Networking Starts With A Conversation

IMG_0018Happy Fourth of July! You may engage in celebrating today’s holiday as a party host or guest and either way, you’ll have the pleasure of expanding your social and possibly also your professional network.  From backyard barbecues to weddings, the meet and greet is on, for business or pleasure. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you will feel more at ease if when you encounter new people you can draw from a little repertoire of conversation starters that you can easily recall.

Here’s a list of conversation starters designed to make your summer celebrations a little more fun.  Keep in mind that when you approach a party guest, or a guest approaches you, smile and show that you welcome that person’s presence and you’d like to converse. While you might encounter the rare monosyllabic type who is too awkward to make small talk, in which case you can smile and slip away as quickly as socially acceptable, most partygoers and attendees at social or business functions are primed to meet and get acquainted with interesting people.  They’ll meet you halfway and together, you’ll create the conversation. You will likely be joined by others and that’s all for the good.

  1. Hi, I’m ______; and you are…? Nice to meet you! Do you live in the neighborhood ?
  2. Hi, I’m ______; and you are…? Nice to meet you! How do you know (the host)?
  3. Have you been having a good summer, so far?
  4. Do you like the summer holidays better, or winter holidays?
  5. Are you a summer vacation person, or a winter vacation person?
  6. I’m walking over to the drink table.  Can I bring you something?
  7. The buffet looks delicious (holding your plate and drink)—may I sit here?
  8. As you see, I’m checking out (the hosts’) books. They have a lot of good titles. Do you see something here that you’ve read?
  9. Who is that singing? Could it be Sarah Vaughan?
  10. OK, pop quiz–How many oceans are there on planet earth?

I hope you meet some good people both today and at the social and business functions that you’ll attend this summer and that you’re able to build one or two relationships that outlast the events you attend.  Relax and allow yourself to have a good time.

Show interest in the people you meet. Tailor your conversation topics to those with whom you are speaking. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Listen more than you talk and listen actively.  At some point in a lively conversation you may want to jump in with a witty retort, but try to avoid interrupting and one-upping.

Finally, don’t over-share and if you meet someone with whom it appears there could be a mutual interest to talk business, exchange cards and plan to follow-up a day or two after the party.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Tall Ships Parade in Boston Harbor. June 16, 1017    Photograph by Kim Clark

 

 

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LLC vs. S Corp: Which One for Your Company?

At any point in the life of your business venture, you may choose to create for it a separate legal entity.  Creating a separate entity is essential for those businesses where the potential for liabilities associated with normal operations is an issue.  There are also potential tax advantages that derive from the establishment of a separate business entity.

There are two categories of business legal entities: corporations, Chapter S and C, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Corporations are tax structures and are regulated by the federal government through the IRS.  LLCs are created and governed by the states.

Founded in the state of Wyoming in 1977 and now available in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., the LLC is a comparatively more lenient structure than either the S or C Corporation and for this reason, it is the preferred entity for the majority of small businesses and Solopreneurs.  Unlike the S Corp, LLC members, as they are called, are unrestricted in number and are not required to be U.S. citizens nor must they reside here, with the exception of the Registered Agent, who receives official correspondence such as tax and legal documents on behalf of the entity and must reside in the state where the LLC was formed and operates.

Multi-owned LLCs are advised to develop an operating agreement (not required in all states) that along with the percentages of member ownership also specifies member titles and responsibilities, such as Managing Partner and Registered Agent.

In the LLC, whether single or multi-owned, all business income and expenses “pass through,” meaning they are reported on the members’ tax forms.  There is no double taxation of business and personal income for single-owner LLCs, but multi-owner LLCs must file U.S. Form 1065 Return of Partnership Income to report profits and losses.  All LLC owners must pay the self-employment tax, due quarterly (multi-owners pay on their share of entity ownership).

Real estate investors will find that the LLC is the only available legal entity option that allows passive income (rents) to exceed 25% of gross annual revenues.  A big added bonus of real estate LLCs is the ability to create a separate LLC for each property owned, thereby shielding the owner(s) and other properties held from cross-liabilities.

A drawback for owners who plan to attract investment partners (as opposed to those partners who operate the business) is the lack of stock, preferred or otherwise, and this represents a deal-breaker for venture capitalists, who do not invest in businesses structured as LLCs.  Even smaller investors prefer stock certificates to LLC member shares.  A positive for this structure is that it’s much less expensive to set up than are corporations, costing just a few hundred dollars for the filing (plus the initial set-up fee charged by your accountant or attorney).

If you are considering establishing a legal structure for your business, consider your plans for business growth and also your exit strategy as you do.  Growth may cause you to seek money partners, which could point you in the direction of the S Corp.  If you see venture capital or an IPO in your future, then only a C Corp will do.  If you might want to sell your company to employees as your exit strategy, or if attracting key C Suite level talent to your team would also point you toward the corporate structure, so that stock can be offered as an incentive.  If some of your business partners live outside of the U.S., or if acquiring real estate holdings is your business model, then only the LLC will be allowed.

It is strongly recommended that you consult with a business attorney or accountant before you file legal entity paperwork at the Secretary of State’s office.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Business Structure Face Off: S Corp vs. LLC

Whether you are preparing to launching a new venture or you’ve been operating as a Sole Proprietor (Sole Trader in the U.K.) for a few years, you may decide to establish a business legal entity for the enterprise. The benefits of creating a business legal entity, whether you operate as a Solopreneur or participate in a partnership that consists of independent professionals who occasionally collaborate (like dentists or physicians) or co-owners who run a business together, are:

1.) protection of business assets from (certain) financial liabilities

2.) reduced tax liability

Entrepreneurs and Solopreneurs who have no worries about legal actions that might arise from bankruptcy or other business debts (or client litigation) may comfortably operate as Sole Proprietors.  Business owners of any kind, plus the self-employed, may at some point decide to organize their venture as a corporation (either the original C Corporation or subchapter S Corporation) or a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

FYI in the U.S., corporations are tax structures that are overseen by the IRS (a federal entity) and LLCs are created and governed at the state level.  Application to form either entity is made at your state’s Secretary of State office or in Washington, D.C. at the D.C. Corporations Division.  In the U.K., business legal structures are obtained through and governed by your regional Companies House.

Regarding protection from financial liabilities derived from a business legal entity, actions that can be construed as negligence are considered to “pierce the corporate veil” and neither a C or S Corporation, nor an LLC, will shield negligent business owners.  But if the business goes into bankruptcy or serious debt, only business assets can be applied to cover those debts and if that amount is insufficient, the owner(s) will not be forced to use personal assets to pay what is owed.  Furthermore, the entity will not be liable for debts that exceed the value of the owner’s investment in that entity.  In other words, if an owner’s investment was $20K, that’s all the owner will be liable for, even if $30K is owed.

Now for a look at potential tax savings.  Unlike the older U.S. corporate structure, the C Corporation, there is no simultaneous tax of business and personal income in the S Corporation (i.e., no double taxation) and all the usual business deductions that you’ll find on IRS Schedule C  may be taken.  The S Corp allows owner(s) to pay themselves and all employees with W2 salaries, meaning that owners avoid the self-employment tax if it’s decided that you work for the corporation (instead of yourself).

A portion of what can be reasonably considered excess net profits can be paid to the owner(s) as a dividend distribution, in addition to the W2 salary, and the distribution is taxed at a much lower rate (from zero- 15%, depending on circumstances) than the W2 earnings.  This is one way that the rich get richer, Baby!

The owner’s salary must be considered reasonable for the industry, because the IRS will be looking.  Contact a savvy tax accountant so you’ll refrain from paying yourself $20K annually when $80K would be closer to the minimum for your industry and business Income Statement.  Shenanigans like that can cause the business to lose the S Corp status and land you in double-taxation-ville.

If business income is not so flush, your accountant may recommend that like a Sole Proprietor, S Corp owner(s) should choose the “pass through” tax format, where all income and expenses appear on the personal tax form(s) of the owner(s).  Be advised that partnership S Corps are taxed like a partnership and S Corps that elect the pass-through tax option will pay the quarterly self-employment tax on reported income.  Corporate taxes are filed no later than March 15, earlier than the rest of us.

In both the C and S Corp structure, the owner(s) is a stockholder, and multiple owners are assigned shares of company stock and receive a portion of business profits and losses according to their percentage of ownership. The S Corp allows only one class of stock.

On the downside, the rules for maintaining a corporate entity of either form are somewhat strict. S Corp owners must be citizens or residents of the U.S. and their number is capped at 100.  Every corporation is required to have a board of directors or officers (the owner and a Recording Secretary to take the annual meeting minutes, at least) and even solo corporation owners must hold an annual stockholder’s meeting.  Financial documents must be in good order. Minutes must be taken and kept on file.

Because there is only one class of stock allowed, those who plan to seek venture capital or take their company public must form a C  Corporation, so that the preferred stock that investors demand will be available.  Finally, the legal and accounting fees, as well as special state taxes where they apply, make the choice of either a C or S Corporation a four-figure annual commitment, so consider your choice of this option prudently.

Next week, we can resume the discussion with a look at the Limited Liability Company structure.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Plans For Your Business

Whatever the health and condition of your Freelance business venture, you will at some point benefit from planning.  Business planning of any type provides a roadmap that will help you to successfully achieve your business goals.  Business planning can be instituted when sales are tanking and you need to find a way to improve billable hours.  Or you may have decided to aim for larger assignments  or roll out new services and need to figure out how to make it happen.

I’ve taught business plan writing for 7 or more years and I’ve also developed a one-day business plan writing workshop. As I see it,  the process of writing a business plan gives the writer (or the team) many opportunities to think things through and  get the magical thinking out of one’s head. The business plan shows us first,  if the dream is potentially viable and second,  how to make the dream a reality.

The plan you write will depend on what you set out to achieve.  If you’re launching a start-up that will involve significant outside investment,  then you’ll need a very detailed plan that focuses on financial projections;  marketing plans that delve into customer acquisition, the competitive landscape, the product or service launch, messaging,  sales distribution; and operational aspects such as manufacturing,  staffing and quality control.  Freelance consultants will mostly focus on marketing, in particular defining the target clients,  client acquisition; providing the right services; appropriate pricing; and the budget to pay for their marketing strategies.

Whether your plan will be used to launch a big venture and attract outside money,  or is a boutique style service provider, include the following elements in your plan.  Even if you’ll be writing what amounts to an extended marketing plan used for a one-person shop,  it will be a good exercise to include these elements, because you’ll be encouraged to think seriously and strategically about your mini-enterprise.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Present the business mission statement. Include as well the date when the business was formed; key management personnel; your unique credentials or experience that make you especially suited to start and successfully run the venture; the business legal structure (LLC, Sole Proprietor, or Corporation); the products and services; one or two key competitive advantages (maybe you have a patent?); sales projections; and the amount of capital needed (if you’re looking for investors).

BUSINESS DESCRIPTION

It’s traditional to present a brief description of your industry and its outlook,  nationally and regionally. give the details of your products and services and competitive advantages. Identify whether your venture is B2B, B2C, or B2G. If you hold a patent,  detail the competitive advantages that it will convey. Have there been any technological advances that will help or hinder your business?  Divulge here.

MARKETING

The category is a big tent that encompasses sales, product or service distribution,  competitors, advertising,  social media, PR,  networking,  branding, customer acquisition and pricing. The plan written for a mall organization will essentially consist of an extended marketing plan, because for Freelance consultants,  success hinges on identifying and reaching clients who will pay as well as pricing the services advantageously.

FINANCING

Whether you’ll self-finance because you’re wealthy enough,  or the venture is small and  not especially demanding of capital investment,  you nevertheless need to know with a reasonable degree of certainty how much you’ll need to spend to carry out the plan ( that could be a new product, or the purchase of something big, or a marketing plan, for example).  If your strategy is to attract investors,  they’ll need to be convinced by your projected sales revenue figures,  because they’ll want to know when they’ll be paid back or know when to expect profits if they are made co-owners of the business.  A break-even analysis, projected income statement, projected cash-flow statement and projected balance sheet are required by those who will need significant money.

OPERATIONS

How will day-to-day business processes function?  Tell it here,  along with providing the organizational chart,  the business location,  the method of producing that which you sell (if you are,  say,  a Freelance book editor or  graphics specialist,  you produce the service yourself),  your sub-contractors (if you are a special events organizer,  who is your usual caterer, florist,  limo service, etc.?) and quality control methods.  This element is about logistics.

For more information on writing a business plan,  visit the Small Business Association website https://www.sba.gov/tools/sba-learning-center/training/how-write-business-plan

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 Year-End Tax Planning Thoughts

It’s mid-November and time for Freelancers to think about how much money we will hand over to the tax man this year. Tax planning is usually at top of mind as the year ends, but be advised that obsessing over taxes is not always useful. New York City CPA and small business tax specialist Michael Hanley recommends that you take a breath and consider the impact that aggressive tax strategies would have on your financial circumstances.

Hanley cautions small business owners and Freelancers against inflated spending on business expenses just to give themselves a lower tax bill, because tax deductions are not a dollar-for-dollar benefit. Every dollar written off as a deduction yields on average only 30 cents in tax savings (depending on your tax bracket and legal structure of the business). If you have a big-ticket item to buy and you anticipate that this year’s income and next year’s will be about the same, then buy when you can get the best price on the item, be it in this year or next. Your savings could be worth more than the tax deduction.

Hanley also addresses the apparently common tactic of zeroing out one’s business bank account by December 31. Paying for business expenses, adding to your retirement account, or purchasing business equipment or supplies will likely make the zero balance bank account tactic work. Paying yourself a bonus, taking a shareholder distribution if your business is a corporate entity, paying down your credit line at the bank, or paying off business credit cards will not give you legitimate tax deductions.

Professional development education is tax-deductible, so if you’re holding money and there is a potentially useful workshop or symposium offered late in the year, do register and attend. You might also consider throwing a Christmas party for clients, prospective clients, referral sources and selected business colleagues (meaning, no one who might steal a client!). Your Christmas party could turn out to be a networking bonanza that creates billable hours for you in the coming year (and beyond).

Clients and referral sources could come away with more business as well and that will make their relationship with you more valuable to them. If you can grab a big table or a private room in a restaurant that needn’t be fancy, but has a good reputation, then plan your party with Evite, even if a Monday night is all you can reserve.  Allow 7-14 days for the RSVP—last minute invitations can be just fine. Spontaneity has its charms, especially at this time of year.

To make sure that the social swirl and networking will be effective, invite 30 and expect 12 to show. Set out five or six finger foods and arrange for a signature cocktail. If someone asks for beer or wine, let them have it. Your party can run 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM. Most people will have two drinks, the restaurant will tell you how much food to set out. You will probably spend $60/pp, meaning that a table of 12 will cost less than $750.

You might also consider inviting your Linked-In connections to a party. It would be a wonderful way to introduce your colleagues to one another and billable hours could be created as a result. You may want to make this a pizza, salad, beer and wine affair, but so what? It’s a great idea, regardless. If you have 100 connections, plan on 25 showing up.

If it’s too late to host a party this year, the cards and stamps used for the December greetings that you’ll send to clients and referral sources are tax-deductible. If you act now,  there will be time to order specially printed cards for your business (you will still add a personal message).

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Industry Growth Trends 2015 – 2017

Growth  is always on the minds of entrepreneurs,  business owners and Freelance consultants.  Growth is essential for the survival of a business and it can take many forms,  from an increase in current and potential customers,  to a greater number of employees,  higher profits,  or the number of products or services available for sale.  Here are projected industry trends and B2B small business growth projections through 2017 that are based on expected demand,  meaning that there will likely be more current and potential customers ready to spend money in these industries.   The list was compiled by Jackie Nagel,  author of the blog “Oh, The Places Where Your Small Business Can Grow”.

Industries expected to outpace the overall growth of the US economy are:

Technology    42% growth projected

Health care    28% growth projected

Finance          14% growth projected

Retail              14% growth projected

HR Services

Human Resources is an exceptionally broad field and all aspects are expected to show growth over the next 12 – 36 months.  Executive search,  benefits management,  payroll management,  training/ professional development/ executive coaching and compensation specialists can all expect many opportunities to expand their client lists and generate more billable hours.

Internet Security

Freelancers and small business owners do not always pay attention to the many occurrences of internet data security breaches that hackers have visited upon several large corporations.  Be advised that recently,  I was one of many who received a phishing attack email that a hacker sent illegally from the address of a colleague.  The email address lists of all recipients were at risk.  No one wants the embarrassment of a hacked email bearing our business name sent to our client list.  Internet security risks are a real concern and the need for protection is growing.  It’s time to call in a professional and set up a firewall.

Marketing Services

Small business owners often have ambitious marketing plans,  but execution can be a sticking point.  Freelancers who specialize in helping small businesses to launch their marketing strategies will be needed to bridge the time,  talent and strategy development gaps faced by many small organizations,  for-profit and not-for-profit.  The demand for social media strategies,  videography and podcast development,  website development and content marketing expertise will likewise remain strong.

Technology Services

Small business owners and Freelancers continue to explore the benefits of cloud computing for data storage,  real-time document and secure data sharing and videoconferencing.  Entrepreneurs are in search of technologies that will help them to quickly scale-up a business.  Which apps will help entrepreneurs to efficiently grow and manage their enterprise and can it all be mobile?  Demand for technological advances such as 3 D printing and online eyeglasses and contact lenses that let customers virtually try on lens ware are big new entries to the scene and the trend will be upward.  Video game and app development continues to lure talented techies into entrepreneurship as does television and home theater installation.

Green and sustainable building construction

Architects,  structural engineers,  general contractors,  electricians and manufacturers of solar panels are expected to have lots of business through 2017.  Saving money on heating and electricity with energy-efficient buildings are big priorities that real estate developers,  current homeowners and prospective buyers are willing to pay for.  Even landscapers get into the act when they design attractive alternatives to water-sucking lawns.

Boutique mind/ body fitness studios

Overweight and over-stressed Americans are ever optimistic about a new regimen to cure what ails us.  Boutique cycling,  personal training, Pilates,  yoga and meditation studios will continue to proliferate in metro areas.  These studios are less expensive to operate than traditional fitness centers primarily because participants do not perform aerobic routines in big,  mirrored studios,  nor are lines of treadmills and ellipticals needed.  Rather,  participants are confined to a mat,  stationary bike or compact training studio that is stocked with  a well-curated choice of exercise equipment.  Boutique fitness studios even use proportionately less water than traditional fitness centers because participants typically shower at home.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

5 Start-up Must-dos

Peter Russo, Director of the Entrepreneurial Management Institute at Boston University,  wisely points out that avoiding mistakes is not quite the same thing as doing the right thing.  Avoiding mistakes is being on the defensive,  the yin side of the equation.  Doing the right thing is proactive,  on the offensive,  the yang side of the equation.  Here is Peter Russo’s list of essential must-dos for those who plan to launch a business venture.

1.   Know your goals for the venture.  “A lot of people see an opportunity without ever asking themselves what they’re doing it for.  Are you trying to make a quick buck?  Create a legacy?  Afford a certain lifestyle?  It’s critical that you know from the beginning what your goals are,  because everything else is going to revolve around that.”  Launching a full-time venture that is expected to grow exponentially and generate for the owners ever-expanding  profits is not always a goal.   Some people start a business to generate some income by leveraging a creative ability.  For many years my father,  who had a day job,  worked in a landscaping venture that was started by my mother’s uncle after he retired.  The two worked evenings and Saturdays for about 15 years.  My father and great-uncle understood that it was not practical to attempt to expand the venture into a full-time endeavor,  for any number of reasons and so they didn’t.  But they made money and that was their goal.

2.   Recruit and hire the best people.  “It sounds almost like a cliché to say that I’d rather have an A team with a B idea than a B team with an A idea.  The right team can fix a lot of problems.  If you don’t have the right team,  you don’t have much of a chance.  Get the best available people at the time.”  Hiring friends and family who need a job is not the way to staff your start-up.  You need experience and talent,  creative and resourceful professionals possessed of an excellent work ethic and who are a good cultural fit for the organization.

3.   Develop a forgiving strategy.  “Things are going to go wrong.  They’re going to be harder,  take longer and cost more money than you think.  You have to have a strategy to survive.  A lot of people put together a plan that will work only if everything goes right.  It’s not going to.”

4.   Be honest with yourself.  “Acknowledge shortcomings,  weaknesses and problems immediately.  Do not ignore them or try to talk yourself out of them.  Address them head-on.”  So if you have production problems,  distribution or quality control problems,  fix your system.  If business is distressingly slow,  then re-think your business model—do you have a viable concept?  Or might you have been too optimistic about market potential,  or your ability to enter and win customers?  Should you step up your marketing efforts?

5.   Commit to the business.  “You can’t really do anything significant without fully committing yourself to it.  A lot of people try to dabble.  They think they’ll do it part-time and see how it works out.  If you plan to be successful,   you have to commit.”  Refer back to #1—what are your goals for the business?  Plenty of people operate successfully as part-time caterers,  musicians,  wedding photographers/videographers,  website designers,  etc.  They start a business to generate some money by leveraging a creative ability.  It takes a great deal of energy,  discipline and focus to launch and sustain a part-time business while simultaneously working a full or part-time job.  You must commit to the business if it is to succeed.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Sidestep Start-up Screw-ups

Presented for your edification are the final five elements of the start-up advice recommended by John Osher,  former CEO of Dr. John’s Products, Ltd. and an entrepreneur extraordinaire who started three businesses from the ground up and sold each at huge profit.

13.   SEEKING CONFIRMATION OF YOUR ACTIONS, RATHER THAN SEEKING THE TRUTH

“This often happens: you want to do something, so you talk about it with people who work for you.  You talk to family and friends.  But you’re only looking for confirmation.  You’re not looking for the truth.  You’re looking for somebody to tell you you’re right.  You have to learn to give more value to the truth than to people saying what you’re doing is right”.

14.   LACKING SIMPLICITY IN YOUR VISION

“Rather than focusing on doing everything right to sell to your biggest markets,  you divide your attention …trying to be too many things at one time.  Then your main product isn’t done properly because you’re doing so many different things”.   I have been guilty of this and maybe you have,  too.  I was trying to hook as many customer groups as possible using every skill set that I owned.  As a result,  when I would tell someone what I do,  they would sometimes get this confused look on their face.  Eventually,  a networking group colleague told me that he was having trouble trying to categorize me,  couldn’t figure how to remember me for referrals.  A couple of years ago,  I finally found the courage to pare down my offerings,  to simplify and sharpen the focus of my suite of services.   Referrals eventually increased and business got better.   This is a business model issue.  Sometimes,  less is more.

15.    LACKING CLARITY IN THE BUSINESS PURPOSE AND GOALS

“You should have an idea of what your long-term aim is.  It doesn’t mean that won’t change,  but when you aim an arrow,   you aim it at a target.  What are you trying to do?  If you want to create a billion dollar company with a certain product,  you may not have a chance.  But if you’re trying to create a million dollar company,  then maybe with that product,  you’ll have a chance.  Clarity of your business purpose is very important”.

16.    LACKING FOCUS AND IDENTITY

“This list was written from the viewpoint of building a company as a valuable entity.  Remember that the company itself has an identity,  a brand.  Do not go after too many things at once and end up with a potpourri of products and services,  rather than a focused business entity.  When you go into business,   it’s important to maintain a focus and an identity.  You must be focused on who you are and what you do and you build power and credibility from that”.

17.    LACKING AN EXIT STRATEGY

“Have an exit plan and create your business to satisfy that plan.   You may build a business that you feel will start fast and make a good deal of money and for that reason will attract a lucrative buy-out.   Maybe you figure that you can make lots of money for about two years but after that,  competitors will enter and you won’t be able to protect yourself from them.   So after the first year,  you watch the marketplace very carefully and keep a close eye on inventory.  Another exit strategy can be to hand the company to your kids someday.  The most important thing to do is build a company with value and profits so you have all the options open to you;  keep the company,   sell the company,   go public,  raise private money and so on.   A business can be a product, too”.

Next week,  we can examine five things to get right as you build your business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Business Meeting Etiquette

We are now on the other side of Memorial Day Weekend.  For many Freelance consultants,  the start of Summer means that work assignments wrap up and one wonders not only how to make good use of time,  but also how to create the conditions for a profitable September and fourth quarter.  Over the years,  I’ve found that a surprising number of decision-makers are also less busy in Summer and are therefore more amenable to scheduling a meeting with me.

On the other hand,  you may be very busy working with a client who must have a certain initiative up and running right after Labor Day.  You may be leading a team and thus responsible for achieving milestones,  disseminating information and maintaining team member enthusiasm and focus during steamy Summer days,  all of which will cause you to occasionally schedule meetings.

Regardless of your motive,  take steps to ensure that your meetings are perceived as worthwhile by those who attend.  Define a clear purpose and use that to create an agenda.  If you are a project leader,  you must identify questions that need answers,  confront current or potential roadblocks,  or possibly evaluate the need to make adjustments to the project scope or its time-table.  Next,  decide who should attend and begin the scheduling process.  Invite only the stakeholders: those who are carrying out the project,  the project sponsor and those who will be directly impacted by its outcomes.

To win a client meeting,  your agenda is to articulate the value of what you propose and convince the prospect to meet with you and ultimately,  offer you a contract.  A telephone call in which you propose a meeting is the simplest approach,  unless you can arrange to  “accidentally” encounter him/her at some location and  make an in-person request.

When bringing together your team,  a group email is the preferred method of contact and within it state the purpose of the meeting;  who will be asked to present;  any materials that team members should bring along;  and the expected length of the meeting.  In both scenarios,  offer two or three possible date/time options.  When a date has been chosen,  immediately send a confirmation email and reconfirm 24-48 hours before the meeting date,  with an agenda and relevant reports attached for the team meeting.

Set a good tone by opening your meeting no more than 5 minutes after the official start-time and by warmly greeting participants and thanking them for attending.  Remember at the start to properly introduce any guests or anyone who is new to the team,  stating proper names,  job titles and role on the project.  Have hard copies of the agenda and any meeting materials available for each attendee,  no matter that those were sent with the confirmation email.

Move through the agenda items and get resolution on each one,  even if that means follow-up is needed.  Encourage attendees to participate and enforce good manners.   Make certain that no one gets shouted down and that everyone who would like to contribute gets a respectful hearing.  Ask that only one person speak at a time and that those who would like to speak first raise their hand to be recognized by you,  the presider.   End the meeting on time,  unless participants agree to stay longer to complete unfinished items.

If the meeting is held in a restaurant,   you called the meeting and you pay the bill.  If you are a consulting project team leader,  confirm reimbursement procedures with your company contact in advance.  If you meet with a client,  arrive at the restaurant 15 minutes early and arrange a discreet payment protocol with the host,  so that an awkward moment is avoided.

Enlist a meeting note taker,  or take them yourself.   Within 72 hours after the meeting,  send to all participants a draft copy of the notes and invite corrections.  When corrections have been made,  send the final copy to all who attended and also to the project sponsor,   whether or not s/he attended.  If meeting with a client,  send a thank you letter that is hard copy or an email,   in which you document any agreements and action items.  Make sure that all meeting participants carry through with their follow-up commitments in a timely fashion.

Happy Summer and thanks for reading,

Kim

The Unwritten Rules of the Business Christmas Party

It’s countdown to Christmas and you may have already been to two or three parties by the time this post is published.  I will have been to three and one was at a business association.  I had a nice time.  I met a few people,  found out a few things about what is on the horizon for the association and got to know the president a little better.

In other words,  the Christmas party went as planned.  When attending a business Christmas party,  plan is the operative word.  Whether the party is hosted by your company,  a client,  or a business or professional association,  relax and enjoy the event,  but remember that you are at work.  Focus less on revelry and more on building or renewing relationships.

Always remember that you are being watched and evaluated,  because Christmas parties have a long-standing reputation of providing a stage for outrageous behavior.  Assume that those in attendance are waiting for someone to obviously over-indulge on alcohol,  or maybe slip out of the door with someone other than her husband.  Walk in the door making a good impression by following the requested dress code.  When none is specified,  wear whatever business attire means in that organization.

Create an agenda for the business Christmas parties you attend and polish your elevator pitch.  Besides chatting with your contact at the organization  (or your boss,  if you are an employee),  make a list of two or three other presumptive party guests that you would like to speak with,  whether or not you’ve met them,  and questions you’d like to ask.  However,  do not try to consummate a deal at the party.  Aim to set up a time to follow-up at a later date.

Because alcohol is inevitably involved,  it’s best to implement your action plan while everyone is relatively sober.  Arrive early.  Get your introductions made and have important conversations as early as possible.  Have maximum one alcoholic beverage and then drink mineral water with a slice of lime or lemon,  so that it looks as if you are having a cocktail,  to prevent yourself from drinking too much.  Leave sort of early.

Along with your must-meet list,  extend yourself and meet others.  When you see someone standing alone,  walk up and introduce yourself.  Start a conversation by asking if they come to this party regularly.  Meeting and greeting are the essence of every party.

When Christmas party invitations arrive,  recognize them for their potential networking value.  Think of a business Christmas party like a conference that doesn’t have presentations,  where you can meet or maybe reconnect with colleagues,  meet a new strategic partner or clients.  Yet do not make the mistake of talking too much business at the party.  Career coach Kathleen Brady,  owner of Brady and Associates Career Planners,  advises that  at the party  “You’re trying to create on-ramps to build new relationships.”  Now go have a good time!

Thanks for reading,

Kim