Consulting: This Is How We Do It

There are millions of Freelance consultants in the U.S. and our numbers continue to climb on a steep upward slope, fueled both by the reluctance of employers to offer stable full-time, benefits-paying jobs and the desire of workers to have more flexible schedules, whether single and childless or married with children.  There are different levels of Freelance consulting, from the one-off hourly paid short-term project to ongoing client relationships that may endure for several years.

Some Freelance consulting projects are very limited in scope: you are hired to design a brochure, build a website, facilitate a meeting, provide special event PR, or redecorate a living room. Other projects might start with a change management process that would benefit from the perspective and expertise of an external  professional and segues into implementation and training for impacted staff.

It is useful to break down the components of the consulting function because it will encourage us, its practitioners, to think about the sum total of what we do— the value that each component brings will remind us that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Further, when we speak with clients or generate our content marketing information or traditional advertising copy, having the components of our work and good sound-bites at the ready will keep marketing messages and elevator pitches fresh and relevant and help us to communicate to clients that we understand their needs and priorities and we would make a good hire for their mission critical project.  Below is a list  of a consultant’s core duties.

  1. Provide information.
  2. Diagnose (and maybe redefine) the client’s problem.
  3. Provide recommendations for the short and long-term based on the diagnosis.
  4. Propose one or more effective solutions that will resolve the client’s problem.
  5. Assist with the implementation of the chosen solution to the problem.
  6. Suggest how the client can encourage and sustain internal support for the solution.
  7. Facilitate training or learning, to allow impacted staff to resolve similar problems in the future.

When we Freelance consultants are called in to discuss a possible assignment with a client, we may want to ask a few questions of the project team or leader, to allow us to gain insight and context; to help reveal one or more potentially useful solutions; and to make it more likely that the client will accept and approve your recommendations:

  1. What solutions have been implemented or proposed in the past and what was the outcome?
  2. Which untried steps toward a solution does the client have in mind?
  3. Which, if any, related aspects of the client’s business operation are not going well?
  4. When a reasonable solution is recommended, how and when will it be implemented?
  5. What steps can be taken to encourage buy-in for the solution, to assist its successful implementation?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

A Superb Speaker Introduction

Excellent public speaking makes those who have it appear both credible and smart and those who wish to obtain or maintain the appearance of authority and expertise are advised to cultivate the art.  Public speaking not only refers to s/he who makes a featured presentation—keynote speakers, guest lecturers, panelists, moderators, or the toastmaster at a social function—but also includes s/he who introduces a speaker.

An invitation to introduce a speaker is an honor and a vote of confidence and you would be wise to prepare for the occasion.  The introducer bears the responsibility of preparing the audience to respect the speaker and trust his/her information or story line.  If you receive an opportunity to introduce a speaker, keep the following suggestions in mind:

Show that you have the credentials to make the introduction

S/he who introduces a speaker must earn the confidence of the audience.  The leader or some other high-ranking member of the sponsoring organization usually introduces speakers, and earns that confidence by way of the authority vested in his/her position. Alternatively, a VIP speaker may be introduced by a similarly ranked colleague or guest VIP, who earns the confidence of the audience and as well conveys the importance of the speaker.  The guest VIP who introduces the high profile featured speaker will merit his/her own introduction and that will be given by a member of the sponsoring group.

Direct audience attention to the speaker

A speaker introduction is in reality a sales presentation and obtaining audience buy-in for the speaker and topic is your mission.  Your first order of business is to persuade the audience to be fully present in the moment. Typically, audience members are engaged in other activities in the intervening moments between speaker presentations, or as they await for the program to begin.

Some will be in conversation with those nearby, perhaps discussing the previous speaker or the program agenda.  Others will be focused on electronic devices, checking email, sending texts, or posting social media updates.  Your introduction must provide a bridge that transports the audience away from distractions and leads them to the subject of your introduction, the speaker.

A clever way to gain audience attention is to capture their imaginations with a rhetorical question related to the topic.  Consider opening your introduction with “What if…?“, “What is it about…?“,  or “Have you ever wondered how…?” The question will allow you to segue into the topic, which ideally will be perceived as compelling, to validate the audience member’s decision to attend.

Endorse the speaker

Now that you have the audience’s attention and confidence, it’s time to portray the speaker as an expert who is deserving of the audience’s time, attention and money (if admission was paid).  Put them in the mood to hear the talk by saying something like… “I first heard (the speaker) about three years ago, at a reading s/he gave soon after his/her book (title) was published.  I’ve been anticipating the release of this new book (title).” “I’ve heard more than one expert address our topic this afternoon, but I believe that (the speaker) gives the most comprehensive and clear representation of the facts…”

You may in addition give a build-up that precedes the above by listing awards and honors that the speaker has received, if applicable, or reading quotes about the speaker that have appeared in important publications.

Create intrigue and excitement about the topic

Tempt the audience with a smidgen of how the speaker will meet or surpass their expectations for the talk.  Read a sentence or two of an early review of the book that will be discussed.  Describe a useful piece of information that audience members will receive as they listen to the presentation.  Make them know that a worthwhile pay-off awaits.

The introduction

Continue to demonstrate that you make excellent speaker introductions by weaving the sense of anticipation into your actual introduction, perhaps in this way… “Let’s all welcome (the speaker) and let him/her give us the real story about what’s going on.” “Let’s invite (the speaker) to tell us what happens next in the ongoing saga of this character. Please join me and give him/her a warm welcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

How and When A Freelancer Should Collaborate

Several years ago, I was one of four Freelancers who collaborated on the development and presentation of a half-day marketing and sales themed professional development conference whose target audience was in-house sales and marketing professionals who had the authority to hire Freelancers to manage special projects at their respective organizations.  Each of us would cover an aspect of sales or marketing (I agreed to present a networking workshop, another would present B2B sales training, etc.).

The conference was the brain child of an experienced and successful marketing services competitor. She invited us to participate, assured us that she had relationships with more than a few corporate clients and acquaintances, at least a few of whom we could count on to attend, and she ran the show.  Rather a lot of time was spent on planning meetings. A few hundred dollars was spent on production expenses: printing the promotional fliers, the room rental fee (we received a good discount at a fancy law firm’s conference room) and continental breakfast for the attendees.  We charged maybe $69 to attend.

We managed to draw an audience of about 30, a number that we considered respectable, but the corporate prospects failed to materialize, apparently because my marketing competitor hugely over-stated her client relationships.  The audience consisted entirely of people just like us—Freelancers who were trying to make themselves more attractive to those who control billable hours and who were hoping, no doubt, to meet a corporate marketer or two.

The whole thing was a complete waste of time and money because,  as we three along for the ride came to realize, corporate types do not feel the need to attend such programs. They are not looking to upgrade their skills at a conference hosted by a bunch of Freelancers.  They don’t even turn out for conferences hosted by their local chambers of commerce, despite the fact that most of their companies are members.  In fact, it has become increasingly difficult to meet them at all,  except perhaps in certain social situations or in board service.

Collaborating with carefully selected colleagues can open up doors to success that would ordinarily be closed and can result in good clients added to your roster and more billable hours added to your Income Statement.  However, there are questions that you would be wise to ask your prospective collaborators and also yourself, to increase the chances that the collaboration will be a win-win for all involved, including the client.

Can the collaboration achieve worthwhile goals?

Precisely, what valuable tangible and intangible assets will the collaboration produce for you? The project mentioned above was highly speculative and as a result, risky. Partnering with a colleague or two as a strategy to win the bid on a lucrative or prestigious assignment is less risky than creating yet another professional development conference.  Collaborating to chase rainbows is not what you want.  Collaborate to more effectively compete for a valuable resource, such as a project that exists and has funding.

What resources will the collaborator provide?

Collaborations are formed to bring together entities that have complementary skill sets.  A few months ago, I collaborated with an author to provide for her book content editing, serve as photo editor and perform self-publishing services that she preferred to outsource.  In exchange, I gained experience, added book editing to my CV and obtained (minimal) payment.  Collaborations should be win-win propositions and the project(s) on which you and your collaborator(s) partner should reflect Aristotle’s recommendation, that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The trust factor

Collaborators must be able to trust one another for without trust, there can be no successful partnership. This is hugely important, because your reputation and client relationships, current and future, will be on the line.  If your collaborator(s) cannot or will not hold up their end, your brand can be damaged and unfortunately, you don’t really know anyone until you’ve either lived with or worked with them.  A discussion of the interpretation and practice of work ethic and customer service will give insight into the matter.

For example, if there is a big deadline looming, are collaborators willing to work and respond to emails on weekends, holidays and after 6:00 PM? How will collaborators respond to a high-maintenance client who emails at 9:00 PM on Sunday nights when there is no apparent emergency?

What will be the ROI?

The properly conceived and managed collaboration will allow the participants to offer additional services, exceed the client’s expectations, build good client and partnership relationships and enhance the possibility of referrals.  A good client will be added to the roster of each participant and billable hours that would not otherwise have been available will appear on Income Statements. The client will receive measurable ROI as a result of the venture.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Price Your Way To Profits

Pricing your products and services is a critical element of a well-conceived marketing plan and appropriate pricing is integral to the development of a successful business venture.  The burgeoning field of behavioral economics reveals why certain pricing tactics work and how you can incorporate some of them into your pricing strategy.

Have an anchor baby

Your “anchor baby” can result in a positive outcome for sales and billable hours.  A cognitive bias called anchoring can cause us to perceive a lower-priced item as reasonable when it is viewed after we first see a higher-priced  version of a similar item. A $2000 item is perceived as a relative bargain after one has seen a similar version priced at $5000.  A prospect could be moved to envision him/herself purchasing that “bargain-priced” item.

Therefore, placing premium-priced products and services in proximity to the similar but lower-priced offerings that you hope to sell can potentially lead prospective clients to perceive the lower-priced items as providing real value, once they know that functionally similar items can be much more costly.

Zeros kill sales

In a previous post I discussed why, especially in retail sales, it is standard practice for merchants to list prices that end in .99 (or .98 and .95) and never .oo, because prices that end in zeros are often perceived by customers as being expensive, according to a study that appeared in the journal Quantitative Marketing and Economics in 2003  The Less Than Zero Pricing Tactic.  Yes, we really do think that $5.99 is cheaper than $6.00 and there’s still more downside to zeros— when pricing your services you should not only avoid listing, say, $3000.00, because you’re presenting too may off-putting digits, but you are also recommended to avoid listing your price on a proposal as $2995.00.  Prospective clients will feel better about your price when it’s expressed as $2995, according to the findings of a 2011 study conducted by the Society for Consumer Psychology.

Be a Lexus and more than just a Toyota

A Vanderbilt University study demonstrated that customers are willing to pay more for a Budweiser beer in a fancy hotel bar than they would for that same Budweiser in a dive bar. Why? The economist Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago explains that the power of perceived prestige allows the luxury set to get away with charging higher prices. Freelance consultants (so much more classy and deserving than a mere Freelancer, no?) are advised to in various ways present cues that make the case for charging premium prices.

Let the value you bring be known to those who matter. Teaching at the college level and speaking at respected business associations showcases you as a thought leader and an authority.  Producing long-form content that appears in a respected print or online publication, monthly newsletters sent to your email marketing list, or weekly blog posts that draw your followers also adds to the perception of your expertise and as well brings your writing skills to the forefront. The design and content that appear on your website should present you and your entity in a way that communicates competence and good taste, as should your business card and client invoice template.

The organizations of which you are a member, the quality of your clothing, where you vacation, the books you read, how you socialize and the boards on which you serve (along with the related committee activity) also enhance your reputation and reflect on your brand.

How to raise your prices

Weber’s Law (1834) indicates that your clients will probably accept a 10% price increase of the products or services purchased from you and some may not even notice the change.  You already know that other factors can impact your ability to raise prices, including supply and demand, the urgency of the need for your product or service, the presence of competitors and the perception of the value of your brand.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Launch 2017 With Strategic Planning For Your Business

Happy New Year! My wish for all my readers is that 2017 will be filled with good health, good choices and prosperity and a year where you recognize opportunities and successfully move forward to attain what will benefit you.

Part of the process of realizing your goals may involve strategic planning. The process of strategic planning encourages business leadership teams to ask (the right) questions about the value that the business creates and sells at a profit, which is a reflection of its vision and mission.  The goals, objectives, business model and guiding principles (that is, culture and values) are likewise impacted by the organization’s vision and mission. Below are six strategic planning and positioning principles to enhance your planning.

Principle 1:  Sustained profitability

Economic value and the conditions for generating profits are created when clients value your product or service enough to pay more than it costs the business (you) to produce and provide it.  Strategic planning is all about Defining  business goals and objectives and devising strategies and action plans with the thought of ROI, in particular long-term ROI, in mind.  Assuming that profits will be inevitable when sales volume and/or market share are the most accurate measurements of success is not the best way to approach the matter.

Principle 2: Value proposition

First, be certain that what you consider to be the value proposition—that is, the most desirable benefits—matches what clients consider to be the value proposition. Be aware that strategy is not about offering services or products that will be all things to all prospective clients.  Businesses are in need of strategies that allow the venture to compete in a way that allows it to effectively and efficiently deliver what clients consider the value proposition.

Principle 3: Competitive advantage

The unique and desirable benefits that sustain the value proposition must be reflected in and supported by strategy that shapes them into a sustainable competitive advantage.  The successful enterprise will differentiate itself from competitors through the products or services offered, how those are packaged and/or delivered, customer service practices, branding, pricing and so on; those unique features and practices will matter to current and prospective clients.  Still, the company’s business model will likely resemble that of its rivals.

Principle 4: Choices and priorities

Resources are inevitably finite and choices about your products and/or services must be made, in order to define what is necessary and possible and therefore, a priority.  Some  product or service features will not be offered, so that the benefits (priorities) that clients have chosen as highly desirable can be optimized.  These priorities are what sets the business apart from competitors and define the brand.

Principle 5: Flow

Choices and priorities must be baked into the strategies that you and the leadership team devise, to enhance and enable the consistent  delivery of the value proposition. These strategies will be both stand-alone and interdependent, like dominoes.  Choices made to define the target customers that the business will pursue also impact product design and by necessity will impact choices that determine the manufacturing process and its cost.  Choices that determine what will be included in a service will be influenced by the expected target customers and will impact how that service is delivered and priced.  Choices about product positioning and branding will impact where the product is sold and the marketing strategy.

Principle 6: Direction

The late style icon Diana Vreeland, who served as editor-in-chief at both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar Magazines, once said that “elegance is refusal.” A company must define its unique value proposition and that will eventually cause certain potential choices to be declined, because they are contrary to the brand.  The product or service lines can be altered to satisfy customer demands over time and business models can be adjusted to reflect current or anticipated market conditions.  Nevertheless, the vision and mission must be upheld to maintain brand awareness and trust. Strategic direction will guide that process.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

In the Belly of the Beast: Selling to 5 Types of B2B Buyers

Sometimes, decisions are made by committee—groan!—and that means a lot more leg work for a Freelancer who’s trying to sign a contract or a sales professional trying to sell a product or service.  When you must gain the confidence of several staff members, you may never know whose opinion really controls the sale (although you can ask).  All you can do is be prepared by understanding the kind of information that the designated contact person in each department is likely to appreciate and make sure that you deliver it.

Finance

When the Finance Department contributes to buying decisions, you have to know that tangible and intangible value received in exchange for dollars invested is the primary concern. Therefore, present your product or service in language that communicates the expected ROI of the purchase, over the short and long-term, and indicate whether the organization will save or earn money when the product or service is introduced.  A case study to illustrate the financial impact of your product or service on a reasonably comparable organization (in terms of operating revenue or type of business, for example) would be greatly appreciated by the this team.  If Finance does not have confidence in the pricing or ROI of what you’re selling, you will be asked to make monetary concessions or the C-Suite execs will decline the project.

IT

If your product or service will require technical support, this decision contributor will want to be assured that its set-up and maintenance will be easy and compatible with other systems currently in use.  Provide the team with information on how to integrate the online requirements of your product or service with the existing technical infrastructure and software.  Reliability is another IT concern and the fear of system crashes lies just below the surface.  Present data to demonstrate that the online component of the purchase will be dependable and low-maintenance.  Finally, a show-and-tell to illustrate that the system is intuitive and user-friendly, thereby minimizing staff training time or frustration of the end-users.

C-Suite

As you might expect, C-Suite executives, including department heads, are the most important of all those with input into the decision-making process because they have the power to green-light your proposal or kill it outright.  When selling to the higher-ups, it’s important to learn which factors matter most and whose opinions will have the most sway on their opinions (usually the end-users).  If the end-users clue you in to the hot button issues, then discuss them and keep your message simple and clear.  Emphasizing high-level value, as the executive defines it, is probably a useful guideline.  A case study that makes you and your product or service look particularly brilliant, especially regarding the most pressing issues, would be a good selling tool.  Be aware that C-Suite executives are usually too busy to process a complicated sales narrative. Think of soundbites that communicate impactful and tangible benefits.

End users

These team members will use your product or service most often.  Their opinion carries a great deal of weight and their approval of your product or service is a priority of the C-Suite.  Key selling points for this team revolve around the functionality, practicality, ease of use and time-saving potential of your product or service.  Seek feedback from this team as to what they consider the most relevant features and benefits and as well, how you might best promote your sale to the other decision-makers.  You may be able to convince this team of the benefits of certain add-ons and upgrades, which will enhance the user experience and the amount of the sale or billable hours.

Take time to demonstrate and ensure that your product or service will reliably meet or exceed the expectations of the end-users because if it does not, this is the team guaranteed to express concerns that will damage your credibility and the potential for future business and referrals.  Your in-house advocate will be found in this department  (try to cultivate a team member with a title that confers authority) and if you cannot convince the right person to step forward and take on the role of champion, then your sale or contract will most likely suffer diminished prospects for approval by the ultimate judges in the C-Suite.

Thanks for reading. May many billable hours find their way to your door in the New Year!

Kim

How B2B Clients Do Business Now

Keeping up with the evolving mind-set and practices of your current and prospective clients has long been a challenge for Freelance consultants and continues to be so in the “new economy.”  Signing a good client is not easy, what with the penchant for not spending money being all the rage.  We Freelancers can prosper only by staying one step ahead of the client, always positioned to neutralize the temptation to keep a project in-house or let it languish and eventually die.  Knowledge is power and we need strategies that will turn on the spigot and pour out billable hours.  Here are trends that B2B products and services purchasers are following now.

They do research

A recent survey of employees who make B2B purchases for their organizations was conducted by the global consulting firm Accenture and showed that 94% of purchasers (that is, your clients and prospects) research possible solutions for business needs in advance, to learn about the options, availability and pricing of solutions and to save time and money.  By the time Freelance consultants and other vendors are approached, the hoped-for client has done most of the upfont legwork. S/he already has a good idea of what might be provided by service professionals like you and your competitors and maybe even knows what a reasonable ballpark figure for your services might be.

The entrepreneur and marketing expert Danny Wong, co-founder of the online men’s apparel company Blank Label, recommends that Freelancers acknowledge the elephant in the room and simply ask your prospect about research that may have been done and what you might be able to verify or clarify. Don’t ignore the tsunami of information.  Ride the wave and earn respect for your candor and knowledge of client behavior.

They’re skeptical

Unfortunately, some sales “professionals” and unsavory Freelancers have been known to misrepresent that which they sell.  As a result, many B2B purchasers prefer to buy online and bypass you and me.  The practice was confirmed recently by Forrester Research, in a survey that found that nearly 60% of B2B purchasers preferred to buy independently, without the assistance of a salesperson.

Wong points out that demonstrating expertise, as well as an appreciation and respect for the prospect’s goals and situation, confers to you credibility and helps you to earn their trust, an essential process when competing for assignments and sales.  They won’t do the deal if they don’t trust you and why should they?

No matter how desperate you are for billable hours, don’t rush the deal.  Take the time to understand what is needed and how your products and services can help or for that matter, if they can’t  help.  Avoid being perceived as an aggressive salesperson.  Do present yourself as a trustworthy adviser who wants to make the prospect look smart to his/her superiors and other colleagues.

They’re in no hurry

No, it’s not your imagination that closing a deal is taking longer than it used to.  Another study showed that the length of the average B2B sales cycle has increased by 22% over the past five years.  While the prospect is working the worry beads, Mr. Wong recommends that you do what you can to stay at top of mind and try to keep the project from falling into oblivion.  A Freelancer’s main competitor is not one of our rivals, it’s the client’s inertia.

Send information that can support (and speed up) the decision-making, but don’t overwhelm—curate.  Inquire about a timeline and deadline for the project and suggest what might be a reasonable starting time.

They trust the advice of anonymous “peers”

So do you and that’s why you research hotels and restaurants on Trip Advisor and Yelp and search for a contractor on Angie’s List.  Accenture reports that almost 25% of B2B purchasers make their decisions based almost entirely on information gleaned from online “social” rating sites.

If your Freelancing skill is one that would send prospects to Angie’s List or a neighborhood blog, attempt to establish a presence on those sites and build credibility that will help you get hired.  LinkedIn and Facebook could be helpful once a trusted source has referred a prospective client to you and then your online presence is researched before you get the call.  Nevertheless, create a good profile on your chosen social media sites and make yourself look knowledgeable and trustworthy.

They appreciate relevant content marketing

The longer buying cycle gives the advantage to Freelancers who produce long form content—a monthly newsletter, a weekly blog, case studies and other white papers that appear on your website, videos, infographics, or podcasts—that may grab the attention of prospects.  A FAQs page added to your website that details how to do business with you could  be helpful. Impartial and instructive content is what content marketing is all about. Produce your own and position yourself as an expert who is qualified to get the job done.

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukkah,

Kim

Build Your Referral Network With Board Service

Volunteering has for many decades been a way for aspiring socialites, self-made millionaires, traditionally employed professionals climbing the ladder and Freelance consultants looking to meet future clients to expand their networks, build strategic relationships, obtain social credibility, learn new skills and sometimes even support a worthy cause. Volunteering is the best way to do well by doing good and the money you donate is tax-deductible.

The Machiavellian among us may choose an organization that appears to have either the best business networking or most social-climbing potential (or both!), but I recommend that those in search of a good volunteer opportunity start with a review of causes that are important to you.  Some prefer social service agencies, others are inspired by arts organizations and still others gravitate to religious or healthcare institutions. If you’re not sure where to start, try lending your services to your alma mater, your children’s school, or your local Rotary Club.  Rotary Club

Board service is at the top of the volunteer pyramid and not everyone is invited to participate at that level.  However, most not-for-profit organizations plan a big annual fundraising event and extra day-of-event volunteer help is sometimes needed. That could be your opportunity to see a snap shot of the organization, as well as the event committee, up close, in action and celebrating the vision and mission.

Joining a day-of-event subcommittee is often a good place to start your volunteer journey, so that you can meet and work with one or two board members, meet the executive director and learn about the qualifications and possibility of joining the board.  Be advised that many boards come with an expected level of financial support that can stretch into four-figure sums (and beyond).  Visit the organization’s website and speak with the administrative assistant about short-term volunteer opportunities.

There are also corporate boards on which one may serve, but those groups are for the very well-connected and influential.  A path to corporate board service might begin with relationships developed during volunteer board service, but one still must have very formidable professional credentials and superior job titles.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you contemplate your role as a volunteer:

Choose the right organization

You will feel much happier donating skills and money to an organization whose mission you strongly support and that should guide your choice.  Your work on the board should be for you a pleasure and a privilege and not a chore.

Be outstanding

Take your commitment to the board or committee seriously if you expect to be taken seriously by the influencers you hope to impress.  Be qualified to do the work.  Make the time to complete your pro bono work on time.  Be enthusiastic, if not passionate, and a good team player.  If you are sufficiently fortunate to be asked to chair a committee, graciously share credit for a job well done with your committee members.

Add value

While your volunteering may have at its core your professional or social agenda, you must nonetheless approach your volunteer service as someone who wants to contribute and make a positive difference.  Keep the organization’s mission and goals in mind, along with your own.  Raise your hand when leadership opportunities present themselves. Demonstrate how your unique skill set brings benefits to the organization.

Be a passionate visionary

As a board member, it will be your responsibility to prepare the organization to realize long-term goals that accurately reflect and enable the vision and mission.  Suggest that strategic planning be done, so that key staff members can join with the board and map out possible strategies for the future.  In any case, bring your creative energy and practical insights to every board meeting.

Be a team player

Make yourself look good and create the conditions wherein your fellow board and committee members will find satisfaction in their board service and find more success for yourself as you do.  Inspire fellow board and committee members to do their best work by modeling that behavior yourself.  Always acknowledge the good work and dedication of others on your committee and the board.

When you follow the guidelines detailed above, you will distinguish yourself as a superior board member who is a real asset to the organization.  Influencers who are in a position to refer those with your specialty will no doubt be eager to refer a colleague whose work they can personally endorse and your Freelance consultancy will reap the rewards.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Budget Plan: The Unexpected Windfall

Now check this out—what if Santa Claus comes to town and leaves a nice financial windfall under your Christmas tree? What a sweet surprise! You took a chance and competed for a very lucrative assignment and by some miracle, you won.  Along with making sure that you’ll deliver, if not surpass, your new client’s expectations, you should as well think about how you can most effectively utilize the proceeds from the billable hours.

Most often, we approach the subject of financial contingency planning from the negative side and prepare ourselves for unexpected expenses that could ruin a budget or seriously deplete our savings.  But why not manifest prosperity and think about what you can do if your ship comes in? Here’s a sampling of where extra money can be applied:

Erase debt.  Without a doubt, pay down and pay off all outstanding debts.  Interest rates are at loan sharking level and eliminating the burden will increase your credit score and decrease your stress level.  If you are not in debt, then pay ahead monthly installment obligations such as health and auto insurance policies or renewable business licenses and certifications.  Payment of these types of accounts payable is recorded as an asset on your Balance Sheet.

Professional development.  Are there continuing education workshops and courses or certifications that if acquired stand to enhance your stature and brand? Is there a conference that not only provides good business information, but also excellent networking opportunities? Explore how you might be able to raise the bar on your qualifications and make yourself a more employable Freelance consultant.

Business investment.  Maybe your billable hours are sufficiently generous to allow you to buy a new car? Ask your accountant or business attorney if the proposed new automobile can be designated as a company vehicle and permit you to write off some portion of the expenses plus depreciation, so that you could sweeten the investment.  You might also consider computer or other technology upgrades, or office equipment such as a new desk or an ergonomically correct office chair.  Much smaller but still significant branding upgrades include personalized business note cards, holiday greeting cards, stationery and your invoice statement.

Retirement account.  Fund your retirement account to the maximum annual amount with pre-tax dollars.  If you have extra money, open a Roth IRA account in tandem with your primary retirement account and enhance your financial future with after-tax dollars. Verify first the financial guidelines required for simultaneously holding these two retirement funds.

General savings. You might also meet with a wealth manager, if you meet the investment minimum and can find someone who can be trusted.  Alternatively,  on your own you can research and invest a couple of thousand dollars in a mutual fund that is indexed to the stock market and watch it grow (and it will, despite some ups and downs along the way).

Splurge.  Oh, go ahead! When’s the last time you took a wonderful vacation? Freelancers work so hard and we worry so much about how we will be able to satisfy our clients, find new clients, win back lapsed clients, generate relevant content marketing, distinguish ourselves from our many competitors and on and on.  I don’t know about all of you, but I am so exhausted it’s absurd.  I’ve been able to take brief local vacations, but I dream of taking two weeks or even more in Marrakesh, Morocco. Or Bahia, Brazil. Or Shanghai. Or Rome. Or Tokyo. Or Buenos Aires. Mmmmm….!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Stress Takes A Holiday

The holiday season has arrived and with it a boatload of potential stressors, good and bad. The delight of being a party host or guest are examples of good stress (and if this is not the case, your stress management assignment begins with asking yourself why you bother?).  The process of Christmas shopping and the associated costs of time and money, along with holiday cooking and cleaning, are examples of potentially bad stress.  In this post, I offer stress management techniques that can prove to be beneficial all year round.

Time management and boundaries

The always-on 24/7 lifestyle that so many of us feel compelled to lead is a huge stressor. The ability to set priorities and boundaries is more important than ever.  In most cases, there is no need to be available for professional matters before 8:00 AM or after 8:00 PM.

In your personal life,  learn to say no to controlling people and time-wasters, even if those individuals happen to be family members.  Have the courage to acknowledge what is important to you and distance yourself from manipulative people. Unhook your feelings of self-worth from the need to “save” people.  Help yourself to achieve goals and fulfill responsibilities by making lists and schedules and allow yourself sufficient time to complete tasks.  Learn to delegate.  Accept that some tasks are low priority and may need to be removed from your list.

Anger management

Learning to handle our emotions is a lifelong proposition.  Awareness is the first step.  Be advised that all of our emotions are “justified” because that is how we feel at that time.  It is your right and responsibility to define and acknowledge the emotions you feel.  The skill set called Emotional Intelligence teaches us to refrain from allowing our emotions to overwhelm us, cloud our judgment and lead us to do or say things that may damage our relationships and credibility.

Anticipate encounters with people who you may find upsetting and rehearse your responses to words and behaviors that you may experience as hostile and disrespectful.  Role play with yourself replies that could potentially defuse a stressful conversation and allow you to put distance between yourself and the stressor, limiting contact and helping you to control your emotions.  Be mindful that some people enjoy trouble and they are constant agitators.  They crave attention and control.  Do what you can to banish these individuals from your life.

Exercise

Exercise releases into the body hormones (endorphins and serotonin) that counteract the “fight or flight” response hormones that are released when we are under stress (adrenaline, ACTH).  Exercise also improves the functioning of the immune system and in the process helps us to fight off certain diseases.  Some experts recommend that we would be wise to participate in physical activity four or five days a week, for at least 45 minutes per session. You may play a sport, ride a bike, swim, walk, do aerobics, yoga, Pilates and/or lift weights. Experiment with different types of exercise to learn what you like and do it on a regular basis.  Exercise provides physical release and reduces tension and stress, calms and clears the mind, helps us to sleep better and improves self-esteem.

Meditation

The relaxation response is enabled by meditation and other self-regulated relaxation techniques.  Meditation requires only a few minutes of your time and a private, quiet and comfortable location.  Watch a YouTube video to show you what to do.  Shut off the television and your telephone.  Choose a word or short phrase to silently repeat to yourself as you close your eyes and breathe in and out, slowly and deeply.  Meditation enthusiasts recommend that you meditate early in the morning before starting your day, or in the evening just before dinner.

Sleep

Inadequate sleep is epidemic these days and it is seriously detrimental to one’s health and ability to manage stress.  Surprisingly, sleep deprivation contributes to weight gain by releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which increases appetite.  When we are fatigued, our choice of foods is usually unhealthy and laden with sugar for an energy boost, or high fat, or salty.  The stage is then set for taking on unwanted pounds.

Being tired undermines creativity, judgment and decision-making, productivity and self-discipline.  Do what you can to get in those eight hours each night.  Be advised that caffeine and alcohol are for many the enemies of sleep and intake should be limited near to bedtime.

Nutrition

Physical, mental and emotional stressors drain the body of complex nutrients that support optimal physical and cognitive functioning.  If these nutrients are not replaced fairly quickly, coping skills diminish, decision-making ability suffers, fatigue ensues, mood and emotional control deteriorate.

Avoid the temptation to consume foods high in fat, salt, or sugar, or consume excess caffeine or alcohol, while in the midst of a stressful event.  Do yourself a favor and eat a bagel with peanut butter, a rice bowl with vegetables, a sandwich, or a plate of pasta.  Over the long-term, eat a balanced diet that supplies adequate amounts of green vegetables, fruits, proteins and carbohydrates.

Thanks for reading,

Kim