Optimize Online Content for Voice Search

The thing about internet technology is that we’re always playing catch-up.  First, we researched and identified the best key words for our products and services as we introduced Search Engine Optimization to our websites and eventually, our social media postings.  Next, we hired a web developer to add the responsive design capability to our websites, so that they would download correctly into smartphones and tablets.

It appears that for our latest update, we must ensure that we’re using long-tailed key words, i.e. phrases, that will capture the voice activated searches of Siri and Alexa. Adweek reports that 67 million voice assisted devices will be in use in the U.S. before this year ends and that’s your motivation to seed your online content with phrases most likely to be recognized by A.I. enabled searches.

But let’s begin at the beginning—have you made any voice activated searches? If not, then try it out and make note of what you say.  The next time that you listen to iHeart Radio, grab your iPhone and ask “Siri, play Michael Jackson.” Or speak to your Android and ask, “Alexa, order us a half gallon of milk and a box of Fig Newtons.”

Notice that words such as where, find, order, how, who and where are often used in voice searches and you will be wise to include those words when you update your content for voice search optimization.  As well, keep in mind that voice searches are often used when the prospect is in motion and typing is inconvenient, for example, when walking or driving.

Voice search requires us to adjust our thinking (again!) to that of a potential customer and not of a business owner or marketer.  What questions might a prospect ask when looking for information about your particular expertise? “Siri, find me architects in Philadelphia that do over kitchens and baths.” “Alexa, who are web developers in Tulsa that can create a new website for me?” “Who can help me plan the company meeting we’ll hold in Milwaukee in October of this year?” “Where can I find a dog walker near me in Natchez?”

Voice search key word phrases are like a conversation and your online content should respond in kind.  Your newsletters, blog posts, FAQs page, white papers, case studies and descriptions of your products and services are ideal places to embed phrases that resemble prospect questions that are likely to be asked in voice searches.

Your prospective customers do not use industry-speak buzzwords such as leverage, growth hack, synergy, visionary, or disruptive.  Is it not time to purge those words anyway? Your prospects are looking for answers, so give them the answers in everyday words that everyone uses.  KISS–keep it simple, stupid—as you update your content to answer basic questions, including facts such as the products your organization sells, the services provided, the address of your business if customers can be expected to come in and the opening and closing times.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Taping Gang Busters, the “only national (radio) program that brings you authentic police case histories.” The program was broadcast from January 1936 – November 1957.

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Dates to Keep You Straight

Every year, Freelancers have an important list of dates to remember and act on, primarily those related to tax filings, retirement account management and health insurance plan enrollment. To help you stay organized, I’ve compiled this date planner that brings together all deadlines into one document that you can bookmark, copy into your calendar or even print out and post on your refrigerator.

TAXES

January 31, 2019: 1099-MISC due to contractors
Those who hired Freelancers (independent contractors) to whom they paid $600 or more in the previous year must send 1099-MISC forms by January 31, 2019.  If a client paid you less than $600, then you probably will not be mailed a 1099-MISC, although the IRS nevertheless requires you to report all income.

Do keep scrupulous records of who owes you a 1099-MISC so that you can accurately report your income on your tax return.  Your clients will also send 1099-MISC data re: you to the IRS and any differences between your numbers and the clients’ could trigger an audit.  If you haven’t received a 1099-MISC from a client by January 31, contact your client ASAP and request a re-send.

If you used any subcontractors to whom you paid at least $600 last year, you must likewise send them a 1099-MISC by January 31.

April 15, 2019: Individual income tax filing deadline
You have until April 15, 2019 to file your Form 1040 individual income tax return for 2018. Be aware that April 15 isn’t the deadline to pay your taxes — tax payments for Freelancers are due on a quarterly schedule (see 2019 quarterly estimated tax deadlines, below). If you wait until the tax filing deadline to pay your taxes, the IRS may charge you penalties and interest on top of the tax you owe.

If you’re still waiting for information, or you’re too busy to file a return by April 15, you may apply for a six-month extension that gives you until October 15, 2019 to file. The extension application needs to be filed by April 15, 2019. Remember again that the extension is for filing, not paying your taxes.  Payments are still due on the quarterly schedule no matter when you file and penalties and interest can accumulate if you wait to pay.

QUARTERLY TAX FILING DATES

The IRS requires business owners to pay income taxes on a quarterly schedule. This may seem like a hassle, but it’s easier to pay in four installments than to try and come up with a whole year’s worth of income taxes all at once.

Here are the 2019 deadlines for quarterly estimated tax payments. Note that the four quarters are not of equal lengths: the 2nd Quarter covers only April and May, while the 4th Quarter covers the last four months of the year.

DEADLINE                                                         PERIOD COVERED

April 15, 2019                                                     January 1 – March 31, 2019

June 17, 2019                                                      April 1 – May 31, 2019

September 16, 2019                                           June 1 – August 31, 2019

January 15, 2020                                                September 1 – December 31, 2019

 

RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS

April 15, 2019: Deadline to set up and contribute to an IRA for 2018
Even if you made no contributions to your retirement savings account in 2018, you can still make a 2018 contribution to an IRA up until April 15, 2019. This includes traditional, Roth and SEP IRAs. You can also make 2019 contributions to these plans from now up until next year’s tax filing deadline of April 15, 2020.

December 31, 2019: Deadline to set up an individual 401(K) 
An individual 401(K) is another type of plan that Freelancers can use to save for retirement. One important detail is that an individual 401(K) must be established by December 31st of the first plan year (as opposed to an IRA, which can be opened up until April 15 of the following year). That means it’s too late to set up an individual 401(K) for 2018, but you may set one up for 2019.

Contribution limits 2019 update:

Solo 401(K)                                                                                                                            Employer: 20% of net self-employment income                                                            Employee: 100 % of earned income up to $19,000 (for age 50 years +, up to $25,000)   Total combined contribution: $56,000

Traditional or Roth 401(K)                                                                                                     $6000 annually $7000 if age 50 years +

SEP IRA                                                                                                                                               The lesser of 20% of net self-employment income, or $56,000 annually

 

HEALTH INSURANCE

The open enrollment dates to purchase health insurance for 2020 on the Affordable Care Act exchange will be November 1 – December 15, 2019.  Open enrollment for 2020 through the national health insurance exchange will also be run from November 1 – December 15, 2019.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Market Research: Social Media Sleuthing

How many articles have you seen that counseled business owners to “deliver value”,  “know the client’s pain points”, or “create a marketable business model”?  It’s great advice, but no one tells you how to do it.  How can a Freelancer or small business owner who is not armed with a 5-figure marketing budget unearth such information quickly and inexpensively?

You already know that it’s essential to communicate to clients, in a number of ways, that you understand their needs, the results they’re trying to achieve and that you’ve got the know-how to get the job done.  When invited to speak with a decision-maker about a potential role in a project, I recommend that you turn to the company’s social media feeds, ranking sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor and the website and take notes on what you find—and you will find! Social media platforms and websites contain posts, newsletters, case studies, videos and/or audio reels that provide a treasure chest of information that you can use:

  • Marketing messages promoted to current and prospective customers
  • News about upcoming product and service launches
  • Indication of the products and services their customers prefer
  • Customer service complaints and compliments
  • Special promotional events
  • How the company positions itself against key competitors
  • Insights into whether customers skew male or female
  • The age range of customers
  • Job titles of customers if the company is B2B

Once you understand the prospect’s customers more completely, you can identify discussion topics and questions that will make you shine when you and the prospect meet. You’ll develop a winning sales pitch that speaks directly to the prospect’s needs, including perhaps matters that were not fully articulated when you first spoke with the prospect.

  • You’ll portray yourself as a highly competent, capable, trustworthy problem-solving professional who has the expertise to not only get the job done, but also to exceed expectations.
  • Your asking price will reflect the above conditions, meaning you’ll be able to command a premium price for your product or service (as determined by the client’s budget).

Now what if you are in the midst of writing a business plan to launch a new company, or conducting a business model refresh, perhaps in response to some inevitable disruption in the market place? Once again, social media sleuthing will reveal information that will ensure your business model will appeal to the evolving tastes and expectations of your target customers. You’ll be positioned to predict what factors will resonate for target customers, from their preferences regarding product or service features in your category, to the best way to express the perceived benefits and designing the ideal customer experience.

Social media postings will bring to light the big picture of your target customers and help you understand what makes them unique. You can then explore how your products and services can appeal to those distinctive attributes and conditions, in particular those needs and preferences that are either not fulfilled or are insufficiently served by competitors. Your product or service line, marketing materials, advertising and marketing campaigns, packaging, hours of operation, pricing and payment options will be structured to accommodate the distinguishing needs of your target customers.  You will capture your target market and your business will thrive as a result.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Peter Sellers in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

 

5 Ingredient Recipe to Make a Profit

It is useful to simplify and de-mystify processes that are prone to confuse or intimidate, frustrate or overwhelm.  Stripping complex processes down to their basic ingredients allows a clear picture to emerge and reveals how the gears and levers really work.  It is then easier to understand how to build out, alter, or sustain as needed.  A recipe (or formula, if you will) can de developed and codified.

Just like your favorite cookie or potato salad recipes, there are recipes that can be used to develop a profitable business enterprise. Let’s look this profit-making ingredient list:

LEADS

That is, prospects. Those individuals who consider doing business with you.  You may meet them in person anywhere and if they pose serious questions about your business that seem to make follow-up discussion appropriate, then consider that person a prospect.  If someone visits your website and pages through in search of information about your products and services, those visitors are also prospects.

CONVERSION RATE

Prospects who do business, whether they purchase a product or sign a contract for your company to provide a service.

AVERAGE DOLLAR SALE

You can calculate the average sale on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.  Divide the accounts receivable amount by the number of hours invoiced.

AVERAGE NUMBER SALES

Depending on your business, you may have only two or three projects in house at a given time.  Intangible service providers often have bigger ticket sales (projects) that are fewer in number than tangible service or product providers.

PROFIT MARGIN

This metric will be much easier to determine in a retail business, where wholesale acquisition costs or product production costs are readily verified.  Service providers must estimate their wholesale cost to produce that which is sold to clients.  If you provide graphics services or shoot videos, what does it cost you to provide the service? That estimated amount will be deducted from the hourly or project rate that you bill the client and that will reveal the profit margin.

  1. Leads X Conversion rate = Clients
  2. Clients X Average Dollar Sale = Revenue
  3. Revenue X Profit margin = Profit

Consider this example.  In your business, you, your newsletter or blog, social media accounts and your website make contact with an average 20 leads a month and you manage, on average, to convert one in every five of those prospects into a paying client, giving your organization a 20% conversion rate.

Leads (20) x Conversion rate (20%) = Clients (4/month) 

A reasonable estimate of the wholesale value of your time —-considered your production expense—to provide one of your services is $40.00/hour.  You typically bill at $65.00/hour, meaning that your hourly net income is $25.00/hour.

To calculate your profit margin, determine the amount of revenue (before deducting expenses) that your business earned during the calculation period.  For this example, we’ll have you bill those four clients a total of 100 hours/month, as 25 hours each per month, invoiced at your usual $65.00/hour for a total of $6500.00 gross revenue (sales) earned monthly. You invoice each client $1625.00 a month. Your $25.00/hour net income amounts to $2500.00 in a typical month.

Clients (4) x Avg. Dollar Sale ($1625)  =  Revenue $6500.00

The profit margin is calculated by dividing the monthly net income of $2500.00 by the gross monthly revenue (sales) of $6500.00 to reveal a monthly profit margin of 38.46%.  The profit (in contrast to either gross or net revenue) is calculated by multiplying the profit margin of 38.46% X  the gross revenue (sales) of $6500.00, that equals $2500.00/ month profit. You may recognize that figure as your monthly net income!

Revenue ($6500.00) x Profit margin (38.46%) = $2500.00

So there you have it.  As you can deduce, proprietors of service businesses that see few clients each month can, after doing research that helps determine a reasonable wholesale cost of your labor when providing services, can really impact profit by appropriately pricing services offered.  An increase of just $5.00/hour will add $500.00/month to the four client, 25 hours/month per client, total of 100 hours/month scenario presented here.

You’d invoice each client at $1750.00 per month, rather than $1625.00, and your monthly gross revenue (sales) would be $7000.00, a nice improvement over $6500.00/ month. To account for the inevitable fluctuations in Freelancer earnings, I estimate that for 10 months/ year one can reasonably expect to earn at the projected level shown here.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph:  © Girl Scouts of America, circa 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.

 

Work Smart: Your New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year! Thank you for starting the year with Freelance: The Consultant’s Diary.  This is the 10th Anniversary Year.  I am grateful for your support—subscribers, followers and occasional readers.

Let’s get the year off to a good start and talk about how to maximize the time and effort that you devote to operating your business.  Time is our most valuable resource because it’s irreplaceable.  Smart people are aware that if the goal is to build and sustain a successful venture, then one must formulate strategies designed to produce the best results ASAP.  Working hard is a given, but working smart will get you where you want to go, faster and easier.  The following are behaviors anyone can follow to support the competitive advantage of working smart.

Wake up early

Biologist Christoph Randler, Professor of Biology at the University of Tuebingen in Germany, recommends the early to bed, early to rise philosophy attributed to the American statesman Benjamin Franklin for those who want to become high achievers.

Dr. Randler says early risers are “better positioned for career success because they’re more proactive than people who are at their best in the evening.” Randler theorizes that their success stems from the discipline and conscientiousness associated with the preference for an early wake up call and the tendency of those individuals to make plans and to-do lists to ensure that tasks for the day ahead are completed.

Start your day with an early morning workout and give yourself a blast of energy that keeps you going all day long.  Numerous credible studies have demonstrated that moderate to vigorous exercise of 30-60 minutes duration performed at least three days each week makes us smarter, more resilient and healthier.

Never stop learning

Read books and other publications that address business topics relevant to your industry.  Attend workshops and conferences.  Join a professional association and/or your local chamber of commerce or local business association.

The SBA  and your local public library and/or adult learning center regularly sponsor workshops designed for independent business professionals.  Research the availability of courses that will upgrade your skills in any number of business sectors, from finance to Microsoft Excel, content marketing to selling skills.

In other words, if your goal is to become successful, or to sustain your success, then get some education.  Investigate also the dozens of free courses presented by top-ranked universities that are available on-line at sites such as Open Culture/Business and Coursera.

Ask for help

If you wonder how Freelancer colleagues have been able to build successful ventures that leave yours in the dust, the answer is that they most likely have highly marketable capabilities (perhaps only perceived) and relationships that you do not have.  When choosing to go into business, the smart thing to do is enter a field in which you have expert-level experience that you’ve earned at a company where you also had a job title that not only conveys leadership and but will also guarantee that you’ll know people who will become your first customers.

Along with skills and connections, your successful colleagues most likely had additional help that they hired. A graphic artist with website building talent may have created the beautiful website that navigates so well.  A marketing specialist could have shaped website text to inspire trust and convert visitors into prospects and prospects into customers.

If billable hours are sub par, get creative and consider how you can obtain some free or low-cost help that will guide and support your plan to expand your customer base and grow sales revenue.  Inquire at a local adult learning centers and your public library to investigate development programs.

As well, your local SBA will have retired executives happy to share useful marketing advice and even help you develop effective sales talking points.  In the process, you may refine your ability to recognize which demographic groups have the most potential to become your customers.  Insights into how to price your tangible or intangible services can be another valuable piece of advice you might seek out, since pricing is a cornerstone of a profitable enterprise.

Set boundaries

Sometimes it’s necessary to back away from certain people.  You know, those who seem to have many creative strategies designed to pull you away from that which you must or would like to do, either with finesse or the blunt force of badgering or guilting.  When you’ve made a plan for the day, the last thing you need is some controlling, manipulative person to burst into your life with a mission to upend it.

Pulling away from those who do not respect your boundaries will probably be difficult because boundary bandits are not afraid to make others feel uncomfortable.  They have entitlement issues and they are relentless about enforcing their agenda.  Some will wheedle and whine.  Others will arm-twist and put you up against the wall.  All are out to shake you down.  None is good for your life or your business.

Be strong, fight back and put them in their place.  You alone are authorized to control your time and priorities and not even your parents or siblings have the right to hijack you.  Some relationships may need to be significantly curtailed, if not severed.  It’s sad, but it’s on them and not you.  Your boundaries are nonnegotiable.

Thank you for reading. I wish you the best year ever!

Kim

Image: Hauling Nets on Skagens North Beach, 1883 by Peder Severin Kroyer (Denmark, 1851 – 1909) courtesy of Skagens Museum in Skagen, Denmark

Common Challenges That Impact Solopreneur Ventures

Starting a business is an impressive achievement that’s guaranteed to make you proud, but the real victory lies in your ability to grow and sustain the venture.  A Solopreneur business owner must be both leader and manager, competencies that seldom co-exist within the same person.

Leadership skills support your ability to formulate a guiding vision for your enterprise, recognize business opportunities, devise strategies, find new customers and develop marketing plans, as well as inspire potential investors, collaborators and employees.

Management skills direct your  focus to administrative functions, as well as business operations, financial management, risk management, quality control and customer service.

While it’s recommended that Solopreneurs cultivate both skill sets, it’s probably inevitable that the average person will favor one competency over the other.  Nevertheless, it is important to hone both leadership and managerial capabilities so that you are better prepared to position the venture to overcome the challenges that visit every business, regardless of industry, annual sales revenue, or number of employees.  Discussed below are two of the five common business challenges that we’ll examine.

CLIENT LIST

How many active clients are on your roster? How many do you bill at least $1000/ month, on average? I completely understand that for a Solopreneur, every client counts and that it’s so comfortable to provide services to just one or two clients who are generous with billable hours.

However, succeeding in business means pushing beyond comfort level and actively discouraging one’s tendency to become complacent. Furthermore, depending on one or two big clients for the lion’s share of annual revenue places the business in a vulnerable position.

What will happen to your billable hours if your contact at that company moves on? There can be no guarantee that the next person will continue to send projects your way.  Be advised that the new person has Solopreneur friends with whom s/he has previously worked and it’s reasonable to believe that it will be game over for someone who’s thought to have ridden the gravy train for a number of years.

Demonstrate your leadership skills and protect your venture as you pursue potential prospects to nurture your sales pipeline.  A diversified active client list is an insurance policy.  Furthermore, growing your list of viable prospects encourages you to operate as a real Solopreneur and not just a sub-contractor for a larger entity.

MONEY MANAGEMENT

Early in the life cycle of a business, the most important money matter is simply to earn enough to pay the bills, for the business and your personal life.  On the next rung, you’ll begin to consider the amount of investment capital needed to finance upgrades that will make you and the company appear more competent and trustworthy to clients, prospects and referring colleagues and friends.

The company website must have a professional look and download quickly.  Printed marketing materials must reinforce the superior quality of your brand and communicate your expertise.  Even the look of your invoice matters.  You’ll also need enough revenue to occasionally attend conferences to upgrade your skills and expand your networking options.

BTW, to promote a predictable cash flow, it is not uncommon for Soloprenuers to take a job, whether it’s an under the radar gig such as  bartending or waitressing, or a more typical opportunity such as teaching, where one’s professional skills are parlayed into an arena other than the usual client work.

Unless you have a background in finance, consulting with a good accountant and/ or bookkeeper is the best way to ensure that your venture has astute financial management.  Meet quarterly with a bookkeeper and semi-annually with the accountant to learn how to take the necessary steps to strengthen your business finances.

I’ll return to discuss more common business challenges.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Members of the Acorda Capoeira perform on a roof top in Rio de Janeiro (July 2016)

Shaping the Customer Experience

For all products and services, from the lunch you buy at a favorite restaurant to the purchase of a luxury automobile, the experience of the buying process matters more than ever, it seems. “Service with a smile” barely scratches the surface today. Buying a product or service has officially become a journey, a series of experiences that Freelancers and business owners must create and perfect. There are three phases:

  • The pre-purchase experience, when prospective customers browse advertisements, search company websites and scrutinize social media feeds and online reviews to obtain information about product/ service choices and prices to confirm or modify their expectations.
  • The purchase itself, when product or service choices are finalized, size and color are selected and payment is made. All aspects of the purchase process must be convenient and seamless.
  • The post-purchase experience, as needed, where typical customer service matters such as the (on-time) delivery date will take place and resolution of questions or problems must be quickly and expertly resolved.

As you and your team take steps to design a website that keeps browsers visiting pages and has a good (sales) conversion rate, present across social media channels a story-telling narrative that engages visitors and builds credibility and has excellent and reliable customer service protocols, below are a few things to keep in mind:

Customers want information  The pre-purchase phase continues to grow in importance.  Prospective customers want to know about you and also your competitors, so that comparisons can be made and the product or service that appears to offer the best value will be purchased.

The buying process may begin with an advertisement that you placed.  If your product or service piques interest, the pre-purchase phase will progress to a visit to your company website.  While on the website, social media icons will be clicked and the story you tell on those platforms will be read with interest.  Pre-purchase research often concludes with a visit to online reviewing sites, such as Trip Advisor and Yelp, to confirm the value of your organization, product, or service.

Customers want convenience.   It is imperative that doing business with your organization will be no-stress and easy.  If you don’t have the best turkey sandwich in the neighborhood, you can make up for it by being very convenient for customers to buy from you, online or in person (even as they complain about your product or prices).

Master logistics.  Especially if yours is an e-commerce business, your website must be fully operational as well as easy to navigate, with an intuitive flow.  Last week while shopping for client holiday gifts, I found a lovely little shop that sells very nice air plants, housed in interesting containers and in the right price range.  But the website was down and I didn’t have time to visit the store.  Sadly, I could not buy from my small business colleague. Why the owner felt it would be a good idea to re-do a website in mid-December is beyond me.

Once an order is placed, there is the (outsourced) delivery system on which you depend. Your delivery service will be compared to Amazon, so it’s advisable to take every step to ensure that merchandise deliveries meet customer expectations. If items are out of stock, make sure that you are able to give a very good approximation of when the item(s) will be available.  Finally, packing must be expert to eliminate the chance of damage during transport.

Technology.  There’s no need to splurge on every technology product that’s available, but do invest in those tools that will make a noticeable difference in the ease of doing business with you, in the pre-purchase, purchase, or post-purchase phases of the buying process.  Make it easy to browse, make it easy to get questions answered, make it easy to buy, make it easy to arrange and receive delivery, make it easy to resolve problems.

Timely communication.  The trick is to communicate with customers only when they will perceive the contact as beneficial. Depending on your business, that could be once a month or once a quarter.  Signing customers up for a monthly or quarterly newsletter is an excellent way to keep customers up-to-date about new products or discounts on your products or services. Remember to give an opt-out choice.

Information that you’ve included in your newsletter can be recycled through your social media platforms and website.  During the December holiday season, send cards to customers, including lapsed customers with whom you’ve not received an order in five years.

If there’s been a problem with your product or service, or if a product is out of stock, quickly contact the customer and if the problem is serious, or the customer is upset, a telephone call is recommended.

Building and sustaining a profitable business takes planning and careful execution.  Providing a superior buying experience that carries through the three buying process phases will bring customers to your organization and promote referrals, which continue to be the most effective form of advertising.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Chefs at Sushi Sho Saito in the Akazaka district of Minato, Tokyo

The December Holiday Client Outreach Plan

OK troops, you have just a few days left to take advantage of the biggest and easiest client outreach, retention and relationship building opportunity that we’ll have all year—the December holidays.  No doubt you have favorite clients whom you’d like to thank as well as retain, occasional clients with whom you’d like to work more often and lapsed clients whom you’d be thrilled to welcome back and December is the time to activate this most important component of your client outreach plan.  Whether you will limit your outreach to sending a card, or you’ll present a well-chosen gift to special clients, you must act very soon.  I recommend that you mail cards and distribute gifts no later than December 15, to promote the impression that you are always on top of things.

Congratulations to those of you who wisely placed an order in early November for a holiday card that has your business name professionally printed inside and printed on the envelope, the recipient name and address, plus your business return address.  You’re all set to add a brief note of thanks, stamp, seal and mail.

Those who are not quite so organized still have a handful of days to find a box or two of cards that are suitable for clients, meaning the card will contain neither an overt Christmas theme nor religious message.  Good tidings that “celebrate the season” are best for business relationships.

In addition, clients with whom you have a long-term relationship, or who provide you with generous billable hours (or you’d like to increase the chance that you will soon be on the receiving end of same) consider sending a holiday gift.  Your gift is a lovely gesture that demonstrates gratitude for the business you’ve received and the relationship that has developed.  You needn’t spend a lot of money.  Many useful or attractive gifts can be bought for $50.00 or less.

This year, I’ll give two jars of jam that are made by an acquaintance and I’ll hand deliver them to a short list of clients no later than December 18, with my holiday card tucked into the gift bag.  Home made chutney or artisanal honey also make excellent gifts.  Fruit or other gift baskets are a perennial holiday favorite and I’ve seen prices range from $40.00 to $400.00, depending on contents.  An appealing take on the holiday gift basket is the California Sunflower arrangement of premium dried fruits, priced at $50.00 + shipping.

If you know that a client still finds traditional pocket calendars more convenient, I recommend the pocket diary  by Time Traveler USA.  I’ve happily used the brand for several years.  The calendar offers a one-month view and has space to write in appointments.  There’s also include a weekly view that’s spread over two pages. Diaries come in several colors and are $15 each, plus $2.50 for the gift box.

Then again, you might consider buying a tech gift.  Even non-techies might appreciate potentially useful gifts such as Skullcandy wireless headphones , priced at $35.00 + shipping.  Finally, if you have little time and money to spend on client gifts, look at air plants that come in attractive containters (and be sure to include the care instructions).  Mahoney’s Garden Center has a nice selection at various prices and they’ll ship.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: 18th century Rajasthani painting by Nihau Chand

 

Goal Setting Guidelines

Happy December! Here we are in the last month of the year and like the two-headed Janus, we’re simultaneously looking backward to count our successes and forward to finish the year strong and decide which goals appear to hold the most promise for seeding a successful 1Q2019 and beyond.

There is traditionally much talk about goal-setting at this time of year and many of us climb aboard the train out of a sense of obligation, or even guilt. But maybe we should first spend some time vetting the goals we choose to pursue? For starters, our goals should be tied to benefits that substantively improve our personal or professional lives.

SMART Goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely—are the accomplishments we’d be wise to pursue.  SMART Goals are worthy of the planning, money and other resources that we expend to achieve them. We owe it to ourselves to confirm that the goals we choose are within our capacity to reach them and that they will further our agenda to build a fulfilling professional and personal life.  Ensure that the goals you choose are right for you.

SPECIFIC   Increasing your client list is a worthwhile goal and you’ll have a better chance of achieving it if you define the industry, type, or size of the organizations you’d like to add to your roster.  For example, rather than randomly looking to work with larger not-for-profit organizations, specify your mission. You may elect to pursue not-for-profit organizations that have 100 or more employees and/or an annual operating budget of $1,000,000 – $5,000,000.

MEASURABLE   Identify metrics and milestones that will monitor your progress and inspire you to continue on your path.  The measurements need not be complicated. If you are able to meet with a coveted prospective client, that’s a milestone.  The size of your client list, the number of billable hours and the amount of sales revenue from quarter to quarter are also easy-to-follow and relevant metrics, if they document your progress.  Just be sure to measure that which demonstrates achievement. The last day of each quarter is a good time to examine and evaluate your milestones and metrics.

ATTAINABLE   If earning more money is your goal, give yourself a realistic figure to reach for.  If your average monthly sales revenue is $5000, think about how you can add $500 – $1000 /month.  Expecting to earn $10,000 /month is probably too steep, unless you have one heck of a competitive advantage or you’re about to sign a very big client who will give you game-changing billable hours.

You may be able to eventually earn an additional $500 – $1000/ month with a savvy new marketing plan that’s combined with other strategies, such as a new client acquisition plan, an exciting new product or service that seems to have good sales potential, or an initiative to win back certain lapsed clients.

RELEVANT   Your goals should make sense for your life and business. Keeping up with or surpassing your perceived rivals is not a valid reason to set a particular goal.  Acknowledge the objectives behind the goals and be honest about why you want to pursue them.

TIMELY   The desire to retire at age 50 is still in fashion, but it will be more realistic to start planning no later than age 40, to give yourself a decade to get in touch with what might make you feel fulfilled in your post-working life and understand how you’ll earn enough to make it possible.

What might retirement mean to you? Maybe it means you’ll leave your traditional job and start a home-based craft making business that will see you selling your wares on Etsy and at local Christmas Village markets. Or perhaps it means you’ll not work and instead devote yourself to volunteering and taking long winter vacations spent on the ski slopes? whatever your choice, you’ll need to plan your retirement money carefully. Should you buy investment property that will give you a steady stream of rental income, or invest more aggressively in the surging stock market?

The process of setting goals for yourself and/or your business enables you to define and recognize what success looks like and means to you.  You’ll learn to think strategically about how to grow your business and the resources needed to achieve that growth.  You’ll calculate the money needed for an expansion plan or new equipment, make notes for a first draft of the marketing plan you’ll need to devise, consider the relationships you may want to renew or develop and/or estimate the new staff you may need to hire.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up someplace else.”                   –Peter “Yogi” Berra, former NY Yankees catcher and Baseball Hall of Fame member

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Academy Award winning actor (Best Actor El Cid, 1961) Charlton Heston (center) as Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur (1959)