Free Media Exposure

Media exposure can be difficult to come by for Freelancers and small business owners. In particular, “earned” media mentions,” i.e., publicity obtained through promotional efforts rather than publicity obtained by way of paid advertising, is usually the most effective form of media exposure and can go a long way toward enhancing a Freelancer’s brand.  A well-expressed quote in a respected publication can make a Freelance consultant or business owner look like an expert that smart people want to do business with.  Earned media exposure can be instrumental in helping a business to establish name recognition and respect among its target customers.

The best tactic to use when looking to attract the interest of reporters and editors is to position oneself as an expert. The good news for Freelancers is that everyone who provides professional services to paying clients is considered to be an expert in his/her field. The public welcomes and trusts tax tips recommended by an accountant and legal advice offered by an attorney. In addition, those who’ve authored a (nonfiction) book, whether traditionally published or self-published, that addresses a topic that editors feel would interest their readers can also be chosen to receive valuable earned media.

When you’ve made the decision to pursue earned media exposure for your organization, Step One is to decide where you’d like your story or quotes of your expert advice to appear. Research local online or print publications and assess the stories that are featured. You might start with your neighborhood newspaper or a publication that specializes in business topics. If you belong to a business or professional association, by all means look into contributing an article to the newsletter, getting your book reviewed or mentioned, or getting yourself quoted. Hint: active members always get publicity.

Step Two is to learn the identity of the reporter or editor who covers your topic. The easiest thing to do is call the publication and inquire. While you’re on the phone, find out when the publication is on deadline and avoid calling the reporter or editor at that time.

Step Three is to write a press release that makes editors and reporters want to follow-up on your story. Make your press release attention-getting with a good headline. Instead of trying to be witty, just give the facts. A good headline might be: “XYZ Biz wins Chamber of Commerce award.”

In the first paragraph, introduce one key newsworthy fact or piece of information in a single sentence, such as “XYZ Group today announced plans to open a solar-powered restaurant by late 2019.”

A common mistake in writing press releases is using it to tell the entire story.  “People write way too much. Tell them what the story is about and why it would be good for their audience,” advises Paul Krupin, former attorney and founder of iMediaFax.com, a media advisory service in Washington state. The press release should not be the first draft of a reporter’s article.  The purpose of your press release is to entice a reporter to contact you and write your story, or persuade an editor to assign your story to a staff reporter.

Furthermore, don’t make the mistake of trying to sell your product or service in the press release. “The media is adverse to anything that looks like advertising,” Krupin warns. “They want to educate, entertain, stimulate, or provoke their audience.”

BTW, there are subtle yet substantive differences between the journalistic needs of print, radio and TV media outlets that reflect audience expectations and preferences.

  • “Print media focus on facts and figures. They talk about strategies,” Krupin advises.
  • “Radio and television don’t lend themselves to detailed information. It’s about sound bites, tone and excitement. For radio and TV producers, you want to tell them why their audience is going to love what you’re going to say, or hate what you’re going to say. The focus is on the emotional reaction: Why am I going to be entertaining?”

Be advised that media outlets are not interested in helping to publicize the products and services that Freelancers and other business leaders are trying to sell. Krupin, who is also the author of Trash Proof News Releases (2001), works closely with his clients to tease out a story angle that could interest readers or viewers of the target media outlets. “What do you know that people don’t know, but they would like to know?” he asks.

For example, Krupin recommended that a photographer discuss how to hang pictures, rather than discuss the technical aspects of how to take pictures. The two created a press release that led to a number of print articles that featured his photographer client as the expert.

Finally, be patient as you wait for the ROI from your earned media. A customer may contact you months or even years after reading about you and your business. A reporter could contact you several months later to get insights on another aspect of your topic, which would result in still more earned media exposure.  Concentrate on developing an earned media strategy by identifying a story angle that would interest readers as you build relationships with reporters and editors who can give you the desired media exposure.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: By Andrew Laszlo. Entertainment columnist and host of television’s longest-running variety show (CBS-TV) Ed Sullivan (l) interviews Fidel Castro in Mantanzas, Cuba in January 1959.

10 Steps to Fortify Your Business

Here come the lazy, hazy days of summer. The sun is warm and days are long, but billable hours can be short, the result of vacation schedules at client workplaces. For that reason, Freelancers may often find it convenient to vacation in July or August. But those who prefer a winter vacation, whether on ski slopes or in warm surf, might long for a worthy assignment to get their arms around. I’ll suggest that Freelancers, as well as small business owners, look no further than our own organization for a project that can generate billable hours.

During the summer slowdown, ambitious Freelancers and business owners will use the available time to build a more efficiently run and profitable business. We’ll reconfirm our customer knowledge, examine our product and service lines, analyze our financial statements, review operations processes, evaluate customer service protocols, update competitive intelligence and refine marketing tactics.

Smart Freelancers will look inward to shore up our businesses internally. We’ll also look outward, ready to pounce on intriguing opportunities that become available. If you’re not doing so already, here are 10 smart business planning steps you should take this season.

  1. Analyze your financials

Examine your Profit & Loss and Cash-flow Statements and make note of the top line, that is, Gross Sales on the Cash-flow statement and Gross Revenue on the P & L Statement. That number (they are the same) reflects the amount of all billable hours and other income you generated in a particular month (or quarter, or year). In a potential business slow-down, it’s essential to confirm that you’ll have the funds to cover all accounts payable, including payroll, if you have employees or outsourced help.

Next, take a look at your Balance Sheet and make note of the total Accounts Payable figure. that number represents monthly business debts (e.g. office space rent and insurance premiums). If a shortfall looks like a possibility, you’ll need to find a way to either negotiate with creditors to ask for an extension, or find a way to generate money quickly. Maybe you can find a part-time under-the-radar job?

  1. Conduct SWOT Analysis

The acronym known as SWOT you may know stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal (personal) attributes and can be impacted by you. Your strengths may include an exceptional client list, fortunate business and personal relationships that you can leverage, relevant educational or professional qualifications, and/or a product or service line that clients value and support. Brainstorm new ways to capitalize your company strengths. Acknowledge also company Weaknesses and find ways to eliminate, minimize and/or camouflage.

Research happenings that may potentially impact your organization to manage the external factors of Opportunities and Threats. Approach all potential Opportunities with forethought, so that you will remember to apply the most appropriate of your Strengths to effectively laying claim to the good. Take steps to sidestep or soften the blow of potential Threats.

  1. Rank clients

Determine who’s profitable, and who’s not. If some clients are a drain on resources, perhaps because they give few billable hours and the rate is low, either raise the price or “fire” them. You can’t afford to carry unprofitable clients.  Aim to work lean and mean. right now.

  1. Network

There will be a handful of conferences held in July and August and some may be worthwhile. If you become aware of a conference where the topics will be relevant to you, the speakers interesting and the attendees people who you may want to meet, try to find the money to attend. You may find your next client or referral partner (and remember to reciprocate).

  1. Streamline work processes

Time is the resource that those who work in the Knowledge Economy, i.e., the intangible services business, value most.  How can you provide your services faster and still maintain the high quality of deliverables for your clients? The objective is to create time to pursue more clients, analyze your business and clients, network, or simply rest and recharge your batteries.

  1. Create strategic alliances

Forming simple partnerships can make or save you money.  One of your clients could be an excellent referral source for your business and you may be able to return the favor for your client’s organization.

  1. Reduce expenses

Do you rent office space? If so and especially if your lease will expire in less than a year, why not call your landlord and suggest that the two of you negotiate a longer-term lease in return for cost concessions?  Or, if you’ve been able to pay all insurance policies on time for the past 12 – 18 months, inquire about a lower annual premium? Do the same for your credit cards regarding interest rates.

  1. Refine marketing strategies

Assess the impact and ROI of your marketing efforts and then ensure that your marketing goals make sense for your business.  What exactly do you want your content marketing, marketing and advertising and social media postings to accomplish?

  1. Target competitors’ clients

If learn that a competitor is struggling, reach out to any of his/her clients whom you know or feel comfortable approaching to discuss the advantages of doing business with your organization. If your competitor’s clients sense a possible decline in quality or fear a service disruption, they may be receptive to your pitch.

  1. Eyes and ears open

Be on the lookout for fresh ideas and opportunities. Stay abreast of news and trends in your industry and also in your clients’ industries. Interact with other Freelancers and business owners to see what they’re doing. Learn from them what’s going on around you and be prepared to explore promising opportunities that come your way.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Second Crop (Le Regain), 1880  Julien Dupre (France, 1851 – 1910)

The Do’s and Don’ts of Email Sign-offs

As often noted by myself and countless other bloggers and journalists, the care and feeding of one’s brand is forever at top of mind.  Every touch point with a client, prospect, potential referral source, the public, or the media and every form of communication, whether verbal, visual, or print, must present a flattering portrayal of the brand. Even our ubiquitous, plebeian emails are now brand ambassadors.

Remember that admonition when you next compose an important email to a current or prospective client.  As you carefully evaluate the potential impact of every word, ensure that your valuable brand carries through to the sign-off. The brand is always on the line and it must be curated, even in emails, from the salutation to the sign-off.

For guidance in the matter of etiquette and branding I’ve consulted the writings of Suzanne Bates, executive coach, President and CEO of Bates Communication in Wellesley, MA (just west of Boston) and author of Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results (2005).

Regarding written communications remember that as always, context is everything.  What is the purpose of your email and with whom are you corresponding? Are you and a client with whom you work regularly discussing a project or are you writing to a business colleague whom you’ve recently met? Then again, are replying with a proposal that a prospective client has invited you to submit? Each of these circumstances will impact the style of your email sign-off.  Let’s look at a few common closing words and phrases and examine their potential impact on the recipient.

Thanks

Use this term when you are actually thanking the person you’ve written, or asked for something to be done or said on your behalf. Thanks as a sign-off is business-like, but casual. Thank you is a better choice if you don’t have a familiar relationship with the other party.

Best

A borderline casual sign-off, but acceptable to use for a business associate whom you know.  BTW, I use this closing most of the time (I may need to re-think this choice).

Regards

Somewhat perfunctory and a little distant, but this closing generally works well.

Cordially

An old-fashioned sign-off that portrays the writer as well-mannered and formal, perhaps too formal. Nevertheless, this choice is safe and pleasant.

Sincerely

Here’s a tried and true business attire sign-off that will offend no one. However, this closing is more appropriate for a letter, rather than an email.

Cheers

You can use this to close an email with someone you know well, but if you’re trying to make a good impression in a business setting, it’s not a wise choice. Save this breezy term for after a bond has been established, for friends and colleagues you sometimes meet for coffee.

Talk soon

This term is usually used among friends and familiar business associates. The intention of quick follow-up is communicated clearly and that may be desirable. I like to use “To be continued.”

Yours truly

We’re a little too formal for an email here, as this term is closely associated with closing a letter. If your email is written for a very important person, you may use this sign-off with confidence.

Kind regards

Here is my favorite business sign-off and when I need to present my self and my brand in the best light, this is my go-to salutation. This term is warm, friendly and professional.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Artist unknown. Courtesy of the British Library, London.                                      Born in Venice and educated at the University of Bologna (Italy), Christine de Pizan (1364 – 1430) was among the best known writers in medieval Europe, in spite of her gender.  A prominent political thinker, novelist and poet, she authored the feminist treatise The Book of the City of Ladies, among other works. Pizan was the wife of Etienne du Castel and a mother of three.

Revitalize Your Networking Chops

Networking experts who write books on the subject and get invited to contribute articles to prestigious business magazines often claim that there are “secrets” to networking.  I take issue with that.  I don’t think anything about networking is a secret or mysterious.  Networking is a meet and greet and unless you have advance knowledge about who is expected to be in the room, who you meet and talk to is random.

However, there are certain behaviors that might improve your networking success rate.  In general, one must be approachable and outgoing and in the frame of mind to meet people (smile!).  This can be uncomfortable for some of us but if you are shy, or an introvert, remember that all at the networking event (which can be a conference or a cooking class, a business association meeting or a reading at the library) have your presence there in common and that in itself is the starting point of a conversation.

Another behavior to exhibit at your next networking event (and every gathering is a networking event, potentially) is listening.  Demonstrate that you are listening by maintaining eye contact and responding to the flow of conversation by nodding your head, smiling and replying when appropriate. Resist the temptation to look over the other person’s shoulder to search for someone who might be “better” to meet and talk to.

Now how do you get a conversation going? After the introductions, ask a question that starts with the phrase Tell me and then actively listen as your new acquaintance does what s/he likes best—talking about themselves! You will make a friend.

Tell me is the favorite opening line of Jacqueline Whitmore, a noted etiquette coach and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Florida.  Whitmore says, “To build trust with other people you have to let them know you’re interested in what they have to say.  One way to do that is to ask the right questions.” “Tell me what you thought of the last speaker.” “Tell me what you think of the workshop leader.” “Tell me how you like the trainers and instructors at this gym—I’m a new member.”

I used Tell me for the first time just a few days ago, when I attended the Ellevate Network’s Mobilize Women 2019 summit on behalf of Lioness Magazine and I can attest to the fact that Tell me is an effective ice-breaker that opens the door to good conversation every time.

Your networking experience can be considered a success if you discover that you may be able to somehow assist this person whom you’ve just met because the final recommended behavior to bring to your networking event is generosity.  While it is true that personal gain is a legitimate goal for networking and the 1.) Get a client  2.) Get a referral and 3.) Get information strategy remains worthwhile, remember that you and your new colleague have something in common by way of your mutual connection to the host organization that brought you both to the event and doing for others is good karma.  Be certain to follow-up with whatever actions you committed to. Your generosity will probably be repaid a couple of times over.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), a role that                         brought her the Academy Award for Best Actress

Make Your Next Impromptu Speech Great

Here is the scenario: You’re at the meeting of a local business organization, where you are well known. Forty-five minutes into the meeting, the organization Vice President sidles up to you and asks if you’d be willing to speak on a certain topic for 5 – 10 minutes, before the President delivers the closing remarks and adjourns.

You have just 30 minutes to prepare. How can you quickly organize your thoughts and create a concise and compelling speech that your audience will appreciate and that you’ll deliver like a pro? Here’s how you do it.

Attention

Every speaker must quickly capture audience attention. Open your speech with an attention-grabbing statement that expresses a point of view that you know most in the audience share.  Alternatively, you can surprise or even shock the audience with an unexpected fact or a provocative question.  When you open your talk, the goal is to draw  audience members in and persuade them to sit up and listen.

Credibility

Once you have their attention, you next show your audience that you deserve it. Earn their trust and respect when you reveal qualifications and experience that define you as an expert, or a person with special insights, who has timely and relevant information to share.

As a member of the host group you will automatically be given a measure of credibility, but you may have other qualifications that enhance your authority. The person who introduces you may share all, or part, of that background information. Stopping short of boasting, make known your claim to expertise.

Acknowledge success/ Identify problem

The organization leader who asked you to address the group will tell you what s/he would like you to achieve in your speech and if s/he neglects to do that, it is incumbent upon you to confirm the purpose of your talk.  Whether there is a recent victory to celebrate or a looming challenge to overcome, call it out and rally the support of audience members. Enthusiasm and passion, expressed in a way that your audience will expect and accept, is injected here.  Inspire unity for the cause.

Solution

Organization leaders may be planning to roll out an initiative and you may have been asked to speak to build member approval and solidarity around that solution. If there are good times ahead, the solution may be for members to continue their enthusiastic support of the organization and the cause. If turbulent times seem inevitable, the solution is the same. The purpose of your speech is to inspire loyalty to the organization and the cause.

Call to action

As your speech concludes you must give audience members an outlet and direction for their enthusiasm and commitment to the organization.  Should they sign up for a special committee that will implement the solution, be it celebration or problem? Or is this a fundraising initiative and you’d like to inspire commitment for contributions?  Give a deadline and urge immediate action.

Re-cap

End with a concise outline of the major points you made in the speech. Re-state the call to action and the deadline. Thank your audience.

Regarding general recommendations for public speaking, thank the person who introduced you when you take the podium. Keep your talking points simple and easy for the audience to remember. If you can weave into your speech a story that illustrates or summarizes an important point, so much the better.  As Travis Bernard, content marketing guru at TechCrunch, the thought-leader technology industry blog based in San Francisco, CA says, “What would be useful for my audience to learn and how can I package this lesson or bit of information in a compelling story format?”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Edgar Bundy (1862 – 1922, British) The Coffee House Orator, 1880.  Courtesy of Touchstones Rochdale Arts and Heritage Centre Museum, Greater Manchester, England

10 Raw Truths About Cold Calling

Please, not cold calling. We hate it. Cold calling is frustrating and scary. No one will talk to you. Those that will talk are known to change their minds and ghost you, instead of following through with what they promised. Cold calling is a tummy ache.

But nevertheless, selling is always part of the program for start-up founders, business owners and Freelance consultants and that means you can’t avoid cold calling. Every so often you have to hunt down some business because when the ship you hoped would come is not on the horizon, cold calling is the most reliable way to generate revenue.  Moreover, cold calling is much less expensive and time-consuming than dressing up and going to a networking event, hoping to meet your Next Big Client.

Life is about managing expectations and I’m happy to share in this post the real deal about cold calling.  My purpose is to make your cold-calling campaigns more profitable and less frustrating. The data presented is based on 3,025 B2B cold calls made in one month, from a prospect list of 600.

  1. You’ll make an average of 17 calls before reaching a live person. 50% of calls go to voice mail; don’t bother to leave a message, it will not be returned.
  2. 3,025 calls resulted in 178 conversations (6%) and led to 18 follow-up meetings (10% of conversations).
  3. Develop a high-quality prospect list that provides the names and contact info of senior executives. CEOs, VPs and Directors are more likely to answer the phone and they can approve the funding of a sale or project.
  4. Prepare a script for the call to remind yourself of selling points, how to handle  anticipated objections, pricing, or whatever else you need to remember (you don’t have to read from it).
  5.  Present an unambiguous and simply stated purpose for making the call. Your product or service must be able to solve a problem for the prospect, or make/save the company money.
  6. Smile when you get someone on the telephone. Your smile will give you confidence and that confidence will be reflected in your voice and ensure that you project a positive attitude.
  7. Be (reasonably) enthusiastic, persistent and polite when you speak with your prospect. Don’t talk too fast. Relax.
  8. Ask for a meeting; you are more likely to close a sale in person.
  9. Don’t call during lunch time (11:45 AM – 1:30 PM); otherwise, the time of day doesn’t seem to matter.
  10. Call on minor holidays. Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day can find senior executives in the office for part of the day, to catch up on work while distractions are few.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Factors to Include When Planning to Launch a Business

In a recent 7 day span, I was invited to judge two pitch contests for entrepreneurs who had successfully completed a 13-week business plan writing workshop presented by a woman-centric business incubator and business development center that has operated in New England for 25 years (and is also an SBA affiliate). The entrepreneurs were either in start-up or scaling (i.e., expansion) mode.

I was excited to be a judge and privileged to meet nearly two dozen forward-thinking, focused, resourceful and determined women who expect nothing less than success and are taking decisive steps to bring it about. Based on the business concept pitches I heard, I encourage those who are evaluating whether to launch a business venture to include the following information:

  • Name and describe your product or service and the problem(s) it will solve
  • Identify your best customer groups and explain why those customers will pay for your product or service
  • Identify your primary competitors, list the competitive advantages that your product/ service possesses and explain why customers will prefer your offerings
  • Create a business model that outlines how you’ll acquire customers, where and how the product/service will be delivered and how the business will make money
  • Explain why you are qualified to make the proposed business successful
  • Develop a business strategy and marketing plan that includes:
    • sales and distribution strategy
    • pricing strategy
    • product positioning strategy
    • branding strategy
    • content marketing strategy strategies
    • social media strategy
    • PR and advertising strategy
  • Detail the business pre-launch and launch (start-up) costs
  • If investors or borrowing will sought, present a (realistic) break-even analysis and 24 month revenue projections (P & L and cash-flow)
  • Detail the potential investor return and the loan payback schedule

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope April 24, 1990

Full Frontal LinkedIn

For B2B firms, Freelance consultants and corporate or not-for-profit professionals, LinkedIn is the preferred social media platform because it is strictly business. Members create a profile that is essentially an expanded resume. There are opportunities to receive recommendations from colleagues with whom one has worked. One can create and upload a SlideShare presentation to provide an overview of company products and services and describe how they benefit customers.

A portfolio that showcases examples of one’s best work can be created and uploaded.  The company blog and/or newsletter can be added to the profile and all connections will receive notice of publishings. If that’s not enough, LinkedIn ProFinder helps to match prospective clients with Freelancers in search of project work (I’ve had a couple of almosts but no contract yet, after 6-8 months of sporadic follow-up to prospect inquiries).

There are those members who claim to make money directly from their LinkedIn connections (other than the ProFinder feature), but I don’t know anyone who’s done so. Still, LinkedIn seems to be a worthwhile investment.  I think presence on the site lends legitimacy and I suspect that prospective clients who are evaluating whether to hire a Freelancer (me!) for a project visit the LinkedIn profile as an element of due diligence.

LinkedIn users

According to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog, of the 500 million LinkedIn profile owners, 61 million are senior-level influencers and 24.5 million are in decision-making positions.  Millennials are also well-represented on LinkedIn. Globally, 87 million members are Millennial generation and 11 million are in decision-making positions.

Content Marketing

LinkedIn’s Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn  reports that LinkedIn is the top choice for B2B content marketing and that every week, LinkedIn content is viewed 9 billion times. While 94% of B2B marketers (including Freelancers) use LikedIn to distribute content, 89% use Twitter, 77% use Facebook, 77% use YouTube and 61% use Google + for B2B content distribution. Surprisingly, only 3 million LinkedIn members post content once a week or more.

When marketing executives (i.e., the Freelancer’s prospective clients) were asked their choice sites to search for relevant, high-quality B2B content, 91% voted for LinkedIn, blowing away Twitter (29%) and Facebook (27%). Decision-makers who have the authority to green-light projects and send billable hours your way trust LinkedIn.  How-to posts and lists receive the best reader response, according to OKDork.com.

About 45% of LinkedIn article readers are managers, directors, vice presidents and C-suite dwellers. Have you published articles in legitimate media outlets, or written white papers or case studies? If so, upload examples of your writing to your profile, since nearly half of LinkedIn article readers are senior level decision-makers. Furthermore, OKDork.com investigated LinkedIn viral posts and discovered that the sweet spot for content length is 1900 words. Don’t shy away from long-form content.

In your articles, be certain to include images (photos, graphs, charts); eight images emerged as the magic number.  Yet videos do not impress LinkedIn readers as they do visitors to other platforms and OKDork.com recommends that article writers avoid videos.

I’ve made this blog available to my LinkedIn connections for the 10 years of its existence and I’ve gained followers and regular readers as a result. Get busy, people! If you think about it, you’ll find that you have relevant content to share with your community every two or three weeks, at least.

As mentioned earlier, LinkedIn encourages members to take advantage of SlideShare as a storytelling and sales tool. According to TechCrunch, 70 million LinkedIn members visit SlideShare each month and 18 million pieces of content have been uploaded (does that mean there are 18 million SlideShare presentations on LinkedIn? I guess so.)

I have a SlideShare presentation that was uploaded some time ago and it’s a good way to tell the story of your company, or to detail why, when and how customers can benefit from using your products or services. But LinkedIn won’t allow edits to existing presentations and it’s aggravating.  I’d like to do an update.

Lead generation 

When tallying B2B leads generated by social media, LinkedIn outperforms all contenders, with 80% of B2B leads derived from LinkedIn and only 13% through Twitter and 7% through Facebook. Moreover, HubSpot reports that LinkedIn produces the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate of all platforms, 2.74%, almost three times higher than Facebook, which produces a 0.77% visitor-to-lead conversion rate, and Twitter, which clocks in with a 0.69% visitor-to-lead rate.

In short, LinkedIn delivers more prospects who are more willing to do business.  The ultimate validation is that 65% of B2B companies have acquired a customer through LinkedIn (I’m still waiting. I should go back to ProFinder ASAP, because I do receive bidding invitations).

So here is my call-to-action. You’ve read the post (thank you!) and I hope you are inspired to step up your LinkedIn activity. It’s OK to start small. Do you have a profile photo? Add a photo and attract 21 times more profile views and receive 36 times more messages. I added a new photo today.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: John Pilkington (2006) Loading salt at the Taoudenni salt mines in northern Mali, 400 miles north of Timbuktu and approaching the Algerian border. The mines have operated since at least the 1500s.

Ask Better Questions

“Be a good listener,” Dale Carnegie advised in his 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.”  Effectively asking questions is a big part of a leader’s job. Good decision-making is based on information we obtain by asking the right questions. Making a sale, including handling objections, is also supported by effective questioning.

Many of us hesitate to ask questions, unfortunately. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to be perceived as intrusive. Other times,  we worry that our questions may be viewed as silly and make us appear incompetent.  On the other hand, one might assume that more information is not necessary.  In every instance, an opportunity to obtain valuable information is lost.

Alison Woods Brooks, an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Business School who teaches Negotiation and is affiliated with the Behavioral Insights Group and Leslie K. John, Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, understand that effective questioning is a skill that can be honed to make our conversations more productive.

The two offer guidance on the best type of questions to ask, tone of voice to use, the sequence of questions and how to frame the questions.  The best approach for a given situation depends on the goals of those in conversation.  Is the discussion  cooperative (e.g., relationship-building or accomplishing a task together) or  competitive (the parties seek to uncover sensitive information from each other or serve their own interests), or some combination of both? Brooks and her research team employed human coding and machine learning to identify four types of questions:

  • Introductory questions (“How are you?”)
  • Mirror questions (“I’m fine. How are you?”)
  • Full-switch questions (change the topic entirely)
  •  Follow-up questions (solicit more information)

Follow-up

Although each question type flows naturally in conversation, follow-up questions have special power. Follow-up questions signal to your conversation partner that you are listening, that you care and that you want to know more. People interacting with a conversation partner who asks lots of follow-up questions tend to feel respected and heard. According to Leslie K. John, “Most people don’t grasp that asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding.” Plus, follow-up questions don’t require much thought or preparation and usually come naturally to the questioner.

Yet be advised that no one likes to feel interrogated. Furthermore, closed-end questions tend to yield one-word answers. Open-ended questions counteract that effect and for that reason, they can be particularly useful in uncovering information or learning something new. In fact, they are wellsprings of innovation—which is often the result of finding the hidden, unexpected answer that no one has thought of before.

Sequencing

If the goal is to build relationships, opening with less sensitive questions and escalating slowly seems to be most effective.  In a set of studies (the results of which went viral following a write-up in the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times), psychologist Arthur Aron recruited strangers to come to the lab, paired them up and gave them a list of questions.  Participants were told to work their way through the list, starting with relatively shallow inquiries and progressing to more self-revelatory ones, such as “What is your biggest regret?”

Pairs in the control group were asked simply to interact with each other. The pairs who followed the prescribed structure liked each other more than the control pairs. This effect is so strong that it has been formalized in a task called “the relationship closeness induction,” a tool used by researchers to build a sense of connection among the participants.

Tone

People are more forthcoming when you ask questions in a casual way, rather than in a terse, official tone. In general, an overly formal tone is likely to inhibit people’s willingness to share information.

Group dynamics

Conversational dynamics can change profoundly depending on whether you’re chatting one-on-one with someone or talking in a group. Not only is the willingness to answer questions impacted by the presence of others, but members of a group tend to follow one anothers lead. In a meeting or group setting, it takes only a few closed-off people for questions to lose their probing power.  Conversely, if even one person starts to open up on a topic, the rest of the group is likely to follow suit.

Art of the response

Conversation is a dance, a mutual push-and-pull. Just as the way we ask questions can facilitate trust and the sharing of information so, too, can the way we answer them. Answering questions requires making a choice about where to fall on a continuum between privacy and transparency.  How should I answer this question? Assuming that I answer, how forthcoming can I afford to be? What should one do when asked a question that, if answered truthfully, might reveal a less-than-flattering information, or put one in a disadvantaged strategic position?

Each end of the spectrum—fully opaque and fully transparent—has benefits and pitfalls.  In negotiations, withholding sensitive information (e.g., that your alternatives are weak) can help you secure better outcomes. At the same time, transparency is an essential part of building meaningful connections. Even in a negotiation context, transparency can lead to value-creating deals; by sharing information, participants can identify elements that are relatively unimportant to one party but important to the other—the foundation of a win-win outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: The Dating Game, 1965- 1973 (ABC-TV)

 

 

Making Social Media Work for B2B Companies

Hello everyone, I’m happy to return to posting after an unexpected break! An important project demanded my full attention. Apologies.

When a prospective client speaks with me about developing a plan to optimize the use of B2B social media, I ask ask that s/he name a goal or two. Most say the goal is to increase sales. Next, we talk about the difference between goals and outcomes and I tend to consider generating revenue as an outcome and not a goal. I do consider nurturing a robust sales / marketing pipeline to be a goal and I’ve found that a reasonable approach to B2B social media is to use the resource for lead generation that continually fills the pipeline with prospects.

Other uses for B2B social media include new product or service announcements, brand awareness and enhancement and relationship- building that consists of inviting customers to take a behind-the-scenes look at your organization. YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can play a role when your company launches a new product or service.  If you’re able, create a 5- 10 minute video so that you and key team members can personally introduce the product and make the case for why it’s useful and which customers will be the best fit.  Post your video to the company website plus social media accounts.

Instagram is ideal for brand enhancement and awareness if your business can be expressed well in visuals.  Through well-composed and lighted photos, business leaders can create a narrative that reinforces product positioning, supports the pricing strategy, touts competitive advantages, introduces a new product, or portrays the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility through involvement in community or philanthropic events (that you’ve documented with three or four action shots).

Instagram and YouTube can support relationship-building by enabling behind-the-scenes looks into your organization, whether in still photos or videos. Maybe you might want to show how team members unwind on late Friday afternoons, or the celebration of a team member’s work anniversary or birthday?

In the meantime, we can revisit the sales/ marketing funnel that we discussed a few weeks ago and understand how to effectively measure the impact of your B2B social media strategies through easily accessed social media and website metrics.

ToFu: Top of Funnel

Awareness takes place at this stage and a reasonable goal for the business is to expand name recognition and reach. Your newsletter, blog, or social media platform presence will be the likely draws, but keyword and voice searches could also bring interested parties to your door. It’s useful to measure your company’s reach and a good KPI (Key Performance Index) is the number of readers or visitors to each platform plus your website.

MoFu: Middle of Funnel

Casual “day-trippers” to your website or social media accounts at this level have either dismissed you or begun to demonstrate trust and commitment.  Make your content click-bait with a provocative headline that makes readers want to know more and provide content that fulfills the promise. Engagement takes place here and I think it’s safe to call this group qualified leads. Visitors will step it up and follow your blog, subscribe to your newsletter or become a fan. Your ebook is downloaded and they’re reading your case studies.

Useful KPIs include website clicks, time visitors spend on pages, following of embedded links, the number of fans and followers, positive reviews, comments, shares and “likes.”

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

Leads at this stage of the funnel are looking to confirm details and finalize the decision of whether to do business.  Your prospect is ready to buy, but there’s no guarantee that s/he will buy from you.  Grease the wheels and present an inviting call-to-action that encourages the next step.  A Contact Us form on your website or Facebook Fan page makes a good call-to-action, as it signals a prospect’s desire for more than general information.  The offer of a free 30 minute consultation that can be scheduled by way of a phone call, SMS, or email should appear on the landing page of your website.

A time-sensitive special offer can make a difference. Try offering a tantalizing (and inexpensive to provide) upgrade or add-on to what the prospect has indicated s/he would like to purchase.  Free or discounted installation or a free product trial are also effective. The number of inquiries initiated to discuss your products or services, as well as the conversion rate of those inquiries, are the most relevant KPIs.

It’s useful for company leaders to remember that relationship – building is an integral ingredient of the recipe to reap benefits from social media. Too many business leaders want to dive into lead-gen, but your audience will have no desire to download your ebook until they know who you are and feel they can trust your expertise. Social media success is not an overnight sensation, it is a process that takes some time.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Julia Child on the set of The French Chef  (PBS) in 1964