# Red Light

So off you go, on a mission to reconnect with clients you haven’t worked with since the four month long COVID-19 shutdown began. You gracefully maneuver to position yourself to grab some billable hours before all of your Paycheck Protection Plan money runs out. You’re also on the hunt for new clients, maybe picking up the thread on leads you were checking out in the first quarter, before the rug was pulled out from under.

If good fortune prevails, you’ll bag a live one and generate some much-needed revenue. But do keep your senses tuned to any “off notes” while you and the prospect discuss the project specs. You are trying to work with this person, or someone on his/her team, and by no means do you want to walk into a toxic environment because you will fall. You will not be able to perform at your best. You will not be able to use that client as a reference.

it is important to notice and acknowledge the behavioral cues displayed and statements made by every prospective client. Do not get carried away by a seductive mix of need and excitement. Yes, making money is the point and you may also crave a project that you find not just lucrative, but also exciting. There may be a special skill that you own but rarely have the opportunity to display and at last you could be able to flaunt it.

But if the prospect makes you feel uncomfortable before the project work has begun, the smart Freelancer must find the strength to stop and walk away from someone who is already telling you that they’re a jerk who is out to hurt you. Assuming that this individual even pays the full amount of your invoice, in the end you will have to admit that the money earned from working with this guy or gal was not work the aggravation.

The best damage control that a Freelancer can take is to stop the process and walk away. Let’s examine a few examples of bad guy/ gal behavior:

“I’ve tried working with Freelancers before. I never get what I want.”

This prospect either doesn’t understand how to write and explain the project specs; doesn’t know what actions will achieve company goals; doesn’t understand and refuses to provide the support or authority a Freelancer needs to successfully complete the task; is a rabid micro-manager who is never satisfied by any work other than his/ her own; or cannot/ will not allocate the budget to hire a Freelancer who is able to do the work.

Do you see yourself swallowed by a giant whirlpool? You should. Stop. Turn around. Walk away.

Prospect don’t trust your references

You’ve supplied two or three solid references, clients for whom you’ve done work similar to what the prospect is looking to get done and the clients were very pleased. You exceeded expectations and created a positive experience. But the prospect is not convinced. Your references are not good enough, as far as s/he is concerned.

A dear friend of mine has often said that there are some people who will not take Yes for an answer. This prospect is not ready to become your client, for whatever reason. Maybe the prospect now feels uncomfortable with outsourcing this project to any outside expert?

Whatever. You cannot satisfy this individual. Shake hands and say goodbye, while you can still pretend to smile.

Prospect questions your fee and the value you’ll bring

The shutdown caused most businesses to take a significant financial hit and the impulse to keep all costs low is in the air. Freelancers are wise to be flexible about balancing their project fee against the work that clients need to do to get their ventures moving forward and the lower budgets that clients now live with. However, exploitation is never acceptable and must never be tolerated by a Freelancer.

Before your proposal is in writing, project specs should be discussed, including a ball park budget figure. Using that information, Freelancers can with confidence draw up a proposal with budget and submit it to the prospect. In this way, there will be no surprises. When the prospect shares some indication of the earmarked project budget along with the project specs, the Freelancer will quickly know whether or not s/he can do the job for that price.

But when the prospect wants to be secretive, it’s a bad sign. People need to be transparent and if they don’t want to do that, it will be unpleasant to work with them. Moreover, if the prospect alludes to the fact that his/ her team has the ability to do the job themselves, you may need to diplomatically hint that they might need to do just that because the work to be done demands a certain amount of time and skill.

You are willing to be flexible, you are willing to do a smaller piece of the job for the money that the client has suggested for the entire project, but you cannot give your work away. Then shut up and hear what s/he says in response. The specs will either shrink or you’ll walk.

Project timetable and other guarantees are unrealistic

Timetables and deadlines may require some help from the client if they are to be met and the smart Freelancer will put into writing the kind of resources that the client will provide and by what date. Furthermore, in certain cases the full scope of the project cannot be known until the work has been started. Obtain as much information as possible about the project specs to minimize risks and promote client satisfaction.

If you’re having trouble either reconnecting with current clients or signing new ones, you may need to tweak your pre-COVID-19 business model. Things have changed. No one has a written-in-stone game plan. Pivot has become the word of the month, if not the word of the year. Your first assignment may be to get a fix on what services are in demand now and how you can package and promote your entity to be considered a trustworthy and reliable purveyor of those services.

When speaking with current clients, even if you send out an email to say hello and get the ball rolling, ask how doing business has changed and make it known that your goal is to help them cross the river without taking any more of a bath than they may have already done.

When approaching a prospect, a version of the previous question can be asked, perhaps as a statement, “As you and your team work to help the organization regain its bearings and serve your customers in the way they now want, or legally must be, served, I’d love to talk to you about how I can help you do that efficiently and cost- effectively.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Massachusetts Avenue leaves the Back Bay and enters the South End.

What Scientists Know About Virtual Meetings

Experience has shown us that video meetings and face2face meetings are not interchangeable. Videoconference meetings, while very appealing in ways too numerous to list, nevertheless come with some noticeable drawbacks.

Video meetings are often a little stilted and sometimes borderline awkward. Participants can have trouble signing on. Wavering WiFi signals will cause one or two people to drop out for a couple of minutes, leaving them to struggle to reconnect, maybe by walking to another part of the room in search of a better signal.

Still, video meetings are great for remote team check-ins and board or committee meetings. We are social creatures and enjoy being able to see who we’re talking to. But as the meeting progresses it becomes clear that communication does not flow nearly as well as in our face2face meetings.

On top of access and connectivity issues that interrupt the meeting pace, normal conversation rhythm is also stymied, because video signals are slightly delayed. We try to compensate for unnatural pauses that cause people to talk over one another by waiting (usually too long) to respond.

Scientists who study human perception say that aside from the technical annoyances, the big problem with video is that it disrupts normal eye contact, especially how long and how often we look at each other. In a study led by Isabelle Mareschal, PhD, Psychology Department Chair at Queen Mary University in London, and her colleagues at their visual perception lab asked experiment subjects to watch a video of a face that turned to look directly at them. Study subjects initially found the gaze enjoyable, but after as little as three seconds most found the gaze to be unsettling.

Now consider the protocol at a virtual meeting—- we are expected to maintain unbroken eye contact with the speaker or risk being considered inattentive, if not rude. It’s just that our brain is uncomfortable with this practice. No wonder we find more than one videoconference per day to be draining.

Videoconferencing also disrupts what is known as synchrony, the unconscious call and response speaking rhythm that we lapse into when communicating face2face. Synchrony also persuades us to unwittingly mimic the body language and posture of the person we’re speaking with.

So we smile when we receive cues that our conversation partner will respond favorably if we do, or we’ll put on a serious facial expression when people in the room look worried or upset. “People start to synchronize their laughter and facial expressions over time,” says Paula Niedenthal, PhD, a psychologist and expert in the science of emotion at the University of Wisconsin/ Madison. She continues, “That’s really useful because it helps us predict what’s coming next.”

The ability to unconsciously and accurately predict our conversation partner’s emotional state is crucial to feeling connected, research shows. The problem with videoconferencing is that so many facial expressions—-that sparkle or cloud in the eyes, or subtle posture and hand gestures—-are obscured. We cannot consistently predict and validate the nonverbal cues of virtual meeting participants. We become vulnerable to feeling awkward and eventually, alienated.

Andrew S. Franklin, PhD, a psychologist at Norfolk State University in VA, says the first problem with Zoom is that the platform is programmed to continually show the user an image of him/herself, “So you’re trying to get out of the habit of staring at yourself.” That fascination, or discomfort, breaks the participant’s attention, drawing it away from the speaker and disrupting the transmission of whatever facial and body language cues one might otherwise pick up. Worse, that Brady Bunch Zoom meeting line-up, whether shown in a horizontal or vertical configuration on your device, brings in too many pairs of eyes to confront.

Daniel Nguyen, PhD, a scientist and director of (the global consulting firm) Accenture Lab in Shenzhen, China, investigated how people bonded (or not) while videoconferencing. For the experiment, Nguyen and his team divided study subjects into pairs: some conversing pairs used a video set- up that showed only faces; another video pairing set- up displayed face and upper body; the third conversation design was an in-person chat. As revealed in observations, the in- person pairs developed the strongest bonds and the face and torso set- up elicited bonding that was fully twice that of the face only set- up.

Furthermore, Nguyen prefers the vertical screen view on our phones over the horizontal screen view that desk models, laptops and tablets give us because the vertical view showcases more of the body and less background scenery.

Guided by the results of their experiment, Nguyen and his co-authors now sit a few feet away from their keyboards when in video meetings, so that their upper body will be visible. Providing your videoconference partners with a more expansive view of you helps them achieve synchrony with you and the potential for mutual bonding will be enhanced.

Nguyen and colleagues also have recommendations for your videoconference vocal style. “Ramp up the words that you’re saying,” he advised, “and exaggerate the way you say it.” To be honest, I don’t know how to interpret that bit of stage direction. How about we just avoid speaking in a monotone and add a little energy to our speech, taking care to speak a little more slowly and remembering to enunciate clearly?

Probably the most formidable obstacle of videoconference communication is how to develop trust when doing business. It’s not easy to build bonds, to truly get to know someone and develop lasting rapport through online encounters, even when you see who you’re talking to. Nguyen said his research found that, “In a videoconferencing situation, trust is quite fragile.” He and his team demonstrated that in video, “Trust is diminished overall.” Nguyen suggested that when building trust is critical, opportunities to meet in person at least some of the time will help build bonds that make remote collaboration more successful.

Elena Rocco, PhD, in a 1998 study at the University of Michigan Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work, demonstrated that groups that connect solely online (in her study email was the online format) do not collaborate effectively. But when her study subjects were able to meet face2face for brief periods, their willingness to cooperate and collaborate rose dramatically. Face2face meetings make a difference and opportunities to allow in person meet- ups should be made, even when online communication is more convenient.

I feel that although working from home is all the rage now, in two or three years companies will move to reverse the trend and bring employees back to the office, at least for part of the week. Without reading any studies, I knew that virtual meetings can never adequately replace face2face interactions.

Ben Waber, President and co-founder of Humanyze, a company that creates software that allows organizations to map internal communications, understands very well how employees communicate and how their communication correlates to their company’s health.

Waber suspects that in the long run, a company’s culture and creativity risk declining in a heavily remote-working structure. Employees can’t get to know one another as well when they don’t regularly interact face2face. He predicts that profitable companies will initially continue to be profitable despite their significant dependence on virtual communication but damage will become evident a year or two down the line, when the quality of new ideas become less bold and innovative. He concludes, “I think we’re going to see this general degradation of the health of organizations.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Doorway of the original location of the Forsyth Dental Infirmary for Children.

Business Building Essentials

While you’re thinking about how to give your business an injection of growth hormone, uniquely formulated to push your billable hours up and out of the doldrums, it’s also a good idea to reconsider some ground level business building essential practices that will confirm what you’re doing right and reveal what needs an edit.

Business founders must perfect not only the functionality and value of the products or services that are sold, but also create the organizational structure that will launch and support those products or services. You, founder and owner of the company, must ensure that you have your arms around each of these six elements discussed here. If ownership is shared by partners, then the responsibilities will be divided between you.

One division of labor method can be based on the percentage of the business owned, governed by abilities and preferences. Another method is to let ability and preference rule and choose a Managing Partner. That individual might own the largest share or the smallest share of the business, it doesn’t matter.

Managing Partners are compensated for the work they do, beyond the share of profit (or loss) that their ownership share entitles them to. Whether the business structure is Inc. or LLC, a W-2 salary can be paid to the Managing Partner. Discuss the matter of partner duties and compensation with your business attorney and put the agreement in writing.

A third option for monitoring and managing these responsibilities is to hire a W-2 employee or a 1099 Freelance consultant. There is no shame in calling in outside experts.

Positive cash- flow

The responsibility for positive cash flow belongs to the Finance Department, but the Sales Department is responsible for generating the revenue that keeps the business solvent. The Finance expert will monitor Accounts Receivable and Payable and enable a healthy cash-flow. In addition to generating sales, invoicing on time is critical to the process.

Operations

Inventory, quality control, managing employees and Freelancers, product manufacturing, delivery of core services, insurance and licenses and permits all land in this far- ranging category. IT, the telephone system and HVAC are other responsibilities that land in the Operations in- basket.

Operations functions are the nuts and bolts, where the rubber hits the road, hands-on aspects of the business. Excellent organizational ability is the key factor in successful operations management. Ownership of these duties can be assigned to whomever is best qualified to handle them. Sharing of theses duties by the partners and/ or hiring outside experts to oversee specific sectors will be wise.

Metrics to measure

The metrics used to measure business performance will change over time, but do some research of similar organizations and get insight into what numbers you should follow and the story they will tell, separately and together.

Plan to pivot

Doing business is so volatile now, it’s safe to say that a pivot is on your future, so why not anticipate it? Think about potential Plans B and C. Should your business venture falter, whether a flashy and well-funded competitor moves in or, gasp, you must contend with an unheard-of government mandated shutdown of your enterprise, how might your organization retool, pivot and survive?

You can help yourself by engaging and communicating with your customers to confirm why they buy from your company. You can also find out what competitive products and services may be appealing and why. In this way you can learn what you might adapt and hold on to customers should the business environment change. Staying abreast of new technologies on the horizon, new legislation, new competitors and even changes in local zoning

Culture and values

Bake into your business practices integrity, the expectation of excellence, first-rate customer service and, when necessary, the willingness to admit that a mistake has been made and an apology and/or a do over is in order. Let your customers, partners, suppliers, vendors, employees, Freelancers and most of all yourself see your humanity and your humor, too.

Coaching and mentoring

The founder(s), C-Suite leaders and staff deserve opportunities to sharpen their skills and even discover and nurture new competencies. Company sponsored professional development benefits a business in so many ways. Employees (and leaders) who feel confident about their skills and career possibilities and trajectories are nearly always happy to give back and do their best work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Construction site on Ipswich Street adjacent to Fenway Park.

Jump Start Revenue Right Now

State governments are slowly allowing more businesses to open after what has been about a four month shutdown for something like half of U.S. businesses. It’s been rough slogging for many citizens, but for a chosen few, the shutdown has been a money-making bonanza.

A handful of Freelancers were gifted with a new way to rake in billable hours like my friend Matt, a techie who is now earning a small fortune running virtual meetings and webinars on platforms like Go-to-Meeting and Zoom for colleges and big companies.

Most Freelancers have faced a business slowdown but have managed to crawl along, sometimes by shifting their focus to services that can be sold during the pandemic, such as teaching virtual classes or writing. Some of us will be able to recover relatively quickly from the shutdown but others, in particular those in the weddings and special events sector, unfortunately must grapple with a steep uphill climb this year.

One thing for certain is that nearly every Freelancer and business owner needs a jump start right now to first, entice current customers to return and second, to recruit new customers. Nothing that I recommend here is new or earth-shattering. The main thing to remember about business strategy—- and the Harvard Business School will back me up on this—-is that one must execute.

The most revolutionary strategy to rock the planet will be useless unless you get busy and put it in motion. Taking action on even one or two items can positively impact your business within six months.

Keep marketing

Especially when billable hours become sparse, it is so tempting to pull back and succumb to the fetal position. A short- lived pity party won’t hurt you and it may be just what you need in the moment. Sometimes one has to lick the wounds. Ice cream helps. But after 3 – 4 weeks, it will be time to regroup and snap out of it.

Shake up your marketing activities by trying something that’s low or no- cost, or double down on your usual tactics, as you first reality test by making sure that the target audience has found you and what you’re putting out there resonates.

Might you know a colleague who hosts a podcast? Have you ever done a 30 minute guest spot? Do you have 2 – 3 topics that seem like a good fit for the listening audience? Even if you have just one potentially interesting podcast topic, make contact and pitch it. If you host a podcast, raise the bar on who you invite as guests as a way to increase your reach and build your brand. Who do you know with big social media followings and/or extensive newsletter or blog lists? Reach out and touch. This strategy also is effective for webinars.

Are you a writer? Thank goodness I was invited to submit a few more articles to Lioness Magazine, the digital magazine targeted for female entrepreneurs that I’ve written for since 2014. There are many digital magazines in the business theme space and all are hungry for good content. The pay may be low to nonexistent, but being a published author has always been smart marketing. http://LionessMagazine.com

Assess social media

In last week’s post we examined the best days & times to publish on a few popular platforms. This week, you can think about how to implement what you learned.

My guess is that you’re already using the platforms you intend to use. Still, rethinking where you’ve chosen to have a presence and an assessment of the ROI derived—-credibility?brand awareness? lead gen?—-is an essential exercise as you look for ways to push your organization out of the doldrums. Have you chosen the right platform for what you’d like to achieve? For that matter, have you chosen the right goals?

Education

Whether you receive the education or deliver it, you and your business stand to benefit. Search for free classes on LinkedIn. Lots of them are worthwhile and all of them provide a certificate that can be uploaded to your profile to make you look smart and ambitious. In the Fall when schools reopen you can explore semester long (online) classes that will enhance your credibility to clients.

As well, take advantage of the COVID-19 attendance limits that are still widely enforced and compel networking organizations to go all-virtual and inquire as to who might invite you to present a short skills building workshop or give your expert opinion on some aspect of doing business.

These organizations are under significant pressure to remain relevant to their members and if you are a member, the organization managers will probably invite you in. It’s more than likely that you won’t get paid, but you’ll have an announcement that will be oh so perfect for your blog, newsletter and social media accounts and that is just the kind of business jump starting strategy that we’re talking about here!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. The twice weekly farmer’s market at Copley Square reopened last Friday, with strict anti-coronavirus measures.

Social Media —-Best Time to Post

You already know that timing is everything in business and life and that calculation also applies to when one should ideally post content on the social media platforms of choice. According to social media content marketing experts, there are days and times when your audience will either be more likely to login and read posts on a particular platform or will be in a receptive frame of mind when they do check in.

Social media management sites, including Buffer, Hootsuite, Hubspot and SproutSocial, have studied the potential best timing for publishing and sharing posts and published those results, but the most exhaustive research seems to have been done by the Bismarck, ND digital marketing management company CoSchedule. Highlights of the company’s research are cited in this post and in its entirety at this link. https://coschedule.com/blog/best-times-to-post-on-social-media/

Still, I suggest that you experiment with your own study and look for indications that your posts perform better or worse on certain days and times. Because I had a long career in B2B face2face sales, I knew to avoid posting on Monday (too busy) or Friday (livin’ for the weekend). Tuesday seemed like a good day to publish, so I went with it. LinkedIn is my social media platform and I’ve shared my posts there each week for the 11 years that I’ve published.

Here’s a rundown of platforms that appeal most to B2B marketers and the suggested prime times to publish content, according to a review of 20 studies that was conducted by CoSchedule. To dig more deeply into this topic, click the link to the study. B2B, B2C and age will potentially impact your prime publishing times.

Facebook

The evaluation of 20 studies revealed that the overall best time frame to post on Facebook is Thursday to Sunday from 1:00 – 3:00 PM. However, users can quickly and accurately identify their individual prime posting times by opening the Insight tab at the top of the page and inspecting the tracking graph.

Google Plus

What users really want to do to find out what’s going on is to use the Steady Demand tool, that reports out not only what your business, but also competitive businesses, are doing. You’ll have to pay, though. Otherwise, Wednesday mornings at 9:00-ish reportedly yields the best results when publishing. https://www.steadydemand.com/services.php

Instagram

Users who have a business account with the platform should head straight to Instagram Analytics to receive customized performance results. Those who do not have a business account are recommended to investigate a free tool that is known to provide reliable data, such as Union Metrics. https://unionmetrics.com/free-tools/instagram-account-checkup/

LinkedIn

The platform is all business and users are in a business frame of mind when they check in, but according to statistics, Tuesday through Thursday 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM wins by a nose (hey, that’s when I publish!). My LinkedIn connections will know that I’ve shared a blog post via a message that appears at their Notifications tab.

TikTok

These 500 million active monthly users, heavily represented by the highly coveted Generation Z demographic, continue to fascinate nearly every marketer, especially in the B2C space. Business owners and leaders want to recruit them as customers now and work on cultivating a longstanding relationship that will yield millions of dollars in sales.

Marketers dream of their company’s videos being seen by a large segment of a GenZ audience that will become loyal to their company and who will comment on and give likes and shares to company posts. Some clever and lucky posters, they imagine, will attract devoted followers who like their videos enough to click the icon that includes the video creator’s profile to find the heart ♥️ and ask to be a follower.

What may not have been considered is that this group is not known for long term loyalty. They are known for skepticism and changing their minds. The best posting times have been difficult to pin down, but morning and evening commute, plus lunchtime, seem the best for publishing new content.

Twitter

Wednesdays and Thursdays have emerged as the preferred days for tweeting, but users can verify their power hours by way of Twitter Analytics. Click “tweets” Overall, the best time frame for publishing is 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM- ish.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark

Trending: Remote Work

A recent survey of 500 + venture capital backed tech company founders conducted by the Kung Group, a San Francisco Bay Area organizational development consulting firm, revealed that the most prominent response employers have had to the coronavirus pandemic has been the launch of the work from home culture.

70% of Kung Group survey responders said they planned to allow some or all of their employees to continue to work from home when their office reopens.

76% of responders reported that their employees had either maintained or increased business productivity while working from home.

66% of responders plan to reassess their company’s future use of and need for office space, as a result of their company’s success with the work from home strategy.

The predictive value of the survey results has been confirmed by prominent technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Square and Twitter, indicating that a significant portion of employees will continue to work from home when the shutdown ends. Facebook projects that in 5 – 10 years, 50% of its employees will work from home.

Remote work is poised to become a defining feature of the early 21st century work place—-work from home, work from anywhere. The new normal for millions of Americans will not include returning to the office. Some employees are already considering a change in their living arrangements, as they contemplate trading cramped and expensive city apartments for houses in the suburbs, or even rural locales, where a home office (single or his & hers) can easily coexist with their personal lives.

Amid the enthusiasm for the shrinking of the corporate office, business owners and leaders would be wise to give serious thought to the practical functionality of the company. In particular, how to build cohesive and productive teams that theoretically might stretch from Ghana to Georgia to Goa?

Needless to say, exceptional communication and collaboration proficiency will be needed. For certain projects, companies may learn that face2face interaction produces the best results.

In support of that approach Apple has decided to continue the company culture of in-house collaboration and is in the process of moving 12,000 employees back into the Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, CA. Even Facebook is hedging its bets on remote work; it’s been reported that the company plans to create hub offices in the (moderately priced) cites of Atlanta, Dallas and Denver.

But the question for readers of this column is, what will happen to Freelancers in the office space shake-up? It remains to be seen, of course, but there may be reasons for cautious optimism.

If so many team members are working remotely, we Freelancers may have a better chance of inspiring the trust and confidence of decision-makers because to a certain extent, a significant percentage of the workforce will operate in a similar fashion to Freelancers, with the exception of submitting a monthly invoice. Freelancers can much more easily position ourselves as another remote team member.

Furthermore, the shutdown encouraged businesses to re-evaluate many jobs and discover that an unexpectedly wide range of tasks can be performed remotely. The consensus is that most tasks relegated to employees working remotely have yielded satisfactory results. The expectations of their customers have been met.

So the outcomes of remote work have been demonstrated and it bodes well for Freelancers. As businesses recover from the shutdown and need more hands on deck to get things done, decision-makers will feel more comfortable about bringing us on board. Ka-ching.

Harshvendra Soin, Chief People Officer at Tech Mahindra, a multinational technology company headquartered in Pune, India, recently said, “We hire gig workers for niche or scarce legacy skills which are not immediately available internally.” Tech Mahindra has an AI based talent marketplace called Talex that identifies gig workers internally. Soin elaborated, “ We have built an external marketplace called Flex.ai, that allows employers to seamlessly tap into the Freelance workplace.”

Top Freelance skills in demand include business planning, brand strategy, cloud computing, data analytics, digital marketing and SAP implementation. Now you’re smiling.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: A traveler passing through South Station in Boston, MA gets some work done remotely.

Moving Past Panic

Slowly, tentatively, businesses around the country are being allowed to reopen and at least partially end the COVID-19 shutdown that began in the U.S. in mid-March. Last week, houses of worship were allowed to hold services in some localities, with plenty of social distancing mandated by state legislatures. Restaurants in many cities and towns are now able to seat patrons for outside dining only, with tables spaced wide.

A theater company in the Berkshire Mountains of western MA, an area that for 100 years has featured high quality plays, music and dance performances during the summer months, is negotiating with Actor’s Equity, the powerful union, to get permission to hire actors and stage a production or two in July and August.

So we can finally shift gears from park to drive and the forward motion is a relief after 10 weeks of a mandated standstill. But do we know where we’re going now and how to get the show back on the road?

Businesses large and small are in agreement on at least one thing and that is, we cannot go back and pick up where we left off. It has been said that one never steps into the same river twice because it keeps flowing and changing before our eyes. In the post- shutdown world, those who lead a business must make some adjustments.

Reframe capabilities

Quite simply, business owners and leaders are now tasked with discovering and responding to how customers and prospects feel about and are inclined to use products or services in the reopening. How might your organization address the now reframed experiences and expectations of customers and prospects as they, too, emerge from the shutdown? How can you repackage what you sell? What should your marketing message be now? How can content marketing and social media tell your story in a way that resonates with today’s redefined customer experiences?

Reframe operations

It’s almost a given that you’ll have to retool. Must you change how you deliver services because so many of your clients’ employees now work from home? Are client meetings now videoconferences? Have you been invited to deliver a workshop virtually?

Communication with clients will be key as you learn how your organization can most effectively deliver the value of your products and services to the end user.

Reimagining how to deliver your services online is an operational paradigm shift that your company must make immediately. You must also make the delivery of your services frictionless and engaging, for maximum perceived effectiveness.

Reframe relationships

Relationships may be the most important segment of your organizational response to the new and evolving business environment. Without appearing to violate boundaries, position yourself to clients as a partner. Encourage honest communication and share information that could be helpful to clients. Be generous in your pricing and payment structures when necessary and possible for your cash-flow and revenue needs. Make referrals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. The former Algonquin Club on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston has been reframed as The Quin, a private club set to open in Spring 2021.

Defensive Marketing

In sports and in business, well-planned and executed strategies and tactics are necessary to win the day. Some sports or business plays or strategies come from the Offensive side. Those strategies are proactive—-the opening salvo, aggressive and attacking, putting out a direct challenge to the competition.

Introducing a new product and all the activities related to the launch are an example of Offensive Marketing. One might also think of push marketing tactics, e.g., email marketing that announces a new product or service.

Your company is in expansion mode, perhaps entering a new market or geography and battling for the attention and support of new customers.

In contrast, Defensive Marketing strategies and tactics, on the playing field or in the board room, are designed and utilized to protect your turf. Tactics and strategies are reactive. When responding to an attack, whether it’s the other team positioning itself to chip away at your lead or a competitor cutting into your market share, assume a Defensive stance and take steps to protect what has been achieved. Position your entity to maintain or reestablish dominance.

When a Defensive Marketing strategy is required, the company objective is to retain clients and market share, to refine product positioning messages, strengthen customer relationships, or enact other reparative therapy. Crisis communications, i.e., the response to a public set-back or scandal, is a classic Defensive Marketing move.

Depending on what a business needs to achieve, marketing strategies that work from an Offensive or Defensive stance can be employed separately or simultaneously. In the coronavirus business climate, that our politicians seem inclined to prolong, Defensive Marketing rules the day.

Everyone is hunkered down, if not outright shut down. Nevertheless, those businesses allowed to operate are doing just that, even if employees are working from home. The companies have budgets. Some are hiring Freelancers.

Just because many companies have curbed their spending doesn’t mean that they don’t have a modest budget available for certain types of high-value projects, as owners and leaders define it.

Put on your thinking cap—-What might motivate your clients to spend money these days? Chances are they’re working hard to protect what they’ve built up over the months that preceded the shutdown. It’s likely that your clients are shoring up systems and resources and reaffirming relationships with their customers. Your clients are probably positioning their organization for long-term success.

The question is, how can we Freelancers package, describe and promote our organization to effectively communicate to current and prospective clients that we can assist their Defensive Marketing campaigns?

To predict how your services might fit into the picture, take time to think objectively about the client’s business and what could be considered logical long-term objectives that could reap benefits over the next 5 or so years.

Nurturing and promoting their most important, biggest selling products or services is a safe bet, as is protecting and/ or upgrading business continuity processes and also insurance, disaster recovery systems in nearly every stripe, from hardware and software to the physical plant. However, some organizations might go on the Offensive and begin making some surprisingly aggressive moves as they pursue customer acquisition.

Keep in mind that scaling back on what is considered spending on nonessentials should not be mistaken for the cessation of spending. The organizations could be merely reflecting the economic or political climate and allowing their expenditures to reflect the new normal.

Good customer knowledge and relationships, along with agility and adaptability, will support proprietors of Freelance consultancies as we respond to yet another set of difficult business conditions. Our clients are either thinking of what must be done today to get their business back in motion, or looking at how the distant future might look and how they can engineer safe passage. Defensive Marketing strategies will predominate.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. The Boston Common tennis court.

Rethink the Customer Experience

Well now this seems obvious, doesn’t it? Like the divide between BC and AD, the au courant paradigm shift is Before Coronavirus and After Coronavirus. Navigating life and business will change in ways that we cannot necessarily anticipate.

It is safe to assume that our clients are anxious to get back to the office and into the driver’s seat, to work on generating profits. But it’s probably also safe to assume that clients are uncertain about how to make things happen again.

In the After Coronavirus world, their reliable golden touch business model may no longer make the cash register ring. What were once considered business best practices may no longer apply. There may be new public health regulations to follow, such as the number of employees who can work on site at a given time, or the number of customers who can enter the premises, all in observance of social distancing.

Many businesses have lost a great deal of money as they simultaneously paid employees, rent, insurance, utilities, software licensing fees and other fixed expenses. The owners/ leaders are relieved that the doors are open again but there can be confusion about what “open for business” will look like now, at least in the short term. Added to the list of worries may be the possibility that certain employees might continue to work from home until further notice and the impact that will have on productivity, work flow and team communication.

In the After Coronavirus business environment, nearly every operation will undergo a shakeout and no one can predict the length of that period or the needs of the business as the new normal unfolds. As a result, the client experience that your organization has dependably provided will have to shift in response. The usual benefits linked to the usual client touch points have already lost their relevance and luster.

As noted in previous posts, trust, dependability and communication will be among your most valuable intangible competencies and may I also suggest that you add good listening skills to your toolkit? Listening, empathy, trust, dependability, flexibility, agility and big-picture thinking are the qualities and skills that will help you to help your clients rebuild. Listen actively and figure out your strategy.

Face2face meetings I think will be most useful as you refresh client relationships, but there are also ways to make virtual meetings both fun and profitable.

Surprise and delight your client by adding a personal touch to a virtual meeting with a take out order that arrives 10 minutes before the meeting start time. Send over something tasty, be it afternoon tea complete with scones or gourmet pizza and Italian sodas. Deliver the same menu to yourself and your team. When the videoconference goes live, tah- dah! everyone will share a meal and a memorable experience, whether simple or elaborate.

Your services may also need to adapt to the new universe that your clients now inhabit, so do your best to customize your offerings. Furthermore, your usual payment payment schedule, if not the pricing itself, may need to be adjusted. While keeping an eye on one’s own revenue and cash-flow needs, do what is possible to encourage sales and make pricing attractive.

As your clients rebuild, they bring you with them. None of us will get through these trying times alone. Collaboration and cooperation are the way.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Bank of America office on Washington Street in Boston, MA 02111.

Your Technology Recovery Plan

We’ve been tethered to our tech devices over the past few weeks and they enabled our productivity in many ways. However, now that several states are in the process of cautiously discontinuing quarantine protocols, I think it’s time for us to rethink our heavy tech dependency. Too much of a good thing can lead to unfortunate consequences.

Unzip Zoom

I suspect that those who shifted from going to the office to working from home were particularly entangled in videoconference technology, which can eventually send team members into diminished productivity (or maybe just annoyance) if overdone. Well meaning managers inexperienced in the mechanics of leading an entirely remote team are known to hold many meetings and because videoconferencing technology exists, some managers will hold a (probably Zoom hosted) meeting every morning at 9:00 AM, for example, so everyone will be in the loop and, especially, the big bosses will know that your boss is getting the work done (or doing a good job at making it look that way!).

Despite the technology’s surging popularity, there is no need for every meeting to be a videoconference call. Audio only conference calls remain useful, especially when they are of less than 30 minutes duration. Furthermore, the matter at hand might be resolved in a two paragraph email. Resist the temptation to use video calls as your default communication tool because that’s not what it was designed to be.

Moreover, no one who is working from home should on a regular basis feel the need to assess the Home & Garden Magazine readiness of their home/ office space whenever they need to talk business. Not only that but your home may not have the best WiFi service. Your neighbors are also working from home, participating in videoconference meetings while their children are home schooling lessons on Skype or Google Hangout. Your internet signal could slow down or freeze up. Videoconferences are pressure and one does not always need to take it on to get the job done.

Physical over digital

As was discussed in the last post, suggest a face2face meeting with your VIP and arrange to have at least a beverage on the table when you meet. Oh, it’s been so long since we’ve been able to grab a coffee or whatever and sit down at a table and talk. Oh, how powerful that simple ritual is and how we took it for granted until it was gone!

Now that it is, or soon will be, within our grasp again, why not pay homage and invite a client you’re reconnecting with to meet you for ice cream now that warmer days are here? Surprise and delight!

Daily tech break

Rest your eyes and hunched shoulders and schedule two 30 minute tech tool breaks every day (unless you’re on project deadline). Believe it or not, taking a couple of short breaks during your work day is a time management technique that boosts energy, concentration power, creativity and productivity. We all need to periodically unplug and refresh ourselves physically, psychologically and emotionally because resting is necessary.

Pencil and paper

It’s also possible to walk one’s use of technology all the way back and periodically remind yourself of the charms of paper and pencil. The next time you (and your team or client, for that matter) need to brainstorm ideas or make a list, pull out a sheet of paper and a pen and write in longhand. Whether you’re in a face2face or videoconference meeting, don’t be afraid to go low tech old school every once in a while. You can use the white board in your office and plot a timeline in longhand. When you’ve completed it, take a picture with your phone and send it around. The raw, in the moment look of your notes will be the soul of creativity and authenticity.

Finally, you can cut back your screen time and reclaim the lost art of reading a physical book or newspaper. Every Sunday I buy the paper and read it in sections throughout the week. My eyes and brain appreciate the break; I enjoy it and find it relaxing.

Whenever I grab something to eat, I almost always also grab something to read as well. If I want to share an article with someone, I go online to find the link and copy/ paste, reminding myself that technology maintains its advantages.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark May 19, 2020. Office at Chase Bank 800 Boylston Street Boston, MA.