5 Business KPI Metrics to Follow

Success in business is a numbers game and every business owner and leader would be wise to pay attention to certain metrics, which are Key Performance Indicators. Depending on the business, owners and leaders may follow the daily sales receipts, weekly gross sales, monthly inventory purchases, monthly in-house projects and of course the big three monthly, quarterly and annual financial documents—-Income Statement (Profit & Loss), Cash Flow and Balance Sheet.

KPIs are like vital signs and lab tests; they indicate the health of the organization. Owners and leaders examine, analyze and confirm the venture’s health (read: profitability) or discover and diagnose a problem, for which a strategy is devised to provide the treatment.

Today, we’ll dive into sales and marketing KPI metrics that business owners and leaders would do well to monitor—-Lead Conversion Rate, Sales Cycle Length, Client Acquisition Cost, Churn Rate and Client Lifetime Value. When steps are taken to bring these KPIs into what represents an acceptable range for your industry, a tangible positive impact on the organization will result.

Lead Conversion Rate

Grab a spoon, Love, and get ready to taste test our flavors of the day—-TOFU, MOFU and BOFU. I promise that you’ll enjoy them all, most especially BOFU. Let us begin.

Marketing = Lead Generation, the fuel that feeds the sales engine that keeps the business moving forward. This KPI reveals the strength of the company’s marketing strategies and tactics. First, verify that the marketing mix is actually producing leads that convert to sales. Second, leads that converted to sales should be examined to discover which tactics enabled conversions. Bonus points will be awarded for discovering which marketing tactics bring in a particular type of client—-low or high dollar volume, repeat business or one-off, or a certain product or type of project.

Marketing announces the presence of a business to its target audience and it’s designed to both arouse curiosity and inspire confidence in the product, service, or company that is featured. The intent of marketing is to entice target audience members to linger and browse the marketing outreach. These early-stage browsers are leads at the top, the front door, of the marketing/ sales funnel. They are called TOFUs, Top of the Funnel. Most TOFUs are window shoppers.

Now let’s suppose a TOFU decides to follow the company blog, or interact with the business on Instagram or Facebook. Or maybe the TOFU finds an e-book and after reading the promo, requests a copy. TOFU will then advance through the marketing/ sales funnel and enter the Middle of the Funnel. TOFU will become a MOFU.

MOFU is where lead conversion really begins. MOFU is a fish on the line. To become a client, MOFU must be skillfully led into the VIP Room at the Bottom of the Funnel, BOFU, where intentions are revealed, needs are discussed and commitments are confirmed.

How to do it? If MOFU is in deal-making mode, those who subscribe to the blog or newsletter, or especially those who request an e-book, white paper, or case study, will contact the company to ask for additional information. MOFU will ask to schedule a 15- minute free consultation. If you meet MOFU at the virtual workshop you presented, there will be a request for follow-up. “Can we Skype?”

A well thought-out marketing/ sales funnel draws in TOFUs that sometimes become MOFUs who have reason to turn themselves into BOFUs. That is effective lead generation.

Business owners and leaders must continually review the operation of the marketing/ sales funnel to ensure that a good number of prospective clients are entering at TOFU. They will monitor the percentage of MOFUs who advance to BOFU and the percentage of BOFUs who become clients.

Sales Cycle Length

Determining how long on average it takes for TOFUs to become MOFUs, then BOFUs and finally paying customers, is useful for cash-flow planning. There may be no way to shorten the marketing/ sales funnel journey and speed up the sale, but getting an idea of when money will arrive, or will not, is essential.

If there are recognizable points in the funnel when it may be possible to speed up the sale, that will be money in the bank. When a prospect reaches MOFU, demonstrations of the company’s expertise, VIP clients, superb customer service, or sterling reputation can be presented to convince the prospect to continue the sales journey. BOFU is the time to make tempting deals—-a desirable upgrade that costs little to deliver, for example. Get the deal done as quickly as possible.

Client Acquisition Cost

It is worthwhile for every business owner, business leader and Freelance consult to ascertain the ballpark cost of the time and money associated with bringing in new clients.

After calculating the time spent writing a newsletter and/ or blog; the time devoted to perfecting social media posts and uploading, to say nothing of creating, videos and photos that support the company’s brand story; the time needed to create a presentation that will be delivered at the chamber of commerce or other venue, along with the Power Point slides and hard copy hand-outs that are typed up—-what dollar value should be attached to the labor devoted to promoting the company, its products and services, and yourself as its public face? Get your arms around that one, will you!

I estimate that I spend 10 -15 hours/ week on marketing activities (mostly this blog) and I’ve allowed myself to claim $35/hour as the wholesale value of my labor (because creating content, taking blog photos and typing are not all billed at the same rate). I’ve decided it’s fair market value to claim that I spend 50 hours/ month, $1,750/ month, on marketing. Wow!! Am I getting the right ROI on client acquisition? Maybe I can learn to type faster? It would help.

I am not signing a new client every month. However, I do get repeat business, plus the occasional referral, and that lowers my customer acquisition cost significantly. This is yet another reason to exceed client expectations and provide superb customer service, so that repeat business and referrals are more likely to be received and marketing dollars will produce a greater ROI. Furthermore, if it’s possible to determine which marketing activities attract high dollar volume projects, prioritize those tactics.

Client Churn Rate

Business experts often warn that it costs at least five times more to acquire a new client than it does to retain a current client. Surprisingly, many, if not most, companies lack a client retention strategy and action plan. The rate at which clients stop doing business with an organization is called the churn rate.

Churn rate is calculated by counting the number of clients that no longer use company products or services, expressed as a percentage of the total client list. % churn rate = # Defections / # Retained If there are 50 clients on the company roster and 5 haven’t made purchases in 12 months, then the churn rate is 5/50 = 0.1 x 100, a 10 % churn rate.

If the company churn ratio creeps up through the year, the culprit could be inadequate customer service. Include a short survey with your invoice to encourage clients to tell you how to improve their customer experience.

Client Lifetime Value

Unless the company has history with a client, lifetime value is a projection, an educated guess. Nevertheless, it is important to think strategically about every prospect, since some are worth pursuing and others, not so much.

When evaluating marketing activities, Freelance consultants, business owners and leaders will examine the revenue potential of the target audience and decide the level of resources that should be devoted to the client acquisition process. This KPI, actual or projected, reveals the amount of revenue that can be generated, in a year, or perhaps a quarter, by way of a particular (or the average) client.

When considering prospects who could become clients, prioritize and invest marketing resources only in those with high revenue and/or repeat business potential. Don’t waste resources on low dollar volume clients. Follow the money.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Trading prices are the KPIs of the New York Stock Exchange.

Pandemic Era Businesses to Launch in 2020 – 2021

It appears that the pandemic era is settling in to become our nightmare new normal. Working from home will continue in many companies. Public schools and universities will not open their classrooms and will offer virtual instruction once again. Musicians, dancers, actors and singers cannot take to the stage and perform. Baseball teams are competing in empty stadiums, with no fans to cheer them on.

Billions of dollars have been lost and there’s no end in sight. Yet parallel to the turmoil, business continues to be done where permitted and plenty of money is being made, admittedly by a much smaller cohort than in pre- pandemic times. Whether the economy is expanding or shrinking; whether the stock market is up or the bond market is down; no matter if war breaks out or peace reigns, someone will make money. Maybe this time it will be you?

Please look over the short list of new business opportunities that I’ve put together. Business experts have identified these ventures as being able to either largely escape losses associated with the pandemic or directly benefit from its presence. The barriers to entry for these businesses are comparatively low, aside from the time and money invested to attain the necessary educational and certification requirements. Just one option requires a significant financial outlay to start the business.

Should you decide to open a business or become a Freelance independent expert, make the most of your entrepreneurial aspirations by writing a business plan. Include in your plan a business model, to give yourself hyper-focus on how to find customers and make sales.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that when a business fails, 82% of the time it is because of inadequate financial resources. Examine your expenses and spending habits and take steps to pay off debts and accumulate savings, to prepare for either self-financing or bank financing. Be advised that customer acquisition and pricing are the top two elements a business owner or Freelancer must get right. Making sales and pricing correctly are the principal money-making enablers. Create a thorough and realistic financial plan for your business, with the guidance of a business accountant.

Skilled trades

The skilled trades have long been a professional path that paid off, in particular if there are a good deal of building and infrastructure projects planned in your area. Home renovations can also be a very lucrative avenue, spurred on by popular television shows.

Most college educated people are unfamiliar with the depth of training that blue collar tradesmen must earn. They may earn a 2-year degree in mechanical, electrical, or civil engineering, for example, in addition to completing the intensive training/ apprenticeship and certification/ licensing required to enter their particular field.

Many in the trades will eventually launch a business that may be small or grow to employ dozens. Other tradesmen prefer to be Freelance solopreneurs. Start-up costs are relatively low: the tools of the trade, business cards, website and a small truck or van.

Among the lucrative specialties are plumbing, welding, carpentry/ general construction (the profession of both of my grandfathers), electrician, masonry, HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration) and steel working.

Bicycle sales, services, rental

The League of American Bicyclists reported that in the period 2010-2017, commuting by bicycle grew by 43%. The health benefits derived from the vigorous exercise involved, the incremental lowering of air pollution and the modest easing of rush hour traffic has inspired numerous city and state officials to invest in bike lanes to make the practice safer for peddlers, pedestrians and drivers.

If you, or you and a friend or two, are cycling enthusiasts and at least one of you knows bike repair basics and maintenance servicing, then owning a bike shop will allow you to monetize your passion. Online bike sales are robust, so be sure to budget for a well-designed and high- functioning e-commerce website.

In terms of product diversification, there is a niche market for electronic bikes (good for those who live in a hilly geography), which have a small battery powered motor that makes pedaling much easier. E-bikes are also useful for those who’d like to bike to work but face a long commute. Bike rentals are also popular.

Self storage units

As real estate prices escalated, the ability to afford a home that could house all of our treasured possessions became a challenge, if not impossible. In the mid-1980s, the basement storage space that nearly every apartment building provided as a standard benefit disappeared, as landlords began to create basement apartments. With increasing frequency, people who lose a job also, tragically, lose their home. They may be forced to give up their apartment and move in with family.

The growing demand for storage space has outstripped supply in some locations and prices per square foot are rising in many metro areas. The start-up costs for this venture are hefty because storage space entrepreneurs must either construct a new building or rehab an existing structure, and parking is a must (except in very high- density cities). But there is money to be made.

If the high-end appeals to you, then build a high-security, climate controlled facility that customers will use for fine furniture and art. Otherwise, minimal temperature control and a bring your own padlock system will suffice (and that is the norm). Commercial enterprises also rent storage units to hold merchandise and supplies. Tradesmen sometimes keep their tools in a self-storage unit. Whatever you can afford to invest, the rental income you’ll be able to command will quickly guide this enterprise to break-even and into robust profitability.

Videoconference and webinar tech support

The newest tech support career has arrived, born of the COVID-19 work from home craze. Many thousands of organizations have switched over to virtual communication to maintain contact with their team and with their clients. Videoconferences are mostly straightforward, but webinars and classroom instruction are more complicated.

Organization leaders, including school administrators, are mostly out of their depth with the technology and know that they have only one chance to make a good first impression now that they’ve persuaded a client or prospect to participate in a video sales call. A knowledgeable video tech support professional can be much in demand.

IT pros who pursue this avenue must be proficient in cloud computing, Windows (including Power Point), IoT and Linux (CentOS).

Videoconference and webinar support is part technology, part show biz. In advance, an assessment of the client’s tech equipment, including the webcam, audio quality (headset mic, or lavalier [mini-mic] could be needed). Identifying flattering lighting for the speaker’s face is another critical duty, as is recommending the right visual scene behind the speaker: the company logo or a bookcase are good choices. The lighting behind the speaker is another important aspect when setting the webinar or videoconference stage.

Private Tutor

If you are a certified teacher with classroom experience and hold at least a master’s degree in the subject that you’d like to teach, your services will be much in demand right now in the affluent communities of America for the duration of pandemic-related school closings and perhaps beyond. Zoom may be helpful to keep education going in a crisis, but it is not equivalent to face2face instruction.

There is at present a free-for-all patchwork of teaching solutions that worried parents are exploring, including home schooling and “pods,” which are small group training. Parents may hire a tutor to buttress the child’s understanding of what the school lessons cover, or add subjects that have been dropped in the transition from classroom to video.

Tutoring can cover any subject taught in a classroom—-geometry, English grammar, American history, biology—-and enrichment subjects—-music lessons, physical fitness, art, foreign language. There are tutors for special needs children as well.

Requests for tutors are trending on social media and educators will find many opportunities to evaluate, from becoming part of a pandemic pod teaching team to traditional private tutoring.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Bike shop on Tremont Street in Boston’s South End neighborhood.

New Normal Marketing Strategies

We are all painfully aware that business and life are different now that the ambitious coronavirus has burst into the scene and shows no inclination to leave center stage. Adaptions and workarounds are our new normal; creativity, resilience and perseverance have been shifted into overdrive.

What Freelancers and business owners who are determined to win are doing is continually surveying and assessing their business conditions so that they might reasonably predict what things might look like in 6-12 months and prepare accordingly. These folks have set aside for now any products or services that are no longer viable and have honed in on how they can best accommodate the needs of clients now and into the next year or two.

Virtual communication looks as though it will be with us for a while, regardless of when a coronavirus vaccine is approved in the U.S. or other countries. Our clients have transitioned to virtual quite comfortably and until the appetite for face2face interaction reappears (prediction: 3 years), smart Freelancers and business owners are ramping up their online capabilities in every way.

Website

Update your company website to showcase those products and services that can be sold with a new normal message. What have you provided that can be sold online or reconfigured and carried out virtually? If you can add text that communicates your company’s response to your clients’ potential concerns, do so. If you can communicate how your company can help clients better serve their clients, be sure to include those reassurances.

Do you have Call to Action buttons on your website? If you’ve ever needed a way to encourage clients to ask questions and engage and build a relationship with your organization, it is now. On your website landing page and on any pages that describe products or services, a Call to Action come-on should be available to bring visitors to an online chat, telephone number that allows a click to dial, or a pre-addressed email that encourages website visitors to type a question and hit send.

Good Call to Action phrases include “Click here for more information,“ “Click here to speak with a customer service rep “ “Click here to receive our monthly newsletter,” “Click here to register for our free training course,” or “Click here to place your order.”

Content marketing

Show your empathy and understanding of the predicament that many of your clients find themselves in through the topics you address in your content marketing posts—-like what I’ve been doing in this column since the shutdown. My goal is to help you stay motivated, stay resilient, get creative and remain in business. How am I doing?

Social media

Social media is micro, it’s personal. designed for you to promote interactive communication with clients and build a community. Social media is visual and tailor-made for behind-the-scenes looks at your organization.

Draw in your clients and other followers with a few still photos or a 5-minute video of you and your team preparing for a podcast guest spot or an online course that you’ll deliver. Do you have some new, or newly reconfigured, product or service to announce? Speak to the camera and tell your fans personally.

Your clients can even get to know one another as they get to know you and your business. Demonstrating that you understand their new concerns and responsibilities gives your company credibility and that equals trust.

Marketing and more marketing

Just keep promoting yourself and your business capabilities. Can you get an article published in a business newspaper or magazine? Can you get a quote in an article? Can you be a guest on a podcast? Are you sharing and reposting your content marketing posts—-newsletter, blog, case studies, white papers—-on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or other outlets?

Marketing will help you get to know your clients and prospects, allow them to get to know you and gives your organization the something extra that gets you ahead of the competition. Marketing always pays off. Make the effort, reap the rewards.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Social Justice Warriors deliver a message that promotes their cause in a live taping at the steps of the MA State House in Boston on August 11, 2020.

Questions that Move a Sale Forward

Well cha-cha-cha! You were able to resurrect a pre-COVID conversation you were having with a potentially good prospect and not for anything, you need to consummate this sale. Selling a prospect is like a dance and s/he who is selling must learn to lead with style and grace.

Step 1 is to understand what the prospect needs and the job specs, the specific work that must be done. Step 2 is to confirm that you’re able to do the work within the requested timeframe and allotted budget. Step 3 is to convince the prospect that you have mastered Step 1 and can achieve Step 2.

Since the shutdown, the ground has been quaking beneath our feet. Business owners and leaders are in various shades of panic, searching for answers and in need of reliability and support from their Freelancer colleagues. The need to establish trust cannot be overestimated. Your prospect must believe that you will not disappoint.

If you have not worked with the prospect before and the discussion will take place over Skype or other video platform, establishing the familiarity and comfort level that are the ingredients of trust will be more of a challenge. Turn up your listening skills and empathy because you’ll need those qualities more than usual. See my post https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/what-scientists-know-about-virtual-meetings/

The 12 questions below are designed to 1. Display your empathy and ability to become a trusted resource; 2. Confirm the prospect’s intentions; 3. Specify the work you would perform; 4. Learn if your prospect is the decision-maker; and 5. Get an estimated starting date. At the conclusion of the conversation, the prospect should invite you to submit a proposal. If that does not occur, I would follow-up with a thank you email and then put this company on the back burner.

“In light of the new business environment, how has your process changed?”

“What are you doing that’s working well right now?”

“What’s hardest for you now?”

“What can you still do that you were doing before the shutdown?”

“Do you see what seem like good opportunities on the horizon?”

“Are there plans or intended projects that have been cancelled or put on hold?”

“Confucius said that a journey of 10,000 miles begins with the first step. What first step can I help your organization take?”

“Is the project we’re about discuss today something you planned to do before the shutdown, or is this a new initiative?”

“Is there something that is blocking you from taking the next step forward, or causing you to hesitate ?”

“What is the solution that would give the most impactful long-term benefits to the company?”

“How can I be a good resource to you and help you move forward?”

“If you were the only decision-maker, what would be your preferred start and completion dates?”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Dancing to the music at the 2019 Tito Puente Latin Music Series at Villa Victoria in Boston’s South End neighborhood.

Anatomy of a Pivot

As was reported in a July 20, 2020 post featured in the Harvard Business Review, companies are scrambling to minimize the damage caused by the COVID-19 shutdown. There is determination to survive and get in position for the expected recovery. Owners and leaders are taking a close look business models, to tease out a clever pivot that will first, start some cash-flow ASAP and second, open the door to sustainable long- term profitability and growth.

Talk of engineering a pivot always sounds impressive when discussed in a strategy meeting but as we know, not every pivot leads to success. One can pivot the enterprise into a ditch, unfortunately, if an unwise choice or sloppy execution take place.

The HBR authors explain that a pivot is a lateral move that creates a logical extension of the products or services that the venture is already known for, making it comfortable for customers to trust the updates.

Music streaming platforms such as I ♥️ Radio and Spotify have long provided loads of advertising-funded free online music and both companies were able to convert freebie loving listeners to subscribers with a pivot into podcasts and specialized playlists. Fees generated by those subscription services softened the blow caused by advertisers who vanished during the shutdown.

Barnes and Noble bookstores long ago pivoted into the coffee shop business through a hybrid franchise deal with Starbucks. Don’t we all love to sit down and have an artisanal coffee as we look over the new books and magazines we just bought?

My favorite pivot was pulled off at Diva by Cindy, a hair care products company based in Washington, DC. Founder Cindy Tawiah left the salon business, a field where she’d found only intermittent success, and dropped all hairstyling services. Tawiah’s company now focuses exclusively on what are normally salon revenue enhancers, hair products.

The reformatted business now sells the newly created private label Diva by Cindy line of hair care products. Her pivot also incorporated an innovative sales strategy that places the shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays and such only in vending machines and kiosks stationed in airports and malls.

Three conditions are required to set up a good pivot:

1. The pivot will align the company with one or more long-term trends.

A pivot that reflects how we’re living and working during the COVID-19 era may help to pull your organization through an immediate billable hours and cash-flow crisis and allow the company to survive long enough for improved business conditions to arrive.

When trying to envision your company’s pivot, think about how working from home has caused many to rely more on technology and spend more time at home. Think about how shorter supply chains have made the locavore movement, which began 25 years ago, still more attractive. Remember also the Do It Yourself and craft movements, which began a few years ago and are significantly increasing.

Can you see how your business pivot can make use of these trends, which are predicted to be with us for three years or more?

2. The pivot will be a logical extension of the company’s core products or services.

Your venture’s pivot must align with the company’s core products or services and add value for customers by creating or transitioning to a logical adaptation.

Diva by Cindy already had deep experience in the hairstyling sector and a roster of clients. The company already knew what customers valued and the acceptable product price points. Her breakout was to develop her own private label line, which was an extension of her brand, along with the daring and innovative sales strategy of using vending machines stationed at the Baltimore Washington Airport.

3. The pivot offers recognized value and opens a door to sustainable profits.

It goes without saying that the pivot is not successful unless it strengthens the value of the brand, as evidenced through increased market share and sales revenue. The HBR authors predict that while the COVID-19 crisis will not necessarily spell the end of entire industries, there will be a weeding out of companies unable to keep up with the trends of social distancing and virtual communication, remote work, shorter supply chains and an increased, more highly sophisticated use of technology.

Thanks for reading.

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Canada geese swim into a pivot on the Muddy River in the Emerald Necklace, Boston, MA.

# Red Light

So off you go, on a mission to reconnect with clients you haven’t worked with since the four month long COVID-19 shutdown began. You gracefully maneuver to position yourself to grab some billable hours before all of your Paycheck Protection Plan money runs out. You’re also on the hunt for new clients, maybe picking up the thread on leads you were checking out in the first quarter, before the rug was pulled out from under.

If good fortune prevails, you’ll bag a live one and generate some much-needed revenue. But do keep your senses tuned to any “off notes” while you and the prospect discuss the project specs. You are trying to work with this person, or someone on his/her team, and by no means do you want to walk into a toxic environment because you will fall. You will not be able to perform at your best. You will not be able to use that client as a reference.

it is important to notice and acknowledge the behavioral cues displayed and statements made by every prospective client. Do not get carried away by a seductive mix of need and excitement. Yes, making money is the point and you may also crave a project that you find not just lucrative, but also exciting. There may be a special skill that you own but rarely have the opportunity to display and at last you could be able to flaunt it.

But if the prospect makes you feel uncomfortable before the project work has begun, the smart Freelancer must find the strength to stop and walk away from someone who is already telling you that they’re a jerk who is out to hurt you. Assuming that this individual even pays the full amount of your invoice, in the end you will have to admit that the money earned from working with this guy or gal was not work the aggravation.

The best damage control that a Freelancer can take is to stop the process and walk away. Let’s examine a few examples of bad guy/ gal behavior:

“I’ve tried working with Freelancers before. I never get what I want.”

This prospect either doesn’t understand how to write and explain the project specs; doesn’t know what actions will achieve company goals; doesn’t understand and refuses to provide the support or authority a Freelancer needs to successfully complete the task; is a rabid micro-manager who is never satisfied by any work other than his/ her own; or cannot/ will not allocate the budget to hire a Freelancer who is able to do the work.

Do you see yourself swallowed by a giant whirlpool? You should. Stop. Turn around. Walk away.

Prospect don’t trust your references

You’ve supplied two or three solid references, clients for whom you’ve done work similar to what the prospect is looking to get done and the clients were very pleased. You exceeded expectations and created a positive experience. But the prospect is not convinced. Your references are not good enough, as far as s/he is concerned.

A dear friend of mine has often said that there are some people who will not take Yes for an answer. This prospect is not ready to become your client, for whatever reason. Maybe the prospect now feels uncomfortable with outsourcing this project to any outside expert?

Whatever. You cannot satisfy this individual. Shake hands and say goodbye, while you can still pretend to smile.

Prospect questions your fee and the value you’ll bring

The shutdown caused most businesses to take a significant financial hit and the impulse to keep all costs low is in the air. Freelancers are wise to be flexible about balancing their project fee against the work that clients need to do to get their ventures moving forward and the lower budgets that clients now live with. However, exploitation is never acceptable and must never be tolerated by a Freelancer.

Before your proposal is in writing, project specs should be discussed, including a ball park budget figure. Using that information, Freelancers can with confidence draw up a proposal with budget and submit it to the prospect. In this way, there will be no surprises. When the prospect shares some indication of the earmarked project budget along with the project specs, the Freelancer will quickly know whether or not s/he can do the job for that price.

But when the prospect wants to be secretive, it’s a bad sign. People need to be transparent and if they don’t want to do that, it will be unpleasant to work with them. Moreover, if the prospect alludes to the fact that his/ her team has the ability to do the job themselves, you may need to diplomatically hint that they might need to do just that because the work to be done demands a certain amount of time and skill.

You are willing to be flexible, you are willing to do a smaller piece of the job for the money that the client has suggested for the entire project, but you cannot give your work away. Then shut up and hear what s/he says in response. The specs will either shrink or you’ll walk.

Project timetable and other guarantees are unrealistic

Timetables and deadlines may require some help from the client if they are to be met and the smart Freelancer will put into writing the kind of resources that the client will provide and by what date. Furthermore, in certain cases the full scope of the project cannot be known until the work has been started. Obtain as much information as possible about the project specs to minimize risks and promote client satisfaction.

If you’re having trouble either reconnecting with current clients or signing new ones, you may need to tweak your pre-COVID-19 business model. Things have changed. No one has a written-in-stone game plan. Pivot has become the word of the month, if not the word of the year. Your first assignment may be to get a fix on what services are in demand now and how you can package and promote your entity to be considered a trustworthy and reliable purveyor of those services.

When speaking with current clients, even if you send out an email to say hello and get the ball rolling, ask how doing business has changed and make it known that your goal is to help them cross the river without taking any more of a bath than they may have already done.

When approaching a prospect, a version of the previous question can be asked, perhaps as a statement, “As you and your team work to help the organization regain its bearings and serve your customers in the way they now want, or legally must be, served, I’d love to talk to you about how I can help you do that efficiently and cost- effectively.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Massachusetts Avenue leaves the Back Bay and enters the South End.

What Scientists Know About Virtual Meetings

Experience has shown us that video meetings and face2face meetings are not interchangeable. Videoconference meetings, while very appealing in ways too numerous to list, nevertheless come with some noticeable drawbacks.

Video meetings are often a little stilted and sometimes borderline awkward. Participants can have trouble signing on. Wavering WiFi signals will cause one or two people to drop out for a couple of minutes, leaving them to struggle to reconnect, maybe by walking to another part of the room in search of a better signal.

Still, video meetings are great for remote team check-ins and board or committee meetings. We are social creatures and enjoy being able to see who we’re talking to. But as the meeting progresses it becomes clear that communication does not flow nearly as well as in our face2face meetings.

On top of access and connectivity issues that interrupt the meeting pace, normal conversation rhythm is also stymied, because video signals are slightly delayed. We try to compensate for unnatural pauses that cause people to talk over one another by waiting (usually too long) to respond.

Scientists who study human perception say that aside from the technical annoyances, the big problem with video is that it disrupts normal eye contact, especially how long and how often we look at each other. In a study led by Isabelle Mareschal, PhD, Psychology Department Chair at Queen Mary University in London, and her colleagues at their visual perception lab asked experiment subjects to watch a video of a face that turned to look directly at them. Study subjects initially found the gaze enjoyable, but after as little as three seconds most found the gaze to be unsettling.

Now consider the protocol at a virtual meeting—- we are expected to maintain unbroken eye contact with the speaker or risk being considered inattentive, if not rude. It’s just that our brain is uncomfortable with this practice. No wonder we find more than one videoconference per day to be draining.

Videoconferencing also disrupts what is known as synchrony, the unconscious call and response speaking rhythm that we lapse into when communicating face2face. Synchrony also persuades us to unwittingly mimic the body language and posture of the person we’re speaking with.

So we smile when we receive cues that our conversation partner will respond favorably if we do, or we’ll put on a serious facial expression when people in the room look worried or upset. “People start to synchronize their laughter and facial expressions over time,” says Paula Niedenthal, PhD, a psychologist and expert in the science of emotion at the University of Wisconsin/ Madison. She continues, “That’s really useful because it helps us predict what’s coming next.”

The ability to unconsciously and accurately predict our conversation partner’s emotional state is crucial to feeling connected, research shows. The problem with videoconferencing is that so many facial expressions—-that sparkle or cloud in the eyes, or subtle posture and hand gestures—-are obscured. We cannot consistently predict and validate the nonverbal cues of virtual meeting participants. We become vulnerable to feeling awkward and eventually, alienated.

Andrew S. Franklin, PhD, a psychologist at Norfolk State University in VA, says the first problem with Zoom is that the platform is programmed to continually show the user an image of him/herself, “So you’re trying to get out of the habit of staring at yourself.” That fascination, or discomfort, breaks the participant’s attention, drawing it away from the speaker and disrupting the transmission of whatever facial and body language cues one might otherwise pick up. Worse, that Brady Bunch Zoom meeting line-up, whether shown in a horizontal or vertical configuration on your device, brings in too many pairs of eyes to confront.

Daniel Nguyen, PhD, a scientist and director of (the global consulting firm) Accenture Lab in Shenzhen, China, investigated how people bonded (or not) while videoconferencing. For the experiment, Nguyen and his team divided study subjects into pairs: some conversing pairs used a video set- up that showed only faces; another video pairing set- up displayed face and upper body; the third conversation design was an in-person chat. As revealed in observations, the in- person pairs developed the strongest bonds and the face and torso set- up elicited bonding that was fully twice that of the face only set- up.

Furthermore, Nguyen prefers the vertical screen view on our phones over the horizontal screen view that desk models, laptops and tablets give us because the vertical view showcases more of the body and less background scenery.

Guided by the results of their experiment, Nguyen and his co-authors now sit a few feet away from their keyboards when in video meetings, so that their upper body will be visible. Providing your videoconference partners with a more expansive view of you helps them achieve synchrony with you and the potential for mutual bonding will be enhanced.

Nguyen and colleagues also have recommendations for your videoconference vocal style. “Ramp up the words that you’re saying,” he advised, “and exaggerate the way you say it.” To be honest, I don’t know how to interpret that bit of stage direction. How about we just avoid speaking in a monotone and add a little energy to our speech, taking care to speak a little more slowly and remembering to enunciate clearly?

Probably the most formidable obstacle of videoconference communication is how to develop trust when doing business. It’s not easy to build bonds, to truly get to know someone and develop lasting rapport through online encounters, even when you see who you’re talking to. Nguyen said his research found that, “In a videoconferencing situation, trust is quite fragile.” He and his team demonstrated that in video, “Trust is diminished overall.” Nguyen suggested that when building trust is critical, opportunities to meet in person at least some of the time will help build bonds that make remote collaboration more successful.

Elena Rocco, PhD, in a 1998 study at the University of Michigan Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work, demonstrated that groups that connect solely online (in her study email was the online format) do not collaborate effectively. But when her study subjects were able to meet face2face for brief periods, their willingness to cooperate and collaborate rose dramatically. Face2face meetings make a difference and opportunities to allow in person meet- ups should be made, even when online communication is more convenient.

I feel that although working from home is all the rage now, in two or three years companies will move to reverse the trend and bring employees back to the office, at least for part of the week. Without reading any studies, I knew that virtual meetings can never adequately replace face2face interactions.

Ben Waber, President and co-founder of Humanyze, a company that creates software that allows organizations to map internal communications, understands very well how employees communicate and how their communication correlates to their company’s health.

Waber suspects that in the long run, a company’s culture and creativity risk declining in a heavily remote-working structure. Employees can’t get to know one another as well when they don’t regularly interact face2face. He predicts that profitable companies will initially continue to be profitable despite their significant dependence on virtual communication but damage will become evident a year or two down the line, when the quality of new ideas become less bold and innovative. He concludes, “I think we’re going to see this general degradation of the health of organizations.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Doorway of the original location of the Forsyth Dental Infirmary for Children.

Business Building Essentials

While you’re thinking about how to give your business an injection of growth hormone, uniquely formulated to push your billable hours up and out of the doldrums, it’s also a good idea to reconsider some ground level business building essential practices that will confirm what you’re doing right and reveal what needs an edit.

Business founders must perfect not only the functionality and value of the products or services that are sold, but also create the organizational structure that will launch and support those products or services. You, founder and owner of the company, must ensure that you have your arms around each of these six elements discussed here. If ownership is shared by partners, then the responsibilities will be divided between you.

One division of labor method can be based on the percentage of the business owned, governed by abilities and preferences. Another method is to let ability and preference rule and choose a Managing Partner. That individual might own the largest share or the smallest share of the business, it doesn’t matter.

Managing Partners are compensated for the work they do, beyond the share of profit (or loss) that their ownership share entitles them to. Whether the business structure is Inc. or LLC, a W-2 salary can be paid to the Managing Partner. Discuss the matter of partner duties and compensation with your business attorney and put the agreement in writing.

A third option for monitoring and managing these responsibilities is to hire a W-2 employee or a 1099 Freelance consultant. There is no shame in calling in outside experts.

Positive cash- flow

The responsibility for positive cash flow belongs to the Finance Department, but the Sales Department is responsible for generating the revenue that keeps the business solvent. The Finance expert will monitor Accounts Receivable and Payable and enable a healthy cash-flow. In addition to generating sales, invoicing on time is critical to the process.

Operations

Inventory, quality control, managing employees and Freelancers, product manufacturing, delivery of core services, insurance and licenses and permits all land in this far- ranging category. IT, the telephone system and HVAC are other responsibilities that land in the Operations in- basket.

Operations functions are the nuts and bolts, where the rubber hits the road, hands-on aspects of the business. Excellent organizational ability is the key factor in successful operations management. Ownership of these duties can be assigned to whomever is best qualified to handle them. Sharing of theses duties by the partners and/ or hiring outside experts to oversee specific sectors will be wise.

Metrics to measure

The metrics used to measure business performance will change over time, but do some research of similar organizations and get insight into what numbers you should follow and the story they will tell, separately and together.

Plan to pivot

Doing business is so volatile now, it’s safe to say that a pivot is on your future, so why not anticipate it? Think about potential Plans B and C. Should your business venture falter, whether a flashy and well-funded competitor moves in or, gasp, you must contend with an unheard-of government mandated shutdown of your enterprise, how might your organization retool, pivot and survive?

You can help yourself by engaging and communicating with your customers to confirm why they buy from your company. You can also find out what competitive products and services may be appealing and why. In this way you can learn what you might adapt and hold on to customers should the business environment change. Staying abreast of new technologies on the horizon, new legislation, new competitors and even changes in local zoning

Culture and values

Bake into your business practices integrity, the expectation of excellence, first-rate customer service and, when necessary, the willingness to admit that a mistake has been made and an apology and/or a do over is in order. Let your customers, partners, suppliers, vendors, employees, Freelancers and most of all yourself see your humanity and your humor, too.

Coaching and mentoring

The founder(s), C-Suite leaders and staff deserve opportunities to sharpen their skills and even discover and nurture new competencies. Company sponsored professional development benefits a business in so many ways. Employees (and leaders) who feel confident about their skills and career possibilities and trajectories are nearly always happy to give back and do their best work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Construction site on Ipswich Street adjacent to Fenway Park.

Jump Start Revenue Right Now

State governments are slowly allowing more businesses to open after what has been about a four month shutdown for something like half of U.S. businesses. It’s been rough slogging for many citizens, but for a chosen few, the shutdown has been a money-making bonanza.

A handful of Freelancers were gifted with a new way to rake in billable hours like my friend Matt, a techie who is now earning a small fortune running virtual meetings and webinars on platforms like Go-to-Meeting and Zoom for colleges and big companies.

Most Freelancers have faced a business slowdown but have managed to crawl along, sometimes by shifting their focus to services that can be sold during the pandemic, such as teaching virtual classes or writing. Some of us will be able to recover relatively quickly from the shutdown but others, in particular those in the weddings and special events sector, unfortunately must grapple with a steep uphill climb this year.

One thing for certain is that nearly every Freelancer and business owner needs a jump start right now to first, entice current customers to return and second, to recruit new customers. Nothing that I recommend here is new or earth-shattering. The main thing to remember about business strategy—- and the Harvard Business School will back me up on this—-is that one must execute.

The most revolutionary strategy to rock the planet will be useless unless you get busy and put it in motion. Taking action on even one or two items can positively impact your business within six months.

Keep marketing

Especially when billable hours become sparse, it is so tempting to pull back and succumb to the fetal position. A short- lived pity party won’t hurt you and it may be just what you need in the moment. Sometimes one has to lick the wounds. Ice cream helps. But after 3 – 4 weeks, it will be time to regroup and snap out of it.

Shake up your marketing activities by trying something that’s low or no- cost, or double down on your usual tactics, as you first reality test by making sure that the target audience has found you and what you’re putting out there resonates.

Might you know a colleague who hosts a podcast? Have you ever done a 30 minute guest spot? Do you have 2 – 3 topics that seem like a good fit for the listening audience? Even if you have just one potentially interesting podcast topic, make contact and pitch it. If you host a podcast, raise the bar on who you invite as guests as a way to increase your reach and build your brand. Who do you know with big social media followings and/or extensive newsletter or blog lists? Reach out and touch. This strategy also is effective for webinars.

Are you a writer? Thank goodness I was invited to submit a few more articles to Lioness Magazine, the digital magazine targeted for female entrepreneurs that I’ve written for since 2014. There are many digital magazines in the business theme space and all are hungry for good content. The pay may be low to nonexistent, but being a published author has always been smart marketing. http://LionessMagazine.com

Assess social media

In last week’s post we examined the best days & times to publish on a few popular platforms. This week, you can think about how to implement what you learned.

My guess is that you’re already using the platforms you intend to use. Still, rethinking where you’ve chosen to have a presence and an assessment of the ROI derived—-credibility?brand awareness? lead gen?—-is an essential exercise as you look for ways to push your organization out of the doldrums. Have you chosen the right platform for what you’d like to achieve? For that matter, have you chosen the right goals?

Education

Whether you receive the education or deliver it, you and your business stand to benefit. Search for free classes on LinkedIn. Lots of them are worthwhile and all of them provide a certificate that can be uploaded to your profile to make you look smart and ambitious. In the Fall when schools reopen you can explore semester long (online) classes that will enhance your credibility to clients.

As well, take advantage of the COVID-19 attendance limits that are still widely enforced and compel networking organizations to go all-virtual and inquire as to who might invite you to present a short skills building workshop or give your expert opinion on some aspect of doing business.

These organizations are under significant pressure to remain relevant to their members and if you are a member, the organization managers will probably invite you in. It’s more than likely that you won’t get paid, but you’ll have an announcement that will be oh so perfect for your blog, newsletter and social media accounts and that is just the kind of business jump starting strategy that we’re talking about here!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. The twice weekly farmer’s market at Copley Square reopened last Friday, with strict anti-coronavirus measures.

Social Media —-Best Time to Post

You already know that timing is everything in business and life and that calculation also applies to when one should ideally post content on the social media platforms of choice. According to social media content marketing experts, there are days and times when your audience will either be more likely to login and read posts on a particular platform or will be in a receptive frame of mind when they do check in.

Social media management sites, including Buffer, Hootsuite, Hubspot and SproutSocial, have studied the potential best timing for publishing and sharing posts and published those results, but the most exhaustive research seems to have been done by the Bismarck, ND digital marketing management company CoSchedule. Highlights of the company’s research are cited in this post and in its entirety at this link. https://coschedule.com/blog/best-times-to-post-on-social-media/

Still, I suggest that you experiment with your own study and look for indications that your posts perform better or worse on certain days and times. Because I had a long career in B2B face2face sales, I knew to avoid posting on Monday (too busy) or Friday (livin’ for the weekend). Tuesday seemed like a good day to publish, so I went with it. LinkedIn is my social media platform and I’ve shared my posts there each week for the 11 years that I’ve published.

Here’s a rundown of platforms that appeal most to B2B marketers and the suggested prime times to publish content, according to a review of 20 studies that was conducted by CoSchedule. To dig more deeply into this topic, click the link to the study. B2B, B2C and age will potentially impact your prime publishing times.

Facebook

The evaluation of 20 studies revealed that the overall best time frame to post on Facebook is Thursday to Sunday from 1:00 – 3:00 PM. However, users can quickly and accurately identify their individual prime posting times by opening the Insight tab at the top of the page and inspecting the tracking graph.

Google Plus

What users really want to do to find out what’s going on is to use the Steady Demand tool, that reports out not only what your business, but also competitive businesses, are doing. You’ll have to pay, though. Otherwise, Wednesday mornings at 9:00-ish reportedly yields the best results when publishing. https://www.steadydemand.com/services.php

Instagram

Users who have a business account with the platform should head straight to Instagram Analytics to receive customized performance results. Those who do not have a business account are recommended to investigate a free tool that is known to provide reliable data, such as Union Metrics. https://unionmetrics.com/free-tools/instagram-account-checkup/

LinkedIn

The platform is all business and users are in a business frame of mind when they check in, but according to statistics, Tuesday through Thursday 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM wins by a nose (hey, that’s when I publish!). My LinkedIn connections will know that I’ve shared a blog post via a message that appears at their Notifications tab.

TikTok

These 500 million active monthly users, heavily represented by the highly coveted Generation Z demographic, continue to fascinate nearly every marketer, especially in the B2C space. Business owners and leaders want to recruit them as customers now and work on cultivating a longstanding relationship that will yield millions of dollars in sales.

Marketers dream of their company’s videos being seen by a large segment of a GenZ audience that will become loyal to their company and who will comment on and give likes and shares to company posts. Some clever and lucky posters, they imagine, will attract devoted followers who like their videos enough to click the icon that includes the video creator’s profile to find the heart ♥️ and ask to be a follower.

What may not have been considered is that this group is not known for long term loyalty. They are known for skepticism and changing their minds. The best posting times have been difficult to pin down, but morning and evening commute, plus lunchtime, seem the best for publishing new content.

Twitter

Wednesdays and Thursdays have emerged as the preferred days for tweeting, but users can verify their power hours by way of Twitter Analytics. Click “tweets” Overall, the best time frame for publishing is 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM- ish.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark