2021: The Comeback

It’s a New Year and now is the time to engineer a fresh start for you and your business. Take a few deep cleansing breaths to clear your mind and allow the big picture of your business, competencies, clients and relationships to come into view. Now you’ll be able to pull up the strategic insights and resourcefulness you’ve honed over the years and brainstorm how you can reposition your company to outwit the COVID-created obstacles that have hemmed all of us in over the past nine months. If the virus can adapt and retrench, so can you!

Predictions for the viability of several once thriving industries is less than optimistic, I’m sorry to say, but some Freelancers and business owners will be buoyed by other industries that flourished during the pandemic and can be expected to continue to do so. Among those fortunate few are:

All aspects of healthcare, from Freelance grant writers who work to obtain funding for life sciences research, which includes the development of vaccines, to start-up entrepreneurs who seek to patent and sell medical devices, to owners of medical billing services.

All aspects of technology, from Bitcoin entrepreneurs, to experts in cloud computing solutions, including digital data storage, to those who provide Artificial Intelligence solutions.

Prepared meals, available for curbside pick-up or delivery, were already trending upward and sales have skyrocketed since the advent of pandemic quarantining. While some who got an early start in the marketplace are succeeding by offering meat-potatoes-and gravy American standard menus, recent successful home meal caterers seem to be following the advice of 1930s burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee—-you’ve gotta have a gimmick. The popularity of Keto, vegan, organic, vegetarian, gluten-free and Paleo menus are claiming an increased market share.

Because so many of us are at home all day, unemployed, underemployed, working from home, overseeing children’s online schooling and unable to access our usual social outlets and networks, the cocktail hour has taken on a renewed luster. In other words, business is brisk at wine and liquor stores.

If you’re not a good cook, not a techie, you’re not an engineer who can develop a product, you have no interest in writing grants and could never raise the start-up capital needed to open a liquor store, all is not lost. The second-oldest Freelance career, real estate, is still going strong, particularly in the residential sector.

Condominium and co-op sales at the 8-figure top of the market in big cities have been softening for about two years now, but sales in sun belt states and suburban communities are doing very well. COVID has caused all of us to spend much more time at home and families require more living space now that the adults are often working from home and both need a home office. Children need not just a playroom, but also an in-home classroom for virtual school.

Furthermore, many who now work from home are looking to get out of small and expensive city apartments and move to the suburbs. Now that there is no more commute to the office or access to the entertainment, culture and networking opportunities that once justified the price of urban life, why continue to feed your greedy landlord?

Freelancers who have at least mid-level sales skills and are curious about entering the real estate field should first explore the trends in their locale. Finding a friend who is a licensed agent to tutor you in the ins & outs of the business would be a useful step two. Next, obtain a real estate license and try your luck with rental property to start. Maybe your real estate mentor will recommend you to a company who’ll bring you in as an agent.

Expect and prepare for change

Have you noticed that those who so cavalierly lecture others to welcome and embrace change are nearly always untouched by the change they tell the rest of us to welcome? Change may be inevitable but it is nevertheless unsettling and is sometimes destructive. We have good reason to fear change because the outcome can be ruinous. That said, life is all about managing risk, avoiding or overcoming obstacles and recognizing and pursuing opportunities.

We must all prepare for change, whether we see it approaching or get blind-sided by its sudden impact. Create your ongoing risk management strategy by keeping up with professional development. Regularly read up on developments in your industry so that you’re not caught unawares by policy or customer preference changes. Investigate technologies that will make your company more appealing and responsive to clients and make doing business with your organization more efficient. Always, look for ways to conserve cash.

Stay abreast of customer priorities

Understanding the needs and emerging priorities of clients enables you to recognize future business opportunities for your company and that information will be a crucial component of your nimble response to change and crafting a successful comeback. Including a short customer survey with an invoice will give clients a chance to voice how they feel about your products and services, tell you how your organization can improve and might even give you early warning on the next big thing.

Talk to your clients and learn what you can, politely and over time, to learn what keeps them awake at night and what they’re prioritizing now, or may prioritize in the near term.

Expand your client list, even if you’ve been lucky enough to work with an organization that has prospered during the pandemic and is giving you generous billable hours or sales. As we know, things can change. Back up, back up, back up.

Work smart

I don’t care what anyone says, I still feel that good luck, good timing and knowing influential people are the determining factors in building a successful business enterprise. Hard work matters, too, but billions of people on planet earth work hard every day and starve as they do. Working smart is the better choice, even if your luck and timing aren’t so great and no one’s looking out for you.

Meeting the right people is helpful, but it’s always been random and is difficult to do by way of videoconference, a method of communication that is not conducive to bonding with new colleagues and friends. It’s probably best to look for ways to refresh relationships with strategically placed friends and colleagues who you feel may be inclined to help you. You should also consider ways that you might help them as well and make that known, to get the reciprocity rolling.

Be ready for whatever good luck or timing might come your way by being visible and looking viable. Participate in virtual business or social events so that you’ll see and be seen. Use the chat function to message colleagues and privately say hello and potentially suggest a socially distanced coffee or drinks meet-up.

There are no guarantees but taking steps to package and present yourself and your company as prepared, proactive, nimble and viable is the surest route to your successful comeback.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Sylvester Stallone (L) and Burgess Meredith in the Academy Award winning movie Rocky (Best Picture, 1977)

Rethinking Your Services

Like lovers, clients can be fickle. Both will tell you that they love you and everything about you and everything you do, that is until they don’t, and they leave you for someone else.  I take this to mean that in business as in love, one should never get too comfortable.  Continuing to do the same things in the same way can become very predictable and therefore boring.  You could eventually be considered to be outdated or out of touch.

Clients and lovers want to be understood.  They crave a partner who is aware of their shifting needs and priorities, without being told.  Talking to clients and lovers to find out how they feel about the relationship is a useful exercise, but the conversation will not always elicit the truth.  It could be that our perceived lapses and failings do not become apparent until a competitor comes along and persuades them that they can do better.

To sustain healthy and satisfying business and intimate relationships, we must hone our intuition and be prepared to never rest on our laurels.  Continually affirming one’s value is key, in both short and long-term scenarios.  I suspect that the 24 hour news cycle and 140 character messages have contributed to the brief attention spans, impatience and need for instant gratification that seem to have overtaken us.

In defense, I suggest that periodically, a brand refresh that includes an update in how services are described and packaged will do some good.  Think of Lady Gaga as you engineer a little shake-up every three years or so.  Staying abreast with what is happening in the industries in which your clients operate will be helpful, so that you can learn about the challenges and priorities that your clients see and you may be able to see opportunities for you new or expanded services.  If nothing else, you’ll can become fluent in the jargon and terms that your clients use to describe themselves and that will add to your credibility when you echo that in your content marketing and client meetings. When you speak their language they will know that you “get it” and that you can be trusted to deliver the outcomes they need.

As a caveat, I also suggest that you beware the temptation of giving your clients precisely what they say they want in every instance and in particular, avoid being swayed by a vocal minority.  Keep client preferences in mind (especially if a clear majority raises the same issues), but understand that clients (and lovers) are not always able to articulate what will make them happy enough to stay with you.

This may be apocryphal, but it’s been said that when the late founder of Ford Motor Company, the legendary inventor and entrepreneur Henry Ford, was asked if he spoke with potential customers to learn what improvements they wanted to see in the transportation field, replied, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’ ”

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky advised that when playing, you have to skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been. CEOs from Warren Buffet to the late Steve Jobs have quoted that line because keeping that advice in mind is how one builds a successful company.  Where the puck is going will be impacted by recent innovations, the economic climate and even social and political developments.  Always, we must stay on top of developments because that is the only way that one who is in business can project what clients might want us to do for them, either next month or next year.

So what does a Freelance consultant do to find out what’s going on? The short answer is to keep your eyes and ears open and fully engage in your business and your life.  Read blogs, newsletters and business magazines. Occasionally listen to a webinar, attend a seminar and go to a business or professional association meeting. Talk to your clients and colleagues, friends and family.

There is a tidal wave of information to soak up, but it isn’t necessary to drink from the firehose and become overwhelmed.  Just be consistent.  Be open to how new information can benefit your clients and you can ask their opinions about some of what you’ve heard or read.  Invite your clients to interpret some things for you, since they are best positioned to do so.  You will then understand the  big picture and when you do, you’ll see where the puck is going to be.

Thanks for reading,

KIm

 

Before You Make New Year’s Resolutions…

This week,  we’ll  continue the quest of getting you ready for the New Year. Regular readers will recall that last week’s post gave an overview of the benefits of physical exercise.  Those readers are now completely convinced that working out on a regular basis will not only improve their health, strength and endurance,  but will also make them smarter,  more disciplined,  more resourceful and creative and  (most importantly!) better looking.  You’ll perhaps need to know how to kick-start your work out routine and so we will take a look at that old cliche, New Year’s resolutions.

In a study by John Norcross, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton (PA) and author of Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions  (2012),  45 % of Americans usually make resolutions to put themselves on the right track in the New Year and 38 % never make such resolutions.

Norcross discovered that of those who make at least one New Year’s resolution,  8 % achieve their goal and 46 % continue with their resolution for six months or more.  He concluded that people who make New Year’s resolutions (or other types) are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than those who do not explicitly make resolutions.

So how do you get yourself into the victorious 8 %? Basically,  you need to pick the right resolutions to pursue and give yourself the tools to achieve them.  The question to ask yourself is,  why do I want to do this?

Change brings one outside of the comfort zone,  so strive to make only those changes that seem to be right for you and do not aim to make changes based on what others feel you should do.  Unless you’ve been failing to meet obligations,  the expectations of others cannot rule your resolutions.  They must be meaningful to you and that will motivate you to work hard and attain them.

Second,  put yourself on the road to success by making SMART resolutions: Specific,  Measurable,  Attainable,  Relevant and Time-bound.  SMART resolutions will be easy and gratifying to track.  Establish target date milestones,  that is interim victories,  and give yourself a small yet meaningful reward each time you reach one.  Milestones are motivators.

Before you jump into taking on your resolutions,  it will be useful to devise an action plan.  How will you bring about these changes? What will be the processes and steps involved?  Map it out and include projected interim victory dates and decide the rewards that you’ll attach to each.

To enact an especially ambitious resolution,  or series of resolutions,  may require a support system,  if for no other reason than to make  you accountable for achieving them.  You may want to enlist a mentor or friend to act as a coach and motivator to give you encouragement and/or advice along the way.

If working out is your resolution and you can afford to hire a personal trainer for individual or (less expensive) small group training,  that will effectively keep you on track,  provide an exercise regimen that will serve as the heart of your action plan and make it easy to identify reasonable milestones.

Whatever you decide to do,  or not do,  about potential New Year’s resolutions,  the upcoming New Year is the traditional time (along with your birthday) to hit the re-set button on life by making some beneficial changes.  Why not review the past year and decide what could be better and what is within your ability to improve? Your resolutions need not be earth-shattering.  The chance of joining the 8% winner’s circle will be greatly improved when you resolve to make small-scale changes that will nevertheless have a noticeable positive impact on your life.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Change We Can Believe In

Change is inevitable.  Change is good.  Be the change.  Just because everything is different doesn’t mean that anything has changed.

Change is inevitable because tomorrow will be another day.  Change can be positive or negative but unfortunately,  change often brings with it undesirable consequences.  In my experience and observation,  change is frequently something that the powerful foist upon the less powerful.  Change based on self-aggrandizement or an opportunity to enrich oneself at another’s expense is needless,  damaging,  unethical and the source of much stress for its recipients.

On the other hand,  change can be a positive and life-sustaining process that we ourselves control.  When the changes made are an adaptation to a new set of circumstances that allow us to explore new people and places,  avoid a threat,  or capitalize on an opportunity,  then change is a blessing.  This kind of change helps us to grow and prosper.

No life or organization can escape the inevitability of change.  Our only defense is learning how to manage change as gracefully as possible by formulating plans to minimize the negative and maximize our access to whatever is positive.  Guiding change may be the ultimate test of our inner resources and leadership ability.  Please consider the following Critical Success Factors for instituting change,  developed by retired Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter and detailed in his 1996 book  Leading Change.

1.    Acknowledge or create a sense of urgency. 

  • Identify and discuss current or potential crises or major opportunities.

2.    Assemble a coalition to guide the process.

  • Recruit a team whose members have sufficient skill and power to lead the change initiative.

3.    Create a vision of what the change will bring.

  • Create a vision to help direct the change process.
  • Develop goals,  objectives,  strategies and action plans that will achieve and manage the change.

4.    Communicate and gain acceptance of the vision.

  • Employ all available methods to communicate the vision to those who will be impacted.
  • Teach behaviors that reflect the change,  demonstrated by the guiding coalition.

5.    Empower the coalition to create the vision.

  • Eliminate obstacles to the change: lack of understanding or trust,  administrative and financial constraints.
  • Reconfigure or eliminate all systems and procedures that can undermine realization of the change.
  • Encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ways of thinking and actions.

6.    Identify popular and visible goals that are achievable in the short-term.

  • Plan for visible performance improvements that can be reached in the short-term.
  • Acknowledge and reward guiding coalition members and others involved in achieving those improvements.

7.    Use the credibility and support gained from short-term successes to move forward and promote the vision of the change.

  • Increased credibility is the green light to change or eliminate systems,  structures and policies that do not align with the new vision.
  • Continually reinvigorate and reinforce the change process with projects and people who support and validate it.

8.    Institutionalize the change.

  • Articulate and communicate the connections between the change and the enhanced success of the organization.
  • Develop a succession plan to ensure the ongoing presence of leadership that supports the change.

Thanks for reading,

Kim