Man Up and Lead! Part II

Now on to the opportunities.  Finding these lovely gems is often random.  We must train ourselves to recognize them,  for they are not necessarily sitting beneath a neon sign. Usually they are more like truffles,  hiding under certain trees and available only under certain conditions.

Once we figure out how to recognize opportunities,  the next step (very important!) is to learn how to maximize them.  This step will  involve both courage and creativity. You may have to take a calculated risk.  So many people mishandle or outright squander golden opportunities because they lack the vision,  the foresight and the guts to play a good hand for all it’s worth.

While you’re hanging out and doing business as usual,  it is vital to always be on the lookout for the gems.  It is likewise vital to prepare your organization to receive them, because fortune favors the prepared.   So what might that entail?

As we all know,  it usually takes money to make money.  So ideally, have at least a modest cash or credit reserve on hand that will allow you to pay an expense related to serendipitous good fortune.  As always,  network to cultivate and maintain good relationships,  since who you know (and who knows you) is essential to the process.

The arts organization of which I spoke last week will hold a big splashy event in September 2010.  They will repeat the template of an event that was done in 2005, with great success.  Despite the weakened economy, I feel confident that the September event is a good opportunity that will both make new friends for the organization and bring in $10,000 + in revenue.

Then there is the other opportunity,  one that was brought to us by our board chairwoman.  She told us of a charming documentary film made in 2008 that tells the story of a NYC postal worker and his librarian wife who built a world class art collection on their very limited budget. The board chair proposed that we show the film in Spring 2010 to act as a lead-in to our September event.  The event would be free,  to reward current supporters and attract new prospects.  The board loved it and I took the lead on finding a venue,  preferably free or cheap.

On a whim,  I emailed an acquaintance who is a former trustee at a local museum.  Would they donate space to a small nonprofit?  She agreed to make a call on my behalf and give me a contact name.  To my great delight,  I obtained donated screening space and, the sweetest gift of all,  a museum curator to both introduce the film and do a Q & A session at the end.  Hot damn,  I hit the jackpot!!

Alas,  there was a little catch.  We must pony up for a few related costs:  projectionist fee, ushers,  security,  clean-up crew, etc.  To accept this offer,  the organization must pay about $1400.

I emailed the board chair and gave her the good news / bad news scenario.  What to do,  I lamented? Perhaps I should keep looking.   She agreed.  But when the sun rose again,  I caught myself.  I emailed the board chair and told her that we must accept this game changing offer.  It was much too good to refuse.

However,  all this transpired before news of the $60,000 hole in the bankbook was revealed.   Our chairwoman went from being cautiously positive to near total opposition. I understood her fear,  but knew that we could not succumb to it.  The ED (who I feel concealed our money woes and exacerbated our problem) was totally negative—but he is always a wet blanket!

Especially in light of the cash crunch,  the organization needs to quickly raise its profile to both energize current donors and attract new and bigger check writers.  To show the film in a venue that is merely serviceable adds no value.  Our golden opportunity would be squandered due to shortsightedness and fear.

Halleluia, I am thrilled to report that the board gave the museum proposal a ringing endorsement.  One person even recommended that we go farther out on a limb, as he phrased it, and host a small pre-film reception. The board voted to spend $5000 on the event.  The board chair gave her blessing and the ED came around.  Hurrah!!

The lesson of this tale is no doubt obvious to you, dear Reader.  Practicality and caution are useful traits;  but one must not allow them to morh into fear and paralysis.  As steward of the business,  one must develop both the acumen to  recognize opportunities  worth pursuing and the courage to utilize same.  We must understand not only what we can afford to do,  but also what we cannot afford to NOT do.  We’ve got to man up and lead!

Thanks for reading,
Kim

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Man Up and Lead! Part I

I’ve been on the board of a small arts organization since 2006.  I love the organization and its unique mission; I really like the founder, who is a painter and 88 years young;  I appreciate that I’ve been able to lend energy and creativity to a wonderful organization;  I like my fellow board members.

The downside is, we’ve got money problems.  We’ve also got a couple of marvelous opportunities, at least one of which will be realized.  The other faces an uncertain fate.

At a committee meeting last Wednesday,  our executive director announced that the organization has a $60,000 budget shortfall.   With some creative cost-cutting,  he feels that the deficit can be reduced to $40,000.  How did that happen? In September,  his financial report was cautiously optimistic.  In November he said little about money, except to note that he expected a certain level of donations to be received.  Now,  as of January 1, we’re rather deep in the hole.  Ouch!

In truth,  the signs were there.  Examination of past balance sheets reveal distressing losses in our investments and income.  For reasons I do not understand, the full board does not view monthly P & L statements;  we receive only 6 month “condensed” statements.   There is insufficient documentation of expenses, e.g.  a couple of lump sum categories called “personnel” and “outside fees and services”.

Why the finance committee (and the executive committee) has allowed the ED to be so cavalier with the financial records, I will never know.  Why the full board sat in meetings for years with eyes glazed over while he droned on about budget projections,  expenses and donations received and expected—well,  I should have questioned it,  but I was hesitant to rock the boat.

However,  in November ’09 I questioned the “outside fees and services” listed on the P & L and I was given a flip,  off-hand answer that went something like oh that’s for accounting, insurance…and then he drifted off.  I was not pleased with the answer.  No other board member pushed the matter.  But once again my intuition was on target because here we are,  running out of money.

The ED has not spent wisely,  his budgets are a fairy tale and the board (including myself) allowed him to get away with it. The organization’s founder enabled the ED’s bad behavior by writing checks to cover previous shortfalls.  She claims that habit is over,  but I don’t know.  There is a board meeting scheduled this month and I plan to ask a few pointed questions.  I hope that others will join me.  The meeting will be very interesting.

So what is the lesson for business people?  Do not delude yourself about money.  The picture may not be pretty, but going into denial will only hurt you in the end.  Keep accurate financial records and take the time to examine and interpret them.  Use your financials to guide your business decisions.  Cash flow is the level one warning system.  Are the bills paid on time? Is making payroll a struggle? If your business has been cash strapped of late (especially with credit so tight and costly), then look to trim expenses where practical and  renegotiate payments wherever possible.  Next week,  we’ll talk about opportunities.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

May I Have This Dance? Partnering Possibilities Part II

How might one brainstorm and evaluate  expanded services that may or may not involve taking on a partner to a greater or lesser extent? One might start by asking the clients.  As I’ve mentioned many times before,  establishing  relationships that  make communication comfortable for both parties  is so very important.

Speaking with those who are not clients,  but who work  in or are familiar with your target industries,  can also yield some bright  ideas.  In my January CEO forum,  Carole gave me a great tip on how I can expand my strategic plan facilitating services.  Carole’s  husband works in the NFP sector and has been through more than one strategic planning process that has not delivered the desired results.

Carole clued me in on helpful extras that should increase the likelihood that decisions agreed upon in the planning process will actually be implemented.  Demonstrating to clients that I am available to offer follow-up that will keep them on track with their plan could be an excellent selling point.  I won’t need a partner,  but I will make referrals  for required services that are outside of my domain.  I will surely incorporate Carole’s suggestions  into subsequent client meetings and proposals.

Before introducing a new feature to a client,  imagine yourself working in that client’s business.  What  need does your company fulfill?   Envision the big picture and place your services within it,  to get a good idea of where your contribution fits.  Will additional services allow the client to achieve objectives in a more effective,  less expensive, timely or streamlined way?

Although decision makers are timid about spending money these days,  a decent percentage will open the checkbook if perceived value is there.  Moreover, one stop shopping is in vogue and you may be able to work that to your advantage.  Do you have the resources and expertise necessary to deliver those services on your own,  or must you link with another Freelancer or small business?

Be careful about the sphere of influence that each partner will have,  particularly when those involved have the potential for overlap.  No one wants to confuse clients with a power struggle.   Be clear about who takes the lead and who makes the decisions in each aspect of the project.

It is also imperative to really know the business practices of a potential partner.  I recently had an unfortunate incident when I was invited to be a last minute replacement in an unpaid speaker’s program.  This was not a partnership in the classic sense,  but a collaborative venture nonetheless.

After the organizer successfully separated me from $200 to help cover program expenses for what was sold to me as a quarterly program featuring the four speakers on board,  she proceeded to recruit new speakers for the series, without consulting the original roster.  I eventually deduced that the new recruits were not required to pay $200 to join the roadshow,  as had the original crew.  If that was not enough of a slap,  the organizer decided that I would not speak at the second program!

I was not pleased with the bait & switch, to say nothing of the unilateral decision making and I requested that my investment be returned.   After some patronizing and stonewalling,  the organizer eventually mailed a check for $100.

No,  nothing was in writing.  I naively thought that a contract was unnecessary for a $200 transaction with someone I thought I knew!  Moral of story:  protect yourself and leave nothing to chance.

To sum up,  collaborations,   joint ventures and partnerships can be long term or ad hoc. Specifics of duties, authority and expectations should be in writing (an email may suffice).   If a formal partnership (or merger) is formed,  obviously the attorneys and accountants get involved.   Again, know who you are planning to dance with!

Thanks for reading,
Kim

May I Have This Dance? Partnering Possibilities Part I

At our January meeting,  a member of my CEO forum told the group that partnering is high on her list for 2010.  She’s decided that the right partnership vehicle will propel her to this year’s  financial goal.

Pam is a market research specialist,  with solid clients in the life sciences industry.  She’d like to have more presence in high tech,  but needs a way to get there.   Pam is acquainted with another marketing specialist who has a good roster of high tech clients.  The two are now in early stage partnership exploration talks.  Maybe they can figure out a  way to team up and increase traction in both industries?

As luck would have it,  Pam has learned of an upcoming conference that will address partnership,  joint venture and collaboration options,  strategies and methods to make the arrangement beneficial to all parties,  including clients.   She plans to attend.

Very soon,  I plan to approach Pam about the possibility of adding early stage product and market development for life sciences products to her array of services.  Could this give her yet another useful competitive advantage?  I will first visit her website and confirm that she does not already have that base covered.  Then I will ask if she feels that addressing the prospects for early stage products might be a good fit for her business and interest level.

If Pam gives the go-ahead,  I will introduce her to Regina, who guides biotech, medical device and pharmaceutical companies as they sort through which of their exciting newly patented  products has the best potential for success.

So you see,  a form of mergers (and even acquisitions) can apply to Freelancers and small business owners. This dance is not only for the Fortune 1000.  In fact,   many of us have done this for years.  General contractors often form partnerships or joint ventures with real estate developers and structural engineers when they come together to work on one building project or several.

Event planners (my first business venture, BTW) must collaborate with caterers,  florists, limo companies,  photographers, etc.  in order to pull together a project.   Over time,  one develops a list of preferred vendors for these services.   Sometimes,   the parties will join forces and form a legal partnership.  Wedding event specialists and bridal shops are known for this practice.

Teaming up with someone who has complementary business skills can open many doors and can be an excellent way to gain market share and opportunities to work within industries where one has not gone before.   It is possible to greatly enhance your company’s appeal to current and potential clients.

More on partnerships next week,
Kim

Trends in 2010: Freelance Nation

Trendspotters report that the Freelance work force will continue to grow as full time employment continues to disappear.   Sole proprietorships grew twice as fast as the overall economy during the decade 1999 – 2009 and our numbers now exceed 22 million (source:  SBA).

Employers are expected to continue practices begun in the late 1980s,  laying off  full time, benefits receiving employees and replacing them with part time workers and outsourced services wherever possible.  In other words,  Freelancers will be hired because we are perceived as being less expensive.

Unfortunately,  income generated will most likely be less than satisfactory.  Freelance writers,  for example,  have on average taken a huge wage reduction.  Receiving $2-$3/word for a 500 word article is nearly a thing of the past.   Many writers are now forced to accept 50 cents/word.

You know,  besides a university degree,  there’s not a whole lot that separates Freelancers from Cesar Chavez and the grape pickers.  A day laborer is a day laborer, whether working in an office or out of doors.  Meanwhile,  the videographers continue to make lots of money,  adding little vignettes to the websites of businesses and social service agencies in need of customers and donors, respectively.

Obviously,  it’s also been predicted that most Freelance professionals will continue to work from home,  because most can operate effectively and cheaply from a home office. Well,  you can’t beat the commute!  Technological advancements have made home offices a practical and efficient choice.  Email plays a pivotal role in all of business,  along with electronic  transfer of all types of documents—attach and hit the send button.   The once revolutionary practice of faxing has been much diminished.

If we need to obtain data on nearly any aspect of our business,  we are almost guaranteed to find our answers on line, often at no charge.  Market research has become lots more convenient.  It’s much easier to compile the data needed for business plans and strategic plans,  from within our company databases or from outside sources.

There are analytical tools whose cost once confined their usage to big budget companies now available at prices that a small business operator can afford. That has given a tremendous boost to our decision making capabilities.

On a more mundane level,  when we want to keep tabs on our competitors,  a visit to their website,  LinkedIn or FaceBook profile can give some clues.   A Google search may also be useful.  We check out our clients and prospects in the same way, to augment personal referrals or warm up a cold call.

The internet delivery system known as the cloud gives low cost access to advanced computer capabilities and reduces the need for IT support by providing back-ups and security.  The cloud is what allows us to use mobile computers like iPhones.

Of course,  those of us who knew life without computer proliferation know that technology giveth and also taketh away.  Millions of good paying,  steady jobs have been lost because of these and other technological advancements and they will never return.

Remember graphic artists? These days,  those who perform that function are mere computer technicians.  The old timers who graduated from art school and studied composition,  color theory and free hand drawing have nearly all been replaced.

Yes,  a few million IT jobs have been created,  but specialized qualifications are required.  Re-engineering a career is often not possible when one is 45 years old.  Besides, those jobs are disappearing, too.  They are being off-shored,  or collapsed down and handed off to one Freelance contractor who must do the work of 3 former full time employees.  Ask yourself:  is a flat screen TV and an iPhone worth more than an $80,000 a year job with health insurance,  paid vacations and sick days?

I would be remiss if I did not include the creative arts in our discussion.  Painters,  sculptors,  dancers,  singers,  musicians,  photographers,  actors  and  artisans  (e.g. jewelry designers)  are the original Freelancers.  In troubled economic times,  their numbers usually increase.

An opera singer friend,  who is part time faculty at The Longy School of Music,  told me recently that enrollment there has soared.  She also has more requests for private lessons.  Opera companies and orchestras are struggling and sometimes closing as a result of shrinking donations and ticket sales,  but nevertheless quite a few people have looked to the arts for a career or to reinvent themselves.  Damn the torpedoes,  I guess.

So where does all this Freelance ferment leave us?  More fulfilled in many ways,  I will say.  For lots of us,  going out on our own was the realization of a long held dream.  Your Diarist was disappointed with the corporate world a dozen years before the  exit.  I think most of us  enjoy being the captain of our own ship.

Alas  money,  or a shortfall thereof,  remains the sticking point.  Billable hours are thin,  sales are weak.  The answer to the riddle of how to survive and thrive remains elusive.  In this blog I will continue to put forth suggestions that may lead you to that answer.  I want to help  you—and myself!—make it successfully through the year.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

2010 Outlook

Happy New Year! We made it out of 2009–whew! We’re battered and bruised perhaps,  but there is a pulse.  The post mortems on the past decade are already rolling in and as we suspected,  the 00s really were zeros for lots of us when it came to making money.

Not surprisingly, the data show that this past decade was the worst for the US economy since the 1930s.  In fact,  net job growth was zero from 1999 – 2009.   Full time employment at a professional level wage evaporated for so many (like your Diarist).   Maybe that explains why you, too, became a Freelancer? Already, that period has been named the Lost Decade for American workers.  Downward mobility has become all too common.

In the January 3  NY Times,  there is a front page story that tells the sad tale of a woman in Florida who had been a successful real estate agent,  regularly generating an income of $100,000 + per year.  Now her income is, literally, zero.   She and her two children are living only on a few hundred dollars of food stamps each month.

Long term economic  instability appears to be what we will face for several years into the future.  Maintaining a comfortable middle class life has become much more difficult,  if not impossible.  What can a Freelancer do to improve financial prospects?

Primarily,  we must recognize how the new economic  conditions have impacted our clients—financially and psychologically—and devise marketing strategies and business practices that integrate the realities of this  altered environment.   Every quarter may be a new adventure, as client priorities continue to shift.  Keep eyes and ears open,  connect the dots and become flexible and resourceful if you expect to survive.

No one knows when the purse strings will loosen.   However, business will be done, meaning that money will be spent.  Here are a few suggestions that may help you to remain solvent:

Keep it simple

Information overload is in full effect.  Many people feel overwhelmed and are too hassled and harried to pick through a plethora of choices,  or a complicated and/or grandiose marketing message.

Bring it back down to earth.  Have you noticed what has been going on in the restaurant business over the last few years? White table cloth restaurants with ultra formal service have been on the wane since the early 2000s.  Comfort food,  less glamorous cuts of meat and dining at the bar are in.  Take this as a cue for your business.

Distill your services down to what customers will desire, understand, value and pay for. Pay attention to their current spending patterns—they are likely to continue for the next 2 – 3 quarters.   Sell your services in easy to understand terms that tell clients what is in it for them.  Also,  make sure the price is right.

Green and sustainable

Clients have been willing to pay a premium for environmentally friendly,  fair trade,  local, organic and  sustainable everything.  For some products at least, this trend looks to continue.

Remain visible, appear viable

The ad budget may be smaller, but continue to promote your business in cost-effective ways that reach your target customers.  If that means taking out print or web ads,  try your best to fit those into your budget.   Radical cuts in advertising and promotions can cause you to miss the boat on opportunities.   We all need even the small contracts in order to make it through the month.  Ask to stretch out the ad payments and the answer will probably be yes.  They want your business more than ever!

You will also be wise to continue membership in the chamber of commerce and other networking organizations where prospects and referral sources can be found. You may make fewer visits, but don’t disappear.   Do not cede ground to your competition.

Project hope and confidence

Everybody likes a winner and everyone gravitates to (realistic) optimists.   Don’t whine and moan about business to clients and prospects! That will be a turnoff.  So chin up and portray a reasonable level of self-confidence.  Remember that it is possible to make significant money in a recession:  Kraft introduced Miracle Whip in 1933;   Apple launched the iPod in 2001.

Good luck and thanks for reading,
Kim

Be An Inspiration

Let’s end  this ugly year, this annus horribilis, on a high note!  I’d been looking for the right way to close 2009 and put us in the frame of mind to create a much better year in 2010.  I think I’ve found what I was looking for– maybe you will agree?

I recently read an excellent article by Alaina Love, writing for Business Week Magazine on December 22, 2009.  Ms. Love is a nationally known leadership expert and president of Purpose Linked  Consulting.  She is also co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (2009).

Ms. Love presented what she calls the Inspiration Continuum: 10 behaviors and characteristics that she feels identify a true leader.  Whether you are a Freelancer,  CEO of a company large or small,  or a senior manager I think you will find this information applicable to your circumstances.  I pass this string of pearls along to you and hope that you will be inspired to integrate this wisdom into your business practices:

1.   Authentic rather than phony

The words,  actions and beliefs of inspirational leaders are consistent.  These leaders are not phony or pretending to be someone they are not.

2.   Reliable rather than erratic

Employees know they can count on inspirational leaders to guide the organization to clearly defined goals on a well thought-out course.  They do not confuse an already struggling workforce with erratic behavior and constantly shifting priorities.

3.   Anchored rather than disconnected

These leaders are well positioned in the flow of the business and the organization’s culture.  They are clued in to contemporary trends and issues,  rather than disconnected from current realities.

4.   Optimistic rather than pessimistic

Inspirational leaders demonstrate a world view of possibility and abundance.  They are not unaware of the challenges and difficulties the organization may be facing, but they choose instead to focus on both how and why the organization will be successful.

5.   Self-aware rather than unconscious

They understand their strengths and passions as well as their vulnerabilities and blind spots and they work diligently to leverage the former and minimize the latter.

6.   Driven by purpose and passion rather than power and fear

Inspirational leaders understand the tremendous power of a well-articulated purpose and a passionate workforce that embraces it.  They get results not through wielding power and inculcating fear,  but rather by creating a vision in which others can become engaged.

7.   Inclusive rather than divisive

These leaders value the input of others and seek out opinions from a widely diverse base.  They recognize that divisiveness and exclusion do not lead to quality results or strengthen teamwork.

8.   Focused on others rather than self-focused

Inspirational leaders focus first on creating a positive environment for others and leaving a valued business legacy and only secondarily on their own needs.  They will make tough choices that benefit the business over the long term,  rather than trade the future for a short term gain.

9.   Respectful rather than manipulative

As the economic dust begins to settle and organizations reinvent themselves, inspirational leaders recognize that the business environment is dynamic and may require even more changes that affect jobs.  They appreciate the importance of treating employees at all levels with respect and insist that any implemented programs or processes are consistent with this core value.

10.  Able to foster other leaders rather than demanding followers

Inspirational leaders spend a significant chunk of time identifying and grooming leaders throughout the organization.  They are fully aware that the future of the business is directly related to developing individuals who are even better leaders than themselves and recognize that a business dependent on any one leader for its success puts itself in a vulnerable and tenuous position.

Thank you for taking the time to find and read my under-the-radar postings.  Please know that your interest, support and comments are much appreciated.  My objective for this blog is to present information that you can use to build a better business.

I am new to the blogging scene and still on the learning curve.  How am I doing?  Have I achieved my objective—or at least appear to be on track to do so?  What are the hits, what are the misses?  What topics have I covered that you especially enjoyed or found most useful?  What topics would you like to see addressed?

Thanks for reading and best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.

Kim

A 5 Step Value Proposition Plan, Steps 3, 4 & 5

We continue to build the value proposition that will convince clients and prospects that doing business with you helps to make them more successful in their own jobs or businesses.  Let the important customers know that they are important by soliciting their thoughts and opinions about your products and services;  let them tell you what you do that makes their work easier or more productive;  and let them tell you what else you might do that would make their work still more productive or less problematic.

Step Three is to motivate customers to sell for you.  When you demonstrate to customers that they’re on the VIP list,  they will love that feeling of importance.  They will feel even better about doing business with you and will be inclined to talk you up and make good referrals for you.  Word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising,  make no mistake about it.  It will give your business tremendous credibility.

Bring your top clients behind the velvet rope and into the VIP section.  Oh, and make sure you devise a “rewards program”  for this advisory board.  Pass along a few perks to those who help you upgrade your game.  Perhaps you also can make a referral or two?

So Steps One and Two set the stage for Step Three,  when top customers deliver to you prospects who are ready to spend money.  Personally referred prospects are likely to be pleased with your services, because they will have heard about you from one whom they trust.  An expectation of success will be established.

In Step four,  incorporate what you’ve learned in the interviews done in Step Two. Implement those suggestions that make good business sense.  Make the necessary adjustments if  you get the heads up on competitive activity or changing conditions of some sort.  Don’t let your good  work go to waste.

In conversations with your customers,  what common themes emerge? Be sure to respect and value in your business practices what your customers respect and value.  For example,  let’s say you’re about ready to trim certain costs in order to stay within a particular price range—yet the VIP crowd indicates otherwise.

If leading customers crave a certain level of service,  quality of merchandise,  or style of packaging and they are willing to keep paying for it,  don’t take it away and disappoint them! Stay the course and give them what they want.  They will love you for it and show that love by handing over more money to you.

Lastly,  in Step Five acknowledge your strengths and apply them to running your business. View your strengths through the prism of a restaurant.   Are you front of the house—excelling at customer contact and relationship building,   making sales calls, networking and schmoozing,  forming strategic partnerships?  Or are you back of the house—most comfortable and effective while overseeing operations,  crunching numbers, devising long term strategies,  negotiating a lease?

Recognize where you excel.  If you work solo,  perhaps outsource what can be comfortably handed over to another party (like PR or bookkeeping).  If you are going into business with partners,  make sure that skill sets are complementary and not competing. This will make roles and  responsibilities  easier to delineate and ensure that the important bases are covered, thus improving the venture’s chances for success.

So there you have it,  5 easy pieces that will help you re-examine and re-focus your business practices,  optimize client loyalty and goodwill,  encourage referrals and the right kind of buzz and build up your bottom line.  If you can convince yourself to try the first two steps,  I guarantee that you will be impressed with the results and sold on working through the entire program.

Good luck to you,
Kim

A 5 Step Value Proposition Plan, Steps 1 & 2

No matter what,  human beings must do business.  In feudal societies and capitalist dictatorships;  in flush times and depressions;  in war and in peace;  there will always be traders,  sellers and buyers.  Where there is a need (real or perceived),  there will be a product or service available to provide some level of fulfillment.  Someone always makes money.

The most successful sellers present the most compelling case,  i.e. the strongest value proposition,  for their product or service and  they become  market leaders.  Maybe you’d like  to position your business for that kind of success?  There will be work involved,  but nothing that is insurmountable. The process can be broken down into 5 manageable steps and implemented according to a timetable convenient for you.

Getting started is easy— ask your customers! They may know more about your business than you do.  They certainly know the market place in which your business operates,  because they navigate those waters as purchasers and consumers of the products and services offered therein.  Your customers have done their homework and they have chosen you.

Above all,  we must  value our customers and communicate that to them.  Big spenders, the VIP customers,  deserve to receive the most value.  Important customers can benefit a business in more ways than one.  They are able to become our opinion leaders,  our advisory board. These customers can play a key role in helping to grow the business. Understanding this is Step One.  Next, demonstrate your trust and respect by implementing  Step Two:  interview the VIP customers.

Identify your three biggest billable hour clients and invite those with whom you interact the most out to eat at whatever meal you can afford to buy.  Client priorities can change as their organization and business environment changes.  Organizations will change in response to economic,  leadership,  competitive and consumer preference changes.

Stay on top of things by asking your VIPs what you can do to better serve them,  help them to do business better or make their jobs easier.  You can also ask what the competition is doing,  what changes may be on the drawing board within their company, etc.  You get the idea.  You may even find out about new markets for your services.

If you can access your competitors’ customers,  take them out to coffee,  too and see what you can find out about that scene as well.  What next big thing (or old school remix) is winning the hearts and wallets of customers?

Strengthen relationships,  make important customers feel even more so,  find new business opportunities,  tweak your business model or your advertising choices and maybe even get your foot in the door with a competitor’s client. Talk less,  listen more, take notes and be humble.

Next week,  we’ll examine the remaining three steps that will help you to create a winning  value proposition for your business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The ROI on 2.0 Part II

This week  we take a look at the corporate-style social networking tools.

Plaxo began as an online address book for those who use Microsoft Outlook.  Plaxo Pulse is the social networking iteration—think Facebook added to LinkedIn.   On Plaxo you can create an extensive business related profile,  plus share videos and photos with professional colleagues,  personal friends and family. You can also add links to favorite websites  such as your blog,  YouTube,  Netflix,  Amazon and other social networking sites,  for easy access.

Zoominfo is an online listing service that provides comprehensive info on businesses and individuals.  It is likely that you are already in the Zoominfo database, with a nascent profile waiting to be “claimed”.

Information is compiled by scanning online listings,  press releases and websites,  which are searched and updated 24/7,  to provide the most current data on people and businesses.  You can scroll through the database,  find your name, create a profile and upload a photo.

Zoominfo power search can give a real boost to your ability to do business.  The very impressive PowerSell feature will help you prospect within just about any organization at any level, while the JobCast feature helps hiring managers ferret out qualified candidates. These services are not free,  but they just might pay for themselves when you are able to identify and contact the decision maker who can seal the deal for you.

LinkedIn is of course the big Kahuna for business networking, the gold standard against which all others are measured.  Professionals of every stripe are here, along with Freelancers and business owners.  I think of LinkedIn as an adjunct website.

You can create a profile and  make and receive recommendations that testify to your professional competency and that of your contacts. You can join networking peer groups within LinkedIn to trade info,  talk shop,  get to know people in a similar industry or with similar interests,  or re-connect with alumni from your alma mater.

You can link your blog to LinkedIn (as I have done), alert contacts to your speaking engagements and events you will attend,  research companies for prospecting and even demonstrate your expertise on a range of business topics in the Answers forum.

I’ve heard a lot about how referrals and introductions are made via LinkedIn, but I’ve yet to either meet or know of someone who has done this, nor have I experienced it myself. Still,  I find it sort of useful to participate,  although my ROI expectations are modest.

If you decide to delve into multiple 2.0 sites,  I recommend that you use Google Alert or a similar service, to let you know when someone has posted a comment to one of your profiles,  so that you can respond ASAP.   Quick response is key.  I also recommend that you use a service that will automatically post updates to all of your profiles.  You might like ping.fm.

So ROI can be derived from social networking, perhaps for some more than others.   We are in it now and there will be no turning back the clock,  so why not make the best of it?

Do what makes sense for your business,  but be mindful of the time you spend on the upkeep of this stuff.   At the end of the day,  I still say that there is no substitute for face to face networking.  It can be augmented, but not replaced, by 2.0.

Thanks for reading,
Kim