How Freelancers Scale Up

According to the Small Business Association in 2018, there were 30.2 million small businesses (< 500 employees) in the US and 80%, 24.3 million, were one-person ventures, i.e., Solopreneurs. Although just under 6 million small businesses have paid employees, those businesses nevertheless employ 47.6% of private sector workers, 59 million of 124 million employed Americans (factoring out government and not-for-profit organizations—schools, hospitals, social welfare agencies, the arts, religious institutions). BTW, there are fewer than 20,000 large businesses in the country—19, 464 in 2018. 2017/08/04125711/Frequently-Asked-Questions-Small-Business-2018.pdf

I suppose it can be said that in American business small is beautiful, or perhaps more accurately, small is the reality. Many of those 24.3 million Solopreneurs attempt to turn what could easily be called a Weakness in the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) strategic planning matrix into a Strength (me!) and use terms such as “boutique” to describe our business, along with marketing-spin phrases such as “personalized service” to communicate to prospective customers that the experience of doing business with us will be very positive and that no one is treated as a commodity.

Operating a boutique business is all well and good, however “boutique” can easily turn into “broke” if the proprietor continues to just scrape along, trying to bring in enough customers to pay the rent and keep the lights on. In order to make a go of being a business owner/ operator, it is necessary to scale the business. A business has successfully scaled when it can deliver its products and services to a significantly larger customer base while maintaining or improving operational efficiency and quality control. Good strategy and execution are needed to scale, but it’s often do-able. Read on and learn tactics and inspiration that will help you decide how to scale your venture.

Scale the Brand

The process for scaling your Freelance business starts with knowing, articulating and communicating your Brand. To attract more clients so that you can double or even triple your roster over a 3-year period, for example, you must communicate in various ways—client testimonials, case studies, LinkedIn recommendations, social media, company website, your newsletter or blog and other marketing channels—that you are highly competent, trustworthy and dependable. You deliver every time and you meet and often exceed client expectations. You bring value. Invent a Branding tagline to help yourself stand out from the 24 + million Freelancers in America and add it to your email signature block.

Be advised that Branding doesn’t simply refer to the colors you use for your business card or logo. Branding encompasses all client touch points during which your client encounters or interacts with you and your company, from the initial contact with you, interaction with employees, the tone of emails, visiting and navigating your website, your payment and billing systems, social media posts, advertising and everything in between. Articulating and communicating your Brand not only enhances the perception of your know-how as a Freelancer, but also makes it easier to scale your business in the future.

Scale client acquisition

Freelancers tend to get stuck in a rut of competing for projects in the same way over and over. We find a tactic that works, whether it’s cold emailing potential clients or applying for jobs posted on sites like Upwork.com and Guru.com. One will eventually figure out how to get hired on those sites, but you’ll still leave a lot of work on the table. It’s been reported that 27% of Freelancers find assignments via referrals made by friends, family and clients; 24% find projects through online job boards, email marketing and social media platforms like LinkedIn ProFinder. How can you make the most of these sources?

You don’t have to chase down all possibilities but do get into the habit of exploring alternative client acquisition methods, to get your name and expertise in front of a wider audience. Your current clients are also a potential source of referrals (I’ve been lucky enough to have that happen). Get the ball rolling by making a referral for your client first, so that you will come to mind if one of the client’s colleagues could use your services. BTW, unless you’re in IT, job boards attract clients who low-ball the money. Not only that, but Upwork now requires Freelancers to pay to submit a proposal and then pay again 20% of the fee when one is hired. I will not pay to apply for a job and that service is off my list.

Scale your network

Networking can potentially deliver significant benefits that accrue from the relationships you build. Networking helps us meet new friends, find a future spouse, get invited to join a board, learn of a house for sale when we’re looking to move, or get a job referral. Networking will also bring to you potential collaborators, for those times that you need to bring in a Freelancer colleague in order to take on a bigger project, or the gift of community support when it would be helpful (and when is it not?).

Start building your professional network ASAP, compiling connections who are Freelancers themselves and maybe also potential clients. Try connecting with fellow Freelancers in the comment section of industry blogs and industry-related LinkedIn and Facebook groups and participating in relevant Twitter discussions.

Scale your skills

Whatever one does for a living there is always training and development involved, that is, if one is lucky, because professional development is an investment in you and no one can take it away once you have it. In order to find work, the Freelancer must be considered a trusted expert. To be considered an expert, one must be better than the rest and that means your knowledge and skills must be bleeding edge current.

When preparing to scale your business you have to grow as a person and a professional and that means learning new skills, keeping up with the newest trends and learning to use applicable tech tools. This can be challenging, as well as time consuming, but what you learn can perhaps lead to new business ideas, smarter planning for the future and implementing new systems and approaches. Online education sites like Coursera, Udemy and Codecademy are a good place to start. Serving on a board, teaching and even judging a business award (I’ve judged the Stevie Awards/ Women in Business category https://stevieawards.com/women for 6 years) are other ways to keep skills current and learn new competencies (and network as you do).

Scale your creativity

To effectively scale your Freelance gig and transform it into an enterprise, you need to break out of your service-based mentality and the best way to do that is to create a product to sell. Think about it—once you’ve created your e-book, course, or physical product, you can sell it over and over, whereas you’re limited to providing a certain amount of services per week to clients.

Not only does a product give you the ability to reach many more people, but creating a product also provides you with passive income, giving you more time to work on other areas of your business. Put on your thinking cap and see what you can dream up. An e-book or online courses are probably the most accessible products for B2B service providers to produce. I don’t have an online course to sell (yet), but I’ve been teaching business-related subjects for more than a dozen years.

Scale your systems

In order to grow, one needs the tools to keep revenue consistently coming in at a steady and abundant pace. To support opportunities for that business growth, it pays to systematize certain business functions and responsibilities. Outsourcing gives you the pleasure of employing a fellow Freelancer as you devote more time to the pursuit of lucrative clients or identifying another product to sell.

Invoicing, bookkeeping, newsletter or blog editing and social media account management are popular outsourcing functions because they do not require a deep knowledge of your business. Outsourcing (or automating) routine tasks gives you the time you need to work on your business, not in your business and that will enable you to scale.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: (Reuters) Master Baker Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ and star of the reality television show Cake Boss (TLC)

10 Steps to Fortify Your Business

Here come the lazy, hazy days of summer. The sun is warm and days are long, but billable hours can be short, the result of vacation schedules at client workplaces. For that reason, Freelancers may often find it convenient to vacation in July or August. But those who prefer a winter vacation, whether on ski slopes or in warm surf, might long for a worthy assignment to get their arms around. I’ll suggest that Freelancers, as well as small business owners, look no further than our own organization for a project that can generate billable hours.

During the summer slowdown, ambitious Freelancers and business owners will use the available time to build a more efficiently run and profitable business. We’ll reconfirm our customer knowledge, examine our product and service lines, analyze our financial statements, review operations processes, evaluate customer service protocols, update competitive intelligence and refine marketing tactics.

Smart Freelancers will look inward to shore up our businesses internally. We’ll also look outward, ready to pounce on intriguing opportunities that become available. If you’re not doing so already, here are 10 smart business planning steps you should take this season.

  1. Analyze your financials

Examine your Profit & Loss and Cash-flow Statements and make note of the top line, that is, Gross Sales on the Cash-flow statement and Gross Revenue on the P & L Statement. That number (they are the same) reflects the amount of all billable hours and other income you generated in a particular month (or quarter, or year). In a potential business slow-down, it’s essential to confirm that you’ll have the funds to cover all accounts payable, including payroll, if you have employees or outsourced help.

Next, take a look at your Balance Sheet and make note of the total Accounts Payable figure. that number represents monthly business debts (e.g. office space rent and insurance premiums). If a shortfall looks like a possibility, you’ll need to find a way to either negotiate with creditors to ask for an extension, or find a way to generate money quickly. Maybe you can find a part-time under-the-radar job?

  1. Conduct SWOT Analysis

The acronym known as SWOT you may know stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal (personal) attributes and can be impacted by you. Your strengths may include an exceptional client list, fortunate business and personal relationships that you can leverage, relevant educational or professional qualifications, and/or a product or service line that clients value and support. Brainstorm new ways to capitalize your company strengths. Acknowledge also company Weaknesses and find ways to eliminate, minimize and/or camouflage.

Research happenings that may potentially impact your organization to manage the external factors of Opportunities and Threats. Approach all potential Opportunities with forethought, so that you will remember to apply the most appropriate of your Strengths to effectively laying claim to the good. Take steps to sidestep or soften the blow of potential Threats.

  1. Rank clients

Determine who’s profitable, and who’s not. If some clients are a drain on resources, perhaps because they give few billable hours and the rate is low, either raise the price or “fire” them. You can’t afford to carry unprofitable clients.  Aim to work lean and mean. right now.

  1. Network

There will be a handful of conferences held in July and August and some may be worthwhile. If you become aware of a conference where the topics will be relevant to you, the speakers interesting and the attendees people who you may want to meet, try to find the money to attend. You may find your next client or referral partner (and remember to reciprocate).

  1. Streamline work processes

Time is the resource that those who work in the Knowledge Economy, i.e., the intangible services business, value most.  How can you provide your services faster and still maintain the high quality of deliverables for your clients? The objective is to create time to pursue more clients, analyze your business and clients, network, or simply rest and recharge your batteries.

  1. Create strategic alliances

Forming simple partnerships can make or save you money.  One of your clients could be an excellent referral source for your business and you may be able to return the favor for your client’s organization.

  1. Reduce expenses

Do you rent office space? If so and especially if your lease will expire in less than a year, why not call your landlord and suggest that the two of you negotiate a longer-term lease in return for cost concessions?  Or, if you’ve been able to pay all insurance policies on time for the past 12 – 18 months, inquire about a lower annual premium? Do the same for your credit cards regarding interest rates.

  1. Refine marketing strategies

Assess the impact and ROI of your marketing efforts and then ensure that your marketing goals make sense for your business.  What exactly do you want your content marketing, marketing and advertising and social media postings to accomplish?

  1. Target competitors’ clients

If learn that a competitor is struggling, reach out to any of his/her clients whom you know or feel comfortable approaching to discuss the advantages of doing business with your organization. If your competitor’s clients sense a possible decline in quality or fear a service disruption, they may be receptive to your pitch.

  1. Eyes and ears open

Be on the lookout for fresh ideas and opportunities. Stay abreast of news and trends in your industry and also in your clients’ industries. Interact with other Freelancers and business owners to see what they’re doing. Learn from them what’s going on around you and be prepared to explore promising opportunities that come your way.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Second Crop (Le Regain), 1880  Julien Dupre (France, 1851 – 1910)

Market Research: Social Media Sleuthing

How many articles have you seen that counseled business owners to “deliver value”,  “know the client’s pain points”, or “create a marketable business model”?  It’s great advice, but no one tells you how to do it.  How can a Freelancer or small business owner who is not armed with a 5-figure marketing budget unearth such information quickly and inexpensively?

You already know that it’s essential to communicate to clients, in a number of ways, that you understand their needs, the results they’re trying to achieve and that you’ve got the know-how to get the job done.  When invited to speak with a decision-maker about a potential role in a project, I recommend that you turn to the company’s social media feeds, ranking sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor and the website and take notes on what you find—and you will find! Social media platforms and websites contain posts, newsletters, case studies, videos and/or audio reels that provide a treasure chest of information that you can use:

  • Marketing messages promoted to current and prospective customers
  • News about upcoming product and service launches
  • Indication of the products and services their customers prefer
  • Customer service complaints and compliments
  • Special promotional events
  • How the company positions itself against key competitors
  • Insights into whether customers skew male or female
  • The age range of customers
  • Job titles of customers if the company is B2B

Once you understand the prospect’s customers more completely, you can identify discussion topics and questions that will make you shine when you and the prospect meet. You’ll develop a winning sales pitch that speaks directly to the prospect’s needs, including perhaps matters that were not fully articulated when you first spoke with the prospect.

  • You’ll portray yourself as a highly competent, capable, trustworthy problem-solving professional who has the expertise to not only get the job done, but also to exceed expectations.
  • Your asking price will reflect the above conditions, meaning you’ll be able to command a premium price for your product or service (as determined by the client’s budget).

Now what if you are in the midst of writing a business plan to launch a new company, or conducting a business model refresh, perhaps in response to some inevitable disruption in the market place? Once again, social media sleuthing will reveal information that will ensure your business model will appeal to the evolving tastes and expectations of your target customers. You’ll be positioned to predict what factors will resonate for target customers, from their preferences regarding product or service features in your category, to the best way to express the perceived benefits and designing the ideal customer experience.

Social media postings will bring to light the big picture of your target customers and help you understand what makes them unique. You can then explore how your products and services can appeal to those distinctive attributes and conditions, in particular those needs and preferences that are either not fulfilled or are insufficiently served by competitors. Your product or service line, marketing materials, advertising and marketing campaigns, packaging, hours of operation, pricing and payment options will be structured to accommodate the distinguishing needs of your target customers.  You will capture your target market and your business will thrive as a result.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Peter Sellers in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

 

Trick or Treat! Bring Back Your Lapsed Clients

Halloween will soon arrive and ghosts and goblins are on our minds—and candy, too. All Hallows Eve (October 31), along with the Christian feast days of All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2) have got me thinking about bringing lapsed clients back from the great beyond and gently returning them to active status. While some clients give us only a one-off project, others are worth a steady, even if sometimes modest, stream of billable hours and as such, they are worth the comparatively small effort it takes to try and lure them back. Here are some statistics you’ll find persuasive:

1. It costs 5 times more to acquire a new client than it does to retain an existing one.
2. You have a 60% – 70% chance of selling to an existing client and only a 5% – 20% chance of selling to a prospect who has never done business with you.
3. Existing clients are 50% more likely to try your new product or service.
4. Existing clients on average spend 31% more than your newest clients.

So you see that we save time and money, as well as make more money, when we return to our lapsed clients. Surprisingly, only 18% of businesses have a defined client retention strategy, according to a recent marketing survey, but you now know that means money is being left on the table, something you cannot afford to do. Begin your client retention strategy as soon as you’re hired for a project. Shift your perspective—you haven’t just closed a sale, you’ve opened the door to a relationship.

Because marketing experts report that 89% of companies recognize that the client experience is a key factor in driving loyalty and retention, do your business a favor and devise a quick client satisfaction survey, maybe five or six questions, and get some post-project feedback. Clients always appreciate that you value their insights on how your organization does business. You might receive information that will make your business more competitive and therefore more favorably positioned to both win back and acquire clients.

The December holidays are approaching and that gives you the most golden opportunity for client outreach, the holiday card. Start thinking about your cards NOW. Would you like to have your local Sir Speedy or Kinko design a card for your clients? That will take some time and you want to be ready to mail in the first week of December. Remember that holiday cards intended for clients have a “Happy Holidays” message and not a religious message.

If you publish a newsletter or blog, clients past and present are ideal candidates for your mailing list. Clients have willingly shared their contact information and that gives you permission to send each a courtesy copy. Your content is an effective way to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your business acumen, making it similar to an ongoing audition for future assignments. Your newsletter or blog are effective ways to keep your organization at top of mind. Nevertheless, include an opt-out feature for those who prefer to discontinue.

Finally, you can offer a 20 % discount to any client who has not worked with you for the past three or more years. You might include the notice in two successive issues of your blog or newsletter, or send a separate email announcement, or both. However you get the word out, I suggest that you honor the discount for any client who requests it, even if it’s a year after the announcement appeared and you just competed a project with that client last month.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Jonathan Frid as vampire Barnabas Collins in the ABC-TV gothic horror soap opera “Dark Shadows” (1966-1971)

Holiday Gifts for Your Top Clients

OK procrastinators, it’s time to finally bust a move and get busy with the holiday cards and maybe gifts, too, that Freelance consultants MUST send to every client you’ve worked with over the past five years.  Relationships are everything in life and it’s up to the Freelancer to cultivate and sustain business relationships that help you grow your client list.  It’s important to periodically communicate with clients past and present and the good news is that at holiday time, there’s no need to invent a reason to reach out.  The December holidays are an important element of every Freelancer’s client retention strategy.

I’m happy to report that my business holiday cards were mailed on December 12.  So far, I haven’t felt the need to give client gifts.  BTW regarding cards, the vast majority of your clients are Christian and they’ll celebrate Christmas to some extent.  However, 2014 data shows that 30% of adults in the U.S. do not practice Christianity and it is for that reason your holiday cards should avoid a specific religious theme and instead refer to “the holiday season.” Because you know your clients, the brief message that you’ll write in each card (whether or not you order them pre-printed) can reference Christmas, Ramadan (which can occur in December), or Hanukkah.

If you feel that presenting selected clients with a gift (to acknowledge your gratitude for generous billable hours), take action and order today.  Corporate gifts are mailed, as are cards, so you must allow for shipping time.  Start with a call to the client’s HR department to inquire about corporate gift restrictions.  There may be a cap on the amount, or alcoholic beverages may be prohibited.  Once you’ve confirmed the policy, decide what you feel is appropriate to spend, consider your gift options and choose the company you should order from.

When you’ve identified two or three companies that seem to be good possibilities, do an online search to find out if there have been problems with customer service, delivery times, or the quality of the merchandise.  The company should track the delivery of the gifts you’ve ordered from them and let you know when they’ve been received by your clients.  Alternatively, the company should make it possible for you to track your gifts and confirm receipt.

Furthermore, the company you order from should not include its promotional material in the gift box.  Not even your company promotional material will be in the gift box.  Your purpose is to thank your clients for the business relationship.  The company can include a sticker or business card so that it can be identified as the source of the gift.

Every corporate gift company will allow you to include a personal note, so be sure to draft one before you place your order.  A note expressed in your words will communicate your thoughtfulness and respect to the recipient.

Finally, look for a company that will guarantee the gifts with a refund policy for missed delivery times or damaged goods.  Here are a few corporate gift suggestions at various prices:

  1. Texting gloves —keep hands warm on frosty winter days and give fingers touch screen conductivity    $10.00 – $80
  2. Uber or Lyft gift card— sure to be appreciated and quickly used    $20 minimum
  3. Plant—scientific research shows that adding greenery to the environment boosts a person’s mood and energizes the overall ambience of the space. Choose a plant that’s easy to care for and not fussy about the light required.  A geranium could work and they flower year round.  Call a local greenhouse to order.    $20 – $50
  4. Docking station—You may want to oder one for your home office! It’s a sleek charging station for your mobile devices.    $20 – $100
  5. Spiral notebook and mobile charging station from Time Traveler USA    $65  http://timetravelerusa.com/notebook-powerbank-corporate/

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The New Bonnet (1858)  Francis William Edmonds                                            Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art   New York, NY

 

Client Retention: Surpass the Minimum

In 1990, the consulting group Bain & Company and Earl Sasser of the Harvard Business School analyzed the costs and revenues derived from serving clients over their entire purchasing life cycle and found that regardless of the industry, the high cost of acquiring clients will render many business relationships unprofitable during their early years.

Acquiring a new client can cost up to five times more than it does to retain a current client.  It is only over time, when the cost of serving a long-term client falls as the volume of their purchases rises, that these relationships generate big returns.

The Bain-HBS review found that when the client retention rate increases by 5%, profits increase by 25% – 95%.  Also, long-term clients are more likely to refer new clients to the business and increase sales revenues and profits accordingly.

That said, an ongoing client retention strategy is a must-do for all Freelance consultants and business owners.  Read on and discover how your organization can embed client retention practices in nearly every step of your client interactions.

Context and expectations

When you propose a solution designed to help your client resolve a problem or achieve an objective, include in the conversation your rationale for presenting that particular path rather than another.  Make it possible for the client to better appreciate your decision-making process and divulge how you carefully considered his/her priorities, values, budget, staffing, or other factors that impacted your recommended solution.

We may infrequently discuss the behind-the-scenes thinking that guides the possibilities we envision for a client and his/her organization.  Revealing your big picture thinking demonstrates the depth of the value you attach to the client and his/her unique circumstances and that builds loyalty, trust and a good relationship.

Become an adviser

Don’t shy away from asking questions that will surface your client’s sometimes unexpressed expectations or concerns.  You may discover a solution that is ideally tailored to the clients’ needs when you employ the consultative approach to selling.  You and your client can collaborate on the development of the solution if s/he is comfortable with that process.  Buy-in is a given when the client is a co-author of the process.

Along the way, let your client know what to expect as the solution is implemented; it will also be helpful to review what success looks like.  Communicate often, so that the client understands where you are with the project, especially as regards milestones, Key Performance Indicators, the deadline and other agreed-upon metrics.

Moreover, depending on your product or service line, recommend services to your clients, based on their previous purchases.  According to a 2015 survey of marketers, this personalized touch generates a high ROI.  It shows that you’ve paid attention to client preferences and it is a compliment.

Finally, we are nearing Holiday time.  Make sure that you send cards to clients you’ve interacted with over the past five years.  Who among us does not appreciate a card at this time of year, when we reach out to those who matter?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Corine Vermuelen (2013)  Alicia and John George, owners of Motor City Java House in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood

 

 

Survey Discussion: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Today we have recommendations on how Freelance consultants and small business owners can implement as needed the results of a survey of 1,700 of our peers that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners http://FreshBooks.com .

Given the limited time that Freelancers and small business owners have available to devote to new client acquisition and once we’ve accepted the fact that the pool of new clients must be constantly replenished, it is essential that what we do has a very good chance of delivering the necessary results.

The survey indicates that devoting one’s marketing activities to tactics that are ranked as highly effective across all three age cohorts and then diversifying the tactics utilized, has the potential to reap tangible benefits for all age cohorts, despite the fact that each has a clear preference for certain activities and an ROI track record to defend those practices.

Exceeding client expectations of the work you are hired to do is the recipe for obtaining referrals from satisfied clients. Building relationships with peers that you meet at the chamber of commerce, on volunteer boards, at the gym, or at your religious institution, for example, is often a highly successful marketing and business development tactic for Baby Boomers, with 67% relying on referrals to find new clients. The ability to obtain referrals from business and personal relationships will become more accessible to Generation X and Millennials over time, as their personal and client relationships expand.  There is no more effective advertising than word of mouth.

Millennials have made hay with content marketing tactics and 42% of the age cohort use that marketing tactic. I will guess that a certain percentage of what is called email marketing, which has an adoption rate of 24% across the three age groups, overlaps with content marketing because email is how newsletters are sent. Generation X and especially Baby Boomers are advised to step up the use of content marketing if for no other reason than several surveys have demonstrated its satisfactory ROI.

Content marketing is poised to surpass the use of paid advertising because it seems that B2B prospects find advertisements insufficiently credible or engaging and they have gravitated to the brand story approach that is content marketing. Commissioning a marketing case study to put on one’s website and can be used in other marketing activities, is another highly effective method of content marketing (but it is not inexpensive).

Public speaking in the form of teaching, speaking, training (and I will stretch to say it also includes podcasts, webinars and appearing on a panel as speaker or moderator) is acknowledged by 39% of  survey participants across all three cohorts as being a highly effective marketing tactic and I respectfully suggest that you adopt the practice if you have not already done so.

It may be a little intimidating for Millennials to assume the role of expert, but appearing as a guest on a webinar or podcast seems less of a stretch than teaching business courses or speaking at professional association meetings. Your diarist is in the Baby Boom generation and I’ve done a fair amount of teaching and speaking over the years, but I’ve never directly received either a client or referral from any engagement. Rather, prospective clients are always seem impressed when I mention those activities, so be advised that you may see your teaching and speaking ROI indirectly.

Finally, since the survey explored financial management, we might pause and consider that topic as well. While only 20% of survey responders financed their businesses with bank loans, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need help managing the business finances (and their personal finances).  One third of the responders has a relationship with a bank and yet 52% report that they feel big banks are not a good fit for small business owners and Freelance consultants.

Survey findings indicate that Freelancers and small business owners with the greatest financial acumen operate the most successful ventures and enjoyed self-employment the most.  That description applied to 25% of responders.  Overall, responders are wary and uninformed about new financial software that might help them better understand and optimize their financial record-keeping data and learn how to use either what they already own, or software they could buy, and learn to understand and manage the financial aspects of their businesses.

The FreshBooks people recommend that Freelancers and small business owners invest in financial management training.  Courses are either regularly or sporadically available at adult learning centers, libraries, business networking groups, professional associations and the Small Business Administration.  https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/manage/manage-your-finances-business-credit

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Falmouth (MA) Road Race August 21, 2016 courtesy of Joseph Cavanaugh

 

 

 

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

 

How B2B Clients Do Business Now

Keeping up with the evolving mind-set and practices of your current and prospective clients has long been a challenge for Freelance consultants and continues to be so in the “new economy.”  Signing a good client is not easy, what with the penchant for not spending money being all the rage.  We Freelancers can prosper only by staying one step ahead of the client, always positioned to neutralize the temptation to keep a project in-house or let it languish and eventually die.  Knowledge is power and we need strategies that will turn on the spigot and pour out billable hours.  Here are trends that B2B products and services purchasers are following now.

They do research

A recent survey of employees who make B2B purchases for their organizations was conducted by the global consulting firm Accenture and showed that 94% of purchasers (that is, your clients and prospects) research possible solutions for business needs in advance, to learn about the options, availability and pricing of solutions and to save time and money.  By the time Freelance consultants and other vendors are approached, the hoped-for client has done most of the upfont legwork. S/he already has a good idea of what might be provided by service professionals like you and your competitors and maybe even knows what a reasonable ballpark figure for your services might be.

The entrepreneur and marketing expert Danny Wong, co-founder of the online men’s apparel company Blank Label, recommends that Freelancers acknowledge the elephant in the room and simply ask your prospect about research that may have been done and what you might be able to verify or clarify. Don’t ignore the tsunami of information.  Ride the wave and earn respect for your candor and knowledge of client behavior.

They’re skeptical

Unfortunately, some sales “professionals” and unsavory Freelancers have been known to misrepresent that which they sell.  As a result, many B2B purchasers prefer to buy online and bypass you and me.  The practice was confirmed recently by Forrester Research, in a survey that found that nearly 60% of B2B purchasers preferred to buy independently, without the assistance of a salesperson.

Wong points out that demonstrating expertise, as well as an appreciation and respect for the prospect’s goals and situation, confers to you credibility and helps you to earn their trust, an essential process when competing for assignments and sales.  They won’t do the deal if they don’t trust you and why should they?

No matter how desperate you are for billable hours, don’t rush the deal.  Take the time to understand what is needed and how your products and services can help or for that matter, if they can’t  help.  Avoid being perceived as an aggressive salesperson.  Do present yourself as a trustworthy adviser who wants to make the prospect look smart to his/her superiors and other colleagues.

They’re in no hurry

No, it’s not your imagination that closing a deal is taking longer than it used to.  Another study showed that the length of the average B2B sales cycle has increased by 22% over the past five years.  While the prospect is working the worry beads, Mr. Wong recommends that you do what you can to stay at top of mind and try to keep the project from falling into oblivion.  A Freelancer’s main competitor is not one of our rivals, it’s the client’s inertia.

Send information that can support (and speed up) the decision-making, but don’t overwhelm—curate.  Inquire about a timeline and deadline for the project and suggest what might be a reasonable starting time.

They trust the advice of anonymous “peers”

So do you and that’s why you research hotels and restaurants on Trip Advisor and Yelp and search for a contractor on Angie’s List.  Accenture reports that almost 25% of B2B purchasers make their decisions based almost entirely on information gleaned from online “social” rating sites.

If your Freelancing skill is one that would send prospects to Angie’s List or a neighborhood blog, attempt to establish a presence on those sites and build credibility that will help you get hired.  LinkedIn and Facebook could be helpful once a trusted source has referred a prospective client to you and then your online presence is researched before you get the call.  Nevertheless, create a good profile on your chosen social media sites and make yourself look knowledgeable and trustworthy.

They appreciate relevant content marketing

The longer buying cycle gives the advantage to Freelancers who produce long form content—a monthly newsletter, a weekly blog, case studies and other white papers that appear on your website, videos, infographics, or podcasts—that may grab the attention of prospects.  A FAQs page added to your website that details how to do business with you could  be helpful. Impartial and instructive content is what content marketing is all about. Produce your own and position yourself as an expert who is qualified to get the job done.

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukkah,

Kim

A Fail-Safe Christmas Party Strategy

Christmas party season is here, bringing Freelancers and business owners opportunities to become their own Santa Claus and put some new clients under the tree.  Christmas is the time to pick up the thread with clients past,  nurture relationships with clients of the present and meet clients you’d like to add to your roster in the near future. To make that happen,  you know that you’ll need a game plan.

First,  go to your parties alone.  Under no circumstances do you need to drag someone along with you, unless that person is required to get you into a party where you can expect to meet prospective clients,  or that person promises to introduce you to a good prospect while there.  Even that arrangement can be risky— a few years ago I was invited to what should have been a networking bonanza for me,  except that my friend wound up getting very drunk and even worse,  he reneged on bringing me into a post-party meeting with someone who could have been very helpful to me.

Second,  confirm the dress code.  A weekend party held after 6:00 PM will imply fancier dress and maybe even black-tie optional.  If you are the  +1 (guest),  ask your contact to send you the invitation.  If s/he does not do so,  then call the party organizer and inquire.  You do not want to show up improperly dressed,  even if your contact claims not to care about such things.

Men should wear a jacket,  even if a suit is not required.  Women should avoid too-short or too-tight clothing and revealing necklines.  Jeans or leather pants are out of the question for either sex,  unless your host is in the arts or tech.

Third,  ask who is on the guest list,  if you can do so casually and diplomatically.  Present your request as a way to find out if you’ll know others in the room.

Fourth,  polish up your short-form elevator pitch and think about how you might approach guests that you’d like to meet or reconnect with.  You may want to Google a name and find out what that person has been doing,  so you’ll know what to “spontaneously” bring up.

However,  be mindful that pushing business topics will be a turn-off,  unless the other person raises an issue.  Focus instead on scheduling post-party follow-up with selected people who would like to know more about your products and services.

While at the party,  greet and thank your hosts straight away,  before you visit the bar or buffet.  After that relax,  mix and mingle.  Brainstorm some friendly ice-breakers that will open the door to conversation (“How do you know [the hosts]?”)  Eating and drinking are party highlights,  but take it easy with the drinking.  I recommend that you have not more than one drink and then switch to a non-alcoholic beverage.  You must be sober to successfully work your networking agenda.

Moreover,  you’ll also need to master the drink and hors d’oeuvres plate juggle.  Hold your drink in your left hand,  so that you can shake hands easily and not give a cold,  damp greeting.  Likewise,  eat your hors d’oeuvres with the left hand,  so you don’t offer a sticky handshake.

Finally,  pay attention to the ebb and flow of guests.  Unless you’re in a serious conversation  when their number begins to fade,  find your hosts,  thank them for the invitation and take your leave.  There is an optimum time to arrive  at and leave a party.  Arriving 15- 20 minutes after the start time is usually good.  The next day,  send a quick email to thank the host once more.  After all,  a good party is a wonderful thing and you want to get invited back next year!

Thanks for reading,

Kim