Your Personal Brand Part I

Billable hours are tanking.  Once dependable revenue streams have slowed to a trickle. Clients are postponing, or even canceling, projects you were depending on.  Jobs that are scheduled to go forward are taking longer to get off the launching pad and cost containment is the phrase du jour.  You are worried.  How can you make clients realize that your contributions add real value to their organizations and should not be passed up?

Freelancing friend, I may be able to offer you some ammunition for this one.  Respectfully, I suggest that it may be time for you to take a good honest look at your position in the marketplace and assess the value that clients place on your services.  I submit to you that it may be time to analyze, clarify, strengthen and  re-launch your brand identity.

Breathe, Focus, List

I recommend that you begin this process by cataloguing your strengths: years of experience, sought-after skills, client list, resourcefulness, positive attitude, work ethic, decision making ability, strategic thinking.  List the reasons that clients hire you.

Catalog also a few key weaknesses.  Remember that you are selling yourself and will benefit from being able to anticipate objections so you can formulate and practice responses to neutralize them.

So if you’re often late for meetings, slow to respond to emails, lack the advanced degree that many of your peers have obtained or freeze up when called to speak in public, it’s best if you acknowledge all that, if only to yourself (knowledge is power, lovey!).

In fact, you may even want to make a plan to remedy a few negatives.  Maybe you can take a course or attend a seminar and deepen a particular skill set? Or perhaps you can  join Toastmasters and learn to become a more confident and effective public speaker? What negatives do clients consider to be the deal breakers? If at all possible, that’s what you work on.

You might find that placing your lists in a SWOT matrix will help you to better analyze your situation.  Remember that Strengths and Weaknesses are internal factors and are therefore  yours to impact.  Opportunities (e.g. lucrative projects you might obtain) and Threats (e.g. the weak economy) are external factors and less within our control.  Nevertheless, examining all factors allows us to better position ourselves for successful outcomes.

Oh yes, you’ll also need to be very clear about who your best clients are, or could be, and why that is so.  It will not be possible to effectively develop a brand identity and a good brand strategy without an accurate understanding of your target markets (i.e. clients and prospects).

Your Story, the Brand Narrative

Yes, this is all very similar to corporate branding. You are both brand manager and branded product. Your personal brand is your corporate identity.  It is a very potent marketing tool and you are advised to consider it carefully and construct it wisely.

Your brand identity will be reflected in all aspects of how you do business and in major business decisions: where and how you choose to advertise; speaking engagements sought and accepted; professional associations joined; clients to pursue. Your professional choices must be consistent with your brand identity and strategy, so be smart about where you’re seen, how you may be perceived and the company you keep.

Your objective here is to enhance your perceived value in the marketplace. You must effectively communicate what you bring to the table– your professional chops, your value proposition–in a clear and concise fashion.  Highlight the attributes and benefits that clients, prospects and referral sources value most and use language and terminology that is meaningful to them.

Get busy!

I’ll pause here and let you go to work on your self assessment and client analysis.  Make your lists, maybe enter them into the SWOT matrix and make a first draft of your brand narrative.  We’ll pick up the thread on this subject next week.

More later,

Kim

On Surviving the Economic Crisis Part II

Last week, I attended a roundtable discussion for business owners that was hosted by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.  The purpose of BIG: Best Insights Grow (Your Business) was to provide a forum wherein a dozen small business owners and consultants  could share some of our more vexing business challenges and receive some practical advice from the group about how best to resolve those issues.

I offer you a few strategies and action items that surfaced in our forum. You may want to integrate some of this into your practice, so you can grease the cash flow wheels as we enter the traditionally slow summer months.  Most of these things you already know–none of it is rocket science.  Nevertheless, selectively employing a few of these methods is bound to have a positive effect on your billable hours, in the short and long term.

  • Stealth Prospecting

Obviously, we must always keep eyes and ears open for new clients and new ways to engage our current clients.  One way to do that is to network: get out there and attend events, talk to people and let them tell you which products and services they like, why they like them and how they like them offered.  Also, remember to make sure friends and colleagues know what you do and who they can refer to you, so they can be your surrogate sales force.

Another way to set the stage for networking and prospecting is to put yourself on the panel guest and speaker’s circuit.  Meaning, position yourself as an expert.  Pay attention to the program schedules of a few business and professional organizations.  What kind of topics do they offer? What kind of audience do they attract? Can you offer up some of your expertise and give a presentation or join a panel discussion? Are you a member of any such organization?

Build relationships with the event coordinators for these groups and find out the protocol and requirements for their speaker’s bureau.  Have a clear understanding of topics that are deemed appropriate, so you can offer the right talk titles.  Local colleges may also accept proposals for workshops.  Check out noncredit continuing education offerings in a few schools and see who might give you an opportunity to teach. You might even receive a (modest) honorarium!

When you are showcased as an expert in your field, you will be approached by peers and prospects who seek your advice, want to do business with you or want to refer you to someone who does want to work with you.  Now that takes the cold calling out of prospecting, am I right?

  • Strategic Referrals

What better way to get yourself into the good graces of someone who you suspect could be a good referral source for your gorgeous self than to get the process started by referring a client to your object of desire? The chances of receiving some reciprocal billable hours are going to be good, I’ll say.  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…

  • Smart Pricing

Pricing is a tricky thing. It is both a science and an art. When it comes to services, honestly, who knows what anything is worth? The service is worth what the client thinks it’s worth.  Even in flush times, you’ve gotta know when to hold and know when to fold. You must become a very good negotiator.  No one wants to gouge and no one wants to be undervalued.  These days times are tough, clients know it and everybody wants a “deal”.

Freelancer, you need a good pricing strategy if you want to keep a roof over your head and food on the table!  You need a useful bag of tricks that will keep the billable hours coming in at rates that will keep you solvent.  Here are a few strategies that can help:

When you know or suspect that a client is going to knock down your price, try adding 10-20% to your proposed fee.  Some people love to bargain, love to think they got something at a lower price.  So give that client the satisfaction of “saving” a few dollars. When they press you for a price cut, slowly and reluctantly cave in– then smile like Mona Lisa as you collect your usual fee (or close to it).

Another win-win pricing strategy is to hold your price but add in a few extras or upgrades. Maybe you can even do some small something pro bono.  Many clients will be happy to receive more for their money.  They want to stoke that value proposition.

But alas, sometimes the clients have us over a barrel and we are forced to take a job at a lower fee because we either flat out need the cash or we crave a certain plum assignment. How to take the sting out of this one?

Start by trying to get more hours out of the project. Your hourly fee won’t be great, but the check at the end will be less paltry. You can also ask for future assignments, thus getting them on the hook for more work that you can count on.  Better still, giving a referral discount to this client may be the way to go: each successful referral the client makes means their next job will be priced at a 10- 20% discount.  Pricing is most definitely about negotiation.

This is also the time to offer your clients some flexible payment options.  Consider offering a discount on invoices that are paid in full within 15 days.  Invoicing like a general contractor might also be helpful: ask for a third of the project fee up front, the next third at the project midpoint and the final third within 30 days of the project’s completion. Setting yourself up to accept credit card payments may also prove to be useful.  The downside is the processing fee, but you will make it easier for cash strapped businesses to pay you on time.  As we all know, getting paid is the name of the game.

Good luck this summer and let me know how you make out!

On Surviving the Economic Crisis Part I

Does this scenario pretty much tell the story of your business? Here are a few useful strategies that can help you to weather the storm:

You’ve brought your business to life, you’re making sales, gaining clients and gaining confidence. You are positioned to turn a profit at last. Then, crash! goes the economy. How do you hang on to your dream and keep your business alive?

Here are a few good tips that will help you to prepare your company to respond effectively in a rapidly changing environment:

  • Get better acquainted with your customers

What was it about your company that drew them in? Are you delivering what customers want in a way that encourages a long term relationship? Are there additions or variations to your product mix that previously you were reluctant to offer, but could offer now?

  • Nurture strategic relationships, brainstorm collaborations

With whom can you partner in ways that will make doing business better for all? Can referral relationships or co-promotional activities be pursued? Are you an active member of your local chamber of commerce and neighborhood business association?

  • Devise a smarter marketing plan

Use the deeper understanding of your customers to roll out a more effective marketing plan. Now you can craft a message that resonates, place advertisements in media outlets that your customers trust, outwit the competition and distinguish your company in the marketplace. You will emerge a winner!

Fortune Favors the Prepared

Fortune Favors the Prepared

Hello again,

I’m back with a little more for the blog.  Earlier this month, on Thursday June 4, I lucked up and got invited to a truly marvelous half day symposium that was held at Northeastern University’s Center for Emerging Markets.  The symposium was organized by Ravi Ramamurti, Distinguished Professor of International Business and the center’s director.

Capitalizing on Emerging Market Opportunities featured several high ranking speakers from government and industry, who offered some revealing perspectives on the reality of foreigners doing business in China and India. The directors of the US-China and US-India Business Councils both spoke, as did VPs from Liberty Mutual International, Staples, EMC, Tata, Pfizer and Thermo Fisher Scientific.  I took lots of notes.

Ready For My Close-up

So am I making a plan to do business overseas in the near future? That’s an exciting prospect (I love to travel and experience other lands and cultures. I also love to shop and eat!), but  it does not appear to be in the cards at this time.

However, prospective clients may be taking a look at how their organizations might fare in certain international markets. Some may have stars in their eyes and see juicy new revenue streams  and others may feel pressured, reluctantly viewing markets outside the US as the only way to keep the business profitable.

Regardless of the motive, those of us who traffic in business strategy or work with decision makers in the tactical functions, which could include coaching management teams, facilitating CEO forums, market research and strategic marketing, operations, sales  and of course brainstorming sessions and strategic planning, will be better able to serve our clients and our businesses if we are able to anticipate the opportunities and challenges that those clients are likely to encounter as they evaluate  entering overseas markets.  We need to know what they don’t know!

Knowledge is Power

It all comes down to the tried and true axiom of knowing your customer.  We need to know what excites them and what worries keep them awake at night.  We need to be able to show them ways they can make money, ways they can save money and also the ways they might lose money.  One of the ways we can do all of that is to stay abreast of what is going on in local, regional, national and international business environments.  So keep  reading the WSJ, the NYT plus your local newspaper.  Be sure to attend a conference or two before this year ends and get some useful info on business issues that may be on the minds of clients and prospects.  It makes for some good networking. You just might meet your next client!

More later,

Kim

Set Goals and Objectives for Your Business

Good morning all,

Welcome to my first post. I’m a self employed business development consultant who specializes in facilitating the brainstorming sessions that are part of the strategic planning process and I also lead sales skills training workshops.  Previously, I had a career in sales and marketing, working at Fortune 100 companies. In 1996 I was laid off and I’ve been self employed (and self unemployed!) ever since.

I’ve started this blog so that self employed consultants and other freelancers could have a forum to discuss our successes, fears, failures, clients, prospects and survival strategies. I hope you’ll join in and share your experiences.

On Friday June 19 I will present a half day seminar on how to set up and run a successful strategic planning session for your company. Business owners and VPs or Directors of marketing, sales, operations or finance could find this a useful course.

Difficult economic times require smart business strategies and a real leader must take the initiative to step up and address the tough issues. Those who attend the seminar will learn how to quickly get started on analyzing major business challenges and setting goals and objectives that are achievable, that are effective and that others in the organization will support and implement.

I’ll provide a case study that will allow everyone to get the flavor of what it’s like to do this in real time. The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is the organizer of a business education program called “The Classroom” and my session, called “Plan to Succeed”, is part of the series. Register at http://www.cambridgechamber.org  and cost is $70.00. Maybe I’ll meet a few of you there? Hope so.

More later,

Kim