Follow the Money: How to Hire a Bookkeeper

Some business owners hire a bookkeeper because they loathe even the thought of diving into financial waters.  Their strengths are  “front of the house”  sales and marketing and not “back of the house”  accounting and finance.

While it is  smart to outsource what you know you won’t do and thus make sure that what must be done will be  done,  ignorance of business financial management  is unwise.  You may hate it,  but little by little you must learn to understand those docs and interpret what they reveal about how to effectively manage your business.

Another practical  way to keep tabs on business finances  (and make sure that your bookkeeper is honest)  is to do a monthly bank reconciliation.  Does the record of deposits and withdrawals make sense to you? Are the signatures on checks and withdrawal slips correct and authorized? Some businesses hire a separate bookkeeper to perform this function,  so that an unbiased  pair of eyes can scrutinize the financials and will be unafraid to question anything that looks questionable.

That said,  an expert bookkeeper will save you money and aggravation,  keep you out of tax and legal trouble and contribute to the profitability of your business.  It is imperative that this person is chosen carefully.  A dose of good luck is also very helpful! Here is what you can do to find the best bookkeeper for your business:

  • Learn the types of businesses that he/she has worked with.  It is useful to hire a bookkeeper who has worked with clients in your industry (but not direct competitors) or with clients of a similar profile (e.g. Freelancers).  An understanding of expectations and common practices,  typical problems and good solutions will then be brought to the table.
  • Ask  about your candidate’s  education,  certifications and professional society memberships.  Education and associations reflect the level of professionalism and priority that the candidate places on his/her career.  This quality will  likely be demonstrated in work done for clients.  See also the candidate’s web site and/or LinkedIn page.
  • Inquire about the candidate’s  employment history prior to going into business independently.  Previous employment in corporate finance is a big plus.  Especially if  this person will take charge of your books,  you’ll want someone who knows how to analyze the financials and make smart recommendations.  You want more than a data entry clerk.
  • Tell the prospective bookkeeper what you need managed.  Do you need payroll and payroll tax services,  handling of accounts payable and receivable,  financial statements and tax prep for the accountant (data into QuickBooks),  or complete management of your books?
  • Confirm the fee schedule.  Depending on your location and the services requested, expect to pay $50-$100/hour.  The more services you need,  the more per hour you will pay.
  • Find out your candidate’s availability.  Many bookkeepers have a full or part time job, or a second business.  Make sure your candidate can be there when needed.
  • Ask for references and follow up.

Best of luck and thanks for reading,

Kim

When to Hire a Bookkeeper

Occasionally,  I am asked to refer a bookkeeper.  The one time I was able to make such a referral,  the whole thing blew up in my face.  I introduced a former  student in the business plan course that I sometimes teach to a restaurant owner friend.  Unfortunately,  Ms. bookkeeper  flaked out and never came through.  The restaurant owner and I are still pals, thank goodness.  The bookkeeper’s contact info has been deleted from my files.

A couple of months ago,  a member of one of the CEO forums that I lead hired a bookkeeper whom I’ve known for 20 years (the referral was not mine).  Because my colleague is a smart cookie,  she decided to review the financial statements that were generated by her new bookkeeper.  Right away,  there was a problem.  A significant data entry error was made— yet somehow the bookkeeper managed to make the numbers balance.  Fortunately,  my colleague  was able to recognize the problem and call  it to the bookkeeper’s attention.

The interesting thing is,  her now former bookkeeper is highly regarded by many.  She has a sub-specialty in forensic  bookkeeping and regularly testifies in court proceedings.  So I guess that’s where she learned all the tricks! My colleague was mortified.  Thank God that was not my referral.

I deduce from these incidents that a  reliable bookkeeper may be difficult to find.  A sharp and trustworthy bookkeeper is a hugely valuable  asset for your business.  They can spot and resolve  money drains  and alert you to money saving practices  that you never knew existed.  A good bookkeeper is worth their weight in gold.

Like many Freelancers,  I keep my own books.  I  invoice,  make  deposits,  pay bills,  record transactions in Excel,  receive the 1099s and pay the taxes.  June 15 is fast approaching, quarterly tax time folks!  I manage to stay on top of things.

Nevertheless,  at some point it may become too expensive to perform certain administrative tasks.  Working and looking for work are the primary focus of the self-employed.  Our time and energy are best applied to making sales calls,  networking,  prospecting,  staying visible and generating income through our projects.  When administrative tasks encroach upon the time available to make money,  it then becomes  cost  effective to outsource those functions.

It is the responsibility of every business owner to develop a basic understanding of the  financial statements.  Our ability to make sound business decisions depends upon it.  A good bookkeeper (and accountant) will further analyze the data and provide more sophisticated advice for you.

Because they possess intimate knowledge of your financial history and flow of business capital,  bookkeepers know where you are most vulnerable and know  where the bodies are buried.  A dishonest or sloppy bookkeeper can really hurt you.  The best way to protect yourself  is to know what’s  going on,  so that like my colleague,  you can read  financial  statements and periodically review your bookkeeper’s  work.  You’ll  have a fairly good idea of what the numbers  should  look  like and know what questions to ask  if  things don’t quite add up.

To get started on the path to understanding financial docs,  I recommend  that  you  first examine the Pro Forma Cash Flow statement.  It’s like  a  household budget and is easy to read.  Pro Forma Cash Flow gives  reasonable  estimates of expected business income and expenses  for  a given month.  Go next to the Cash Flow Statement,  which might be generated either monthly or quarterly.  This document shows what was actually spent on business expenses and how much money was actually paid to you.

From those statements,  move on  to the Profit and Loss.  It’s  not much different from the Cash Flow Statement.  Notice that several categories on the P & L are also found on the  Schedule C tax form,  Profit or Loss  From a Business.  Lastly,  take a look at the Balance Sheet and notice it’s resemblance to a bank statement.  The Balance Sheet records your net worth at a given time,  the tally of business assets and liabilities,  and is usually generated quarterly.

Next week,  learn what you can do to make sure that the bookkeeper you hire is both a top drawer professional and appropriate for your business needs.

Have a good week,

Kim

Cold Call Clinic

Recently,  I suggested to my friend Regina that she cold call a local venture capital firm. I’d read about the company and, thinking of Regina, visited the website.  It looked like a good fit,  so I forwarded the link for her review.

Regina is a Freelancer who specializes in evaluating the market potential for incubator stage life sciences products.  Small companies and start-ups often seek out venture capital or angel investors to obtain financing for further research and development or a  product launch.  Both the VC/angels and the company must be certain of the financial potential of the new product.  Regina is hired to make that assessment and issue her findings.

She and I worked together in sales for several years and she is well versed in the art of cold calling.  Although several tactics can be instituted to  “warm up”  a cold call via referrals/introductions,  networking,  or speaking/teaching,  sometimes it is necessary to plunge in,  pick up the phone and try to wrangle an appointment with someone who could become a client—if you can convince them!

Here are steps you can take that will improve your cold calling skills and give you another way to expand your client base:

Do your homework
First,  verify that your services are likely to be of value to your prospect.  Visit the company website.  Conduct an internet search and learn what has been written about the company recently and which execs have been quoted in the media.  Read up on the industry to find out what hot issues are getting press coverage.  If possible,  deduce which competitor could be doing business with your prospect and what unique benefits are offered.  Can you sell against that?

Ask around to your colleagues and inquire as to who may know this prospect,  or have a contact at the company.  Can an introduction be arranged? You may discover that your prospect belongs to a certain organization that you can visit.  Maybe you’ll cross paths?

Write a script
If you must call or email the prospect,  assemble your talking points in advance. Brainstorm the most appealing benefits and other selling points,  where you see alignment between your services and the prospects’  apparent needs and smooth answers to anticipated objections.

Devise  2–3  questions to ask that will show you’ve done your homework and will clarify prospect needs.  Remember to identify who makes the decision to hire.  Smart questions put the finishing touches on the pre-qualifying process.

Open with benefits
“What’s in it for me?”  is the question on everyone’s mind.  Whether your initial contact is a serendipitous face to face or by email or telephone,  you’ll have to sell your prospect and maybe the gatekeeper, too with compelling benefits if you want to get invited to the office.

After you briefly introduce yourself,  your company and services,  ask if  it is a convenient time to talk.  Your respect for their time will earn you points.  If granted a minute to talk,  paint a quick picture of how benefits you bring will provide  valuable solutions.

Listen well
Allow your prospect to talk about their business needs.  The information given will help you to position your services and verify—or rule out—your theory of alignment between the two of you.  Ask questions when necessary.  Remember that selling is a conversation and not a monologue.

Confirm agreement
If your prospect has been amenable to your sales pitch,  ask to continue the discussion at the office or over coffee or lunch—whatever is most convenient for the prospect.  There may not be an offer of immediate work,  but consider it relationship building and getting a foot inside the door.

Objections
If your prospect balks,  acknowledge the hesitation and ask for clarification.   Have you misunderstood something? Is there no budget available for the project? Is there a relationship with a competitor? Is there no perceived need for your services?

If the prospect works with a competitor,  ask about the types of projects that are outsourced.  Diplomatically mention your expertise in handling such projects.  If the prospect sees no need for your services,  ask how solutions are achieved or problems resolved? Again, diplomatically soft-sell and plant the seed.  However, do not start a wrestling match. You want to leave a positive impression,  even if you do not get the chance to have a meeting.

Referral
If the call has gone well (and it will!) but you still don’t get an appointment,  ask your erstwhile prospect if he/she can point you in the right direction and refer you to someone they know who might benefit from your services.  Be certain to ask whether or not you can use their name.   Even if you don’t get a client,  you might get a referral.  Equally important,  you will have interacted with an important person who will remember you favorably should your paths cross again.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Most of All, It’s Who Knows You

Networking and other business promotional activities,  whether self-generated when you for example speak to the local Rotary Club,  or engineered by a PR specialist  who gets  you a quote in the New York Times,  serve to make you known to those who might use your services.  The next step in the continuum is to create conditions that encourage prospects to become clients.

Effective PR and self-promotion showcase you as an expert.  Mine the benefit by reinforcing  your position as a source of valuable and timely information.  Rather than just making the rounds at networking events as a way to cash in on your notoriety,  accumulating piles of business cards from random “contacts” as you go,  focus instead on developing meaningful relationships that have the potential to deliver billable hours.

Join a LinkedIn group and trade relevant information with peers who share a common  affiliation by starting discussions and/or commenting on others’ discussions.  Peruse the Answers Forum and weigh in on the sometimes compelling questions put forth by LinkedIn members from around the world.

Demonstrate that you are  a knowledgeable professional who is willing to dispense  information that could benefit others.  You may be invited to have an off-line discussion and that may lead you to a client.  It happened for me a couple of months ago.

When you step into the role of teacher/speaker, by all means meet and greet session attendees following the program.  Engage those whom you meet and aim to deepen interactions beyond the mere trading of business cards.

In order to reap the benefits that accrue from your PR / promotional strategy,  you must work for your network so that your network will work for you.  Ivan Misner, chairman of the networking organization BNI International,  recommends that while in conversation with a new contact,  ask what business challenges he/she is confronting right now.  This communicates genuine interest and guides your  follow-up with that individual,  with either an introduction or information.  It’s an excellent way to make people want to know you.

Help can be easy to give.  Forwarding the link to an article that addresses a subject  likely to be of interest  is a  savvy  way to demonstrate that others’  needs are important to you. The recipient is invariably flattered and will appreciate both the info and your thoughtfulness.  Selective,  individual forwarding of online resources  adds value and elevates networking to relationship building.  Post links to articles that address  subjects of interest to a wider audience onto  FaceBook and Twitter.

Seek to build a diverse network of relationships,  professional and personal.  Be available to connect with people in fields where you may not expect to find clients,  with people of different socio-economic or educational backgrounds and from various ethnic,  religious or racial backgrounds.

Not only do we not know where or under what circumstances we will meet our next client,  but a diverse network of relationships  exposes us to different ways of evaluating and tackling  our challenges and may also help us to discover unexpected opportunities. Reaching  out  and extending oneself  beyond the usual parameters is good for business.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone

There’s no doubt about it—your business will benefit from well timed and placed media exposure in outlets that your clients trust and follow.  If you’ve come to the realization that you want fast,  effective action and you lack the time and the connections necessary to generate the kind of publicity that will raise your profile, then it’s time to hire a professional.

Buying advertising is usually a good move, but PR looks more objective and hence,  is more credible in the eyes of many.  But what should you expect from a PR firm? How do you make sure they do what you pay them to do?

Unfortunately,  many PR specialists are experts in taking client money and little else.  You must do your homework and interview 3-4 firms before signing a contract.  Contracts usually run for 6 months,  with a review at 3 months that will allow you to cancel if not satisfied.

Your objectives and budget

First,  consider what you would like to achieve in your PR campaign.  Are you launching a new product/service,  selling a book,  seeking lucrative or prestigious speaking engagements,  positioning to land important clients,  enhancing your page placement on search engines or communicating your brand?  Plan to spend from $500 – $2000 /month for an average  small business campaign.

Which firm for you?

You’ll have the choice of hiring a large firm,  small firm or Freelancer,  an industry specific firm or generalist.  Each option carries advantages and disadvantages.  I recommend that Freelancers and small business owners  avoid big PR firms because they are not designed for us.  Big firms cost more money and may not give appropriate attention to smaller clients.  Smaller firms and Freelancers are likely to be within your budget and more sensitive to your needs (in theory, at least).

Industry specific PR specialists  are known by the media players in that industry and are more likely to have calls returned and requests for clients  reviewed.  The downside is,  they may simultaneously work for your competitors. They may also run a one size fits all,  cookie cutter promotional campaign.

When interviewing PR agencies,  ask to  speak with the person who will work on your account.  That will not necessarily be the same person who shows up for the meeting.  Make sure that your agency contact will give your account the personal attention that you will pay for.

In the interview,  highlights of a strategy that was devised for a client similar to you in budget and needs should be presented.  Be very clear about your objectives and listen well,  take notes,  ask questions and get specific answers.  Do not be fooled by anyone who promises you x number of exposures per month or quarter.  That is the promise of a scam artist.

References and results

When an interview goes well,  ask to speak with 2-3 clients like yourself,  who are willing to discuss their experience with the firm.  What kind of media placements and exposure were achieved for clients with a similar  profile and objectives? How long was the campaign,  how long to achieve the desired results,  which agent managed the account, what  would they change about the process if done  again,  which additional services or quality controls might be written into the contract?

You will speak only with the firm’s most satisfied customers,  but the conversations will help you to form  expectations and learn what it’s like to work with a PR specialist.  You will also  confirm whether you should launch a campaign at this time.

Your story

Once you’ve signed on,  adequate time should be devoted to learning more about you and your business,  so that  story angles can be perfected and a strategy developed.  This is the REAL  reason to hire a PR specialist. Your story might focus on personal or business challenges you overcame,  your exceptional or innovative products /services/expertise, or your tenure and activity in a community that is meaningful to your clients.  You do not hire a PR specialist to merely blast press  releases all over the place.  You can  do that yourself.

A star is born

Events you might sponsor,  awards and special recognition for you to receive,  community and charity events you would be wise to attend,  television and radio appearances and articles in blogs, magazines and newspapers are all potentially part of  a promotional strategy that can be developed for you,  at a price.  Whatever it takes to position you well and generate  interest, confidence and excitement in you and your business should be done,  limited only by your budget.

ROI

Finally, you must understand how your PR firm demonstrates the work done for your account.  Make sure that you receive weekly or monthly activity reports.  Which organizations or media outlets were contacted,  for what purpose and what was the outcome? Compare the achievements of  your PR specialist  to your objectives  and make sure there is alignment.  You are paying for results and not excuses.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Build Your Self-Promotion Strategy

I modestly propose several tactics that you might use to build a subtle,  yet effective, self-promotion strategy that will deliver not only name recognition and hits on your web site,  but also paying clients and enthusiastic referral sources.

Online Tactics

  • Set up a website that describes your services in language that clicks with your clients.  Demonstrate your understanding of what clients need when hiring for your category of services  by highlighting the solutions  you offer and problems that will be solved or avoided through your expertise.
  • Include website features at your discretion.  If a  ‘call to action’  that clients value can be devised, then use it.  If you are a public  speaker and can pinpoint what clients typically want to see and hear when a hiring decision about speaking or teaching is made,  then add a video of you meeting those expectations.  If you’ve written  ‘white papers’  that address topics known to be of interest to clients, then add them.  If you want to add your public appearances calendar to demonstrate that you are in demand by reputable organizations,  by all means add and keep it updated.
  • Establish a LinkedIn profile and use it as your adjunct web site.  Complete your profile and periodically add updates to showcase special achievements,  good business books you’ve read and professional events you will attend.   Join a group or two and stay up to date with what is happening in communities that impact or interest you,  whether alumni or professional.
  • Start thoughtful discussions in your groups and add comments to others’ discussions to build a reputation as a good resource. Visibility in your groups may lead to online relationships that can yield off line results like referrals or maybe even a client.
  • Set up a subgroup in Huddle Workspace for more specific  in-group discussions.   When it seems appropriate,  reply privately to a discussion and invite that person for coffee if the geography is convenient and it seems like a face to face could be mutually beneficial.

Off-line Tactics

  • Join or visit networking organizations affiliated with your profession, where you can meet industry peers and stay current with industry trends, challenges and business growth opportunities.  Join/visit additional organizations where you can meet prospective clients,  referral sources and perhaps find speaking opportunities to showcase your expertise.
  • Prepare a short narrative about a recent achievement:  an interesting project,  a marquee  client,  how you solved a vexing problem that stymied others,  how you brought something to the next level.  Write down your story and practice and perfect the language,  so you will have instant recall and be able to trot it out when necessary.
  • Do some public  speaking and establish yourself as an expert in your field.  There are numerous (alas, often unpaid) speaking opportunities at business associations, professional groups, colleges, adult learning centers and nonprofit organizations. Figure out a topic or two that you can authoritatively address and put yourself on a couple of calendars.  Referral sources/potential clients may be in the audience.
  • Volunteer for a cause that has meaning to you.  This can present a golden opportunity to meet movers and shakers,  potential clients/referral sources, demonstrate leadership and expand your skill set into areas that enhance you professionally.   You might chair a committee  or even propose a high profile event (I’m in the midst of both) and benefit not only the organization but also spice your CV.
  • Become a mentor to someone who will receive a much needed career boost when you share  your knowledge, insights and relationships.  Not only will you receive great satisfaction from guiding someone along the path of professional growth and success,  you will also gain an ally and will learn from the person you mentor.  You’ll benefit from the perspectives of another,  perhaps younger,  person who can broaden your sights and could also  reveal new business avenues for you.  Important benefits accrue to mentors,  including expansion of one’s professional network and renewal of  managerial and coaching skills.
  • Maintain your personal life.  Stay in touch:  send Christmas cards,  remember birthdays and congratulate friends’ accomplishments.  Go to your school reunions.  Go to the flower show or go hear your favorite blues singer.  Go away for the weekend or a week.  Learn to dance the samba or resurrect some long neglected talent like playing the xylophone.  Have things to talk about besides business!

Thanks for reading,
Kim

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,
Kim

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.

Software
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 roansolutions.com,  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.

VoIP

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.

Kim

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,
Kim

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:

DO:

-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).

DON’T:

-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,
Kim