Doing Business As

To forge a successful career as a Freelance consultant requires courage, resilience, possession of marketable skills, relationships with people who are willing and able to help you get hired into one money-making opportunity or another, an affinity for selling, the discipline needed  to set goals, a talent for big picture thinking and setting strategies, and an understanding of human nature and motivation. The ability to attract good luck and dodge bad luck helps, too.

Precious few Freelancers are able to just “go to the office” everyday and take on the usual work.  In order to generate an acceptable number of billable hours, we understand that multiple revenue streams must be created and that we must learn to recognize the marketability value of segments of our overall skill set and learn to  package, promote and sell those segments to prospective employers, as well as target clients.

Take my revenue streams, for example. When asked, my short form elevator speech is that I’m an external consultant who provides business strategy and marketing solutions to for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. What that means in reality is that I’ve facilitated strategic planning meetings at not-for-profit organizations; edited a book and also served as its photo editor and project manager (it was published by the sponsoring organization); developed curriculum for a series of 90 minute sales skills training workshops; periodically teach business plan writing; and was made a staff writer at an online magazine targeted for women entrepreneurs.

Yes, I continue to do the business strategy and marketing assignments, but the fact is that there are always assignment gaps and I’ve learned to branch out and offer related skills that enhance my brand as they allow me to make some much-needed money.  In my experience, it is the ability to leverage your additional competencies that help a Freelancer to create and sustain a profitable business venture.

My friend Adela is a busy educational consultant who works with college bound high school juniors and their parents to first identify suitable colleges for the student and next to navigate the application process.  Her business seems to be quite lucrative, yet she nevertheless teaches Spanish at a local college (Adela was born and raised in Mexico and came to the U.S. to attend Harvard University).

Jackie, a friend of many years, launched a small, full-service fitness center that became very successful in that highly competitive market.  Yet Jackie has continued to teach fitness classes and train clients at a large downtown gym. Why? Not only does she earn a few extra dollars that a mother of four can always use, but also gets to observe sophisticated fitness center management from the inside and also receive instructor training in new fitness techniques that she can evaluate for inclusion in her own gym. Sometimes you can get paid to research the competition!

My friend Carole toggles between Freelance marketing for technology companies and corporate positions in that sector.  She’s a Lotus alumna who’s also worked for tech giant EMC, distinctions that command respect and open doors in the tech industry.  In between corporate gigs, Carole goes out on her own to develop marketing strategies for tech start-ups.  A couple of years ago, she was offered a position as director of marketing at one of those start-ups, but when the inevitable reorganization occurs, she’ll re-enter the Freelance life.

Now you, Freelancer friend, what else can you do to create additional revenue streams for yourself and if possible, enhance your skill set or obtain useful competitive information?

Sometimes an opportunity that is outside of your brand and strictly for cash-flow may present itself and I suggest that you discreetly take it anyway.  As long as running into prospective clients is not a danger, if time and energy allow, a pragmatic Freelancer understands the necessity of promoting cash-flow whenever possible.  Build up your retirement account, or use the money to attend seminars that provide professional development and potentially good networking.  It’s all about doing business as a solvent and successful Freelance professional.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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A Politically Correct Skill Set

Besides the whims of fortune (and luck is an enormous force in the universe),  what differentiates a successful person from an unsuccessful person? What defines a successful leader?  According to Samuel Bacharach,  co-founder of the Bacharach Leadership Group,  successful leadership is defined by the ability to rally support for an idea and inspire others to collaborate with you and help bring that idea to fruition.  Regardless of the quality of the initiatives that you’d like to advance,   you cannot lead without possessing highly developed political skills.  In the absence of good political skills,  the most brilliant plans will die on the vine.  A good agenda will never be realized and a legacy will be greatly diminished.

Bacharach says that the essence of political competence is the ability to understand what you can and cannot control.  One must identify who will support the initiative,  who will oppose and when the time will be right to go public and move forward.  Those who possess political skills get things done because they take the time to think things through.  The politically skilled will not naively or arrogantly move forward alone,  but will instead win over the right people and build a coalition to take on the project. “Anticipating the obstacles your idea might face when you present it is a political skill that can help you get across the finish line”,  says Bacharach.  Politically skilled leaders will consult with a trusted ally or two to reality test their concept,  create a list of potential allies and detractors,  decide who to recruit for the launch team,  calculate the best time to move forward and create a roll-out strategy.

Political skill means knowing how to map out the battlefield terrain,  convince people to join your team and lead a coalition.   The best ideas do not always win out,  but the best launched ideas always have a good chance of seeing the light of day.  The highly respected movers and shakers in life are yes,  the luckiest,  but also they have political skills.

Some are born with a highly developed political skill gene,  but it is possible to improve your skill level.  As noted above,  taking the time to think through the arc of the initiative’s development and roll-out is a good place to start.  Who is likely to support you?  In whose interest might it be to see the project realized?  What can you do to make potential allies see that it will benefit them to support the project? Which of your allies has enough power to make things happen and bring other high-ranking players to your team?

Now who are likely to be detractors,  active or passive—who will feel threatened by a perceived  (or actual)  loss of power and influence if your plan is adopted?  Who might be able to withhold resources  (funding)  or start a whisper campaign to undermine you?  Can your team overcome these matters? Are there cultural,  historical or other barriers that you might face?

Assembling your winning coalition is the next step.  Work only with those whom you trust and respect and know that the feeling is mutual.  Be certain to compile a list of compelling benefits that will help you sell the merits of your idea to those with the power to make it a reality.

You may want to approach the mapping of the political terrain as strategic planning and conduct a SWOT Analysis (Strengths,  Weaknesses,  Opportunities and Threats),  to help you visualize the resources you hold,  any gaps in your war chest,  obstacles that you will likely face and opportunities that may strengthen your position along the way.  Anticipate the arguments that will be made against you.  Sell the benefits that will overcome those arguments and convince  (powerful)  allies to support your position.  Collaborate with supporters to bring your initiative to life.  Be an effective leader.

Merry Christmas,

Kim

Listen and Learn

We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.”   –Diogenes

We love the sound of our own voice,  so much so that we sometimes don’t know when to shut up.   Talking is lots of fun,  especially for the extroverts among us.  Silence can be uncomfortable.   But we all know that listening is an important communication skill.  When we allow others to express themselves and tell their story,  we demonstrate that we care about them and that we value the quality of the information that they are sharing.

The benefits of good listening skills are significant.  Everyone loves a good listener and one invariably learns a lot by listening,  including who is worth listening to!  People will open up and sometimes say the darndest things and all we have to do is be there and show that we are paying attention.  It is ironic that saying and  (mostly)  doing nothing is such a vital component of relationship-building.  Yet listening is the foundation of bonding;  silently,  one demonstrates empathy,  telegraphs that another human being matters and creates rapport.  Fortunately,  the art of listening can be learned.

Attention, please

When listening,  give the speaker your undivided attention.  Nothing else demonstrates the level of respect that you have for another than this one act.  Let the phone go to voicemail,  close the laptop lid.   Sharing your valuable time with another and focusing your attention on that individual is so validating.  It is also a defining element of charisma.  Charismatic people are known to make whomever they are listening to feel as if only the two of them are in the room.   Demonstrate your laser focus with eye contact,   smiling or showing concern,  nodding your head and declining to interrupt,  except to ask a question or two that ensures that you understand what is being said.

Risk acknowledgement

As noted above,  when people start talking,   you might be floored by what is revealed.   No matter how you feel about what has been said,   maintain your cool.   Show that you are worthy of the trust that has been extended to you by way of the revelation.   Appreciate and acknowledge the risk that was taken by the speaker when the decision was made to confide in you.

Take notes

Always take notes when in a business meeting.   When you write as someone talks,  you demonstrate that the subject of the conversation is important to you.  The note-taking process also allows you to ask questions to ensure that you understand what has been said.  Within 24 hours,  send an email in which you thank that individual for meeting with you and confirm the agreed-upon next steps.

Achieve understanding

Stephen Covey (1932-2012),  author of the timeless self-help classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  (1989),  noted that most people listen not to understand,  but to reply.  Be careful not to jump to conclusions or hear only what you want or expect to hear.  Perfect the art of listening and minimize miscommunication problems that can lead to costly mistakes or hurt feelings.

Listening is an art form that unfortunately,  is underrated.  Regardless,  the most compelling leaders,  the most successful sales professionals,  the most powerful negotiators,  the most charismatic people and those with whom we develop the most satisfying relationships are all active listeners.   Follow the advice of Diogenes and sharpen your listening skills by employing patience and self-discipline to your business and social conversations.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Who’s Getting Paid

Freelancers who design Power Point presentations,  write reports and perform accounting functions are the big winners in Freelance Nation right now.  A recent review of 2Q 2013 data on 300,000 job postings by freelancer.com. revealed the results.  According to freelancer.com,  business owners are hiring Freelance workers to perform core functions,  jobs that once were the domain of permanent employees.

Demand for Power Point slide design and production increased 35%  from 1Q 2013 to 2Q 2013;  requests for accounting services jumped 23% and report writing 20% between the first and second quarters of this year.  By contrast,  demand for copyediting during this period fell by 14%.  The survey indicates that demand for Freelance skills that are mission-critical and require sophisticated and specific knowledge are on the rise.

Freelance graphic designers,  especially those proficient in website and Power Point slide production,  and content marketing writers are in demand.  Employers are backing away from pricey advertising agencies and are continuing the transition to Freelance labor,  a trend that started in the 1990s.  Requests for Freelance illustration was 20%  higher from 1Q 2013 to 2Q 2013 and Freelance Photoshop design increased by nearly the same amount.  Banner design assignments increased by 14%  and logo design projects were 9%  more plentiful in 2Q 2013 than they were in the first quarter of the year.  Speaking of design,  3D imaging’s depth and sophistication caused demand for 3D printing to shoot up by 17% in the second quarter of this year,  over the first.

In a 2012 global survey of 3,000 Freelance professionals conducted by Elance,  the online employment marketplace,   respondents were queried on the types of assignments they were receiving.  Web programming,  website design,  mobile app development,  graphic design,  online marketing and content writing were the predominant assignments and Elance predicted that the trend would continue into 2013.  Results of the freelance.com survey support that prediction.   Both surveys indicate that graphic designers,  accountants,  certain techies and writers are raking in most of the money in 2013.

Plan to succeed in the gig economy by identifying which of your skills clients will pay to obtain,  how to package and present those skills and how to connect with paying clients.  On your website and in all marketing materials,  demonstrate that you are a top-of-the-line professional who exceeds expectations and works with recognizable clients.  The latter may not be immediately possible,  but those who provide visual products should post a portfolio that makes it known to prospective clients that your work is distinctive and not cookie cutter.  Providers of intangible services should include case studies.  Every website should include client testimonials.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

What’s Your Problem-Solving Style?

Problem-solving skills are hugely important,  in our business and our personal lives.   How we approach and resolve problems provides revealing insights into our character,  our priorities and our insecurities.   What does your problem-solving style say about you?  Check out these four examples and discover what your clients,  colleagues,  friends and family see.

The Blamer

Chances are you’ve had the misfortune of encountering this type before,   known to attack first and check facts later.   Whatever goes wrong has to be someone’s fault,  meaning someone other than him/herself.  Rather than addressing the problem straight away,  this individual becomes defensive and wastes precious time accusing others of various sins and failings that  “allowed” the problem to occur.  

Playing an aggressive blame game is the weakest and most detrimental problem-solving style.  Feelings get hurt and resentments breed as a result.  Blamers are immature and irresponsible.  They shift the onus to others and are unable to admit that perhaps they screwed up,  or even acknowledge that the adverse event that gave rise to the problem was random and beyond anyone’s control.

Analysis paralysis

These folks talk rather than act.   They’ll call a meeting to discuss the problem.  They will then schedule another meeting at which time a committee is selected,  to further study the problem.  Perhaps a report will be written,  to document the problem and identify possible solutions.   Over-analyzers may be thorough researchers,  but they are procrastinators in disguise.   They would like to solve the problem,  but are incapable of taking action.  They’ll check the facts,  but moving forward and crafting a solution anytime soon is not in their DNA.

Quick fixers

Polar opposites of the analysis paralysis team,   the Quick Fixers are ready to right the wrong right away.   Yet they take a slapdash approach and fail to think things through or do the research that would reveal the root cause of the problem and allow for the development of a credible solution.   Part of the problem may be solved,   but because a proper examination was not made,   they  (or you)  may have to deal with it all over again.   Any of us may resort to a quick fix when short of time,   but for others half-baked   “solutions”  are a way of life.   Maybe they have ADD  (Attention Deficit Disorder)?

The Listener

 Listeners have the most highly developed problem-solving skills and it’s their style we ought to emulate.  Listeners are willing to truly hear  the details of the problem.  They ask questions to elicit relevant information and they cut through the drama that problems often cause by remaining as calm as possible and keeping their wits about them,  as they confirm what has transpired.   Because they hear what must be heard,  Listeners are then able to realistically assess the problem and get a sense of who can best resolve it,   whether it is the Listener him/herself,  or someone with specific expertise.  

 Listeners are able to analyze the problem because they do the research and think things through.   They are able to act quickly to resolve a problem,  but they will not be reckless or half-baked.  Most of all,   Listeners will not succumb to the trap of blaming,  even if the problem was caused by someone’s negligence.   Instead,   the Listener will take steps to correct the oversight,  learn from the mistake and move forward,  wiser and better prepared.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

LinkedIn Profile Refresh

Happy Year of the Dragon!  The New Year vibe is still rolling,  so I wonder if you’d like to keep-up the self-improvement kick and take a fresh look at your LinkedIn profile?  Usually,  I revisit mine about once a year.  Last year,  I pared down my rather long and complicated summary section. 

 I realized that in certain instances,  less is more and simplified my statement.  About  every 12-18 months,  I think it’s useful to make sure that my LinkedIn profile aligns with how I’m positioning myself and what I’m saying in the verbal package that is my elevator pitch.   So let’s do a little housekeeping.

Purge the clutter

Comb through your job history and weed out or streamline whatever does not support and enhance your professional goals.  Retain several years of your employment history,  but limit non-aligned jobs to title,  company and a one-sentence description of your responsibilities.  Use you employment and volunteer experience to reflect your brand and professional aspirations.

Add keywords

The headline of your profile is the critical factor in search results.  Choose your most relevant keywords carefully and add to your headline.  Be mindful of the subtle difference between keywords that are vital for your business / career and terms that are frequently searched.  If you provide services for a select market those keywords should reflect that market,  even if they are searched less often. 

 Judiciously embed relevant descriptive keywords that are associated with your business category into your headline and summary sections.   Visit Google Keywords Tool and identify popular keywords that will attract a sufficiently broad audience in local searches and then drill down to target your niche by discovering keywords that industry insiders might  search.

Add apps

Install Slide Share and upload a Power Point presentation to your profile that will communicate more specific details about your services.  I use WordPress Blog Link to invite connections and visitors to my page to read weekly blog postings.  I always write an excerpt that I hope connections will find tempting when LinkedIn Updates announces the arrival of a new post.

As of last week,  visitors to my profile will now find the app that was rolled out just a few months ago,  the Skills App.  The nice feature about  Skills is that you’ll receive data on groups that focus on that skill;  companies where that skill is common;  posted jobs requiring that skill;  and the size and growth trends of other professionals who hold that skill. 

Other free apps that may serve you well include Events,  that will let connections know the meet-ups and conferences where you will speak;  Portfolio Display,  that allows creative types to showcase their work;  and Reading List,  that allows you to share with connections the professional development books you’ve read and get ideas on additional books that you might find useful.  All of the apps will appear on your profile page.

Get recommendations

Recommendations are testimonials that provide third-party verification of your expertise and further support your professional goals and brand.  Ask a professional colleague who can vouch for your work to detail your contributions to a project that went especially well. 

 Specific,  quantifiable information that highlights your impact on company objectives enhances your credibility and is more believable than effusive compliments that merely tell people how talented you are.  Always return the favor and write a recommendation for those who produce testimonials for you.  In fact,  get the process started by  “spontaneously”  writing a recommendation for a colleague so that you can receive one in return.

LinkedIn is about creating and nurturing relationships,  so do your part and engage in conversations.  Congratulate your connections when an update comes through that heralds an achievement.   When you invite someone to join your network,  tell that person why you’re inviting them.  When someone invites you,  take the time to thank that person for his/her consideration.

Join groups appropriate for your skill set and goals and become known for posing good questions,  leading discussions and sharing timely and useful information.  Visit the  “Answers ”  forum and contribute thoughtful responses to questions that will allow you to showcase your judgment and expertise.  Utilize the free resource that is LinkedIn to position yourself as a go-to resource in your niche.

Thanks for reading,

Kim