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

 

 

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Building Your B2B Consulting Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Price Your Way To Profits

Pricing your products and services is a critical element of a well-conceived marketing plan and appropriate pricing is integral to the development of a successful business venture.  The burgeoning field of behavioral economics reveals why certain pricing tactics work and how you can incorporate some of them into your pricing strategy.

Have an anchor baby

Your “anchor baby” can result in a positive outcome for sales and billable hours.  A cognitive bias called anchoring can cause us to perceive a lower-priced item as reasonable when it is viewed after we first see a higher-priced  version of a similar item. A $2000 item is perceived as a relative bargain after one has seen a similar version priced at $5000.  A prospect could be moved to envision him/herself purchasing that “bargain-priced” item.

Therefore, placing premium-priced products and services in proximity to the similar but lower-priced offerings that you hope to sell can potentially lead prospective clients to perceive the lower-priced items as providing real value, once they know that functionally similar items can be much more costly.

Zeros kill sales

In a previous post I discussed why, especially in retail sales, it is standard practice for merchants to list prices that end in .99 (or .98 and .95) and never .oo, because prices that end in zeros are often perceived by customers as being expensive, according to a study that appeared in the journal Quantitative Marketing and Economics in 2003  The Less Than Zero Pricing Tactic.  Yes, we really do think that $5.99 is cheaper than $6.00 and there’s still more downside to zeros— when pricing your services you should not only avoid listing, say, $3000.00, because you’re presenting too may off-putting digits, but you are also recommended to avoid listing your price on a proposal as $2995.00.  Prospective clients will feel better about your price when it’s expressed as $2995, according to the findings of a 2011 study conducted by the Society for Consumer Psychology.

Be a Lexus and more than just a Toyota

A Vanderbilt University study demonstrated that customers are willing to pay more for a Budweiser beer in a fancy hotel bar than they would for that same Budweiser in a dive bar. Why? The economist Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago explains that the power of perceived prestige allows the luxury set to get away with charging higher prices. Freelance consultants (so much more classy and deserving than a mere Freelancer, no?) are advised to in various ways present cues that make the case for charging premium prices.

Let the value you bring be known to those who matter. Teaching at the college level and speaking at respected business associations showcases you as a thought leader and an authority.  Producing long-form content that appears in a respected print or online publication, monthly newsletters sent to your email marketing list, or weekly blog posts that draw your followers also adds to the perception of your expertise and as well brings your writing skills to the forefront. The design and content that appear on your website should present you and your entity in a way that communicates competence and good taste, as should your business card and client invoice template.

The organizations of which you are a member, the quality of your clothing, where you vacation, the books you read, how you socialize and the boards on which you serve (along with the related committee activity) also enhance your reputation and reflect on your brand.

How to raise your prices

Weber’s Law (1834) indicates that your clients will probably accept a 10% price increase of the products or services purchased from you and some may not even notice the change.  You already know that other factors can impact your ability to raise prices, including supply and demand, the urgency of the need for your product or service, the presence of competitors and the perception of the value of your brand.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Launch 2017 With Strategic Planning For Your Business

Happy New Year! My wish for all my readers is that 2017 will be filled with good health, good choices and prosperity and a year where you recognize opportunities and successfully move forward to attain what will benefit you.

Part of the process of realizing your goals may involve strategic planning. The process of strategic planning encourages business leadership teams to ask (the right) questions about the value that the business creates and sells at a profit, which is a reflection of its vision and mission.  The goals, objectives, business model and guiding principles (that is, culture and values) are likewise impacted by the organization’s vision and mission. Below are six strategic planning and positioning principles to enhance your planning.

Principle 1:  Sustained profitability

Economic value and the conditions for generating profits are created when clients value your product or service enough to pay more than it costs the business (you) to produce and provide it.  Strategic planning is all about Defining  business goals and objectives and devising strategies and action plans with the thought of ROI, in particular long-term ROI, in mind.  Assuming that profits will be inevitable when sales volume and/or market share are the most accurate measurements of success is not the best way to approach the matter.

Principle 2: Value proposition

First, be certain that what you consider to be the value proposition—that is, the most desirable benefits—matches what clients consider to be the value proposition. Be aware that strategy is not about offering services or products that will be all things to all prospective clients.  Businesses are in need of strategies that allow the venture to compete in a way that allows it to effectively and efficiently deliver what clients consider the value proposition.

Principle 3: Competitive advantage

The unique and desirable benefits that sustain the value proposition must be reflected in and supported by strategy that shapes them into a sustainable competitive advantage.  The successful enterprise will differentiate itself from competitors through the products or services offered, how those are packaged and/or delivered, customer service practices, branding, pricing and so on; those unique features and practices will matter to current and prospective clients.  Still, the company’s business model will likely resemble that of its rivals.

Principle 4: Choices and priorities

Resources are inevitably finite and choices about your products and/or services must be made, in order to define what is necessary and possible and therefore, a priority.  Some  product or service features will not be offered, so that the benefits (priorities) that clients have chosen as highly desirable can be optimized.  These priorities are what sets the business apart from competitors and define the brand.

Principle 5: Flow

Choices and priorities must be baked into the strategies that you and the leadership team devise, to enhance and enable the consistent  delivery of the value proposition. These strategies will be both stand-alone and interdependent, like dominoes.  Choices made to define the target customers that the business will pursue also impact product design and by necessity will impact choices that determine the manufacturing process and its cost.  Choices that determine what will be included in a service will be influenced by the expected target customers and will impact how that service is delivered and priced.  Choices about product positioning and branding will impact where the product is sold and the marketing strategy.

Principle 6: Direction

The late style icon Diana Vreeland, who served as editor-in-chief at both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar Magazines, once said that “elegance is refusal.” A company must define its unique value proposition and that will eventually cause certain potential choices to be declined, because they are contrary to the brand.  The product or service lines can be altered to satisfy customer demands over time and business models can be adjusted to reflect current or anticipated market conditions.  Nevertheless, the vision and mission must be upheld to maintain brand awareness and trust. Strategic direction will guide that process.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Credible + Capable = Contract

Pitching to prospects is stressful and time-consuming, but there is such a thrill when we meet the right person and get invited to discuss a project. With much anticipation, valuable time and energy are directed to preparing for the meeting and if we are asked to do so, preparing as well a proposal that details how we would achieve the client’s goals.

It is unspeakably frustrating when a proposal is rejected or worse, when we never hear from that prospect again.  It is imperative that Freelancers practice appropriate risk management and take steps to improve our client acquisition rate and minimize negative outcomes.

Client endorsements

Recommendations by satisfied customers are trust-building votes of confidence for you.  A referral made by someone known and respected by the prospective client is the ideal endorsement. Word-of-mouth is always the best advertisement.

LinkedIn recommendations are lukewarm.  Testimonials that appear on your website are more powerful, especially those given by a prestige client.  Better still is to ask a client if s/he would be willing to speak with a prospect to give a reference for you and discuss the project you worked on.

Samples of your work

Create a portfolio of case studies or other samples of your work to provide some show and tell for prospective clients.  They deserve the opportunity to view and evaluate your work, so that they can envision the match-up between the results they must achieve and the solutions that you would deliver.  Curate your portfolio of work samples and case studies well,  by choosing projects that demonstrate your expertise and value.  A good portfolio will also help to justify your (premium) pricing structure.

Online presence

It is the 21st century and prospects expect all professionals to have an online presence.  Before deciding to contact a Freelancer or any other professional that one might hire, an online search is typically conducted.  Prospects want to get a sense of who you are and confirm that you are legitimate.

Overwhelmingly, Freelance consultants have a website, but there are those rare individuals who have been able to build a successful client list without this marketing tool. Whether or not you have a website, further cultivate your online presence through social media or post press releases online to announce  your speaking and teaching engagements, participation in charity events, or any awards you may have received. Writing a newsletter or blog, building a mailing list and sharing on social media platforms is also useful, as is guest blogging. Develop and maintain a positive online presence that is designed to win over prospects.

Communicate value-added

The ultimate reason that clients hire Freelance consultants is that they are convinced that these individuals will bring significant value to the project and will make the hiring manager look smart in front of his/her superiors and peers.  Merely describing your products and services is no longer sufficient to get yourself hired in this hyper-competitive marketplace, where in most cases there are numerous highly qualified professionals who are available and hungry for billable hours.

Communicating your unique value is the only way to get hired and that must be demonstrated in numerous ways.  Like a trial lawyer, layer on examples of the varied aspects of your value and let the preponderance of evidence in your favor pile up.  In clear and concise terms, present the case of how you will make the client’s job easier, save the organization money, position the organization to make money, or ensure that the organization achieves important goals.

Politely persistent

Once a prospect has expressed an interest to meet and  discuss doing business,  or to confirm whether or not you will be awarded a project after you have had a meeting, there are two possible actions:

1). Active pursuit, when you send one or more emails to either encourage setting up a meeting or to learn the outcome of a hiring decision.

2). Passively waiting for the prospect to contact you.

According to experts, neither approach is useful.  I’ll bet your own lived experience speaks to that fact.  Definitely, you don’t want to come across as pushy, since pressure tactics are  a big turn off.  Conversely, you cannot afford to allow assignments to fall through the cracks because you did not follow-up and help to shine a light on the pending project. You need a way to diplomatically keep your proposal on the front burner.

A useful tactic is to telephone or text the prospect three or four days after you’ve sent your proposal, to confirm that it has been received.  You may also ask when s/he would like to begin the project work.  Open the door a little wider and suggest that you would be happy to start work ASAP on some urgent action item, so that the deadline will be comfortably reached.

Freelance consultants have two jobs: finding projects and then completing those projects.  Our ability to survive financially is directly tied to this process.  As organizations continue to shrink  full-time workforces,  the number of Freelance consultants grows every day.  In order to compete successfully, a Freelancer must always be positioned to regularly sign clients and generate adequate revenue.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Pricing Primer for Freelance Service Providers

“The business world is driven by the desire to increase three elements: market shares, sales revenues and of course, profitability. Pricing is the key player in any strategy concerning the growth of these three goals.”   Mohammed Nosseir, Senior Marketing Adviser, Simon-Kucher & Partners, Middle East

Determining the pricing structure for intangible services provided is a real challenge for Freelance consultants. What is the value of our time and expertise in the open market? What if we promote our services, set the price and no one hires us? Should we lower our project fees? Can we ever raise prices?

Clients are motivated to spend as little as possible for the products and services that they require. However, they are known to pay premium prices when they “feel” that a particular product or service delivers exceptional value. That value can mean an expert solution to a business challenge; a long-lasting product that performs very well with little maintenance; the ability to meet a deadline; or other factors that have meaning to the decision-makers.

Often as not, different clients will have different priorities that define what is valued. It is the Freelancer’s job in the initial face-to-face client meeting to figure out what the client feels is important. That knowledge will achieve two objectives:

  • You will know the expectations that must be met (or preferably, exceeded) to justify a premium price.
  • You will know how to price, based on the time or other resources that will be devoted to meeting and exceeding client expectations and you will grasp the urgency of client needs, which impact your price.

Most likely, there are standard benchmarks and signifiers of high-value service in your industry and they should be incorporated into your marketing and operations, along with other value-addeds layered on as necessary. Knowledge of what competitors do would be most helpful as well, but it is very difficult to learn how competitors deliver their services or price them. Nevertheless, it is advisable to choose three or four to research. Visit websites to learn what services your competitors offer and how those services are described and packaged. Then, you can better identify potential competitive advantages for what you have and find a way to describe your goods.

It may sound like an obvious no-brainer, but part of your premium value-added that will be reflected in your pricing strategy should be your positive attitude and willingness to help prospective clients find the best solution to their business needs. Friendliness and the aim to genuinely want to offer good service go a long way in life and in business. Showing a good work ethic is likewise important.

For example when on an assignment, pay attention to emails. While I don’t recommend that one should be obligated to answer emails that a client dashes off at 3:00 AM (unless this is an urgent and high-revenue project), check emails through 10:00 PM and resume at 7:00 AM. If you can anticipate client needs, so much the better, They’ll think you’re a hero and will be happy to pay for the pleasure of doing business with you.

Step by step, client by client, focus on exceeding expectations on every project, building the trust and confidence that lead to a respected brand (reputation) as you do. You will receive referrals from satisfied clients (and you can also make referrals to your clients, enhancing your brand each time you do). Good brands create good word of mouth and that supports and justifies premium pricing.

As Mohammed Nosseir concludes, “Pricing has been, and will continue to be, the most complicated element in the marketing mix family…A proactive pricing structure will help companies…to maximize their profitability.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Trends That Will Drive B2B Going Forward in 2015

July 1 carried us into the last half of the year and we are advised to take a few moments to think about what our June 30 financial statements indicated. Are you pleased with your company’s first half performance? Is your enterprise positioned to have a profitable second half? Forbes Magazine business experts predict that as we enter the last two quarters of 2015, the following strategies will drive business.

Make selling about education

High-pressure or slippery sales techniques are out of vogue and destined to fail. Solution selling is the smart choice and consultative sales skills must be honed. Successful sales pitches are those that are delivered as a discussion of how your services or products will solve or avoid a problem for the customer. Customers will value your grasp of their situation and your expertise in describing the best solution. It’s salesperson as physician, as you diagnose and prescribe the treatment. Articulate the outcomes very well.

Marketing & sales hand in glove

Recent research done by Google showed that the average customer is more than half way through the buying decision process before seeking out a vendor. In other words, customers window shop. They spend time considering possible solutions first and then think about where those solutions can be obtained.

Micro-targeted marketing strategies are recommended to not only attract your ideal client groups, but also to weed out those who are unlikely to buy. As always, one must know the customer to understand why that individual has become a customer and know how to encourage repeat business going forward. Design marketing campaigns that define, speak to and pull in excellent prospects and avoid broad-brush marketing strategies that only entangle you into engaging with those who will waste your precious time.

Appropriately written and distributed content marketing along with traditional marketing techniques are how you persuade prospective customers to picture your products and services as credible solution possibilities. Consultative selling approaches that educate the customer as you tactfully assume the role of expert and confirm or refine the initial diagnosis of the problem, that is the client’s need. Obtain client agreement on the extent of the need and then recommend treatment options, that is the solutions, that your product or services will provide. Do that well and you will generate revenue.

Price and value

According to Forbes, there are two competing forces at play in the 2015 marketplace. The first is increased downward pricing pressure on any product or service that is perceived to be a commodity. Those products and services are price dependent and will be acquired as cheaply as possible. The only ways to succeed when selling a commodity are to sell at the lowest price or deliver very efficiently to customers, that is make it convenient to buy.

Do whatever is possible to package and present your products and services in away that conveys their value to prospective customers. Additionally, Freelance purveyors of B2B services must demonstrate their expertise in a variety of ways: content marketing, case studies, webinars that feature you, teaching assignments, appearances on panels as speaker or moderator, or publishing a book. Demonstration of expertise is the number one marketing strategy in that it creates trust, enhances your perceived value and allows you to price accordingly.

An equally effective way to demonstrate your value is through customer testimonials and referrals. When those who have used your services or products recommend you to others, it is the highest compliment. Other than a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl, nothing is as effective as a personal recommendation or testimonial.

When customers consider you to be effective, knowledgeable, dependable and trustworthy, you can then command a premium (but not over-inflated) price for your products and services. Prospective customers must be assured that you will deliver the results, in full and on schedule. They must know that when they hire you, they’ll look smart to their boss and colleagues, because you are the very best.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Adding to Your Value-Added

If you want to bill clients at premium prices,  you need to establish and present a brand that communicates your value-added as perceived by prospective clients.  In plain English,  you must make clients feel that you are worth the money.

A good brand is very seductive.  Brand loyalty leads people to pay $5.00 for coffee when they could buy perhaps higher-quality brew for $2.00.  It makes women covet $1000.00 + handbags so they can flash a certain designer label,  when handbags of similar quality and attractiveness,  but without the logo,  are available at less than half  that price.

As we continue to explore strategies to expand business,  let’s give some thought to building on authenticity  (see the May 28 post),  using it to strengthen perceived value-added and power of  the brand.  Increases in perceived value are generally more profitable than increases in the quality of services delivered.  Clients are known to pay more for what they think is worth more before they’ll pay for service upgrades.

Successful Freelance consultants deliver first-rate expertise and customer service.  As a marketing strategy,  we can attempt to make ourselves appear worthwhile to prospective clients in a number of ways.  One strategy can be to package ourselves rather lavishly,  handing out expensive business cards,  renting office space in the high-rent district and paying big registration fees to attend prestige conferences.  The premise is,  in order to attract big fish clients,  one must swim in the same waters.

Alternatively,  one may choose the high visibility route and invest scads of time on social media sites,  posting frequently, earning a high Klout score and showing up in the top ten of a Google search.  The premise is,  if one’s name is all over the internet,  then prospective clients will see it and one will then be considered the obvious choice when it is time to hire,  through the power of notoriety and perceived expertise.

Teaching,  speaking engagements and visible involvement in business and professional groups are a third strategy.  The premise here is that professional expertise is demonstrated through these activities and that builds trust and gives prospective clients the incentive to not only hire,  but pay a premium for services rendered.

Whichever strategy you find most attractive,  be mindful that your perceived value will be enhanced when you establish links with individuals and organizations that are admired and respected by your clients.  If you can arrange to be photographed with the mayor or governor,  it will raise your perceived value because you will be seen in the company of movers and shakers.  Membership in certain professional associations or social clubs may also confer significant value.

Professional certifications can do the same,  which is why a Certified Public Accountant can charge two or three times what an accountant with a degree but no special piece of paper can charge for providing nearly identical services.  The CPA designation allows a trust factor to kick in and it’s worth money.   According to Martin Reimann,  professor of Psychology at University of Southern California, the “right” affiliations and relationships bolster one’s perceived value.  They are endorsements of value-added.

My parents often told me when I was growing up that we are judged by the company that we keep.  I took that admonition to heart and picked my friends with care,  especially as I got older and there was more on the line.  The advice applies equally to our professional lives.  If it appears that we have the confidence of those whom prospective clients and referral sources respect,  we are more likely to be hired or referred and better able to charge premium prices for our services.  But it all starts with being authentic.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Business Model Tune-up

You’ve written a business plan—now what?  Kim is the midwife who helps you take your business from the drawing board to reality in  “Business Plans:  The Next Steps”.   Bring your completed business plan and join Kim and a group of hopeful entrepreneurs in round robin discussions where you’ll get a critique of your business model;  smart marketing/PR/social media advice;  insights into sales channels that make sense for you and your customers;  and advice on financing options in today’s economy.  Wednesdays March 13,  20  &  27  5:30 PM – 7:30 PM at Boston Center for Adult Education  122 Arlington Street  Boston.  Register at  http://bit.ly/Zd9dqR  or call 617.267.4430 class ID 9074.

A cloud of worry and paranoia envelopes business leaders and other decision-makers and in their role as B2B clients,  they become more fickle and gun-shy every day.  They brag about postponing projects and declining to spend money.

To survive and thrive,  it is therefore  essential for Freelance consultants and other business owners  to make an annual assessment of the company’s business model and evaluate how the organization can deliver the right services in the right way and demonstrate to clients that the value you bring improves the bottom line and makes clients look smart to the higher-ups.

The business model is the blueprint for the process your organization follows to connect with clients,  deliver services and make and sustain a profit.  The business model reflects what you believe about what clients need and value,  the way in which those needs ought be addressed and solutions delivered and what clients will pay to obtain those solutions.   Additionally,  the business model shows the business leader how to make his/her organization function efficiently for leader and clients. Perfecting it is the cornerstone to success  (along with a healthy dose of good fortune!).

The most direct way to check up on your business model is to take a good client to a restaurant for some combination of libation and/or meal at the conclusion of a project,  when the client’s trust in you is high because you’ve delivered the goods and exceeded expectations.  You will likely be able to persuade your client to open up and tell you what’s going on in the organization as regards challenges and opportunities,  plans for the future,  services that are valued and the preferred method of delivery for those services.

You are certain to learn all sorts of useful information that will tell you how you might refine,  adjust,  package or price your services.  Knowledge of your client’s priorities and concerns is the first step to winning the project that does the work to address them,  says Alexander Osterwalder,  co-author of  “Business Model Generation” (2010)  and founder of The Business Model Foundry  http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com

Knowing how your clients can get the job done without you is also useful (although painful!).  As I mentioned at the beginning,  your real competition may not be another Freelance consultant but the client,  who decides to table the project indefinitely or do it in-house.  That’s not easy to counteract.  Your only defense is a solid business model that helps you position and promote your solution as preferable in some vital way.

Flexibility in your business model is a necessary feature if you expect your business to make a profit.  The need to adapt to shifting client preferences may require you to selectively experiment and reconfigure the services you offer,  or how you package and promote them.

Updating the keywords you use in marketing campaigns and online and print collateral will help clients and prospects to visualize where your services might have a place within their organization,  so stay up-to-date with industry concerns and buzzwords.  Keeping abreast of client needs allows you to successfully adapt your business model and promotional message,  keeping your organization competitive and able to stay profitable.

Thanks for reading,

KIm

Probability Prospects

You’ve just been introduced to a person who was not only happy to meet you because you have the chops to take on a hot project that’s on his/her radar screen,  but also has the authority to green-light your hire.  Oh, happy day!  You’re thrilled to do the card exchange as your newest prospect asks you to make contact so that the two of you can talk specifics.  You can almost taste the billable hours,  but how excited should you be?  Statistical probability can help you put a dollar value on your happiness quotient.

I found this intriguing formula that uses sales outcomes historical data and probability that allows you to calculate the expected value of your next prospect.  As has been noted in numerous posts and no doubt reflected in your own experience,  there is a randomness to networking and Freelance consulting.  In our effort to bring much-desired predictability and financial security to our lives,  the Freelancer’s  (and all salesperson’s)  objective is to control variables,  positively impact outcomes and therefore win more projects and generate more revenue.

Let’s say you’re talking to a prospective client about a project that you estimate should be worth $10,000.00.  The operative word is should.  $10K is the potential value and not the real value until and unless one is awarded the project.  If you don’t win the project,  then it’s worth zero.

Your project’s worth is impacted by the probability of successful close.  The following formula allows you to calculate the potential value of the prospect and the project throughout the various stages of the sales process.  Both the steps in the sales process and the values assigned at each step in the process are based on historical data provided by a large corporate sales force.  To refine the accuracy,  identify the steps in your usual sales process and record your sales success rates at each stage of your sales process.

I.     Identify the steps in your sales process

  •      Invitation to meet and discuss the project
  •      Initial appointment / discussion of of needs and benefits
  •      Verbal proposal / assessment of needs and benefits
  •      Invitation to submit written proposal

II.    Determine the probability of a successful outcome at each step

  •       Invitation to discuss project                                                      2%  success probability
  •       Initial appointment / discussion of of needs                       8%  success probability
  •       Verbal proposal/ assessment of needs and benefits      25%  success probability
  •       Invitation to submit written proposal                                 65%  success probability

III.   Calculate the dollar value at each point of the sale for a proposed $10K  project

  •        Invitation to discuss project                                                     $   200.00
  •        Initial appointment / discussion of needs                           $   800.00
  •        Verbal proposal / assessment of needs and benefits      $2,500.00
  •        Invitation to submit written proposal                                  $6,500.00

The key to customizing the outcomes probability formula for your business is keeping detailed records of  sales presentations from which to compile your statistics.   In other words,  here is yet another reason to document your business transactions so that reliable data will be there to guide business planning.

Thanks for reading,

Kim