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)

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Factors to Include When Planning to Launch a Business

In a recent 7 day span, I was invited to judge two pitch contests for entrepreneurs who had successfully completed a 13-week business plan writing workshop presented by a woman-centric business incubator and business development center that has operated in New England for 25 years (and is also an SBA affiliate). The entrepreneurs were either in start-up or scaling (i.e., expansion) mode.

I was excited to be a judge and privileged to meet nearly two dozen forward-thinking, focused, resourceful and determined women who expect nothing less than success and are taking decisive steps to bring it about. Based on the business concept pitches I heard, I encourage those who are evaluating whether to launch a business venture to include the following information:

  • Name and describe your product or service and the problem(s) it will solve
  • Identify your best customer groups and explain why those customers will pay for your product or service
  • Identify your primary competitors, list the competitive advantages that your product/ service possesses and explain why customers will prefer your offerings
  • Create a business model that outlines how you’ll acquire customers, where and how the product/service will be delivered and how the business will make money
  • Explain why you are qualified to make the proposed business successful
  • Develop a business strategy and marketing plan that includes:
    • sales and distribution strategy
    • pricing strategy
    • product positioning strategy
    • branding strategy
    • content marketing strategy strategies
    • social media strategy
    • PR and advertising strategy
  • Detail the business pre-launch and launch (start-up) costs
  • If investors or borrowing will sought, present a (realistic) break-even analysis and 24 month revenue projections (P & L and cash-flow)
  • Detail the potential investor return and the loan payback schedule

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope April 24, 1990

Succeeding In A Niche Market

When operating in the B2B services sector, it is useful to keep in mind that “Elegance is refusal,” advice that is attributed to the late style icon Diana Vreeland, who was Editor-in-Chief at Vogue Magazine from 1963 to 1971.  Perhaps some Freelance consultants haven’t realized this, but the question in the mind of the prospect  you’ve been talking to is, “Does this guy (or gal) have the know-how to understand my problem and the expertise to solve it?” You’ve got to admit, that’s a very good question and you won’t make many sales until you figure out how to demonstrate that you do.

Early in my Freelancing career, I made the rookie mistake of trying to be all things to all potential clients, because I desperately wanted to get my business rolling.  I wanted billable hours and a growing client list.  It took a little while to figure out that presenting myself as a jack-of-all-trades (who was apparently perceived as a master-of-none) was the wrong strategy and was not winning me enough business.  Attempting to spread myself thin was not the way to persuade clients that I had a depth of knowledge that they could trust.

Eventually I realized that trimming a couple of service options would amplify, rather than diminish, my perceived expertise and make it easier to present myself as a knowledgeable authority who can deliver the outcomes that clients need.

Another benefit of concentrating your expertise in a carefully selected group of services is that it’s much easier to develop and implement an effective marketing strategy.  Creating a compelling elevator pitch is much easier when your focus is narrow and deep, as is putting together marketing messages and devising promotional campaigns, choosing key words for SEO, identifying competitive advantages, communicating the value proposition and building a trusted brand.

Once you are profitably operating within your chosen niche and have earned the trust and respect of a few good clients and referral sources, it’s good business to think about expanding your footprint and entering a sub-niche market.  Your goal will be to discover a secondary line of business that’s a natural add-on to what you’re doing now.  Leverage the success and relationships that you’ve built in your primary niche market to open doors to a new product or service that a subset of your current clients would be willing to buy from you.  You’re looking to discover a specific need, challenge, or frustration that certain of your clients routinely face and will pay to resolve.

You will do some research.  Start by paying attention to your clients’ businesses and where your products and services fit into the realization of their mission-critical goals, or challenges they must solve.  Test the depth of demand for what you might offer in a sub-niche market by conducting a Google search.  If there are many articles written on the topic, that demonstrates good potential for making a profit.  Read a few articles and learn what those in the industry say about the topic—what worries them and what motivates them to buy products or services to address this need?

Search next for businesses that currently provide products or services that address that need or problem.  The presence of competitors is a good sign, as long as the market does not appear to be saturated.  If companies are doing business in that space, then there is money to be made.  Visit at least three or four websites and study the features and described benefits of products and services offered for sale in your proposed sub-niche.  Take special note of the selling points, how services are delivered, bundled, or priced.  Also read the blogs, newsletters and client testimonials.  View client lists—are any of these businesses selling to your clients?

Once you’ve decided to enter a sub-niche market, you must conduct a vigorous marketing campaign to announce your presence.  Consider it your big chance to launch an email marketing campaign.  You’ll only contact clients and others who already know you, so your emails will likely be read.  This is also a good time to offer discount pricing, so that early on you’ll get experience in delivering the product or service to your sub-niche, allowing you to obtain client feedback and perfect the process.

The launch campaign will also involve your newsletter, blog, white papers, or case studies, plus updates posted to LinkedIn and any other of your social media platforms and, as soon as you can schedule an appearance, a webinar or podcast.  In 12-18 months, you may gain enough traction in your sub-niche to be positioned to invite a happy client to give a testimonial, perhaps in the form of a case study, so that you can reinforce the value you bring to those with whom you work.  Good luck!

Happy 4th of July and thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Boston Cremes (1962), Wayne Thiebaud  (b. 1920)                                               Courtesy of The Crocker Art Museum   Sacramento, CA

Recipe For Success

Solopreneurs and owners of small businesses can benefit from what can be called a basic recipe consisting of time-tested business practices that will put you on the path to building a profitable enterprise that will make you proud.

Business strategy

Every business needs a strategy and a business plan is a very helpful tool that supports you as you implement your strategy to develop and launch your venture.  A complex strategy or business plan aren’t necessary to achieve success.  A one-page business strategy and a five-page business plan may do the job, as long as both are well thought out and executed.

A good business strategy (and plan) defines and drives the activities and behaviors of the entire organization. Without it, the business becomes a rudderless ship, lost at sea.  A well-conceived business strategy and properly written business plan reflect and support the business model and always address marketing, operations, finance, staffing and customer service, at a minimum.

Business model

The business model is the plan for how your company will generate revenues and make a profit.  The business model answers the question “Who is the customer and what does that customer value?” As a result, your business model must also spell out the company’s value proposition and what differentiates your products and services from those of competitors.

The business model will keep company leaders focused on the core markets and measuring success as defined by the business strategy.  Here you’ll detail a step-by-step action plan to operate profitably within your marketplace.

Marketing

In order to develop a realistic and potentially effective marketing strategy, it is essential to thoroughly research the most likely target customers for the venture.  What problem or goal will be solved with your products or services—what is the customer’s motive for doing business with you? How much will potential customers pay to obtain the solutions that your venture will offer?

Finding out which competitive products target customers now use to get their needs met is another essential marketing research function.  As well, you must learn the type of marketing and information gathering outreach that potential customers will find and trust.  An effective marketing strategy addresses how you will:

  • Identify target customers
  • Identify the products or services now used  (competitive products)
  • Describe how you will promote your products and services to those customers
  • Explain the positioning strategy for products and services
  • Discuss the branding strategy
  • Describe the sales strategy—how will you sell to customers
  • Address the pricing strategy
  • Identify advertising and social media marketing activities

Sales

The sales strategy that you adopt will depend on your target customers, your access to those customers and the competitive landscape.  You may be able to build referral arrangements and strategic alliances that allow you to generate enough sales to be profitable.  On the other hand, cold calling may be the most effective way to generate sales for your organization.  Will you sell in a physical location, or online? Will customers pay immediately, or will they be billed? The preferred selling approach a company uses is defined in the marketing plan.

Operations

Predictable, practical and streamlined business operations processes are a must.  The customer experience is closely linked to what happens in the behind-the-scenes delivery systems of products and services.  Think of it this way—when you go to your favorite breakfast place to get a muffin and coffee, you expect to receive what you’ve ordered with a minimum of fuss. That is how you start your day because it’s convenient and it makes you feel good.  You, business owner and leader, must create a similar experience for your customers if you intend to retain them.  Smooth business operations also play a role in building good word-of-mouth for your business.  Fail to develop a good operations plan and things could blow up in your face as disappointed customers spread the word about your shortcomings.

Unfortunately, many businesses give short shrift to the operations section of their business plan.  The purpose of thinking through operations processes is to increase business productivity and reduce costs as you offer the same (or better) outcomes to each customer, time and again.  There may be some trial and error along the way, but most of all it takes thought and planning.

Successful business leaders understand the need to continually improve business processes, to become more efficient and productive and able to respond to market changes faster, all the while providing excellent service to customers.

Technology

While technology is important, it needn’t be complex or costly to be effective.  Up-to-date technology products enable upgrades within any number of company functions: product manufacture, delivery of services, inventory management, payment systems, sales and distribution, marketing campaigns, quality control and customer service.

Finance

A realistic financial plan is the cornerstone of building a profitable enterprise.  Every business requires a financial roadmap and budget, along with the discipline to follow it.  You must anticipate and plan for business start-up or expansion costs,  projected sales and assisted by a break-even analysis, project that point in the future when the business will be positioned to make a profit.

The financial plan ensures that the business owner recognizes the most likely sources of business launch or expansion capital (will a bank loan or a partner be necessary?). A financial plan reminds owners where and how to spend money and it provides ways to measure progress, promote healthy cash-flow and warn of impending shortfalls.

Customer service

Smart business leaders treat customers well, because they are aware that there can be no business without customers who make purchases that create revenue and lead to profits.  Integrate customer service into your business practices and review those practices frequently to ensure that they are having the intended effect of facilitating customer satisfaction, repeat business and referrals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: One scene in a mural displayed in the Templo Mayor Museum in Mexico City, where thousands of artifacts were excavated from the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the Aztec Empire (now called Mexico City).

 

The Art of the Sale: How Marketing, Branding and Advertising Help Revenues

Today, I respectfully offer you a tutorial. Our inquiry will focus on the essence of doing business: selling. The purpose of starting a business is to generate sales, produce revenues and earn a profit.  If a business cannot generate a certain threshold of sales, business expenses cannot be paid and the owner’s investment will be negatively impacted. To curtail mounting debts, the business must close.

Over the past 10 years or so I’ve noticed, sometimes with amusement and other times with dismay,  that the word selling seems to make people feel uncomfortable.  I noticed that frequently, aspiring business owners and Freelance solopreneurs, who must find customers and earn money that is derived from the exchange of money for the products or services that their ventures would produce and provide, avoided the word sell. Instead, the word market was substituted.

Many self-employed professionals are uncomfortable with the process of selling, so they’ve decided to banish the very word. It’s as if selling is now perceived as crass or pushy. That is a shame.  The sales profession is one of the oldest on earth and honorable. Selling is one of the foundations of civilization and selling skills are among the most useful anyone can have; it is the ultimate transferable skill.  Selling makes the world go round, because we wouldn’t have much of a world without it. The ability to sell is far more valuable than the ability to code (yes, really!).

So we can agree that the success of a business is dependent upon sales?  Now, let’s go back to the process of marketing.  The American Marketing Association defines marketing as:

The activities and processes for creating, communicating and delivering information about products and services that have value for customers. Marketing is a set of processes that are interconnected and interdependent with other business functions aimed at achieving the interest of (prospective) customers.

Marketing consists of using information, in words or pictures, to promote products and services and persuade potential customers to make purchases.  Customers have an array of motives that drive their purchases.  Marketing campaigns are designed to appeal to the motives of selected customer groups (e.g., parents, young professionals, adolescent males) that research has shown are potential customers for the product or service in question.  The purpose of marketing is to communicate with and appeal to targeted customer groups and persuade them that (your) products and services will satisfy one or more of their needs or desires.

So we can agree that generating sales is dependent upon marketing campaign promotion that is directed at the most promising customers for your products and services? I hope we can also agree that marketing and sales, while on the same continuum, are not one and the same.  Let’s move forward on the path and consider branding.

Branding campaigns are designed to enhance and expand marketing messages by differentiating and distinguishing the reputation of products and services available in the marketplace.  Products, services and individuals can, through an effective branding campaign, acquire a powerful reputation, recognition and loyalty among customers, fans and the general public.  That reputation is known as the brand.

A company logo is usually associated with products that have acquired sufficient popularity and sales to be considered a brand. That logo is instantly recognized and conveys the essence of the brand to its loyal fans, as well as those who may not use the product.  The product name itself will come to symbolize a powerful brand, as does Coca-Cola.

Now let’s take your marketing and branding messages to the public and that brings us to the next stop along the marketing continuum, advertising.  There are more ways to advertise than ever before, thanks to the digital age,  but do not underestimate the value of traditional methods.  The century-old medium that is radio remains a highly effective advertising tool, as do billboards.  Taxi cabs and city buses (and bus stops) announce local events, such as the circus coming to town.  Newspapers and magazines continue to be packed with eye-catching ads.

Content marketing, which many call the new advertising, continues to grow in influence.  It’s approach is indirect and it is presented as relevant information.  Content marketing is stealth advertising that uses primarily written information conveyed in blogs and newsletters to provide information about topics that would be of interest to prospective users of the products or services sold by the company.  The purpose of content marketing is to build an audience of regular readers who trust the source (you) and would feel confident enough to do business with you.

Then there are the social media platforms that are now in the mix. Regardless of the name social media marketing, when used for business purposes it is advertising: the Instagram photos of your wedding venue, the video clip of you accepting an award at the Rotary Club, the webinar posted to your website and LinkedIn profile.

If your marketing strategy and campaigns have been effective and enabled the development of a trustworthy brand and memorable advertising campaigns, your business will attract paying customers. Your business venture will generate sales and you can declare yourself a winner.  Let’s sum up our tutorial:

MARKETING:  How you envision and describe your company. The verbal, voice and visual messages used to promote your products or services. The business owner identifies the market positioning strategy for the company, based on populations predicted to  become customers: mid-market, luxury, or bargain, hipsters, seniors, adventure travelers.  Product positioning impacts all marketing campaigns and messages, the branding strategy and advertising choices.

BRAND:  The company reputation, what it is known for. How others perceive your company.

ADVERTISING:  How and where you portray and describe your company to the public: in print or digital, visual or audio formats placed in Popular Mechanics, Harper’s Bazaar, subway stations, flyers tucked onto car windshields, or Twitter.  Advertising usually costs money.

SALE:  The ultimate goal and final step of the marketing process.  The exchange of money (or another valuable item or service) for the purchase of a product or service.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph of Cher by Richard Avedon (1986)                                                                 Courtesy of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, LA

Client Acquisition Tips

According to client acquisition coach and best-selling author Brian Hilliard (Networking Like A Pro [2017] with David Alexander and Ivan Misner), the most vital task for B2B service providers is to organize and articulate your company’s services in a way that makes it easy for prospective clients to understand what you do.  As the in-house marketing and sales expert, the Freelancer must create marketing messages and sales pitches that enable prospects to figure out how and when to work with you.

Yet the unfortunate tendency is for Freelancers to present their services as all things to all people, preventing prospects from getting a handle on what you can do for them (and I’ve done this, BTW).  Casting a wide net may seem like a winning strategy, but in reality it often results in a bewildered and frustrated prospect who doesn’t know how to use your expertise—so they don’t. It’s essential to help prospects see solutions in your services if you expect to make sales and build a client list.  Getting specific is the way to do it, Hilliard says:

  • Promote your services to prospects with the motive and money to do business
  • Define your services using terminology and selling points that the prospect will understand
  • Demonstrate that you can deliver requested services and ensure desired outcomes
  • Price at a level that clients accept and also generates a good profit for you

In your next prospect meeting, when you’re asked “Tell me more about what you do?” give an example of how you’d implement the basic option and the premium option of a service that fits with what s/he might need.  Since you will have become specific, you can expect that your prospect will then become comfortable enough to reveal specifics about his/her reason for speaking with you.  When you hear the details, you can then provide  more precisely tailored versions of your basic and premium options.

Next, although it will take both courage and discipline, stop talking and let the prospect ask questions or provide feedback on your proposed solutions. Expect to be asked if you’re able to further customize a solution and of course you’ll gladly do so.  Whatever you can do to add value will increase your chance of getting the sale.

Finally, there will be the price negotiation.  Ask for the amount of the project budget, to increase the chance that you’ll present an acceptable (verbal) estimate for your services.  If it seems to you that in order to provide the requested services your estimate might somewhat exceed the client’s budget, be willing to negotiate.  When you’ve shown the prospect that you can speak to and address what s/he needs, you’ll probably sign a contract and a new client will join your roster.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Isidor Kaufmann (1853-1921, Austro-Hungarian) A Business Secret, 1917      private collection

Exit Loyalty, Enter Relevance: The New 5 P’s of Marketing

Which quality best supports and encourages B2B buying decisions? In the 21st century, that quality is relevance.  According to a recent survey by Kantar Retail Consulting, whose North American division is based in Boston, MA, 71% of B2B and B2C customers feel that loyalty-incentive marketing promotional programs do not cause them to feel more loyal toward a company.  It has become evident that regardless of your industry, customers are doing business with you based on the perceived relevance of your products and services to their needs and priorities.  Attempting to buy loyalty with discounts, rebates, rewards, or swag bags is not as effective as it used to be.

A 2017 study by the global consulting firm Accenture found that U.S. businesses lose $1 Trillion a year in annual revenue to competitors because their (former) customers no longer consider them to be relevant.  The study results appear to indicate that to succeed, businesses must be perceived as fulfilling customers’ immediate needs as they occur. Personalization is helpful, but it is best applied in support of relevance.  The authors recommend that companies structure the customer experience  to deliver as does a butler or concierge.

So how do business leaders navigate the paradigm shift? Joshua Bellin, Robert Wollan and John Zeally of Accenture recommend that organization leaders move on from the former gold standard of marketing, the 4 Ps—Product, Place, Price, Promotion.  No disrespect to the 4 Ps, they served companies well for decades, but customer behavior and expectations have changed over the past 10 years or so.  The 4 Ps are unfortunately rather narrow and product-focused for our times.  Today, it’s about delivering customized solutions, especially for B2B customers.

Furthermore, a close reading of purchasing data indicates that the usual product-focused market segment labels, e.g., discount, luxury, or environmentally conscious consumers can no longer consistently predict purchasing choices.  The needs of all consumers, regardless of socioeconomic status and sociopolitical ideology, vary according to their immediate priorities and context.  In response, Zeally et al. suggest that companies expand their marketing guideposts to include these updated 5 Ps:

Purpose:           Customers feel that the company shares and advances their values.

Partnership:    Customers feel the company relates to them and works well with them.

Pride:                 Customers feel good about using the company’s products and  services.

Protection:        Doing business with the company makes customers feel confident.

Personalized:  Customers feel that their experiences with the company are always  tailored to their goals, priorities and needs.

The “what have you done for me lately?” mindset has replaced loyalty, to a large degree. Perhaps it’s a sign of the entitled and narcissistic culture in which we in the U.S. live.  Customer preferences are in constant flux. Short-term strategies and goals are often the norm.

Some companies are able to thrive in this environment, perhaps most notably the global retailer Zara, founded in Galicia, Spain. “Fast Fashion” is the guiding force.  In the 1980s, the company invested heavily in design, manufacturing and distribution systems capable of reacting to market trends very quickly.  As a result, Zara is on top of nearly every trend in women’s, children’s and men’s fashion and customers eat it up.  As of March 2018, there are 2,251 Zara boutiques in 96 countries.

Smaller companies and Freelancers cannot come close to being able to match the power of Zara, but it is possible to leverage relationships and personalization to encourage your current and prospective customers to share what is important to them and discuss how you can meet their needs today and in the future.  You probably already know that all too many of your customers will move on and do business with another company that seems to offer a better mousetrap without even discussing their needs with you first.  It is discouraging, I know.

The best defense is to be found in the 5 Ps.  Start with Personalization and move to Purpose, so that you can make it known that your company can advance the customer’s goals.  Segue next to Protection and use the trust that you develop to encourage prospects to feel confident about doing business with you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Lurch (Ted Cassidy), the Addams family butler, in an episode of The Addams Family  (1964 – 1966, ABC-TV)

Machine Learning: Coming To A Freelancer Near You

Machine learning is a ground breaking technology that uses Artificial Intelligence to allow computer systems to automatically “learn” from the patterns of the user’s online browsing choices, without the need to program the system to do so.  Many of us became familiar with AI and machine learning through movie choices offered to us on Netflix or music on iHeartRadio.  Think also of the Digital Personal Assistants Siri and Amazon Alexa, other applications of AI and machine learning that many have embraced.  Machine learning focuses on developing computer programs that can access data, analyze that data (to find patterns) and then use that information to “learn.”

Machine learning and AI are slowly filtering down the food chain from global and national corporations to regional operations.  Start-up entrepreneurs are launching enterprises that employ machine learning and early adopter Freelance consultants will soon be able to incorporate machine learning beyond what we may already be doing with Siri and Netflix.  In particular, marketing is poised to become a primary utilization of the technology, in businesses of every size.

About a year or two ago, you noticed that when you visited a particular website and then returned to Facebook, LinkedIn, or your chosen online homepage, an ad from the site you visited would soon pop up and tempt you with an offer.  The phenomenon is called “real-time” by marketing specialists and it’s driven by the data that your browsing history generates via machine learning and AI.  It’s a manifestation of being responsive to a potential customers’ interests as a way to fill the sales funnel and facilitate a sale.

To take AI and machine learning a few steps closer to ordinary mortals on planet Earth, these tools are uniquely suited to B2B marketing, because they limit the (costly) trial-and-error activities that haunt every online or off-line marketing campaign.  Now, your marketing activities, whether presented in an online display ad, social media posts, or content marketing outreach, will be seen by those whose online searches indicate that they are likely to be interested in exploring your products and services.

Machine learning, augmented by AI, will allow marketing specialists to greatly reduce the wasteful expenditures inherent in every marketing budget and direct those valuable dollars toward self-qualified leads who have a much greater potential to become paying customers.  Your marketing campaigns cannot help but become more cost-effective whether online or offline, print ads in traditional publications, banner ads on individually targeted websites, social media posts, or email marketing.

Speaking of social media posts, machine learning allows marketing specialists to monitor trending topics on various platforms, i.e., topics that currently resonate with particular market segments.  Certain of those memes can become the basis of content for blogs, newsletters, email marketing and other promotional activities.

Finally, let’s circle back to what machine learning has been doing for Netflix and iHeartRadio, which in marketing speak is called demand forecasting.  When movie and music choices are offered to you, the goal is to give you what you want before you know you want it.  Current algorithms are doing a pretty good job of doing that now, but more sophisticated algorithms are in development, with predicting accuracy refined by machine learning and AI.  What is offered will still be a guess and just a suggestion, but for many of us, at least once in a while, we’ll receive an offer that we cannot refuse.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

display.png   Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photograph: Jean Jennings (l) and Frances Bilas programming ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first large-scale computer to run at electronic speed   Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania (1946)

Finally Figuring Out Social Media

Consider, if you will, that you are using all of your company’s social media platforms like a naïve amateur, no matter how long you’ve been active on Facebook or how quickly you jumped onto Twitter and Instagram.  Chances are you do not have a realistic definition of social media marketing campaign success.  You cannot demonstrate meaningful ROI for the strategies you’ve employed.

The fact of the matter is, you are using the wrong measurements to document social media marketing campaign success.  You have been misled and you are confused.  Followers, shares, comments and likes are widely considered the gold standard social media metrics, but does that “engagement” correlate with or generate sales revenue and referrals? Let’s lift the curtain and sort this out.

It’s time to think about social media marketing in the way you do traditional marketing campaigns, including advertising and sales strategies, and apply the same expectations.  Social media campaigns are marketing campaigns, too, and not a stand-alone entity.  Please shift your social media marketing goals and objectives to what is tangible and measurable and bring real value to your customers and organization.  Various social media platforms can take a credible supporting role in the following marketing goals, for example:

  • Raising brand awareness
  • New product or service launch
  • Lead generation
  • Increasing sales
  • Special events promotion
  • Facilitating and/or improving customer service
  • Obtaining donations (not-for-profit sector)
  • Recruiting volunteers (not-for-profit sector)

Once you’ve identified your marketing goals, determine which platforms seem most suitable for your message and which will reach the selected target market groups.  Then, select the content—blog, tweeted updates, YouTube videos, Instagram photos, announcements on Facebook, for example—that will most effectively communicate your message and resonate with your target markets.

Be aware that unlike traditional marketing methods, which fly at 30,000 feet, social media outreach is an ongoing conversation and the best way to attract and retain visitors and followers who might convert into your customers and referrers is to get personal.  Use social media to speak directly to your audience.  Answer questions that will help to familiarize them with your products and services and understand their features, advantages and benefits.  Display visual images of your brand and what it stands for. Include audiovisuals that let influencers give testimonials.  Solve problems, deliver timely information.  Be a cool and helpful friend.

To help you schedule and manage the integration of multi-platform social media campaigns and ongoing outreach across various departments in a larger business organization, investigate Buffer and Hootesuite, or other social media management services.

Now, to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns.  On your own, you can record selected Key Performance Indicators that immediately precede your revised social media strategies.  In six months and then again in 12 months, revisit those KPIs.  Additionally, Google Analytics is a useful tool to sort through social media activity on all of your channels and report on engagement that leads to a sale processed on the company website, event registrations, signs-ups to receive your blog or newsletter, not-for-profit organization fundraising donations received and requests for additional product or service information, for example.

When you approach social media marketing campaigns correctly, you can receive lots of actionable information.  But in order to receive information that will make a difference in you company’s bottom line, you need to ask the right questions and apply the right metrics.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Teletype operator (circa 1941-1945) courtesy of the National Archives           Teletype technology allowed typed messages to be transmitted electronically from point to point to a single or multiple recipients, including sent and received messages. The teletypewriter evolved through many upgrades, starting in 1835 and it was adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1938.  Essentially, teletype was early email.

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

Hello everyone and welcome to post-summertime reality.  We’re heading into the fourth quarter and whether or not you’re on track to meet your 2017 earnings goal, the time for a big push to help you end the year strong has arrived.  Marketing will play a big role in your revenue-generating strategy, but as was discussed in my August 15 post, do what you can to create a marketing budget so that your clever strategies and tactics will make it off the drawing board Your Marketing Plan Is Meaningless Until You Assign A Budget

In this post, I’ll share the results of what appears to be a credible survey of 1,700 Freelancers and small business owners 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.  Let’s look at what the folks at FreshBooks have to tell us about the practices, priorities and challenges of Freelance consultants and small business owners:

Who were the survey participants?

  • 65% male and 35% female
  • 51% Baby Boomers (age 50 + years);  34% Generation X (age 35 – 49 years);           15% Millennials (age < 35 years)
  • 65% have earned at least a Bachelor’s degree
  • 55% operate as Sole Proprietors, with no formal legal business structure
  • < 10 employees in the business
  • 15% in business < 2 years
  • 42% have no retirement account (median survey age was 50 years)
  • 23% earned < $20K in 2016
  • 23% earned $21K – $50K in 2016
  • 29% earned $51K – $100K in 2016
  • 24% earned $101K + in 2016

What kinds of marketing tactics are most often used?

Tactics considered most effective:

  • 67% ask for referrals, from clients or personal relationships
  • 47% have referral partners (e.g., at business association networking groups)
  • 39% speak and/or teach
  • 23 % use content marketing (especially blogs and newsletters)

Tactics considered somewhat effective:

  • 51% attend industry/ professional association events
  • 48% join business networking associations (e.g., chambers of commerce)
  • 44% entertain prospects (anything from coffee to drinks and dinner)
  • 44% use social media marketing
  • 24% use email marketing

Tactics considered least effective:

  • 32% purchase ads in print or online publications
  • 19% post on industry online forums (e.g., LinkedIn groups)

Age has a statistically significant impact on the types of marketing tactics employed and on the success rate of those tactics.  Baby Boomers have a much better success rate obtaining referrals, probably because they’ve lived long enough to develop those types of relationships.  Millennials have great success with content marketing and social media, no doubt because they grew up with the internet and they’re comfortable and adept with online communications.

Millennial Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 42% Content marketing
  • 30% Social media
  • 30% Referrals

Baby Boom Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 47% Referrals
  • 26% Content marketing
  • 22% Social media

Finally, marketing and sales are the mechanisms that promote market share and revenue growth and put the venture on the road to earning the desired profit margins that will secure its financial standing.  Yet, small business owners and Freelance consultants devote little time to business development (i.e., prospecting for new client acquisitions). which is supported by the right marketing strategies and tactics.  Most feel that signing new clients and retaining them is difficult:

  • 65% feel they need to find new clients
  • 85% consider business development a challenge
  • 75% devote less than one-quarter of their time to business development
  • 51% feel that they’re too busy with client work to prospect or sell
  • 40% devote one-tenth or less of their time to prospecting
  • 37% are uncomfortable selling
  • 25% feel they’ve found the right balance between making sales calls and performing client work

In order to build and sustain the business, it is necessary to attract and retain clients that you can reliably bill at a certain minimum amount; figure out how to describe and sell a value proposition that makes your services appear desirable to a critical mass of clients; performing client projects that you can price to ensure the desired profit margin; and effectively managing the business’ financial strategies.  As was discussed in my August 22 post, Only Those Who Have Money Can Borrow Money , the survey also examined the access to capital that Freelance consultants and small business owners have, or don’t have:

  • 20% used bank financing to launch their ventures
  • 25% were turned down for business
  • 52% feel that big banks are not designed to serve the needs of Freelancers or small business owners

Next week we’ll weave together the threads laid out here,  examine and analyze the picture that emerges and use some small data to help our respective business ventures get big ROI as we enter the fourth quarter.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Japanese surfer works his plan to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics   Photograph: Kyodo News (2017)