Starting A Business? Consider Your Financials Part II

Learning to create the financial documents for your business  is a worthwhile endeavor.  Make yourself do it! You will gain a significant understanding of your business.  You will learn the art of financial analysis.

Retaining a bookkeeper and accountant to produce the monthly statements and prepare the taxes is not enough.   In most cases, they don’t know your business well enough to make important decisions.  They can tell you when to cut expenses, but they lack the hands-on overview that effective decision making requires.

That responsibility (and privilege) is yours alone.  Little by little, even those who may be intimidated by numbers can become comfortable with the process.  Every business owner is the company CFO.


This statement demonstrates whether or not the business is making money.  It will be useful to generate  a P & L statement every month, to chart your progress and help you pay attention to what the numbers are telling you.  It is an excellent analytical and decision making tool.

Many entries from the Cash Flow statement will also be listed in the  P & L:  sales revenue generated from each product and service;  variable selling expenses such as raw materials, labor, equipment rental and advertising;  and fixed costs such as rent, office staff salaries and utilities.  When you’re financially able to do so the owner’s draw,  i.e. what you pay yourself, will be listed here as a fixed expense.

At the top of this statement, enter gross revenues (sales). There are also lines for beginning and ending inventory and cost of goods sold.  Subtract COGS from gross revenues to reveal the gross profit.

Fixed and variable  expenses are tallied and subtracted from gross profit earnings to give you the EBIT: earnings before interest and taxes.  Loan interest payments and all taxes are then entered and subtracted also, to reveal in the bottom line of the statement the net profit or loss.


The Balance Sheet shows the financial picture of your business on a particular date.  It demonstrates what the business owns and owes on a given date, usually at the end of the fiscal (or calendar) year.

The Balance Sheet is divided into 3 categories:  Assets,  Liabilities and Net Worth (owner’s equity).  All business assets such as cash in the bank,  equipment owned,  inventory, property owned, office furniture and accounts receivable are considered assets and are entered in the plus column.

Business debts and obligations, e.g. loans and loan interest payments, accounts payable and taxes owed are entered into the minus column.  Net worth emerges when liabilities are subtracted from assets.


The Pro Forma Cash Flow statement, which provides a projection of what cash can reasonably be expected to flow into and out of your business in a given month (or quarter), should be validated by a Quarterly Budget Review.   Also called the Cash Flow Statement, this document gives the actual cash flow numbers for your business and is created after the fact.

Now you can compare your best guesses to reality.  Are you over or under budget? What has been over- or underestimated? Do you need to trim or stagger certain expenses in order to pay the bills every month? How accurate were your sales projections? Moreover, how much are you spending to make the sale?

Needless to say it will benefit you to trim expenses wherever practical and control COGS by locating the lowest cost wholesalers and raw materials sources, to free up cash so you can comfortably pay the bills each month,  pay down business debts and  perhaps  allocate money for useful promotional and advertising campaigns. You will also want to take that owner’s draw as soon as possible!

We’ll conclude the money portion next week with a look at what investors and lenders will also want to see.



Starting A Business? Consider Your Financials Part I

So now we do the math. You will attach actual numbers to those sales projections, advertising strategies and monthly operating expenses. You will add up the items on your wish list and learn what you can and cannot afford to do.

You will see where adjustments must be made. You will develop a budget for the project,  devise a plan to finance it and greatly improve your chances of launching and sustaining a successful business. You will make your dream come true!

We’ll examine five financial documents:  Pro Forma Cash Flow;  Profit & Loss;  Balance Sheet;  Quarterly Budget Review and Break Even Analysis.  We’ll also take a look at the Financial Assumptions Summary and the Summary of Financial Needs, which are required for those who seek investors or a lender.


This is the monthly (or quarterly) budget for the business.  If you run a household,  you already know how to do this.  The statement documents the expected ( projected) money that will flow into and out of your business. You as the entrepreneur will learn how much capital investment your business will need to keep the doors open and the products available for customers to purchase.  Investors and lenders will know if there is enough money to operate the business and if your business is worthy of a loan.

Accounts receivable are what customers owe you as payment for services provided by your business or payment for products sold.  Invoice= paycheck—with the important caveat that some customers will not pay you on time and a few will not pay you at all.  Accounts payable are the bills the business must pay each month.

At the risk of sounding painfully obvious, make sure that you have a very good chance of bringing in enough money each month to cover the bills, at least after doing business for 18-24 months.  Maybe this means you can’t give up your day job just yet.

If your day job is gone, then expect to dip into savings or convince friends and family to help you float the venture.  I will caution you that when it comes to friends and family, money can change the relationship, sometimes not for the better.

Refer to your marketing plan before you begin the cash flow statement.  Look at your advertising calendar and your desired ad campaigns, products that must be shipped, required travel to see clients, etc.  Determine the selling, or variable,  expenses.  These change whenever sales volume increases or decreases.

Labor is a variable expense, as it is tied to the production of what will be sold.  If you plan to open a restaurant and hire a chef, that employee is labor since he/she produces  the product.

Get a firm grip on your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), meaning the wholesale price or the cost of raw materials needed to produce your product.  An intangible product or service also has a COGS— time and talent.  Knowing COGS helps you determine a mark-up, or profit margin, that guides your pricing strategy.  The objective is to not only cover production costs but also to generate money to sustain business operating costs and you as well.  COGS impacts pricing, which impacts  sales projections.

Fixed expenses are administrative.  They don’t change much month to month.  Rent, utilities, insurance, office supplies and wages to non-production employees (e.g. the sommelier at your restaurant) fall into this category.

New businesses producing the first few months of Pro Forma Cash Flow statements will be documenting start up costs.  If start up costs are too heavy, trim or stagger expenses wherever practical.

Quarterly tax payments,  loan payments,  loan money received and planned inventory purchases  are also documented in Pro Forma Cash Flow.  In other words, whatever you expect to spend that month and whatever you expect to sell that month,  document in this statement.

At the bottom of Pro Forma Cash Flow there is a line called Ending Cash Balance. Your mission is to have that number be positive and greater than zero.

If the numbers show that expenses will be very heavy,  do not even think about increasing your sales projections to disguise a cash shortfall! Unfortunately,  many entrepreneurs inflate projected sales revenue.  That practice will take you straight to cash flow hell when the projected accounts receivable do not materialize.  I can assure you that the accounts payable will materialize.

Your best option is to dial back on certain costs.  Consider less glamorous product packaging,  lower cost advertising,  lowering the COGS by finding another source or using less costly raw materials, or renting cheaper office space.

Nest week, we’ll examine the P & L and the Balance Sheet.


Starting A Business? Consider Your Marketing Strategy Part III

Even if you will not seek financing for your business and the marketing plan is for your eyes only, you will thank yourself many times over if you take the time to thoroughly research and account for all aspects of marketing, especially sales expectations for your products and/or services.  Make sure that you  understand  exactly how you will  make sales contact with prospective customers.  In your plan, note whether your business will sell primarily  B2B,  B2C  or  B2G.


Sales is the tactical manifestation of marketing.  The theories of marketing are brought down to earth to make contact with the customer and will be validated (or invalidated) by the sales revenue generated.

When planning a new business venture it will be necessary to make sales projections (also called forecasting), ideally for 36 months into the future, to give yourself an idea of the revenue potential of your business.  It’s sort of like fortunetelling, but there are resources available to help you make a reasonable estimate. gives current industry profiles and other data, covering 16,000 lines of business in 300+ markets. You’ll need to become a registered user;  some (but not all) info is free.  Another excellent source for business data is Boston Public Library’s Kirstein Branch. You can access certain info online at and most is free.

Example:  in your business, you are the only sales person during the first year.  If sales are promising, you may decide to hire 1-2 sales people in year two and maybe another 1-2 more sales reps in year three.

There is data that gives the average sales revenue per full time sales representative in nearly every industry. That data will allow you to chart your expected gross income for the year, based on the number of people selling for you.

However, bear in mind that a new business is unlikely to achieve the benchmark figures during the first 3-5 years of operation.  Remember also that gross revenue is not net revenue—there are expenses associated with selling like salaries, product brochures and office supplies.

Competitive intelligence data can help confirm the accuracy of your sales projections.  However,  Freelancers and those competing with privately held companies will not be able to ascertain how much revenue is historically generated yearly by those competitors since the data is not public.

What I’ve discussed here is known as the Comparative Method of projecting sales.  It is generally more useful to project for new businesses using this method. There is also the Build-up Method, where the entrepreneur identifies all likely revenue streams and then estimates the dollar volume that can be extracted from each source in a given month (or quarter).  The Build-up Method tends to work best for businesses that have been up and running for a few years and therefore have a sales history and documented revenue streams.

Finally, consider the impact of  sales trends for your industry (meaning consumer demand) and the relative strength of the local and regional economies on your products/services.   Sales projections will never be 100% accurate.  It will be wise to keep your forecasts conservative.


How the business owner makes contact with prospective customers will be governed by a number of factors, one of the biggest being is this an online business or is it in real time?

If  you expect to sell online, be sure to have a website with a good shopping cart set up and secure credit card processing.  Your website will function like an ambassador and an employee,  so create  it with respect. The site must communicate your brand very well, must download quickly every time and must be user friendly.  A content management system will allow you to keep the site updated yourself.

Driving traffic to the site will be your #1 job and search engine optimization will be critical.  As was suggested in a  comment to last week’s posting, internet discussion groups are a very useful way to connect with customers and create buzz.  They are a great way to drive traffic to your website.

Catalogues do double duty, allowing customers to order by telephone or the website. They are expensive to produce (product photography is costly) and print, but they still catch the customer’s eye and are widely used by the likes of LL Bean and Staples. To the customer a good catalogue is a keeper, so you don’t have to print more than once a year.  Get a toll free phone number for customer convenience.

Next, decide whether the best way to sell to customers will be face to face or by telephone.  What is traditional for your business, meaning what do competitors do? Of course, you can create your own style.  Your sales may occur primarily by telephone, but a visit to prospects to introduce yourself to decision makers and gatekeepers can be a wonderful way to separate yourself from the pack and develop relationships.

Other selling methods include bid submission (e.g. the trades or selling to the government), referral arrangements and inclusion on preferred vendor lists (e.g. caterers and florists  at a function space).  For some businesses, two or more customer contact methods will be used to generate sales.

Next week we’ll start talking about money.


Starting A Business? Consider Your Marketing Strategy Part II

The marketing plan integrates all activities that are required to reach the customer,  from defining the position,  image and promise of  value that form the brand identity, to the style of  product packaging, to where and how the product or service is sold.  It can be argued successfully that the marketing portion of your business plan is the most important.  Investors and lenders will surely take an in-depth look.  Let’s float some ideas on how to create some buzz for what you’re selling.


The time tested way to get the word out to broad swaths of potential customers about the debut of your business and the advantages and benefits offered by your products and services is through advertising. The advertising methods that you choose will depend upon the customer, the business you will enter and your budget.  Think carefully about how you can reach customers in cost-effective ways.

Be prepared to do an advertising roll-out, step by step, to introduce your business to potential customers.  You’ll start with business cards and a brochure or contact sheet (for Freelancers). You may also have a website, or you may wait a few months until you can budget that project.  Depending on your business, you may do a leafleting campaign to announce your opening and place promotional fliers in selected locales.

You might do an open house. You might offer discount coupons. You might give away an inexpensive branded promotional item to your first 50 customers. You may take out a small ad in a local newspaper or in a business group newsletter, or place a banner ad on a website that is popular with your target customers. You could start a blog! Brand identity will guide your advertising and promotional activities.

If you have some money to work with, you may decide to hire a PR firm.  If you can find a PR person who 1). has contacts in your industry and 2). will actually produce the results they promise, then by all means sign on.  Getting articles written about you in print and online publications or even a coveted guest spot on local TV is a wonderful way to spread the word, establish credibility and expertise and bring in clients.

But be advised that PR people often oversell.  In all likelihood, if you sign up for the economy plan, they’ll do nothing for you except take your money.

So create your own PR.  Networking will be a big part of your promotional activities, so read the article in this blog and work on your Expert Elevator Pitch. You would be wise to join a few professional and business organizations like the chamber of commerce and at least one or two others. You need to get the word out about your business and start filling your sales pipeline with clients.

You need info on happenings in your industry and business environment. You need to meet colleagues and yes, competitors. This latter group can be very helpful. They can tell you pitfalls to avoid. They can tell you the backstory about suppliers and vendors.  They know your customers better than you do.  If they’re nice, don’t be too proud or too shy!

Social networking will also be an important part of your promotional strategy.  Depending on your business  MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Facebook will give you an online presence in addition to your website.  See the article Your Personal Brand Part II for tips on creating the right online presence.

Finally,  developing an advertising calendar will be very helpful.  It looks good in the plan and is a practical way to budget advertising dollars and ensure that you include all advertising options that both reach your target customers and make sense for you.  It will remind you to place seasonal ads when appropriate and meet advertising deadlines.

I’ll be back next week with Part III of Marketing, the final segment.


Starting A Business? Consider Your Marketing Strategy Part I

Once you have identified your customers, done some detective work to check out your main competitors and positioned yourself relative to them, thus claiming a niche for your company, you are ready to devise a marketing plan for your business venture.

The marketing plan supplies the road map that you will use to reach the target customers.  Sales strategy, pricing, product or service positioning, advertising and distribution channels must all be accounted for in relation to what target customers will accept.  The idea is to convince customers that buying your services or products will give them benefits that are worth the cost.


Describe how your products or services offer more advantages to the customer than what  is offered by competitors.  What’s the hook that will bring customers to your door?

Research the product features and attributes that are important to target customers and what they are willing to pay for them.  Dig a little deeper and brainstorm the benefits—those unspoken and often emotional motivators that will drive customers to buy from or hire you.

What is the challenge or need that customers  face, what is the “pain” that they’re in? Your company must provide solutions that customers determine to be useful. Think about what customers might value in the long run, but remember that tastes and perceived needs are fluid and therefore subject to change


Pricing is a tricky issue, especially for consultants and professional service providers.  It may be difficult to find out what competitors charge,  so there is no framework for  comparison.

If you have relationships with those who hire for similar services,  inquire as to what they pay so that you can set your price points.  Competitors are unlikely to help you with pricing, but colleagues who offer similar services may give some guidance.  If you plan to sell a tangible product, canvass the marketplace and learn how similarly positioned products are priced.

Be advised that  it is risky to underprice.  In general, it is not a great way to rapidly build a client list or gain market share.  In services especially, clients may wonder why your rate is so cheap—are you unqualified?  You don’t want to give the impression that you’re less than first rate.  Moreover, raising prices in the future may be met with customer resistance.

Underpricing will also negatively impact your cash flow.  You could find yourself spinning your wheels like mad, overwhelmed with lots of orders, but losing money overall because you have not fully accounted for the cost of goods sold, be it product production and marketing costs or the time and creative energy it costs you to fulfill a contract assignment.

Unless you’re in the grocery business, where profit margins are traditionally thin, make sure that your pricing strategy builds in a profit margin that will sustain the business and eventually you too.


Think about how your products or services will flow from their source and reach the target customers.  Examine how customers currently buy your type of product.

Do they buy primarily online, from catalogues, from a physical location, by referrals from trusted sources, by contract bids or at trade shows?  Can you access the preferred distribution channel?  How much will it cost you?

Service providers and Freelance consultants must also develop a distribution strategy, so that potential clients and referral sources can be reached.  If you work in professional services, you are on the coattails of the firm’s marketing efforts.  However, these days even junior associates are expected to bring in clients.

Networking and other relationship building strategies will be helpful here.  Put yourself in the places where clients and good referral sources can be found.   Work an expert elevator pitch and see who you can meet.  Visibility counts, so speaking opportunities and leadership roles in business groups will also be important for self promotion.

I’ll be back with Part II of Marketing Strategies next week,

Starting a Business? Consider Your Customers and Competition

Once you’re clear on the difference between an intriguing idea and what may be a genuine business opportunity and you’ve chosen what product or service you will offer,  it is then time to carefully consider who your customers will be.

The entrepreneur must define the customer well,  by using demographic and psychographic (lifestyle) data. The more specific the customer profile that is created, the better the ability to deliver what the target customer wants and will pay you to obtain.

When an entrepreneur fully understands who the customers are,  then he/she can understand what compels them to buy,  how to sell to them (on line or bricks and mortar?),  how to market to them,  how to price the product and how much time and money it will take to win those customers over.

This is why it is always preferable to enter a business in which you have experience.  The best way to know customers is by talking and interacting with them.  That allows you to tailor your services to meet their perceived needs and expectations.

If you’ve already done business with your target customers,  you will have a significant advantage and are better positioned to create a profitable venture.

Be sure to flesh out your customer info by speaking with others who do business with your target customers.  Suppliers and Freelance vendors  can provide lots of useful info. Speaking with your competitors will likewise be very helpful.

Visiting conferences and trade shows that are frequented by your target customers is a smart move,  as those are forums where information is shared.  Competitors may be more forthcoming in these settings.

Analyzing the competition will be a key success  factor for the business.  This is how you’ll find out what customers want from businesses similar to your own,  what benefits they think they’re getting and what price they’ll pay to have what they want.

A thorough competitive analysis allows the entrepreneur to refine the market niche and identify additional competitive advantages.  Good competitive info sets the stage for your marketing and sales strategies.

Visit the stores,  the restaurants and the websites of your direct competitors.  Check out where and how they advertise.  Study their message and methods of interacting with target customers.  Are your competitors making money? How do they make that happen?

Make sure that you have a critical mass of advantages that will improve your chance of success,  be it a hot product,  strong relationships with target customers,  experience in the business,  influential friends or a healthy budget to spend on start up costs.

You probably don’t  hold all of the cards, but before you take the leap  make sure you have enough to give yourself a good chance of winning the game.

More later,

Starting A Business? Consider This

Like millions of people around the world, over the past few months you’ve given some thought to ensuring your economic survival.  How to make money is at the top of the list for many and we’re all exploring our options.  A yard sale or two can help in the short run, but most of us need a steady and healthy income stream.

Polishing up your resume might no longer be a viable option, given that employment statistics have been dismal for several consecutive quarters and the global economy continues to shed jobs.  What little employment exists tends to be at at the bottom of the pay scale.

This cruel reality has lead some of us to decide  what the heck, I’ll go out on my own.  I’ll start a business or become a Freelancer and do some consulting.  That’s why I went out on my own.  Employers did not give a damn about transferable skills, work ethic, strategic thinking or anything else.

All they knew was that I was  too expensive to hire (or keep) and so they didn’t.  To have a roof over my head and food on the table I had no choice but to become a Freelancer. Thank God  I had a few desirable  skills that I eventually learned how to package and market!

This blog is all about sharing knowledge and experience as a way to help readers become more successful Freelancers, business owners and even employees.  My objective is to help you avoid time-wasting mistakes and obstacles and get you into your definition of success,  faster.

First of all,  becoming an entrepreneur requires  objective thinking and creativity.  You’ll need to take a cold hard look at your skill set and figure out what you can possibly do.  Next, you need to analyze the marketplace.  Who will pay for the product or service that you’re able to offer? Does it appear that you can eventually persuade enough clients to pay you enough money to live on?
Also, what relationships can you rely on to help ease your way into the business—refer clients, provide expert advice, hook you up with good deals on equipment or a space to set up shop?

Oh, and BTW, can you afford the start-up costs? Every business requires up front money to get rolling, so the financial requirements of the business you choose need significant consideration.  Banks are making very few loans these days and those who do get funded have near perfect credit.

On the upside, going out on your own during a difficult economic cycle can be a smart  move.  The economy will force you to distinguish between the magical thinking of an intriguing idea and a real business opportunity. You’ll be in the planning and learning stages while the economy lags.  When the inevitable upswing comes around, you’ll be prepared to take advantage and make some money.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll help you take a look at a few basic things you’ll need to consider before you take the leap.

Much more later,

Going up! Expert Elevator Pitch

I don’t want to brag, but…oh, yes I do and so do you! We just need to figure out how to tell people how amazing we are, how talented and lovable, without being obnoxious.  Bragging is a turn off and nice boys and girls don’t.

But how do you let colleagues and prospects know what you’re good at? How do you network if you don’t know how to put your story across?

Every Freelancer needs a first rate elevator pitch.  A Freelancer must be able to position him/herself as an expert, a capable problem solver who can get the job done and is therefore worthy of important assignments.

A basic elevator pitch can be broken down into three  parts:

1). What you do

2). For whom you do it

3). Outcomes and benefits derived

What You Do

Concisely describe your service in straightforward and uncomplicated terms.  Challenging economic times can bring the temptation to be all things to all people–let’s face it, if there’s a legal way to get paid we’ve gotta bring it on.  Still  clients,  prospects and referral sources want to know what you are known for.  Help them out and develop a niche.

For Whom You Do It

Who are your typical clients? What are they looking for when they call you? What kind of pain are they in? Prospects and referral sources need to know who you typically do business with. They need to know who might need you.

Outcomes and Benefits Derived

What’s in it for the client who hires you? Describe the problems you solve, the money you help clients make or save, how you make them look good.  Mention an advantage  or two that distinguishes  you from competitors.  Stay on top of what is going on in your client’s industry so you’ll know how to position your services in relation to the hot issues.

Practice your elevator pitch until you’re comfortable with your phrasing.  Make sure it sounds natural for you and that it will spark the interest of your target customers.  A basic elevator pitch should take you less than a minute to present. Your pitch can serve as a  self introduction and will also allow you to transition into a more meaningful discussion of  your services should an interested party want more info.

Use your bragging skills, artfully packaged in a good elevator pitch, to establish your reputation as a results-oriented professional and an available source of useful information in your area of expertise.

OK,  so now that you know how to create and deliver an expert elevator pitch,  it’s time to do some savvy networking!

More later,

Your Personal Brand Part II

Here we are, back to continue talking about how to increase your perceived value in the marketplace by building a strong brand identity.

Maybe you created a SWOT matrix and listed attributes that make clients hire you and also weak areas that may give some clients pause? Perhaps you’ve taken stock of some major challenges that you face, but have also uncovered some opportunities to pursue?

I hope you’ve made a serious examination of services your clients actually need or think they need (not necessarily the same thing, as you know). You must be able to address their objectives in the story– the brand narrative–you’ll create to establish yourself as the go-to guy or gal who is an expert, a trusted adviser who can get the job done.


You provide an excellent product (I know you do. That’s why you read this blog!). You owe it to yourself to showcase your talents by packaging your value proposition with care and flair.  Communicate your unique competencies in ways that decision makers will perceive as conferring benefits to them.  Express your professional credentials to differentiate yourself from the competition in ways that clients value.

In other words, don’t tout the fact that yours is the only store that offers bubblegum flavored ice cream if no one really wants it.  Of course, if customers suddenly decide they love the stuff, then you’re golden!

When you’ve crafted a brand narrative that works for you, because it appropriately grabs the attention of your target audiences, spread the good news in a variety of ways that are consistent with your brand.

Showcase your accomplishments and get yourself some speaking engagements, get on a panel or two, propose and lead workshops. You are a well respected expert in your field and you must help the right people get to know and trust you.

Familiarity will work to build trust in your abilities. Trust in your abilities will bring requests for your expert advice and referrals.  Referrals are yours to convert into loyal customers.

Take pains to develop a strong and consistent brand narrative and communicate this message to whomever can help you further your business interests.


Type your name and your company name into a couple of search engines.  Are you there? What information is listed? Does it present an accurate impression of you?

Make sure that your brand identity on line is in synch with how you verbally package yourself.  If there is a disconnect, work to fix it.  Create a visible and flattering on line presence.

Create good profiles in the 2.0 media that support your brand identity and strategy.  Be careful posting aspects of your personal life if using the more social media. You wouldn’t want anything to be misinterpreted by clients and prospects.


Finally, remember that your personal brand, like your life, will continue to evolve and will never be static (at least not if you’re doing it right!). Branding is an ongoing endeavor.

As your professional achievements expand and become more sophisticated or specialized and as changing business environments impact your clients’ needs, your brand narrative will change with the times.  Freelancer, I know you’ve got what it takes to roll with the punches!

More later,

Kim presented the workshop “Your Personal Brand” at the Center for Women & Enterprise in Boston on July 14, 2009

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,