The Subtle Art of Self-Promotion

There was a time,  not terribly long ago,

The Diarist

when one’s accomplishments pretty much spoke for themselves. If you performed well in your chosen profession and discreetly let a few of the right people know, you were often rewarded with the promotion you deserved or the clients you coveted.

The pay-off sometimes took longer than anticipated, but eventually many of us got there, or at least reasonably close. The adage about the rewards of hard work offered numerous confirming examples to back it up. But that was then, my Freelancer friend, and this is now.

Today, the sizzle is worth more than the steak and appearances count more than capability. Exposure is no longer something that you die of, but will die without. Everyone is out there putting on a show, from politicians to athletes, corporate leaders and entertainers, Supreme Court justices, organized crime figures and a platoon of self-created “celebrities” like Paris Hilton and her BFFs and frenemies.

Shameless and relentless self-promotion in the pursuit of visibility/attention/ branding and image enhancement is rampant and sadly, has become an expectation. Average citizens are not immune and have been dragged into the fray by MTV Real World, FaceBook and Twitter, enticed to divulge and disseminate personal information such as who one drank with on Thursday night.

The advent of first websites and then social media platforms have forced Freelancers and business owners to establish brands for our products that are as strong as those created for Proctor and Gamble soaps. The choice and management of promotional strategies can be exhausting and bewildering. Several of the typical options can also be a waste of time, because visibility and noise level do not necessarily yield billable hours.

“What, you don’t have a ‘call to action’ on your website?” “You really should write a blog. And a newsletter.” “I have 500 + LinkedIn connections!” “I have over 2000 names on my mailing list.” “Absolutely, you should be tweeting about your business and letting people know what you’re up to.” “I go to at least one networking event every day. It’s what I do.” Aaarrgghh!

I propose that it has become necessary for the savvy Freelancer to devise a self- promotion strategy that achieves the following:

1.) Showcases one’s expertise

2.) Resonates with clients and referral sources

3.) Delivers desirable tangible results

4.) Does not consume an inordinate amount of time

5.) Preserves one’s self-respect

Next week, I’ll suggest tactics that you may find useful to include in your self-promotion strategy.

Thanks for reading,


IT Update: What A Freelancer Needs Part II

Communicate with clients in your office or from anywhere in the world with practical IT tools that will help you do business effectively and efficiently.  Freelancers must strive to create and reinforce an impression of capability and professionalism that inspires client confidence and trust.  Some clients may doubt our ability to take on the most important jobs and instead may elect to call in a big consulting firm.  Savvy use of selected IT tools may enhance your image and reassure clients.

The Computer, or Mission Control

Your first decision will be PC  vs.  Mac.  Graphics gurus,  photographers and marcomm writers choose  Macs for their sophisticated color and font style options.  The rest of us gravitate toward PCs, which work well for standard business functions.

Your next decision will be desktop vs. laptop vs. netbook.  Desktop units have  larger screens,  making them suitable to function as mini-home theaters.  Laptop units are smaller and portable  and for most of us  have excellent functionality and memory.

When you need a computer for the road,  a netbook is the smart choice.  Smaller,  lighter and less expensive than a laptop,  netbooks can run on battery power for long stretches.  Pick up free wifi internet access in schools, cafes, hotels and other office buildings while you’re there.  The trade-off  is netbooks don’t have much memory and they’re primarily suitable for web browsing and word processing.

A printer is standard,  even if you don’t print often.  You can find a  reliable inkjet color printer for under $200.00.  A scanner is also useful hardware to own.  The ability to convert hard copy documents into electronic form,  including a nice photo of yourself to upload to your social media profile (or blog!),  is beneficial.  You can have documents scanned at Staples for a quarter a page and  photos at CVS or Walgreens for about $1.00 – $2.00,  but if you can budget the price of a scanner (around $175-$200),  I recommend you do so.

You’ll also want to have a couple of portable memory devices,  i.e. flash drives,  in your possession.  When you go to Staples to scan documents, that’s where the data is transferred.  My flash drives are important storage units for me as my laptop runs out of memory.  They hold many of my files.

When I have a speaking engagement,  I transfer the Power Points to a flash drive and plug into the A/V equipment at the venue (if there is good A/V equipment).  That’s so much easier and safer than dragging around my laptop.

Cloud Computing

Processes that are usually performed through software running on your computer,  but are instead accessed directly via the internet,  is an elementary definition of cloud computing.  The cloud allows you to perform all manner of functions from anywhere there is internet access and a keyboard.

Service providers like Amazon,  Google,  Yahoo,  IBM and Microsoft maintain the servers, provide the content and charge customers  according to the services accessed via the cloud.  Flickr,  Office 2.0,  Googleapps and Googledocs are examples of how you may already use cloud computing.

Network storage that backs up and archives data,  application hosting and virtual IT that acts as an extension of  a company’s in-house IT network are other functions available through the cloud.

There is a perceived threat to the security of documents stored via the cloud, however, and sensitive documents perhaps should not be stored in that manner.  Archives and sensitive data can be safely stored on portable memory devices.

Whether or not certain of your IT functions are in the cloud,  your computer still needs operating system software.  My tech expert colleague Craig,  owner of Roan Solutions,  likes Windows 7.0.  Bookkeeping and financial statements can be handled with  Intuit QuickBooks Simple Start or Microsoft Office Accounting.  Another nice software feature is Microsoft Fax or other online faxing services that allow you to send and receive faxes directly from your computer.


Voice-over-Internet Protocol services like Skype and Vonage allow you to make calls directly from your PC.  Local and international calling will be either free or cheap.  You can even get VoIP for your cell phone.  Voice,  video  and conference  calls,  voice mail,  faxing,  instant messaging and caller ID are all available through VoIP.  Use the video calling feature to set up a real time virtual face to face  meeting with team members based in various locations around the world.

Land Lines and Smart Phones

Let’s start small.  Get your phone company to add conference calling to your land line, because every once in a while you need to have a 3 or 4 way conversation to hash out an issue.

Now on to the smart phones,  which join together the features  of cell phones and personal digital assistants like Palm Pilot.  Smart phones provide you with a date book,  contact list,  to-do list,  email and internet access.  You can even create and edit Microsoft Word documents,  edit photos,  access  GPS  assistance  and create a play list of your favorite songs,  depending on the unit you purchase.

There is a standard keyboard for ease of typing.  You can text,  have voice mail and yes, make phone calls.  If you are away from your office for long stretches and would like to have internet and email service plus a telephone,  you’ll need a smart phone.

Hope I’ve helped to untangle your technology options.  Thanks for reading and have a great week.


IT Update: What A Freelancer Needs Part I

I am not the techie type.  I don’t own an iPhone or BlackBerry and I may never own an iPad.  Cell phones with app attitude are not on my must-have list and they will not be,  unless my business changes and I find myself away from the office for long stretches and unable to respond to emails on time.

I’ve lived and worked on both sides of the technology divide.  I have typed on an IBM Selectric.  I remember mainframes and teletype (the first fax machines).  I am not a Luddite and I’ve never completely eschewed the many technological advances,  but neither am I enamored of them all.  I have never played a video game in my life and have no plans to do so.  I prefer the low tech life,  yet I spend lots of time online.

Around 1986,  my employer decided that its entire workforce would receive computer training.  Region by region,  department by department,  each employee in the white collar workforce and managerial level employees in our blue collar workforce,  spent 5 days from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM in computer skills training classes.

It was a massive undertaking.  Businesses the world over had no choice but to provide such training for their employees in response to a paradigm shift that was as powerful as the transition from the farm economy to the industrial age.  Small businesses struggled to  not only finance  the significant cost of  purchasing computers for many of their staff,  but also the cost of training staff.  Freelancers eventually had to enroll in training classes that seemed to average around $300.00 +.  Typewriters were out and word processing was in.  DOS ruled the day.

I was happy to receive the training.  Computers were the wave of the future and I was grateful to develop a vital skill set on the corporate dime.  Scott,  my manager, was thrilled that I was a fast learner and did not rebel against the training.  The same could not be said for several of my co-workers.

I’ve been able to recognize which tech tools are essential for me and I have acquired them.  I was an early adopter of fax machines and have owned a phone / fax since at least 1995.  We rarely fax now, but they’re still good to have around.

I also had an electronic date book in 1995,  pre-Palm Pilot.  After the memory ran out in ’97,  I switched back to paper date books.  For some things paper and pencil are easier, cheaper and more reliable.  Paper and pencil never crash or freeze up.

Like every Freelancer,  I maintain a home office.  I write to you on an aging laptop that’s real short on memory.  I need to buy a new one very soon—come on, clients!  I dislike spending money on that kind of stuff.  I’d much rather buy designer belts and bags, or  art,  jewelry and vacations to the world’s great capitals.  If I must spend a thousand-plus bucks on something,  I’d rather it be on what I enjoy and not on electronics that may be nonoperational or outmoded in 5 years (or less).

But Bill Gates and Larry Ellison have us by the short hairs and they will not let go.  Cloud computing is here to stay until the Next Big Thing overtakes it.  Plus,  some of that techie stuff is quite useful—when it works right.

So what are the must-haves for the average Freelancer in the office and in the field? Next week,  I’ll present an overview of the basics that will keep you and your business up to code,  technologically speaking.

More later,

Feng Shui Your Office

Wind, water, qi.  Can you feng shui your way to prosperity? Maybe.

Back in the mid-90s,  I hired someone to work on my (previous) apartment.  I did not become wealthy, happy or fortunate.  In fact, I was laid off from my corporate job.  Nevertheless,  about 7 years ago,  I decided to give feng shui another chance and called in a consultant named Mary Roberts to work on my current apartment, which includes my home office.

Clutter management was high on the list,  because  feng shui demands order.  What I wouldn’t do for one extra room!  Feng shui also demands cleanliness,  so weekly housework became a must.  I figured if the system really worked,  I might be able to afford a maid.  But I am not there yet…

Feng shui will perhaps yield more of its promised benefits of harmony, health and wealth if you pay an expert $150-$500 (depending on the size of the space and the going rates in your area) to visit your home / office and make specific recommendations.  Alternatively, you can buy a book and a compass and DIY.

A compass is recommended because the feng shui system divides the space into directional quadrants and works with properties and energies that are assumed to be associated with each.   Beneficial objects and colors, along with objects and colors that guard against negative energy,  are placed in the quadrants (wherever practical).   Further refinements are made when northeast,  southwest, etc. subsections are defined, so that auspicious and protective objects and colors can be added there also.

So let’s get you started with feng shui! Since this blog is about business, I will provide some general tips that may help attract prosperity to your business center.  We will begin with the shape of the room.  Ideally, all rooms should have a regular shape and four 90 degree angles.  If the room does not have a regular shape,  you may “correct” the room with a faceted,  round,  clear crystal that will be suspended from a red silk ribbon (good luck color) and hung from a hook placed high up on the wall.  If you can’t find a crystal with a notch to thread the ribbon, then plants—no cactus or sharp leaves!—can be placed in front of the jutting walls,  either on a table or on the floor.  Immediately replace any unhealthy plants.

Here are a few more things you can do to attract feng shui benefits into the space where you conduct business:


-Place your desk at a diagonal to the office door. This gives you the “command” position.

-Let your back face either a corner or a wall. This will give you support (the wall will “have your back”).

-Have good lighting (natural and artificial) and air quality in your office.  Plants are good to purify the air and provide oxygen.

-Place your computer in the north or west quadrant of your office,  to enhance your creativity.   Place your computer in the southeast if you use it to generate income (online business).

-Treat your business files with respect. They represent your past,  present and future business.  Store files neatly and keep them organized.

-Keep the electrical cords in your office well hidden. This diminishes clutter and allows for the free flow of qi, or life energy, throughout the space  (I just moved the tangle of cords that are attached to my power strip from a place where I tripped over them repeatedly to a less intrusive place.  Not only does my office look better,  but I feel SO much more relaxed).


-Hang any mirrors in your office,  unless placed to deflect negative energy.

-Sit in line with the office door,  since that puts you in the path of negative energy that may cling to passersby.

-Face a wall when sitting at your desk.  If you have no choice in the matter, “correct” with vibrant art and/or lots of your favorite photos.

-Have your back to the door in an office where you are conducting business.  Opportunities  symbolically flow in through the door,  so do not turn your back on them.

-Arrange your office so that you look straight out onto a corridor,  staircase,  storage rooms,  closets,  elevators,  escalators or rest rooms.

I have incorporated several of these elements into my office.  Billable hours are not rolling in like a tsunami. Would I have even fewer active clients had I not used feng shui? Who knows? Still,  I feel happy in my environment.  Maybe we can just call this stuff  spring cleaning.

Thanks for reading,

Referral Etiquette Part II

There are three groups where one can find and groom good referral sources:  clients,  colleagues and friends/family.  Good referrals begin with good relationships.  In addition to providing excellent services that fulfill client expectations, developing and maintaining solid professional and social relationships is paramount. The ability to clearly and succinctly describe the services you provide,  your typical clients and the problems that your services solve is also important.  Finally, be willing to make the first move in the referral game.  If you initiate referrals,  you are likely to receive them in return.

Know what you want
Before going off in search of referrals, think about what you’d like to achieve when meeting prospects.  You’ll want more than some fuzzy idea of how you like to meet people in a particular industry.  Clarify which job title is likely to be the hiring decision maker for your service and the usual goals or business challenges that drive the need for your category of service.

Then you can be clear and precise in your referral requests and will be able to craft the right introductory pitch.  Moreover, clarity will help associates to think of you as they themselves network.  You and your friends and colleagues  can then function as a referral network  for one another

Know who to ask
If you’ve worked for a client on two or three projects and have developed a comfortable relationship with your contacts, let them know that you are always looking for new business and can they recommend someone with whom you can follow up? You may not receive an immediate answer, but the seed will be planted.  Also, there will be no pressure on the client to give a name if they prefer not to do so.

If a referral is made, be sure to get approval for using that person’s name and confirm that if asked, that person feels they know you and your work well enough to provide a good recommendation.  Make it easy and comfortable to refer your services. This approach also works for obtaining referrals through social relationships.

Follow up within one month
While your name is still fresh within the mind of the referral source,  make the call or send the email and get the ball rolling.   Do not let the trail go cold and squander the opportunity.

Failure to appropriately follow up on a referral is deadly.  It happened to me a couple of times and I shall not forget it and I certainly will never refer either of them again.  In fact, I severed ties with both parties.

In one case,  I referred a young lady who launched a bookkeeping business when she was my student at the Center for Women & Enterprise business plan writing course.  A restaurant owner friend of mine  was desperate for that service and I was happy to make the connection.  For reasons that will forever baffle me, the bookkeeping entrepreneur was always too busy to follow up, despite confirming that she looked forward to meeting a prospective client. The young lady was unmoved by urgent emails sent to her by both the restaurant proprietor and myself. The restaurant owner forgave me, thank heaven, and we remain on good terms.

In the other case, a woman with a 20 year career and an MBA called a potential prospect too hastily, before I could confirm the other party’s interest in her services.  I suggested that MBA lady check out the website of someone whom I had literally just met and let me know if she saw some alignment.

If things looked promising, my plan was to invite the prospect to likewise peruse the website of MBA lady.  If all agreed,  I would make the connection. Unfortunately, MBA lady took it upon herself to contact the prospect, whom I had met a mere three hours before,  claiming that I had made the referral! I was furious. The prospect did not love it and has been cordial but cool to me ever since.

Thank your referral source
Remember to thank your referral source ASAP. Even if business is not done,  it is wise to let your source know that you appreciate their confidence in you and respect their generosity. Whatever happens,  let your referral know the outcome.  Referrals are vital to the survival of your business. They are a special favor and should not be taken lightly. This simple courtesy will encourage more good referrals for you.

Thanks for reading,

Referral Etiquette Part I

I love to connect people.  If I can bring people together and set them on the road to doing some business, then I am a happy girl.  Just last week I was able to connect Dave and Denise.

Denise was my former student in the business plan writing course that I teach at the Center for Women & Enterprise  Denise is a smart cookie:  a  no-nonsense, ex-Lotus,  seasoned professional who was savvy enough to see a need within the small business milieu for the competencies she had honed in the corporate sector and disciplined enough to successfully transfer those competencies into her own business venture.

At CWE,  Denise wrote the plan that launched her tele-sales call center business.  Denise sets up permanent or temporary call centers for organizations that require an inside sales force.  She works with business owners or department managers to discuss the product/service that will be sold,  works with that person to articulate key selling points and benefits,  advises the owner/manager on how to run the call center, trains the tele-sales staff and is available for follow-up advice.  She has a good business.

Dave is a colleague in a Cambridge Chamber of Commerce sponsored networking group  Dave works with businesses that are looking to upgrade their telecommunications systems,  or better integrate those systems with other IT functions. He is often brought into a workplace that is relocating or making space changes within its current location.

Dave’s challenge  is lead generation.  Experience has shown him that personal outreach, rather than direct mail or email campaigns,  is the best way to find prospects.  He had wondered if  it would be more efficient to hire one or two part time sales people to make calls and pre-qualify prospects for his follow-up.  After pondering the notion for a few months,  he announced his intention to pursue that strategy at our monthly networking meeting.  I immediately suggested that he speak with Denise and sent him her contact information, urging him to use my name.

Dave contacted Denise a few days later. They met for coffee and discovered that they know a few people in common.  They also confirmed that Dave’s inside sales force plan is likely to reap the desired benefits.  Both parties emailed to thank me for the referral and let me know that they will work together on the lead generation tele-sales project.

So  my referral was successful.  You can do that, too.  Next week,  I’ll give a few useful tips that will help you create winning referrals,  whether you give or receive (the idea is to do both!).  Until then, remember that  people do business with people they know and like.  They do  more business with people they trust and respect.

Thanks for reading,


Survive and Thrive—Price to Profit

Let’s segue into the pricing thicket,  which is where accounts receivable begin,  if you think about it.  I confess that I struggled with pricing.  I offer an intangible service and I knew of no way to find out what my competitors charge for similar services.  Clients pay what they think we are “worth”, but how is that determined?

The received wisdom is that clients are very price sensitive  and that they are more so in this economy.  Fear drives many Freelancers to price conservatively,  yet experts advise against that practice.   Many of us need a smarter pricing strategy,  because we’re probably  leaving money on the table.  We  just don’t know how much.

Pricing that is based on what competitors charge,  hoping that number will allow  you to cover costs and turn a profit (“cost competition”),  is what almost everyone does when they can figure out their competitor’s prices.  However,  pricing specialists  warn that this is unwise,  because that price will not reflect your value to the client.  In fact,  prices that fall below a certain threshold can even steer prospects away from a business.

If prices are perceived as too low, clients will suspect that the service delivered must be inadequate.  In a service business,  delivering the service and meeting (or exceeding) expectations are the overriding factors— not money.  The money is always negotiable when it is demonstrated or perceived that the service will deliver the desired results.

What competitors charge is important,  but that should not overwhelm your pricing strategy.  Ideally,  price should accurately reflect the client’s perception of the value of  the deliverables.  But what might that be? Different customers can have very different ideas about what a service is worth,  sometimes based on their ability to pay.

It is therefore worthwhile to develop pricing strategies,  rates and service packages for different categories of clients,  e.g. corporate and nonprofit rates,  with service packages tailored to meet each group’s typical needs.

Think counter-intuitively.  People pay for what they value.  They pay a premium for what is perceived as high quality,  expert,  reliable and trustworthy.   A good reputation, excellent credentials,  impressive client list and referral from a trusted source also influence the price that clients will pay.  If you are holding several of these cards,  you can charge more and clients will be happy to pay.

A useful counter-punch for gaps in your bona fides is your marketing message.   Make your intangible service appear tangible to clients/prospects.  Describe your service as providing deliverables that will produce measurable outcomes.  Make it easy to understand what you do,  so that clients can relate your value to their business problem and can picture themselves as the beneficiary of your unique solutions.

When setting prices,  it is better to err on the premium side.  This will position you as higher quality and will support profitability.  Furthermore,  clients probably don’t know what your competitors charge unless they’ve hired for your category of service recently.

So what if you’re totally in the dark about your industry pricing norms?  If you have money to spend,  hire a pricing consultant.  If you don’t have money to spend, visit   Click products & services,  choose a category,  find a vendor,  click terms & conditions and peruse price and service lists used by firms that bid on federal contracts.  Also, you can learn what clients think of your pricing,  scope of services and delivery of services with a follow-up evaluation survey.  You may be surprised to learn that if you tweak a couple of things,  clients would be willing to pay more for what you do.

Thanks for reading,

Wheel and Deal—Fast Cash

I recently heard about a company called The Receivables Exchange.  The company hosts an online real-time auction of accounts receivable and invites businesses to sell outstanding invoices to raise money quickly.  The auctions enable businesses to sell their  receivables to bidders in the global institutional investor market.  Sellers are paid the auction value of the receivables and thus gain access to working capital.

According to The Receivables Exchange,  typical sellers have more than 60% of their working capital tied up in accounts receivable and are therefore limited in their ability to take advantage of important opportunities or otherwise expand their businesses.

Collecting receivables has become an adventure for many business owners and Freelancers,  as we all know.  Customers may be asking for extended payment terms.  Big corporations that can well afford to pay on time have sometimes adopted the mean-spirited practice of paying their small business vendors in 45-60 days,  or even longer.  This can put businesses  in an ugly cash flow bind.

The Exchange can make available  badly needed capital to (certain) businesses that cannot obtain traditional financing or cannot wait out a credit approval process.  The Receivables Exchange can give access to a quick  infusion of cash when it’s needed most. The process is similar to factoring,  that old-school trick used to raise cash fast.

In factoring,  receivables are sold to a financial institution at a pay-out rate that is usually between 75-80% of  face value.  The 20-25%  held back is called the reserve. The quality of receivables determines the reserve amount,  as does the historical average turn-around time of invoices.  In other words,  if big companies like Verizon or CVS are the receivable accounts and they tend to pay within 30 days,  the reserve percentage will be lower.

Cash is usually sent in 5-10 days.  There is no credit check.  Once the receivables are paid up,  the business owner is paid back the reserve,  minus a factor fee of 2-5%.  Additionally, there is a fee of 1/8 to 1/15 %  assessed for every day past 30 days that the receivable is outstanding.  It’s a heavy hit to take,  but money is quickly raised and with few questions asked.  Moreover,  the factoring company assumes the risk of customer default.

When evaluating whether or not factoring makes sense for your business cash flow challenge,  do your homework.  Ask your accountant for a recommendation and then check references.   Make sure you understand those numerous fees.  Liquid Capital is a well known factoring company.  You might also visit the websites of the Commercial Finance Association or the International Factoring Association.

But now there is a marketplace where receivables are sold to the highest bidder.  As a result,  it is often possible to obtain more favorable rates than factoring.  This option is not available to everyone,  however.  To be eligible for membership,  the business must have minimum annual sales of $2 million,  must have operated for at least 2 years,  must be registered to do business in the US and can have no tax liens.  The app. fee is $500.00. Sign up online to become either buyer or seller

The Exchange is no scam.  In January,  Bain Capital gave the New Orleans based company $17 million in financing.  In our credit challenged business environment, there is plenty of upside potential for the company.

Thanks for reading,


Facilitated Meetings Get Things Done

At certain times it is advisable to bring in a professional to facilitate,  or conduct,  your meeting. The facilitator guides meeting participants through a specific agenda and employs techniques that assist participants as they work to identify key issues,  analyze problems,  discover opportunities and organically create strategies,  decisions,  actions and time tables that will lead to resolutions that participants understand and accept.

According to Michael Wilkinson,  author of “The Secrets of Facilitation” (2005),  examples of appropriate times to call in a professional meeting facilitator are:

1). An important issue has been detected or a major problem has surfaced.

2). The solution to a vital issue is not apparent and deeper understanding and analysis of  the problem are required.

3). Buy-in is needed for a solution to be successful and it is likely that the required solution will need the acceptance of key stakeholders.   A change in behavior or methods may be necessary,  without which the solution will fail.

When a professional meeting facilitator is called upon to conduct your very important meeting,  time and money are not wasted.  The facilitator works with the meeting convener to select the best participants for the meeting, who become the planning team for the issue at hand.

Who are the team leaders of departments that will control decisions likely to be made? Who are the team leaders of departments that will be impacted by those decisions? Who are the pivotal team members in those departments,  those most likely to formulate strategies,  implement actions and/or live with the fall-out? These factors impact the selection of planning team participants.

Once the convener has worked with the facilitator to choose the team,  the facilitator conducts brief,  individual interviews with them. The facilitator explains to team members why they have been invited to participate and what the convener would like to achieve in the meeting.  The facilitator then asks questions of participants in order to gauge alternative viewpoints regarding the history of the issue,  resolutions attempted and failed,  possible barriers to resolution and factors that may be critical to creating resolution.

The facilitator shares this data  with the convener and together they create an agenda for the planning session and also determine how much time will be needed to work through it and arrive at solutions. The convener then schedules a mutually agreeable meeting time and confirms specifics in writing,  ASAP.

If pre-meeting data need to be generated, the convener either assembles the data or assigns the task to the appropriate staff.  In advance of the meeting, the convener sends the agenda to the planning team,  along with data that must be reviewed.

At the meeting,  the facilitator gives an overview of the process the team will use to examine and analyze the issue and create solutions and then reviews the agenda. The facilitator also gets agreement on meeting ground rules:  e.g., no surfing of electronic gadgets,  no interrupting,  no “opting out”, etc.

The facilitator then goes about the work of conducting the meeting.   He/she asks provocative questions that will stimulate thoughtful analysis;  leads the team in brainstorming useful ideas;  generates enthusiastic participation;  and captures participant responses on flip charts,  for documentation.  The facilitator motivates the team to delve into the issues and devise solutions.

Where there is disagreement over an approach to a problem,  the facilitator works to find consensus and accommodation.  Solutions that emerge in facilitated meetings work because the key stakeholders are always present.  Their perspectives and priorities  shape and create the  solutions that arise and therefore they buy into them.  They own them and they value them.  As Michael Wilkinson has pointed out,  an effective decision = the right decision x commitment to the decision.

The facilitator transfers the decisions,  actions and follow-up from flip charts to Word documents and sends that info to the convener ASAP,  who then disseminates to the team. Additionally,  the facilitator may reconvene the team for a half day meeting in 45-90 days,  to ensure that team members are following through,  allow the team to measure the impact of solutions,  make necessary alterations and maintain project momentum and commitment.

In professionally facilitated planning meetings, business objectives are invariably achieved and implemented in a timely and cost effective manner.

Thanks for reading,

Let’s Call The Meeting To Order

“Do we have to have this meeting?” How many times over the last 10 years have you made that statement? Probably countless times. You were surely justified.  Most meetings waste time and money because they are called for the wrong reasons.  They have the wrong people in the room;  too many people just want  to hear themselves talk;  they drag on forever;  and worse,  either no decisions are made or if they are, they are never enacted.  Meetings are torture!

In my corporate days,  I worked for a Fortune 100 that imposed so many meetings on the staff that they may have violated human rights treaties. Those people would call a meeting and first decide how long they wanted it to be. Then they would either expand or contract an agenda to fill the allotted time. Yikes!

Meetings were unproductive,  mind-numbingly boring,  seldom addressed relevant issues, typically brought forth no decisions,  rarely produced follow-up actions and absolutely never ended on time. They were brutal.

The money and time wasted on senseless meetings by US businesses is now being calculated by an online company called Meet or Die  They chose about a dozen industry categories,  factored the length of the meeting and the job rankings of who will attend and then estimated the cost of the meeting to the company.   If you spend a lot of time in meetings (or are a serial convener),  please check out this site.  It will give you pause.

A company with 100-500 employees that holds a day long meeting with just 5 mid-level employees present will spend an average $3000.00 to conduct that meeting in-house. Team Leader,  ask yourself—will your meeting produce results that are worth the resources expended? Are you guaranteed to accomplish what you set out to do? Will the actions and decisions that surface be implemented?

So what goes wrong? The biggest meeting killer is the lack of a clear purpose.  What does the convener aim to do in the meeting and why? The second meeting killer is the agenda. The meeting agenda should reflect the purpose.  Furthermore,  it should not overflow the time scheduled for the meeting.  The idea is to provide a framework to identify and define  key issues; discuss and analyze those issues; and resolve those issues through decisions, strategies, action plans and follow-up.

Moreover,  it is critical for the convener to bring the right people into the meeting.  Identify the stakeholders and decision makers for the issues at hand and schedule a mutually convenient date and time frame needed to carry out the meeting agenda.   Decide if any participants would be best suited to take ownership of a particular agenda topic and review with that person.  Make sure that appropriate background materials are emailed in advance for participant review.

During the meeting,  encourage participation from all attendees.  Do not let people “hog the floor” or,  heaven forbid,  behave disrespectfully by attacking,  sarcasm,  texting, interrupting or other dysfunctional behavior.

There will be room for alternative viewpoints on how to approach and manage key issues and that is healthy.  After all,  you called the meeting to get input about concerns and possible solutions.  Just remember that the meeting convener is responsible for ensuring good behavior and establishing an atmosphere of positive energy and thoughtful dialogue that will promote analysis, sound decision making and problem solving.  The convener should also keep the meeting flowing by moving through the agenda and staying on time.

Lastly,  the convener should review all decisions reached and actions planned;  review who will take ownership of implementing those;  establish an accountability follow-up schedule;  and in a timely fashion,  email meeting minutes to document it all.

There you have it,  the secrets to running an effective meeting.  Next week, we’ll talk about when it makes sense to call in a professional to plan and run a meeting for you.

Thanks for reading,