You Can Scale During a Pandemic

Unlikely as it may seem, it is possible to scale a business during the COVID era or any difficult economic times, including war. Some businesses enjoyed unexpected increases in market share and sales revenue as a direct or indirect consequence of the shutdown and there were no lay-offs. Virtual communications platforms, liquor stores, grocery stores chief and delivery services have prospered.

Ripple effect revenue has accrued to tech specialists who set up and manage virtual conferences. Real estate agents who handle choice suburban and even rural locations are selling more properties, the result of affluent professionals who now work searching for residences that are spacious enough to accommodate his-and-her home offices and children’s schooling and play rooms. Teachers who administer private lessons to small groups of children have created pod learning environments. Elegant picnics are the new pivot for caterers, who provide food, wine, flowers, candles, stylish ground coverings and cushions to create al fresco dining experiences for those who shy away from restaurants.

If sales are increasing at your organization, celebrate the good fortune by maximizing the opportunity. Seize the day, plan your strategy and scale.

Operational efficiencies

When an organization grows, everything gets more complicated. How can the company deliver its products and services to twice as many customers? Building in operational efficiencies is an essential component of preparing a company to scale successfully. Business owners or leaders must ensure that the processes of acquiring or manufacturing company products and providing services are seamless and meet consistency and quality control expectations. E-commerce functions, the shipping method, invoicing or other payment system and customer service protocols must be secure, dependable and user-friendly.

An HR workforce specialist and/or operations/process improvement expert can guide company owner/ leaders to identify additional job functions that will be needed to support the scale, as well as the ideal employee qualifications for those positions and what to include in the job specs.

Upgrade marketing strategies and campaigns

So the company is generating more revenue and that has given you the confidence to scale—great! How about pinpointing who these new customers are and learning how and why they discovered your business? Are certain products or services suddenly more popular and if so, what’s driving the phenomenon? Or did a customer make a referral to someone with a big budget?

A more sophisticated and comprehensive marketing strategy is another key component of a successful scale. Update the company marketing strategy and campaign tactics to attract and welcome more of the new customer demographic. A website refresh or an entirely new site may be in order. The usefulness of content marketing, perhaps in the form of case studies, a monthly blog or newsletter or white papers that are posted to the website and selected social media platforms may become apparent. Include a short survey on the website (and also on certain social media platforms) to pose questions that reveal why customers choose to do business with your company and what might encourage them to continue doing so.

Revisit the company brand story and promotion strategy and incorporate language that builds trust, conveys expertise and encourages a sense of community and shared values with customers. Values are a growing priority and customers are inclined to patronize companies that support what they themselves support. Sponsoring local events may be a good way to communicate company values (and sending press releases that announce company participation to select media outlets may result in beneficial publicity).

Monitor the results of the marketing tactics used to learn what customers, both the new and the loyal friends, respond favorably to. The goal is to constantly fill the sales pipeline with good prospects. Make marketing personal by inviting customers to fill out profiles that provide name, email address, physical address and birthday, so that they can receive notice of new merchandise, special sales, birthday wishes and holiday greetings.

Ensure customer service

In fact as the company scales, owners and leaders should take on the perspective of both a curious prospect and a repeat customer, to gain insight into how to create a satisfyingly memorable customer experience. Good word of mouth is the best advertisement and often results in referrals. Positive reviews on Yelp, Angie’s List, or other online rating sites are effective marketing tools that bring in customers.

Remember that data security is also an important facet of good customer service. If an e-commerce feature is part of product or service distribution, hire a web designer to add an SSL certificate to the website, to obtain encryption that protects credit card and other personal data (and as a bonus benefit, gives the company a boost in search engine rankings). While speaking with the web designer, make sure that the page lay-out is intuitive and easily navigable. Consider adding a chat bot so that visitors can ask (anticipated) questions and receive answers ASAP, which saves time.

Finally, make product returns and exchanges efficient and painless. Have adequate staff to answer phone calls and emails, so that customers will not become frustrated. Use Facebook and/or Twitter to further support customer service and have adequate staff to update information, monitor activity and address and resolve problems and questions.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. A lift helps workers scale and work at the Christian Science Mother Church in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.

Passive Income? Well…

Ah, passive income. It has become the romanticized ideal of how to make money, the American dream redefined. “I can be on the golf course or sailing on my 38 foot boat because I don’t sweat to be rich. I’ve created a lucrative passive income stream. I am smarter and richer than you.” Sigh…

I’m not here to criticize the aspiration of creating a passive income stream. I wish I had one (or two)! My goal today is to tell the passive income backstory because in reality, creating a passive income stream is not as easy as it may look. Furthermore, a passive income stream usually will not make it possible to quit your day job and retire early. Most of all, be aware that creating a passive income stream is an active process. To make it happen, you may have to work harder, smarter and maybe for a longer period of time than you might have imagined.

Even if you’re able to create a passive income stream (and that is not guaranteed), the ROI might be underwhelming. The passive income stream that you have the wherewithal to create may only be enough to pay your cell phone and Wi-Fi bills, not a mortgage and car note. Still, even a modest passive income stream is nothing to sneeze at. It’s just that everyone daydreams of it being so much more.

Passive income defined

Before diving in, let’s clarify the term. Passive income is a reliable, long-term revenue stream that you receive but do not work full-time to generate. Passive income is sort of like a no-show job—work 8 hours and get paid for 40 (or work 20 hours; more about that later).

The ultimate passive income stream is a trust fund. To become a beneficiary, the only work that must be done is arrange to be born into the right family and after that, you’re golden. Heck, you might be able to live off the interest (the ne plus ultra). But alas, not all trust funds are generous; most pay in the low five figures annually. Still, even a trust fund that pays $1000/ month provides a nifty little cushion that no one would refuse, not even Bezos.

Dividend-paying stocks, bonds, or mutual funds are another source of passive income. Selling advertising space on a blog or newsletter is yet another method of generating passive income. Rent received from an investment in commercial or residential property is the most popular form of passive income because it is the most profitable.

Passive income starts with active work

If generating a passive income stream is the goal, accept the fact that time, effort, a particular skill set and (often) start-up capital will be required. Those who are now collecting a reliable passive income stream had to work for it, unless they are lucky trustafarians.

A fair amount of research, the ability to interpret and apply the data, plus good luck, good timing and good investment advice are needed to reliably earn quarterly dividends on Wall Street investments that will make even a modest positive impact. Following your investments and getting a sense of when to put in a buy or sell order, or having the courage to hold when your fund is down for the third week in a row, takes a strong stomach. Even if you have a better-than-average proficiency in investing, you’ll be very lucky to regularly earn $500/ quarter in dividends and in fact, most people lose money in the stock market. Earning an extra $2000/ year is nice but does not make much difference, especially when balanced against the work required to generate it. But then again, maybe you like the adrenaline rush?

Rental property brings in a much better ROI, but getting into the game is expensive. A two-family house in many areas will cost north of $500,000 and a 10 % down payment plus closing and other costs push the price of entry beyond the reach of many. Couples and other partner groups make the business more approachable and while profits (and expenses and losses) must be split in proportion to one’s investment stake, group buying power allows for more properties to be purchased and the potential to generate a more sizeable revenue stream.

Most rental income investors start by purchasing a multi-unit building and moving into one of the apartments as they collect rents from the others. The rent received is expected to fund the property’s mortgage, taxes and estimated building maintenance budget and that is usually possible. Aspiring owners must research the rental occupancy rate and average rental price of similar buildings in their locale and balance that figure against projected expenses.

Bloggers and newsletter writers must be highly knowledgeable in their selected subject and have boots-on-the-ground experience that gives credibility and earns the trust and respect of readers. Skillful writing that informs and entertains readers is another primary must-do.

Mommy bloggers must be mothers. Food bloggers must be excellent cooks, or at least imaginative and entertaining cooks or alternatively, have the funds to regularly dine in high-end or very trendy restaurants (getting comped may be possible but to maintain credibility, it’s best to pay).

Having expertise in a topic that has better-than-average potential to draw the six-figure audience that advertisers demand makes the climb much easier. Mommy blogs, foodie blogs, travel and fashion blogs are among the most popular in the writing sector. Publishers of business blogs or newsletters trail far behind that flashy crew, I’m sorry to say. Writing a popular business book, usually in conjunction with a VIP client list, a regular column in The Wall Street Journal or some other lofty publication, or a TED Talk, gives much-needed traction.

Travel blogs are not quite a thing in the COVID era but when they were hot, the capital to fund trips to destinations that are either lavish or modest is necessary. Available time to travel is another requirement. Unless one is a flight attendant, who can take a vacation every month?

Fashion blogs require a big wardrobe investment in addition to taking a deep dive into the collections of numerous designers who are based on three continents. In the pre-pandemic era, having the connections or savvy to sneak into the season shows in New York, Paris, Tokyo, or Milan is a big plus for readership and acquiring ads.

Passive income, active maintenance

Time, effort, or money will likewise be required to sustain a passive income stream once it’s launched. Continuing to sell ad space on a blog or newsletter is predicated on maintaining, if not expanding, a big readership or ads will be pulled and passive income lost. Compelling topics must continually be presented. Three or more audience-grabbing social media accounts that are designed and continually tested for maximum audience appeal must be maintained, to promote the publication and deliver the readers to advertisers.

Investors must study the mutual funds, bonds, precious metals, commodities, or stocks that have historically produced results that beat the market (such as Index Funds). Researching companies to learn about potentially market rocking products and services that are due to be released and can be expected to have a positive impact on the company stock price is an ongoing responsibility of successful investors. At least weekly monitoring the performance of one’s portfolio goes without saying.

Rental income, while it usually produces a very good ROI, can be a real headache because one must deal with people, the tenants. Their lives and problems can become your drama. The pandemic affiliated job losses have caused millions of Americans to be unable to pay their rent on time and in full. This outcome has put thousands of small investor property owners in jeopardy regarding the big mortgage they may owe on their recently purchased property. If that weren’t enough, taxes are only going up and maintenance costs are never-ending. The real estate market, while still lucrative and reliable, is more risky of late.

Going forward

If you have a certain skill set, time and capital resources to create a passive income stream by way of a potentially lucrative activity or business proposition, do yourself a favor and develop a comprehensive strategy, in fact a business plan, to improve your chance of success. Identifying, launching and sustaining a reliable passive income stream is essentially starting a business. Considerable up-front effort and capital may be required and there are no guarantees, only management of risks.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. At the Prudential Mall in the Back Bay of Boston, someone who might be working on creating a passive income empire.

Virtual Meeting Primer

Virtual meetings and virtual classrooms are here to stay no matter what happens with the coronavirus or any other virus—or tornado, or earthquake, or blizzard. If you have not yet presided over a virtual meeting, maybe to touch base with your team, or discuss a product or project with a prospective client, the tea leaves say that you will. So let’s get you ready so that you’ll perform at your best.

Everything done to prepare for a face2face meeting will likewise be done to prepare for a virtual meeting. Propose a draft agenda. Invite the stakeholders and any others who have the authority to impact the initiative that will be discussed. Suggest a meeting date and time. Decide who should be invited to speak at the meeting and include those persons on the agenda.

If Power Point slides will be used by any speakers at the meeting, ask for their slides to be sent to you 48 – 72 hours in advance of the meeting, so that you can have them ready for each speaker. Send the confirmed agenda and necessary hand-outs to all participants one day before the meeting (so they don’t get lost in anyone’s email).

The facilitator of the meeting, whether face2face or virtual, has a few unspoken duties to ensure a positive outcome for the meeting and it is in these fine points that the differences between face2face and virtual emerge. Meeting participants are not in a room together and while it is tremendously more convenient than traveling to the meeting venue, communications will be adversely affected.

Reading nonverbal cues, facial expressions and even tone of voice can be difficult and cause misinterpretation. Those who are not scheduled to speak can easily turn themselves into virtual wallflowers and say not a word beyond the initial round of greetings.

For those reasons, virtual meetings require a higher level of facilitation skills. If the meeting platform you’ll use has a tutorial by all means take it, so that you’ll know how to use tools that will enhance the meeting experience, and therefore outcome, for everyone. Give yourself an hour, or even two. There are just a 4-5 simple things to learn, study up to ensure that you’ll be at ease when implementing them.

Meet & greet

First, ask participants to sign on 5 minutes ahead of the announced start time to make the introductions easy and avoid the need to introduce late arrivals. Late arrival is more awkward in a virtual meeting because it’s not possible to see that person slip into the room and a new face popping up on screen may not be noticeable to everyone.

As close to start time as is practical, thank participants for attending and give a general greeting. Then kick-off a round robin of introductions and greet everyone by name. Better still, if you’re at the controls, flash each person on screen and invite him/her to self-introduce. Here is when you get people talking. This step is an ice-breaker.

If there are participants who have not met before, request that self- introductions include first and last name, plus title and department. Announce late arrivals as soon as is practical. If it’s not too disruptive, invite late arrivals to introduce themselves.

Tools tutorial

Walk meeting participants through the virtual tools, because some participants may not be especially proficient. Chat, hand-raise, yes or no, break-out room and poll are the most common items. These tools are very useful in keeping meeting participants focused on the agenda and discourage the temptation of wandering attention.

As you plan the agenda, think about how you can judiciously create an opportunity for a poll, a hand-raise, or even a break-out session that will allow small groups of two or more participants to have a short, tightly focused discussion and then take their findings back to the main meeting for a general discussion.

Hand-raise

Strictly speaking, a hand -raise sign indicates that a participant would like to speak, just like in a face2face meeting. You, facilitator, will acknowledge the hand raise as soon as practical and give that the individual the floor. The hand-raise can also be used as a vote or poll, but you have other tools for those questions and as a way to keep the content interesting, I suggest you use those.

Yes/ No

The green Yes and red No checkmarks are useful for a quick, general question that you, or a presenter, puts to the group. The question can be as easy as “Would we like to cover this one additional subject and keep the meeting in session for another 15-20 minutes?”

Chat

The chat function allows for public or private chats and participants should get a tutorial on how to utilize each. A chat can be used to ask a question to the presenter and s/he can address the question during the presentation. One participant may have a question for another participant and can use the private chat function to do so.

Polls

There may be times when a speaker may want to get the opinion of those in the room and polls allow participants to express opinions anonymously, which encourages honesty. The facilitator will type in the question, or prepare a question in advance and have it ready. Click and all participants will be given time to indicate and submit their answers.

Break-outs

If there are perhaps 8 or more participants it may be useful to allow groups of 3 – 5 people to discuss a specific question. Break-outs are good for relationship building because their use allows a small group of participants to get to know one another in a safe, small space where they may be more comfortable speaking freely.

Power Point slides

The facilitator must learn how to operate the slides, since s/he will be at the controls. As in any meeting, Power Points will visualize and enhance the speaker’s presentation. A short slide presentation will be yet another way to maintain the focus, attention and engagement of your virtual meeting participants.

Lastly, I recommend that virtual meeting facilitators request that a technically adept person be on- site during the meeting. Regardless of what the facilitator understands to be a correct technical set-up, crashes can occur and someone with better than average IT skills may be needed to re-start the platform. I know this from humiliating personal experience.

Yet if your virtual meeting tanks, all is not lost. Another useful tech back- up is our old friend, the conference call. Have a dial- in conference number ready. If disaster strikes, email the conference number and Power Points to participants. A/V material can be downloaded and opened on laptops or tablets as you work through the agenda on your mobile.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

The Captain and the Team

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report that documented business activity through the first 37 weeks of 2020 (i.e., 3Q2020), COVID-19 related business closures, some temporary and some permanent, have resulted in an unexpected outcome. Counterintuitively, there have been relatively few personal bankruptcies but rather a surge of legal entity applications filed by Freelancers and entrepreneurs who will likely to hire employees. It is clear that lay-offs and furloughs have convinced many former American workers to trust their own skills and ambition more than the uncertainty of being rehired.

Applications to obtain limited liability company or corporation status by Freelancers increased 16% over the same period last year, according to Census Bureau data. Might the urge to become one’s own boss be fueled not only by doubts about re-employment, but also the infusion of stimulus money? The price of entry into self-employment is low for B2B service providers and stimulus money is a natural for bankrolling start-up costs.

Still, self-employment as either a Freelancer or business owner and employer is no cakewalk. The biggest challenge to self-employment success will be acquiring clients; savvy and consistent marketing and your relationships will go a long way to help the business, but selling a product or service that has an adequate customer base is the deciding factor.

2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that 20% of small businesses fail in the first year of operation and only 50% or so will survive into year five (there is no data collected for Freelancers, sole proprietors or those with a legal entity). There is a lot to plan for when launching a business, plus Key Performance Index metrics to monitor, interpret and act upon (or not).

First, know there is a sufficiently deep market for the products or services. Second, know how to access the customers. Third, devise a sustainable and appealing business model. Fourth, secure adequate funds to provide working capital that allows the operation to cover expenses and otherwise function.

Another important resource for Freelancers and business owners is a team of experts from whom you can seek advice and guidance. Freelance consultants and even small business owners are responsible for all decisions. The stress can be overwhelming. It’s impossible to be highly knowledgeable in several fields simultaneously and qualified to make wise decisions all or most of the time. It is very helpful to put together a stable of specialists on whom you can rely when important decisions must be made. Below are professionals whose guidance and advice nearly every Freelance consultant or business owner will need from time to time.

Accountant

An accountant will make sure that the business quarterly estimated taxes are acceptable and filed on time, so that the annual April 15 filing will not result in a surprisingly expensive tax bill due. A good business accountant will also review the financial statements and can make useful fiscal management suggestions. An accountant will also advise you on whether to incorporate the business or form a limited liability company. Finally, if obtaining a loan or taking on investors or partners is a possibility, your accountant will provide invaluable advice. Yes, a business attorney can advise you well on the choice of legal entity for the business and also the matter of taking on partners or investors, but will not prepare tax forms.

Graphic Design

Maybe you’d like to update your business cards or some other marketing collaterals, such as a stand-out Capability Statement that makes the company appear highly reliable and trustworthy, a real asset when approaching a prospective client. Or maybe updating the look of the company newsletter or blog is the goal. Knowing a good graphic design specialist is always useful.

Human Resource

Have you read your medical or dental insurance policy lately? Hire an H.R. benefits specialist to look it over and verify that you’re covered in the way you intended. You might also speak to an H.R. guide about your retirement plan or employee retirement plan options you offer. If outsourcing a function or hiring an employee are decisions you are pondering, an H.R. job analyst and design specialist will figure out the type of employee you and the organization need. An H.R. compensation specialist will help you set the pay scale.

Insurance

If you had met with an insurance agent 12 months ago, perhaps you would have known to purchase business interruption insurance for your organization and the COVID-19 shutdown would have been less financially damaging. The type of business you operate will determine the type of insurance it would be wise to buy. Be advised that the business legal entity does not protect a company from every type of liability.

Mentor

Whether things are going swimmingly or the world feels as if it’s crashing in, having a trusted peer to talk things over with is so reassuring. Strictly speaking, a mentor is someone who is more experienced than you and is positioned to make beneficial recommendations and introductions. In practice, you may find a mentor (or two) who is likewise in business, is successful and is your peer and good buddy. If your mentor can make a good client referral every once in a while, it’s a special blessing. If you can return the favor, so much the better.

Technology

If the business has employees, it is almost guaranteed that several computers will be used and that requires a professional to install and program the computers and also ongoing network support. Disaster recovery services to save company data in the event of a system crash, data breach, or other type of hacking incident is another necessity. Maintaining website functionality is yet another requirement. If the company plans a virtual webinar or meeting of some type, bringing in a specialist to do the technical set-up and keep it operating is more important than you may know.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Forget About Bouncing Back—Bounce Forward!

A pandemic viral infection stalking the earth is not the only beast that can give any business a deadly wallop. An aggressive competitor, economic instability, technological advances that makes your biggest product obsolete, or the bankruptcy of an important client can take a business under like a riptide.

It’s a scary moment and no business is immune to a set-back. How can the business founders or leaders right the ship and head for calmer waters? Let’s take a couple of deep cleansing breaths, tap into your storehouse of resilience and figure out how to not just bounce back from business troubles, but bounce forward and stage a re-entry on higher ground.

When the realization sets in that the business is in a perhaps irreversible tailspin, the most common emotions the business founders/ leaders will ordinarily feel are fear and panic, followed closely by sadness and feeling like a failure. The enterprise that once made them so proud has been wrenched away. The body and soul ache.

You are encouraged to own your feelings. Denial, as revealed by a “take it in stride, carry on as usual” attitude is not recommended, but it is inadvisable to wallow in sorrow for an extended period. Recovery, personal and professional, lie in a rational examination of what went wrong and an informed decision about what to do next.

Start with SWOT

The old chestnut strategic planning technique that was first popularized in the early 1970s is still relevant today. Use SWOT to tally and measure the value of resources available to the company, assess current and projected business conditions and decide how to rebuild. A well-chosen and executed pivot or strengthening of the original business model, perhaps with the addition of an untapped niche market or infusion of capital, may be the healing recipe.

Strengths are valuable resources that can be leveraged—-still popular products or services; skills held by the founder and team members; the company brand/ reputation; strategic relationships; the client list; the email list; well-developed social media networks; cash reserves. Bundle the right set of strengths and propel your enterprise toward a profitable bounce forward.

Weaknesses are gaps and shortcomings that put the company at a disadvantage relative to competitors. Some organizational weaknesses cannot be eliminated because attempting to do so would not be practical. Instead, do what is possible in the near term to shore up, minimize, spin, or work around them. Primarily, it’s important to honestly and fully take stock of and plan around what has the potential to derail a forward bounce.

Opportunities are developments or circumstances in the environment that the company may be able to use to its advantage. Pursuing an opportunity is an offensive strategy that facilitates a bounce forward. However, one may search the horizon and find not a single lifeboat in sight. It may be necessary to pause and figure out how to create an opportunity, or wait for one to arrive.

While in limbo, finding a part-time j.o.b. may be the stopgap solution you need. I’ve been there and can testify that the strategy can aid a bounce forward. Search for a low-visibility gig that offers a desirable benefit in addition to money (which is probably inadequate). The idea is to get paid to discover and learn something that can contribute to the relaunch of the business and your professional life.

At my low-paid, part-time j.o.b., I eventually realized that my public speaking skills were greatly improving. That led me to search for and obtain a teaching position that continues to provide an intermittent but helpful revenue stream. Teaching enhances the brand and the cash-flow of Freelancers and business owners. That same j.o.b. required me to work with groups and I also came to realize that I could lead mastermind groups, where non-competing business owners and independent consultants meet each week or month to share experiences and insights that serve to support and inspire one other to achieve goals and become more effective leaders.

Threats are obstacles, challenges, or other developments in the environment that stand to undermine a company’s profitability and survival. Changing demographics, tornadoes and earthquakes, political or economic developments, computer hacking or data breach and the coronavirus pandemic are examples of threats. A company typically has little or no control over these events, which are external.

Guarding against threats is a risk management, defensive strategy. The best offense is a good defense. Keeping an eye on technology developments that may impact the desirability of the company’s products and services as well as being aware of potentially influential direct or indirect competitors who could cut into the client list are essential defensive actions. The idea is to limit or avoid the impact of harmful business conditions.

Market research

When you’ve discovered what appears to be the best direction for the company, curb your enthusiasm and take time to investigate the most advantageous business strategy before taking action. You owe it to yourself to lay the groundwork for sustainable success.

Research the market size, target market purchasing habits, the competitive landscape and your ability to access customers. Confirm that demand for your products or services is growing and not flat or shrinking. Consider business model possibilities that could work well. Talk to someone at the Small Business Association’s (free) SCORE business development mentoring program and discuss your restart plan with experienced business leaders before investing time and money.

Market strategy

Articulate an appealing marketing message and pencil in the olaunch campaign. Will the business have a new name? How will you introduce this newly configured venture? How will you describe and explain your pivot or redesign to current customers? A from the ground up marketing plan must expertly package, explain, persuade and promote to enable the bounce forward.

Budget

Whether it becomes necessary to build a new website, order new business cards, or take a workshop that will enhance your credentials and perceived credibility in the minds of new and original customers, it’s important to project business start- up costs.

Develop a 24-36 month financial plan and ensure that working capital will be available. Plan to have income as the new business ramps up. This could mean remaining employed in the j.o.b. for another year. When escaping a set-back, one must do what one must do to nail a successful bounce forward.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Strategies to Manage Stress

The American Psychological Association defines stress as “any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral reactions.” Stress is part of daily life, as we know. Not all stress is bad and in fact, stress that induces the “fight or flight” response to a potentially dangerous situation is necessary for survival.

But chronic stress that results from an inability to eliminate or control an overwhelming or upsetting set of circumstances may precipitate serious health and behavioral complications, including hypertension, obesity, drug or alcohol abuse and depression.

Self Care

Busy people, whether highly stressed or not, are wise to set aside special time several days each week to devote to self-care. The activities can take the form of cross-training—-kick-off Monday with a run, swim, bike ride, or power walk, Tuesday for yoga or tai chi, Wednesday weightlifting at the gym, Thursday at home for prayer or meditation and Friday can belong to boxing or ballet.

Exercise, meditation and prayer have been confirmed through scientific research to deliver more benefits than I can remember, but among them are improved energy/ stamina, improved self-esteem, lower blood pressure, improved joint mobility, enhanced mood, improved cardiac functioning and a decreased incidence of stress. In other words, everything we need in the physical, cognitive and psychological realms gets better when we move our body and nurture our soul.

Eat well

Good nutrition supports one’s physical health. Maintaining a balanced diet enhances energy, stamina, cognitive functioning, the immune system response and helps the body defend itself against toxic stress. There will be times when deadlines or other intense situations might derail healthy eating habits and fried food bingeing rules.

Refuse to succumb to that temptation over the long- term. Get back on track ASAP and eat simply prepared fresh food, homemade or takeout, to feel, work and even sleep better. When faced with high-level physical, cognitive, or psychological demands, overdosing on sugar, salt and fat could leave one vulnerable to a crash of some sort, because unhealthy food does not adequately nourish.

Caffeine and alcohol are also not your friends when their intake surpasses a certain threshold. Listen to your body. A 20 ounce coffee or tea may get you going in the morning and a glass or two of wine, or a couple of cocktails, may help you to relax in the evening. Jittery feelings, heart palpitations and inebriation are warning signs and if they appear, dial back.

Sleep well

When starting or leading a business, there will be times when burning the midnight oil, if not burning the candle at both ends, will be the story of life. The opportunity and ability to sleep could easily be diminished. Yet it is advisable to guard against long-term sleep deprivation.

Arm yourself to take on difficult challenges by keeping your diet healthy and continuing with exercise and other forms of self-care (e.g., massage or energy work) that provide the stamina, cognitive functioning and decision-making ability that enable peak performance. Getting the work done makes it a lot easier to sleep and maintain a defense against the harmful effects of stress on the body and the psyche.

Medical and psychological researchers have published dozens, if not hundreds, of studies that document the relationship between inadequate sleep and stress. Sleep, like food and drink, is a biological need and we cannot survive without it (but the precise reason is unknown). The National Sleep Foundation has confirmed the long-held consensus that the average adult requires about eight hours of sleep/day. Teens may need 10 hours/ day. Some adults can perform well on just six hours/ day.

If sleep difficulties are the result of the stress related to getting things done, an executive coach may be able to identify ways to resolve workflow and time management issues that will make the to-do list more manageable, improve productivity and make falling asleep and sleeping through the night possible.

While you’re working on rectifying conditions that may be causing toxic amounts of stress, I recommend what I call The 90 Minute Rule, that pulls together a few NSF recommendations: 1) Evening workouts should conclude at least 90 minutes before bedtime, to allow the body to relax. 2). Dinner should be consumed at least 90 minutes before bedtime, to allow the body to digest. 3). Take a bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime to promote the release of melatonin, a hormone that encourages sleep.

Delegate/ outsource

The struggle to get the work done is sometimes stress-producing, as noted in the preceding paragraphs. Learning to prioritize is integral to time management. An examination of projects and tasks that only the business founder/ leader is equipped to do is Step 1 of time management. The founder/ leader can then delegate other tasks to team members, if employees have been hired, or outsource to Freelancers or other business specialists, in the absence of staff.

Just say no

Saying no is occasionally necessary, even when it disappoints someone. Saying no may enable you to better manage time, energy, or other resources and become more productive.

Say no to enforce your boundaries. Say no to what you feel is unacceptable. Say no to honor your values, self-respect, or priorities. Say no to stress.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual philosophy with roots in China and derived from Buddhism, meditate on Boston Common.

Collaborating in the Digital Realm and IRT

Collaboration is a soft skill that in the COVID era rapidly acquired big implications. Even more than in the recent past, the ability to achieve efficient and effective collaboration within work teams, and in fact within organizations, is recognized as a fundamental leadership skill. Collaboration today plays a defining role in driving successful business outcomes.

Because it is now common practice for team members to work from either home or office and to be scattered across city, state, national or even international borders, in addition to occupying various time zones, it is critical to ensure that all players are on the same page. Freelance consultants would do well to diplomatically encourage a collaborative environment on every project in which they participate. A project that yields less than stellar results will weigh most heavily on the Freelancers’, and not the employees’, reputation. The opportunity to receive referrals and repeat business sometimes rests on making one or politically savvy suggestions.

Collaboration is born of trust, respect, communication and, ultimately, sharing information and responsibility. These attributes and actions promote both camaraderie and good decision-making. Teamwork begins when team members understand their project mission; understand how their project supports organizational objectives; have the data, tools and authority to carry out their work; and know whom to consult when questions arise. Think about how you can advance those ideals on your next project.

Digital workflow systems such as Asana, Slack, Trello, or Microsoft Teams are excellent tools that provide access to all relevant documents, support continuity, allow all team members to view and contribute information as work progresses and document progress. Study the project specs. Visit the websites of the digital workflow systems mentioned here or recall your experience with other systems. In the kick-off team meeting, raise your hand (virtually or In Real Time) and suggest a workflow system that will both expedite the work and promote transparency and collaboration.

Virtual check-in meetings may find some team members in a makeshift home office, on a park bench surrounded by greenery, or in their familiar workplace office but nevertheless, if trust and respect have been properly seeded and nurtured, open communication that also allows for differing perspectives, will support candid assessments of project progress, about what may not be working and enable the wisdom of the team to devise solutions that all will support.

Follow-up is where the team pulls together to implement whatever useful suggestions for improvement that surfaces at check-in progress meetings. It is often said that half of life is about showing up. Surely, the other half is follow-up.

Follow-up moves the team and the outcome they produce from good to great. Top teams never assume that someone else took care of an important detail— they make sure it’s been done, the right way. Dot the i’s, cross the t’s and deliver excellence.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Nursery school students collaborate on their project (the morning walk).

SnapChat and the Power of Ephemeral Content

SnapChat, still a rising star among social media platforms, burst onto the scene in 2011 with an innovative feature that was catnip to the under 35 age cohort. Skillfully catering to the fickle attention span of its target audience, SnapChat allowed uploaded photos and videos just a 24 hour lifespan before disappearing them, bringing the Fear of Missing Out to a fever pitch.

Rumors of the platform’s death have been greatly exaggerated. The market research firm Statista predicted that in 2020, SnapChat will be used by 101.4 million visitors in the U.S. alone, a 20.5 % increase over 2019 (55 % of users live outside the U.S.).

The marketing analytics firm Hootsuite data revealed that the concept pioneered by SnapChat, allowing access to content for a limited time only and known as Ephemeral Content, continues to be a growing phenomenon among the target audience. 62 % of SnapChat Stories viewers reported that their interest in a product or service is intensified by the Ephemeral Content tactic.

The prevalence of mobile devices also plays a role in popularizing Ephemeral Content. First, mobile capability stokes the appetite for online everything, from ordering groceries to reading news articles to sending texts to keeping up with social media.

Second, FOMO mixed with mobile devices adds up to an audience that is often online and searching for something that will entertain or inform. Holders of mobile devices will anticipate Ephemeral Content if it’s known to be posted on a regular basis. When it comes to posting, people want predictability. When it comes to content, they want to be surprised.

So now you know what younger audiences (24% of SnapChat users are young adults) and mobile device owners respond to and your current and prospective clients are members of one or both of those cohorts, whoever they are. Now—-what 4 or 5 photo spread or 2-3 minute video can you and your team conjure up to tell a little story, or give a back stage look, into you company, its products, or services?

It will probably take a healthy dose of creativity to pull off in the B2B sector, but maybe you can put something interesting together once a quarter to include on your favorite social media platforms for a week—or SnapChat for just one day? When the second or third round of Ephemeral Content is posted and creates a little champagne fizz for your company, you’ll be on your way to cultivating followers who will be positioned to become paying customers. This is about LeadGen.

To get going on SnapChat, set up a business account. Encourage followers with your unique Add Me URL, that is accessed through the Settings icon, which brings users to the Username tab and then to the URL that’s already been created. Also at Settings and waiting for you to access will be your unique SnapCode badge that functions like a QR code to carry users directly to your content when the SnapCode is scanned with a mobile device. From Settings, click SnapCodes, then My SnapCodes. Finally, make use of SnapChat Insights, the free analytic tool that breaks down who your visitors are and the type of content that brings in good leads.

But—-but—-what if your clients and prospects are older than 40? What about maintaining content for a week? Then post your Ephemeral Content to Instagram, Twitter and/or your Facebook Fan (business) page. Just remember to delete your little teaser before a week goes by and keep your followers hungry for more.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark, February 2019. Your diarist gets ephemeral in Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston by William Forsythe (choreographer who works with world-class ballet companies)

8 Skills Everybody Needs

Whatever work one does, from start -up founder to pastry chef, automotive mechanic to chief financial officer, it is interesting that we all need the same short list of skills to become successful.

Consultants are often advised to hone and promote fluency in the skills listed here but everyone who works—-business owner, Freelancer, or employee—-taps into these skills on a regular basis. Your hair stylist and the guys who do your yard work use the same skills as your bookkeeper and your periodontist and if they didn’t, you wouldn’t have hired them. Let’s remind ourselves of what we really need to know in life.

Adaptability

Because when we wake up in the morning, we never know what the day will bring. One may learn, for example, that a potentially lethal and highly contagious virus, for which there is no reliable antidote, has entered our country by way of a meeting of executives employed by a prestigious biotechnology company.

When those who attended the meeting returned home and went about their daily lives, some of them infected people with whom they interacted. Very quickly first hundreds, then thousands, of citizens contracted the virus and many died. In an attempt to block the spread of the virus, governors in all 50 states ordered nearly half of commercial enterprises, plus all schools, government offices, libraries, museums and other public spaces, closed. So what did we citizens do?

We adapted as much as possible, that’s what. Grocery stores, the post office and other entities deemed essential were allowed to remain open. Many business owners and leaders found ways to keep their ventures functioning, with revisions.

Millions of knowledge economy workers used their personal computers to work from home, as department heads kept their teams united with videoconference meetings. Schools quickly switched from classroom to online learning (many colleges long ago added online courses).

Retail stores sold merchandise through their already robust e-commerce websites. Personal trainers and fitness instructors contacted their clients and followers and invited them to participate in outdoor workouts. We did what we had to do and we got by.

Creative thinking

Whether or not an out-of- the-box solution is needed, every once in a while it’s fun to bring innovative flair to a plain vanilla task. Whatever the motivation, resourcefulness and creative thinking are appreciated, because the need for an end run or a work-around can be part of daily life. Sometimes, one needs all of that just to get through the morning commute!

Creative thinking is often associated with the arts or architectural design. But during the COVID shutdown wedding planners, who were watching the ground give way beneath their feet, flexed their creative genius to reimagine weddings for panicked brides and grooms. That often meant broadcasting the ceremony virtually and rescheduling the reception for the following year.

Creative thinking can also reach back into the past for an innovative solution. This year, the New York Film Festival, barred from using shuttered movie theaters, will debut its contenders at drive-in theaters in the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs.

Credibility

Dependability, judgment and expertise are the three pillars of professional credibility. These attributes add up to trust and trust is what gets one hired and motivates customers to give referrals. People do business with people they like. They do more business with people they trust.

Communication

As it is often said, it’s not necessarily what you say, but how you say it. You’ve got to know how to talk to people.

One of the best ways to communicate with someone is to not talk (much), but tlisten. Use nonverbal cues to demonstrate that you are following the narrative. Ask questions to clarify or confirm what you think you’ve heard. Pay attention and let others know that you value them and their opinions (even when you see things differently).

Decision-making

Here’s the reality—-when a big decision is on the table, we seldom have access to as much information as we feel would be helpful as we weigh the possibilities. It is frustrating, to be sure, and we’ve all been there. The thought of taking the wrong path makes the stomach queasy.

But at some point, one must make a move and travel to the left or right, say yes or no, or leave well enough alone. Or, one can elect to put the matter aside and revisit it within a certain period of time.

If a decision carries impact, it cannot be ignored. The fear inspired tactic known as analysis- paralysis, where information is considered and reconsidered ad nauseum, is counterproductive. The best way to improve the quality of information to use as a guide for wise decision-making is to ask the right questions.

Problem-solving

Nearly every purchase one makes is intended to solve a problem, from a bottle of juice (thirst) to calling Lyft (door2door, on-time transportation). Whether the items your company sells are products or services, you’ll make more money when you 1.) understand the business you are really in, by thinking through the underlying motive for the purchase, beyond the obvious, and 2.) design your marketing strategies and sales pitch to reflect item #1.

Teamwork

Many hands make for light work. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Teamwork and collaboration lie between those warring poles and a real professional will persuade others to join him/her in the sweet spot.

Someone must step up and take the lead on a project of any magnitude. Those responsible can draw up an action plan, complete with due dates. Milestones or a mid-point check-in will help to keep everyone on schedule and ensure that mistakes have not been made.

If everyone holds up their end and the project is completed on time, you’ve got a team. If a mistake is discovered and corrected in a timely fashion with the help of your colleagues then congratulations, you’ve got a high-functioning team.

Time management

The ability to prioritize and organize, enabled by an action plan that includes target completion dates, are the three pillars of time management. Understand and get agreement from stakeholders and decision-makers regarding mission- critical tasks. Confirm that team members and other collaborators have the time to produce what has been asked of them within the desired time frame.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark, February 2019. Choreographic Objects, installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston by William Forsythe (a choreographer who works with world- class ballet companies)

Return to the Office, Safely

Happy September everyone! We are on our way to Labor Day Weekend, the symbolic end of summer. This year, Labor Day Weekend is also our cue to move beyond the pandemic pause that in mid-March disrupted the operations of nearly half of the nation’s businesses. Enough is enough. Business owners and leaders must prepare to tackle the COVID workplace logistics at their organizations and settle into the new normal.

The sorting out process of who will work from home and for how many days per week is underway. Office hours and days of operation are under review. Whether or not the organization needs the same amount of office space, which inevitably leads to a discussion of a possible move, is being considered. Everything is potentially up for grabs, including the products and services that are sold.

After following hastily devised processes that were enacted in the early days of the shutdown, the vital matter of how forward-facing team members will engage with prospective customers in a way that makes all parties feel comfortable must be resolved. Is it smart or risky at this point to invite customers to the office for socially distanced face2face meetings? Will prospects respond to a video sales pitch? So much is unknown.

Then there is the matter of what the safely reopened office will look like and what it will feel like to work there. How will your organization incorporate social distancing guidelines, infection control protocols, personal protective equipment and new normal staff and customer interactions?

What other changes can workers expect when they get back to the office? Will the kitchen be open and can coffee or tea be made? Can lunches still be stored in the fridge? Can we microwave?

The Centers for Disease Control and state public health commissions have established guidelines for places of business. Your insurance company can help your company to interpret the regulations that now apply. Click here for the CDC office building guidelines. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html

To move forward with your office reopening, promote staff buy-in of the anticipated changes by inviting the team, or representatives from each department, to assist in planning and executing the new office lay-out and infection control procedures.

Create a sign-up sheet that lists categories such as office entry/ lobby, conference room. photocopy room, restroom, workstations and kitchen and ask team members to volunteer to suggest the lay-out of the office sectors with the new regulations in mind. Members of each team can be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the space they volunteered to manage.

But the best solution will be to apply whatever available funds to hiring a space planning firm that specializes in helping companies institute COVID practices as mandated. Let the experts design a space and suggest office furniture that will enhance traffic flow, protect privacy, be attractive and make the best use of available space.

Health screening

Large office buildings have tasked their building entry concierge team to first conduct a quick health screening of all who enter, in addition to the usual ID check, appointment confirmation and badge ritual. Those running a fever are denied entry.

Smaller office buildings may leave health screenings to each tenant and perform only the ID protocol. Regardless of your building’s protocol, be sure to post a sign at the office entrance to announce that masks will be required. A basket of free surgical masks to offer will be a nice touch.

Disinfecting

Lysol, Clorox and 70% alcohol solutions are known to kill the coronavirus, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Daily wipe downs are a must for items such as shared desks, conference tables, chairs, computer keyboards and nearly all surfaces in the en suite kitchen and restroom. Providing a bottle of hand sanitizer in high traffic areas will be helpful.

Door knobs, counter tops, microwave oven doors and handles. water faucets, remote control devices, light switches, heat or air conditioning knobs, product displays, telephones and cash registers/ point of sale devices are likewise virus (and bacteria) breeding grounds and in need of one or more disinfecting wipe downs every day.

Speaking of hand sanitizer, the pandemic has shown us that Mom was right about keeping our hands clean, whether with hand sanitizer or soap and water. We must also learn how to wash our hands. First. remember to wash the area between the thumb and the other fingers. Second, when performing a soap and water scrub, lather up for 20 seconds —-the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song—before rinsing.

Social distancing

We all know the drill by now—-6 feet of separation, as per CDC recommendations. We want to do whatever is possible and practical to retard the spread of the air-borne coronavirus. Most offices already have at least 6 feet between desks, but some work stations will need an adjustment.

Computers and keypads placed at common work stations will need a re-thinking. Conference tables will likely need several chairs removed. There may be limits on the number of people who may occupy the office kitchen or restroom or photocopy room at any one time.

Working from home

Many white collar workers can simply turn on their personal laptop, desktop, or tablet and commence office hours. A daily videoconference meeting or two is usually sufficient to keep team members on their paths, supplemented by brief phone calls when useful. Videoconferences can also be used to promote staff camaraderie.

A survey of 25,000 workers that was conducted by IBM in April 2020 showed that 75% of respondents hope to continue working from home at least partially after the pandemic. Millions of white collar workers apparently expect the work from home trend to continue and as a result, home sales in the suburbs and exurbs that border big cities have increased dramatically, as people search for living quarters that allow more space for a home office (or two). Space for at-home schooling is another consideration.

PPE

While in the office workers will be masked at all times, except when on the telephone, eating, or drinking. Masks, surgical gloves and hand sanitizer should be made available to as a courtesy to all who enter the premises. Some workers may prefer to wear a face shield. It is constricting but for the time being, it’s what we do.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. The health screening checkpoint at the Prudential Tower in Boston. The concierge conducts a body temperature reading using the laptop computer shown. If the computer reads an individual as afebrile, s/he is next invited to approach the ID checkpoint.