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Top Things Every College Student Needs to Do Before Graduation

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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with some Penn State undergrads to mentor them on the steps they should take right now to better position themselves for a career in the field of communications.

I will tell you that the post-graduation job hunt was rough when I was in school, and it’s just as challenging, if not more so, now. Especially for students who dream of moving to a big city and working for a big name brand, the competition is fierce! I was encouraged to see how seriously these college students were taking their studies and internships and how eager they were to learn more about polishing up their personal brand to make them a desirable hire.

Whether I was talking to a freshman or fifth year senior, studying public relations or film and video, I found myself repeating the same core piece of advice. Here’s what I told my mentees, and here’s what I want to tell you to. Building your personal brand, at every stage of your career, is highly important. It’s one of the few things you can control and actively improve each and every day.

So while you furiously continue to send out those resumes and cover letters, scour the internet and refresh your inbox – here’s what you can be doing to make the most of your time spent waiting for a call-back.

Polish Your Resume

Just about every college or university has a dedicated “career services” office that offers some great advice to get you started in the right direction with building a professional resume. That being said, many of my colleagues and I have run into the issue of career services’ advice being slightly different than what we know to be current best practices.

The bottom line here is to first seek initial help from career services, but don’t stop there! Do your own research for resume advice from respected online sources. Also ask alumni or family friends who work in your field (and who will know what information and formatting the industry wants to see on your resume right now) to review your resume. You are likely to encounter differing opinions, and will need to seek balance, but use your best judgement as to who best understands your industry.

Create a Linkedin Profile

Most college students are on Linkedin. If you’re not, well start there. If you are on Linkedin already, how polished is your profile? There are countless articles on best practices for creating a professional Linkedin profile, so again, do your research!

If I had to quickly prioritize the main areas that can make or break a good Linkedin profile, they would be having a professional-looking profile picture, using your personal summary to really “tell your story,” fully and accurately listing your education and job history and prioritizing your list of skills to increase your SEO.

Treat it like any of your other college projects, giving it your attention to detail, creativity and technical know-how. After all, building your personal brand is likely the most important project you’ll ever work on!

Build (and Organize) Your Contact List

Growing your personal brand is similar to growing a business’s brand in that you need to establish a quality list of contacts (potential leads, referrals or employers). Throughout your high school and college career you have made quite a few professional contacts, whether you realize it or not.

It’s important to take the time to capture these contacts and organize them in an excel spreadsheet. Take an afternoon and list out anyone of influence that you know, or know through someone else. These could be local business owners in your hometown, contacts from a past job or internship, your professors and faculty, or friends’ parents. Don’t discount anyone! Even if they do not work in your career field, think of how many people they know. A contact two or three degrees removed from someone you know personally, just might help you land your dream job.

How you choose to use this list of contacts is up to you, but I suggest sending them a professional email, preferably through Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, announcing your upcoming graduation and highlighting your skills and education. Make a direct ask for these contacts to pass on your resume to anyone they know who may be hiring in your field. Be sure to attach your resume! By making it easy for your contacts to forward this email, you have the potential of reaching hundreds of people who just might be looking to hire someone like you!

Create a Portfolio of Your Work

Now more than ever, college students have all the tools they need to quickly and easily create an online portfolio of work. Especially if your major is one that has great visual components (graphic design, landscape architecture, art, etc.), you simply must have a professional online portfolio of work to be a top competitor in your field.

Wix, Squarespace and WordPress (and many, many more) offer free websites that you can customize and launch in a few, easy steps. Sure, it’s not going to look like a $50k+ website, but that’s not necessary! What’s necessary is showing a potential employer that you are a professional go-getter who is tech savvy and who goes the extra mile. Be sure to link out to this online portfolio from your resume and in email emails you send to potential employers/contacts.

Hone in On Your Career Objective

Does your resume include a clear objective for what you’re looking to get out of your career? If you want to stand out, it’s so important to clearly communicate your “why.” Work to define your career objective, or you can call it your professional mission statement. In about two sentences you should be able to describe your drive to work in the industry and the unique skills you bring to the table.

Best of all, with a clear objective, you will have a strong and polished answer to provide to any potential employer who asks you the common, but often challenging question of “So what do you want this job?”

Scrub Your Social Media

This is a hot topic for our current generation of college graduates. You’ve likely built a robust collection of social media posts and pictures throughout your college career. While the archive of memories are ones you don’t want to forget, they’re better saved offline. You’ll want to dedicate quite a bit of time to carefully “stalking” yourself on social media to remove anything that could even remotely be a red flag for a future employer. Look at your profile through eyes. How do you want to be represented?

Do keep in mind that simply deleting posts and images is by no means a guaranteed they won’t appear elsewhere. You’ll want to also search for your name and any other distinguishing characteristics (such as your college’s name, hometown or major) and see what comes up. If you need help scrubbing some less than desirable search results, or you simply want to move favorable search results (such as awards or honors) up in ranking, I highly recommend Brand Yourself. Seriously, check it out!

Network with Your Professors

This final piece of advice is what I feel is most overlooked by college students and that’s utilizing the network (and knowledge) of your professors. They’re the ones teaching you everything you need to know about your industry, certainly they have a highly influential network. Schedule time to really talk with them about your career goals, ask questions and express and uncertainty or frustration. Office hours are not limited to reviewing class materials.

You will never regret building a personal relationship with your professors who can continue to support you after graduation. On a similar note, be sure to utilize your alumni network. We truly care about you guys and want to see you thrive in the same industry we dedicated our college career to studying. I speak from personal experience when I say it brings us alums great joy to see the next generation succeed!

Do you have other advice to share with college students preparing for life after graduation? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

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Posted by on April 16, 2018 in Career, Education, Life

 

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Married to an Entrepreneur: 8 Tips to Survive and Thrive

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I’m married to an entrepreneur. For many of you who can relate, you would understand how that alone can add a layer of complexity to balancing work and marriage. However, my husband can also say that he’s married to an entrepreneur. Yes, as fate would have it two entrepreneurial spirits found one another, amidst their own lives’ chaos and fell in love.

In fact, I met Scott just weeks before I took my entrepreneurial leap. He was only 5 years into running his own nonprofit organization, and knowing how risky and challenging this journey can be, still wholeheartedly welcomed me into the tumultuous seas of entrepreneurship. “Jump in! The water’s fine!”

Fortunately, taking that leap remains the most important moment in my career that has led me to now entering my seventh year as owner of Bennis Public Relations. In these seven years, I didn’t just grow my business, we also grew our family by two sweet (and very energetic) boys. Scott also ventured into two more businesses (as entrepreneurs tend to do), both startups requiring what feels like 300% of his time.

If you’re doing the math, between us that’s four businesses, two young children….and a partridge and a pear tree.

But in all seriousness, yes our schedules are sometimes crazy, yes we sometimes have challenging moments and overwhelming workloads, yes we sometimes wear many hats and have many masters to serve. But we’ve also established, and worked hard to achieve a pretty enjoyable life flow. I want to share with you how we (sometimes) do it all: grow businesses, chase after children, find time for date nights and get enough sleep to survive…sometimes.

For anyone else who can say “I’m married to an entrepreneur,” here’s my advice to you:

 1. Determine whose “day” it’s going to be. With two busy schedules, and when children are involved, you have to communicate important obligations (i.e. travel, work meetings, events) early and often. This helps to manage expectations and prevent any “Who’s going to watch the kids?” moments.

2. Never give unsolicited business advice. When I ask Scott about his day, he often shares the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s tempting to weigh in with advice on what he should do or could have done differently. While this can be appreciated at times, sometimes he or I just want to lament and have someone listen – not provide commentary. Our own ground rule is to never give unsolicited business advice. Often we solicit, but when we don’t, we try to respect this boundary.

3. Get on the same page about how you want to use your free time. It may be hard to believe, but we have many evenings or weekends where our schedules are completely open. I’ve found it so important to communicate how we each desire to use this time. Before doing so, I would often have a vastly different game plan for this time. Sometimes Scott would want to take a family day trip while I preferred to catch up on things around the house and relax. Sometimes I’d be ready to hang out while Scott needed to catch up on a quick work project. The result was frustration and disappointment. Usually over breakfast one of us brings up the question, “So what are your plans for tonight?” It’s made all the difference!

4. Don’t use each other as your sole sounding board. Similar to not giving unsolicited business advice, this tip falls more on the spouse who is the one actively seeking consultation. I’ve found that we are both able to get the support and encouragement we need when we don’t look solely to one another to provide this 100% of the time. This means seeking out friends and fellow business owners to also be a sounding board. After all, second (and third) opinions are a good thing.

5. Sacrifice for both your family and business. As a business owner, you have to make many sacrifices for your business – putting in long hours, investing your own funds and picking up the slack to name a few. What I have found to be so important is also sacrificing for your family. This might mean letting some work pile up over the weekend or silencing a phone call over dinner to maintain the peace and necessity of family time. Family (and especially spouses) can feel neglected when they see you sacrifice endlessly for your business, yet see you struggle to do the same for your family.

6. Frequently assess your “life” plan. Everyone has a bad day, stressful week or disappointing month. However, if you see this as a growing trend, it’s time to take action. I firmly believe that you need to assess your “life” plan every so often, just as you would a business plan. This is where you should also involve your spouse to gauge how they have been feeling lately about the balance between family and work.

7. If something’s not working, fix it. Once you’ve assessed your life plan and found major areas that need improvement – do something about it! Adjust schedules, reassign responsibilities, outsource work, ask for help and prioritize family time. I promise you, if you don’t do this, things will only get worse.

8. Make time to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Most importantly, learn how to enjoy what you’ve worked so hard to earn. Scott and I went far too long without taking a weekend getaway, much less a real vacation together. When we finally did, wow what an experience! For so long we were used to the daily hustle, pinching every penny and using every spare moment to grow our business. If we ever got to do something together, it was often work-related for one of us. A true, work-free vacation, at least annually, is something that has brought us so much closer together and also encourages us to keep up the grind!

Whether you are married to an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur yourself or both, there are some unique challenges we face when it comes to balancing work and family. What piece of advice did you find most helpful? Do you have different advice to share?

Join in the conversation by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Revealing Character Through Communication

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


textingDuring the steps along my career path, I’ve encountered some truly great communicators who were friendly, organized and a pleasure to work with. As with any balance to life, I have also encountered a memorable few who were quite the opposite – impatient, rude and condescending. I used to take negative communication very personally, wondering what I could have done to make it a more pleasant experience, but have since reconciled that it had little to do with me. I wasn’t giving the person the answer they wanted (maybe I wasn’t the right contact to address their request or maybe it simply couldn’t be done). And because of this, they felt as though they could treat me with less respect or professionalism than someone who could offer them immediate solutions.

I continue to encounter similar styles of communication from time to time and it really grates on me. I believe that character is best demonstrated by how you treat those who can do nothing for you. Therefore, these incidences are a reflection of a character flaw that many people may be unaware they exhibit. I’m sure I am not exempt from this – a lapse in my communication may have left someone else feeling brushed off or belittled at one point or another. In an effort to put an end to unprofessional communication, I want to examine the following key points to shed light on why this is such a critical problem:

The importance of always being professional

It’s a small world. We all know the meaning of this phrase as we have likely had the experience of running into contacts again and again through similar circles or completely unrelated circumstances. This is a reminder to me every day that my reputation is my most valuable business asset. Whether you live in a big city or a small town, you can’t afford to burn bridges if you want to be successful in your career. Nothing slows down business growth faster. The importance of always being professional when communicating with customers or vendors is realizing that you may very likely have to deal with them again. Don’t ignore this important lesson! Most of the unprofessional communicators I’ve had to deal with have popped up in my life again, needing information or services from me – often with their tail tucked between their legs.

Identifying the subtle negatives

Sometimes the worst communication experiences are hard to identify because they’re subtle, yet leave you with an overall feeling of hurt, frustration or anger. It may be hard to pinpoint the exact reasons the conversation was so unpleasant, but the feeling it leaves you with is real nonetheless. The subtle negatives I’ve most often identified have involved someone exerting their power or position to make me feel dumb or incorrect about an answer I have provided. Another common subtle negative is someone being bossy or aggressive in their tone and in the type of services they demand. In less subtle situations, I’ve had people outright yell at me, hang up the phone or threaten me in various ways (chalk this up to some good old political campaign experience). Most often negative communication can be identified in someone’s tone and word choice. Even if you have something negative you must communicate – and this does happen – there are various ways to still make it a positive communication experience overall. There’s no excuse.

Letting someone know when they’re being unprofessional

This is a difficult subject to breach. No one wants to directly confront someone else about their attitude or negativity because it can be, well…scary. We’re more willing to put up with the unprofessionalism and belittlement than we are willing to tell someone they’re just being rude. The risk is that we end up looking rude in return or that we anger them even more and the communication further declines. If the negative communication is subtle and you’re not sure if they even know they’re coming across this way, it’s important to handle the situation softly, but directly. Let them know that it’s how they’re making you feel rather than accusing them of being outright mean. No one can argue with how you feel and hopefully even if they don’t want to recognize that their actions are causing this, they will at least be professional enough to make an effort to change. On the other extreme, if someone is being unprofessional to the point of yelling or insulting you, then you must also address this directly, but more firmly. Identify specific examples in which their communication is unacceptable (swearing, yelling and hanging up a phone are never acceptable in my mind) and let them know that you will have to cut off further communication if they can’t approach the situation more professionally. Hopefully such instances are rare, but it’s important to know how to speak up to put and end to it.

They key concept worth taking away from all of this is that character is best demonstrated by how you treat those who can do nothing for you. Negativity is never acceptable even if you realize you’re “only” dealing with an office administrator, assistant or intern. Most often, these are the gatekeepers for who you really want to be talking to. As I said before, it’s a small world, so be sure to be kind and professional to everyone you encounter. It truly takes no more (maybe even less) effort than it does to be rude and when the world connects you with them again you’ll be glad you have a friend, not a burnt bridge, to work with.

 

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The Best UX and SEO Practices for Your Multimedia Content

The Best UX and SEO Practices for Your Multimedia Content

When maintaining a company website, you don’t want to push out content blindly. Your marketing budget is not best spent on maintaining an online presence just for the sake of it. Rather, you want to strategically select your content to drive engagement and ultimately conversion.

Remember, the goal of your website is to generate leads, engage those leads, turn them into customers and further the relationship by nurturing loyalty to your brand. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to achieve all those things if you haphazardly put together a website and fill it with random and inconsistent content.

The Quickest Way to Push Away Customers

If it’s not easy and intuitive to find and navigate your business’s website, you substantially diminish your ability elicit action. If a visitor experiences slow loading time or struggles to make heads or tails of your website’s confusing interface, you can bet that they’ll leave your site within seconds.

According to Forrester Research, a well-designed user interface can boost your site’s conversion rate by up to 200%. Additionally, only 25% of users venture into the 2nd page of search results. Thus, the importance of a smooth user experience and a fully optimized website is impossible to ignore.

When prospects come to your site, you have mere seconds to make a good impression. Those few seconds are integral to capturing your leads’ attention, communicating your story and moving them into your sales pipeline. Simply put, a stellar interface and an optimized website must be paired with an equally stellar content strategy.

First and foremost, be aware that there is a wide array of content, each serving a unique purpose, that should be carefully considered to be part of your content strategy. Aside from highly valuable blog articles, customer stories/testimonials and white papers, visual content, like infographics, is highly effectively at quickly communicating your message and reaching key demographics. Candidly, visual content is something I know I need to work to increase in my own content strategy!

The Power of Visual Content

It’s estimated that 81% of users only skim content, making how you organize and present this content increasingly important. Moreover, studies have found that posts with images increase engagement rates by a whopping 650% compared to text-only posts. It’s also worth noting that video content attracts 3x more engagement than text-only posts.

Whether it be blog articles, images, infographics, videos, tutorials and animations, white papers, or podcasts, every type of content you produce must be optimized for your users as well as search engines. It’s a delicate balance between the two, but the end result is a substantially higher reach for your content that maximizes your marketing/public relations dollars.

Appealing to Customers vs. Search Engines: A Delicate Balance

Admittedly, optimizing your web content can prove challenging and time consuming. It takes technical know-how and a ton of analytics to process and apply into practice. Often, this sort of time and technique is not something many business owners have to spare. For clients whose business requires a highly technical content strategy, I often recommend they enlist the help of a creative agency to tackle this workload with efficiency and expertise, leaving the business owner more time to do what they do best. In this relationship, I serve as the project manager and lead content developer, who focuses on producing relevant, high quality content, while the creative/SEO agency focuses on the optimizing the content for search engines.

As I mentioned above, it’s a delicate balance and I can’t stress that enough. Speaking from the public relations side, you can’t overly conform your content to “play” the SEO game otherwise you risk producing content that is loaded with keywords and awkward sentences to fit these keywords, but loses its “human” element. While this content engages search engines, it will not engage your customers!

I hope this brief intro into developing an effective digital content strategy for your business has sparked some new ideas, and possibly some critical questions for you to consider. If you find yourself hungry for more insight, I recommend taking a look at this infographic by Micro Creatives on the best user experience and SEO practices for your multimedia content. Not only is it filled with valuable, easy-to-consume information, it also demonstrates the effectiveness of incorporating visual content into your overall strategy!

The Best UX and SEO Practices for Your Multimedia Content.

What burning questions have I left unanswered (I anticipate many!)? Start a conversation by asking your top one or two below. If it’s outside my expertise, I’m happy to enlist my network of SEO experts to chime in!

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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5 Important Decisions for Every Entrepreneur (Contribution from Jock Purtle)

The following post comes to us from internet entrepreneur, Jock Purtle, who is founder of Digital Exits, a company specializing in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. This article is based upon his entrepreneurial experience.


5 Important Decisions for Every Entrepreneur

For many, the hardest decision you will make as an entrepreneur is the first one: the decision to go out on your own. In today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, the idea of running a business can be intimidating, to say the least. But once you get over this hurdle and realize fear and hesitation are the only things standing in the way of you accomplishing your goals, you’re well on your way to entrepreneurial success.

As you likely already know, though, it’s not that simple. Getting started with your own company is like riding a roller coaster in the dark. Each up and down is intense, and it’s hard to know what’s coming next.

To try and make things a little easier, we’ve come up with a list of five decisions that every entrepreneur needs to make early on in the life of their company. By highlighting these, we hope you’ll be able to focus in a little more on what you need to be doing to make your company work so that you can weather the storm as it comes your way, worry a bit less and take one more step towards success.

The decision making will never end, and it will soon turn into your most critical task, but here are some key choices you’ll need to make right off the bat to set your company up for a healthy future.

 1. Your ideal customers

You’d be surprised how many entrepreneurs don’t take the time to clearly define their target audience. Often times, entrepreneurs are so excited about their idea that they don’t stop to think who might want to spend money on it. A good idea is a good idea, and there is likely a business to be built around it, but without clearly defining your target audience, the initial stages of your business will be a real challenge.

The important thing to remember when going through this process is to be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to just say you are hoping to target urban Millennials. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer and ask yourself how your product or service might factor into their life. What need are you fulfilling? Or, how are you making their life better or more comfortable?

By answering these questions, you will have a more specific idea as to who you need to be going after and how you are going to reach them. For example, you may find that your audience is men between the ages of 20-35 who live in cities, earn above-average salaries and have an active lifestyle. This is vital information, as it will help determine your marketing and advertising strategies going forward.

Furthermore, once you make this decision, a lot of other decisions will become easier. All you need to do is ask yourself: Is this going to help me reach my target audience? If the answer is yes, proceed. If no, then keep working. Taking the time to be very clear about this part of the business right from the beginning is an essential step to ensuring the success of the company.

2. Management style and company culture

While you as the entrepreneur may be the brains behind the operation, you’re fooling yourself if you think you can pull this off on your own. You are going to need to bring in a good team to help you get off the ground, and then once you do, you are going to need a growth plan. What types of employees are you looking for? Which ones are you trying to avoid?

A big part of this is also your management style. Are you going to run things more top-down? Or do you plan to be more decentralized, delegating certain decisions to those more qualified to make them?

You’ll also want to take a look at yourself as a leader and manager and figure out how to improve. There are plenty of things we do without realizing that affect how employees view us and act towards us, and you really won’t see this until you are in a position of leadership.

Take some time to figure out what you want your company culture to be. You may think of culture as something that develops organically, and to a certain extent it is, but you can have a significant impact on the direction it goes. A lot of companies are adopting a more laid-back approach, offering their employees more and more benefits, such as unlimited vacation time and free coffee of the month subscriptions, as a way of trying to foster engagement and buy-in. This may or may not be the right approach for you, and this is something you’ll want to figure out as soon as possible.

All of these things should be figured out in the beginning because as you grow it will be harder and harder to make time for this type of planning. Spend some time as you are getting started and you’ll find yourself managing growth much better, setting your company up for success in the future.

 3. Exit strategy

When first starting out with a company, the idea of an exit strategy seems far away. But it’s actually very important to consider. Planning out your exit strategy means thinking long-term. It allows you to align resources so that you can move forward at the right time.

An exit strategy can come in the form of an initial public offering (IPO), a sale or a merger, but the thing to remember is that you don’t actually need to implement the strategy. If things are going well, you have every freedom to stay with the business. But plotting out from the beginning how you might exit gets you thinking big picture and this can only help your business.

Plus, having a clearly defined exit strategy plays very well with investors. They want to know how they are going to get their money, and demonstrating to them how this will happen increases your chances of securing the resources you need to get your company off the ground and heading towards prosperity.

 4. Marketing and branding

It’s never too early to start thinking about branding. In today’s competitive marketplace, having a strong brand is going to be what ultimately sets you apart. Much like the decisions you’ll make about company culture, choosing your branding strategy needs to be one of the first things you do.

Figure out what makes you unique, determine what you want to stand for and do some research to figure out the best way to communicate this to people. Social media is huge for building your brand, and if your target audience uses this medium, you may want to consider hiring an agency or consultant to help you.

In fact, this may be one of the best decisions you make as an entrepreneur. Successful marketing requires a full-time approach, and too many small companies try to do it on their own, only to end up wasting their precious resources without seeing results. It’s your job to do the high-level strategic thinking. Then, bring in some experts to help you execute your plan.

5. Cybersecurity

Here’s one not too many entrepreneurs think about, and it’s a real shame that they don’t. Cybercrime and hacking is the threat of the future, and small businesses are being increasingly targeted. They’re easier to get to, as they don’t always invest in the right protection, but they still possess valuable information. And the damage a hack causes to your reputation is often far too much for any small company to overcome.

Figure out how you’re at risk and what you need to do to protect yourself. Cybersecurity infrastructures can be expensive, and the last thing you want to do is to have to shut down your website or other services so that you can install new security measures. Don’t let cybersecurity become an afterthought. You’ll pay for it down the road.

Final thoughts

From the moment you decided to become an entrepreneur, you essentially converted yourself into a full-time decision maker. As the business grows, you will be faced with increasingly challenging choices, but with experience, you’ll learn what’s best for your business. However, until you reach this point, things can be a bit stressful. Consider these critical decisions every entrepreneur needs to make so that you can start your business heading in the right direction.

Join in the conversation! Among these five decisions an entrepreneur must make, which one do you feel is the most critical?

About the author: Founder of Digital Exits, Jock Purtle is an internet entrepreneur who specializes in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. He began investing in websites as a hobby when he was a teenager, but it slowly turned into his full-time job. He works with other entrepreneurs frequently and enjoys sharing his knowledge to help others find similar success working for themselves.

 

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The Size of Success: A Profitable Business Doesn’t Require a Big Business

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


GoldfishWhenever someone asks me what I do for a living, I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m excited and proud to tell them about my entrepreneurial journey and some of the great experiences it has provided along the way.

When I held previous jobs and was asked this same question, I always felt as though I was making excuses, downplaying my position or glossing over my current career to talk about the career I one day aspired to have. It’s an incredible feeling to be living your passion every day as a small business owner, but I believe some misconceptions still exist about our measure of success. This most often rears its head when the inevitable follow-up question to owning my own business is, “How many employees do you have?” The unexpected truth is, it’s just me. I’m a sole proprietor, or S-Corp, and I’m small by my own design.

Small By Design

Not every business will or should follow the template of growing by X number of employees every year. The fact of the matter is that it’s not every business’s model to grow in this direction. Depending upon the service or product, it’s simply not necessary. And if it’s not necessary to have this many employees, why carry the extra overhead and liability?

Outside of my residual monthly clientele, new or one-time projects for which I’m contracted are very unpredictable. In one day I can receive multiple new leads or things can be quiet for weeks. As a business of one, I’m able to tuck my tail and reduce my overhead to nearly zero when I’m in a business building phase. And when I’m swamped with work and requests for services, I can easily call upon my network to contract out certain work that’s more efficiently handled by their expertise.

I love contractors and freelancers for the very same reason I am one to so many businesses. When times are great you can go full steam ahead and as soon as work slows down, you can cut back and preserve precious capital. Bigger businesses can’t do this as easily. They’re stuck with fixed expenses like rent and salaries that need to be paid regardless of cash flow. Another major benefit I see to being a business of one (at least for right now) is that I am accountable to my clients and that’s all. I don’t have to worry about keeping regular office hours to also be accountable to employees. I can travel as I please, work from home, set my own schedule and take vacation without the slightest sense of guilt so long as I maintain my work for my clients.

While being small by design is not a luxury every type of business can afford, I highly recommend enjoying it for as long as you can. So long as you don’t measure your success by the size of your office or staff, this is a very strategic and enjoyable model for an entrepreneur.

The Measure of Success

What do you commonly use as the measure of success for a business? I know before I began my own, I was guilty of asking the common questions of “How many employees do you have?” or “Where is your office located?” to judge the legitimacy of a business. I’ve since had my eyes opened to the endless varieties of business structures that exist and most surprisingly is that I really have not found a strong correlation between size, structure and success. What I have found is a strong correlation between success and the type of leader running the business.

Having been down a similar path, I’m now profoundly more impressed with a small business (especially those consisting of one person) that provides the same perception and level of service as a firm two or three times its size.

At the end of the day – or the fiscal year, rather – the profitability and success of a business is not determined by the number of employees or square footage of your office space. What it is determined by is your drive and dedication to seeking out new clients, providing exceptional service and functioning above the level of your competitors. And for me at least, I can efficiently and comfortably accomplish this right from my home office!

Have you ever owned or worked for a business that was small by design? How did you measure your success if not by the number of employees or size of your office? Share your thoughts with us by commenting below!

 

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How to Win Back a Client

how to win back a client

Clients will come and go. If you are a contractor or consultant, you know that it’s a way of life. Often this will be an obvious and amicable parting once a client no longer needs your services. However there will also be times when a client leaves you, possibly for another consultant or because they believe they can handle the services in house. This kind of parting can leave you a little sad and sore, as it feels unexpected or unnecessary.

But I want to share some good news.

Throughout my career as a public relations consultant, I’ve had many clients, who once paused services or parted ways, return for a variety of reasons. These returns are a wonderful surprise and for a long time I chalked it up to luck. However, it’s much more than luck. It’s the way you run your business that keeps a former client’s coals burning, awaiting to reignite the fire upon their return.

Today I share with you some steps you can take to win back a former client. The most important idea to keep in mind is that winning back a client isn’t merely what you say when you re-pitch them your services, it’s everything you do in the interim of your relationship leading up to this reengagement. Take a look!

Part on Good Terms

This first step is critical. To the extent it is realistically possible, you should try to part with each client on good terms. Be understanding, offer them access to any materials or information that is rightfully theirs and help with the transition process to a new employee or consultant who will be taking over your work, if asked to do so. If this isn’t feasible or they choose to completely shut you out, it’s a good indication this isn’t a client you’ll want to work with again in the future anyways.

Leave the Door Open

Once you part on good terms, you should also make sure they know your door is always open to them. Weeks, months or years later they may have a question for you. Remain accessible and attentive to their needs (so long as it doesn’t require more than a few minutes of your time). This demonstrates, professionalism and class. Knowing your door is open makes it easier to return without feeling like you will shame them for it.

Touch Base in a Non-Salesy Way

There may come a time when an article or piece of information emerges that reminds you of that client. Use this as an opportunity to touch base with them by offering something other than a sales pitch. Believe me, this is exceptionally refreshing! For example, maybe you find an article that offers helpful advice to a problem they frequently encountered or maybe it’s a piece of news announcing a new trend in their industry. Share this with a thoughtful note. Wish them well and leave it at that. This is a seed that I have seen blossom into a new working relationship time and time again.

Check in On Their Progress

If you find yourself thinking about that client, check in on them to see if they are maintaining the progress you used to help with. Have they kept a consistent presence on social media? When is the last time they published a blog? If you’re still on their email list, what’s the last communication you received? If all of these efforts have gone radio silent, you have a solid reason to move onto what about I’m about to suggest next.

Remind Them How You Can Help

Call or email that client with a direct offer. This time it is essentially a sales pitch. Be sure to complement any efforts they are maintaining or improving. Then call attention to the items you noticed were lacking. Remind them that you used to help them maintain these critical efforts and that you’d welcome the opportunity to talk with them about assisting them in a similar way again. You just might hit them at a time where they feel like they can’t get their head above water and you will be a welcome source of help. What’s the worst they can say? No?

Offer Advice, No Strings Attached

If a past client should ever reach out to you asking for a simple piece of advice (i.e. it should only take a few minutes of your time to answer), be open to sharing your expertise a time or two. For the couple of minutes it takes you to answer their questions, you could open up the door to a renewed client in the future. It’s extremely smart from a business development standpoint! If you find they have A LOT of questions for you, offer a meeting. In person you can make a case for the benefit of your expertise and how an ongoing relationship would again benefit you both.

Be Responsive

Finally and most importantly, be respectful and responsive, even if this person is no longer an active client. Demonstrating these qualities, regardless of whether you are receiving a paycheck, speaks highly to your reputation. It will also remind the client of how nice it is to work with someone who is competent and responsive. Many times I have clients return because they realize that responsiveness is not a quality every consultant possesses. Many skills can be trained, responsiveness/reliability really isn’t one of them.

Have you ever won back a client? What steps did you take? Share your experience by leaving a comment below!

 

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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