak. But if you can make yourself surf through job board listings three times per week, you might come up with a project, however small.

I am most grateful that my largest client came through and asked me to provide a one hour marketing consultation with one of their clients, an RN/ Nurse Practitioner and midwife who recently launched a Freelance business that focuses on hormone management in women, from post-partum to menopausal. BTW, I sent Easter/ Passover cards to a select group of clients, including this one, and thank heaven my outreach paid off!

Among the marketing strategies the RN will pursue as she builds her Freelance consultancy is a new website, which will function as a lead generator. I was so excited to be able to refer to the RN a Freelance web developer with whom I had worked a few years ago. I’ve reached out to him and as soon as his schedule allows, I’ll conduct an email introduction and hope that the relationship will be fruitful.

That is how we’ll make it through this never-before-experienced crisis, my Freelancer friends. We must rally forward and do some job hunting at least two or three times each week for at least an hour at a time and as well we ought to remember to refer our colleagues along the way.

Now about the job boards—-I found a few possibilities, some familiar and others unexpected, to help you jump-start the client building work,

Aquent

Specialties covered include Management, Marketing, IT Design, Managed Services and Professional Development. Some workers can qualify to receive benefits. Free online training courses for workers are also available. http://acquent.com

This company is strictly top- drawer and seeks only cream of the crop gig workers. Extended Workforce Services is what the company provides and the work assignments may not be remote; there are 35+ offices around the world, primarily in the U.S.

Guru

The site boasts that prospective employers will work with among the most talented professionals in the field, regardless of the assignment. Among the services provided are translation/ writing, legal services, architecture & engineering, marketing & sales, business & finance, software development & programming and administrative services. https://www.guru.com/d/jobs/

LinkedIn ProFinder

The ProFinder algorithm sends jobs to your inbox, thus eliminating the need to continually search for employment possibilities. Only five proposals are accepted for each assignment, so time matters for assignments that appear very attractive .

Proposals are short, which allows bidders to quickly put themselves into consideration but limits one’s ability to sell oneself in some instances.

I’ve submitted 8 -10 proposals over the past 12 – 18 months, and I came close to being hired only once. The project was interesting and the rate of pay offered was very decent. The lady who interviewed me over the telephone was very nice and also honest.

That said, I still recommend that you sign up for ProFinder, create a profile and compete for assignments. The first 10 submitted proposals are accepted at no charge but to submit additional proposals the job seeker must join LinkedIn Premium at $60/ month and that is steep. Depending on your luck, you may decide to pay up and roll the dice on being hired. Or you’ll pull the plug on this service.

However, none of my other proposals was ever acknowledged, including one submitted by a man who had once written for the New York Times. What was his motive for the job posting? Maybe he thought he just felt my writing isn’t good enough? http://LinkedIn.com

The Creative Group

Freelancers looking to earn money and work on interesting projects may be very happy with this site. It’s the place for advertising whiz kids, marketing rock stars, genius art directors, amazing website designers and super organized account managers, too. Full time and project work is available, both on-site and remote.

The company is a division of the global giant Robert Half Staffing Agency. https://www.roberthalf.com/submit-resumeglobal

TopTal

TopTal announces to both job seekers and prospective employers that the site features the top 3% of Freelancers from around the world. software developers, finance experts, product managers, marketers, graphic designers and project managers are the principal hires. ://www.toptal.com/careers#positions

Upwork

I’ve gotten a couple of small jobs on the site but I abandoned ship when it was announced that it would cost money to submit a proposal. On top of that payment, there will be a 20% fee attached to each invoice submitted. Furthermore, Upwork clients like to low-ball on fees, so there is not a lot of revenue to be generated, unless one specializes in software development and other IT functions.

I was lucky enough to start work on a sales training manual but then the client pulled the plug and regards was the end. She claimed to really like my work. The fee charged was less than half of what it should have been. I suspect that the client suddenly got spooked by the business start-up costs Oh. well. I sometimes think about reaching out to say hello to the client. She was great to work with. http://Upwork.com

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Runner on Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay neighborhood (Boston, MA) on Monday April 20, 2020, what would have been the Boston Marathon.

Coronavirus Cash Flow

Because federal and state governments chose to require most businesses to cease operations as a way to decrease public exposure to COVID-19, those entities have recently decided to throw a few dollars back at the citizens, to help us manage our financial obligations as the shutdown grinds on. As you may have predicted, the response may be inadequate and imperfectly distributed, but it will help a little bit.

CARES Act Economic Impact Payment

Every citizen and legal resident not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return is eligible to receive an EIP, that is, a Stimulus payment of up to $1200 per person, or $2400 per couple, plus an additional $500 for each child.

Eligibility for financial assistance will be calculated from one’s 2018 (or 2019, if filed) tax filing, so make sure that one or both are completed and in the hands of the Internal Revenue Service and your state Department of Revenue. The new tax filing deadline date is July 15, 2020 for 2019 federal taxes and most states have assigned that date as a deadline as well, but I suggest you verify that ASAP.

Filing for extensions on the federal or state level remains April 15, 2020. To keep abreast of this fast-changing situation on the federal level, check in at http://irs.gov/coronavirus.

Single filers whose Adjusted Gross Income was $75,000, joint filers whose AGI was $150,000 and marrieds filing separately (head of household) whose AGI was $112,500 in 2018 (or 2019) will receive the full amount of the award (see above).

Single filers whose 2018 AGI was between $75,001 – $99,000 and marrieds whose AGI was $150,000 – $198,000 will lose $5.00 for every $100 that their AGI exceeds the $75 K and $150 K single or married filers thresholds. Regarding those whose AGIs are below the thresholds, there doesn’t appear to be a plan in place.

Children who qualify for the Child Tax Credit can help their family receive an extra $500 each. Dependent students aged 17 – 24 years will not bring the Stimulus benefit to the family but working students aged 18 – 24 years who file their own taxes and are not listed as a dependent on the tax return of another are eligible to receive a Stimulus payment for themselves.

The Department of the Treasury prefers to send Stimulus payments electronically so if you’d like to receive payment more quickly, make sure that your bank or debit card info is on file. If the IRS does not have direct deposit information for you as a result of previous tax refunds, there will soon be a website to allow filers to add that information.

CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program

This program was originally created to help business owners who employ fewer than 500 workers to retain their employees in those essential operations that are sanctioned to remain open during the shutdown. The PPP is technically a loan program that has the potential to become a grant. Those who apply need not prove any lost income or financial hardship. It’s recommended to apply for the loan through your business banker.

If 75% of the loan money is applied to payroll expenses and 25% is used to pay operating expenses such as rent and utilities, the loan will then be forgiven and essentially become a grant. If that formula is not followed, the business owner will pay a 1% interest rate, payable over two years, with the first payment not due for six months.

Freelance consultants benefit when the payroll portion of the loan calculation is instead applied to our revenues as determined by one’s “net earnings, wage, commissions and/or income from the self- employment venture.” If the Freelancer employed any full or part- time workers, they must remain on the Freelance entity’s payroll for a minimum of 8 weeks, at the original rate of pay, in order to qualify for the loan, as is the case with typical business owners. If the Freelancer hired other Freelancer contract workers to help out on a project, those contract Freelancers are not covered in the PPP calculation; they may apply on their own for the benefit and include that income.

FYI, PPP loans may be administered only by a pre-approved list of banks and the word is that for the most part, only existing business banking customers will be approved for the loan.

There are now millions of Freelance workers in the U.S. and the demand for PPP loans, which if handled as described above can become a grant, is high. It’s rumored that Congress is weighing the possibility of adding $250 million to the original $500 million appropriated for PPP, so that the Small Business Administration can expand the list of approved lender banks. To be continued.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Shopping at the South End Whole Foods Market in Boston, MA.

Rituals and Recovery

This week I have another coronavirus coping strategy for Freelancers to r reand it boils down to this—do what you’ve always done, except when you have to pivot or adapt. Psychologists, sociologists and others who observe human behavior know that routines and rituals have real power. Michael Norton, professor at Harvard Business School and member of Harvard’s Behavioral Insights Group and Francesca Gino, professor of organizational psychology at Harvard Business School and author of Sidetracked: Why our Decisions get Derailed (2013) found that routines and rituals are stabilizers that ground us and help us to keep going when we’re feeling out of sorts, when we’re grieving the loss of a loved they keep families and friends closer they help to maintain the bond between martial partners.

There is a psychological benefit when, in times of uncertainty and stress, we return to our old routines and habits. Some routines that we turn to can be harmful, it is true. Binge eating, smoking and drinking come to mind. If those activities have been among your habits, I suggest that you leave them in the past. As we crawl our way through the coronavirus shutdown it will be the good rituals and habits, the sometimes silly and often idiosyncratic ways about us, that will nurture us and give us the strength and determination to see our way through this long dark tunnel.

Weddings, christenings, funerals and holiday dinners are all steeped in ritual (that is, habit). That is why whenever someone makes a change to the Thanksgiving or Easter dinner menu, there might be a mini riot. Even those who don’t love mashed turnip or mincemeat pie may complain long and loud if those items are not served on the fourth Thursday in November. The decision to serve an Easter ham or Easter lamb could lead to an armed standoff.

Routines and rituals are often small habits. One always wakes up at a certain hour, so as not to feel lazy. One always exercises in the morning (or in the evening) because at first it fits a schedule but now it is defining act that supports and even comforts.

Oddly, Norton and Franco found that a ritual or routine did not have to be practical or useful to be habit-forming and compelling. Competitive athletes are known to sometimes wear a favorite pair of socks or necklace, or eat a certain food for the pre-competition dinner because they feel the need for a good luck charm.

So what can you do to keep it together as you push through what is probably the most formidable challenge a Freelance consultant will face? As I said earlier, keep doing what you’ve been doing. If you always woke up at 6:30 AM on the weekdays, then continue to do so. If you always headed out to the gym at 7:00 AM, here is where you pivot and make an adaptation. Because gyms are closed, devise a combination run and power walk routine that lasts for 30 minutes.

This is a holiday week for Christians and Jews and I suggest that you apply the ritual usually practiced during the December holidays and send cards to your clients. Because you don’t know who is working from home and who is in the office, send an e-card (I use Jacquie Lawson).

Create a new ritual and visit online gig economy sites such as LinkedIn and Upwork. Tell yourself that you’ll check in on Tuesdays and Thursdays (or Mondays and Wednesdays) and use self-discipline to keep the routine going throughout the shutdown and beyond, because we all need money and we need lots more cash than the government stimulus will provide.

Another ritual that you can either continue , learn, or resuscitate is meditation and focused breathing. Both medical and psychological research has demonstrated that this technique promotes healing of the body and mind.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Long-time Boston favorite Giacomo’s Ristorante pivots out of sit-down service and into takeouts, per the Commonwealth of Massachusetts coronavirus rules.

A View From the Lockdown

I am one who likes to be productive. I’ve grown weary of the enforced furlough that the civil servants have foisted upon the good citizens (and properly documented guests) of the empire. Sitting on the bench as life passes us by is a tragic waste of time and as we know, time and the tides wait for no one. We can never reclaim our lost days.

It occurred to me that education can soften the blow, at least somewhat. If we educate ourselves, we’ll come out of this madness better than we were when we went in. I’ve heard that many parents are taking a stab at home schooling their children and there’s no reason why we grown-ups cannot home school ourselves.

So after you’ve rearranged closets, done laundry, dusted & vacuumed, put spring plantings into the garden and window boxes and ranked the client list according to revenue potential, you might feel ready to pursue some professional education, ideally in the form of short workshops that are offered at no charge or low charge (because you may not be getting paid for a while). LinkedIn could have what you need.

LinkedIn Learning has 15,000+ workshops and tutorials that will grow your knowledge and the price range seems to be $20 – $40. A revolving sample of workshops are free at any given time and I’ve taken three. All were useful and very well presented. https://www.linkedin.com/learning

Whatever your specialty, you are sure to find a LinkedIn Learning workshop that will supply you with relevant information that will help you serve your clients more effectively. Not only that, but you’ll earn a certificate that will look nice on your profile.

What follows here is a sampling of workshop topics that nearly every Freelance consulting specialist and business owner might appreciate.

Business Finance

So many business owners and Freelancers shrink from the financial management aspects of our ventures. It can be intimidating. A good teacher will break it down and show you that you already know how to do most of this stuff if you’ve ever had a job and paid rent and other expenses.

What is needed is confidence and big- picture thinking. Discover the guidance that business finance workshops will provide to support the growth and health of your venture.

Financial Modeling and Forecasting Financial Statements will explain the basics of your financial statements and how to learn from them, help you figure out cash-flow, plus teach you how to use your company’s past financial data to predict future financial performance.

Brothers Jim and Earl Kay Stice will lead you through step by clearly explained step. Earl Kay Stice holds a Ph.D. in Accounting from Cornell University and he teaches the subject at Brigham Young University. Jim Stice received his Ph.D. in Accounting from Brigham Young University, where he is the Distinguished Teaching Professor of Accounting.

Microsoft Excel

There are numerous Excel workshops and tutorials available and I am ready to dive into two or three of them, at minimum.

Excel spreadsheets make data analysis so much easier. There are even tutorials on functions as basic as filling the cells and adding highlighting color and fonts to make your data pop.

There are workshops that teach learners how to create a basic dashboard and how to create charts in Excel, from classics like bar graphs and pie charts to more recent configurations such as funnels and Pareto.

Value Based Pricing

Your business will not be optimally profitable until you learn how to properly price your products and services. Pricing for B2B services is especially challenging. The concept of Value Pricing is an excellent strategy and you can learn how to apply the principles to your venture after dipping into this most useful course.

Strategic Planning

Take your pick—Strategic Planning Foundations, Strategic Planning Case Studies and Assessing & Improving Strategic Plans, all taught by Mike Figliuolo, author, West Point graduate, former assistant professor at Duke University, author and former McKinsey consultant.

Listening Skills

I took a great one hour listening skills workshop taught by Dorie Clark, adjunct professor at Duke University School of Business, author and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review. Excellent communication begins with active, meaningful listening. Listening well will help you to become more persuasive, a better negotiator, a more successful sales professional and an effective leader.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Social distance grocery shopping March 2020.

COVID-19 Crisis Management

How are you holding up? I assume that you are taking steps to manage the impact of our coronavirus crisis and that you’re feeling somewhere between frightened and overwhelmed? This thing has hit like a tidal wave that has upended all business and taken nearly every Freelancer under, at least in the short term.

The shelter in place orders that panicked public officials have instituted have the ability to do particular harm to self-employed professionals and small business owners. We are concerned about public health and we understand more than most about the need for decisive action because our livelihoods depend upon it and our money and our brand are always on the line. We wish that along with epidemiologists, economists and even ethicists would also be invited to the decision-making tables.

The strategy that’s seen as quick fix crisis management by ventures large and small is to shed all or most Freelance workers and review all supplier and vendor contracts, with the purpose to renegotiate and trim fees.

I agree that cost-cutting measures are prudent and if I presided over a larger entity I would recommend such actions to my leadership team. Yesterday, I read that Exxon Mobil will follow exactly the same strategy.

Yet being perceived as expendable does nothing to improve one’s ability to sleep nights, to say nothing about one’s ability to pay living and business expenses. If a survival strategy ever was needed, the time is now! So what can we do? The short answer is to get practical, be resourceful and use online tools wherever possible because the practice of social distancing will be with us for a number of months.

TECH ENABLED TOOLS

I teach business courses and present workshops and that means I have an audience. Or maybe I should say I had an audience. For the time being, public speaking and gatherings as we have known them are over. I’ve already been in contact with two clients to discuss how educational programs will proceed.

One client has been doing online workshops for a number of years and they’re conducted over Skype and so my ID for that platform has been sent to them. Unfortunately, what was scheduled in the near term was cancelled, but since they have clients to satisfy and need me to achieve that imperative, I know that by late April I’ll be presenting on Skype.

To another client I recently sent an email and suggested that we postpone by a couple of weeks the workshop that I was scheduled to present and repackage it as a webinar. I offered to come to their place of business to use their equipment (and also guarantee a quiet studio, something that a home broadcaster can seldom provide what with the sirens of emergency vehicles passing by, however occasional).

A third client has for a number of years hosted social events that regularly attract 500 – 1000 visitors. I will soon reach out to my contacts there and suggest that they experiment with an online format. The logistics, format and flow will have to be carefully considered, but for several years many people have attended meetings virtually and the concept is no longer novel.

While on a recent (audio only)conference call meeting of 18 participants, three or four spoke up about using online platforms to conduct social events that have been successful. One caller spoke of online dinner parties that she and her husband share with their adult children who now live in other parts of the U.S. Another caller spoke of attending and enjoying a virtual cocktail party, where participants dressed up, poured themselves a cocktail or glass of wine, nibbled hors d’oeuvres and engaged in conversation with other guests all from their kitchen or dining room tables. Apparently, they had a blast.

Finally, to the writers among you, this crisis is the perfect time for clients —and Freelancers ourselves—-to review marketing strategies and update our messages and materials where needed. Stay the course and be brave.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Star Market, Prudential Center Boston MA March 23, 2020

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5 Clients You Need to Fire

It takes all kinds of people to make a world and unfortunately, from time to time one is destined to encounter an individual whose mission in life, so it seems, is to attack others and make them unhappy. Such people obtain a perverse pleasure from making the lives of others miserable. These people like to criticize, demean, diminish, bully, gaslight and even humiliate those with whom they interact, professionally and personally.

I’ve met more than my share of these damaged creatures (even one is too many!) and my recommendation is to keep them at arm’s length and whenever possible, cut ties with them altogether. There is no relationship compelling enough to justify any level of abuse as the price of interaction. Forget about keeping the peace. Troublemakers never worry about keeping the peace (but they will throw that excuse at a target, as a way to maintain control).

Some relationships are difficult to avoid but when it’s a client (or for that matter, a close relative), I guarantee that there is nothing positive that will ever be derived from a dysfunctional relationship. The best course of action is to politely cut the cord. Have you met any of the characters in this rogue’s gallery listed below? Deport and build the wall!

Commitment phobics

Some prospects prefer to shop around and consider several options before they decide which solution to invest in. That’s a smart thing to do; shopping is not a problem as long as the prospect is really a prospect and serious about finding a good solution for their needs. However, some “prospects” fall into analysis-paralysis quicksand and never move forward to get the project done, no matter what they promise you. They just string people along and waste time.

Fee hagglers

Start-up entrepreneurs, more than a few small business owners and many Freelance consultants, whether their venture has high growth potential or is likely to become only modestly profitable, may have limited funds. Likewise, leaders at not-for-profit organizations may direct as much of their financial resources as possible into supporting the mission, which may be a cause about which s/he feels passionate.

If you are offered an assignment that while it has a very modest budget but that you nevertheless feel is worthwhile, whether it advances a cause about which you are also passionate, or you’ll be able to take on a project that will, for example, allow you to expand into a niche that you’d like to enter and therefore has significance for you, then accept a lower than usual fee. Just don’t allow yourself to get bullied and frightened into lowering your fee by someone whose aim is to exploit. Respect that you must adequately cover the time and expertise that you will devote to this project. Be aware of what matters to you and set clear boundaries when deciding whether to accept “charity” cases. Establish a “walk-away” amount for every fee negotiation and accept nothing less (it’s not easy, I know).

Abusive

Along with time, expertise, judgment and resourcefulness are among a Freelancer’s most valuable and marketable attributes. In order for us to perform at peak efficiency, so that we can fulfill the needs and expectations of our clients, it is tremendously helpful, if not necessary, that those with whom we work, our clients, respect who we are and what we can do for them. Uncommunicative, uncooperative, unethical or just plain obnoxious clients greatly diminish our ability to do our best.

Behavior that persistently negative, undermining, passive-aggressive, micro-managing or outright verbally abusive are unacceptable and should never be encountered in the professional (or, for that matter personal) sector. Watch and listen for sign of this type of behavior in client meetings. If you see a red flag in the distance, back away quickly. You may need a contract, but you’ll pay back every dime that you earn in misery.

Complainers

Some clients are never satisfied, no matter what you do to please them. When clients provide negative feedback about your pitch or the work you’ve done, it’s important to determine its validity and make improvements as indicated. But some people make it a habit to continually criticize and complain about everything because nothing is ever good enough for them. It makes sense to avoid these clients whenever possible.

Slow payers

Late payers (or God forbid, no-payers) have no place in a successful business. A business requires steady cash-flow. Clients who don’t pay invoices on time disrupt your financial viability and make it difficult to effectively manage business and personal finances. Slow pay/ no pay clients can even prevent you from making important investments in the business or yourself.

Clients who constantly delay payment don’t appreciate the value that you and your organization bring to their business. While in fee negotiations with a client, remember that the best defense is a good offense; establish a protocol that will minimize, if not eliminate, the slow-pay/ no-pay risk.

A reasonable risk management fee collection strategy is to request a certain amount of the total fee at the signing of the work contract, maybe 15 %, before commencing work. Get agreement from the client on one or two project milestones and tie payments of 25% to them. Invoice the client for the final amount within two weeks after project completion and ask for payment upon receipt of the invoice.

Thanks for reading. Stay healthy!

Kim

P.S. Apologies for not publishing this post on March 17, as was my intention. The publish button was clicked and I thought that the post had published.

Image: “ The Scream, “ 1893, by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (December 1863 – January 1944) courtesy of The National Gallery in Oslo, Norway.

Your Business Advisor

As I go about my life, I will sometimes meet the owner of a small to mid-size business who, when I say that I’m a Freelance business strategy and marketing consultant who works with companies that need a professional to solve problems and get the company on track to grow and become profitable, or achieve other important objectives, they tell me about a business goal or obstacle they’re wrestling with. They ask if we can grab a coffee and talk sometime soon?

The stories that the business owners share are familiar—marketing problems, especially social media and content marketing questions; cash-flow bottlenecks; how to best launch a new product or develop a niche market; branding; pricing; and how can we scale and grow the company? Maybe a consultant can help?

Hiring a Freelance consulting expert can be helpful. The right specialist will give business owners and leaders an unbiased “view from 30,000 feet” of the business, making it possible to pinpoint problem areas and recommend strategies that will guide the organization to growth and profit. A consulting specialist can be brought in to address nearly any business need, from accounting, management and marketing to selling skills, IT, operations and even telephone etiquette.

If you hire the right person, the consulting fee will more than pay for itself, and save or make money for the organization. Consulting specialists work only on specific, predetermined business needs and do not add to the company payroll.

“Consultant” is a generic term; there are at least four types. Business consultants have a specific area of expertise based on their work experience and educational background—strategy, marketing, branding, sales training and financial management are common specialties. Process consultants develop practical solutions to improve a company’s day-to-day operations and overall functioning. IT consultants solve problems for those who need help with technology, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, cloud, cyber security and the Internet of Things. Executive coaches are counselors who guide clients through a wide variety of business or personal challenges. Increasingly, executive coaches do not have business expertise; many are psychologists (PhDs). Here’s a seven-point strategy to ensure you get the most from the consultant you’d like to hire.

Ask questions

Interview a prospective consultant before you hire. Questions to ask include: “What is your experience in my industry or field? Can you describe problems similar to mine that you’ve handled? Can you offer me full confidentiality and represent me without conflict of interest with your other clients?”

Also, confirm that the consultant will regularly communicate with the company contact person and prepare periodic progress reports. Request a written proposal that spells out how s/he plans to approach the organization’s problem, the approximate time needed and the fee you’ll be charged. If the business owner approves, that will serve as the contract.

As you evaluate a consultant’s experience and skills, consider your working relationship. Do you like and trust the person? Do you have a good rapport with him/her?

Expectations

A consultant is an advisor, not a miracle worker. If your marketing campaign hasn’t increased sales for the past six months, don’t expect a consultant to turn business around overnight. If someone promises to do so, be skeptical. You want a consultant who is knowledgeable in your industry or field and can recommend a workable solution, which is often not a quick fix.

Job specs

The business owner must decide what tasks to pursue and commit that to writing. The more specific, the better. There can be no confusion about the assignment. Asking for a strategy to increase sales by 10 % within 12 months, or increase social media followers by 25 % in a similar time frame, will ensure that the consultant understands the expectations.

On your end

The business owner should anticipate the information and resources that the consultant will likely need to do the job. Consider what documents, metrics, history are essential, along with any office equipment, office space, supplies, or team members that can make the job progress at a smooth and efficient clip.

The money talk

Some consultants charge flat rates or bill by the hour, the day, or the project. Others charge a contingency fee, in which the amount paid is based on the results. For instance, if a consultant reduces business operating expenses by $10,000, s/he might receive 10 % of the savings as the total fee or as a bonus in addition to the flat rate. I estimate that the average full-time consultant charges $75 to $150 per hour.

References

Ask the prospective hire for three recent references—and call them. You want to know if the consultant accomplished what was promised within the agreed-upon deadline, if s/he communicated regularly and if the company would hire the consultant again. Ideally, the consultant will have worked for at least one client who operates a businesses similar to yours.

Contract

Prepare a written agreement (the project proposal referenced above will usually suffice) that clearly spells out the terms of the arrangement. Define the services to be performed, the starting and ending dates, the fee schedule and how it will be paid, milestones, expenses that the business owner agrees to pa, and services the consultant will provide. For contracts $10,000 or more, the business owner is recommended to ask a business attorney to review and edit/ approve the agreement.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: © Paramount Pictures. Robert Duvall ([L]as attorney and advisor Tom Hagen) shares information with his only client, Marlon Brando (as family business CEO Vito Corleone) in the multi-Academy Award winning film The Godfather, Part I (1972).