The Power of Listening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

LLC vs. S Corp: Which One for Your Company?

At any point in the life of your business venture, you may choose to create for it a separate legal entity.  Creating a separate entity is essential for those businesses where the potential for liabilities associated with normal operations is an issue.  There are also potential tax advantages that derive from the establishment of a separate business entity.

There are two categories of business legal entities: corporations, Chapter S and C, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Corporations are tax structures and are regulated by the federal government through the IRS.  LLCs are created and governed by the states.

Founded in the state of Wyoming in 1977 and now available in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., the LLC is a comparatively more lenient structure than either the S or C Corporation and for this reason, it is the preferred entity for the majority of small businesses and Solopreneurs.  Unlike the S Corp, LLC members, as they are called, are unrestricted in number and are not required to be U.S. citizens nor must they reside here, with the exception of the Registered Agent, who receives official correspondence such as tax and legal documents on behalf of the entity and must reside in the state where the LLC was formed and operates.

Multi-owned LLCs are advised to develop an operating agreement (not required in all states) that along with the percentages of member ownership also specifies member titles and responsibilities, such as Managing Partner and Registered Agent.

In the LLC, whether single or multi-owned, all business income and expenses “pass through,” meaning they are reported on the members’ tax forms.  There is no double taxation of business and personal income for single-owner LLCs, but multi-owner LLCs must file U.S. Form 1065 Return of Partnership Income to report profits and losses.  All LLC owners must pay the self-employment tax, due quarterly (multi-owners pay on their share of entity ownership).

Real estate investors will find that the LLC is the only available legal entity option that allows passive income (rents) to exceed 25% of gross annual revenues.  A big added bonus of real estate LLCs is the ability to create a separate LLC for each property owned, thereby shielding the owner(s) and other properties held from cross-liabilities.

A drawback for owners who plan to attract investment partners (as opposed to those partners who operate the business) is the lack of stock, preferred or otherwise, and this represents a deal-breaker for venture capitalists, who do not invest in businesses structured as LLCs.  Even smaller investors prefer stock certificates to LLC member shares.  A positive for this structure is that it’s much less expensive to set up than are corporations, costing just a few hundred dollars for the filing (plus the initial set-up fee charged by your accountant or attorney).

If you are considering establishing a legal structure for your business, consider your plans for business growth and also your exit strategy as you do.  Growth may cause you to seek money partners, which could point you in the direction of the S Corp.  If you see venture capital or an IPO in your future, then only a C Corp will do.  If you might want to sell your company to employees as your exit strategy, or if attracting key C Suite level talent to your team would also point you toward the corporate structure, so that stock can be offered as an incentive.  If some of your business partners live outside of the U.S., or if acquiring real estate holdings is your business model, then only the LLC will be allowed.

It is strongly recommended that you consult with a business attorney or accountant before you file legal entity paperwork at the Secretary of State’s office.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Business Structure Face Off: S Corp vs. LLC

Whether you are preparing to launching a new venture or you’ve been operating as a Sole Proprietor (Sole Trader in the U.K.) for a few years, you may decide to establish a business legal entity for the enterprise. The benefits of creating a business legal entity, whether you operate as a Solopreneur or participate in a partnership that consists of independent professionals who occasionally collaborate (like dentists or physicians) or co-owners who run a business together, are:

1.) protection of business assets from (certain) financial liabilities

2.) reduced tax liability

Entrepreneurs and Solopreneurs who have no worries about legal actions that might arise from bankruptcy or other business debts (or client litigation) may comfortably operate as Sole Proprietors.  Business owners of any kind, plus the self-employed, may at some point decide to organize their venture as a corporation (either the original C Corporation or subchapter S Corporation) or a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

FYI in the U.S., corporations are tax structures that are overseen by the IRS (a federal entity) and LLCs are created and governed at the state level.  Application to form either entity is made at your state’s Secretary of State office or in Washington, D.C. at the D.C. Corporations Division.  In the U.K., business legal structures are obtained through and governed by your regional Companies House.

Regarding protection from financial liabilities derived from a business legal entity, actions that can be construed as negligence are considered to “pierce the corporate veil” and neither a C or S Corporation, nor an LLC, will shield negligent business owners.  But if the business goes into bankruptcy or serious debt, only business assets can be applied to cover those debts and if that amount is insufficient, the owner(s) will not be forced to use personal assets to pay what is owed.  Furthermore, the entity will not be liable for debts that exceed the value of the owner’s investment in that entity.  In other words, if an owner’s investment was $20K, that’s all the owner will be liable for, even if $30K is owed.

Now for a look at potential tax savings.  Unlike the older U.S. corporate structure, the C Corporation, there is no simultaneous tax of business and personal income in the S Corporation (i.e., no double taxation) and all the usual business deductions that you’ll find on IRS Schedule C  may be taken.  The S Corp allows owner(s) to pay themselves and all employees with W2 salaries, meaning that owners avoid the self-employment tax if it’s decided that you work for the corporation (instead of yourself).

A portion of what can be reasonably considered excess net profits can be paid to the owner(s) as a dividend distribution, in addition to the W2 salary, and the distribution is taxed at a much lower rate (from zero- 15%, depending on circumstances) than the W2 earnings.  This is one way that the rich get richer, Baby!

The owner’s salary must be considered reasonable for the industry, because the IRS will be looking.  Contact a savvy tax accountant so you’ll refrain from paying yourself $20K annually when $80K would be closer to the minimum for your industry and business Income Statement.  Shenanigans like that can cause the business to lose the S Corp status and land you in double-taxation-ville.

If business income is not so flush, your accountant may recommend that like a Sole Proprietor, S Corp owner(s) should choose the “pass through” tax format, where all income and expenses appear on the personal tax form(s) of the owner(s).  Be advised that partnership S Corps are taxed like a partnership and S Corps that elect the pass-through tax option will pay the quarterly self-employment tax on reported income.  Corporate taxes are filed no later than March 15, earlier than the rest of us.

In both the C and S Corp structure, the owner(s) is a stockholder, and multiple owners are assigned shares of company stock and receive a portion of business profits and losses according to their percentage of ownership. The S Corp allows only one class of stock.

On the downside, the rules for maintaining a corporate entity of either form are somewhat strict. S Corp owners must be citizens or residents of the U.S. and their number is capped at 100.  Every corporation is required to have a board of directors or officers (the owner and a Recording Secretary to take the annual meeting minutes, at least) and even solo corporation owners must hold an annual stockholder’s meeting.  Financial documents must be in good order. Minutes must be taken and kept on file.

Because there is only one class of stock allowed, those who plan to seek venture capital or take their company public must form a C  Corporation, so that the preferred stock that investors demand will be available.  Finally, the legal and accounting fees, as well as special state taxes where they apply, make the choice of either a C or S Corporation a four-figure annual commitment, so consider your choice of this option prudently.

Next week, we can resume the discussion with a look at the Limited Liability Company structure.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

When Freelancers and Employees Collaborate

External agile talent provided by Freelance consultants has a presence in a growing number of organizations in the country, from huge multinationals that hire dozens of external experts to solo consultancies, who may hire a Freelancer colleague to obtain  help with SEO, website design, or project subcontracting work.

Freelancers are brought in to ensure that a high-priority project will be successfully completed, on time and within budget. While it is the responsibility of the hiring manager to onboard the Freelancer and create the conditions for smart collaboration  and productivity, in fact, a good deal of that responsibility will be transferred to the Freelancer because s/he is temporary, an outsider, and is positioned to take the blame should things go wrong.

Therefore, it is highly recommended that Freelancers take the lead and do what is possible to establish a working relationship with in-house collaborators that is productive, pleasant and lays the groundwork for repeat business and referrals.

  1. Ask the hiring manager to onboard you, so that you will be able to “hit the ground running” and quickly get to work on producing the project deliverables.
  • Request an overview that explains why the project is important to the organization.
  • Have a contract for the project, signed by you and the hiring manager, that specifies your duties, in-house support that will be provided, the budget, project milestones, the deliverables and the deadline, your hourly rate or project fee and what you’ll charge for client requested change orders and additional services requested.
  • Request the names and titles of any in-house project collaborators.
  • Specify the details of the lines of reporting and authority, so that you and everyone else knows who you answer to, since the hiring manager may not be the internal project lead.
  • Determine where your work will be done—off-site, at the organization, or a combination. How many hours must you spend at the company office? Where will  your work space be located? Must you bring your own computer and phone?
  • Request an introduction and meeting with your in-house collaborator(s), so that you can understand the organization culture (“how things get done around here”) and understand what you can do, or request from the company, to make the experience pleasant and productive for all parties.

2. Anticipate employee anxiety around the presence of an external consultant and work to quell the discomfort. Show respect for your collaborator’s deep knowledge of the organization and the project. Solicit their opinions on how to efficiently get the work done and political situations that can help or hurt you. Copy your collaborator(s) on important emails. Uncomfortable subjects might include:

  • Why was a Freelance consultant hired to do the interesting, mission-critical project and not long-term, loyal employees?
  • How much money is s/he being paid—is it more than me?
  • Will the consultant’s expertise and opinion be more highly valued than mine?
  • Is a company lay-off on the horizon?

3. Communicate frequently with your in-house collaborator(s), to promote transparency, build trust and ensure maximum productivity.

  • Make use of email and write reports that keep collaborators and the hiring manager updated on your work.
  • If you hit a stumbling block, ask for help, in writing.
  • Suggest a weekly or bi-weekly conference call or meeting at the client’s office, to compare notes and confirm that milestones and expectations are being met.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Rethinking Your Services

Like lovers, clients can be fickle. Both will tell you that they love you and everything about you and everything you do, that is until they don’t, and they leave you for someone else.  I take this to mean that in business as in love, one should never get too comfortable.  Continuing to do the same things in the same way can become very predictable and therefore boring.  You could eventually be considered to be outdated or out of touch.

Clients and lovers want to be understood.  They crave a partner who is aware of their shifting needs and priorities, without being told.  Talking to clients and lovers to find out how they feel about the relationship is a useful exercise, but the conversation will not always elicit the truth.  It could be that our perceived lapses and failings do not become apparent until a competitor comes along and persuades them that they can do better.

To sustain healthy and satisfying business and intimate relationships, we must hone our intuition and be prepared to never rest on our laurels.  Continually affirming one’s value is key, in both short and long-term scenarios.  I suspect that the 24 hour news cycle and 140 character messages have contributed to the brief attention spans, impatience and need for instant gratification that seem to have overtaken us.

In defense, I suggest that periodically, a brand refresh that includes an update in how services are described and packaged will do some good.  Think of Lady Gaga as you engineer a little shake-up every three years or so.  Staying abreast with what is happening in the industries in which your clients operate will be helpful, so that you can learn about the challenges and priorities that your clients see and you may be able to see opportunities for you new or expanded services.  If nothing else, you’ll can become fluent in the jargon and terms that your clients use to describe themselves and that will add to your credibility when you echo that in your content marketing and client meetings. When you speak their language they will know that you “get it” and that you can be trusted to deliver the outcomes they need.

As a caveat, I also suggest that you beware the temptation of giving your clients precisely what they say they want in every instance and in particular, avoid being swayed by a vocal minority.  Keep client preferences in mind (especially if a clear majority raises the same issues), but understand that clients (and lovers) are not always able to articulate what will make them happy enough to stay with you.

This may be apocryphal, but it’s been said that when the late founder of Ford Motor Company, the legendary inventor and entrepreneur Henry Ford, was asked if he spoke with potential customers to learn what improvements they wanted to see in the transportation field, replied, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’ ”

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky advised that when playing, you have to skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been. CEOs from Warren Buffet to the late Steve Jobs have quoted that line because keeping that advice in mind is how one builds a successful company.  Where the puck is going will be impacted by recent innovations, the economic climate and even social and political developments.  Always, we must stay on top of developments because that is the only way that one who is in business can project what clients might want us to do for them, either next month or next year.

So what does a Freelance consultant do to find out what’s going on? The short answer is to keep your eyes and ears open and fully engage in your business and your life.  Read blogs, newsletters and business magazines. Occasionally listen to a webinar, attend a seminar and go to a business or professional association meeting. Talk to your clients and colleagues, friends and family.

There is a tidal wave of information to soak up, but it isn’t necessary to drink from the firehose and become overwhelmed.  Just be consistent.  Be open to how new information can benefit your clients and you can ask their opinions about some of what you’ve heard or read.  Invite your clients to interpret some things for you, since they are best positioned to do so.  You will then understand the  big picture and when you do, you’ll see where the puck is going to be.

Thanks for reading,

KIm

 

A Press Kit That Tells Your Brand Story

It is true that social media and content marketing have forever transformed marketing strategies and advertising campaigns.  How brands reach out and engage with current and potential customers to communicate marketing messages, reinforce the brand and provide product information has become highly targeted and granular, often interactive and as a result, rather personal and designed to build relationships and a community.

The various social media platforms can be wonderful additions to your marketing and advertising plans, but they’ve not yet vanquished the trusty throwback that is the press kit. The press kit remains viable and is a must-have promotional tool for every organization—for-profit or not-for-profit, large, small, solopreneur, or start-up. Also known as a media kit, the press kit can be considered a resume for your business and with it you can create a narrative for your organization, in electronic format or as hard copy enclosed in a folder that you personally hand out.

Your press kit can contain any number of resources that inform recipients about your company and it can be customized to promote objectives you’d like to achieve. Business editors and journalists targeted to receive a press release, prospective clients that you plan to court, potential investors and business partners are among those who are press kit candidates.  Below is a list of ingredients that will help you tell your brand story:

1. Company Fact Sheet (known as the one sheet)

  • When and where the company was founded and its current location
  • Is the company privately or publicly held (date of initial public offering, if applicable)?
  • Company mission statement
  • Two or three of the most prominent clients if B2B, or largest target customer groups if B2C
  • Primary products or services
  • Number of employees
  • Company legal structure (corporation or limited liability company)
  • Website address and social media links

2. Photos

  • Professionally done headshots of the founder(s) and the leadership team (as high resolution images suitable for print or online publications)
  • A photo of the building where your office is located and/or a photo of the office entryway or reception area

3. Press releases

  • Selected press releases that have been sent to media outlets
  • Links to (selected) articles that have been written about the organization
  • Links to (selected) industry related articles written by the founder(s) or other company leaders

4. Videos

  • A three-minute clip of the founder(s) giving an overview of the company story, or announcing a new product or strategic partnership (if production budget is available)
  • If the founder(s) has been interviewed on television or radio to speak about the company or the industry, include a three-minute clip.

Business editors and journalists will be more willing to feature or include your company in an article if you can quickly email a press kit that gives them some background information.  If you plan to contact media outlets to announce a new product or service, for example, or let the public know that you will participate in a noteworthy charity event in your metro area,  put together an online media kit before you send the press release.

Before you hit the send button, call the publication and confirm who should receive the information.  A day or two after sending, call to confirm that it was received and ask if additional information would be appreciated.  Offer to send your press kit. Invite the reporter to your office for a casual chat or a formal interview (you can hand out the hard copy press kit if you’ve not yet sent the online version).

If attracting prestige clients to join your roster is the goal, your press kit can be an effective marketing tool that helps to convince those prospects that you are capable, trustworthy and have a good track record.  Prospects will learn the basics about you, your leadership team, the history of your company. They’ll see that you’ve worked with other good clients and that media outlets have written about, or quoted you (if you include press clippings).

Financial and business performance information, such as year-end balance sheets, growth and earnings statistics and other key performance indicators will please potential investors and partners and allow them to quickly understand the financial position of the company. Your press kit can potentially help to persuade certain of them to enter discussions that could result in an infusion of cash that would propel your venture to the next level.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Social Media Platforms: Review and Reassess

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March – April 2016, 68% of all U.S. adults use FaceBook; 28% use Instagram; 25% are on LinkedIn; 26% use Pinterest; and 21% use Twitter.  I’d consider that a compelling reason to ramp up your social media game, that is, if your can expect your customers to respond.  Not only that, participating in social media makes your business more appealing to the all-powerful Google algorithm and your place on the list is guaranteed to rise.  You might even land on page one.  Visibility, coupled with a story that resonates, is what marketing is all about.

The secret sauce of social media for your business is first, work with platforms that allow you to reach your customers and second, supply the style of content that will effectively tell your brand story and hold the attention of your customers, while using media formats that you have the time and money to produce.

Theoretically, social media is free advertising that lets you promote your brand, but there are costs associated with its production.  Time is the largest cost and if you include videos now and again, there will be video production costs.  Also remember that when in business, your job is to find and maintain clients.  Social media have a greater or lesser place in business, depending on your products and services, but it’s not the center of the universe.  If social media play a pivotal role in your marketing strategy based on the ROI generated, consider outsourcing the function to a fellow Freelancer.

Pinterest

The Pinterest platform allows members to “pin, ” that is post, photos and videos to what is called a pinboard and the format has made Pinterest an excellent vehicle to tell a brand story in visuals.  If the products or services that your company provides can tell and promote your brand story in a series of lovely photographs or catchy short videos—florists, fashion designers, interior designers, restaurateurs, pastry chefs and special event planners —then this platform is ideal for you.

As of January 2017, there are 150 million Pinterest users and 80 million are outside of the U.S.  Just over 80% are female.  The practice of “re-pinning” favored postings helps content to go viral and pushes you to the top of Google searches that could result in your name appearing on “trending” lists on sites like Yahoo News.

Infographics, those pictures, charts and graphs that also include text and give you yet another way to utilize visuals that help readers to quickly understand your narrative. are a great fit for Pinterest (and also Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn).  If you have the ability and time, use Photoshop to create a customized infographic, but do investigate the several free templates available as you evaluate what could be suitable for your story.  Much depends on the information that you’d like to share.  Some data will look best in bar graphs or pie charts; other elements of your brand story could be more captivating if presented in storyboard format.

Snapchat

Here it is, the platform that millennials love.  As of January 2017, the typical Snapchat user is female and under 34 years old (70% for both parameters).  41% of the 18-24 age group in the U.S. check into Snapchat every day, mostly on their smartphones. The platform has 300 million users worldwide (November 2016).

Your content will self-destruct in 24 hours, so your text and images must be memorable because tomorrow they will be gone.  But that’s sort of the fun part.  Snapchat is meant to be fun and ephemeral, like champagne bubbles in a pretty flute.

Restaurant owners can post photos of the daily specials.  Art galleries can post a piece or two of an artist’s work and announce his/her exhibit that will happen that evening.  Retail stores can advertise one-day sales.  Florists can can use their smart phones to make a short video on of themselves and the flowers that they’ll bring into the shop from that morning’s flower market.  Food trucks can send a photo of where you can find them for the day.

Twitter

As of January 2017 there are nearly  320 million users tweeting around the globe and 82% of those users are on a mobile device when they do.  Users skew slightly more female and the demographic sweet spot is 18-50 years.  Twitter revolutionized social media and along the way, impacted how many of us communicate, thanks to the 140 character limit on tweets that caused us to pare down and condense our sentences.  Twitter has also taken part in social revolutions, most notably the Arab Spring of 2010-2012 that rocked from Tunisia to Persia.

Use Twitter to give real-time updates from an event you’re attending.  Send photos, videos, or links to articles and share your professional insights.  Invite readers to respond with their opinions and create the opportunity to engage with your audience.  Add Twitter to your PR campaign and send out news of your speaking engagements.  Include Twitter in your customer service protocol and invite customers to make suggestions that might improve service and help you better understand how to meet or exceed expectations.  A few might even thank you for a job well done and make you look good to many prospective customers !

YouTube

One billion global citizens post videos to powerhouse YouTube and 180 million of those aspiring videographers are in the U.S. (January 2017) and many of the posted videos are of high quality. Thousands of YouTube users have created their own successful channels that sometimes rival network and cable television shows.  The platform is overwhelmingly about entertainment, but if you conduct tutorials and workshops, you might be able to build for yourself a nice little paid speaking career by posting a few of your workshops and picking up subscribers to your channel.  Maybe 23 minutes of education and 5 or 6 minutes total of intro and recap would work?

If you don’t mind being on camera for extended periods, you can hire someone to film  a behind-the-scenes view of you at work, especially if you do something that has the potential to capture viewer interest, like planning a wedding—talking to the couple (anonymously, of course), speaking with vendors and doing whatever it takes to efficiently pull together a lovely and memorable day.

You may want a system to help you manage your content across platforms and for that I recommend Hootsuite, that is if you’re inclined to invest $20/month in a service that allows you to schedule and track your many forms of content from one dashboard.  Pulling all the threads together will allow you to see the big picture, make it easy to see where you can re-use content and can only improve your social media strategy, impact and ROI.

In closing, I’ll remind you of social media best practices and encourage you to create content that can be expected to have value for the followers.  Pace the delivery of your content and do not overwhelm.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Social Media Platform Review

Unless you are an incredibly well-connected Freelance consultant who is out there making a killing and maybe even turning business away (yes, I know a half-dozen people who fit that description but it ain’t me!), social media plays some role in your branding and marketing strategies.  Each platform has its uses and will be a good fit for some businesses and maybe not so much for others.  The platforms are all free, but remember that time is a valuable and limited asset.  No matter how responsive to social media marketing your venture is, Freelancers and small business owners cannot maintain a presence on every platform,  unless you outsource the function (but if the dollars are there, then it could be worth the investment).

As carefully as you manage your money, likewise manage the time you apply to the social media portion of your marketing strategy (and I mean portion, because social media is not the alpha and omega of marketing).  Get started by first asking yourself what you would like your broader marketing strategy to achieve and then what each platform can do to support that aim.

Everything always starts with your clients, your target markets.  Who are they and what kinds of social marketing might they respond to? B2B clients will require a different approach and will have different expectations than B2C customers, for example.  Next, think about what you would like social media outreach to do for you?

Is your objective to promote products or services, or promote awareness of your brand story (that is, who you are, what motivated you to go into business, what your venture sells and something of your values and priorities as regards the business)? Might you like to build relationships and a community of customers who will also talk to each other and you? Does supporting customer service have a place in your social media objectives?

Finally, how do you want to express your story narrative? You will notice that my blog content is exclusively text (but I did include images in two posts and a video in another, a couple of years ago).  I’d like to include photos sometimes, but I don’t have time to hunt down freebies online, so I chose to research, write and present topics that you might want to read about in text format.

Facebook

The biggest of the platforms with about 1.86 billion users (February 2017) around the world, who represent an all-encompassing demographic spectrum.  There are somewhat more women users than men and the bulk of the age demographic is 25-60 years.  47% of Americans say that Facebook is their primary influencer when it comes to making purchases (Forbes Magazine).

Especially those who are in B2C and for some in B2B, Facebook will bring excellent ROI.  In-store events and promotions, speaking engagements, your workshops and other events can be announced to Facebook Friends.  Content provided in text, photos, or video can be uploaded.  You can create groups and build communities, or post a customer survey.  Share behind-the-scenes information about your business and what it takes to do what you do and in the process engage with customers, strengthen your brand and build relationships.

Does that sound like too much work and too much sharing? Then create a Fan Page and limit your presence to basic info.  Be aware that your presentation of text, photos and other content should be relaxed and welcoming, to create a personal feel (but remember that business is nevertheless the context).

Instagram

You’ll find 500 million users around the world here and 80% are outside of the U.S. On average, 95 million photos and videos are shared every day, with many accessed on a mobile device (present your content accordingly).  At least 42% of teens in the U.S. follow Instagram, with the demographic sweet spot 14-35 years and slightly skewed to female.  Instagram is about photo sharing, very short video trailers and concise text posting that includes a hashtag # that helps to spread your content.  Add a link to your profile bio.  Decide if you want a public or members-only account. Links cannot be shared.

Visual storytelling, behind-the-scenes photo montages, social selling, brand awareness, engaging with customers and creating relationships are good uses of this platform. If you are in public relations or special event/conference planning, then you will find worthwhile B2B use, otherwise it’s B2C as far as I can tell.

LinkedIn

As of January 2017, LinkedIn has 467 million users globally and it’s considered the gold standard B2B social media platform, very effective for communicating one’s personal brand.  I think most users place it at the junction of free website and online curriculum vitae. Business ventures large and small,  Freelance consultants, corporate and nonprofit leaders,  physicians and dentists, any employee who harbors professional aspirations and most college students  have a LinkedIn profile page. Recruiters use of the platform as well, to identify potential candidates for job openings and their success has motivated  thousands of companies to post job openings on the site.

LinkedIn is an excellent platform on which to build a community of professional colleagues through your connections and share with them your professional story, successes, highlights and other updates. This blog posts to my LinkedIn page and my connections receive notice of its arrival.  Your connections will also share their stories and there is great opportunity to be in touch and nurture relationships.

Professional portfolios, videos, white papers, newsletters, blogs, infographics and SlideShare presentations can be added to your profile page to add depth to your brand story.  Links to articles or studies that could interest your connections can be posted. Recommendations and endorsements let others verify your professional bona fides and you can return the favor.

In the Groups section, you’ll engage with colleagues within your industry, or with alumni of your school. Topics of interest are explored through posted questions and group members can respond and in the process get to know one another and possibly, forge  relationships that lead to doing business.

We’ll continue next week with overviews of more commonly used social media platforms.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Will That Be Check or Credit Card?

As every Freelance consultant knows, it is our pleasure and privilege to perform interesting and often mission-critical projects for clients whom we like and respect.  However, getting paid is the endgame and without exception, we all breathe a sigh of relief when the check arrives.  One vital element of maintaining adequate cash-flow in your business is to invoice on time, a topic that I covered a while back  Invoicing Inertia: The Cure .

Invoicing is only half of the battle, alas; it is smart and proactive cash management to make payment of invoices as swift and seamless as possible for the client.  In good economic times and bad, every once in a while clients will experience constricted cash-flow, even if they are the larger entity.  The ability to use a credit card to pay one of your outstanding invoices can be a great relief to them and could get accounts receivable into your hands as many as a few weeks earlier.

Let’s explore the basics of accepting credit cards and how to get started as a merchant who accepts the cards.  Twenty years ago, I spent a couple of years as an independent merchant payment services agent, selling Master Card, Visa, Discover and American Express processing services and card terminals to small business owners, so this topic is a nice walk through history for me.

Let’s start with some likely good options for a Freelance consultant.  Along with credit cards, you will also want to accept debit cards and eChecks.  You’ll choose the card not present processing option, so that clients can call you when the invoice arrives and phone in payment.  You may also decide to accept mobile payments, meaning that you will be able to accept client payments through your smart phone or tablet while you are at their office, or other location and to make that possible, you’ll also select the card present option.  In all scenarios, 48 hours post-transaction, the payment will be deposited into your business bank account.  You may not choose to invest in a (costly) credit card terminal unless clients visit your office.  Your card present transactions, if you do them, will most likely be mobile device payments.  You may decide against accepting American Express cards, since its processing fees are at least a point higher than Visa, MasterCard or Discover.

Call your business bank to get information about processing fees (about 2.5% of the transaction amount and 3.5% for AmEx cards).  There is also a separate fee called a transaction fee.  Freelance consultants will process few credit card transactions in a month and your transaction fee will be higher as a result.  In addition, there will be a service initiation fee and maybe also an annual fee.  Finally, there will be a statement fee if you’d like to receive  the hard copy of card, eCheck and mobile payments that you accepted.

The merchant approval process will center around an evaluation of your credit history and credit score, so if you need to pay down/pay off bills to improve your financial picture, do that first.  The associated merchant services fees will probably be impacted by your credit score.

If mobile payments will be explored, I can almost guarantee that Square will offer good service at very competitive processing rates  https://squareup.com/  You can also call Discover, Visa and Mastercard directly and find out what they’ll charge for your chosen merchant services.  Your bank may be where you buy eCheck processing services but then again, you may be able to negotiate a good merchant services package with your bank and get all that you want in one place.

Then there is the matter of security during the age of hacking, phishing and data breaches. If you belong to a business networking group, find a colleague who does internet services and ask how you take security precautions on your end.  The merchant services industry stays on top of security matters, but they are not infallible.

To sum up, be advised that although the various merchant services fees are an issue and you’ll want to secure the most competitive processing rates, good service and convenience matter.  As much as the process of expert payment transactions, you must seek out a system that will be reliable and user-friendly for both you and your clients.  A positive, glitch-free experience and excellent customer support are usually worth somewhat higher fees.  Consider it the cost of doing business. Getting paid by clients ASAP is, after all, the endgame.

Thanks for reading,

KIm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outsourcing Your Content Marketing: Legal Safeguards

Regarding the process of content marketing, I work both sides of the street.  In addition to generating original content for this blog, for the past 6 or 7 years I’ve worked as an outsourcer, both generating and editing content for two monthly newsletters and serving as editor only for a third.

The practice of content marketing has taken root in many organizations, from Freelance consultancies to multi-national corporations.  The responsibility for generating a good deal of that content has been outsourced.  President Trump is apparently the author of his own tweets but many corporate execs, government leaders, celebrities and other public figures are not.  Text, images, audio and video content destined for blogs, newsletters, webinars and an array of social media platforms might be created by an in-house social media specialist or, increasingly, the function is performed by an external marketing firm or a talented and plucky Freelance consultant.

Ideally, your content marketing will become an effective inbound marketing strategy and “pull” self-selected potential prospects who will be primed to become your customers.  Along the way, good content will also enable customer engagement and enhance and promote your organization’s brand.

Producing top quality marketing content is time-consuming and you may at some point decide to outsource all, or segments, of it.  Before you finalize that decision, take the time to consider what you would like your content to do for your organization; how much content it makes sense to produce; and how you can protect your intellectual property (because the content represents you and your business, whether or not you write it).

Determine the best content marketing platforms for your business

As always, it’s necessary to know your customers and target markets to determine the type of content that will resonate.  B2B clients will have different expectations than B2C or B2G customers and you must reflect that in your platform choices.  Be advised that you cannot and should not attempt to be all things to all people.  Consider picking one or two options, depending on the size of your organization and budget.  Develop an editorial calendar so that you will feature relevant seasonal topics throughout the year.

  • Weekly blog
  • Monthly newsletter
  • Semi-annual webinar
  • Email marketing
  • Social media updates
  • Semi-annual case studies
  • Annual video (with audio) featuring you or other key team members

Specify the outsourcing requirements

Clearly describe what you would like your outsourced content specialist to do.  Do you want content creation and editing, or do you want editing services only for content that you create? Will your content be original, or will you mostly feature short preludes that introduce links to other articles that tell your story? Would you like images included in your newsletter or blog? Might you like short videos to be embedded in your blog or newsletter and will that function be the focus of the outsourced duties?

Finally, when would you like your blog or newsletter to publish (for example, every Tuesday at 6:00 AM or on the 15th of every month?) Share your proposed editorial calendar and publishing schedule with your outsourcer, so that s/he will know what to create and when to have the content ready.

Assign the content copyright

Stay on top of this one, people.  Be advised that unless you specify in the outsourcing contract that all content belongs to you, then ownership will lie with the outsourcer who creates it.  On your own, or after your outsourcer is no longer in your employ, you may want to repackage text, images, or video from your blog or newsletter and use it on your website, in email marketing letters, or in a book (that could be written by you or by the original content outsourcer, a ghost author) and you must ensure that you will have the unrestricted use of what you paid for.

Further, you are advised to include an indemnification clause against possible copyright infringement of text and images that the outsourcer may (unwittingly) commit.  Some images are free, 95-year-old plus images are in the public domain and others are for sale.  Misinterpretation can be costly.  Also, proper credit must be given to images and failure to do so will cause legal problems for you.  Your business entity is the publisher of the content and is the responsible party.

Address the potential legal liabilities of your content

If your content addresses a subject that requires some manner of official licensing—medical, legal, investment, architectural, engineering, or nutritional, for example—it will be wise to include disclaimers or some assurance to readers that the information provided meets accepted regulatory standards and best practices.

Contract with outsourcing termination clause

Include all points detailed above in a contract that is signed by both you and your outsourcer and send a signed copy to the outsourcer.  Hire an intellectual property attorney to review your draft contract to ensure that both you and your outsourcer are protected.   Be certain to specify  who owns the content and how it can be used after the work relationship has ended.  Non-disclosure of potentially sensitive information can also be included.

Thanks for reading,

Kim