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)

How and When A Freelancer Should Collaborate

Several years ago, I was one of four Freelancers who collaborated on the development and presentation of a half-day marketing and sales themed professional development conference whose target audience was in-house sales and marketing professionals who had the authority to hire Freelancers to manage special projects at their respective organizations.  Each of us would cover an aspect of sales or marketing (I agreed to present a networking workshop, another would present B2B sales training, etc.).

The conference was the brain child of an experienced and successful marketing services competitor. She invited us to participate, assured us that she had relationships with more than a few corporate clients and acquaintances, at least a few of whom we could count on to attend, and she ran the show.  Rather a lot of time was spent on planning meetings. A few hundred dollars was spent on production expenses: printing the promotional fliers, the room rental fee (we received a good discount at a fancy law firm’s conference room) and continental breakfast for the attendees.  We charged maybe $69 to attend.

We managed to draw an audience of about 30, a number that we considered respectable, but the corporate prospects failed to materialize, apparently because my marketing competitor hugely over-stated her client relationships.  The audience consisted entirely of people just like us—Freelancers who were trying to make themselves more attractive to those who control billable hours and who were hoping, no doubt, to meet a corporate marketer or two.

The whole thing was a complete waste of time and money because,  as we three along for the ride came to realize, corporate types do not feel the need to attend such programs. They are not looking to upgrade their skills at a conference hosted by a bunch of Freelancers.  They don’t even turn out for conferences hosted by their local chambers of commerce, despite the fact that most of their companies are members.  In fact, it has become increasingly difficult to meet them at all,  except perhaps in certain social situations or in board service.

Collaborating with carefully selected colleagues can open up doors to success that would ordinarily be closed and can result in good clients added to your roster and more billable hours added to your Income Statement.  However, there are questions that you would be wise to ask your prospective collaborators and also yourself, to increase the chances that the collaboration will be a win-win for all involved, including the client.

Can the collaboration achieve worthwhile goals?

Precisely, what valuable tangible and intangible assets will the collaboration produce for you? The project mentioned above was highly speculative and as a result, risky. Partnering with a colleague or two as a strategy to win the bid on a lucrative or prestigious assignment is less risky than creating yet another professional development conference.  Collaborating to chase rainbows is not what you want.  Collaborate to more effectively compete for a valuable resource, such as a project that exists and has funding.

What resources will the collaborator provide?

Collaborations are formed to bring together entities that have complementary skill sets.  A few months ago, I collaborated with an author to provide for her book content editing, serve as photo editor and perform self-publishing services that she preferred to outsource.  In exchange, I gained experience, added book editing to my CV and obtained (minimal) payment.  Collaborations should be win-win propositions and the project(s) on which you and your collaborator(s) partner should reflect Aristotle’s recommendation, that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The trust factor

Collaborators must be able to trust one another for without trust, there can be no successful partnership. This is hugely important, because your reputation and client relationships, current and future, will be on the line.  If your collaborator(s) cannot or will not hold up their end, your brand can be damaged and unfortunately, you don’t really know anyone until you’ve either lived with or worked with them.  A discussion of the interpretation and practice of work ethic and customer service will give insight into the matter.

For example, if there is a big deadline looming, are collaborators willing to work and respond to emails on weekends, holidays and after 6:00 PM? How will collaborators respond to a high-maintenance client who emails at 9:00 PM on Sunday nights when there is no apparent emergency?

What will be the ROI?

The properly conceived and managed collaboration will allow the participants to offer additional services, exceed the client’s expectations, build good client and partnership relationships and enhance the possibility of referrals.  A good client will be added to the roster of each participant and billable hours that would not otherwise have been available will appear on Income Statements. The client will receive measurable ROI as a result of the venture.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Love Thy Competitor

If you are the type of Freelancer/business owner who believes that a primary business goal is to annihilate and destroy your competition,  then you’re likely destined to become a less successful entrepreneur.  Research can now demonstrate the wisdom of the adage,  “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

A 2004 study conducted by James Westphal,  professor of management at University of Texas/Austin,  examined CEO friendships in 293 U.S. companies and found that regardless of the intensity of competition within a given industry,  rival CEOs who formed friendships enjoyed distinct business-related advantages over those who shunned competitors.

According to Westphal,  not only is it possible to make friends with competitors,  it’s advisable.  He explained the advantages of friendships among rivals this way:  when business owners get together,  what do we do?  Talk shop.  We compare notes,  discuss what’s new in the industry,  talk about the economy and how it’s impacting customer behavior.

In other words,  by going to trade industry conferences and meeting,  greeting and getting to know rival Freelancers,  you’ll obtain information and get exposure to perspectives that can help make you more successful.  So think about following a bit of counter-intuitive advice and realize that business is not always a zero-sum game.  A competitor’s win does not automatically mean your loss.

If getting chummy with the competition makes you feel a little queasy,  then get friendly with a competitor based in another locale.  The distance will create a boundary that could make it comfortable for the two of you to trade ideas about cheap and savvy advertising options,  how to make your clients happy,  or how to take advantage of,  or protect yourself from,  market trends.

In some instances,  you may decide to collaborate with a competitor.  It’s potentially risky,  but forging a strategic  collaboration with one of your competitors can benefit the bottom line and help both entities to thrive.  It can be a smart expansion or survival strategy for Freelancers and other small business owners who are trying to remain viable.  Maybe there is a partnership you can set up with the right semi-rival?   It’s called coopetition.

Get to know a fellow Freelancer who works in your own,  or a related,  field.  It’s preferable if each of you has discrete strengths,  with limited potential for overlap.  Meet for coffee and broach the subject of joining forces to make money.  How can you combine your strengths and approach clients with an innovative and more desirable package?  There’s nothing better than giving clients more reasons to do business with you.

Collaborations can work in a number of ways.  Just a couple of months ago,  a lady named Julie presented me with an idea where we can add-on or up-sell certain of each others’ services.  There is potentially a complementary need in a market segment that we share and Julie wondered if some selective cross-promotion would be beneficial.  Together,  we’re hoping to gain entry to clients where separately neither could get in the door.

Another form of coopetition is establishing a referral relationship with a near-rival.  Accountants and bookkeepers have done this forever,  with much success.  Their functions have similarities,  but each party knows and respects the boundaries and knows how to work together.

Nevertheless,  do not be naive.  Take precautions and clearly define boundaries and expectations.  Watch your back and work only with someone you know to be trustworthy.  Also,  do not underestimate the potential for difficulties in establishing and sustaining a coopetition arrangement.  Assumptions about appropriate customer service or corporate culture can derail your best intentions.  Careful planning and execution are crucial if coopetition is to work smoothly.  In close collaborations,  a written non-disclosure, non-compete agreement will be essential.

Finally,  remember where friendship ends and business begins.  There will be sensitive issues that are best kept to yourself,  like new business initiatives or the  “secret sauce”  of how you deliver your unique services.  Keep your antennae raised as you and a worthy competitor mull over ways to share resources or expertise and boost profits in the process.

Thanks for reading,

Kim