Rituals and Recovery

This week I have another coronavirus coping strategy for Freelancers to consider and 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).

7 Kinds of Business Financing

Is 2020 your year to launch a business, or is growth and expansion of your existing venture on this year’s must-do list? If so, congratulations and best of luck to you! I’m sure you’ve thought of the most advantageous way to obtain the required financing for your plans and we’ll look at some good options right now.

A study conducted by the National Small Business Association found that 19% of small business owners cite a lack of available capital as the biggest challenge to plans for future growth and 82% of businesses outright fail because of cash flow management issues. In preparation for borrowing, I remind you that financial institutions will evaluate your credit score, so make paying off bills and boosting your savings immediate priorities.

According to the 2018 Small Business Lending Index, big (national) banks approve 25% of loan applications made by small business owners and smaller (community and regional) banks approve nearly 50% of loan applications made by small business owners. So whether it’s your food supply or your money supply, keeping it local is a good thing, am I right? https://www.biz2credit.com/small-business-lending-index/january-2018

Line of credit

A business line of credit functions like a credit card and it’s available to borrowers with either good or less than perfect credit. Borrowers can be approved for a potentially generous amount of funding that can be accessed immediately. The application process to obtain a line of credit is usually quick, and many businesses receive approval in a day or two. Interest rates range from 7% – 25% and repayment terms are usually between six months and one year, (meaning that one cannot run a balance ad infinitum) depending on the business’ revenue and credit score.

Short-term loan

Pursue this type of loan to, for example, bridge cash flow gaps, stock up on inventory that is available at an attractive price, or take advantage of a lucrative business opportunity. Surprisingly, borrowers often don’t need a great credit score to be approved for a short-term loan and that can be an advantage. In fact, the borrower could use the loan to pay off higher-interest debt and improve the credit score. Furthermore, short-term loans tend to involve less paperwork and processing is usually fast, making funds available quickly.

Short-term loans must be repaid in rather a short amount of time, often in just one year, and payments are usually due weekly, not monthly. They also generally come with a relatively high interest rate when compared to other types of loans and loan amounts are usually capped.

Secured loan

Secured business loans require a specific piece of collateral, such as a business vehicle or commercial property, that the lender can claim if the borrower fails to repay the loan. Unsecured loans, on the other hand, are not attached to collateral. Personal loans, student loans and credit cards are common examples of unsecured loans. Unsecured loans have higher interest rates and stringent approval requirements, to ensure that lenders gets their money back. Secured loans are often easier to obtain and may also have a lower interest rate, because the lender has a guaranteed way to recoup money lost to default by selling the borrower’s collateral.

Because of the increased risk an unsecured loan represents to the lender, borrowers may be asked to sign a personal guarantee in order to receive approval. If the borrower defaults on the loan, s/he will then be personally liable for repaying it. While a creditor can’t seize business property under a personal guarantee they can legally claim the borrower’s personal assets, including bank accounts, cars and real estate, until the loan is repaid.

Another common method used by institutions to mitigate the risk associated with secured loans is by reserving the right to file a blanket lien against the borrower’s business assets. Most business loan terms include a blanket lien clause that allows the lender to claim and resell business assets to collect the debt.

Term loan

Term loans, also known as long-term loans, are best for business owners with great credit and who are requesting a big loan. They may not be a good option for those who are launching a new business, however, since lenders usually want to see a track record of success (evidenced by 3- 5 years of business financials) before taking on the risk. 

The term loan application process is lengthy. If the application is accepted, borrowers must pay a principal amount plus interest each month until the debt is paid in full. Term loans are most often used to buy real estate, acquire another business, remodel or renovate a commercial space, or support long-term business expansion.

Equipment loan

Owners of businesses large and small often need to purchase, replace, repair, or upgrade various kinds of equipment to process, manufacture, or produce their products and equipment loans are essential to this process. These loans can be a great option for start-ups as well as established businesses, and they can be used to finance nearly every type of business equipment, including company vehicles. Owners of new businesses can take advantage of an equipment loan because the equipment secures the loan, regardless of the success or failure of the company. Interest rates are often reasonable and will reflect the individual’s or business’ credit rating and financial picture.

Be aware that excellent credit is required for most equipment loans. In general, borrowers will be able to finance 80% of the total purchase price of the equipment. A down payment of about 20% is typically required for most small business equipment loans.

Borrowers with less than stellar credit should investigate the terms of leasing the desired equipment. Leasing typically does not require a down payment and that especially benefits businesses that have little or no available working capital. When a down payment is required, it is typically relatively small compared to what a traditional loan down payment would be.

Purchase order financing

To qualify for purchase order financing, the company must sell finished goods (not raw materials or product components) to B2B or B2G customers with profit margins of at least 15%. Start-ups can qualify for PO financing because approval is based primarily on the creditworthiness of, and borrower history with, those customers and suppliers. The chances of being approved are even greater if customers and suppliers are well-established, reputable companies.

PO financing can present a great opportunity for start-ups that receive lots of orders but don’t have the cash to fulfill them. In these cases, similar to invoice financing, the purchase order secures the loan. Once the business receives a purchase order from a customer, the lender directly pays the supplier to manufacture and deliver the product to the customer. Once delivery is accepted, the customer pays the lender. The lender then deducts their fees from this amount and pays the remainder to the borrower, which can be counted as profits. 

PO financing is a great way to help your business grow without taking on bank debt or selling equity in your company. If sales outpace your incoming cash flow, then purchase order financing might be a good strategy to fulfill big orders.

Invoice financing

Also known as accounts receivable financing or factoring, this loan allows Freelance consultants to survive slow-paying clients. Small and medium- sized businesses will be able to manage the increasingly common practice of “net 90” receivables payment that large companies impose on smaller organizations, in exchange for big orders.

With invoice financing, lenders advance to borrowers the value of accounts receivable, less a fee of perhaps 15%. The borrower will pay a weekly fee while waiting for the customer to pay up. Invoice financing helps businesses improve cash flow, meet the employee payroll, pay vendors and suppliers and reinvest in operations and growth earlier than they could if they had to wait for clients and customers to pay their balances in full.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Money Lenders (1784) an etching by Thomas Rowland. The aspiring borrower (L) is George, Prince of Wales (George IV 1820 -1830).

Can You Say No To a VIP?

Sometimes, the answer is no. Respectfully, I must decline. No, this will not do. Nein. It’s just that I find saying yes is more fun than saying no. In fact, I find “yes” to be a powerful word. “Yes” makes people happy and I enjoy making people happy.  I love to give people the green light and let them do wonderful, fulfilling things that satisfy them, things that help them grow and achieve special goals.

But certain behaviors or ideas one may find unacceptable, unsustainable, untrustworthy, or merely unattainable. We find them upsetting or unsavory or unrealistic. To such words or conduct we may even have an intense visceral reaction that literally makes us pull away, as if to shield our offended sensibilities. It may seem counter-intuitive, but think about it—what we reject defines us because our core values, priorities and boundaries often become evident only when they are challenged. Saying no to requests that compromise one’s values announces and reconfirms those values.

Saying no not only represents the conviction to honor one’s own values, priorities, self-respect, or boundaries, but can also be about conserving and managing one’s energy, time and other resources. To politely refuse certain invitations allows one to direct energy and attention to people and activities that matter most. Saying no is strategic.

Now, let’s be honest—saying “no” to a VIP, especially when the VIP is a paying client, carries risk. Certain powerful people have the ability to make an offer that cannot be refused (at least not without damage). Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to explore ways to decline that which we dislike, mistrust, or just find inconvenient for some reason. Disappointing someone whom one would much rather please is stressful.  Think of it this way—when you feel it necessary to voice doubts about a strategy or proposal makes your expertise, insights and values known to colleagues and keeps you true to yourself. You may also prevent an ill-conceived idea from gaining support (maybe because others were not inclined to speak out?) and causing an ugly crash and burn somewhere down the line.

Tact and diplomacy will be needed when saying no to a VIP, no doubt about it. Pour oil on potentially rough waters to head off the appearance of insubordination and ensure that disappointment doesn’t escalate to insult. Take care to separate your discomfort with supporting a certain strategy or participating in a proposed project from your feelings about the people involved. Make it strictly business and emphasize that you support the organization, its mission and history. Below are suggestions for how one might diplomatically say no and not burn bridges:

  • Provide facts. Don’t simply say “no.” Express the reasoning behind your decision. Most importantly, communicate the values that influenced your decision. If you don’t provide the context, others will do it for you, and the picture they paint might not be pretty.  Unflattering motives could be assigned to you and your reputation is sure to suffer as a result.  Don’t create a mystery for others to solve. Cite data and share the motivations that led to your position.
  • Acknowledge values trade-offs. Let others know that you respect the priorities  they aim to promote. Decisions are rarely as simple as black and white, right and wrong. They typically involve value trade-offs. To soften your “no” vote and avoid unnecessary offense, remember to compliment the worthy values that may motivate others’ positions.
  • Be tentatively confident. It’s important to take a firm stand, but avoid appearing intransigent or aggressive. You’ll alienate more people than you’ll convince if you make absolutist statements.  Show that you’re a thoughtful person who has arrived at a reasonable conclusion. Opening statements such as, “I’ve researched the matter and learned…” and “I believe…” demonstrate a combination of resolve and humility that avoids provoking unnecessary conflict.
  • Ask for permission to say no. When saying no to a VIP, particularly someone who might misinterpret your refusal as disrespect, it can be helpful to ask permission to say no. This allows you to honor their authority while maintaining your integrity. For example, you could say, “Boss, you’ve asked me to take on a new project. I think it is a bad idea for me to take it on and I’d like to share my reasons. If, however, you don’t want to hear them, I’ll take it on and do my best. What would you like?” In most cases, the boss will feel obligated to hear you out. If the boss refuses to hear your reservations, you might decide to say no to continuing your employment there!

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: L-R Florence Ballard, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson The Supremes sing Stop in the Name of Love in 1965.

Keep it Going: Sustaining Your Success

OMG you did it!! The months and years of working hard and working smart, of knowing when to listen to your inner voice and when to listen to a good adviser, the months of living on four hours of sleep and no vacations for what seems like forever and—–your company grossed $1 million over four consecutive quarters! You’ve reached a milestone that defines success.

OK. So now that you’ve reached the mountaintop, you have to figure out how to keep your footing and stay up there.  In fact, because you are focused, ambitious and determined, you’re already thinking about climbing even higher.  But sustaining and growing your success might demand as much work and determination as you invested to attain it. Here are four commonsense choices that can help you hold on to your earnings and continue the positive slope of your company’s future.

Pay taxes

Meet with a business accountant and figure out how much money you should reserve each quarter for tax payments (usually 30% – 40%). You don’t want to wait until the annual tax time and realize that you owe big money to the IRS.  Before you spread money around, pay the quarterly tax bill and set aside enough to ensure that all remaining tax bills in the calendar year can be covered.

Smart celebration

When you hit the revenue milestone that you’ve defined as your “made it” metric, whether the amount is a net or gross figure, you owe it to yourself to celebrate. What’s important, though, is not only how you celebrate but also with whom.

First, don’t overspend.  If you want to take a week-long spa vacation then go for it, because that will dissolve your stress and prepare you for the work you’ll do to build on your new-found success.  Or maybe you’d like to visit a place you’ve always wanted to see, or return to?  A splurge that refreshes and replenishes your energy stores is likewise always worth it.

Where you want to be careful is the amount you spend on consumer goods.  You may need a new car and if you can afford it, then do so, but be careful about splurging on luxuries.  Buying a Saab or Volvo probably makes more sense than buying a BMW or Benz at this point.  Save real luxury purchases for when you’ve raised your net worth to a more substantial level.

Others may want to throw a party.  Caution is advised when developing the guest list.  The sad fact is that there will be certain individuals, including family members, who will feel more envy than happiness upon hearing news of your success.  If a party is a must-do (and why not?), invite only those who supported and believed in you.

Fair-weather friends, frenemies, passive-aggressives, or critical types who claim that they’re just playing “devil’s advocate” or being “objective” are mostly about undermining and sabotaging. They are not your friends, even if they’re family members.  Don’t invite them and don’t let your mother guilt you into including them.  They don’t belong.

Save money

After you’ve paid down or, ideally, paid off any significant debts, business and personal, it’s time to save money.  Start with your retirement fund. Research options available to you in accordance with the business you own and pay the maximum amount allowed by your age and income level.  Investigate opening a Roth retirement account as a place to hold after-tax money if you anticipate having surplus cash.

Once you’ve figured out your retirement fund strategy, focus on other long-term investments. By all means, invest in the equipment, staffing, technology and office or manufacturing space that will support operations (including customer service), generate ROI and advance the business. But what if the building where you lease space comes up for sale? It might be a good move to buy the building, so that you can control your costs more effectively and also collect some rents.  For that, you’ll need money and a good credit score.

You can give yourself a wish-list savings account to build up cash reserves. There are other investments that can be made as well and to learn about your options, ask people you trust to recommend an investment counselor.  If you’ve got even $5000 to invest, investigate certificates of deposit, online banks such as Everbank, index stock funds, or actively managed mutual funds.

Keep doing what it was that made you successful

Now that you have a blueprint for making lots of money, continue to follow the template and don’t slack off! Don’t think that once you reach a certain level of success that things will just cruise along on their own. You must continue to do those things that created the conditions for success.  You can, however, devise methods that help processes become more efficient—that comes from experience. Operational efficiencies make money.  Plan your work to give priority to income-generating activities, such as sales calls and networking, to conserve your energy and bolster your stamina and creativity.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Emanuel Leutze (1816 – 1868, Germany) Washington Crossing the Delaware (River) December 25- 26, 1776 (1851)

Shutting Down Toxic People

Today, I share with you insights about managing toxic people, a vexing class of individuals whom we all encounter from time to time.  The toxic types can infiltrate and poison our workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and volunteer service posts. They are even, I’m sorry to say, to be found in our religious institutions and our families. They are high-maintenance, manipulative and hurtful.

Those of us who are well-meaning and psychologically healthy are in need of polite and effective tactics that will keep the toxic at bay and prevent their calamities from spreading and tainting our experiences and opportunities, if not our lives. The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance.

For help, I turn to a list of tactics developed by Travis Bradberry, PhD., clinical psychologist and expert on the subject of emotional intelligence.  Bradberry is the co- founder and CEO of Talentsmart, a consulting firm that provides training and coaching in emotional intelligence, a vital “soft skill” that impacts many aspects of relationship -building in our business and personal lives. Bradberry is also co-author (with Jean Greaves) of the best-seller Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (2009).

TalentSmart has conducted research reportedly with more than a million people and found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. The ability to neutralize toxic people is a foundational competency for those who plan to become successful. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ to keep toxic people at bay.

Set limits

There is a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear to someone who is feeling disappointed or disrespected and feels the need to vent, as s/he seeks a way to cope.  It is quite another thing to be caught in the grip of a chronic malcontent for whom constant complaining seems to be the goal and to even entertain the thought of finding solutions to the problem are quickly dismissed.

Bradberry recommends that we ask the complainer how s/he intends to address the problem.  Be on guard for the malcontent to attempt to pull you into doing the repair work for them.  You may be met with a tirade (or a whine) about how “I thought I could depend on you to help me.” Gently point out that you are not the one who is upset. Sir/Madame Malcontent will be exposed as having no interest in solving any problems and that is your opportunity to politely distance yourself from this individual and refuse to remain a sounding board for ongoing complaints.

Rise above

Toxic people love to push buttons and generate conflict that inflates sometimes insignificant misunderstanding into a whirling tornado.  They are often irrational and thrive on arguments and power struggles; they have no filter and no off button. Whether their impulse is deliberate or unwitting matters little.

Instead, do what you can to remain calm.  Ignore any taunting and refuse to get drawn into debates and show downs, for you are too sane to prevail in such a fight.  Create distance and don’t engage.  If an individual persists in goading you into arguments, (including the arguments of third parties that do not involve you) it may be necessary to threaten and even pursue legal action, such as a restraining order, if you feel that the behavior has crossed the line into harassment (you cannot do this in the workplace, however).  You must stop cold behavior that you find unacceptably stressful or threatening.

Choose your battles

Understand that some battles are not worth the fight, even if you feel that you can win.  Do you want to die on this hill? Some battles are not worth the time and energy. Living well is the best revenge.

Aware of emotions

Bradberry points out that maintaining emotional distance from the toxic types requires emotional awareness.  Instead of allowing yourself to be manipulated emotionally and dragged into some irrational state of mind, calmly remind yourself that the toxic person is deliberately pressing your buttons (or perhaps inadvertently—who cares?) because s/he feels compelled to bully you into joining him/her in a rant, a whine, a shouting match, or some other counterproductive behavior.  Don’t go there.  Walk away, if possible, or change the subject.

Establish boundaries

The toxic are champion boundary busters. One of my mother’s sisters was very good to me but when it came to respecting boundaries, she could see no reason to do so (especially not those of a young person).  Whenever she saw me with food, she begged for a taste.  I would offer to make her a small plate and she would refuse, saying that she didn’t want that much, but only wanted “a taste of mine.”  She knew well that I didn’t like that behavior and I suppose I need to accept that disrespecting me was her goal.  She’s been gone for many decades, but the memory of her hurtful behavior will never leave me.  It poisons my memories of her.

I was a young adult when she died.  If she had lived longer, I would have become better at protecting my boundaries, despite the family pressure to give into her, an elder who had done me a big favor and always gave me nice gifts at birthdays and Christmas. I think I would have called her on it in a more forthright manner and if it meant that I saw a lot less of her, I would have done so and let her know the reason for my absence.

Now if your boss is the toxic person, it would stand to reason that the best thing would be to give him/her exactly what they ask for, on time and within budget.  But the problem is that toxic people love finding fault. They “move the goal posts” so that you can never succeed.  I suggest that whatever the boss wants from you, confirm it in email—all expectations, the budget and the deadline.

Forgive, don’t forget

There is lots of talk about forgiveness and I suppose some of it is useful.  Bradberry recommends it and I’ve come to the place in my life that I will concur, with limits. Forgive but do not forget.  Let the incident go, but do not give the wrongdoer another chance to violate you.  Or, hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice, shame on me.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960)

Challenges That Impact the Solopreneur Enterprise

There are always challenges associated with operating one’s own business venture. Some challenges are formidable while others are merely annoying.  Many are common and probably inevitable.  Anticipation and preparation are the best defenses and can mostly be addressed in your business plan and its subsequent updates.

TIME CONSTRAINTS

Employees can, on occasion, walk into their office, close the door, and choose to be non-productive for most of the day.  Solopreneurs do not have that luxury.  We must meet or exceed the expectations of clients and prospects every time and hit a home run whenever we walk up to the plate.

Solopreneurs are often faced with a lengthy daily to-do list— client work to perform, a meeting to attend, a workshop to develop, a class to teach, an event with probable networking potential to attend.  Furthermore, there are business operations to maintain, such as financial management, marketing, prospecting and customer service. Every item is mandatory.

Over time, fatigue and a sense of being overwhelmed can develop.  Even depression can manifest. The successful Solopreneur must learn to manage and prioritize routine tasks and in fact consider removing some from the plate through outsourcing.  The judicious use of technological tools that save both time and money is smart management, as they help business processes and customer service operate seamlessly.

Click  here  and  here  to assess no-cost and low-cost apps that not only record the time you spend on project work, but also invoice clients and in some instances, accept accounts receivable payments online.

FOUNDER’S SYNDROME

The reality of a single-person shop is that services that generate billable hours cannot be delivered unless the founder is on the job and able to produce them. That means, if you’d like to attend a multi-day skills training session or take a one or two week vacation, be certain to allow adequate time to make key preparations that will help you to discreetly step away from center stage for a few days.

Tasks that you’ve outsourced, e.g. invoicing or bookkeeping, can continue as pre-arranged, but the production and delivery of the services that are the business must be put on hold until you return.  Learn how to prepare your business for your absence (in this case, a vacation) when you click here.

HOW TO GROW

You work alone and that is why you are called Solopreneur.  To promote the expression of your creativity and ingenuity, it will be wise to remove certain routine tasks from your plate, as noted above.  Grow your organization by giving yourself adequate time to concentrate on the money making functions of a business owner: client acquisition and retention, recognizing potential new revenue streams, including niche markets you might enter, effective and timely business strategies to implement, collaborations, beneficial partnerships and networking.

If you elect to continue to perform all administrative tasks as you work to grow and sustain the business, quality control might become an issue.  Spreading oneself too thin is inadvisable and may result in sub par work, diminished customer service, poor decision-making and fatigue. It is far more preferable to spend the money on outsourced help so that you can maintain or enhance the expectations of your brand.

In closing, I reiterate that when you write a business plan, you will be encouraged to acknowledge and prepare in advance for most of the business challenges mentioned.  The initial marketing plan, financial plan and business model will keep you from falling prey to client list, money management and growth challenges.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Mosaic depicting the Amazon queen Melanippe, courtesy of the Haleplibahce Museum in Urfa, Turkey.