Building Your B2B Consulting Practice

Regular visitors to this blog will notice that over the past few weeks, I’ve devoted special emphasis to tactics and strategies that will help Freelancers keep our consulting practices alive and well.  Competition in the field is intensifying and clients are aware that they can be very exacting in their hiring requirements, since there is no shortage of available talent, especially in mid-size and large cities.  According to Statista, the number of management consultants has grown every year since 2012 and as of 2016, there area 637,000 management consultants working (or trying to!) in the U.S.

As we all know, ever since the late 1980s, when the concept of “downsizing” gained popularity in corporate offices and the ways to separate citizens from full-time, long-term employment became numerous, many workers who either found ourselves highly skilled but nevertheless unemployable, or who eventually tired of endless cycles of  hirings and firings (a common occurrence in the IT industry), decided to strike out on our own and exert some measure of control over our professional and economic destiny. What did we have to lose? We were already in trouble.  Manage the risk before the risk manages you.

When you’ve worked in the Knowledge Economy and find yourself contemplating whether to launch your own venture, by design or default, a solo consultancy that offers B2B services that you already know seems a simple and obvious choice.

Start-up costs are minimal—there’s nothing much to invest in for the launch, except for business cards and a website.  There’s no need to rent an office and no need to hire employees.  You already own a smart phone and some sort of computer.  At most, you might invite a couple of your unemployed coworker buddies to come in with you.  In no time, you’ll be ready to see clients and charge a pretty penny for the advice that you give. Easy, right?

Well, not exactly.  Unless you’ve worked for a consulting company that provides you with a stable of clients that know you and value your expertise and there’s no non-compete hagreement that prevents you from, ahem, stealing a few clients from your former employer and bringing them to you roster—-a time-honored and usually successful practice, BTW—you may find yourself floundering when it comes to obtaining clients.  If you’ve got a well-placed pal or two who is able and willing to divert a contract to you, you could be twiddling your thumbs for quite some time, despite the furious networking that you do and your growing social media presence.  The truth of consulting is, no one gets a client unless that client knows you and the value of your work.

The “catch 22” is that you can’t get a client without experience and you can’t get experience until you get a client.  A business plan that is in reality an extended marketing plan that encourages you to think strategically, rationally and in detail about the following items should be written. Bear in mind that your services are valuable only insofar as there is client demand.  There may be no market at all for several of your strongest competencies, alas.

  • Services for which there is demand and you have the expertise and credibility to deliver those services and prospective clients who will pay you to do so
  • How to price your services
  • How to make clients perceive that you are worth your asking price
  • Your access to clients with the motive and money to hire you
  • The need for a partner (or two) and how that person can help launch and sustain the venture

Without a pre-existing reputation in the industry, you’ll find the early days of consulting to be quite difficult. Lining up part-time employment will help your cash-flow. Teaching at the college level is always a good option because it enhances your credibility and pays well for a part-time gig.  Whenever possible, find work that not only gives you money, but also demonstrates your expertise to potential clients.

If you can become at least an occasional contributing writer to a noteworthy publication, or get articles included in a local business publication, you will enhance the perception of your expertise, as will college-level teaching of a subject related to your B2B services.  Joining a not-for-profit board that brings you into contact with potential clients and referrers who can watch you take on committee work that demonstrates your bona fides will be helpful. Becoming a mentor at a respected new venture start-up center will likewise enhance your credibility.

If you can participate in a webinar, YouTube video, or podcast, where you can elaborate on the application of your expertise and the results that you deliver, you will be able to post the link on your website and social media accounts, so that prospective clients can see you in action and hear what you know.

Those who do not have a ready stable of potential clients must work very hard and very smart to make up for that deficit, but it will not impossible to build a consulting practice that will support you financially and of which you can be proud. There are many paths that lead to a profitable B2B consulting practice and with a dose of god luck, you will find your path, too.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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Stress Takes A Holiday

The holiday season has arrived and with it a boatload of potential stressors, good and bad. The delight of being a party host or guest are examples of good stress (and if this is not the case, your stress management assignment begins with asking yourself why you bother?).  The process of Christmas shopping and the associated costs of time and money, along with holiday cooking and cleaning, are examples of potentially bad stress.  In this post, I offer stress management techniques that can prove to be beneficial all year round.

Time management and boundaries

The always-on 24/7 lifestyle that so many of us feel compelled to lead is a huge stressor. The ability to set priorities and boundaries is more important than ever.  In most cases, there is no need to be available for professional matters before 8:00 AM or after 8:00 PM.

In your personal life,  learn to say no to controlling people and time-wasters, even if those individuals happen to be family members.  Have the courage to acknowledge what is important to you and distance yourself from manipulative people. Unhook your feelings of self-worth from the need to “save” people.  Help yourself to achieve goals and fulfill responsibilities by making lists and schedules and allow yourself sufficient time to complete tasks.  Learn to delegate.  Accept that some tasks are low priority and may need to be removed from your list.

Anger management

Learning to handle our emotions is a lifelong proposition.  Awareness is the first step.  Be advised that all of our emotions are “justified” because that is how we feel at that time.  It is your right and responsibility to define and acknowledge the emotions you feel.  The skill set called Emotional Intelligence teaches us to refrain from allowing our emotions to overwhelm us, cloud our judgment and lead us to do or say things that may damage our relationships and credibility.

Anticipate encounters with people who you may find upsetting and rehearse your responses to words and behaviors that you may experience as hostile and disrespectful.  Role play with yourself replies that could potentially defuse a stressful conversation and allow you to put distance between yourself and the stressor, limiting contact and helping you to control your emotions.  Be mindful that some people enjoy trouble and they are constant agitators.  They crave attention and control.  Do what you can to banish these individuals from your life.

Exercise

Exercise releases into the body hormones (endorphins and serotonin) that counteract the “fight or flight” response hormones that are released when we are under stress (adrenaline, ACTH).  Exercise also improves the functioning of the immune system and in the process helps us to fight off certain diseases.  Some experts recommend that we would be wise to participate in physical activity four or five days a week, for at least 45 minutes per session. You may play a sport, ride a bike, swim, walk, do aerobics, yoga, Pilates and/or lift weights. Experiment with different types of exercise to learn what you like and do it on a regular basis.  Exercise provides physical release and reduces tension and stress, calms and clears the mind, helps us to sleep better and improves self-esteem.

Meditation

The relaxation response is enabled by meditation and other self-regulated relaxation techniques.  Meditation requires only a few minutes of your time and a private, quiet and comfortable location.  Watch a YouTube video to show you what to do.  Shut off the television and your telephone.  Choose a word or short phrase to silently repeat to yourself as you close your eyes and breathe in and out, slowly and deeply.  Meditation enthusiasts recommend that you meditate early in the morning before starting your day, or in the evening just before dinner.

Sleep

Inadequate sleep is epidemic these days and it is seriously detrimental to one’s health and ability to manage stress.  Surprisingly, sleep deprivation contributes to weight gain by releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which increases appetite.  When we are fatigued, our choice of foods is usually unhealthy and laden with sugar for an energy boost, or high fat, or salty.  The stage is then set for taking on unwanted pounds.

Being tired undermines creativity, judgment and decision-making, productivity and self-discipline.  Do what you can to get in those eight hours each night.  Be advised that caffeine and alcohol are for many the enemies of sleep and intake should be limited near to bedtime.

Nutrition

Physical, mental and emotional stressors drain the body of complex nutrients that support optimal physical and cognitive functioning.  If these nutrients are not replaced fairly quickly, coping skills diminish, decision-making ability suffers, fatigue ensues, mood and emotional control deteriorate.

Avoid the temptation to consume foods high in fat, salt, or sugar, or consume excess caffeine or alcohol, while in the midst of a stressful event.  Do yourself a favor and eat a bagel with peanut butter, a rice bowl with vegetables, a sandwich, or a plate of pasta.  Over the long-term, eat a balanced diet that supplies adequate amounts of green vegetables, fruits, proteins and carbohydrates.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Stress Syndrome

We are on the cusp of the holiday season.  It’s a special time of year but sadly, it is often freighted with challenges.  Responsibilities metastasize and usually include some combination of peeling potatoes; coring and slicing apples; ironing table cloths; Christmas shopping; writing cards; and putting up decorations. Obligations such as attending workplace or family parties can feel like a burden. The expectation (sometimes forced) to have  fun might backfire and instead cause you to feel inadequate if you’re unable to get into a festive mood. Humbug!

Despite the bright lights and parties, the stress level for most of us reaches an annual high at this time of year. The Thanksgiving – Christmas – New Year’s Eve axis can overwhelm the best of us.  It’s easy to feel lonely, or even like a failure.  Business owners and Freelancers may be faced with the realization that income projections were not reached, adding to the anxiety.

What is the antidote? I suggest that a two or three-week out-of-town vacation is the ideal remedy.  Other than buying and writing cards (which can be done while away) and taking care of a short gift list, all other stress-inducing elements could be diplomatically sidestepped. Those unable to budget the time and money to de-camp to the Bahamas are encouraged to put into motion a comprehensive stress management program.

Regardless of the season, stress is a condition that spares no age cohort or socioeconomic stratum.  School children become stressed over homework and piano lessons. Their parents become stressed as a result of a long work commute or increased job responsibilities. Please know that there is good stress, too—buying a home, going away to college, getting married and starting a new job bring into your life stress that emanates from positive events.

The sources of stress will vary, but the need to manage those stressors and the related hassles and anxiety is constant. Giving some thought to how and why the stressful situation occurs is Step One of your stress management program and brainstorming possible changes that might remove or diminish the stress is Step Two.  Improving one’s ability to manage stress by developing coping skills and learning to relax is Step Three.

Stress management is a multi-disciplinary process that includes managing time, adequate sleep, good nutrition, exercise, anger management and relaxation techniques.  Next week, I’ll return with some specific suggestions.

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading,

Kim

Becoming Agile

Agile innovation first swept through the information technology sector and greatly increased success rates in software development, improved quality and speed to market. Agile management techniques are now spreading to many other industries and Freelance consultants ought to be aware of what is involved, both as regards the ways our clients and prospects may buy into agile practices and how we might incorporate certain aspects into our own consultancies.

More than in the recent past, business ventures large and small operate in a highly dynamic environments.  Customer priorities and technological advancements are known to change rapidly.  Keeping a finger on the pulse of new developments and innovating or adapting  as necessary  the line of products and services offered,  marketing buzz words used in marketing content, sales strategies employed or distribution channels utilized are how organizations thrive and grow.  But what does agile mean in practice?

Agile does not mean doing the usual thing, only faster. Darrell Rigby, a partner at Bain & Company consulting and Hirotaka Takeuchi, professor of strategy at the Harvard Business School and CEO of Scrum, Inc., a consulting and training firm, describe agile business practices as containing the following elements:

Scrum. Creative and adaptive teamwork that solves complex problems.

Lean development.  Focuses on the continual elimination of waste.

Kanban.  Focuses on reducing lead times and the amount of time to complete a process.

Along with IT,  agile management practices are particularly well-suited to strategic planning activities, marketing projects, resource allocation decisions and supply chain challenges.  Sales and accounting, for example, are not a natural fit for agile, according to experienced practitioners. In sum, agile works best where complex problems can be broken down into modules and assigned to specific teams.

When solutions to the problem are unknown, product specifications could be subject to change, the scope of the work to be done is not precisely known, cross-functional collaboration is presumed to be vital and time to market is sensitive are the ideal conditions in which to apply agile innovation or methods.

For independent Freelance consultants and small business owners agile will have a different meaning, but it may be useful nonetheless.  Small business owners can surely incorporate agile methods into their organizations and see improved functioning.  Freelancers may be more apt to use agile as a marketing buzz word that communicates to clients and prospects that we are on the cutting edge of forward-thinking business practices and in tune with their priorities.  Freelancers who are themselves agile will be trustworthy external talent who bring ROI to organizations for whom we work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Online Reputation Management

Shakespeare, in Act 2 of his circa 1603 play Othello, said it best: Reputation, reputation, reputation.  It is the original personal brand and one of the defining realities of our lives.  As a Freelance consultant, reputation governs the projects offered to us and therefore, our income and the kind of life we’re able to live.  It pays,  in more ways than one, to cultivate a peerless reputation and guard it vigorously.

In the internet age  that is especially so, in both the personal and professional spheres.  Mistakes and mischaracterizations made in digital formats are extremely difficult to dodge, ignore, deny, or correct.  One’s online reputation is the ultimate flypaper.  Take steps to ensure that what sticks to your name is all good.

Images

Along with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest are the sites where images of you are most likely to be posted,  by yourself and others.  When cameras are around,  meaning whenever anyone has a cell phone,  which is about 24/7,  make sure that your behavior represents you and your brand well.

There’s nothing wrong with being photographed in an obviously casual gathering—just make sure that you (or others) are not in the midst of activities that could be misconstrued and reflect poorly on you sometime in the future.  If you regularly appear in photos that you know or suspect will be posted to social media sites, counteract with a photo of your own that shows you at work, paid or volunteer. Balance your accounts, so to speak,  and show that there is more to you than non-stop partying.

Content

Create and regularly post original content that makes you look smart, professional and successful.  On your LinkedIn account, announce when you will attend a symposium,  serve on a panel,  teach a course or workshop,  or have recently earned a professional certification or advanced degree.  If you’ve presented a webinar,  request the replay and turn it into a podcast for your website and YouTube.  If you write a newsletter or blog,  link to your website and LinkedIn.  If you’re on Twitter or Instagram,  produce streams of high-quality feed and images that convey the competencies and values that you want to be known for.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can feature glimpses into your personal life as well and it could all be for the good,  as long as you are strategic about what is revealed. Your volunteer work is always a safe bet.  Training for a marathon or even a fun and casual volleyball or softball league would be excellent.  Your parent’s wedding anniversary party would make another good personal aspect to include in your online narrative.  Be aware that narrative is the operative word.  Create the story that you want to be told, in a manner that makes you look wonderful.

Search

About every three months,  search your name and your company name in engines such as Bing,  Google and Yahoo and see what comes up in the first 50 listings.  Are you happy with what you see?  Try keywords related to your business along with your city and check your professional reach in a more profound way.

If you find that your business has been reviewed in an excessively negative and inaccurate way,  contact the reviewing site and request that the offending post be removed.  If customers have offered criticism that just may be constructive, address the matter.  Apologize and offer your side of the story.  Make amends if possible.  By doing so,  you’ll add to your credibility and customer service reputation.

It’s been reported that 70% of US employment recruiters have rejected potential job candidates when something about them that was considered unsavory appeared on social media.  Freelancers should assume that prospective clients will do the same.  Maintaining and monitoring your online reputation has never been more important.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Procrastination: Wrestling the Demon

The Bible named procrastination as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, classified as Sloth, that is, persistently failing to do what one should do. Evil exists when good (men) fail to act. Entrenched procrastination most certainly has the potential to ruin one’s life and such procrastinators are able to adversely impact family members and colleagues as well.

Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and a noted researcher in the field of procrastination, reports that the disorder takes several forms and that he and fellow researchers have identified two primary types:

1.) Chronic procrastinators, who are perpetually unable to complete tasks.

2.) Situational procrastinators, who delay taking action on tasks that are considered particularly loathsome.

Procrastinators are unable to learn from the negative outcomes of their avoidance behavior. That they have suffered previously from failing to fulfill responsibilities does not motivate them to get busy when the next important task appears. Procrastination is the “quintessential” breakdown of self-control, according to Ferrari and his fellow researchers.

At this point in the story, I would have liked to present a neat and clever solution to the problem, all artfully phrased to make me look smart. But I’m sorry to say that solutions for procrastination are weak. Situational procrastinators have the best prognosis and everyone falls into this category from time to time. The next time that you just can’t face up to doing whatever, set a personal deadline and find the discipline to adhere to it, so that you’re not frantically working to get things done. Just do it and move on.

But chronic procrastinators are a very tough nut to crack. I know this from personal experience, because many years ago I had a long-term relationship with such an individual. His inability to make good decisions, which included chronic malignant procrastination coupled with passive aggressive behavior, caused me to leave him. I guess he loved me, but not enough to get his act together. I will never get over the disappointment that he caused me.

Ferrari suggests that organizations can diminish the common tendency to wait until the last-minute to complete tasks by rewarding early action and de-emphasizing penalties for lateness, in the process shifting from the threat of punishment to the pleasure of reward and keeping the lid on stress along the way.

On a personal level, which is where the procrastination battle lives, Ferrari advises to refrain from enabling chronic procrastination…..”let the fridge go empty, let the car stall out. Don’t bail them out.” However, that approach to fulfilling responsibilities will sometimes adversely impact the other half of the couple and it is not always practical to allow that to happen. As I found out, chronic procrastinators are not good life (or business) partners because they do not hold up their end. You may have to terminate the relationship, because things are unlikely to get better.

If you are a chronic procrastinator reading this post, consider that we all have only so many years in life and it is important to get on with things. It is a given that sometimes we have to suck it up and do what we don’t like. But then it’s off your plate and you can think about the fun things.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Procrastination and Productivity

Who among us has not allowed a deadline to approach because we just could not pull ourselves together and do what we needed to do? Some things we just hate to do. Sometimes, we can’t get started because we don’t know where or how to start. We fear that we are not up to the task. Other times, we really do have too many other important things on our plate and we feel overwhelmed. We fall victim to procrastination.

“What I’ve found is that while everybody may procrastinate, not everyone is a procrastinator”, says Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and a pioneer in the study of procrastination. He goes on to say that (procrastination) “really has nothing to do with time management”. His research revealed that an inability to manage emotions is the root cause of procrastination.

When psychologists initially studied procrastination they adopted time and value as their metrics, asking “Why does this person not perform a simple cost – benefit analysis of doing what they must vs.ignoring their responsibilities”? Unfortunately some of us, and from time to time all of us, choose immediate and sometimes minor gratification over more significant rewards that pay dividends in the long-term.

So instead of going to the gym at 6:00 AM we lie in bed for another 30 minutes. When we might work out after work at 6:00 PM, we instead go out drinking with friends. We put off doing our taxes and sit around watching re-runs on television instead. Professor Ferrari and others feel that procrastination happens for two primary reasons:

1.) We put off the task because we are not in the mood to either start or complete it.

2.) We assume that we’ll be in a more appropriate frame of mind to complete the task in the near future.

Needless to say, putting off until tomorrow that which one should do today may bring on guilt, anxiety and defensiveness. To ease our consciences, we often make little bargains with ourselves and vow to clean up our act going forward (“If I go out tonight, I’ll work out for 90 minutes tomorrow”). That approach can work but for some of us, the avoidance behavior that is procrastination will kick in again and tomorrow there will be another excuse (“I have so much work to do, I can’t get to the gym and even if I do go, I’ll be too exhausted to do a good workout”).

Getting stuck in a procrastination pattern does one’s self-esteem no favors. Beneath the defensive attitude that may be thrown at those who dare question why you’re not doing what you should do is self-loathing. You feel like a loser because you know you’re screwing up and no amount of self-righteous denial can hide that fact from yourself.

Procrastination is not to be confused with positive behaviors such as caution, where you think first and weigh the possible consequences of moving forward to take action; pondering, when you examine a problem and discover solutions that you can expect will be useful; or prioritizing, when you assign a value to and rank your responsibilities and complete highly ranked tasks first and the least important tasks are done last, if at all. Procrastination represents a gap between intention and action.

Next week, we’ll look at common forms of procrastination and strategies that may resolve or ameliorate the problem.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

2Q Pep Talk and Organizing Primer

Hello there, Freelancer and welcome to second quarter 2015. As a precaution against slowly sliding off-course, let’s take a look at some Freelance consultant basics that will keep stress at bay and you in the mood to work hard and smart to achieve your goals of business success, as you define it. Free or low-cost technology can help.

Budget your income

Poor financial management = sleepless nights and stress.  Your paychecks are irregular and taxes are not withheld.  Check stubs and business expense receipts can be misplaced, making it difficult to track accounts receivable and payable.  How you keep track of your revenue/ income is your choice, but keep track of it you must,  along with deductible business expenses. An Excel spreadsheet is your level one financial management tool.  Whenever you receive a revenue check, get into the habit of recording the payer, amount and date.  Save the check stub as well and keep them all together in a place that you’ll remember. Record also your accounts payable business expenses and save the receipts alongside the revenue checks.

If you are in the mood to pay, Intuit has two choices for you.  QuickBooks is the gold standard of bookkeeping and basic financial management for business ventures large and small. QuickBooks will produce income statements and balance sheets monthly, quarterly and annually and make sure that you know where you stand financially.  For about $10/month,  through a basic QuickBooks app on your smart phone or tablet, you’ll be able to download transactions from your bank account and credit cards; separate your business and personal spending; track all of your IRS Schedule C Profit & Loss From a Business variable expenses; calculate and pay estimated quarterly taxes; do it all with the same security encryption as your bank.

Intuit’s Mint will pull together all of your financial transactions and arrange in colorful and easy-to-decipher graphics that depict your financial picture. Get started for free and add your accounts. Mint will analyze all of your financial transactions: checking and savings account activity, credit and debit card activity, investments like brokerage and retirement accounts, and IRA rollover offers and will make recommendations as to how you can pay less, save more and earn more.

Mint will essentially do your budgeting for you, by calculating your average spending by category so that you can create a budget based on an accurate assessment of your spending patterns.  This is the way to create and achieve your savings goals, whether for retirement, for a home, or vacation.

Manage your time

Recognize and respect priorities and refuse to allow the time-suckers to take over your life.  Time is totally money for Freelance consultants and we bill by the hour, or on a project basis. Do whatever you can to devise and approach your to-do list with good time management in mind. At the very least, keep a written calendar in which you can see a monthly view of your appointments (it is superior to a weekly view). Record your obligations and the due dates, so that deadlines will be met. On your smart phone, make use of the Notes app, so you can easily jot down important dates or deliverables.

Evernote is a very handy technology tool that works on your desktop or laptop, tablet or smart phone and costs between zero and $10/month. When you’re working on a project, your notes can even be transformed into a screen-friendly graphic lay-out that works for a client meeting. Access attachments, including PDFs, all your notes and images, too. The details of your project will be easily available and readily organized. You will look so professional and in-charge!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Staying Alive: Business Management Technology That Works

Business ventures new and old can fail for many reasons and small businesses are especially vulnerable to all manner of threats.  Even outrageous good fortune can kill a business,  when customer demand far outpaces the ability to effectively fulfill the demand. Fortunately, some challenges can be overcome through sound business practices that are aided by technology hardware or software that are not terribly costly.  Here are areas where technology can help Freelancers and small business owners get arms around common business stumbling blocks. There are also sales forecasting and business analysis tools available, typically by contract through a business services company. Are you ready to trade-up from your Excel spreadsheet?

1.  Operational efficiencies Efforts to deliver core products or services can fall short in under-staffed, under-capitalized organizations, especially when the CEO is inexperienced and overwhelmed.  Orders can be incomplete, late or lost altogether.  Payments to suppliers or sub-contractors could be late.  Invoices may not be sent at the agreed-upon time and as a result cash flow will be diminished,  which leads to all manner of problems, including the inability to make payroll, purchase inventory and other vital supplies, or meet work space rent or utilities payments.  There can be quality control issues with the products and services.  Customer service can be tone-deaf or unresponsive.  Employee skills and time may be inappropriately utilized, resulting in burn-out or wasted time.  Fear not, for there are readily available and typically affordable solutions.  Billing software can generate professional looking invoices quickly and accurately as well as manage common bookkeeping functions easily. Other business management tools can help the CEO to analyze key performance indicators that identify seasonal peaks and valleys that can be used to plan staffing needs, inventory and supplies purchases, or other necessities to meet increased or decreased demand.

2.  Mobile workforce Mobility is a must in today’s business world.  Not having access to client information while you’re on the road, perhaps while meeting with the client, is inexcusable and makes it impossible to uphold the quality of your brand. Invest in a tablet computer or  notebook computer that along with your smart phone will be loaded with apps and software that allow you to demonstrate that you are able to service client needs and answer questions wherever and whenever.  Mobile friendly business management tools allow you and your team to be equally effective in or out of the office.  Also, make sure that your website is converted to a responsive design format, so that it can be easily viewed from a smart phone or tablet.

3.  Manage growth Growth is always the goal, but it’s sometimes like drinking from the fire hose for a Freelancer or small business owner.  Serendipitous growth sounds like the answer to our prayers,  when the orders just fall into our laps,  but the concomitant follow-through can trip us up and burn us out as it rolls through like a tsunami.  Resource utilization— time, talent, staffing, money— all change as the business grows. The best growth is planned, which allows for budgeting and incorporation of the right technological tools, staffing, product or service delivery systems, quality control measures and customer service procedures that make us look like a pro and live up to the brand promise.

If you choose a business management platform that will allow you to perform forecasting and analysis,  be careful of the organization that you choose to work with.  Avoid long-term contracts and look for flexibility that allows you to get into and out of management platforms relatively quickly and inexpensively.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The ABCs of Time Management

Setting priorities and establishing boundaries are the heart of time management.  These behaviors are closely linked to productivity and the achievement of important goals and objectives.  There are inevitably instances when conflicting responsibilities and demands threaten to overwhelm us.  Deadlines loom.  Manipulative people scheme to insinuate themselves into our lives because they enjoy the attention and control.

Procrastination ushers in avoidance behavior that sabotages the fulfillment of obligations and may prevent us from reaching our full potential.  We may disappoint those who deserve our support.  The cold fact is that certain responsibilities and people are more important than others and we must be mindful of that reality when allocating the most precious resource we possess,  next to our health.

Julian Birkinshaw,   Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School and Jordan Cohen,   Productivity Specialist at the global firm PA Consulting Group,  have  spent the past three years studying how knowledge workers can become more productive.  The two found that knowledge workers spend 41%  of their time on discretionary activities that don’t necessarily bring much value.   To make the most our time,  it is not enough to merely draw up a to-do list and throw oneself into as many items as hours and energy allow.   It is necessary to give some thought to the implications and potential impact of what must be done,  as well as the consequences of failing to do it.

In his 1989 time management classic How to Get Control of your Time and Your Life,  Alan Lakein recommended that we evaluate each task by establishing SMART — specific, measurable,  achievable,  realistic and time-bound —  goals when deciding where to devote our time and what to do first.

SMART goals are used to rank and label what we must do as an A,  B,  or C task.   A-level tasks /goals are the most important.  Lakein says A-level tasks are where one devotes 80%  of available time.   The remaining 20%  of available time will be divided between the B-level and C-level tasks,  with C-level tasks receiving the smallest percentage of time.

To achieve important goals and objectives and in general accomplish whatever it is you intend to do,  make a to-do list and start with A-level tasks.  Lakein emphasizes that in order to get beyond mere efficiency,  in which a laundry list of essentially unimportant tasks are completed,  and on to productivity,   we must understand and do what is most important.   He urges us to work smarter,  by doing what brings value-added and not harder,  by frittering our time on busy-work that could either be ignored or out-sourced.

Birkinshaw and Cohen suggest that we sort the C-level tasks into three groups:  quick kills,  meaning it’s possible to discontinue these tasks with little or no negative consequences;  off-loads,  meaning what can be delegated or out-sourced;   and long-term redesign,  meaning projects that need to be restructured or re-thought before they can be assessed for value-added potential.   The idea is to make more time available for A-level tasks or leisure activities that allow us to re-charge our energy stores,  relax and enjoy ourselves.   Work – life balance is an important component of quality of life,  preventing burn-out and enabling us to operate at our productive and creative peak.

Thanks for reading,

Kim