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 liquidcapital.com 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 receivablesxchange.com.

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  meetordie.com.  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,

Fishing At C- Level

Gotta be a big game hunter like Teddy Roosevelt.  Gotta find high level decision makers who can green light projects and not string you along.  Gotta bait the hook and fish for C- level execs,  so you can close some deals and pay some bills.  Oh yeah!

OK,  so how to do it? Let’s start by looking at the size of your C-level’s  organization.  If your client sweet spot is companies with fewer than 100 people,  you are likely to find the CEO, CFO, Executive Director or Development Director at a Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce event.  If you’re fishing in organizations with 100 – 1000 + employees,  you may also find C-levels at Rotary and Chamber meetings,  but you’ll have more luck at university sponsored business forums or prestigious networking association events.

In general, when looking to meet C-levels in larger organizations,  it is wise to attend marquis events:  special speaker programs,  awards luncheons and industry specific programs.  C-levels rarely attend holiday parties or networking breakfasts (except for those sponsored by their prestigious networking group and those are usually private).

What if you need contact names and titles? Sometimes,  you can find company leaders on the website.  Other times,  you can call the main number and ask to be transferred to the head of a certain department.  You can also try to meet someone from the organization at a conference or  networking event and chat them up.  Such encounters may or may not pay off.  Employees may fear pissing off a C-level by revealing the name.

You can also use  ZoomInfo, which is a resource discussed in The ROI on 2.0 posting of December 8, 2009.   For a fee,  ZoomInfo will allow you to basically access a company organization chart and find out who leads which business unit.

Once you get specific names and titles,  then internet search,  read the ZoomInfo profile,  LinkedIn profile and anything else you can locate to determine where you might find those people and what their hot buttons could be.  Where might they go to meet peers and network or stay current on industry and business issues?

When you attend programs where targeted C-levels might be found,  skillfully devise the set-up.  Arrive early.  At the check-in desk,  scan name tags to learn who will be in the house.  If you see a name tag that’s on your wish list,  prepare an ice breaker.

I’ve found that comments about the speakers and program focus are excellent conversation openers.  Also, take notes at the program.  This will allow you to 1).  pose an intelligent question during Q & A,  which is wonderful for visibility as it encourages conversation with others,  including the speaker;  and 2).  can segue into a conversation with your C-level at the break.  Oh, and try to sit with this person at lunch.  However,  I caution you to not be too obvious.  Do not appear to stalk.

Remember that your C-level is also there to network and has an agenda.  If you are lucky enough to sit at the right lunch table,  relax and join the conversation.  Everyone will introduce themselves and there will be some mild talk of business.  You will meet a few more C-levels who may be good prospects.  Think relationship building and not selling.

Now for the ask. You need follow-up with your C-level.  Follow your instincts on the flow of your interaction.  If the program is short,  you’ll have to act fast.  In a day long program,  you may want to approach at the afternoon break.  Whatever the timing,  tell  C-level that your product/service has the capability to impact specific success factors or other business concerns that he/she is likely to have.   Ask if the need is being addressed and who might your competition be?  Request an appointment in or out of their office to discuss mutual alignments.

Be calm and professional,  get your point across and don’t arm twist.   No matter what happens,  you’ll learn whether you have a chance with this person and organization or not.  If not,  well,  you’ll know and will waste no further time on pursuit.  In 6-12 months,  you may cross paths again and maybe get another chance.  If yes,  you are on your way—don’t blow it! Focus on big picture outcomes and benefits and make your best pitch.

Thanks for reading,

Man Up and Lead! Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Man Up and Lead! Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,


May I Have This Dance? Partnering Possibilities Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

May I Have This Dance? Partnering Possibilities Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on partnerships next week,

Trends in 2010: Freelance Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,


2010 Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep it simple

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

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

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

Green and sustainable

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

Remain visible, appear viable

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

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

Project hope and confidence

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

Good luck and thanks for reading,