The Power of Listening

Recently, I attended a reception at the women’s club where I’m a member.  When I attend programs, I make it a point to circulate and talk, usually joining three or four tables over the course of an event.  I’ve been fortunate to participate in dozens of conversations, meaningful and superficial, and I’ve formed some good relationships.  When in conversation, ideally, I listen more than I talk. That ebb and flow is the subtle dance of communication.

While in conversation, learning to keep one’s mouth shut and ears open, so that you can focus attention on the person who is speaking, requires mindfulness and discipline.  So often we do not really listen, we only pause, to formulate an answer that will help us win a debate or demonstrate expertise in the topic.  Conversation can become a game of one-upmanship, when we’re more interested in being clever, or seeming to be very wise or au courant.

When you take the time to listen, the ego must be set aside as you signal the unique value of the other person by allowing him/her to express thoughts and feelings, insights and knowledge.  You may appear to be passive but in reality, listening well is quite active.  When we listen with intention, most of our senses are activated.

We watch facial expressions and detect happiness, distress, interest, or boredom in the eyes and mouth and even the posture.  We hear the cadence of speech, the choice of words used and the tone of voice.  In this way, we take in the story as it is told and we begin to understand the other person’s values, worries, joys, competencies and humor.  Listening with conviction is the highest compliment that one can pay to another human being.  When we listen, we get to know people and build relationships.

Careful listening also allows you to grasp what a person does not say and that could be very revealing.  Hone your listening skills and learn to “listen between the lines,” so that you can more fully understand the motivations and perhaps hidden agendas of those with whom you interact.  Listen and get a sense of who is telling the truth and who is hiding behind a facade.  Whether you are in a negotiation with a client, interviewing a job candidate, or at dinner with someone you wonder if you should see again, listening well will guide your next steps.

Listening skills are a key ingredient of selling skills.  Listen carefully to your prospect and learn what is most important to him/her and then describe how your product or service will resolve the need and eliminate difficulties.  If you are a Freelance consultant who is interviewing with the hope of winning an assignment Dave Mattson, CEO and president of Sandler Training, the sales training firm, recommends that you get straight to the point and ask what three criteria define success for the project and then listen, and truly hear, the answer.  You will quickly discover whether you are a good fit for the project and what you must say and do to win it.

Finally, listening will allow you to adjust your style of communication to align with the person you are speaking with and that is a very important part of building trust, demonstrating proficiencies, telegraphing empathy and being persuasive, the building blocks of both good relationships and effective selling.  Essentially, your heightened listening will allow the two of you to speak the same language and that is the heart of effective communication.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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Build Your Referral Network With Board Service

Volunteering has for many decades been a way for aspiring socialites, self-made millionaires, traditionally employed professionals climbing the ladder and Freelance consultants looking to meet future clients to expand their networks, build strategic relationships, obtain social credibility, learn new skills and sometimes even support a worthy cause. Volunteering is the best way to do well by doing good and the money you donate is tax-deductible.

The Machiavellian among us may choose an organization that appears to have either the best business networking or most social-climbing potential (or both!), but I recommend that those in search of a good volunteer opportunity start with a review of causes that are important to you.  Some prefer social service agencies, others are inspired by arts organizations and still others gravitate to religious or healthcare institutions. If you’re not sure where to start, try lending your services to your alma mater, your children’s school, or your local Rotary Club.  Rotary Club

Board service is at the top of the volunteer pyramid and not everyone is invited to participate at that level.  However, most not-for-profit organizations plan a big annual fundraising event and extra day-of-event volunteer help is sometimes needed. That could be your opportunity to see a snap shot of the organization, as well as the event committee, up close, in action and celebrating the vision and mission.

Joining a day-of-event subcommittee is often a good place to start your volunteer journey, so that you can meet and work with one or two board members, meet the executive director and learn about the qualifications and possibility of joining the board.  Be advised that many boards come with an expected level of financial support that can stretch into four-figure sums (and beyond).  Visit the organization’s website and speak with the administrative assistant about short-term volunteer opportunities.

There are also corporate boards on which one may serve, but those groups are for the very well-connected and influential.  A path to corporate board service might begin with relationships developed during volunteer board service, but one still must have very formidable professional credentials and superior job titles.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you contemplate your role as a volunteer:

Choose the right organization

You will feel much happier donating skills and money to an organization whose mission you strongly support and that should guide your choice.  Your work on the board should be for you a pleasure and a privilege and not a chore.

Be outstanding

Take your commitment to the board or committee seriously if you expect to be taken seriously by the influencers you hope to impress.  Be qualified to do the work.  Make the time to complete your pro bono work on time.  Be enthusiastic, if not passionate, and a good team player.  If you are sufficiently fortunate to be asked to chair a committee, graciously share credit for a job well done with your committee members.

Add value

While your volunteering may have at its core your professional or social agenda, you must nonetheless approach your volunteer service as someone who wants to contribute and make a positive difference.  Keep the organization’s mission and goals in mind, along with your own.  Raise your hand when leadership opportunities present themselves. Demonstrate how your unique skill set brings benefits to the organization.

Be a passionate visionary

As a board member, it will be your responsibility to prepare the organization to realize long-term goals that accurately reflect and enable the vision and mission.  Suggest that strategic planning be done, so that key staff members can join with the board and map out possible strategies for the future.  In any case, bring your creative energy and practical insights to every board meeting.

Be a team player

Make yourself look good and create the conditions wherein your fellow board and committee members will find satisfaction in their board service and find more success for yourself as you do.  Inspire fellow board and committee members to do their best work by modeling that behavior yourself.  Always acknowledge the good work and dedication of others on your committee and the board.

When you follow the guidelines detailed above, you will distinguish yourself as a superior board member who is a real asset to the organization.  Influencers who are in a position to refer those with your specialty will no doubt be eager to refer a colleague whose work they can personally endorse and your Freelance consultancy will reap the rewards.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Getting and Giving Advice: Tact

In my March 1 post, I introduced the matter of giving and receiving advice and I let readers know that over the next few months I would explore different aspects of this important and sensitive topic. Here is the link to that post, if you’d like the reference.

https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/getting-and-giving-advice-skill-set/

When offering advice to someone, especially if it is unsolicited, tact is an essential ingredient.  In today’s bombastic communications environment that is dominated by “reality”shows,  current events infotainment-style “news” shows and even presidential debates that not infrequently de-volve into scream fests, it appears that the use and value of tact have been greatly diminished.  Name-calling is in vogue, I’m sorry to say.

Tact comes easily for some but for most of us, tact requires first an awareness of its need, followed by lots of practice in its implementation.  When a difficult conversation must take place,  when in a negotiation, or even when relaxing and chatting with friends or family, tact is a useful skill. Tact adds subtlety and sophistication to your speaking style and makes you look more professional and competent.  Furthermore,  there will be no good relationships built without it, business or personal.

Being direct in one’s expression is also a useful skill,  but the ability to deliver a blunt opinion well is real talent. There is a right way to tell the outrageous truth.  The essence of tact is keeping one’s emotions in check, so that the impulse to blurt out hurtful (or semi-incoherent) statements will be curbed.  Consider keeping the following suggestions in mind as you work to incorporate the nuances of tact into your communications portfolio.

THINK FIRST

Especially in a conversation that seems to have the potential to become heated, pause, so that you can listen to what is being said by the other party and give yourself time to organize your thoughts and choose your words carefully.  By any means necessary, avoid attacks,  threats,  arm-twisting,  sarcasm,  accusations and disrespect.  You may be unhappy with what the other person has said or done,  but aim to express your displeasure in a polite and yet no-nonsense manner.  This approach is not to be confused with backing down.

SOFTEN NEGATIVE FEEDBACK

When you must address the stressful matter of unmet expectations or poor results,  the tactful approach is the best way to get you and the other person on the road to effecting a satisfactory solution.

First, search for a way to include a positive observation about the outcome. Next, discuss what came up short.  Be diplomatic with your criticism—it may be that you did not clearly communicate your request and thus caused the other person to misunderstand.  Make the conversation a teachable moment for both of you.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

It may not be possible to know in advance the best time to wade into a sensitive subject. If you attempt to force a discussion at an inconvenient time,  your message will not be well received and if your manner of approach reeks of entitlement,  you could damage the relationship.

Always ask if it’s a good time to talk.  If it appears that the other person can focus on choosing another time,  then ask to do so.  But if that person appears to be overwhelmed,  back off and revisit the subject at another date.  Respect for boundaries  is another cornerstone of tact and tact is good business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Managing the Difficult Client

In your Freelance consulting venture you will work with dozens, if not hundreds, of clients.  Your experiences  with different clients will eventually allow you to recognize certain recurring personality types or working styles.  In your mission to retain clients over the long-term,  you will find it useful to understand the perspectives of the various personality types and learn to create successful,  or at least less fraught,  working relationships with them.

The attention craver

The onslaught of before or after office hours calls and voice mails will be your first clue that you have signed on with a high-maintenance,  controlling,  attention-craving client.  If you’re on a high-priority deadline project,  then the calls and emails may be part of what it takes to get the job done and impress the client with your work ethic,  business acumen and ability to guide the project to a successful completion.  But when the calls do not address an urgent matter…. hhhmmmm.

As noted with several of the difficult clients discussed in this and last week’s posts,  setting boundaries is recommended.  Answer the attention-craver’s calls or emails in a timely fashion.  If by your standards calls have been made during your personal time  (7:00 PM or after,  for example,  or on a weekend)  and the matter is not urgent,  politely state that while you appreciate updates,  you will be happy to address project matters by 8:00 AM on the next business day.  If you reach the client’s voice mail,  send an email to confirm your reply.

The analysis-paralysis specialist

The analysis-paralysis specialist is methodical,  prone to taking his/her time when evaluating matters and will likely respond well to credible data.  Getting a fast answer or decision may be a challenge.   S/he is afraid of doing the wrong thing by failing to consider the inevitable plusses and minuses of the choices presented.  Spreadsheets are favored.

If you have a recommended course of action,  compile statistics and case studies to support your opinion and invite other team members into a meeting with you to lend support.  It will be important to help this individual feel confident and ready to move forward.  Solid evidence and a consensus of opinions will be required.

The busy business owner

This overwhelmed CEO is most likely very happy to have you on board to manage an important project,  but s/he is perhaps unable to take full advantage of your expertise because s/he is too busy to adequately integrate you into the process,  or take the time to sit down and apprise you of the organization’s challenges, needs,  or opportunities and the services you can provide to address what is presented.

You can help the busy business owner and yourself by creating short reports that focus on key performance indicators that allow the busy one to access necessary information.  Concise progress reports,  documentation that milestones have been reached on time and other demonstrations of the results of your work will be appreciated. Try to schedule meetings when progress discussions should take place,  but keep them short and focused.  Send a list of questions when you schedule the meeting,  so that your busy client will be more likely to take the time to share project critical information.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

How To Manage A Difficult Client

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

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

The nitpicker

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

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

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

The meeting maven

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

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

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

The penny-pincher

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

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

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

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

Next week,  we can look at more difficult clients.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

A Fail-Safe Christmas Party Strategy

Christmas party season is here, bringing Freelancers and business owners opportunities to become their own Santa Claus and put some new clients under the tree.  Christmas is the time to pick up the thread with clients past,  nurture relationships with clients of the present and meet clients you’d like to add to your roster in the near future. To make that happen,  you know that you’ll need a game plan.

First,  go to your parties alone.  Under no circumstances do you need to drag someone along with you, unless that person is required to get you into a party where you can expect to meet prospective clients,  or that person promises to introduce you to a good prospect while there.  Even that arrangement can be risky— a few years ago I was invited to what should have been a networking bonanza for me,  except that my friend wound up getting very drunk and even worse,  he reneged on bringing me into a post-party meeting with someone who could have been very helpful to me.

Second,  confirm the dress code.  A weekend party held after 6:00 PM will imply fancier dress and maybe even black-tie optional.  If you are the  +1 (guest),  ask your contact to send you the invitation.  If s/he does not do so,  then call the party organizer and inquire.  You do not want to show up improperly dressed,  even if your contact claims not to care about such things.

Men should wear a jacket,  even if a suit is not required.  Women should avoid too-short or too-tight clothing and revealing necklines.  Jeans or leather pants are out of the question for either sex,  unless your host is in the arts or tech.

Third,  ask who is on the guest list,  if you can do so casually and diplomatically.  Present your request as a way to find out if you’ll know others in the room.

Fourth,  polish up your short-form elevator pitch and think about how you might approach guests that you’d like to meet or reconnect with.  You may want to Google a name and find out what that person has been doing,  so you’ll know what to “spontaneously” bring up.

However,  be mindful that pushing business topics will be a turn-off,  unless the other person raises an issue.  Focus instead on scheduling post-party follow-up with selected people who would like to know more about your products and services.

While at the party,  greet and thank your hosts straight away,  before you visit the bar or buffet.  After that relax,  mix and mingle.  Brainstorm some friendly ice-breakers that will open the door to conversation (“How do you know [the hosts]?”)  Eating and drinking are party highlights,  but take it easy with the drinking.  I recommend that you have not more than one drink and then switch to a non-alcoholic beverage.  You must be sober to successfully work your networking agenda.

Moreover,  you’ll also need to master the drink and hors d’oeuvres plate juggle.  Hold your drink in your left hand,  so that you can shake hands easily and not give a cold,  damp greeting.  Likewise,  eat your hors d’oeuvres with the left hand,  so you don’t offer a sticky handshake.

Finally,  pay attention to the ebb and flow of guests.  Unless you’re in a serious conversation  when their number begins to fade,  find your hosts,  thank them for the invitation and take your leave.  There is an optimum time to arrive  at and leave a party.  Arriving 15- 20 minutes after the start time is usually good.  The next day,  send a quick email to thank the host once more.  After all,  a good party is a wonderful thing and you want to get invited back next year!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Networking: Beyond the Golf Course

Through the late 1980s, physicians typically did not have office hours on Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, doctors were at the golf course. There, they got to relax and know their colleagues better. No doubt they talked about upcoming vacation plans and the college graduations of their children. They talked about difficult patients and what therapies could be used to treat them. Referral relationships between General Practitioners and specialists like Cardiologists and Nephrologists were formed. In other words doctors, who for most of history were independent business men in charge of their own incorporated empires, used Wednesdays on the golf course to network.

The time-honored custom of networking on the golf course still thrives and it now includes a small percentage of women as well as men, who still predominate. In your Freelance consultancy, I suggest that you consider including a sport in your networking activities. You may prefer a sport that is less costly and time-consuming than 4 hours on a golf course.

Consider inviting current or prospective clients and referral sources to visit the tennis courts, drop into a spin, yoga or Pilates class or go out for a run or bike ride. Networking without the presence of food and drink can be very productive. Elisette Carlson, founder of SMACK! Media, a marketing and PR firm that focuses on the sports, health and fitness industries, recommends that we take advantage of the warm weather that has finally arrived and invite networking targets for what she calls “sweat-working”. Like the doctors on the golf course, connecting around an activity encourages the formation of much more meaningful relationships than what will grow out of a restaurant or office meeting. The trick is, getting a client to accept your invitation.

Inviting prospective clients for a round of golf is easy, because the practice is standard among businessmen and golfers love to find each other and get out on the links. Persuading someone to visit a Pilates class requires a strategy and not a small dose of good luck. Still, it’s worth a try and you will not be hurt if your offer is declined.

First, you must assess whether your prospect is the physical sort. Golfers can be in less than prime condition, but unless your prospect appears to be fit, you will have no success in persuading him/her to join you in a physical activity. Next, you must discover the activity that your prospect likes that you can also keep up with. Business owners can successfully use this approach as well, by inviting the employees of a B2B partner out for a group activity. It can take place on the golf course, but a level 1 hike or private beginner-level boot camp class can also be arranged at a local fitness center. What an excellent team-building activity can be designed!

If you know that your networking target bikes to work and you ride, too, then by all means suggest a bike ride, maybe with a riding group. A Pilates class is likely to be a safe bet also, because it’s cross-functional, does not require a sophisticated skill set and most classes are only an hour. Yoga may require a somewhat higher skill level and all classes seem to be 90 minutes, but it’s nonetheless work a try. Avoid “killer” classes, unless your prospect shows enthusiasm for high-level fitness. Your goal is to promote social interaction and a good feeling from a pleasant little workout and use that as a springboard to relationship-building.

The timing of the “sweat-working” session is also crucial. My vote is for early morning, but some may have no problem with either lunch time or evening. The preferred time of your networking target is the time you go with, obviously. Remember also to ask your prospect what a good location would be—near his/her home (for an early morning workout, in particular) or office and take into consideration where the post-workout shower can happen.

During the workout, watch your prospect and monitor whether s/he may want more or less activity. Do what is necessary to create a satisfying experience. If a contest is suggested, or if score is kept in the activity, the client must win, if only by a nose. If there are regularly scheduled games, then the client wins 65% of the time.

If you can set it up right, outdoor or indoor physical activities will provide a whole new dimension to your networking activities, becoming relationship-building vehicles that your business can monetize.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Your B2B Christmas Party Networking Guide

The Christmas season is an excellent time to meet potential clients.  Many organizations would like to put projects into motion when January comes around and more decision-makers than you may realize are on the lookout for a Freelance consultant to help their department achieve important goals.  Do what you can to attend those that appear to have potential for good networking.  You may receive an invitation to a party where you know only the host.  Don’t shy away.  Accept and devise a winning game plan to see you successfully through what might otherwise be an awkward clunker of an evening.

Call the host  (do the Evite as well if that was sent)  to personally RSVP and express thanks for the invitation.  Tactfully inquire about the guest list  (you can also check on Evite and ask for intros while at the party)  and proper dress for the occasion,  so that you will know what to expect.  Knowledge is power and power brings self-confidence.  Tell the host that you look forward to meeting the other guests and ask him/her to introduce you to anyone on your personal VIP list.  Right away,  you’ll make the host happy because you’ve identified yourself as a good guest.  Tip: since your purpose for attending is looking for your next client,  go alone.  The last thing you need is a friend who could detract from your agenda or take over a conversation that is going well for you.

At the party,  fulfill that expectation by taking on the role of facilitator.  Do your best to be  (appropriately)  friendly and authentic.  Have the courage to extend yourself and greet people,  especially those who are alone.  They will be grateful that you’ve rescued them.  When in conversation,  allow the other person to talk about themselves.  After introducing yourself and offering up some pleasantries about the nice party that you’re both at,  “How do you know  (the host)?”  is a great ice-breaker.  A general question about holiday plans— at home or traveling?— is a nice follow-up.

Practice the art of mingling.   When conversation seems to hit a dead-end with one person,  excuse yourself to refill your plate or your drink  (Hint: 3 drink limit,  do not overdo) and find someone else to talk to.  Do not intrude upon conversations that appear to be private.  At the party,  remind the host of whom you would like to meet.  When meeting your VIPs,  resist the temptation of promoting yourself.  If you know something of the guest list in advance,  search LinkedIn or Twitter to get a career update,  so that you can  “serendipitously”  ask questions that will allow your wish-list guest to talk about him/herself and make yourself look wonderful in the process.

Use the 80/20 Rule and cede 80 % of the conversation to the other person and spend 20 % talking about your own life and business  (unless the VIP really wants to know).  If it seems appropriate,  suggest post-party contact and do a card exchange.  Ask for a good time to call/email—December or January?

Leave social media out of the party.  Do not even think about posting a photo on Facebook or Instagram.  Do not invite a VIP or anyone else you’ve just met to join your LinkedIn network.

Finally,  knowing when to arrive and exit a party are important social skills.  Especially when you do not know anyone on the guest list beyond the host,  arrive at 6:30 PM for a 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM affair,  so that you will have several people to talk to.  Unless you are in a good conversation with follow-up potential,  make your exit  (thanking the host on the way out)  when 25 % – 35% of the crowd has departed.  You want to be present when the party is at its peak.  Now go and check your email and look for invitations!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Notes on Networking

I’ve been thinking about networking lately.  Last week,  I had a great meeting with a young lady I met maybe 5 years ago,  when I revived a volunteer relationship with her organization.  I found the volunteer activity personally rewarding and I took it seriously.  I sharpened a seldom-used skill that I find highly desirable and I saw to it that my work met or exceeded expectations.  Scheduling prevented me from donating services for a couple of years,  but I always responded to her outreach. When she asked to pick my brain about a program-related matter,  which turned into a request for a face-to-face,  I was happy to say yes.

Little did I know that the volunteer service,  that is pro bono consulting work,  will now pay a stipend.  There is also an effort to grow the program.  The organization has had trouble selling to the new target market and I was happy to suggest some talking points that should produce results.  She took lots of notes.  Sometime over the next few months,  I expect that I will be invited to provide more pro bono work,  this time with a very helpful stipend and a chance to gain access to individuals that I would like to add to my client list.

What’s the moral of this networking story? One,  strategic volunteering can pay dividends.  Two,  selectively network at both ends the organization chart.  Don’t assume that lower ranking people are never in a position to help you.  This young lady was the program coordinator,  not a decision-maker and she’s half my age.  Nevertheless,  I treated her with respect and always enjoyed working with her.  When asked,  I offered to give her some much-needed insights,  without knowing that she is now in a position to help me make money.

Of course,  we all dream of meeting a powerful person who will miraculously agree to become our sponsor and shepherd us into a fabulous career.  That happens for some people,  but it has yet to happen to me.  For example,  for more than a decade I regularly attended Mass and sat at coffee hour with a very wealthy and well-connected lady who frequently discussed the professional success she had had before her retirement.

The lady was well aware of my need for clients and yet she never lifted a finger to help.  She who had never walked through a door that was not opened for her,  deliberately withheld from me.  Yet,  she never failed to enlist my help with her Sunday amusement—the New York Times crossword puzzle.  It is interesting,  because she sought me out for conversation and volunteered information about her career and connections.  I should have been golden.  Oh, well.

But how does one network successfully at the top of the organizational chart?  As detailed above,  interacting with someone who is inclined to respect you is rule #1.  Remaining aware of the difference in power and status is rule #2.  Understanding how you can be a valuable asset to an individual who has many resources and most likely doesn’t need anything from you is rule #3 and effectively communicating to Mr. or Ms. High-and-Mighty whatever value proposition that you think might be appreciated is rule #4.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for networking up the food chain,  but despite my fruitless experience,  which I will say is unusual,  networking with the higher-ups is best done at volunteer board meetings,  houses of worship,  at the fitness center,  or in other non-work related venues.  There are many people tugging at the sleeves of the well-connected.  It’s probably best to get to know them in a social situation that facilitates participating in a shared experience that can lead to organic relationship-building.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

A Sponsor To Propel You Forward

At almost every stage in life we can benefit from a mentor,  a special friend who has walked the road ahead of us and is willing to help us along by suggesting strategies for creating a successful journey,  choosing an alternate path,  or overcoming roadblocks.  Mentors encourage us,  challenge us,  guide and advise us.  They help us to recognize and evaluate career opportunities and consider the likely outcomes and consequences of our choices.

But when it’s time to move forward on goals,  one needs a different kind of relationship.  To shift into execution mode one needs a super-mentor,  a sponsor,  a well-connected advocate who believes in you and your potential.  Sponsors are influential and powerful people who have the clout to open doors,   make connections and recommend you for plum assignments and promotions.  They take an interest in you and your career,  but their chief role is to develop you as a leader,  a leader who will become an ally.  A sponsor sees furthering your professional success as a way to further their own and to give themselves bragging rights when you succeed.  Mentors prepare you to make a move; sponsors make it possible for you to realize your goals.

When considering who might make a good sponsor for you,  do not look for a role model to admire and emulate.  Look instead for a powerfully positioned rainmaker.  You seek not so much a friend,  as an ally.  Next,  make a brutally honest calculation of the value-added you can offer to your prospective sponsor.  Very rarely will a sponsor go out on a limb and call in favors to advance the cause of another without a powerful incentive,  which can be acting as the backer of someone who shows the ability to climb to the top.  This is a quid pro quo strategic alliance.  To attract a sponsor to open doors for you,  make that individual proud to be affiliated with you.  Exceed expectations,  meet deadlines,  hit a home run every time.  Furthermore,  you must be unfailingly loyal to your sponsor.  When he/she needs backup,   you are the first to stand up and deliver the ROI.

Where might a Freelance consultant find a sponsor?  Network in places where powerful people congregate.   Get involved with activities and work yourself up to earning a leadership role,  where your prospective sponsor can witness your enterprising ways,  ability to motivate and work with a team and ability to get things done.  A not-for-profit organization board,  fitness center or yoga studio,  or place of worship are all good networking venues.

Separate yourself from the pack by honing your communication skills.  Learn to excel in verbal communications,  interpersonal relationships and rapport building;  give excellent presentations;  sharpen your writing skills;  show empathy,  good humor and a willingness to collaborate.  People think that those who communicate exceptionally well are good leaders and smart (whether or not that is the case).  When you’ve identified prospective sponsors (there can be more than one),  work on developing a relationship and allow it to grow organically.

Time will be involved and much will depend upon mutual trust that develops and the boundaries of your prospect.  The clock may be ticking on your plans,  but if you are perceived as pushy,  the relationship will be lost forever.  What you want are opportunities to talk,  so you can let this individual know what you’d like to do.  You can even state that you’re looking for help.  The prospect will either offer the help,  or will not.  If that person does not come through,  either he/she has no influence in that realm,  or would rather not risk extending it to you.  Your prospective sponsor either values you or does not.

Tribalism matters.  Mentors and sponsors tend to bond with those who remind them of themselves and relationships often form within gender,  racial,  ethnic or religious categories.  Your communication skills,  when honed as advised above,  may help you to transcend boundaries.   Also,  in our increasingly global society,  your sponsor may decide that diversity will be advantageous when cultivating allies.

Thanks for reading,

Kim