What Kind of Consultant Are You?

According to Winford E. Holland, co-founder and partner of the Houston, TX consulting firm Holland & Davis, Inc. (now Endeavor Management) and author of Change Is the Rule (2000),  there are four types of consultants—Expert, Process, Coach and Temporary.  When deciding whether to enter the realm of Freelance consulting, or when you reassess the business model and branding strategies for your existing  consulting practice, think objectively about the type of services that you are qualified to offer, the type you like to perform and what you have the skills and relationships to sustain.

Your consulting category should be reflected in the elevator pitch you use to meet and greet colleagues and potential clients, in your marketing strategy and talking points/messages and your sales strategy, even if you don’t necessarily use the words “expert” or “process” or “temporary” (if you’re a coach, you’ll describe yourself as such).   Communicate to prospective clients what you’re best at doing and succinctly articulate what they’ll gain or solve when they bring you in.  Make your value proposition known straight away.

Your consulting category will become the core of your branding strategy.  There are so many consultants hunting for projects—you must differentiate.  Furthermore, when you communicate your brand, you will attract your ideal buyers, your target market.

Expert: These consultants have advanced knowledge and a deep skill-set in a certain industry or discipline, based on the individual’s education, training and work experience.  Their unique value proposition resides in content.

Process: These consultants excel in methods of process improvement.  For example, they don’t contribute content to the strategic plan, but they can facilitate the meeting at which company goals, objectives and strategies are discussed and prioritized and they may also guide clients through the plan’s implementation.  Their unique value proposition resides in methodology.

Coach: Helping clients recognize, manage and resolve their business (and sometimes also personal) challenges, decision-making questions, or professional development plan is the specialty of Executive Coaches.  Their unique value proposition resides in process, i.e., methods.

Temporary: These consultants might serve as short-term helpers on project teams.  Others may evaluate and install IT solutions such as computers, or smart home or office systems.  Their unique value proposition resides in content, in know-how.

“Successful consultants are problem solvers,” Holland says, “They’re passionate about what they’re doing and able to market their skills—and the latter is often their biggest challenge.”

The most successful Freelance consultants are invariably those who once worked for a consulting firm (I know one such person ant she is very successful).  Experience in the corporate world is almost as helpful, particularly if one reached the level of Chief, Vice President, or Director.  Veterans of senior positions are at an advantage when it comes to building a client list, because they’ve had opportunities to create relationships with their employers’ customers, who may be positioned to green-light projects and become their first clients.

The value that consultants bring to businesses is either content (Experts and Temporary) or process (Process and Coaches) and the most successful consultants are of the Process category.  Why? Because Process consultants aren’t limited by their highly specific training, education, or experience to a particular discipline or industry.  They don’t supply content (advanced knowledge), but they can apply their expertise in certain processes and methods to many industries.

Process consulting expertise is more flexible and valuable to a consultant’s money-making potential because it can be applied to many environments.  That flexibility can make up for the lack of content expertise.  That’s something to remember as you consider the type of consulting you should practice.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Portrait of Benjamin Franklin, founding father of the American Republic, statesman, inventor and polymath, conducting his kite experiment in Drawing Electricity from the Sky by Benjamin West (circa 1816) courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

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Recipe For Success

Solopreneurs and owners of small businesses can benefit from what can be called a basic recipe consisting of time-tested business practices that will put you on the path to building a profitable enterprise that will make you proud.

Business strategy

Every business needs a strategy and a business plan is a very helpful tool that supports you as you implement your strategy to develop and launch your venture.  A complex strategy or business plan aren’t necessary to achieve success.  A one-page business strategy and a five-page business plan may do the job, as long as both are well thought out and executed.

A good business strategy (and plan) defines and drives the activities and behaviors of the entire organization. Without it, the business becomes a rudderless ship, lost at sea.  A well-conceived business strategy and properly written business plan reflect and support the business model and always address marketing, operations, finance, staffing and customer service, at a minimum.

Business model

The business model is the plan for how your company will generate revenues and make a profit.  The business model answers the question “Who is the customer and what does that customer value?” As a result, your business model must also spell out the company’s value proposition and what differentiates your products and services from those of competitors.

The business model will keep company leaders focused on the core markets and measuring success as defined by the business strategy.  Here you’ll detail a step-by-step action plan to operate profitably within your marketplace.

Marketing

In order to develop a realistic and potentially effective marketing strategy, it is essential to thoroughly research the most likely target customers for the venture.  What problem or goal will be solved with your products or services—what is the customer’s motive for doing business with you? How much will potential customers pay to obtain the solutions that your venture will offer?

Finding out which competitive products target customers now use to get their needs met is another essential marketing research function.  As well, you must learn the type of marketing and information gathering outreach that potential customers will find and trust.  An effective marketing strategy addresses how you will:

  • Identify target customers
  • Identify the products or services now used  (competitive products)
  • Describe how you will promote your products and services to those customers
  • Explain the positioning strategy for products and services
  • Discuss the branding strategy
  • Describe the sales strategy—how will you sell to customers
  • Address the pricing strategy
  • Identify advertising and social media marketing activities

Sales

The sales strategy that you adopt will depend on your target customers, your access to those customers and the competitive landscape.  You may be able to build referral arrangements and strategic alliances that allow you to generate enough sales to be profitable.  On the other hand, cold calling may be the most effective way to generate sales for your organization.  Will you sell in a physical location, or online? Will customers pay immediately, or will they be billed? The preferred selling approach a company uses is defined in the marketing plan.

Operations

Predictable, practical and streamlined business operations processes are a must.  The customer experience is closely linked to what happens in the behind-the-scenes delivery systems of products and services.  Think of it this way—when you go to your favorite breakfast place to get a muffin and coffee, you expect to receive what you’ve ordered with a minimum of fuss. That is how you start your day because it’s convenient and it makes you feel good.  You, business owner and leader, must create a similar experience for your customers if you intend to retain them.  Smooth business operations also play a role in building good word-of-mouth for your business.  Fail to develop a good operations plan and things could blow up in your face as disappointed customers spread the word about your shortcomings.

Unfortunately, many businesses give short shrift to the operations section of their business plan.  The purpose of thinking through operations processes is to increase business productivity and reduce costs as you offer the same (or better) outcomes to each customer, time and again.  There may be some trial and error along the way, but most of all it takes thought and planning.

Successful business leaders understand the need to continually improve business processes, to become more efficient and productive and able to respond to market changes faster, all the while providing excellent service to customers.

Technology

While technology is important, it needn’t be complex or costly to be effective.  Up-to-date technology products enable upgrades within any number of company functions: product manufacture, delivery of services, inventory management, payment systems, sales and distribution, marketing campaigns, quality control and customer service.

Finance

A realistic financial plan is the cornerstone of building a profitable enterprise.  Every business requires a financial roadmap and budget, along with the discipline to follow it.  You must anticipate and plan for business start-up or expansion costs,  projected sales and assisted by a break-even analysis, project that point in the future when the business will be positioned to make a profit.

The financial plan ensures that the business owner recognizes the most likely sources of business launch or expansion capital (will a bank loan or a partner be necessary?). A financial plan reminds owners where and how to spend money and it provides ways to measure progress, promote healthy cash-flow and warn of impending shortfalls.

Customer service

Smart business leaders treat customers well, because they are aware that there can be no business without customers who make purchases that create revenue and lead to profits.  Integrate customer service into your business practices and review those practices frequently to ensure that they are having the intended effect of facilitating customer satisfaction, repeat business and referrals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: One scene in a mural displayed in the Templo Mayor Museum in Mexico City, where thousands of artifacts were excavated from the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the Aztec Empire (now called Mexico City).

 

The Art of the Sale: How Marketing, Branding and Advertising Help Revenues

Today, I respectfully offer you a tutorial. Our inquiry will focus on the essence of doing business: selling. The purpose of starting a business is to generate sales, produce revenues and earn a profit.  If a business cannot generate a certain threshold of sales, business expenses cannot be paid and the owner’s investment will be negatively impacted. To curtail mounting debts, the business must close.

Over the past 10 years or so I’ve noticed, sometimes with amusement and other times with dismay,  that the word selling seems to make people feel uncomfortable.  I noticed that frequently, aspiring business owners and Freelance solopreneurs, who must find customers and earn money that is derived from the exchange of money for the products or services that their ventures would produce and provide, avoided the word sell. Instead, the word market was substituted.

Many self-employed professionals are uncomfortable with the process of selling, so they’ve decided to banish the very word. It’s as if selling is now perceived as crass or pushy. That is a shame.  The sales profession is one of the oldest on earth and honorable. Selling is one of the foundations of civilization and selling skills are among the most useful anyone can have; it is the ultimate transferable skill.  Selling makes the world go round, because we wouldn’t have much of a world without it. The ability to sell is far more valuable than the ability to code (yes, really!).

So we can agree that the success of a business is dependent upon sales?  Now, let’s go back to the process of marketing.  The American Marketing Association defines marketing as:

The activities and processes for creating, communicating and delivering information about products and services that have value for customers. Marketing is a set of processes that are interconnected and interdependent with other business functions aimed at achieving the interest of (prospective) customers.

Marketing consists of using information, in words or pictures, to promote products and services and persuade potential customers to make purchases.  Customers have an array of motives that drive their purchases.  Marketing campaigns are designed to appeal to the motives of selected customer groups (e.g., parents, young professionals, adolescent males) that research has shown are potential customers for the product or service in question.  The purpose of marketing is to communicate with and appeal to targeted customer groups and persuade them that (your) products and services will satisfy one or more of their needs or desires.

So we can agree that generating sales is dependent upon marketing campaign promotion that is directed at the most promising customers for your products and services? I hope we can also agree that marketing and sales, while on the same continuum, are not one and the same.  Let’s move forward on the path and consider branding.

Branding campaigns are designed to enhance and expand marketing messages by differentiating and distinguishing the reputation of products and services available in the marketplace.  Products, services and individuals can, through an effective branding campaign, acquire a powerful reputation, recognition and loyalty among customers, fans and the general public.  That reputation is known as the brand.

A company logo is usually associated with products that have acquired sufficient popularity and sales to be considered a brand. That logo is instantly recognized and conveys the essence of the brand to its loyal fans, as well as those who may not use the product.  The product name itself will come to symbolize a powerful brand, as does Coca-Cola.

Now let’s take your marketing and branding messages to the public and that brings us to the next stop along the marketing continuum, advertising.  There are more ways to advertise than ever before, thanks to the digital age,  but do not underestimate the value of traditional methods.  The century-old medium that is radio remains a highly effective advertising tool, as do billboards.  Taxi cabs and city buses (and bus stops) announce local events, such as the circus coming to town.  Newspapers and magazines continue to be packed with eye-catching ads.

Content marketing, which many call the new advertising, continues to grow in influence.  It’s approach is indirect and it is presented as relevant information.  Content marketing is stealth advertising that uses primarily written information conveyed in blogs and newsletters to provide information about topics that would be of interest to prospective users of the products or services sold by the company.  The purpose of content marketing is to build an audience of regular readers who trust the source (you) and would feel confident enough to do business with you.

Then there are the social media platforms that are now in the mix. Regardless of the name social media marketing, when used for business purposes it is advertising: the Instagram photos of your wedding venue, the video clip of you accepting an award at the Rotary Club, the webinar posted to your website and LinkedIn profile.

If your marketing strategy and campaigns have been effective and enabled the development of a trustworthy brand and memorable advertising campaigns, your business will attract paying customers. Your business venture will generate sales and you can declare yourself a winner.  Let’s sum up our tutorial:

MARKETING:  How you envision and describe your company. The verbal, voice and visual messages used to promote your products or services. The business owner identifies the market positioning strategy for the company, based on populations predicted to  become customers: mid-market, luxury, or bargain, hipsters, seniors, adventure travelers.  Product positioning impacts all marketing campaigns and messages, the branding strategy and advertising choices.

BRAND:  The company reputation, what it is known for. How others perceive your company.

ADVERTISING:  How and where you portray and describe your company to the public: in print or digital, visual or audio formats placed in Popular Mechanics, Harper’s Bazaar, subway stations, flyers tucked onto car windshields, or Twitter.  Advertising usually costs money.

SALE:  The ultimate goal and final step of the marketing process.  The exchange of money (or another valuable item or service) for the purchase of a product or service.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph of Cher by Richard Avedon (1986)                                                                 Courtesy of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, LA

Every Freelancer Is Agile

New, presumably more innovative, effective, market-responsive and profitable business practices are like the tides—they arrive with a big splash and quietly recede after a while.  Who remembers Management By Objectives? Are any of you Six Sigma certified? Has anyone worked for or with a company that launched a successful disruptive technology or service? The Next Big Thing is Agile, which arrived in the early 2000s, born in the software development sector.

What is agile? Agile is the ability of an organization to successfully respond to change:

  • Smart and quick when adapting to shifting business conditions
  • Timely response to evolving customer preferences
  • Create and maintain competitive advanges

Experience shows me that agile business practices are a natural for Freelance consultants and small business owners because that is how we can thrive and grow our client lists and revenues. We must adapt to the continually changing priorities and concerns of our clients, as well as local and national business conditions.  Should our revenues dip for three or more quarters, for example, we must be willing to re-think and possibly re-calibrate the products and services that we provide and how we package and sell them, that is, once we’ve figured out what those adjustments should be.  We need to create or identify as many competitive advantages as possible and use them to build customer loyalty, revenues and profits.

Business experts claim that agile is best suited to innovation—the development of products, services, business processes and business models.  IT departments were the original home of the agile philosophy, but the practice is expanding into marketing, product development and even project management.  Agile organizations support achieving the best outcomes and they agree that innovation happens from the ground up.  Agile is the opposite of top-down management.

Agile practices are carried out by teams that are typically small and multidisciplinary, to enable creativity and efficiency.  Teams approach large or complex problems or projects by breaking the task down into manageable components.  Team members study the case at hand, next develop and test solutions for each component and finally integrate the solutions into the project as a whole.  Agile teams are accountable for outcomes: profitability, growth and market share, for example.

Organizations that promote agile teams put them into motion when a project or challenge is complex, solutions seem unclear and the team is able to collaborate with the client or end-user of the product or service.  Does that describe the situation of every Freelance consultant and small business owner, or what?  We were born to be agile.  We can now think about where and how to use our already agile skills and learn how to consciously incorporate the practice into our business.

The agile philosophy directs us to survey and assess our business goals and choose what will best respond—product/ service development (or tweaking what is currently offered), marketing, the business model and technology can be considered for your entrée into agile.  Next, develop your goals and list of desired outcomes.  For example, are you looking to attract certain clients to the business (big-ticket, for example)? Are you wondering if you should adjust your business model to better respond to shifting client preferences? Or has a new technology impacted the way your clients can engage with or do business with you but you wonder if the investment will likely deliver a good ROI?

Whatever you decide to pursue, once you choose a challenge to tackle, break it down into components and study each segment.  If it’s your business model that’s going under the microscope, agile will guide you as you examine the aspects of what makes a successful business model and help you avoid becoming overwhelmed with the size of the project or frightened by what is at stake.

With agile, you can look at the moving parts, basically turn them upside down and shake them and rationally hypothesize about what, if anything, you can do to tweak the money-making engine of your venture.  What can you do about your products and services? Is your sales strategy helping or hindering sales? Should you take on the expense of accepting credit cards to stimulate big-ticket sales? Small business owners who have employees can perhaps involve certain of their staff to weigh in on these matters, whether they have front-line customer involvement or back office operations experience.

With agile, you and your team can propose incremental improvements, test them in combat and incorporate what is successful.  The small successes will encourage you to move forward in your problem-solving and eventually you will achieve larger and more impactful outcomes and goals.

Agile practices  lead to greater efficiency and productivity and allow your organization to be more responsive to client needs. Agile will show you the way, step by step. It has great potential to deliver measurable improvements to your business, especially when you’re not sure what will work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Guru B.K.S. Iyengar, who founded the Iyengar yoga technique in the 1970s (photo date unknown)

Win Every Negotiation With These Tactics

Chris Voss is a former FBI lead negotiator for international kidnapping cases, founder and CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that provides negotiation services to law enforcement, businesses and governments and author of Never Split the Difference (with Tahl Raz, 2016).  When you are faced with a very important negotiation that you’ve decided is a must-win, Voss offers these field-tested tactics:

  1. Mirror words selectively

Validate your negotiating counterpart’s perspective by repeating back four or five of his/her words when s/he expresses something that is apparently important to him/her.  Do this and without realizing it, your counterpart will become more trusting and candid because you will have shown that at least somewhat, you hear and understand his/her viewpoint.

Furthermore, it will be to your advantage to slow down the pace of the conversation, to give yourself more time to think and ideally, gain more control over the process. While negotiating, speak in a calm and comforting tone of voice and a measured pace. Chris Voss suggests that you take on the vocal tone and pace of a late night radio disc jockey.

2.  Practice tactical empathy

Show strategic empathy for your negotiating counterpart by helping him/her to own and label fears or reservations. “It sounds as if you’re afraid that…” and “You seem to be concerned about…” will be phrases that you’ll employ.  Everyone wants their feelings to be recognized and understood.  Communicate empathy to neutralize distrust and emotionally disarm your counterpart.

3.  Get to “no”

Being pushed to say yes can make some people feel trapped and they’re liable to become defensive.  Make your counterpart feel in control by creating opportunities for him/her to say no.  We feel safer when in control and the ability to refuse a request will support that.  The smart negotiator will selectively present questions that will likely cause your counterpart to say “no.”

Start by confirming the negotiation meeting, once you’re both in the room: “Is this a bad time to talk?” S/he is likely to say “No, this is a good time to talk,” since the meeting date and time were mutually agreed upon.  If the negotiation becomes tense, ask “Have you given up on reaching an agreement?” Again, the reply will likely be “no.” Your counterpart sees benefits in reaching an agreement because if s/he didn’t, there would be nothing to discuss and no meeting.

4.  “That’s right”

The beginning of a negotiation breakthrough is signaled when your counterpart feels that you respect his/her position, priorities, concerns, fears, or feelings.  Lead your counterpart to say “that’s right” by confirming his/her feelings and must-haves, remembering to underscore your appreciation of his/her point of view by repeating back four or five of his/her words.

5.  Resist compromise

Prepare exceptionally well for the negotiation by researching and anticipating the expected motivations, priorities, strengths, weaknesses, biases and company culture of your negotiation counterpart.  Develop a list of your competitive advantages and use them to prevail.

Pay attention to your counterparts facial expressions, tone of voice and body language and use that feedback to assess whether or not s/he is telling the truth.  Use a deal-making deadline to create a sense of urgency that will encourage your counterpart to accept your terms and get what seems to be the most s/he can get out of you by reaching an agreement.  Make your counterpart feel that if s/he declines to accept your offer, it will feel like a loss to him/her.  Play to win.

6.  Create the illusion of your adversary’s control

Use what Chris Voss calls “calibrated questions” that are designed to allow your counterpart to bring his/her must-haves, concerns and goals and perhaps also biases or world view, out into the open and make him/her feel good about having the opportunity.  Voss suggests that you pose questions that start with “what” or “how,” which will open the door to a candid conversation and not be perceived as demanding. The answers to these questions typically reveal lots of valuable information that you can use to your advantage later in the negotiation.

“What’s the biggest challenge you face?”; “What are you up against here?”; “What are we trying to accomplish?”; and “How is that worthwhile?” are phrases to remember.  Should your counterpart throw you a curve ball question, throw one back with “How am I supposed to answer that?”  Then shut up and listen to the answer, which will probably be some incoherent sputtering, or blurted information that gives you an unexpected advantage.

When your counterpart pushes back on something that you’ve proposed, ask “What about that doesn’t work for you?” or “What would you need to make this work?” When you need to throw off a refusal of your terms but still continue to move the ball down the court, rebound with “Let’s put price aside for now and talk about what would make this become a good deal?”

Finally, let your counterpart make the first offer, because that will reinforce his/her feeling of control and it might possibly exceed your expectations.

7.  Confirm the agreement

Validate that your counterpart’s “yes” is real by leading him/her to reconfirm what’s been agreed to at least three times.  To reveal behind-the-scenes deal killers, ask “How does this affect the rest of your team?” Get your negotiated agreement in writing ASAP.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel by David Rabe, presented in New York City (l-r) Tisa Chang, Al Pacino, Anne Miyamato and Don Blakely (1976)                               © Afro Newspaper/Gado

 

 

 

 

Client Acquisition Tips

According to client acquisition coach and best-selling author Brian Hilliard (Networking Like A Pro [2017] with David Alexander and Ivan Misner), the most vital task for B2B service providers is to organize and articulate your company’s services in a way that makes it easy for prospective clients to understand what you do.  As the in-house marketing and sales expert, the Freelancer must create marketing messages and sales pitches that enable prospects to figure out how and when to work with you.

Yet the unfortunate tendency is for Freelancers to present their services as all things to all people, preventing prospects from getting a handle on what you can do for them (and I’ve done this, BTW).  Casting a wide net may seem like a winning strategy, but in reality it often results in a bewildered and frustrated prospect who doesn’t know how to use your expertise—so they don’t. It’s essential to help prospects see solutions in your services if you expect to make sales and build a client list.  Getting specific is the way to do it, Hilliard says:

  • Promote your services to prospects with the motive and money to do business
  • Define your services using terminology and selling points that the prospect will understand
  • Demonstrate that you can deliver requested services and ensure desired outcomes
  • Price at a level that clients accept and also generates a good profit for you

In your next prospect meeting, when you’re asked “Tell me more about what you do?” give an example of how you’d implement the basic option and the premium option of a service that fits with what s/he might need.  Since you will have become specific, you can expect that your prospect will then become comfortable enough to reveal specifics about his/her reason for speaking with you.  When you hear the details, you can then provide  more precisely tailored versions of your basic and premium options.

Next, although it will take both courage and discipline, stop talking and let the prospect ask questions or provide feedback on your proposed solutions. Expect to be asked if you’re able to further customize a solution and of course you’ll gladly do so.  Whatever you can do to add value will increase your chance of getting the sale.

Finally, there will be the price negotiation.  Ask for the amount of the project budget, to increase the chance that you’ll present an acceptable (verbal) estimate for your services.  If it seems to you that in order to provide the requested services your estimate might somewhat exceed the client’s budget, be willing to negotiate.  When you’ve shown the prospect that you can speak to and address what s/he needs, you’ll probably sign a contract and a new client will join your roster.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Isidor Kaufmann (1853-1921, Austro-Hungarian) A Business Secret, 1917      private collection

Want More PR? Show Them You’re an Expert!

Recently, I gave myself another try with what is probably the most effective PR service for business owners and Freelancers,  Help A Reporter Out . I originally signed up with HARO about five years ago, but quickly discontinued when I felt overwhelmed by the thrice-daily emails that arrived Monday – Friday to inform subscribers of 20 or so potential opportunities to be interviewed. The drill is, as soon as a topic that you can speak to with authority appears, you click the link to the reporter’s HARO request for an expert and attempt to sell him/her on your ability to provide quotable information.

You will compete with numerous contenders.  But if you keep at it, the odds are that you’ll eventually speak with a reporter and get your quote.  Mentions and appearances in newspapers, magazines, widely read blogs, podcasts, or television shows is effective marketing and branding.  Include the link to your quote or interview on all of your social media platforms and download the full text (not just the link, which can be taken down) in your press kit. 

A press kit is your brand’s portfolio of verbal, audio and visual demonstrations of your credibility.  A well-stocked press kit provides third-party verification of your stature and expertise.  Whenever you reach out to the press, send a link to your press kit (remember to include your bio and photo).  If you take a booth at a trade show, bring along hard copies of your press kit.  When courting an especially desirable client, send a link to your press kit for his/her review, as a confidence builder.

When approaching journalists at HARO as they seek insights from trustworthy experts to add credibility to an article they have in development, or if you send out press releases to inform your local media of some newsworthy achievement in your business or professional life (perhaps you’ve just signed an especially prestigious client?), it’s essential that you present yourself as an authority in your industry whose story will interest the readers of the publications that you pursue.  Review your PR-worthy attributes and make sure that they’re up to snuff:

Experience and track record

Longevity in business is considered a sign of success, experience and credibility.  If your client list includes one or more high-profile clients, that enhances your presumed expertise.  If you author a blog or newsletter that has 5000 or more subscribers, that is another strong selling point that often persuades reporters to interview or quote you.

In fact, reporters will hope to attract many of those followers to his/her article when you provide the link to the item in which you are quoted.  Freelancers who’ve built up big online followings are always attractive media sources.

If you can produce links to articles in which you’ve previously been quoted or interviewed, that evidences the approval of fellow journalists and you will be well-positioned to receive more media mentions.

Enviable sales revenues

Are you a million dollar consultant (or close to it)? That’s an attention-getting descriptive  and it ensures journalists of your business acumen and therefore, credibility.  Journalists will be delighted to interview you.

Impressive credentials

If you’ve earned the scholarly degree of Ph.D, M.D., Pharm.D or Esq. in your chosen field, you will quite readily be able to present yourself as an expert.  Alternatively,  if you’ve earned one or more respected certifications in your field, you may advertise yourself as an expert in that field.

If you own (or share) a patent for a product or process that you’ve invented or co-invented, you may as well claim that you are an expert in your industry and you can do the same if you teach a subject related to your industry at the university level, especially if you teach at an Ivy League or other large institution.

Your book

If you’ve authored a book, whether an industry “how-to” or the story of how you overcame business or personal struggles to launch and sustain a successful enterprise, that will be a brilliant marketing tactic that will convince reporters of your authority.  Additionally, you can use your book to obtain speaking engagements and even teaching appointments.  Plan to self-publish and expect to pay about $5000 for editing, proofing, book text lay-out, cover design, printing and professional photography.

Awards received

If you’ve received a business award from a chamber of commerce, that is a noteworthy honor.  A service award from a Rotary Club, while it is an organization composed of business executives who perform volunteer service, is nevertheless highly regarded in the business world.  Awards and prizes that you’ve earned from national or local organizations will stand you in good stead as well.  Note all official recognition that you’ve received in your bio and curriculum vitae.

Judge awards

Five or six years ago, I was invited to become a judge in the Women in Business category for the Stevie Awards, an organization that recognizes achievement in the entrepreneurial, corporate and not-for-profit sectors in organizations around the world.  I hope to be invited to judge this year’s competition as well.  If you are a member of a business or professional group that presents awards, ask to join the awards committee.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Powerful gossip columnist Louella Parsons (l) with bandleader – actor – producer Desi Arnaz and his wife, actress Lucille Ball at the 1956 Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles

Corporate Social Responsibility and Freelance Consultants

“We live in the era of the conscious consumer,” says Marco Scognamilio, global CEO of RAPP, the advertising agency based in New York City. “No longer content to separate their politics from their wallets, buyers want to know that the brands they’re supporting also stand for something.”

Freelance consultants and business leaders for the past decade or so have been encouraged by our customers and communities to disclose our organizations’ guiding principles and adherence to best practices and demonstrate our philanthropic priorities.  By the early 2000s, the term corporate social responsibility came to encompass not only standard business ethics, but also actions that promote some form of social good, as interpreted by the organization leaders.  It’s now common for businesses, in particular national and global enterprises, to take a public stand on social justice issues such as environmentalism and sustainability, public health promotion, civil rights and individual liberties.

Organizations large and small that operate in certain industries, most notably entertainment and fashion, are now well aware that publicly supporting individual liberties (that in some demographic segments are promoted as civil rights) is a must-do.  Activists are ready to quickly call out all who do not fall in line.

So it may be useful to evaluate how your organization can demonstrate some measure of your personal values as a way to show current and prospective customers that your purpose is not solely to make a profit, or even to do work at which you excel and enjoy, but also show your concern for the well-being of fellow citizens, wildlife, or the environment.

Kara Alaimo, Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY points out, “There’s huge demand right now for professionals who can teach businesses how to navigate these new consumer expectations and how corporations can  take stances on political issues and practice good corporate social responsibility.”

Hildy Kuryk, founder of Artemis Strategies, a New York City consulting firm that creates marketing messages for socially aware customers, so that consumer-facing companies can deepen their civic engagement and communicate their value story more persuasively, cautions, “What’s astonishing is that we’re consistently seeing major brands that can’t seem to apply basic principles to how to make decisions when they’re taking stances on political issues.”

I concur that wise organization leaders are advised to be circumspect when evaluating which social or political causes to publicly support.  Ms. Kuryk goes on to say, “In an unpredictable political landscape, brands need to be acutely aware and cautious (about) whom they align with.” No kidding.

But I trust her instincts.  If your company can afford the Artemis Strategies consulting fee, I recommend that you call her and commence the building of your organization’s social responsibility based marketing campaign strategy and messages.  Those who are not so flush are invited to spend another 5 minutes reading this post, at no charge, and make note of my respectfully offered observations and suggestions.

Declaring the values that guide your business practices will humanize you, differentiate you from competitors and make you less likely to be perceived as a commodity.  It’s smart marketing and effective branding.  So choose the causes that you’ll publicly associate with your organization very carefully and avoid the possible disapproval of current and prospective customers.  Keep what might be considered controversial in your private life.

Widely approved causes include libraries, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, working against hunger or homelessness, remedial education and raising money for research used to discover therapies that would eradicate or more effectively treat serious diseases.  I’m a board member at my local branch library and serve on the committee that selects local authors for our guest author series.  Previously, I’ve conducted “Dress for Success” and networking workshops for low-income women who were in a 20 week job training program and for several years I was a board member at an organization that transfers donated original art to sparsely funded social service agencies.

Find a cause that resonates with you and your leadership team and decide what your organization’s budget will allow you to donate.  Alternatively, it’s sometimes also possible to provide volunteer labor, where your employees spend a day assisting a not-for-profit agency to deliver certain services.

Publicize your organization’s involvement in social and philanthropic causes on your website, on social media, in the local business press and in your bio.  BTW, philanthropy can bring networking opportunities and it’s possible that you might meet your next client through volunteering.  You could do well by doing good.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Mohandas K. Gandhi (the Mahatma), leader of the campaign for independence in India, meets with Jawaharlal Nehru (l), who would become the first Prime Minister of India after independence from Great Britain, at the All-India Conference in Bombay (Mumbai), July 6, 1946.  © Associated Press

Competitive Intelligence: The Role of Social Media

To those who think you know all the ins and outs of using social media, fasten your seat belts.  If you created a LinkedIn profile at the turn of the century, started out with MySpace and later jumped to Facebook, became an early adopter of Vine and now work Snapchat, I have news for you.  Social media platforms are not just one-way PR broadcast channels that let you tell the world how brilliant and popular you are.  You can (and should) do some of that, but there is more.

Maybe you already do more?  You regularly use social media to encourage comments from customers about their experiences when doing business with your company.  You understand that social media is a two-way street.  But, still, there is so much more.

Social media can be effectively used not only for inbound and outbound marketing, but also for keeping tabs on competitors.  Social media is ideal for gathering competitive intelligence that can make you a smarter marketer, salesperson and business owner.  Here’s how.

First, determine who your competitors are, something that’s not always easy and obvious for B2B service providers.  Discover who your competitors are by meeting them.  The most efficient method to meet your competition is to join a professional society, where you’ll meet fellow accountants, life science marketers, event planners, etc., or join one or more chambers of commerce.  In four or five visits, you’ll meet a good cross-section of peers who do what you do, or something very similar.

Make it a point to talk to these people. Get to know them somewhat and exchange business cards, for they are not your enemy.  In fact, they can probably give you some valuable advice.  You should be willing to share a pearl or two of wisdom with them in return, as long as you don’t give away any proprietary information.

Once their business cards are in your possession, the second thing you’ll do is set up Google Alerts, so you’ll receive notice of their company’s print or online mentions, at no charge.  Whatever your competitors choose to publicly announce, you’ll quickly know.  It will be so enlightening to have the PR of competitors delivered directly to your inbox.

You’ll learn who will keynote at a conference, who will moderate or serve on a panel, who’s released a new product or service, who gets quoted in local or national press, or who will teach as an adjunct professor this semester.  Discover who’s quoted you, or if there are sites linking to your website or blog.  Monitor the content marketing of competitors (e.g., blogs and newsletters) and assess the perspectives and even the expertise of those whom you’re working against.

You can also receive alerts for your own company, to reveal what others are saying about your enterprise.  You’ll learn whether you have supporters who give you compliments in newsletters or blogs, or if someone is undermining you on social media.  Use competitive intelligence to shape your response and support your reputation management.

Regarding the successes of competitors, there’s no mandate to imitate what they do and that’s all to the good.  Be yourself.  But what you learn may inspire you to take, or not take, certain actions based on information you’ve gleaned from the three or four competitors you select to follow.  Set up a Google Alerts account to track key words and phrases and you’ll be happy that you did.

You might also try Hootsuite, a paid service, and use it to search podcasts and webinars by topic and engage in social media listening, for less than $20/month.  The primary role of Hootsuite is to allow users to write posts and manage all of their social media accounts from one site.  Those who are active on multiple platforms find Hootsuite very convenient.  Plus, the analytics reports included with the service reveal which of your social media tactics and strategies are worthwhile and which need rethinking.

Finally, if you can budget $80/month, then take a deep dive into your competitors’ content marketing activities with BuzzSumo.  Examine which content is getting traction for competitors, the shares competitors’ content receives and how your company’s content stacks up in comparison.  It’s possible to receive an update each time selected competitors publish content and you’ll also be able to compare the overall performance of your company’s content with that of competitors.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: His Master’s Voice (1898), starring Nipper the dog, by British painter Francis Barraud. In 1901, the painting became the logo of what would eventually become RCA Victor.  EMI, JVC and HMV (His Master’s Voice) have also owned the logo rights.

 

Exit Loyalty, Enter Relevance: The New 5 P’s of Marketing

Which quality best supports and encourages B2B buying decisions? In the 21st century, that quality is relevance.  According to a recent survey by Kantar Retail Consulting, whose North American division is based in Boston, MA, 71% of B2B and B2C customers feel that loyalty-incentive marketing promotional programs do not cause them to feel more loyal toward a company.  It has become evident that regardless of your industry, customers are doing business with you based on the perceived relevance of your products and services to their needs and priorities.  Attempting to buy loyalty with discounts, rebates, rewards, or swag bags is not as effective as it used to be.

A 2017 study by the global consulting firm Accenture found that U.S. businesses lose $1 Trillion a year in annual revenue to competitors because their (former) customers no longer consider them to be relevant.  The study results appear to indicate that to succeed, businesses must be perceived as fulfilling customers’ immediate needs as they occur. Personalization is helpful, but it is best applied in support of relevance.  The authors recommend that companies structure the customer experience  to deliver as does a butler or concierge.

So how do business leaders navigate the paradigm shift? Joshua Bellin, Robert Wollan and John Zeally of Accenture recommend that organization leaders move on from the former gold standard of marketing, the 4 Ps—Product, Place, Price, Promotion.  No disrespect to the 4 Ps, they served companies well for decades, but customer behavior and expectations have changed over the past 10 years or so.  The 4 Ps are unfortunately rather narrow and product-focused for our times.  Today, it’s about delivering customized solutions, especially for B2B customers.

Furthermore, a close reading of purchasing data indicates that the usual product-focused market segment labels, e.g., discount, luxury, or environmentally conscious consumers can no longer consistently predict purchasing choices.  The needs of all consumers, regardless of socioeconomic status and sociopolitical ideology, vary according to their immediate priorities and context.  In response, Zeally et al. suggest that companies expand their marketing guideposts to include these updated 5 Ps:

Purpose:           Customers feel that the company shares and advances their values.

Partnership:    Customers feel the company relates to them and works well with them.

Pride:                 Customers feel good about using the company’s products and  services.

Protection:        Doing business with the company makes customers feel confident.

Personalized:  Customers feel that their experiences with the company are always  tailored to their goals, priorities and needs.

The “what have you done for me lately?” mindset has replaced loyalty, to a large degree. Perhaps it’s a sign of the entitled and narcissistic culture in which we in the U.S. live.  Customer preferences are in constant flux. Short-term strategies and goals are often the norm.

Some companies are able to thrive in this environment, perhaps most notably the global retailer Zara, founded in Galicia, Spain. “Fast Fashion” is the guiding force.  In the 1980s, the company invested heavily in design, manufacturing and distribution systems capable of reacting to market trends very quickly.  As a result, Zara is on top of nearly every trend in women’s, children’s and men’s fashion and customers eat it up.  As of March 2018, there are 2,251 Zara boutiques in 96 countries.

Smaller companies and Freelancers cannot come close to being able to match the power of Zara, but it is possible to leverage relationships and personalization to encourage your current and prospective customers to share what is important to them and discuss how you can meet their needs today and in the future.  You probably already know that all too many of your customers will move on and do business with another company that seems to offer a better mousetrap without even discussing their needs with you first.  It is discouraging, I know.

The best defense is to be found in the 5 Ps.  Start with Personalization and move to Purpose, so that you can make it known that your company can advance the customer’s goals.  Segue next to Protection and use the trust that you develop to encourage prospects to feel confident about doing business with you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Lurch (Ted Cassidy), the Addams family butler, in an episode of The Addams Family  (1964 – 1966, ABC-TV)