AI and U: Bye, Bye Billables

The trouble hasn’t trickled down to us middle grade Freelance consultants or small boutique consulting companies yet,  mostly because we are not servicing Fortune 500 C-Suite clients, but apparently, the Artificial Intelligence phenomenon is being positioned to impact in particular the high-end management consultants and not for the better.  Eventually, our comparatively modest stratum will be touched as well, depending on the services that your consultancy provides.  I’ve got no love for the consulting giants Bain and McKinsey, but I’m worried by this trend.

AI is already at work, automating routine tasks such as maintaining calendars, but it is now poised to support decision-making functions in HR, marketing, finance (budgeting) and resource allocation.  It seems safe to say that AI will in the near future be used as a strategic planning tool.

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. businesses spent $58.7 billion on management consulting services in 2016, a 7.1% increase over 2015, and the bulk of the business was generated by the financial services industry.  The primary expertise of high-end management consultants is data analysis and presentation and facilitating long-range strategic planning.  It is becoming obvious that AI can execute many functions as well as an elite consultant, and can perform more accurately, faster and at a fraction of the cost of a consultant’s billable rate.

Do you have an iPad or iPhone? Then you are part of the AI revolution yourself whenever you ask voice-activated Siri to give you directions or show you the lunch menu at a new restaurant.  Alexa, the AI voice-activated digital personal assistant app for your tablet or smart phone developed by Amazon, will already allow you to control your smart home features such as lighting, heating/ air conditioning and keyless entry for your doors.  Presently, Alexa has the capability to answer economic questions for clients of the Swiss global financial services giant UBS Group AG.  The Wall Street Journal reported that Alexa will answer UBS client queries by using information provided by its chief investment office.  Alexa is expected to soon begin analyzing markets and may also be used to buy and sell stocks.

Meanwhile Boston-based Blackrock, the financial planning and investment management outfit, which happens to be the world’s largest asset management firm, used by institutions and individuals, is rolling out computer-driven algorithms and models in a move toward management by smart machines, that is, employing passive management rather than active management of their funds.  In other words, a machine will become the asset manager of Blackrock’s funds and not human, salary, bonus and benefits receiving employees.

Like the 1992 candidate for president Ross Perot predicted, that sucking sound you hear is your job going out the window.  The middle class is about to shrink some more.  Happy Labor Day.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph of Lost in Space, the CBS-TV series 1965 – 1968                                                          Jonathan Harris (as Dr. Smith) and the robot

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Only Those Who Have Money Can Borrow Money

Here is a typical story: A passionate would-be entrepreneur launches a venture, often with the romantic and exciting intention of bootstrapping the finances.  But realistically, bootstrapping is not the correct description of the financial plan.  The term that applies here is under-capitalized.  The idea may have been realistic,  but before our intrepid entrepreneur could get traction with the concept, the money ran out.  The only thing remaining was debt.

Our hero would like to start over, since valuable lessons were learned and baked into business plan and model 2.0.  However, start-up capital that was not requested in the first go-round must be sought now, because the realization that there will be no success without adequate funding is now apparent.  What can be done to give our story a happy ending in a world where it takes money to make money? Let’s take a look at some possible funding options, some common and others less so.

Friends and family financing

Besides your own bank account, the most obvious place to look for start-up capital is with friends and family, that is, if you have a very good idea of whom you can do business with and those relatives or frenemies who must be avoided.  Many business ventures are funded in this way.

If you choose to borrow from family and friends, put into writing the loan amount, terms and repayment schedule and agree only to what you are certain you can uphold.  According to CircleLending’s Business Private Loan Index, the average current interest rate on business loans made by family members and friends is 7.6%.  Do everything possible to preserve relationships and not let money divide you.  The last thing you want are tense holidays (there are more than enough ways for that to occur as it is).

Micro-lenders and web-based lenders

There are several non-bank lenders found only online that offer micro-loans to small entrepreneurs.  The loan amounts are usually between $5000 – $25,000 and these outfits can be excellent sources of start-up and expansion capital for entrepreneurs with debt and /or limited resources.  There is sometimes a potentially very useful credit repair feature available through certain of these lenders when loan repayments are reported to credit bureaus.  On-time payments will raise your credit score, improve your credit rating and lower your future interest rates.

Here are sites to visit, including the Small Business Association’s Micro-loan Program:  http://prosper.com   http://www.zopa.com   http://www.accion.com https://www.sba.gov/loans-grants/see-what-sba-offers/sba-loan-programs/microloan-program

There may as well be small not-for-profit organizations that are micro-lenders in your state, but they may not be found online.  To obtain contact information on these loan source possibilities, please visit  www.microenterpriseworks.org

CircleLending data demonstrated clearly that comparison shopping is a must-do.  The loan interest rate at Accion was 12%, while the rate at Prosper was more than 20%, for those with poor credit.

In 2016, the National Small Business Association found that 73% of small businesses used some type of funding to launch a venture, expand a business, purchase inventory or equipment, or strengthen the company’s financial foundation.  The 2012 U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners found that 57% of start-ups launched the venture with personal savings; 8 % used personal credit cards; 6% used other personal assets (retirement account?); and 3% used a home equity loan. Only 8% used a bank loan.

While it is possible for individuals who are in tight financial constraints to obtain bank loan financing and business credit cards as noted above, interest rates are high.  More than that, even those who might qualify for bank loans are not going there.  You want to put your money not into interest payments, but rather into building your venture into a successful enterprise and paying off debts, in that way positioning yourself to save and invest capital and build for yourself a strong financial future.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Triple Dollar Signs, Andy Warhol (1982)   Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Your Marketing Plan Is Meaningless Until You Assign A Budget

Oh, how you love to talk about planning—your business plan, financial plan, vacation plan and what I think is most often discussed—your marketing plan.  Congratulations to you if you’ve drawn up an official marketing plan for your venture.  But if you intend to transfer your plan from the page to reality, you must assign it a budget.  Somehow, that practical reality is sometimes glossed over.  Ask a Freelancer or business owner what the company’s annual marketing budget is and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare or incoherent stammering.  That is not the ideal response, my friend! So today, let’s learn how to estimate a reasonable budget for a B2B annual marketing plan.

Laurel Mintz, founder and CEO of Elevate My Brand, a Los Angeles digital marketing agency, has developed what she calls “marketing math,” to help her clients determine what would be  a realistic B2B marketing budget range for their organizations.  According to Ms. Mintz:

New companies in business for one to five years would be wise to allot 12 – 20 % of  gross or projected revenues on marketing activities.

Established companies in business for more than five years are advised to commit 6 – 12 % of gross or projected revenues to marketing activities.

Those figures seemed rather hefty, at least they did to me and maybe you agree.   According to Laurel Mintz,  if a new business generates just $35,000 in after-tax bottom line revenues, she nevertheless feels that the owner should devote $4,200 – $7,000 annually to a marketing budget.  Ouch! I mean, how does one pay the living expenses and taxes and health insurance when in the salad days of a start-up?

Think of it like this—no one said that self-employment, whether Freelance solopreneur or entrepreneur, was going to be either easy or inexpensive.  Just like you set aside money for other vital expenses, marketing deserves a budget, too, because without marketing you could wind up presiding over a stunted venture that never gains traction and never fulfills its potential.

Marketing activities, whether innovative or predictable, give the venture a needed push into target markets.  Marketing promotes the expansion of prospective clients who will flow into the sales funnel, distinguishes the organization from competitors, establishes and promotes the brand, justifies the pricing structure and keeps the enterprise at top of mind and positioned to beckon clients and referrers.

Now for the cold water—there are no guarantees in marketing and the ROI is notoriously tricky to quantify.  But realize that marketing is all about testing and that means (calculated) risk.  If you approve a certain sum of money to devote to the year’s marketing activities, you might achieve all of your marketing campaign goals, or do twice as well, or only half as well as you projected

Risk is real in marketing, but it’s mitigated by your awareness of how your clients have been known to respond to the marketing tactics that you can afford.  Research shows that if you conduct marketing  activities that resonate with your target clients and are within budget, then over time,  the marketing campaigns will enhance the bottom line and your brand.  Treat marketing activities as an investment that will surely pay off and allocate funds each year.

Marketing  campaigns are all about planning, budget and execution.  If meager finances make you feel that the budget formula given here is too risky for your venture, then focus on planning and execution and roll out “sweat equity” campaigns that utilize tactics that cost time instead of dollars, such as content marketing, face to face networking and social media.  Just do it.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Director and actress Ida Lupino on the set of The Hitch-Hiker (1953)                    Photograph courtesy of RKO Pictures/ Photofest

 

Surviving Rejection—Lemons to Lemonade

“To be, or not to be—that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them?”   Hamlet (William Shakespeare), Act III, Scene 1

Shakespeare understood so much about the problems and pleasures of life. I suppose that explains why, 400 years after he died (1564 – 1616), he remains the best-selling fiction author of all time, with an estimated four billion copies of his works sold (Wikipedia).  Shakespeare knew that life is about learning and sometimes the lessons presented to us are, or seem, harsh.

He understood that in order to build a satisfying life, we must learn to become ethical, wise and compassionate humans who are also equipped to take good care of ourselves and our families and manage to be good company along the way.  In his sonnets and plays, he showed us that resourcefulness and resilience, good judgment and good humor will help us to find the courage to face up to our faults and fears and learn how to overcome obstacles and disappointments.

Shakespeare’s lessons apply not only to the personal, but also to the professional zone of life.  Freelance consultants and business owners have many opportunities to show the world that we are capable leaders who can make our own way in the world, but there are the inevitable set-backs.  Acquiring a skill set that helps you move beyond rejection and defeat, as you make note of what you might have done differently, is the most effective way to bounce back from adversity.

Be objective

Realize that it was not you, the person, who has been rejected, but your business proposal.  There are numerous reasons that may cause a prospective business partner, investor, or client to turn you down in the final stage of evaluation, even if it seemed certain that you’d get the green light.  It is very painful to be unexpectedly denied and the incident can rock your self-confidence.  It is likely that once the facts were laid out and analyzed, the investor/ partner/ prospect realized that either s/he does not have the resources to participate, or that business strategies will require that they take a different direction and so your proposal must unfortunately be decline

Separate yourself from the proposal, look at what you might have been able to do better, if anything, and if you’ve found something lacking, and that could mean your choice of whom to do business with and not your proposal itself,  think about how to recognize a more promising prospect, or imagine how your intended might evaluate your proposal, so that you can correct obvious gaps or avoid potential misunderstandings.

Lessons learned

Depending on your comfort level with the prospect who rejected your proposal/ funding request/ partnership offer, you can ask why that was the case?  What is it that you are lacking, or what did you misunderstand? Maybe you can retool and make yourself a more viable candidate in the future.? Or maybe it is not a viable option for you after all and you finally accept that your efforts could be more generously rewarded elsewhere.

Without berating yourself, you can take stock of the new reality, even though it is not to your liking and devise a way to pick yourself up after disaster has laid you low.  You might choose to stay the course, with some adjustments (More specific talking points? A different target market?), or identify a new approach.  Maybe you can perform a beta test, or ask questions of a trusted colleague or client before you gamble on a roll-out.

Moving forward

If your proposals have been rejected rather regularly, consider that your intended target client group is not the best for you and that you might be well-advised to offer another product or service to a different cohort of clients, or pursue other types of business partners or investors.  If you are unable to get to yes with at least one or two clients, you must discover the problems and challenges that those in the target category really want to be resolved, regardless of what they admit to.  It could be so simple as the jargon used to describe either the problem or the proposed solution is not accurately expressed by one party or the other.

Disappointment is not easy to accept, but it is a part of life, part of the growing process.  How you handle yourself in the face of disappointment can help you to become resilient and resourceful and ultimately, better prepared to pursue and achieve success for your goals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Phaedra and Hippolytus, Pierre Narcisse Guerin (c. 1802)                                                   Image courtesy of Harvard Art Museums/ The Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA

 

Defending Your Prices 2.0

There is a lot to like about the Freelance life, but recurring paycheck anxiety isn’t one of them.  If we’re not waiting to get paid by a client who should have mailed the check 10 days ago, then we’re fretting that the check is rather too small anyway for the amount and quality of work that was done.  But how can one be choosy when the possibility of being replaced is so real? No matter how you earn your living, by 1099 or W2, the employer is in the driver’s seat.

Nevertheless, we Freelance consultants do have some leverage.  While there are thousands of Freelancers willing to accept small hourly rates and project fees, hiring managers in the know realize that the quality of their work is often less than ideal.  As always, you get what you pay for and pay for what you get. Below is a list of selling points that in your next pricing negotiation can help you to justify and defend the premium price I know you are worth:

Expertise

Shopping for B2B services is not like shopping at the old (and sorely missed) Filene’s Basement, where frugal fashionistas could find premier designer label clothing for a fraction of the retail cost.  The caveat was, one had to expect certain shortcomings, like maybe a  missing button or two because one of the infamous button thieves got to the item first (there were apparently several such individuals over the decades).

Inexperienced or less skilled Freelancers may request lower prices for any number of reasons, including perhaps the inability or unwillingness to perform complex assignments.  Some people like to compete on price and there will always be those who respond for whatever reason and that sometimes includes an antipathy toward paying people.  Those who like the low-ball figure should be advised that they are vulnerable to receiving only the bare minimum of work because they’re only paying the bare minimum price.

Make it clear to your prospect that you produce the highest quality work. The prospect can totally hand the project over and trust that you and your team will successfully complete the job as specified, on time and within budget. There will be no need for the client to perform after-the-fact do-overs of your work.  Your base price may be higher, but in the end you save clients time, money and aggravation.  You make them look smart for hiring you.

Dependability

In sum, you will produce what has been asked of you and if there appears to be an obstacle to doing so, you will alert the client as soon as that is recognized and suggest collaborate on making adjustments or creating a Plan B, especially for time-sensitive projects.  You meet deadlines and respect budgets.

Follow-up

One of the biggest mistakes a Freelancer can make when negotiating project or hourly rate pricing is to limit the scope of what you offer solely to the project work as described in the specs.  Make it known to prospects that you are selling an entire service package that includes not only the project spec work, but also includes responsiveness and prompt follow-up; good communication and feedback; efficiency with logistics; and the willingness to ensure that deadlines will be met, even if that means working outside of the 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Monday to Friday paradigm.

Showcase your value-added services by ensuring that your project proposal answers all of the standard or required questions and is sent to the client on time.  Respond to client follow-up inquiries quickly, efficiently and cheerfully.

Testimonials

While any confidentiality requests must be respected, revealing selected names on your client list, newsletter or blog statistics, links to published articles and webinars hosted and publicity listings for your noteworthy speaking engagements will provide tangible proof of your reputation and expertise and in that way, justify your pricing.  Depending on your specialty, an online or hard copy portfolio of your work to show to prospective clients is yet another effective way to demonstrate the quality and sophistication of your work and help to explain why you do not price your services at the bargain basement level.

Don’t be shy! Prospective clients want to see what you can do, so that an informed decision can be made.  Build your case, present it well and show them what you are worth.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Shoppers at Filene’s Basement  (1974)  Photograph courtesy of Nick DeWolf

 

Freelancers Need a Mission Statement

Mission statements are often associated with not-for-profit organizations, but they are not exclusive to 501(c)3s.  For-profit ventures may also have a mission statement.  A mission statement is useful for any type of organization and that includes Freelance consultancies.

Like all other organization leaders, Freelancers periodically need help to focus on our organization’s purpose, especially as we readjust business models and pivot and do whatever else it might take to stay relevant and solvent as the marketplace ground shifts beneath our feet.  Keeping the company mission statement in mind guides leaders as we make decisions and adjustments along the way, ensuring that the soul of the organization remains viable.

Further,  the mission statement shows company leaders and staff how to concisely communicate the purpose of our organization to potential clients.  There is a close parallel between the mission statement and your elevator pitch.

So what exactly makes a mission statement? The company mission statement explains the organization’s purpose and intentions, usually in two or three short sentences.  The mission statement concisely sums up what the organization is about for the public, for its customers and target markets and for the executive team, board of directors and support staff, who will be reminded that the products and services provided must reflect and advance the company mission and achieve its goals.

  • What the organization does
  • For whom the products or services are intended
  • Why the organization provided its products and services

The mission statement differs from a vision statement, which in one or two sentences describes how the world will look when the company mission is achieved. The vision statement is inspirational and aspirational.  The mission statement gives an overview of how the company will realize those intentions.  The company’s (mission-critical) fundamental goals are actions the company takes to enable the mission and realize the vision.

So Freelancer friends, I respectfully suggest that another worthy item for your summer to-do list is to write a Mission Statement for your consulting practice.  Should you decide to also write a Vision Statement, the inimitable Sir Richard Branson recommends that brevity is key and that you keep in mind the 140 character Twitter template to help yourself create an inspirational statement that you can keep real and make memorable.  Branson also recommends that you keep in mind both internal stakeholders (employees) and external stakeholders (clients) when writing either statement.

OXFAM  (Oxford, England)

  • Vision Statement  “A just world without poverty.”
  • Mission Statement  “To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and social injustice.”

AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS  (New York, NY)

  • Vision Statement  “That the United States is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.”
  • Mission Statement “To provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. “

SONY CORPORATION (Tokyo, Japan)

  • Vision Statement  “Our vision is to use our passion for technology, content and services to deliver kando, in ways that only Sony can.”
  • Mission Statement ” To provide customers with kando, to move them emotionally and inspire and fulfill their curiosity.” (Kando translates as the power to stimulate emotional response or emotional involvement.)

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library                                                                         The William Vaughn Tupper Collection “Cairo (Egypt) Streets and People” circa 1891-1895

The Right Way to Give Feedback

Even for those who are self-employed, everything in life is team work, am I right or what? When you’re working with others, at some point giving or receiving a quick progress report is a good thing and usually appreciated.  There is an art to giving feedback and if you want to reach and sustain a high level of productivity, to say nothing of preserving important relationships both business and personal, you may be interested in the recommendations that guide the process of giving effect feedback offered by Gwen Moran, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans (2010).

Integrate

When you are in the position to assess the quality of the project work, you have an obligation to speak up should you discover that something is amiss or the work is behind schedule.  Feedback should be instructive, timely and accepted as a normal part of management’s responsibilities.  Especially if assistance is needed, it is important that  the feedback is delivered in a way that is affirming of the worker, does not denigrate his/her skills or intelligence and effectively promotes appropriate actions.  Waiting to address insufficient work in a performance review is ineffective—-too late to help the worker understand and quickly make modifications that will produce what is expected.

Calibrate

Responses to feedback are individual and sometimes unpredictable.  The less secure are prone to becoming defensive and occasionally, combative.  A diplomatic approach is recommended, so that feelings are not hurt. Nevertheless, the manager or project overseer must alert workers whose performance is sub par and the sooner the better.

To promote a positive team spirit and sense of inclusion, it will be helpful to allow team members who are not performing well to “save face” and if that means you, the project overseer or department manager, must blame yourself because mistakes have been made, then so be it.  Avoid being labeled as either unsupportive and harsh, or a micromanager.

Educate

If ad hoc feedback is not bringing about the desired improvements, then invite into a meeting all who are working on the project.  Explain how the project is critical to the achievement of interdependent  company objectives and goals and why it is imperative that the work must be done in a certain way and completed within a certain time frame.  Team members will be able to ask questions in a nonjudgmental environment that will clear up misinterpretations and help them to understand the purpose of the project and their value as professionals.

Motivate

Strive to communicate positive observations about the team members’ work, because feedback is always necessary.  Do not fall into the habit of speaking up only when there is something negative to say.  Thanks and encouragement go a long way in motivating enthusiasm and excellent quality work.  Feedback contributes to the development of cohesive and high-performing teams. It is the responsibility of those in management positions to promote and support this outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library                                                  Vandamm Theatrical Photographs Collection 1900 – 1957

Which Conference Will Be Worth It?

The Events Industry Council reports that there are more than 1.8 million conventions, meetings and trade shows held in the U.S. held every year.  Big hotel chains and convention centers make oodles of money providing the space.  Along with the venue special events sales staff, whose careers are built on selling space to sponsoring organizations, the waiters and bartenders, concierges and doormen, even the cab drivers, love to see the events roll in.

No doubt, each of those meetings brings a lot of value to the target audience.  The speakers can be top drawer and topics compelling, the venue fabulous and audience members fascinating, but if none of this leads to even a limited number of billable hours, then you will not have received what you paid for.  Writing it off on your taxes yields only about a 35% savings and you don’t receive it until many months after the fact.

Many industry and premier networking group conferences can cost $500 for a one-day event that along with the speakers includes continental breakfast, lunch and light refreshments at two breaks.  Oftentimes, the admission fees are calculated with the expectation that attendees will be high-ranking corporate execs who are able to expense the cost to their companies.  As a result, independently employed professionals regularly forgo a number of conferences that draw the decision-makers they need to meet because unless one has been to a given conference previously, there is no telling if the networking will be good and therefore worth the risk of paying a high ticket price.

If you decide to go the high-profile marketing route and become an exhibitor, your cost is likely to resemble a full-page 4-color ad in an industry magazine.  The exhibitor booth fee can be $3500, with additional costs for Wi-Fi and branded give-aways like tote bags, pens, umbrellas and the like and the custom table-cloth you must order to display your company name and logo.  If you will stay overnight, add hotel bills that will include a discount but can nevertheless exceed $200 daily and the cost to park can be $40 per 24 hours.  Figuring out the attendance profile of a conference is paramount, so that you can calculate your ROI.

First, think about your business products and services and your ideal clients and start filtering out what doesn’t align with your objectives.  If your business is B2B, you’ll look for an audience of business people who give you either product sales or billable hours.  If you’re a start-up looking for investors, then you’ll look to attend programs that draw venture capital specialists.  You don’t need to attend the largest conferences, just those that put you in front of those people who have the motive to do business with you.

Further, if you are investing in an exhibitor booth, check the conference schedule and look for down time between speakers that will encourage attendees to visit the exhibitor area and get to know who is there.  If time has not been scheduled, you could find out that you’ve paid dearly to look at the other exhibitors and not interact with the target audience you hoped to meet.

But whether you will attend to make a marketing splash, find an investor, or recruit a good client or two through networking, you never know until you get there because every conference has its own personality.  At some events, the people talk and at others I’m sorry to say, they don’t.  Before you jump in and commit big money as an exhibitor, attend as a civilian and test the waters.  If the conference is two or more days, attend one day and be sure to attend the day that has a scheduled networking dinner or reception.

Now, may I share good news with you? My eighth anniversary as your faithful diarist, the author of “Freelance: The Consultant’s Diary,” occurred in June. I’ve earned the special citation from WordPress that you see here.  Heartfelt thanks to those of you who read!

Thank you for your support,

Kim

anniversary-2x[1].png

Networking Starts With A Conversation

IMG_0018Happy Fourth of July! You may engage in celebrating today’s holiday as a party host or guest and either way, you’ll have the pleasure of expanding your social and possibly also your professional network.  From backyard barbecues to weddings, the meet and greet is on, for business or pleasure. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you will feel more at ease if when you encounter new people you can draw from a little repertoire of conversation starters that you can easily recall.

Here’s a list of conversation starters designed to make your summer celebrations a little more fun.  Keep in mind that when you approach a party guest, or a guest approaches you, smile and show that you welcome that person’s presence and you’d like to converse. While you might encounter the rare monosyllabic type who is too awkward to make small talk, in which case you can smile and slip away as quickly as socially acceptable, most partygoers and attendees at social or business functions are primed to meet and get acquainted with interesting people.  They’ll meet you halfway and together, you’ll create the conversation. You will likely be joined by others and that’s all for the good.

  1. Hi, I’m ______; and you are…? Nice to meet you! Do you live in the neighborhood ?
  2. Hi, I’m ______; and you are…? Nice to meet you! How do you know (the host)?
  3. Have you been having a good summer, so far?
  4. Do you like the summer holidays better, or winter holidays?
  5. Are you a summer vacation person, or a winter vacation person?
  6. I’m walking over to the drink table.  Can I bring you something?
  7. The buffet looks delicious (holding your plate and drink)—may I sit here?
  8. As you see, I’m checking out (the hosts’) books. They have a lot of good titles. Do you see something here that you’ve read?
  9. Who is that singing? Could it be Sarah Vaughan?
  10. OK, pop quiz–How many oceans are there on planet earth?

I hope you meet some good people both today and at the social and business functions that you’ll attend this summer and that you’re able to build one or two relationships that outlast the events you attend.  Relax and allow yourself to have a good time.

Show interest in the people you meet. Tailor your conversation topics to those with whom you are speaking. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Listen more than you talk and listen actively.  At some point in a lively conversation you may want to jump in with a witty retort, but try to avoid interrupting and one-upping.

Finally, don’t over-share and if you meet someone with whom it appears there could be a mutual interest to talk business, exchange cards and plan to follow-up a day or two after the party.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Tall Ships Parade in Boston Harbor. June 16, 1017    Photograph by Kim Clark

 

 

Success Story: An Artist’s Collective Turns the Corner

The CLIENT

The arts economy in New England in general and Greater Boston in particular, is significant.  ArtsBoston, a 175-member not-for-profit arts service organization that researches  important statistics regarding the local arts community, found that more than 18 million visits are made to arts and cultural events every year, ticketed and free events, including dance, musical and theater performances; visits to museums and art galleries; and attendance at ethnic cultural festivals.

It has been my pleasure to work with two of the three most respected collectives of visual artists in Boston including the largest, whose membership exceeds 200.  Eighteen months ago,  the larger organization referred to me the smaller, 80-member, loosely  affiliated sister organization. The two have overlapping memberships, where nearly the entire membership of the smaller are also members of the larger group.  The membership of both collectives consists primarily of painters, sculptors and photographers, with a smattering of ceramacists and artisans such as bookbinders and calligraphers. Management for each group is separate and independent.

All artists in the collectives maintain studios in an art and design district consisting of several 19th century former warehouse buildings and the artists of the smaller collective are all located in one of those buildings.

Both collectives offer nearly identical special events programming as a method to reach out to potential art collectors.  Each holds an annual open studios art walk event, where member artists open their studios and invite the public in at no charge to see, discuss and when visitors choose, purchase artwork.  Since 1986, the larger group has held its signature open studios event in September and the smaller group holds its annual event in May.  Additionally, since about 1998, the smaller group has held the monthly open studios event branded as First Friday.

The CHALLENGE

The smaller arts collective was facing increasingly diminished audiences for First Fridays, which are held on the first Friday of every month from 5:00 – 9:00 PM January through December.  Attendance at its May open studios event was likewise softening. Artist membership in the group had stagnated.

Competition between the local artist collectives has in recent years become intense, the result of a proliferation of open studios events that has diluted the target audience of middle class to affluent collectors who reside in the tonier city and suburban enclaves.  Boston has 22 neighborhoods and 12 annual open studios events, with dates coordinated by the city and held from April to November each year.  Additionally, nearly every city or town contiguous to Boston, plus numerous outlying suburbs, have over the years launched open studios art walks.  In July and August the action moves to the historic summer artist colonies in MA, including Cape Ann, Provincetown and towns in the Berkshire mountains that beckon to vacationers from around the country.

The DECISION

The collective is managed by two member volunteers.  They reached out to their counterparts in the larger organization and asked how that group managed to maintain attendance for its annual open studios event, which has reversed previously declining numbers.

Within two weeks I met with the leaders of the smaller collective and after listening to their story,  recommended that an energized marketing plan would most likely provide the remedy.  Over the past three or four years,  a shortage of time and a dose of complacency had caused the managers to slack off on marketing their events to the target audience.  Recently, First Fridays had been listed in only one print and three online events listing services.

Member art sales were shrinking because fewer collectors or potential collectors visited studios.  Membership in the collective was dropping slowly, as artists re-examined the value of the collective at renewal time.  Operating income was negatively impacted. Artist participation in First Fridays waned, which could only cause the target audience attendance to wane.  It was an impending death spiral.

The SOLUTION

A comprehensive and consistently implemented marketing campaign was launched in an increased number of targeted print and online media outlets, which was the core of a strategy to greatly improve outreach to collectors and potential collectors.  More visits to studios would enhance the possibility of art sales and promote the conversion of aspiring collectors to collector status.  Over the subsequent months, additional media outlets were identified and included in the campaign.  Presently, 14 online media outlets and five print outlets now carry the First Friday listings each month and the listing for the annual open studios event in May.

A paid display ad (one-quarter page) will now appear annually in a free print publication that has high readership among tourists to Boston, since outreach to that group has become a priority.  To estimate the potential impact of tourist dollars on contemporary art sales in Boston, in 2016 the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston, which features 21st century art only, received 210,000 visitors, according to the Boston Business Journal (and the Museum of fine Arts, the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science each received in excess of 1.1 million visitors).

Content marketing is also part of the campaign launch, designed to reach the collective’s members and non-members through the collective’s newsletter.  Membership retention and recruitment are in many ways the heart of the marketing campaign for without active and engaged members who believe in the mission and are happy to carry it out, the collective will cease to exist.

The monthly newsletter now includes a member artist spotlight that features an image of the artist’s work plus a brief artist bio.  The artists volunteer to participate and the response has been enthusiastic.  As a way to persuade the 10 -15 non-members in the building of the collectives’ benefits, an annual newsletter customized to provide an update of the work that the collective’s members find especially useful and making an appeal to join is now being sent.

The RESULT

The number of visitors to First Fridays has gradually climbed to about 500 on average each month.  As documented by the managers, historic lows occur in January and February, when attendance can dip as the temperature drops, the snow piles up and only 200 or so art aficionados will attend First Friday.  Months with the highest visitors are April through June and September through December, when up to 700 visitors may appear.

Membership in the collective has risen over the past 12 months from just over 70 to 80 members.  There remains 10 -15 artists in the building who are non-members.  The group hopes that one or two non-members will sign up each year.

I hope you enjoyed the case study.  Thanks for reading.

Kim