Machine Learning: Coming To A Freelancer Near You

Machine learning is a ground breaking technology that uses Artificial Intelligence to allow computer systems to automatically “learn” from the patterns of the user’s online browsing choices, without the need to program the system to do so.  Many of us became familiar with AI and machine learning through movie choices offered to us on Netflix or music on iHeartRadio.  Think also of the Digital Personal Assistants Siri and Amazon Alexa, other applications of AI and machine learning that many have embraced.  Machine learning focuses on developing computer programs that can access data, analyze that data (to find patterns) and then use that information to “learn.”

Machine learning and AI are slowly filtering down the food chain from global and national corporations to regional operations.  Start-up entrepreneurs are launching enterprises that employ machine learning and early adopter Freelance consultants will soon be able to incorporate machine learning beyond what we may already be doing with Siri and Netflix.  In particular, marketing is poised to become a primary utilization of the technology, in businesses of every size.

About a year or two ago, you noticed that when you visited a particular website and then returned to Facebook, LinkedIn, or your chosen online homepage, an ad from the site you visited would soon pop up and tempt you with an offer.  The phenomenon is called “real-time” by marketing specialists and it’s driven by the data that your browsing history generates via machine learning and AI.  It’s a manifestation of being responsive to a potential customers’ interests as a way to fill the sales funnel and facilitate a sale.

To take AI and machine learning a few steps closer to ordinary mortals on planet Earth, these tools are uniquely suited to B2B marketing, because they limit the (costly) trial-and-error activities that haunt every online or off-line marketing campaign.  Now, your marketing activities, whether presented in an online display ad, social media posts, or content marketing outreach, will be seen by those whose online searches indicate that they are likely to be interested in exploring your products and services.

Machine learning, augmented by AI, will allow marketing specialists to greatly reduce the wasteful expenditures inherent in every marketing budget and direct those valuable dollars toward self-qualified leads who have a much greater potential to become paying customers.  Your marketing campaigns cannot help but become more cost-effective whether online or offline, print ads in traditional publications, banner ads on individually targeted websites, social media posts, or email marketing.

Speaking of social media posts, machine learning allows marketing specialists to monitor trending topics on various platforms, i.e., topics that currently resonate with particular market segments.  Certain of those memes can become the basis of content for blogs, newsletters, email marketing and other promotional activities.

Finally, let’s circle back to what machine learning has been doing for Netflix and iHeartRadio, which in marketing speak is called demand forecasting.  When movie and music choices are offered to you, the goal is to give you what you want before you know you want it.  Current algorithms are doing a pretty good job of doing that now, but more sophisticated algorithms are in development, with predicting accuracy refined by machine learning and AI.  What is offered will still be a guess and just a suggestion, but for many of us, at least once in a while, we’ll receive an offer that we cannot refuse.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

display.png   Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photograph: Jean Jennings (l) and Frances Bilas programming ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first large-scale computer to run at electronic speed   Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania (1946)

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Intelligent. Trustworthy. Successful.

When advising Freelancers and other self-employed business professionals on how to increase their customer list and sales revenues, the usual recommendations are repeatedly trotted out: Exceed expectations. Network. Get referrals.  Price well.

Yet there is another way to continually, subtly, position yourself and your business enterprise as dependable and competent and that is to be well-spoken.  Whether you are in conversation with friends and colleagues, clients and referral sources, a good vocabulary is always noticed by the listener on some level.  Well-spoken people get more respect in life.  They are listened to and trusted. Expand your vocabulary and your client list may follow.

How can you add more words to your long-term memory? Read! Read for business and read for pleasure.  Read new books and explore old classics.  When you encounter an unfamiliar word, look it up and claim it as your own.  Eventually, you’ll sprinkle those words into your written and verbal communications, without sounding like a show-off. Below is a list of words that you might want to get to know and use in your life and work.

Adept

Definition: being highly skilled or well-trained in a particular discipline; an expert  Synonyms: capable, accomplished

Example: Grace is very adept at financial analysis and as a result, she was recruited by several regional and national banks.

Aplomb

Definition: self-confidence or assurance, especially when in a demanding situation  Synonyms: composure, poise

Example: Michael chaired what could have been a difficult meeting with a potentially hostile audience with aplomb.

Byzantine

Definition: devious and surreptitious operation                                                          Synonyms: complicated, troublesome

Example: Robert’s high personal ethics made it difficult for him to work for a company with such a Byzantine culture, so he tendered his resignation.

Cogent

Definition: well-reasoned, logical and compelling                                                      Synonyms: convincing, valid

Example: Yvonne and her study co-authors made three cogent arguments in favor of the proposed changes to the zoning laws.

Conundrum

Definition: a difficult problem                                                                                          Synonyms: problem, puzzlement

Example: Edward was charged with solving the shipping conundrum before the company lost money.

Cronyism

Definition: the appointment of friends and associates to jobs or other desirable posts, often evidenced by awarding promotions that are not deserved because the candidates are unqualified                                                                                                                           Synonyms: favoritism, preference

Example: It has long been said that jobs within city and state governments are obtained primarily through cronyism.

Delineate

Definition: to precisely describe or outline                                                                   Synonyms: describe, outline

Example: To ensure that things ran smoothly, the team moved to the conference room to delineate their plan on the whiteboard before beginning the project.

Deviate

Definition: to stray or depart (from a standard, course of action or the norm)    Synonyms: differ, stray

Example: If you deviate from your customer’s expectations, they may buy from competitors who offer a more consistent experience.

Dichotomy

Definition: a division into two parts, often contradictory or mutually exclusive  Synonyms: contrast, split

Example: By attempting to work half an hour on the production line, the president only further illustrated the dichotomy that exists between executives and factory workers in our company.

Disseminate

Definition: to spread or disperse                                                                                     Synonyms: announce, broadcast

Example: A downside of being a celebrity these days is that the internet makes it easy and fast to disseminate rumors about their alleged misdeeds.

Esoteric

Definition: difficult to understand except by a chosen few; a rare and special interest                                                                                                                                 Synonyms: unusual, sophisticated

Example: When speaking with prospective clients, it is recommended that you avoid using esoteric, industry-specific terms.

Fiasco

Definition: a total failure; a complicated situation that ends in failure                  Synonyms: calamity, disaster,

Example: My suit was wrinkled, my business cards got soaked in the rain and when I left, I found a huge piece of spinach in my teeth.  The whole thing was a total fiasco!

Galvanize

Definition: to propel a person or people into activity or inspiration                       Synonyms: inspire, motivate

Example: Leila gave a rousing victory speech, galvanizing her campaign volunteers to stay active on social media long after the election was over.

Incisive

Definition: penetrating, biting or remarkably clear (tone, words, etc.)                  Synonyms: clever, sharp

Example: Dan tried to counter the damaging points made by the defense attorney, but in the end, her points were too incisive and the jury sided with the defendant.

Juxtapose

Definition: place two items close together and side by side (often referring to objects that may at first seem to be in opposition or contrast)                                                       Synonyms: compare, differentiate

Example: To illustrate her point about how far the company had come, Mariam juxtaposed the image of the company’s original product with the modern version.

Leverage

Definition: to exert influence on to gain the desired effect (in business)                Synonyms: advantage, influence

Example: A buyer can limit the leverage of the seller if that buyer doesn’t seem overly anxious to acquire the product.

Litany

Definition: a long list or reciting of excuses, reasons, etc.                                            Synonyms: list, chant

Example: Jocelyn had a litany of excuses for her miscalculation — many were valid, some were not.

Mercurial

Definition: volatile or erratic; fickle; flighty, or lively and often quick-witted       Synonyms: changeable, impulsive

Example: The lead singer’s mercurial nature was well-loved by fans and the media, but brought lots of stress to his band mates.

Prudent

Definition:  wise and sensible in action and thought                                                   Synonyms: careful, shrewd

Example: Cate felt that it would be prudent to use 30% of the revenue from the sale to pay the organization’s debt and to deposit 30% into the endowment fund.

Quid pro quo

Definition: something given for something taken (you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours) Synonyms: trade-off, equal exchange

Example: Heidi and Larry had a quid pro quo arrangement — they swapped desks, so that she could sit near her friend and he could sit near the girl he has a crush on.

Sanguine

Definition: accepting even negative circumstances with a positive attitude         Synonyms: unflappable, composed

Example: While it would make his job more difficult, Omar was sanguine when he was told he’d have to complete the project a week earlier than expected.

Untenable

Definition: indefensible, usually in relation to a difficult or impossible situation  Synonyms: illogical, unwarranted

Example: Naomi was in an untenable position; she couldn’t continue to tell her  employees to cut costs while she stayed in five-star hotels when on business trips.

Wunderkind

Definition: a young person who succeeds, usually in business                                   Synonyms: genius, mastermind

Example: The late musician Prince was a wunderkind, a highly talented guitar player, song writer and recording producer who signed his first record contract at age eighteen, with Warner Brothers.

Zeitgeist

Definition: spirit of the times                                                                                            Synonyms: outlook, trend

Example:  Ideas of world peace, happiness and rock’n’roll music defined the Zeitgeist of the 1960s in the U.S. and Western Europe.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Marie Curie, winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize in chemistry (for her work with radium and polonium). In 1903, she was one of three who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. She is pictured in her laboratory, circa 1900.

e-Commerce Insights

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  Just because everything is different, doesn’t mean that anything has changed.  Way back in the middle of the 20th century, business owners and advertising/marketing specialists learned through experience that the response rate to advertising campaigns, known today in the internet age as the conversion rate, is about 3%.  When you distribute a marketing flier in a chosen geography to announce a new business, for example, either by door to door leafleting or through a mailing, you can expect that 3% or so of the recipients will show up and buy at some point.

In the internet age, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube will announce the grand opening.  The business owner will spend several thousand dollars to launch a website that’s e-commerce ready, with a user-friendly and secure payment system and reliable shipping.  Social media accounts are created, text and photos begin the digital marketing campaign.  According to Statista, U.S. retail B2C e-commerce sales in 2017 were approximately $409,208,000 and 2018 retail B2C e-commerce sales have been projected to reach or exceed $461,582,000.

That’s all to the good, but recent research indicates that the internet age has only barely advanced the original direct marketing response rate.  E-commerce sales conversion rates are about 4%, meaning that 96% of your website visitors do not buy.  Your website may be able to attract customers from all over the world, but no matter.  Whether your customers are down the street or in Amsterdam, aided by technology or looking at a flier that was left in the entrance of their apartment building, only a handful will respond to your advertising outreach.

The offline (i.e., in person) sales conversion rate is much more favorable, estimated at 30%. Why such a big gap between online and offline purchasing? Consumer behavior researchers note that trust is integral to making a purchase online or offline, but I’ve not seen research on why trust develops at a much greater rate in offline shopping. I suppose it can be attributed to seeing is believing?

There is another factor as well, one that seems to be overlooked when the discrepancy between online and offline sales conversion rates are compared and that is, the in-store sales help.  The good ones can lead a customer down the garden path with a nice smile, a warm greeting, knowledge of the merchandise and the ability to answer questions and reassure.  Good sales help are integral to generating revenue for the store.

Derrick Neufeld, Associate Professor of Information Systems at Western University’s Ivey Business School in Ontario, Canada and Mahdi Roghanizad, Assistant Professor at Huron University College also at Western University in Ontario, Canada, designed an experiment to study motivating factors in 245 research subjects and learn what might influence online purchases, from facts about secure online payments to the website’s font sizes and colors.  The research subjects were asked to visit the website of a bookstore in Australia that had been in business for 17 years and with whom none of them had previously known or patronized and to then make some buying decisions.

Neufeld and Roghanizad found, surprisingly, that objective information about privacy and secure payment systems have less influence on purchasing than do subjective factors in website design that signal trust.  Online purchases from an unknown entity, in particular, involve risk and potential customers rely more on subjective clues that communicate trust, such as “professionalism” and aesthetics, to make themselves feel comfortable enough to put their money down.

So how might you use this information to support online purchases from your company website? It sounds as if you’d be advised to work with a very talented web designer who understands both the aesthetic and technical aspects of the craft.  The e-commerce focused website must have attractive page layouts and fonts, expert product photography (and maybe a video, too), colors that psychologists have determined will appeal to customers who are known to buy your B2C product and a good overall flow to the website pages.  I recommend that even if it’s a second-tier priority, include a line that verifies the security and privacy of customer financial information.

Think of your e-commerce store in the way that proprietors of bricks and mortar locations do and create an experience that communicates the best that your brand has to offer.  Make your website an attractive, welcoming environment that offers quality merchandise, intuitive navigation and excellent customer service.  Make shopping a satisfying experience, as it is meant to be.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Custom tailoring at Lagu Hong Kong Tailor in Hong Kong, China (2012)

Freelancing in America 2017 Report

I’m happy to share highlights from the 4th annual Freelancing in America report, produced jointly and published in October 2017 by the Freelancer’s Union and Upwork, the freelance job site.  The online survey queried 6002 U.S. adults who had performed full or part-time Freelance work between August 2016 – July 2017.  Freelancing was defined as temporary, project-based, or contract work performed at a for-profit or not-for-profit organization or government agency.  There are gradations of Freelancing, described as follows:

Independent Contractors          35%  exclusively Freelancing, f/t or p/t

Freelance Business Owners      7%    exclusive Freelancers who’ve hired employees

Diversified Workers                   28%   working a mix of p/t traditional jobs + Freelancing

Moonlighters                               25%   f/t or p/t traditional employees who take side projects

Temporary Workers                   7%

See the full report here  Freelancing in America 

There are now 57.3 million Freelance workers in the U.S., representing 36% of the nation’s workforce and a 30% increase over 2016, and we contributed about $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2017.  Since 2014, the Freelance workforce has grown three times faster than the traditional workforce. At that rate of growth, most U.S. workers will be Freelancers by 2027.  The Millennial generation is leading the way, with an astonishing 47% participation rate in the Freelance workforce.

Demographically, slightly more men (54%) than women (46%) are Freelancers.  There is great diversity in educational background, with 32% having earned a high school diploma or less; 24% have earned a bachelor’s degree; and 19% have an advanced degree (those statistics are nearly identical to members of traditional employees).  Most live in the South (40%) and in the suburbs (47%); 65% are white, 11% are black, 5% are Asian and those statistics also closely mirror the traditional workforce.

The majority of Freelancers report that they chose self-employment (63%) and 79% assert that Freelancing is preferable to traditional employment; 50% say they would not accept an offer of full-time traditional employment, at any salary.  Freelancers feel respected, empowered and engaged in their work, excited to start each day.

On average, the full-time Freelancer bills 36 work hours a week.  Freelancers seek to diversify the clients with whom they work and the services they provide; 63% feel that this strategy holds more advantages than working with one (presumably steady provider of adequate billable hours) client only.  In 2017, the average full-time Freelancer worked with 4.5 clients per month and repeat clients comprise 52% of their work. Economically, some Freelancers did rather well in 2017: 36% earned more than $75,000, with 19% who earned $75,000 – $99,999; 12% earned $100,000 – $149, 999; and 5% earned more than $150,000.

Presumably to enhance their value to prospective employers, Freelancers are noticeably more likely than their traditionally employed counterparts to upgrade their skills in response to an evolving job market, 65% to 45%.  Virtual-reality related skills, natural language processing and econometrics are among the fastest-growing skill sets for Freelancers.  More than 50% of Freelancers are concerned about the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence and automation on their future income, as compared to 19% of full-time traditional employees.

Cash-flow and getting paid weighs heavily on the minds of Freelancers.  Among those who participate full-time, being paid at what is perceived as fair value (52%), income unpredictability (46%) and debt (46%) are concerns. Among part-time Freelancers, difficulty in finding work (47%) and debt (56%) are primary concerns.  Sadly, 20% of full-time Freelancers lack health insurance; affordability is an issue for those with or without health coverage.

No doubt about it, there is greater economic instability in the life of a Freelancer as compared to the traditionally employed, the result of gaps in billable hours and checks that do not arrive within 30 (or even 45) days. 63% of full-time Freelancers report that they must tap into their savings one or more times a month, while only 20% of the traditional full-time employees feel the need to do so.  56% of Freelancers have less than $5000 in savings, compared to 49% of traditional employees who have such small savings. Perhaps in response to this harsh reality, 46% of full-time participants raised their hourly rates/project fees in 2017 and 54% plan to raise their rates in 2018.

Freelancing continues to have a significant impact on working and living in the U.S. and the expansion is expected to continue.  Those who Freelance full or part-time report that they’re quite satisfied with the arrangement and a chosen few are doing well financially, at least at this time.

But the spectre of debt and an inability to amass savings loom large.  The Freelancer Survey reported that in 2017, 20% of Freelancers lacked health insurance and as reported in Forbes Magazine in November 2017, 40% lack retirement savings.  Yet, traditional employment continues to hemorrhage advantages.  That promotion may come with a fancy title, but no raise to acknowledge the additional responsibilities.  The health insurance plan costs more and covers less.  Rumors of approaching lay-offs keep people awake at night.  Getting, or holding on to, your piece of the American Dream has become more difficult.

How can you cope? Remember that the best defense is a good offense.  Identify skills that can be expected to bring value-added to you and do what you can to obtain, package, promote and leverage them, whether as a traditional employee or a Freelancer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Lewis Hine (1908) courtesy of the National Archives                                     Girls at weaving machines in Evansville, IN

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Finally Figuring Out Social Media

Consider, if you will, that you are using all of your company’s social media platforms like a naïve amateur, no matter how long you’ve been active on Facebook or how quickly you jumped onto Twitter and Instagram.  Chances are you do not have a realistic definition of social media marketing campaign success.  You cannot demonstrate meaningful ROI for the strategies you’ve employed.

The fact of the matter is, you are using the wrong measurements to document social media marketing campaign success.  You have been misled and you are confused.  Followers, shares, comments and likes are widely considered the gold standard social media metrics, but does that “engagement” correlate with or generate sales revenue and referrals? Let’s lift the curtain and sort this out.

It’s time to think about social media marketing in the way you do traditional marketing campaigns, including advertising and sales strategies, and apply the same expectations.  Social media campaigns are marketing campaigns, too, and not a stand-alone entity.  Please shift your social media marketing goals and objectives to what is tangible and measurable and bring real value to your customers and organization.  Various social media platforms can take a credible supporting role in the following marketing goals, for example:

  • Raising brand awareness
  • New product or service launch
  • Lead generation
  • Increasing sales
  • Special events promotion
  • Facilitating and/or improving customer service
  • Obtaining donations (not-for-profit sector)
  • Recruiting volunteers (not-for-profit sector)

Once you’ve identified your marketing goals, determine which platforms seem most suitable for your message and which will reach the selected target market groups.  Then, select the content—blog, tweeted updates, YouTube videos, Instagram photos, announcements on Facebook, for example—that will most effectively communicate your message and resonate with your target markets.

Be aware that unlike traditional marketing methods, which fly at 30,000 feet, social media outreach is an ongoing conversation and the best way to attract and retain visitors and followers who might convert into your customers and referrers is to get personal.  Use social media to speak directly to your audience.  Answer questions that will help to familiarize them with your products and services and understand their features, advantages and benefits.  Display visual images of your brand and what it stands for. Include audiovisuals that let influencers give testimonials.  Solve problems, deliver timely information.  Be a cool and helpful friend.

To help you schedule and manage the integration of multi-platform social media campaigns and ongoing outreach across various departments in a larger business organization, investigate Buffer and Hootesuite, or other social media management services.

Now, to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns.  On your own, you can record selected Key Performance Indicators that immediately precede your revised social media strategies.  In six months and then again in 12 months, revisit those KPIs.  Additionally, Google Analytics is a useful tool to sort through social media activity on all of your channels and report on engagement that leads to a sale processed on the company website, event registrations, signs-ups to receive your blog or newsletter, not-for-profit organization fundraising donations received and requests for additional product or service information, for example.

When you approach social media marketing campaigns correctly, you can receive lots of actionable information.  But in order to receive information that will make a difference in you company’s bottom line, you need to ask the right questions and apply the right metrics.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Teletype operator (circa 1941-1945) courtesy of the National Archives           Teletype technology allowed typed messages to be transmitted electronically from point to point to a single or multiple recipients, including sent and received messages. The teletypewriter evolved through many upgrades, starting in 1835 and it was adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1938.  Essentially, teletype was early email.

Cash-Flow Therapy

So many businesses in the U.S. are undercapitalized; insufficient cash-flow is a factor in the demise of many ventures that might otherwise succeed.  Cash is king, it is often said, and the wise business owner will do what is necessary to maintain adequate cash-flow in his/her organization.

Make friends with the basic three financial documents and learn to use them as analytical tools.  They exist to enable your success and they will signal you when corrective action must be taken.

Monitor the top line of your company’s Income Statement (sales revenue/ billable hours).  Observe the ebb and flow of the accounts receivable (who owes your business money) and payable (to whom you owe money) on your Balance Sheet.  Make note of the beginning and ending cash balances on your Cash-Flow Statement.  Also on the Cash-Flow Statement, notice the cash sales (representing billable hours payments received as checks, for example) and the operating expenses.

Seasonal variations in billable hours/ sales can potentially exacerbate cash-flow problems if that is an issue in your business (the Christmas to New Year’s slowdown, for example) and pop-up emergency expenses can do the same.  Unfortunately, the outcome for Freelance consultants or other business owners can be a cash deficit, an especially unwelcome state of affairs in a month that involves holiday expenses.

But the primary cause of cash-flow woes is usually a result of persistently insufficient billable hours for services rendered or product sales, perhaps secondary to an anemic client list.

Former Wall Street Journal Assistant Editor Serenity Gibbons points out that if you  struggle to generate enough at the top line, you’re probably facing one of the following challenges:

  • The optimum target clients have not been reached by your marketing campaigns, or the message doesn’t address their priorities or aspirations.
  • The product/ service has limited value to the target clients, or your offerings are overwhelmed by dominant competitors.
  • The product/ service is perceived as too expensive for the value delivered.

It’s time to take control and consider what can be done over the short and long-term to correct the problem.  Do some homework and discover the basic challenges, concerns and goals (as defined by their respective industries) that would motivate your prospective clients and guide their decisions.  Determine why they’re doing business with your competitors and not you.  Moreover, make sure that you are pursuing the best target markets for your products/ services.

A second issue is an administrative one that plagues many Freelancers—-we fail to invoice in a timely and regularly scheduled fashion.  Help your clients to take you seriously and treat you like a “real” business by invoicing when promised. Take measures to improve the odds of getting paid on time and in full.  I’ve lived through this challenge and can report that with a small amount of discipline, it can be overcome.

Third, watch your operating (fixed) and sales related (variable) expenses.  How much are you spending to generate sales revenues/ billable hours? Limit what must get dropped into accounts payable and expand what drops into accounts receivable.

There are usually ways to stem the tide of cash-flow problems, that is, if you take action early enough.  You might start with revisiting your pricing strategy.  Ensure that your pricing reflects the value of your product/ service; that your prices are comparable to what competitors in your area charge for similar services/ products; and that you charge close to the maximum of what clients expect to pay for what you offer. Do some in-depth pricing research, using GSA MOBIS, the federal contract system, as a benchmark.  http://gsa.federalschedules.com/industries/gsa-mobis-consulting-pss-874/

Another useful tactic that serves as a band-aid for cash-flow glitches that are more inconvenient than problematic is your business credit line.  While you’re still able to pay bills on time and have a respectable credit score, investigate obtaining a business credit card through your bank.

Resist the temptation to charge business expenses to your personal credit cards!  Keep business and personal expenses separate and get your arms around the spending in each sector.  Furthermore, a business credit card usually has a much higher credit limit than a personal line and that allows you to more easily make investments in your business and earn cash back and points as you do.

Finally, if inflated business expenses, whether fixed or variable, play a major role in your cash-flow problems, then you will have some decisions to make (re: the selling expenses) and negotiating to do (re: the operating).  If you regularly pay on time expenses for inventory purchases, credit cards, or insurance, for example, get on the phone and ask for lower interest rates or a lower premium.  If variable expenses seem high, reconsider how much you must spend on marketing, advertising, sales and client entertaining.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Baccarat at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, with Frank Sinatra (in black tie) as the card dealer (1959)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Baccarat at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV with Frank Sinatra (in bow tie) dealing the cards (1959)

Marketing Meets Sales: Selling to Inbound Marketing Callers

Inbound Marketing matters, to your top line revenue and your client list.  Other than “selling” Girl Scout cookies to Mommy and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, there’s no better sales opportunity than a prospect who dials your number and asks about what you sell.  Do not even think about flubbing this.  But without simple yet skillfully designed response guidelines, you are in danger of dropping the ball.

Inbound Marketing begins when a prospective customer who either met you somewhere or was referred to you by someone finds the motivation to contact you and ask if you might answer a couple of questions about your products or services.  Consider that outreach to be your Hollywood screen test and close-up.  If you want to call yourself a business person, then you will learn to confidently and competently handle Inbound Marketing calls (or emails) and emerge with an appointment to meet the caller in person to discuss specifics.

Let’s start with some basic observations about your marketing plan, the carefully choreographed activities that you implement to inform potential customers about your products and services.   Marketing can be divided into two types:

  1. Outbound Marketing, which encompasses traditional, time-tested marketing strategies and tactics such as advertising, networking, speaking engagements, teaching, writing a book, sponsoring a community or business event, nonprofit board service and other activities that broadcast your business brand and marketing message “outward” to the public.
  2. Inbound Marketing, which consists of activities designed to encourage potential customers to develop a level of interest and interaction with your company that “pulls,” i.e., persuades, them to do business with your company as a result of the trust and confidence developed through the ongoing engagement.  Online activities play a dominant role in Inbound Marketing, including social media, newsletters and blogs.  The Inbound Marketing audience is self-selected, as there is always the ability to opt-out of the communication and theoretically this cohort is more likely to do business.

The purpose of creating and executing an Outbound Marketing strategy is to generate Inbound Marketing inquiries by potential customers.  If your business fails to encourage Inbound Marketing,  your venture most likely will not achieve the financial success that you would like.  Inbound Marketing is where the money is made.

An Inbound Marketing call can lead to billable hours or a sale that makes your month, or leave you kicking yourself because you mishandled an objection or forgot to ask an important question.  Let’s see how you can design successful response guidelines.  Grant Cardone, selling skills guru and author of If You’re Not First, You’re Last: Sales Strategies to Dominate Your Market (2010), breaks down his very useful Inbound Marketing call technique:

Greeting

How you welcome the prospect who has chosen to reach out to you, rather than your competitor, is all-important.  Ace the first impression by answering the telephone politely at all times, no matter how annoyed you are by other matters.  When you realize that you’ve been gifted with a prospective customer’s call, i.e., an Inbound Marketing call, slide into character by smiling as you speak and adding a (realistic) dose of enthusiasm to your voice.  Smiling as you talk and imagining that the prospect is in the room with you has been demonstrated to make selling over the phone more successful. Give your name, title and a cheerful, helpful attitude to your caller.

Facts

“Who am I speaking with, please?” Obtaining the name of the caller is an easy Step One of the trust-building that is the foundation of every sale.  Grant Cardone recommends that you resist the temptation to ask for more information because if the caller is really interested, s/he will happily volunteer that information to enable the sale. What you DO want to learn early on is what prompted the call:

  • What the caller would like to know about what you sell and how that information  relates to what s/he would like to achieve or resolve?
  • Which, if any, product or service has been used regarding the issue before and what was the outcome?  Why does the caller want to investigate something else?
  •  Determine the timeline and any deadline “Do you need to make a decision today, or this week?”

Objections 

As you discuss the features and benefits of the product or service that may provide the solution that your caller needs an objection may abruptly spring up and make your caller suddenly lose confidence.  Objections can be skillfully handled through a method I learned many years ago, called “Feel, Felt, Found:”

“I understand why you might feel this issue (or perceived shortcoming) might prevent you from achieving results.  There have been a few others who at first felt this situation could possibly become a problem.  Over the years, my staff and I have found that when you (make this adjustment, or whatever), it’s possible to bring about the results that you want.  Does that sound reasonable to you?”

To help you organize your thoughts during any part of your unexpected Inbound Marketing call, Grant Cardone suggests that you press the hold button to give yourself 30 seconds or so to plan a response.  Making certain that you are able to successfully handle an objection seems to me like the right time to hit the hold button!

Appointment

While you might get lucky and sell your Inbound Marketing caller on the first contact, chances are your prospect will require more information to develop adequate trust in you and your company and make him/her feel confident enough to close the deal.  Suggest to your prospect that you would be happy to come to his/her office to discuss how your customized product or service solutions can benefit his/her organization and its business goals (alternatively, the caller can come to your office).

“Since you don’t need to make a decision immediately, it would seem to make sense for us to sit down together for an hour and discuss what you need, your short and long-term goals and how I can customize a solution for you that respects your budget and time line.  What does your schedule look like? What is your company name and address and what is your call back number and email?”

Happy New Year and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Doris Day (left) and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk (1959)                          Directed by Michael Gordon for Universal Pictures

 

 

 

Persuading Your Client to Accept Reality

What does a Freelance consultant do when a client refuses to believe what should be an undeniable fact and instead chooses to believe something that is obviously incorrect? When a client denies or ignores the reality of circumstances in his/her organization—like a strategy that’s not producing the desired outcome or a decision that’s caused a problem to go from bad to worse—can an external consultant (or subordinate employee) tactfully open the boss’ eyes? Maybe.  But before you try, examine the alternate reality in which some of us will occasionally choose to live.

In a four-year study conducted by LeadershipIQ, a company that provides online leadership development seminars, 1,087 board members at 286 organizations that had ousted their CEOs were interviewed.  In 23% of the organizations surveyed, the dismissed CEOs failed to acknowledge, and therefore act upon, adverse business conditions or other obvious threats to the organization and that lapse was the pivotal factor in his/her demise.  In other words, those CEOs chose to deny reality and paid the price.

Business and other leaders, like everyone else, might at times choose to deny or ignore uncomfortable truths, a behavioral trait known as the ostrich effect, where the birds are said to hide their heads in the sand when faced with a threat (untrue, BTW).  There are those people who prefer to see the bright side because they are convinced that positive thinking brings about positive results.  Every once in a while, that is true.

For the resolutely rose-colored glasses crowd, however, you may have noticed that presenting accurate information is often ineffective because their denial is rooted in misplaced emotion.  With this group, facts do not win arguments.

There are a number of paths that might lead to faulty logic that prevents one from seeing and responding to reality.  The phenomenon of confirmation bias demonstrates that we humans have a tendency to seek out and interpret data and other information that is in line with our belief systems.  The sunk cost fallacy essentially means that one has so heavily invested in the truism of a particular decision’s outcome that there will be no backing down now.

In the backfire effect, we elect to dig in our heels when presented with facts that call into question the value of our self-worth, identity, worldview, or group belonging.  In many cases, presenting those facts causes the person to cling even more tightly to his/her incorrect or unsustainable beliefs.

Unfortunately, those who tell the truth to someone who is mired in denial, and most likely engaging in one of the above behavioral patterns, risk triggering an attack by the denier, in the classic shoot the messenger face-saving mechanism.  In this scenario, the realist cannot win because according to behavioral scientists, denial is more about identity than information.

Now to get back to the client we’re trying to persuade to do one thing or another—what can one do when demonstrable facts are not only insufficient, but are also capable of imploding your valuable relationship? Ohio State University behavioral scientist Gleb Tsipursky recommends that we sidestep a potential showdown by asking a few delicately phrased questions that might reveal the emotion behind the denial and idealy, allow the denier to back away from his/her original stance and save face as this occurs.

While it may have already become apparent that you hold another viewpoint on the matter,  your first objective is to portray yourself as trustworthy and not an enemy.  Say what you can to convey to your denier that you share his/her core values and concerns.  Rephrasing what that person has said could be useful, to demonstrate that you understand and (perhaps) agree with what is most meaningful to him/her.

Your second objective is to gently reveal to the denier that his/her position is actually in conflict with his/her core values and/or goals.  This will take a silver tongue, I admit.  You might be able to get the ball rolling by noting that the denier’s position is quite understandable, based on the available information at the time, or as a result of his/her experiences.

If you can follow that up with an example of when and how someone who is known to the denier subsequently changed his/her opinion or practices on a particular matter, so much the better.  You want to make it safe for the denier to make a tectonic shift and show him/her how to do it painlessly.  Revealing that others sometimes do so is validating.

Finally, reconfirm -your denial prone client’s goals and based on what the two of you now agree upon, cobble together a solution that the client can accept.  Since the client will substantively participant in the process, buy-in will be achieved and you will emerge with a signed contract.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Denial of St. Peter  Gerard Seghers, circa 1623                                                      Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art

 

 

 

Holiday Gifts for Your Top Clients

OK procrastinators, it’s time to finally bust a move and get busy with the holiday cards and maybe gifts, too, that Freelance consultants MUST send to every client you’ve worked with over the past five years.  Relationships are everything in life and it’s up to the Freelancer to cultivate and sustain business relationships that help you grow your client list.  It’s important to periodically communicate with clients past and present and the good news is that at holiday time, there’s no need to invent a reason to reach out.  The December holidays are an important element of every Freelancer’s client retention strategy.

I’m happy to report that my business holiday cards were mailed on December 12.  So far, I haven’t felt the need to give client gifts.  BTW regarding cards, the vast majority of your clients are Christian and they’ll celebrate Christmas to some extent.  However, 2014 data shows that 30% of adults in the U.S. do not practice Christianity and it is for that reason your holiday cards should avoid a specific religious theme and instead refer to “the holiday season.” Because you know your clients, the brief message that you’ll write in each card (whether or not you order them pre-printed) can reference Christmas, Ramadan (which can occur in December), or Hanukkah.

If you feel that presenting selected clients with a gift (to acknowledge your gratitude for generous billable hours), take action and order today.  Corporate gifts are mailed, as are cards, so you must allow for shipping time.  Start with a call to the client’s HR department to inquire about corporate gift restrictions.  There may be a cap on the amount, or alcoholic beverages may be prohibited.  Once you’ve confirmed the policy, decide what you feel is appropriate to spend, consider your gift options and choose the company you should order from.

When you’ve identified two or three companies that seem to be good possibilities, do an online search to find out if there have been problems with customer service, delivery times, or the quality of the merchandise.  The company should track the delivery of the gifts you’ve ordered from them and let you know when they’ve been received by your clients.  Alternatively, the company should make it possible for you to track your gifts and confirm receipt.

Furthermore, the company you order from should not include its promotional material in the gift box.  Not even your company promotional material will be in the gift box.  Your purpose is to thank your clients for the business relationship.  The company can include a sticker or business card so that it can be identified as the source of the gift.

Every corporate gift company will allow you to include a personal note, so be sure to draft one before you place your order.  A note expressed in your words will communicate your thoughtfulness and respect to the recipient.

Finally, look for a company that will guarantee the gifts with a refund policy for missed delivery times or damaged goods.  Here are a few corporate gift suggestions at various prices:

  1. Texting gloves —keep hands warm on frosty winter days and give fingers touch screen conductivity    $10.00 – $80
  2. Uber or Lyft gift card— sure to be appreciated and quickly used    $20 minimum
  3. Plant—scientific research shows that adding greenery to the environment boosts a person’s mood and energizes the overall ambience of the space. Choose a plant that’s easy to care for and not fussy about the light required.  A geranium could work and they flower year round.  Call a local greenhouse to order.    $20 – $50
  4. Docking station—You may want to oder one for your home office! It’s a sleek charging station for your mobile devices.    $20 – $100
  5. Spiral notebook and mobile charging station from Time Traveler USA    $65  http://timetravelerusa.com/notebook-powerbank-corporate/

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The New Bonnet (1858)  Francis William Edmonds                                            Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art   New York, NY

 

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Those in the crisis communications sector of public relations will have a very Merry Christmas indeed.  Your client list is growing and billable hours are overflowing! Accusations of powerful men (and at least one woman—Mariah Carey) behaving badly have been flying thick and fast.  The professional, political, personal and financial fall-out will be enormous.  Whose brand will be resilient enough to survive the scandal?

Re: the accused, the smart (and probably most evolved) perpetrators quickly ‘fessed up, accepted responsibility and apologized to those who felt violated and hurt, whether a presumed victim or family member (e.g., soon to be ex-Senator Al Franken and comedian Louis C.K.).  My guess is that those with the pragmatism, if not decency, to own up early on will fare the best in the long run.  A couple of years of restorative PR may possibly allow them to re-enter polite society and re-start a public career,

The arrogant—-most notably, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer—are probably finished.  Their public careers are over and they’ve seen the last of good tables in the right restaurants.  The trophy wives of Lauer and Weinstein have jumped ship, now that indiscretions of which they were well aware have become public (Cosby’s wife opted to ride it out).

Yet the most arrogant and most teflon of all publicly accused violators—former President Bill Clinton—faced allegations so serious and believable that he was successfully impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998, only the second impeachment of a president in U.S. history (he was acquitted by the Senate in 1999).  Furthermore, he was compelled to pay a settlement that exceeded $850,000 to former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, who sued Clinton in 1994 for sexual harassment.

High profile feminists (Gloria Steinem, Senator Dianne Feinstein, et al.) defended Clinton to the end and they still do (as they attack President Donald Trump for less onerous and numerous incidents and remain silent on Weinstein, who’s been a big contributor to “liberal” causes).

Clinton never apologized to anyone for anything and he vociferously denied his actions (“I did not have sex with that woman!” [Monica Lewinsky]). Like it or not, it’s obvious that the Clinton brand is the strongest in the land (and the most controversial, too).

Regardless of the Bill Clinton style, effective leaders learn how to apologize.  What is an apology and why is making one necessary?  An apology is a statement in which an individual expresses sincere remorse for behavior that can be considered inappropriate and that person acknowledges that s/he has hurt, mislead, embarrassed, or betrayed another—the public trust, a friend, colleague, or intimate partner.  An explanation, not to be confused with an excuse, could be made, as might an offer to make amends or restitution.

Trust, respect, team building and performance will be positively impacted when you make it clear that you, the leader, are willing to hold yourself accountable for your behavior, including your missteps.  Your apology is the core of that process.

Lolly Daskel, President and CEO of Lead From Within, says that there is a wrong way and a right way to apologize and I’m sure that you’ll agree.  Most of us have received so-called “apologies” that were offered grudgingly, sometimes under duress, or given disingenuously, in an attempt by the perpetrator to evade responsibility for his/her actions.

An apology is a statement in which an individual expresses sincere remorse for his/her behavior and acknowledges that s/he has hurt, mislead, embarrassed, or betrayed the public trust, a friend, or an intimate partner.  An explanation, not to be confused with an excuse, might be made as might an offer to make amends or restitution.

THE WRONG WAY TO APOLOGIZE

Blaming

A former colleague from the my days in the corporate world was known to say “Never complain, never explain.” Lolly Daskel would add “and do not blame.” Pushing responsibility onto others when it was you who dropped the ball is the wrong thing to do, every time.  As temporarily uncomfortable as it may make you feel, put on your big girl pants and admit your mistake.  Apologize to those whom you offended or inconvenienced.  Make restitution when possible and move on.  You will when respect and admiration when you do.  Blamers are losers and they never win.

Excuses

While there may have been legitimate reasons for making a mess of a situation, or burning dinner,  or not completing an important assignment, be careful that you don’t devolve into making too many excuses as you explain to those who may want to know what happened.  Just say you’re sorry and that you should have stayed on top of things, or started earlier, or whatever.  Once again, it’s about taking responsibility for your behavior.

Justifying

Don’t even think about trying to defend your behavior when you’ve screwed up.  I mean, there goes your credibility, down the drain.  Own up and apologize.  Now.

Minimizing

When you’ve let someone down, it is imperative that you take their hurt or inconvenience seriously.   In no way are you entitled to deny the full measure of the outcomes that are the result of your failure to hold up your end.  That other person has every right to be upset when they’ve been let down.  If you did not come through as expected, squelch the temptation to resort to manipulation and accept responsibility, apologize and make amends ASAP.

Shaming

Those who feel that they are doing quite enough for you (whether or not that can objectively be considered the truth) may sometimes feel entitled to break promises large and small, if they eventually find fulfilling that obligation inconvenient or expensive in some way.   When you speak up they attack and accuse you of being ungrateful for all the “other” favors they’ve done for you.  You have a right to expect that someone will keep their word.  Shame on them for being both unreliable and manipulative.

Stonewalling

Refusing to apologize, discuss, or acknowledge your mistakes or bad behavior and the difficulties it causes other people is called stonewalling.  It is abusive behavior.  It is hugely disrespectful.  Seek therapy immediately if this is common behavior for you.

THE RIGHT WAY TO APOLOGIZE

Timing

An apology is much more meaningful when it is delivered sooner, rather than later.  The longer that the offending party avoids making a sincere apology, the greater the risk to the relationship.

Acknowledge

Admit what you’ve done and apologize for the inconvenience, misunderstanding, hurt feelings, or embarrassment that you’ve caused.  This is an important step toward maintaining or rebuilding the trust that the other person had in you.

Accept

Own your behavior.  Show the respect that you have for the injured party and the esteem in which you hold him/her when you make a proper apology.  Demonstrate that this person matters and is entitled to your integrity.

Express

The apology made must be sincere and not self-serving.  Be prepared to grovel a little, if you’ve really dropped the ball, or if the other person(s) is very hurt or angry.  You can explain why or how you miscalculated, but don’t fall into excuse making.  Ask for forgiveness.

Amend

Do what you can to mend fences, so that you can soothe hurt feelings compensate for disappointment,

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Secret Hearts #88, 1963  (the study for Ohhh Alright, 1964)  Roy Lichtenstein