Can You Bring Blockchain into Your Business?

The technology known as Blockchain has received loads of attention in the business and tech press over the past three years or so but until recently, I never understood what it and never thought it would apply to me, anyway. Blockchain is for the big guys, right? Not really. The benefits of Blockchain play to many audiences.

Before we go any further, let’s understand what Blockchain is. Blockchain is a record-keeping ledger that is accessible only to its participating creators. Blockchain is also the ultimate permanent record because information entered into a Blockchain document cannot be deleted and will be stored forever. Registered participants may enter new data into the Blockchain ledger to update it, but nothing can be deleted.

Blockchain data is secure and permanent and each document entered into the network has an unique software code. Once the document is triggered, that’s it—the document is forever locked down. If it becomes necessary to make substantive changes, one must start over with a new Blockchain document.

Companies that deliver complex services or offer a wide array of products that are purchased from numerous sources are a natural fit for Blockchain. Think of retail operations that order inventory from overseas manufacturers. Cultural business practices, language differences and the processes of ordering, shipping, payment and confirming arrival of the goods creates many opportunities for the ball to be dropped. Blockchain enables all parties to monitor in real time every action-oriented element in a contract and can even link payments to meeting milestones that demonstrate fulfillment of terms.

Freelancers, professional service providers and small business owners can also find practical uses for Blockchain technology. For example, the Blockchain Smart Contract has potential for broad usage. Your Smart Contract is registered with the network and legally cleared as a valid agreement. Each point of agreement specified in the contract, e.g., the scope of work, milestones, deadlines and the invoicing schedule, is then automated and when fulfilled, that element is triggered and recorded as complete. That achievement allows any incentives connected to its fulfillment to be approved and awarded.

Let’s say that you contract to write a certain number of social media posts for a client. When your post is received by the client, or when you’ve uploaded it to the the client’s account, your Blockchain Smart Contract will signal that you are eligible to be paid for your work and you will not need to send an invoice to request payment. What a relief!

Blockchain can simplify and speed accounts receivable payments and as a result, enhance your cash-flow. Moreover, if you hold client credit card information that is used for automated payments, the information will be super- secure in the Blockchain network. Clients will feel more confident when doing business with you when you deliver your services with cutting-edge efficiency that includes an added layer of protection for their financial information. In other words, Blockchain is a brand and customer service enhancer.

For more information on how to set up Smart Contracts for your important projects, visit https://applicature.com/smart-contracts-development/. Plan on $500 for reusable Smart Contract development.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Image: “Signing the Marriage Contract” (1905) by George Sheridan Knowles (private collection)

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How To Manage A Difficult Client

Full disclosure: when I went out on my own as a Freelancer, my very first client was a terrible human being and as a result the project was a difficult  experience.  I did the best that I could to satisfy the completely unreasonable expectations,  time frame and amount that this individual was willing to pay.  Most of all, I came to recognize the rookie client management mistakes I had made,  chiefly,  failing to confirm the full project scope,  budget and length.  I also learned how to recognize who had the potential to become a bad client (not a fool-proof science,  but helpful nonetheless).

Furthermore,  I now have the inner strength to fire a bad client,  because they just aren’t worth the money.  If you find yourself in an assignment and client neuroses suddenly emerge,  you’ll need tactics that will help you exercise some control over the situation and preserve your dignity and sanity and perhaps the client relationship as well.

The nitpicker

There are two types of nitpickers: one who is willing to pay for the time it takes to second-guess every aspect of your work and those that want to abuse your time.  The only good thing about a nitpicker is that s/he can make you more precise about your work.

Setting boundaries is the preferred defense,  but be advised that a client has every right and in fact a responsibility to scrutinize your work,  especially if this is your first project with the organization.  If your nitpicker client is OK about paying extra,  then pretend to welcome his/her suggestions and involvement.  Consider it a lesson in meeting or exceeding client expectations and building trust.  Maybe the exacting attitude stems from a previous bad experience.  Reassure the client that getting the job done right is your goal, too.

If your nitpicker does not want to pay extra for the second-guessing,  here is where the boundaries must be applied.  Allow for two revisions of your work and make it clear that beyond that,  there will be a surcharge for your services.  Consider declining future projects offered by this individual.  Going forward,  write into the contract a surcharge for revisions that you would find excessive.

The meeting maven

Meetings are useful in that stakeholders can convene to discuss the progress of the project and make any desired refinements along the way, while verifying that milestones will be met.  Progress meetings can be held periodically,  but too many are a waste of time.

In the project specs meeting,  it is useful to address the subject of progress meetings and suggest tying them to project milestones.  Include meeting time in your project fee.  It’s difficult to address the number of meetings after the fact if you encounter a meeting maven who thinks that you should not be paid extra,  or who likes to stretch meetings out to much longer than  necessary.

That client has you by the short hairs if numerous meetings are demanded,  or prescheduled meetings drag on and on.  You may need to decline future projects and chalk it up to a lesson learned.  Going forward,  anticipate the need to meet and discuss it beforehand.  Some long meetings may be beneficial to you as well as the client,  but make it known that you will be paid.

The penny-pincher

You may have been led to believe that you will work x hours/week on a project and unexpectedly,  your hours are decreased.  Or maybe the scope of your work is scaled back.  The penny-pincher’s motivation may be that s/he has second thoughts about paying an outside consultant,  or maybe there really has been a cash-flow problem.

Regardless of the agreed-upon contract that you have with this client,  s/he has the power to change certain elements and there is nothing a Freelancer can do,  except to opt out of the assignment and you may do exactly that if you have a better opportunity available.

If you do need the assignment,  make sure that the scope of the project decreases in proportion to the hours taken away.  Under no circumstances do you perform as usual,  no matter how much you may like and respect this individual.

If you can offer lower-cost alternatives that will help the client achieve certain important objectives, consider doing so.  You will be perceived as a real professional and positioned to win future assignments when cash-flow improves.  This would be a good time to ask for a referral.

Next week,  we can look at more difficult clients.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Why You Don’t Get the Sale

Two or three years ago,  I read that a Freelancer’s main competition is not another Freelance consultant who does what you do.  Our real competitor is the client.  As the less than stellar economy grinds on,  enriching primarily the top 1%  of the population plus a few lucky folks in the  (shrinking)  middle class,  that statement gains more credence every day.  Prospective clients have got a boat load of excuses to slide away from a contract,  or cutting down what was originally promised.  Do you ever wonder what could possibly be on the minds of clients and prospects who promise you the moon and then either disappear or offer up a very paltry version of the original proposal?

According to Steve W. Martin,  professor of Sales Strategy at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business and author of  “Heavy Hitter Sales Linguistics: 101 Advanced Sales Call Strategies for Senior Salespeople” (2011),  stress caused by peer pressure and insecurity is the culprit and its impact on decision-making is detrimental  (no surprise there).  Freelancers and sales people must do everything possible to communicate our value-added but in the end,  the decision to give the green light is an internal matter and those outside have only so much influence.  Here are examples of what worries our prospective clients:

Budget availability

There are two main criteria for deciding whether or not to give someone the contract or sale:  1). What is the ROI that will accrue from the sale? and 2). How does that ROI compare to what might be derived from other projects being considered?  Projects that are considered strategic by the senior execs have priority,  so if your project has that status,  it’s only a question of how many hours you can get.  Whatever your project,  product or service,   you must first receive the initial approval.  You may believe that because you have confirmed that you are talking to a decision-maker and s/he says the go-ahead is imminent,  that is not the whole story.  There is the all-important step two and that happens when  the team of heavy-hitters examines and ranks all pending projects and major sales and decides which items receive funding and at what amount.  In other words,  that decision-maker that you’ve been speaking with will confer with other decision-makers to compare which projects will go forward,  because projects are continually re-prioritized in response to shifting conditions.

Strategic imperatives

Your project must align with the organization’s goals as perceived by the higher-ups.  If you notice,  projects that are championed by lower-ranking employees often do not get funded because higher-ranking execs do understand or appreciate the value-added,  do not view the proposal as strategically significant.  Moreover,  your project must demonstrate that the sponsoring higher-up understands and is actively advancing strategically relevant projects,  products and services.

Ego and image

This is related to the above.  Your project must make its chief sponsor look good to the person s/he answers to,  as well as look good to colleagues and subordinates. When an outside consultant is hired or a major purchase is authorized,  the project champion absolutely must look like a genius for doing the deal.  Under no circumstances must s/he be perceived as having made the wrong move.  Peer pressure is real and the project champion worries about making the right decision,  especially if this is something that has not been done before.  This is why the Freelance consultant must at all times deliver exceptional service,  must exceed expectations,  because the reputation and career advancement of your project sponsor is riding on it.

I’ll talk more about your nervous prospect next week.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Your Big Client Bid Strategy

Freelance consultants have to be nimble and resourceful in order to compete successfully and that is especially so when in pursuit of a big-league client.  Winning a big client is tremendous validation,  but when swimming with whales it is essential to take precautions and maintain as much control over the process as possible.   It would be disastrous to do what is second nature to many small business operators and Freelancers: whatever it takes to get the job in and whatever it takes to get the job done.   Pursuing important clients with big contracts out for bid takes a more sophisticated approach.

When assessing and pricing a big  contract,  the project fee attached to your proposal carries much weight,  in more ways than one.   Bid too high and you’re knocked out of contention.   Bid too low,  a common practice of Freelance consultants and small business owners,  and one of two impressions will be made:

1.   That you are perhaps unqualified to do the work because you’re selling your services for too little money,  or

2.   That you’re desperate for business and probably ripe for exploitation.

To both convey the image of a capable and experienced professional and ensure that you make money on the project,  be sure that you thoroughly understand what will be required to fulfill the contract and your ability to do so.   Job costing and cash flow projections will need special care.   Will you need extra expertise for some aspect of this job,  or perhaps an extra pair of hands in order to meet the timetable? 

Realize that big projects for big clients mean big accounts receivable and there can be a downside.   Be honest about how much money you can afford to have outstanding,  even if  payments are received on time.   Help yourself by requesting 20% – 35% of the project fee up-front and due within 15 days of the contract signing.   Set up a payment schedule in your proposal that ensures you’ll be able to pay any subcontractors and also yourself on time.

Freelancers and small business owners often compete on price,  but one is advised to avoid dangerously low bids in order to get work or add a marquis name to the client list,  only to receive very little profit from the project.   Michael MacMillan,  founder and CEO of MacMillan Communications of New York City,  focuses on selling personal attention and customized PR strategies to his clients and providing more bang for the buck.   “One of the advantages of being a smaller organization is that you’re more efficient because there are fewer overhead costs.  We are able to apply more of the project fee directly to account work”. 

According to Jeffrey Bolton,  managing partner at the accounting firm Daszkal Bolton LLP of Boca Raton, FL,  the key to evaluating whether to pursue a big client is to ask yourself  how important that account will be for future business growth and whether the project work fits into your strategic plan,  even if you don’t make money on it.  “If you’re trying to build a reputation,  that foot in the door is necessary,  but you must have an institutional mind-set when taking on a big client and not a mom-and-pop mind-set”.

Thanks for reading,

Kim