8 Skills Everybody Needs

Whatever work one does, from start -up founder to pastry chef, automotive mechanic to chief financial officer, it is interesting that we all need the same short list of skills to become successful.

Consultants are often advised to hone and promote fluency in the skills listed here but everyone who works—-business owner, Freelancer, or employee—-taps into these skills on a regular basis. Your hair stylist and the guys who do your yard work use the same skills as your bookkeeper and your periodontist and if they didn’t, you wouldn’t have hired them. Let’s remind ourselves of what we really need to know in life.

Adaptability

Because when we wake up in the morning, we never know what the day will bring. One may learn, for example, that a potentially lethal and highly contagious virus, for which there is no reliable antidote, has entered our country by way of a meeting of executives employed by a prestigious biotechnology company.

When those who attended the meeting returned home and went about their daily lives, some of them infected people with whom they interacted. Very quickly first hundreds, then thousands, of citizens contracted the virus and many died. In an attempt to block the spread of the virus, governors in all 50 states ordered nearly half of commercial enterprises, plus all schools, government offices, libraries, museums and other public spaces, closed. So what did we citizens do?

We adapted as much as possible, that’s what. Grocery stores, the post office and other entities deemed essential were allowed to remain open. Many business owners and leaders found ways to keep their ventures functioning, with revisions.

Millions of knowledge economy workers used their personal computers to work from home, as department heads kept their teams united with videoconference meetings. Schools quickly switched from classroom to online learning (many colleges long ago added online courses).

Retail stores sold merchandise through their already robust e-commerce websites. Personal trainers and fitness instructors contacted their clients and followers and invited them to participate in outdoor workouts. We did what we had to do and we got by.

Creative thinking

Whether or not an out-of- the-box solution is needed, every once in a while it’s fun to bring innovative flair to a plain vanilla task. Whatever the motivation, resourcefulness and creative thinking are appreciated, because the need for an end run or a work-around can be part of daily life. Sometimes, one needs all of that just to get through the morning commute!

Creative thinking is often associated with the arts or architectural design. But during the COVID shutdown wedding planners, who were watching the ground give way beneath their feet, flexed their creative genius to reimagine weddings for panicked brides and grooms. That often meant broadcasting the ceremony virtually and rescheduling the reception for the following year.

Creative thinking can also reach back into the past for an innovative solution. This year, the New York Film Festival, barred from using shuttered movie theaters, will debut its contenders at drive-in theaters in the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs.

Credibility

Dependability, judgment and expertise are the three pillars of professional credibility. These attributes add up to trust and trust is what gets one hired and motivates customers to give referrals. People do business with people they like. They do more business with people they trust.

Communication

As it is often said, it’s not necessarily what you say, but how you say it. You’ve got to know how to talk to people.

One of the best ways to communicate with someone is to not talk (much), but tlisten. Use nonverbal cues to demonstrate that you are following the narrative. Ask questions to clarify or confirm what you think you’ve heard. Pay attention and let others know that you value them and their opinions (even when you see things differently).

Decision-making

Here’s the reality—-when a big decision is on the table, we seldom have access to as much information as we feel would be helpful as we weigh the possibilities. It is frustrating, to be sure, and we’ve all been there. The thought of taking the wrong path makes the stomach queasy.

But at some point, one must make a move and travel to the left or right, say yes or no, or leave well enough alone. Or, one can elect to put the matter aside and revisit it within a certain period of time.

If a decision carries impact, it cannot be ignored. The fear inspired tactic known as analysis- paralysis, where information is considered and reconsidered ad nauseum, is counterproductive. The best way to improve the quality of information to use as a guide for wise decision-making is to ask the right questions.

Problem-solving

Nearly every purchase one makes is intended to solve a problem, from a bottle of juice (thirst) to calling Lyft (door2door, on-time transportation). Whether the items your company sells are products or services, you’ll make more money when you 1.) understand the business you are really in, by thinking through the underlying motive for the purchase, beyond the obvious, and 2.) design your marketing strategies and sales pitch to reflect item #1.

Teamwork

Many hands make for light work. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Teamwork and collaboration lie between those warring poles and a real professional will persuade others to join him/her in the sweet spot.

Someone must step up and take the lead on a project of any magnitude. Those responsible can draw up an action plan, complete with due dates. Milestones or a mid-point check-in will help to keep everyone on schedule and ensure that mistakes have not been made.

If everyone holds up their end and the project is completed on time, you’ve got a team. If a mistake is discovered and corrected in a timely fashion with the help of your colleagues then congratulations, you’ve got a high-functioning team.

Time management

The ability to prioritize and organize, enabled by an action plan that includes target completion dates, are the three pillars of time management. Understand and get agreement from stakeholders and decision-makers regarding mission- critical tasks. Confirm that team members and other collaborators have the time to produce what has been asked of them within the desired time frame.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark, February 2019. Choreographic Objects, installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston by William Forsythe (a choreographer who works with world- class ballet companies)

New Normal Marketing Strategies

We are all painfully aware that business and life are different now that the ambitious coronavirus has burst into the scene and shows no inclination to leave center stage. Adaptions and workarounds are our new normal; creativity, resilience and perseverance have been shifted into overdrive.

What Freelancers and business owners who are determined to win are doing is continually surveying and assessing their business conditions so that they might reasonably predict what things might look like in 6-12 months and prepare accordingly. These folks have set aside for now any products or services that are no longer viable and have honed in on how they can best accommodate the needs of clients now and into the next year or two.

Virtual communication looks as though it will be with us for a while, regardless of when a coronavirus vaccine is approved in the U.S. or other countries. Our clients have transitioned to virtual quite comfortably and until the appetite for face2face interaction reappears (prediction: 3 years), smart Freelancers and business owners are ramping up their online capabilities in every way.

Website

Update your company website to showcase those products and services that can be sold with a new normal message. What have you provided that can be sold online or reconfigured and carried out virtually? If you can add text that communicates your company’s response to your clients’ potential concerns, do so. If you can communicate how your company can help clients better serve their clients, be sure to include those reassurances.

Do you have Call to Action buttons on your website? If you’ve ever needed a way to encourage clients to ask questions and engage and build a relationship with your organization, it is now. On your website landing page and on any pages that describe products or services, a Call to Action come-on should be available to bring visitors to an online chat, telephone number that allows a click to dial, or a pre-addressed email that encourages website visitors to type a question and hit send.

Good Call to Action phrases include “Click here for more information,“ “Click here to speak with a customer service rep “ “Click here to receive our monthly newsletter,” “Click here to register for our free training course,” or “Click here to place your order.”

Content marketing

Show your empathy and understanding of the predicament that many of your clients find themselves in through the topics you address in your content marketing posts—-like what I’ve been doing in this column since the shutdown. My goal is to help you stay motivated, stay resilient, get creative and remain in business. How am I doing?

Social media

Social media is micro, it’s personal. designed for you to promote interactive communication with clients and build a community. Social media is visual and tailor-made for behind-the-scenes looks at your organization.

Draw in your clients and other followers with a few still photos or a 5-minute video of you and your team preparing for a podcast guest spot or an online course that you’ll deliver. Do you have some new, or newly reconfigured, product or service to announce? Speak to the camera and tell your fans personally.

Your clients can even get to know one another as they get to know you and your business. Demonstrating that you understand their new concerns and responsibilities gives your company credibility and that equals trust.

Marketing and more marketing

Just keep promoting yourself and your business capabilities. Can you get an article published in a business newspaper or magazine? Can you get a quote in an article? Can you be a guest on a podcast? Are you sharing and reposting your content marketing posts—-newsletter, blog, case studies, white papers—-on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or other outlets?

Marketing will help you get to know your clients and prospects, allow them to get to know you and gives your organization the something extra that gets you ahead of the competition. Marketing always pays off. Make the effort, reap the rewards.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Social Justice Warriors deliver a message that promotes their cause in a live taping at the steps of the MA State House in Boston on August 11, 2020.

Getting Clients: The Reboot 2020

For us freelancers to find reliable, long-term clients is a job unto itself and not an easy one. We have no choice but to invest thought and time into showing prospective clients and those who might refer us to prospective clients why we could be the best choice for providing the solution(s) for their problem.

To get ourselves inspired and off to a running start in the New Year, let’s review how we might best package and promote ourselves and our services to prospects, potential strategic partners and referral sources and update how to stand out and appear highly competent, trustworthy and an overall good hire for the Next Big Project.

KNOW YOUR NICHE

It can be so tempting to not want to limit ourselves to a specific niche, but the truth is, “If you’re talkin’ to everybody, you’re talkin’ to nobody.”
The biggest mistake that Freelancers make when going out on our own is that we try to be all things to all people. But when we create a niche, we can more effectively express what we do for our clients and how those clients benefit. That helps those who know and trust us to make referrals on our behalf. A clearly defined and easily described niche service or product is also easier to market to potential clients, because the message is easy to articulate and understand.

GETTING CLEAR ON CLIENTS

Getting clear on your niche and how we serve our clients is only step one. The real magic happens when we learn to consistently communicate in a way that resonates with target client groups. Speaking their language makes all the difference. Do you want to stand out to prospects? Know your ideal client!

It is to our advantage to be clear and concise about whom we can help and why. Tell (don’t sell) the story and talk just like you’d talk to a colleague. Embody the tone and attitude of one who cares, who understands their pain and can help them. Paint the “after” picture, i.e., the picture of their future after working with you. Offer credentials and tell client success stories that speak to their unique needs and concerns. In short, be all about your client.

INSIDE THE CLIENT VIEWPOINT
Christy Geiger, founder of Synergy Strategies Coaching and Training in Austin, TX https://synergystrategies.com/, says that one of the most difficult challenges in marketing is to identify and articulate one’s unique value and then sell that value to prospective clients.

Christy recommends that we flip the message and describe our service fromthe client’s perspective. Rather than presenting a list of self-promoting attributes that paint you as Mr. or Ms. Wonderful, discuss instead how your expertise ensures that clients are able do what they need to do and achieve goals and objectives.

MARKETING CREDIBILITY

As a Freelancer, the best way to stand out from competitors is to build your marketing around our credibility. Content marketing is very useful for this mission. Produce content that will help both bring visibility to your products and services and it help to establish you as an expert in your industry.

KNOW YOUR COMPETITION

Research others who provide products and/or services similar to your organization. What do they offer, what do they charge (if you can determine that)and how do they differentiate themselves in the marketplace? Then, ask yourself what could be realistically portrayed as valuable differences between your operation and those of your closest competitors? How might you be able to successfully distinguish yourself, your business practices, your qualifications, your products and/or your services and how might you persuade clients that these attributes make you the preferred provider?

CASE STUDIES

When clients hire us Freelancers, we expect that there will be a “discovery phase,” when they check us out—visiting our LinkedIn profile and social media presence, finding and reading articles we may have written and media quotes or features, for example. They’ll visit our websites and peruse our client list to find out who (else) they know who’s worked with us. To verify our work ethic, they may have a good talk with the referring party, if that was how the parties were introduced, or they may just call one (or more) of the clients on our list and discuss the quality of the results of the deliverable.

Freelancers can help both ourselves and our prospective clients reduce by sharing two or three well-written and descriptive case studies that demonstrate what we do, how we do it and the (exceptional!) results that we produce.

EASY TO DO BUSINESS

We Freelancers wear many hats. We’re the Chief Marketing Officer, the Vice President of Product Development, the Director of Sales, the Comptroller and company President. Our products and services may be excellent, but we would be advised to employ business practices and customer service protocols that make it is easy for customers to access what we have to offer. Setting up online purchasing or appointment booking, returning inquiries promptly and following-up as promised make a big difference. If customers have to jump through hoops to work with us, they will go elsewhere.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Steve McQueen (1930 – 1980), the “King of Cool,” in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968).

Client Retention Means Exceeding Expectations

Client retention and referrals are the best ways to build a good client list. Earlier in the year,  one of my clients referred to me a colleague who is in a closely related business.  I was so happy!  While working with clients new and long-term,  my mission is to do an excellent job and exceed expectations, so that I will create the conditions for a long relationship and the receipt of referrals.

The two clients are friends,  yet very different in working style.  The first is laid back and easy to deal with.  The new client, to be honest, has not yet developed trust in my abilities. There is a tendency to be more hands-on than I would expect and to assume that things may not have been done correctly on my part.  I’m not sure of the source of the client’s anxiety, but I’ve decided to view the matter as a learning opportunity that will keep me in top form.  I will be pushed to do my best work and have the opportunity to go into trust and credibility building mode.

I started on the client retention path by first learning who had referred me and then sending a thank you email.  Prior to that,  the client had received December holiday cards, as it is my custom is to send holiday cards to all clients I’ve worked with in the previous five years.

Regarding the new client,  my objective is to help that individual relax and know that I’m in control and will make him/her look smart and capable in the eyes of superiors and peers.  I’ve written previously about how to establish a good relationship with difficult and demanding clients. https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/how-to-manage-a-difficult-client/

Other tips include:

Be prepared

If you know that you’ll be asked to address a certain problem that the client must resolve, or you must make make recommendations about how the client might capitalize on an expected opportunity, do your homework and come to the meeting brimming with practical ideas and insightful questions.

Listen to the client

Listen and learn how the client views matters from his/her perspective, whether it’s how to implement the solution for the project you’re working on,  how to resolve a customer service glitch, or any other matter that is presented.  Show that you value the client’s opinions.

Respect the client’s ideas and suggestions

You may not have all the answers. The client’s lived experience matters.  Be open to incorporating the client’s ideas into your proposed solution.  Always agree with the client and validate his/her choices. Subtly adapt his/her suggested strategy into something that you know will be more effective, when necessary.  If the client mentions that another consultant has handled a similar project in a different way,  listen up and learn. You may receive valuable information on how to improve your business practices.

Communicate constantly

Misunderstandings cause relationships to fray and misunderstandings occur when communication is unclear and insufficient.  Meetings may be infrequent, but emails are a way to report on (in writing!) your many successes toward achieving the objectives and goals of the project.  I keep my clients apprised of what I’m doing.  This custom also helps when it’s time to send an invoice and billable hours must be justified.  What I don’t want is a client who questions why I’m claiming so many hours.  Moreover, if the client feels that some aspect of the project scope should be expanded or diminished,  adjustments can be made in a timely fashion.

Get it in writing

Take meeting notes and within 48 hours post-meeting, send an email to confirm what has been discussed and agreed-upon. Include project specs, the fee structure, the payment schedule, project milestones, the deliverables and the due dates.

Client retention is the foundation of every business.  It takes less time and effort to retain a client than to pursue and acquire a new one. Furthermore,  long-term clients are much more likely to bestow on you that ultimate affirmation, a referral.

Thanks for reading,

Kim