Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Those in the crisis communications sector of public relations will have a very Merry Christmas indeed.  Your client list is growing and billable hours are overflowing! Accusations of powerful men (and at least one woman—Mariah Carey) behaving badly have been flying thick and fast.  The professional, political, personal and financial fall-out will be enormous.  Whose brand will be resilient enough to survive the scandal?

Re: the accused, the smart (and probably most evolved) perpetrators quickly ‘fessed up, accepted responsibility and apologized to those who felt violated and hurt, whether a presumed victim or family member (e.g., soon to be ex-Senator Al Franken and comedian Louis C.K.).  My guess is that those with the pragmatism, if not decency, to own up early on will fare the best in the long run.  A couple of years of restorative PR may possibly allow them to re-enter polite society and re-start a public career,

The arrogant—-most notably, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer—are probably finished.  Their public careers are over and they’ve seen the last of good tables in the right restaurants.  The trophy wives of Lauer and Weinstein have jumped ship, now that indiscretions of which they were well aware have become public (Cosby’s wife opted to ride it out).

Yet the most arrogant and most teflon of all publicly accused violators—former President Bill Clinton—faced allegations so serious and believable that he was successfully impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998, only the second impeachment of a president in U.S. history (he was acquitted by the Senate in 1999).  Furthermore, he was compelled to pay a settlement that exceeded $850,000 to former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, who sued Clinton in 1994 for sexual harassment.

High profile feminists (Gloria Steinem, Senator Dianne Feinstein, et al.) defended Clinton to the end and they still do (as they attack President Donald Trump for less onerous and numerous incidents and remain silent on Weinstein, who’s been a big contributor to “liberal” causes).

Clinton never apologized to anyone for anything and he vociferously denied his actions (“I did not have sex with that woman!” [Monica Lewinsky]). Like it or not, it’s obvious that the Clinton brand is the strongest in the land (and the most controversial, too).

Regardless of the Bill Clinton style, effective leaders learn how to apologize.  What is an apology and why is making one necessary?  An apology is a statement in which an individual expresses sincere remorse for behavior that can be considered inappropriate and that person acknowledges that s/he has hurt, mislead, embarrassed, or betrayed another—the public trust, a friend, colleague, or intimate partner.  An explanation, not to be confused with an excuse, could be made, as might an offer to make amends or restitution.

Trust, respect, team building and performance will be positively impacted when you make it clear that you, the leader, are willing to hold yourself accountable for your behavior, including your missteps.  Your apology is the core of that process.

Lolly Daskel, President and CEO of Lead From Within, says that there is a wrong way and a right way to apologize and I’m sure that you’ll agree.  Most of us have received so-called “apologies” that were offered grudgingly, sometimes under duress, or given disingenuously, in an attempt by the perpetrator to evade responsibility for his/her actions.

An apology is a statement in which an individual expresses sincere remorse for his/her behavior and acknowledges that s/he has hurt, mislead, embarrassed, or betrayed the public trust, a friend, or an intimate partner.  An explanation, not to be confused with an excuse, might be made as might an offer to make amends or restitution.

THE WRONG WAY TO APOLOGIZE

Blaming

A former colleague from the my days in the corporate world was known to say “Never complain, never explain.” Lolly Daskel would add “and do not blame.” Pushing responsibility onto others when it was you who dropped the ball is the wrong thing to do, every time.  As temporarily uncomfortable as it may make you feel, put on your big girl pants and admit your mistake.  Apologize to those whom you offended or inconvenienced.  Make restitution when possible and move on.  You will when respect and admiration when you do.  Blamers are losers and they never win.

Excuses

While there may have been legitimate reasons for making a mess of a situation, or burning dinner,  or not completing an important assignment, be careful that you don’t devolve into making too many excuses as you explain to those who may want to know what happened.  Just say you’re sorry and that you should have stayed on top of things, or started earlier, or whatever.  Once again, it’s about taking responsibility for your behavior.

Justifying

Don’t even think about trying to defend your behavior when you’ve screwed up.  I mean, there goes your credibility, down the drain.  Own up and apologize.  Now.

Minimizing

When you’ve let someone down, it is imperative that you take their hurt or inconvenience seriously.   In no way are you entitled to deny the full measure of the outcomes that are the result of your failure to hold up your end.  That other person has every right to be upset when they’ve been let down.  If you did not come through as expected, squelch the temptation to resort to manipulation and accept responsibility, apologize and make amends ASAP.

Shaming

Those who feel that they are doing quite enough for you (whether or not that can objectively be considered the truth) may sometimes feel entitled to break promises large and small, if they eventually find fulfilling that obligation inconvenient or expensive in some way.   When you speak up they attack and accuse you of being ungrateful for all the “other” favors they’ve done for you.  You have a right to expect that someone will keep their word.  Shame on them for being both unreliable and manipulative.

Stonewalling

Refusing to apologize, discuss, or acknowledge your mistakes or bad behavior and the difficulties it causes other people is called stonewalling.  It is abusive behavior.  It is hugely disrespectful.  Seek therapy immediately if this is common behavior for you.

THE RIGHT WAY TO APOLOGIZE

Timing

An apology is much more meaningful when it is delivered sooner, rather than later.  The longer that the offending party avoids making a sincere apology, the greater the risk to the relationship.

Acknowledge

Admit what you’ve done and apologize for the inconvenience, misunderstanding, hurt feelings, or embarrassment that you’ve caused.  This is an important step toward maintaining or rebuilding the trust that the other person had in you.

Accept

Own your behavior.  Show the respect that you have for the injured party and the esteem in which you hold him/her when you make a proper apology.  Demonstrate that this person matters and is entitled to your integrity.

Express

The apology made must be sincere and not self-serving.  Be prepared to grovel a little, if you’ve really dropped the ball, or if the other person(s) is very hurt or angry.  You can explain why or how you miscalculated, but don’t fall into excuse making.  Ask for forgiveness.

Amend

Do what you can to mend fences, so that you can soothe hurt feelings compensate for disappointment,

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Secret Hearts #88, 1963  (the study for Ohhh Alright, 1964)  Roy Lichtenstein

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Christmas Party Networking: What Would Santa Do?

Holiday season is here, hooray!  OK, maybe not hooray for everyone.  Not everyone celebrates Christmas.  Those who do sometimes feel pressured to spend more money and time on gifts and activities than they’d like, all the while projecting a façade of holiday cheer, in order to avoid disappointing others.  But the season is what it is and it’s not going to change.  If you can talk yourself into the right frame of mind, it’s probably possible to get something more valuable out of Christmas than 10 extra pounds and a stack of bills to pay.  Let’s talk about it.

Holidays mean parties and parties are about renewing and creating relationships.  If you go to the right parties you will have a good time, if you let yourself.  So why not go for it and make the holidays work for you?

Christmas party invitations will slip into your inbox and give you decisions to make.  Chances are you will not have the time, energy, or money to accept all of your invitations.  One way to plan your December calendar is to divide your party possibilities into business and social categories and edit from there.

It might be most enjoyable for you to attend a mix of business related and social occasions, to promote a healthy work-life balance for yourself.  Social invitations can be ranked according to your relationship with the host.  You’ll be happy to turn out for a party given by a dear friend or favorite cousin with a bottle of wine or some other host gift in hand, because you are a good friend and a good guest.  If you are a member of a social organization, you may choose to attend that party as well.

Professional association parties require a more carefully crafted strategy, because networking with the goal of identifying someone with whom you can create a potentially profitable business relationship will be on your mind.  Which parties are likely to offer good networking opportunities along with an atmosphere that makes it fun to catch up and schmooze with colleagues? There will be an admission charge and cash bar.  Where might you get the best value-added? Ask yourself two questions and evaluate your choices:

  1. Who are my best business prospects?

To which industries do you sell your products and/or services? Are your customers B2B, B2C, or B2G, for-profit or not-for-profit, small, medium or Fortune 1000? What are the job titles of the decision-makers and key influencers?

     2.   Where might I meet those prospects?

If your customers are small businesses, then chambers of commerce or neighborhood business associations are good places to find business owners, who are the decision-maker for all important products and services.

If your customers are Fortune 1000 or even prosperous mid-size businesses, you’ll be better off joining a committee or the board of a not-for-profit organization, or exploring service clubs such as the Kiwanis or Rotary Club, which are hubs for professionals who want to volunteer their services.  You will be much more likely to find decision-makers at the philanthropic organizations.  Invest your time and talent and get to know potential prospects and referral sources as you demonstrate your competencies and leadership skills through the service work that you do.

If networking is your purpose for attending a party, you’ll have more success meeting people when you go alone.  You’ll be forced to introduce yourself and talk with others and in so doing, you’ll meet people whom you may not have met if you brought along your spouse, good friend, or colleague.

Nearly all party invitations are now sent by Evite and that gives guests the huge advantage of seeing who has signed up to attend.  Otherwise, if you have the right relationship, call the host to RSVP by phone and tactfully inquire about the guest list.  Don’t be ashamed to perform an internet and social media search to help yourself prepare talking points and questions for guests you’d like to reconnect with or meet.

Finally, figure out the party dress code.  A Sunday afternoon tree trimming party at the home of friends or family means relaxed business casual attire.  Wear business attire to professional association parties, which are nearly always held on a week night. Gatherings at someone’s home or at a social organization on a Friday or Saturday evening can mean that guests will wear anything from black-tie to more relaxed, yet festive attire.

Now, go check your email!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Roman Sarcophagus (detail), 240-260 BC    Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art  Kansas City, MO

 

Client Retention: Surpass the Minimum

In 1990, the consulting group Bain & Company and Earl Sasser of the Harvard Business School analyzed the costs and revenues derived from serving clients over their entire purchasing life cycle and found that regardless of the industry, the high cost of acquiring clients will render many business relationships unprofitable during their early years.

Acquiring a new client can cost up to five times more than it does to retain a current client.  It is only over time, when the cost of serving a long-term client falls as the volume of their purchases rises, that these relationships generate big returns.

The Bain-HBS review found that when the client retention rate increases by 5%, profits increase by 25% – 95%.  Also, long-term clients are more likely to refer new clients to the business and increase sales revenues and profits accordingly.

That said, an ongoing client retention strategy is a must-do for all Freelance consultants and business owners.  Read on and discover how your organization can embed client retention practices in nearly every step of your client interactions.

Context and expectations

When you propose a solution designed to help your client resolve a problem or achieve an objective, include in the conversation your rationale for presenting that particular path rather than another.  Make it possible for the client to better appreciate your decision-making process and divulge how you carefully considered his/her priorities, values, budget, staffing, or other factors that impacted your recommended solution.

We may infrequently discuss the behind-the-scenes thinking that guides the possibilities we envision for a client and his/her organization.  Revealing your big picture thinking demonstrates the depth of the value you attach to the client and his/her unique circumstances and that builds loyalty, trust and a good relationship.

Become an adviser

Don’t shy away from asking questions that will surface your client’s sometimes unexpressed expectations or concerns.  You may discover a solution that is ideally tailored to the clients’ needs when you employ the consultative approach to selling.  You and your client can collaborate on the development of the solution if s/he is comfortable with that process.  Buy-in is a given when the client is a co-author of the process.

Along the way, let your client know what to expect as the solution is implemented; it will also be helpful to review what success looks like.  Communicate often, so that the client understands where you are with the project, especially as regards milestones, Key Performance Indicators, the deadline and other agreed-upon metrics.

Moreover, depending on your product or service line, recommend services to your clients, based on their previous purchases.  According to a 2015 survey of marketers, this personalized touch generates a high ROI.  It shows that you’ve paid attention to client preferences and it is a compliment.

Finally, we are nearing Holiday time.  Make sure that you send cards to clients you’ve interacted with over the past five years.  Who among us does not appreciate a card at this time of year, when we reach out to those who matter?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Corine Vermuelen (2013)  Alicia and John George, owners of Motor City Java House in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood

 

 

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

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