Now is the Time to Take Control of Your Time

The secret sauce of effective time management is discipline.  The cruel truth,  my child, is that if you want to get more things done,  you must have the discipline to get your ass out of bed,  often before the sun comes up.  This is a habit best established when the days are getting longer.

According to new research by Christoph Randler,  professor of biology at Heidelberg University in Germany,  morning people are more proactive and therefore more successful in their professional lives.  Morning people anticipate problems and try to minimize their impact;  spend time identifying long-range goals;  and feel in charge of making things happen.  So rise and shine, cupcake.

Another time management essential that you must have the discipline to incorporate into your schedule is transition time.  Whether moving from one task to another or traveling from one meeting to the next,  the only way to ensure that you will be efficient,  productive and get where you are going on time is to take into account each time consuming step of the process.

In other words,  be realistic about how long it takes to go places and do things and give yourself adequate preparation and execution time.  Avoid over-scheduling.  Build in little cushions of time where possible,  to better manage annoying,  schedule-destroying delays like lines at the post office.

The idea is to successfully roll through tasks and appointments and preserve your sanity,  if not your sense of humor, along the way.  Besides,  if there are fires to put out and you’re too tightly scheduled,  things will fall apart and you’ll be back where you started.

Oh , and manage your emails,  rather than letting them manage you.  Do not let them seize control of your day.  Particularly if you receive a huge volume,  assign 2-3 blocks of time each day for email read and respond.  Institute email triage.

If something time sensitive and high priority is on,  you may prefer to check for incoming messages throughout the day and decide what requires a faster response. While doing that,  delete the nonsense emails and lighten your load.  When answering emails,  respond first to the “short answer” messages and then tackle the “long answers”.

Some form of social media participation is now on every Freelancer’s schedule,  like it or not.  No one is sure what any of it does for business,  but very few feel confident enough to ignore it.  Keeping up with this stuff can siphon off much valuable time if you’re not careful.

Limit time spent on social media and while you’re at it,  think about the extent of your involvement and the ROI.  Do you really need FaceBook and Twitter?  Must you go through the LinkedIn Answers Forum every day?

Yet another source of time theft are manipulative,  controlling people.  You have no doubt encountered your share of those who feel entitled to dictate how you spend your time,  quickly  resorting to whining,  badgering and other forms of verbal arm wrestling to force you into doing their bidding.  They may be neighbors,  family members,  so-called friends  or clients.   Set good boundaries and be prepared for uncomfortable moments as you put a few people in their place.  Have the discipline to say “no” and stick to it.

Have the discipline to bring time management into your life.  Missed deadlines,  lost opportunities,  exhaustion and burn-out are not what we want.  Applying our skill set to work that we enjoy and generating an income that we deem satisfactory is what the Freelance life is all about.  Effective time management,  along with SMART goals and objectives—Specific,  Measurable,  Attainable,  Realistic, Timely— will help us get there.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

The Time of Your Life

Welcome back to reality!  Labor Day Weekend has come and gone and Summer has officially (although not technically) ended.  Like it or not,  we are in full business mode again.  Yet despite what the calendar indicates,  Summer’s slower pace may still cling to you like sand on your ankles and you might be having trouble getting up to speed.  Maybe some good time management tips will help you find your groove?

Freelancers are busy people.  Effective time management is important not only for our P & L bottom line,  but also for our spiritual and psychological health.  In addition to drumming up and working on billable hours,  it is equally important that we make time for our personal pursuits.

We owe it to ourselves to go to the gym or out for a bike ride,  participate in our children’s lives,  nurture our relationship with a special someone,  or recharge our batteries by maybe taking a nice walk.  Therefore,  it is imperative that we utilize our time efficiently,  so that important things get taken care of and we avoid running in circles,  which wastes precious time,  creates aggravation and eventually leads to burn-out.

But there is so much to do and it is easy to get overwhelmed.  On top of  billable hours,  we must network to remain visible,  attend certain conferences that help us build skills or prospect for new clients,  maybe prep for a speaking engagement,  keep up with social media and there are perhaps also board responsibilities that were taken on to demonstrate commitment to one’s community and expand one’s  skill set (and bring in a referral along the way,  we hope).

Then there are the administrative functions like invoicing,  paying bills,  calls and emails,  updating the website,  de-constructing the new health insurance options and planning and budgeting for next year’s marketing initiatives. 

Oh, and dare I mention housework,  laundry, cooking and grocery shopping?  Yikes! It’s enough to make you want to hide in the closet.  How can any one human being face this down? 

I suggest that Step One in getting your arms around all that you must do is to make a list and document major tasks and responsibilities,  so that you can visualize and make sense of your obligations.  Once your list is created,  separate business obligations from personal.  Red star all tasks that have a deadline  e.g.,  September 15 for filing third quarter taxes.

On the business side,  make separate categories for client billable time,  marketing/self promotion and administrative tasks.  On the personal side,  create categories for fitness,  household,  children, etc.  Next,  prioritize according to what must be done first and what brings (or can potentially bring) the best ROI to you.  Break responsibilities down into what must be done daily (emails),  weekly (children’s lessons/ sports),  monthly (networking/ board meetings) and quarterly (taxes). 

Block out corresponding time periods,  make calendar entries and build a daily to-do list schedule.  Examine your schedule and look for ways to be more efficient.  You may have always gone to the gym after work,  but might a time change be advantageous? Is there a Zumba class at 7:00 AM or Pilates at lunchtime? That change will free up time in the evening for other activities and will also ensure that you maintain your fitness regimen.  Or maybe now you’ll see that you can start one!

PDA electronic calendars and smart phone apps are now standard,  but I’ve found that posting on an office white board or old-fashioned desk calendar is especially helpful for remembering monthly and quarterly tasks.  It’s good to have it all there in your face,  a constant reminder of what you must do and when you must do it.

I’ll be back with more time management next week.  Thanks for reading.

Kim

Bringing You Down: The Procrastination Blues

We just hate to do certain things.  Some things are a headache to even think about,  let alone actually do.  So we conspire to ignore the irksome thing and pretend it will go away.  We promise ourselves,  our spouses,  our children and our friends that we will get to it…only not now.  We are busy now…

Admit it.  Those crafty avoidance schemes make us feel guilty.  We go into denial.  We are prone to get defensive and there might be an argument,  yet we continue to stonewall.  Oh, but we cannot hide forever.  Eventually,  we’ve gotta man up and do the deed. ç

Why do we do this?  Don’t we realize that allowing loose ends and evil-but-necessary tasks to pile up only makes it worse for us when we are finally forced to take them on?

Yes!  But everyone procrastinates once in a while.  It’s part of the human condition.  In fact, under certain circumstances,  what appears to be procrastination can serve us well.  Sometimes a problem or task needs to be pondered,  with more information about the cause,  implications and possible resolutions sought.  It may not be wise to quickly jump in with both feet.  Due diligence is not a sign of procrastination.

Other times,  it is best to wait for more favorable conditions before making a move and attempting resolution.  Timing is always important.  Or maybe this item really does deserve to be put off,  because there are more important issues pending that deserve your immediate attention.  Prioritization is not a sign of procrastination,  it is good time management.

So what makes us procrastinate?  Psychologists say that chronic  procrastination results from a fear of failure or success.  Either way,  it’s self-sabotage.  Fear prevents us from taking action and moving forward.  The experts have a few more theories:

1.  The Perfectionist.  If you cannot perform in a flawless fashion,  then you will do nothing at all.

2.  Poor Decision Maker.  You are trapped in analysis-paralysis quicksand and unable to settle on a course of action.

3.  The Overwhelmed.   You consider the task to be beyond your capabilities,  or you just hate doing the thing.

4.  The Disorganized.   You cannot get your act together.  You don’t know or have what is needed to complete the task and cannot focus on it.

You can tame the procrastination beast.  The easiest way,  if you’ve been persistently unable to make yourself tackle a certain job,  is to take the hint and outsource it.  Maybe you avoid doing this thing because doing it makes you miserable and you’re lousy at it anyway?  If you’re holding the cash,  call in a professional and stop the drama.

If you are not holding sufficient cash,  then you need an attack strategy.  You must bite the bullet and face down this demon,  because continuing to avoid your responsibilities kills your momentum and adds stress to your life.  Procrastination is bad for business and you cannot afford to wallow in it.

Break the beast down into manageable blocks and chip away a little at a time.  Devote 30-60 minutes each day to the job until it is completed.   Self-discipline builds  self-confidence and will keep you motivated to stay on track.  Reward yourself  handsomely once you’ve crossed the finish line.

Keep the procrastination beast at bay by setting reasonable goals for yourself.  Reaching for the stars is admirable,  but be realistic (and not pessimistic or self-limiting) in recognizing what you can achieve.

Finally,  always prioritize.  Time sensitive and other important tasks go to the top of your list and are preferably done early in the day,  to promote the likelihood of successful completion.  Lower priority tasks are done later.  If a project lands on your to-do list,  then it should be done within a reasonable time frame,  so don’t ignore it for six months.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Law of Attraction

Let’s chat for a moment about competitive advantage.  For sure,  we must identify and/or invent as many as possible.  One often overlooked competitive advantage is to make everyone think that we HAVE competitive advantage.  Pretty slick,  huh?

Think of it this way:  perception is reality and everybody loves a winner.  Precious few come to the rescue of the down and out.  Failure is frightening and depressing and no one wants to come near,  lest the misfortune rub off on them.

Conversely,  the appearance of success is a magnet for still more success,  mostly because people think you deserve it (you must be doing something right!) and can handle it.  Today’s lesson is that image counts,  so always make yourself  look and feel like a winner.  Invite success to your door—or at the very least,  don’t make it turn tail and run away from you!

Dress for success

When attending any type of function at which you might possibly meet a prospective client, dress appropriately.  Respect the occasion and wear the right casual,  formal or business attire.  Invest in good quality clothing (hit the end-of-season sales) that flatters your body type.  Good quality clothing looks better,  lasts many years and is worth the money because when amortized,  it actually costs less than the cheap stuff.  Dress to impress.

Project the positive

Be enthusiastic and passionate about life and business.  Let your body language,  voice,  eyes and mannerisms  sparkle with good energy.  Walk into every room with confidence,  hold your head high and radiate a positive aura.  Others will be attracted to your glowing presence and they will cross the room to introduce themselves,  to have the pleasure of meeting and talking with you. 

Greet one and all with a firm handshake and a warm smile.  Make good eye contact and show that you are delighted to make their acquaintance and are interested in what they have to say.  People like to do business with people who have positive energy.  It  suggests honesty and expertise and therefore inspires confidence and trust.

You’re worth it

Create a strong value proposition for your business.  Establish that your products and services are top drawer,  will provide unique and highly desirable benefits and therefore command a premium price in the marketplace.  Communicate that your products and services are worth the investment.

Get to know the objectives and priorities of your typical customers and broadcast the benefits that resonate most.  Gather information that allows you to anticipate customer needs and deliver 5 star service every time.  Make your customers grateful to do business with you by knowing how to solve their problems and make them look smart for hiring you.

Do your best to maintain your prices,  even when there is pressure to offer discounts that are outside of your pricing strategy.  There may be times when you must relent,  but defend your position by learning to clearly articulate the ROI of  doing business with you.  Think cariage trade,  not cut-rate.

Business is great

Creditors may be ready to foreclose,  but do not let on to your clients!  Moreover,  be discreet with colleagues,  lest word of your troubles gets bandied about.  The smell of desperation is repellant and clients will take their business elsewhere if it appears that your ship is sinking.  If you expect to do any business at all,  it is imperative that you project capability and dependability.  Financial insolvency does not inspire confidence,  no matter how it happens. 

Remember always that people do business with people that they know and like.  They do more business with people they trust and respect.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Kill the Deadbeats!

“Businesses don’t fail because they are unprofitable.  They fail because they get crushed on the accounts receivable side.”  Brian Hamilton, CEO  Sageworks, a  financial research firm in Raleigh, NC

A  2005  survey of American Express  small business customers found that  49%  had cash-flow concerns, with accounts receivable as the primary concern,  and  9%  of  that group worried that their cash-flow troubles were sufficiently serious to impede their ability to compete for new business.

A  2007  survey of  2000  Freelancers found that  77%  of us have had trouble getting paid at some point in our careers as independent workers.  Of  the  77%,  late payments have been endured by  85%  at least once;  42%  have been stiffed at least once;  and  34%  have received less than the invoiced amount at least once.  The survey also found that Freelancers  spend 4 hours/month on average pursuing late or unpaid receivables.

Since Freelancers are  excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which would require  the Department of Labor to assist us by investigating claims of involuntary unpaid labor (slavery!) and would authorize the Commissioner of Labor to bring criminal proceedings to recover wages owed,  we are more than a little vulnerable to this growing phenomenon.

Our options are weak.  Hiring an attorney is costly and does not guarantee payment of monies owed.  Small Claims Court is time consuming and winning a judgment does not guarantee payment.  Writing a  thorough contract,  which specifically details  services requested,  pricing,  invoice due dates and late fees doesn’t help much either if  a  client lacks the ability to pay,  or simply refuses to pay within a reasonable time frame (big corporations are infamous for this).

Smaller businesses may be caught between a rock and a hard place:  they can’t pay you until someone pays them.  Big corporations have the power to dictate payment terms favorable to their own cash-flow objectives.  Over the past several years,  including the so-called  “booming economy”  years,  many big corporations brazenly increased the turn-around time on accounts payable to their small vendors —because they could.

So what’s a Freelancer trying to maintain respectable cash-flow to do? Take every precaution and watch for signs of problem clients.  Before taking on a new client,  maybe ask around and find out if you know who’s done business with the company.  Maybe check out the BBB and find out if  a complaint has been filed and its resolution.

Milestones and money

Establish project milestones and attach an invoice to each one.  First,  discuss your project with the client and get agreement on the scope of the project and the time table.  At the contract signing,  get a deposit of 10-25 %.  At key junctures in the project,  get another 20-25% payment,  if possible.  The goal is to avoid the trap of  waiting for a large sum of money at the project’s completion,  when the client possesses the complete deliverable.  Hint:  if  the client is unable to make the initial deposit on time,  brace for trouble!

Deadbeat radar

Pay attention to client motivation—are they looking for quality work,  or the cheapest price?  If  a customer comes to you primarily for price,  then price is what will make that client leave you.  Moreover,  they will use price to manipulate you.  So do not be desperate!  It’s hard, I know, when you’re just trying to be solvent.  But customers like that pay the least money,  cause the most headaches and may not pay what they owe,  on time or otherwise. They are best avoided.

Beware the client who is in a big rush, frazzled and frenetic.  This person will appear suddenly and may also be overly concerned with price.  Once the deliverable is in hand, your invoices will be ignored,  as he/she is always  “too busy”  to deal with annoying things like paying you.  Insist on receiving as much payment up front as you can (try 50% down, including a premium for speedy delivery). You may never see the rest of the money,  or you will have to chase and wait.

Beware also the OCD type who is hyper-controlling and fussy.  If you must go there,  be excruciatingly clear about the project scope,  deadlines,  expectations,  project milestones, etc.  Put everything in writing and make sure they agree,  sign off and are prepared to make all milestone payments.  This client will be tough to satisfy and will pick you apart,  demand revisions and may withhold payment,  claiming that you haven’t delivered satisfactorily.

Put into writing how many revisions are included in the project base price plus the price for revisions.  Consider adding  25-30%  to your usual quote to make up for the time you’ll spend responding to incessant emails,  phone calls,  criticism and demands.

Recurring nightmare?

If collecting receivables is a persistent problem for you,  then it is likely that you are not qualifying clients properly or your product is considered deficient.  Clearly define your deliverable.  Set expectations for your services and make sure that you understand what the client wants and the client understands what you will deliver.  A verbal agreement should precede a written proposal/contract that specifies the work you will do,  the timetable and payment due dates and should be signed by both you and the client.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Wheel and Deal—Fast Cash

I recently heard about a company called The Receivables Exchange.  The company hosts an online real-time auction of accounts receivable and invites businesses to sell outstanding invoices to raise money quickly.  The auctions enable businesses to sell their  receivables to bidders in the global institutional investor market.  Sellers are paid the auction value of the receivables and thus gain access to working capital.

According to The Receivables Exchange,  typical sellers have more than 60% of their working capital tied up in accounts receivable and are therefore limited in their ability to take advantage of important opportunities or otherwise expand their businesses.

Collecting receivables has become an adventure for many business owners and Freelancers,  as we all know.  Customers may be asking for extended payment terms.  Big corporations that can well afford to pay on time have sometimes adopted the mean-spirited practice of paying their small business vendors in 45-60 days,  or even longer.  This can put businesses  in an ugly cash flow bind.

The Exchange can make available  badly needed capital to (certain) businesses that cannot obtain traditional financing or cannot wait out a credit approval process.  The Receivables Exchange can give access to a quick  infusion of cash when it’s needed most. The process is similar to factoring,  that old-school trick used to raise cash fast.

In factoring,  receivables are sold to a financial institution at a pay-out rate that is usually between 75-80% of  face value.  The 20-25%  held back is called the reserve. The quality of receivables determines the reserve amount,  as does the historical average turn-around time of invoices.  In other words,  if big companies like Verizon or CVS are the receivable accounts and they tend to pay within 30 days,  the reserve percentage will be lower.

Cash is usually sent in 5-10 days.  There is no credit check.  Once the receivables are paid up,  the business owner is paid back the reserve,  minus a factor fee of 2-5%.  Additionally, there is a fee of 1/8 to 1/15 %  assessed for every day past 30 days that the receivable is outstanding.  It’s a heavy hit to take,  but money is quickly raised and with few questions asked.  Moreover,  the factoring company assumes the risk of customer default.

When evaluating whether or not factoring makes sense for your business cash flow challenge,  do your homework.  Ask your accountant for a recommendation and then check references.   Make sure you understand those numerous fees.  Liquid Capital liquidcapital.com is a well known factoring company.  You might also visit the websites of the Commercial Finance Association or the International Factoring Association.

But now there is a marketplace where receivables are sold to the highest bidder.  As a result,  it is often possible to obtain more favorable rates than factoring.  This option is not available to everyone,  however.  To be eligible for membership,  the business must have minimum annual sales of $2 million,  must have operated for at least 2 years,  must be registered to do business in the US and can have no tax liens.  The app. fee is $500.00. Sign up online to become either buyer or seller receivablesxchange.com.

The Exchange is no scam.  In January,  Bain Capital gave the New Orleans based company $17 million in financing.  In our credit challenged business environment, there is plenty of upside potential for the company.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Mind Your Budget

As you brainstorm survival strategies for yourself and your business, creating a budget may be a good item for the to-do list.  A good budget can help you manage costs, understand where your profit centers are (and are not) and most of all,  let you know if you’re really making money and if so, how much.

For Freelancers, the temptation is to simply add up the 1099s at the end of a quarter or year and assume that tells the story. Yet there are always costs of doing business and it is very important that we know where, how and for what purpose we are spending our money.

Do you really need to rent office space?  Is it necessary for clients to visit your office, or might it be perfectly acceptable for you to go to them?  What is the ROI on the networking events that you attend?  Be strategic and selective about the rooms you pay to enter and go to events where you get the most bang for the bucks.

After you’ve been a few times and met a few people, try cutting back to bi-monthly or even quarterly appearances.  If you want to keep in touch with colleagues in between, invite them for a coffee.

Tally your gross revenues and cast a cold eye on expenses. These are the foundation of any budget for any business, or household for that matter.  Managing expenses has a huge impact on the bottom line.  It is possible to lose money overall even if sales are strong, because you either spent too much (money or time) to make the sale or overspent on other operating and production costs.

So if you make and sell jewelry, for example, watch how you buy the raw materials.   Do you have the best available sources?  Should you buy more and stockpile inventory in order to get a better price? Pay attention to market fluctuations and buy big when prices drop.   Managing the cost of goods sold adds to your profit margin.

On the expenses side, be sure to divide fixed expenses (rent, salaries, utilities, long term payment obligations, etc.) from variable expenses (sales commissions, advertising, travel, etc.).  Make note of seasonal fluctuations.  Does business slow down in July and August—or pick up? Identify where you can trim expenses or negotiate a better deal.

Once you’ve figured out the money coming in and money going out over the past 2 or 3 years and assessed where you are,  you can then decide what financial targets you’d like to reach.   Maybe you want a certain overall profit margin on goods sold, or perhaps you’d like to have average net quarterly earnings of a certain amount?

While you’re analyzing gross revenue,  you may even discover that spending a little money will make it possible for you to make much more.  For instance, hiring an assistant at $18/hour to answer the phone,  send invoices,  deposit checks,  post transactions into a ledger or help make jewelry in preparation for Christmas or Valentine’s Day can give you more time to network,  prospect,  make sales calls or double your output of jewelry available for sale.

Especially for Freelancers and other sole proprietors,  how you spend your time can be factored into the budgeting process.  Digging into your company finances may just turn up some buried treasure.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Kim

Squeezed

It is difficult to be in business these days.  Billable hours and revenue are down for most, especially for those who offer intangible services.  Unless a clear and visible link to a sale can be demonstrated, many decision makers are reluctant to sign a contract.

Sometimes that link to a  sale is  fantasy, especially when the transaction results in a tangible product.  This phenomenon may explain how videographers have been making so much money. The desperate and the naive seek to drive traffic to their websites in the hope that customers will spend some dollars.  Unfortunately, the video produced may not communicate the right message to target customers.  Furthermore, sticking a video onto the website is  often not the best  solution to the client outreach objective. Traffic to the website may actually increase—but will that expensive little film clip also increase revenue? Not if the message is wrong.

Paula Harris, owner and co–founder of WH Cornerstone Investments, says that one of the biggest mistakes that an entrepreneur can make is thinking that the phone will just ring when you spruce up your website.  She says it’s all about networking (source: Boston Business Journal Nov. 6-12, 2009).

On the other side, we’ve got the credit card companies squeezing us.  Need $10,000 from AmEx to finance a contract? Fuhgeddaboudit! Two or three years ago a reasonable account holder could call them up and request a credit line increase for a legitimate reason.  If you paid on time and your credit rating was decent, you could almost guarantee that increase, especially when a contract representing the pay-back money was involved.

Try making that call today (if you dare).  Not only will there be no credit line increase, but for good measure they’re liable to claw back a couple of thousand from the line you’ve got now! Oh, and let us not forget about the inflated interest rates.  I worry about small retailers who tried to purchase inventory for the all-important 4th quarter. What was that like this year?

The credit card companies and big banks—many of whom brazenly took our tax money in the form of bailouts—have turned around and are working overtime to kill our cash flow. With business down, we need to float expenses more than ever, just to pay the phone bill and eat! Big business has denied us our bailout.  As we all know, it takes money to make money and their actions are preventing small business people from making the money we need to survive.

As a result of these disturbing trends, both business and personal bankruptcies have increased nationally.   Cash flow is tragic.  Many have run out of options. Why has this been allowed to happen in the United States? How can we manage to hang on and ride out this awful storm that will last for God knows how long?

No one knows what to do exactly. There are defensive measures to take:  some may have an immediate benefit,  others that only in hindsight will the effects be revealed.  If you’re still in business and still  living in your house next year at this time, well then you did something right (or you got lucky).

I respectfully suggest a few defensive measures.  Increase your visibility through networking:  do some speaking, teaching, volunteering and attend selected business events,  so that good relationships can be made or renewed.  Whatever business you manage to  get is likely to come in through a referral source.  Remember also to make referrals and facilitate introductions for colleagues, when possible.

Refine and hone your elevator pitch and sales pitch repertoire.  Make sure that your verbal package contains the hooks that prospects and clients want to hear.  Prospecting will likewise be essential,  as you must identify all credible sales opportunities.

Negotiations  and compromises  are likely to be necessary and perhaps advantageous.  Consider offering discounts for invoices paid within 15 days.  Consider also trades and barters.  Make sure that you’re trading equivalents.

Short term employment or an under the radar type part time job (maybe in the evening) will ease your cash crunch.  If you can be certain that colleagues and clients will not encounter you,  particularly as you labor in a low wage gig for $12.00/hour,  this can  help to pay a bill or two each month.

Times of adversity demand a special resolve and resourcefulness.  I wish you good luck.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

On Surviving the Economic Crisis Part II

Last week, I attended a roundtable discussion for business owners that was hosted by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.  The purpose of BIG: Best Insights Grow (Your Business) was to provide a forum wherein a dozen small business owners and consultants  could share some of our more vexing business challenges and receive some practical advice from the group about how best to resolve those issues.

I offer you a few strategies and action items that surfaced in our forum. You may want to integrate some of this into your practice, so you can grease the cash flow wheels as we enter the traditionally slow summer months.  Most of these things you already know–none of it is rocket science.  Nevertheless, selectively employing a few of these methods is bound to have a positive effect on your billable hours, in the short and long term.

  • Stealth Prospecting

Obviously, we must always keep eyes and ears open for new clients and new ways to engage our current clients.  One way to do that is to network: get out there and attend events, talk to people and let them tell you which products and services they like, why they like them and how they like them offered.  Also, remember to make sure friends and colleagues know what you do and who they can refer to you, so they can be your surrogate sales force.

Another way to set the stage for networking and prospecting is to put yourself on the panel guest and speaker’s circuit.  Meaning, position yourself as an expert.  Pay attention to the program schedules of a few business and professional organizations.  What kind of topics do they offer? What kind of audience do they attract? Can you offer up some of your expertise and give a presentation or join a panel discussion? Are you a member of any such organization?

Build relationships with the event coordinators for these groups and find out the protocol and requirements for their speaker’s bureau.  Have a clear understanding of topics that are deemed appropriate, so you can offer the right talk titles.  Local colleges may also accept proposals for workshops.  Check out noncredit continuing education offerings in a few schools and see who might give you an opportunity to teach. You might even receive a (modest) honorarium!

When you are showcased as an expert in your field, you will be approached by peers and prospects who seek your advice, want to do business with you or want to refer you to someone who does want to work with you.  Now that takes the cold calling out of prospecting, am I right?

  • Strategic Referrals

What better way to get yourself into the good graces of someone who you suspect could be a good referral source for your gorgeous self than to get the process started by referring a client to your object of desire? The chances of receiving some reciprocal billable hours are going to be good, I’ll say.  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…

  • Smart Pricing

Pricing is a tricky thing. It is both a science and an art. When it comes to services, honestly, who knows what anything is worth? The service is worth what the client thinks it’s worth.  Even in flush times, you’ve gotta know when to hold and know when to fold. You must become a very good negotiator.  No one wants to gouge and no one wants to be undervalued.  These days times are tough, clients know it and everybody wants a “deal”.

Freelancer, you need a good pricing strategy if you want to keep a roof over your head and food on the table!  You need a useful bag of tricks that will keep the billable hours coming in at rates that will keep you solvent.  Here are a few strategies that can help:

When you know or suspect that a client is going to knock down your price, try adding 10-20% to your proposed fee.  Some people love to bargain, love to think they got something at a lower price.  So give that client the satisfaction of “saving” a few dollars. When they press you for a price cut, slowly and reluctantly cave in– then smile like Mona Lisa as you collect your usual fee (or close to it).

Another win-win pricing strategy is to hold your price but add in a few extras or upgrades. Maybe you can even do some small something pro bono.  Many clients will be happy to receive more for their money.  They want to stoke that value proposition.

But alas, sometimes the clients have us over a barrel and we are forced to take a job at a lower fee because we either flat out need the cash or we crave a certain plum assignment. How to take the sting out of this one?

Start by trying to get more hours out of the project. Your hourly fee won’t be great, but the check at the end will be less paltry. You can also ask for future assignments, thus getting them on the hook for more work that you can count on.  Better still, giving a referral discount to this client may be the way to go: each successful referral the client makes means their next job will be priced at a 10- 20% discount.  Pricing is most definitely about negotiation.

This is also the time to offer your clients some flexible payment options.  Consider offering a discount on invoices that are paid in full within 15 days.  Invoicing like a general contractor might also be helpful: ask for a third of the project fee up front, the next third at the project midpoint and the final third within 30 days of the project’s completion. Setting yourself up to accept credit card payments may also prove to be useful.  The downside is the processing fee, but you will make it easier for cash strapped businesses to pay you on time.  As we all know, getting paid is the name of the game.

Good luck this summer and let me know how you make out!

On Surviving the Economic Crisis Part I

Does this scenario pretty much tell the story of your business? Here are a few useful strategies that can help you to weather the storm:

You’ve brought your business to life, you’re making sales, gaining clients and gaining confidence. You are positioned to turn a profit at last. Then, crash! goes the economy. How do you hang on to your dream and keep your business alive?

Here are a few good tips that will help you to prepare your company to respond effectively in a rapidly changing environment:

  • Get better acquainted with your customers

What was it about your company that drew them in? Are you delivering what customers want in a way that encourages a long term relationship? Are there additions or variations to your product mix that previously you were reluctant to offer, but could offer now?

  • Nurture strategic relationships, brainstorm collaborations

With whom can you partner in ways that will make doing business better for all? Can referral relationships or co-promotional activities be pursued? Are you an active member of your local chamber of commerce and neighborhood business association?

  • Devise a smarter marketing plan

Use the deeper understanding of your customers to roll out a more effective marketing plan. Now you can craft a message that resonates, place advertisements in media outlets that your customers trust, outwit the competition and distinguish your company in the marketplace. You will emerge a winner!