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Getting Paid to Make Decisions

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The other night I was sharing a few of the day’s successes with my husband when he pointed out a theme I never considered with my public relations consulting work. My clients value my ability to make educated and decisive decisions for them.

All this time I thought I was in the business of providing public relations and communications strategies (and I am), but the real success of these strategies is hinged upon being decisive. Essentially, I get paid to make decisions.

Maybe you can relate. In your career, do people look to you to take the lead on a project, trusting you to make the decisions needed to keep things moving? Do people often seek your advice or want to pick your brain on an issue? If so, you’re also getting paid to make decisions. Here are some key things to keep in mind while sharpening your critical decision making skills.

A Clear Yes or No

I’ve said before that a “no” is as good as a “yes” and I still stand behind this philosophy. I have been highly decisive all my life, often at the dismay of my parents. I crave a clear cut answer so I know how to move forward with a project. Action items that hang in limbo due to an unclear answer make me anxious.

So, when working toward being an effective decision maker, you not only need to provide your own clear answers, you need to pry them out of other people. Make it easy. Present options as yes or no scenarios and be clear that a single word decision is all you need. Give a deadline for the decision and follow-up, as much as it takes, to get that yes or no.

Expertise to Back the Decision

When I tell my clients either yes we should, or no we shouldn’t implement a strategy, I am quick to provide my rationale. In the instance I say no, I want to be clear that it’s not due to a lack of interest or resources, it’s a sound decision for the business. When I say yes, I want them to know I support the idea and am not just agreeing to please them. Especially when providing quick answers, show that you still put time and thought into your response by backing it with expertise and examples.

Openness to Other Options

I said I get paid to make decisions for my clients, but I didn’t say they were required to listen. I appreciate clients who push back because they feel strongly about another option. An educational discussion is enlightening for everyone involved. It builds trust and shows your relationship has reached the level where you’re comfortable speaking your mind. When a client has an alternative view on a decision, I’m often happy to accommodate their wishes, so long as it aligns with their mission and our prioritized goals.

Which brings me to….

Giving Clients What They Need

I’ve often seen clients (and really any business) get side tracked from time to time with the next shiny object which is what they want and not necessarily what they need. You know, these are the people who think every sales email they receive is the next best marketing opportunity. It takes time to fully explore these options for a client to see if it’s viable, but the result is my ability to offer sound advice that conserves the client’s time and resources.

Sometimes you need to be the parent who says “no, don’t waste your money on that” and you don’t always get a favorable response. However, I have found long-term that these clients are always appreciative and come back time and time again to pay me to make smart decisions.

Do you find that you’re in a role where quick and clear decision making is critical? Share how you provide this value to your customers by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How I Plan to Gain More Free Time in the Summer Months

summer 2017

Given the Memorial Day holiday, I think just about everyone is thinking about the fun summer activities that lie ahead. I know I am! This is why I got to thinking about my plan for the summer to ensure I enjoy my most favorite months of the year. It’s too easy to stay on the same work routine and not take advantage of the warm weather and time with family. Being a creature of habit, I thought the best thing to do was to set some “boundaries” for my summer and come up with a new routine that will help me maximize my free time and benefit from my flexible work schedule throughout the coming months. Take a look!

End each weekend with a preview of the week ahead

In order to get more out of my work hours and maximize my free time, I’ve found it to be really helpful to end the weekend with a review of the upcoming week’s tasks and obligations. This gives me a good mental grasp on how much dedicated work time I’ll have, verses time that will be spent at meetings or events. I also compare this schedule with my husband’s to be sure we’re fully covered on family duties. There’s nothing quite as stressful as realizing you both need to be out of the house early without someone to run the kids to daycare!

Get up at the same time every day

This will be a challenging one, but one that will surely help to maximize my free time so I can enjoy the summer months. Every day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday, I plan to get up at 6am. Some days I may have a little helper join me who wakes up early, and some days I may get a cup of coffee and a head start on my inbox. No matter how I spent this extra hour of the morning, it will go to good use and put me in the best position for a less stressful day. On the weekends, this will be the only hour I dedicate to checking in on work – or I’ll use it to get in some exercise!

Make a plan – for both work and play

Just as it’s important to plan to get work done, it’s also important to block out time in your schedule to enjoy non-work related things. I’ll have an agenda for each day that outlines how I want to spend my time. This will likely involve a mix of some work tasks along with a nap in the sun on the back deck. On days I have one or more kid home with me, I will prioritize only what has to get done that day to keep me on top of my work tasks, the rest will be dedicated to family time!

Stay on a routine for monthly tasks

I’ve gotten on a good routine of looking at all projects I have to deliver on a monthly basis and dividing them into one of two categories: tasks to be delivered for the current month and tasks to be delivered for the coming month. The first category of tasks gets prioritized and completed between days 1 and 15 of the current month. The second category of tasks are put on the to-do list starting day 15 and completed no later than the end of the month. If you’re overwhelmed by your task list, you may need to start categorizing and prioritizing tasks so you have a better handle on what needs done now and what can wait.

Limit networking and social requests

For some, summer is the prime time to set networking meetings and attend social events to grow your business. But for me, I’d much rather spend my free time soaking up the sun with my kids. Because of this, I frequently decline such requests. I’ll tell the contact that we can set date for the fall, and if they’re really serious about meeting, they’ll comply. For those “serial networkers” that were likely going to be a waste of time anyway, they will forget to follow-up and fade away.

Zero out my inbox each evening

This takes a little commitment, but once it’s routine it will greatly streamline workflow. I practice this now, and plan to into the summer. Every evening, once the kids are in bed, I take up to 30 minutes to “zero out” my inbox. What this means is that I check in on any emails that may have come in since I closed up shop sometime in the afternoon, and I address them. Many emails can be read and deleted, others will need a response. If the response is quick, I give it. If it will take some time, I patch it into my work flow for tomorrow. If I anticipate needing more than one day to reply to a client, I first reply with an acknowledgement of the email and then let them know when to anticipate my full response. I have found this last tip to be the key to keeping clients happy by keeping them in the loop. It also prevents additional follow-up emails or phone calls asking when something will be completed.

With these tips, I hope to enjoy a slower paced summer without needing to cut back on any client work. With my extra free time, I plan to enjoy the warm weather, spend time with family and take a few long weekend trips to make some new memories. If this new routine produces favorable results, I just may never come back from my “summer” lifestyle!

How do you plan to manage your workload to enjoy this summer? Share your ideas by leaving a comment!

 
 

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5 Signs a Client is Not a Good Fit for Your Business

5 Signs a Client is Not a Good Fit for Your BusinessWhen meeting with a prospective client, we can get so caught up in wanting to help them see the value or our services, that we overlook the signs that they wouldn’t be a good fit for our business. I’m guilty of having done this a time or two. I know because the client was a headache to work with and ultimately didn’t work out long-term. So how can you avoid wasting time and energy on the “wrong” clients? Start by watching out for these common warning signs.

  1. They can’t really tell you why they want to meet with you

This first warning sign should throw up an immediate red flag of caution. If you receive an email or phone call from someone who wants to meet with you to discuss your services, but they can’t really tell you specifically what service they need or the major challenges they’re facing right now, don’t be too quick to schedule an initial consultation.

It may seem like a good idea to sit down with them to gain more information, but from my experience, this isn’t the case. A good client can communicate why they want to meet with you, and what they need from you. A client who doesn’t know enough about their business’s problems to know why they need your services is likely going to be a waste of time.

  1. They use the initial consultation to get as much information out of you as possible

If you leave your initial meeting with a prospective client feeling like you just left an interrogation, there’s a good chance you may not be hearing from then again. I never charge for an initial consultation because I see this as an “information-collecting” phase and not an “information-giving” phase. A warning sign that a client is not a good fit is that they use this first meeting to try and get right to the meat of things. How do I do this? What are the best practices for this? How can I solve this problem? These are all great questions I’m happy to include in a strategic communications plan, but as for this first cup of coffee together, let me understand more about your business and current tactics.

  1. You pick up on the fact that they’re “shopping around”

If you meet with someone who references the multiple other companies (who offer your same services) that they’re talking to, this is a sign that they are making a game out of this. I understand – and encourage – clients to talk to one or two other companies for comparison, but when a client is taking months to “interview” a dozen consultants, this isn’t going to be a good fit. First, you’ll end up waiting on hold for a long time until the client can sort through all of their proposals and notes. Second, this is a warning sign for how they do business and it’s likely they will overanalyze and hold up progress on your efforts, too.

  1. They don’t seem serious about making a commitment

When I meet with a client, there’s a pretty clear process that results in a signed contract and the commencement of services. A big warning sign of a bad client is one who doesn’t have any idea of when they’d like to start their project. They’re just beginning to test the waters to determine if your services are the answer to their current challenges. What you want is a client who has already worked through this process and determined that they need the services you provide and have clear start date in mind.

  1. What they need is not really what you provide

A final warning sign to watch out for is when you get the gut feeling that your services are not the answer to their problems. Maybe they need business development, not PR. Or maybe they are already doing everything you would tell them to do and they just need to give it time. There are a lot of scenarios, but the end result is the same. If you know your services are not a good fit for their business, do a favor for both of you and be honest with them.

Do you have a warning sign to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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5 Things You Can Immediately Do To Gain More Business

5-things-you-can-immediately-do-to-gain-more-businessI recently wrote about the benefits of business turnover in the New Year. True to annual trends, I also experienced some turnover in my client list. Despite my best efforts to “practice what I preach” and look at this as a positive, I felt unsettled, and frankly exposed, by the fact that a few (really great) clients had chosen to part ways.

My business had made significant growth in 2016, almost so much so that it wasn’t sustainable to think I would continue to grow at such a rapid rate. After all, as a consultant I essentially sell my time and even I only have so much time in a day. So there I was, a shrunken client list and an increased bandwidth to take on more work.

What did I do? I invested some of this newfound time into beating the bushes and testing the waters for new business opportunities, but I was strategic with how I did it. Cold-calling is not effective for my business, nor does it result in quality clients (at least in my experience). I wanted to build my book of business with client work I enjoyed and could complete efficiently. Here are the five strategies with which I began.

Talk with current clients about expanding your services

For me, this was a natural and obvious first step. I was upfront with my current clients, many of whom have been loyally working with me for several years. I told them I had availability for more work and offered to create a proposal for what additional services I could provide them that would amplify my current efforts. Not one turned down the offer to at least consider my proposal and right off the bat several increased my monthly retainer. I was so pleasantly surprised to learn that many of my clients had wanted to increase my services for a while but were mindful of my workload from other clients. It pays to ask!

Follow-up with leads that have fallen off

Next, I went through my notes of leads and proposals that didn’t result in business. For the most part, I never received a response after several follow-ups and was so busy at the time, I didn’t have to chase after them for work. I opened up the conversation again with a “Happy New Year, I hope you are doing well…” I received some responses within the hour – from contacts who had failed to give me a response over several months! A New Year brings a new business mindset and also gives businesses the opportunity to evaluate where they stand financially. Following-up during this time is an easy way to breathe fresh air back into a proposal and drum up new business.

Go through your stack of business cards

I also sifted through business cards I had collected from meetings and networking events throughout the past year. There were some that I felt could generate leads, so I reached out to these individuals to set up a time to talk over coffee. During this casual discussion, I was able to learn more about their business and also tell them that I am looking to take on new clients. This small investment of time most often resulted in the contact’s enthusiastic offer to keep their eyes and ears open for someone who could benefit from my services. Of course in exchange, I offered to do the same for them.

Touch base with your “power partners”

I have worked to develop several “power partnerships” with businesses who offer my services to their clients. I sent each a note letting them know I am available to take on more work and to “load me up” as they see fit. Much like reaching out to my current client list, I was able to gain some quick projects that they had on their plates, but didn’t want to risk overloading me with. Now that they knew I was open to more work, they were happy to offload.

Reach out to competitors

Finally, and most surprisingly, I reached out to contacts that I knew offered the same services I did. Yes, competitors. This may sound like an odd thing to do, but I have found a lot of value in developing a good working relationship with competing consultants and businesses. Why? Because when you get to know who their ideal client is, you will realize you really aren’t hunting for the same lead. In fact, their wheel house may be completely different than yours. In reaching out to my competitors, I wanted to put out my feelers for any leads they may have recently turned away either because they weren’t a good fit for their business or they were too busy to take on more work. Often, competitors will refer work out to me if they think I would better accommodate the client. Win-win!

When you look to build business, what strategies do you use? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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Avoid Making These 6 Mistakes With Your Holiday Promotions!

Weihnachtsmann mit Daumen runter

We are in the thick of the holiday season which means we are being bombarded by sales and promotions from every angle. Mailed flyers and magazines, emails and social media advertisements all contribute to the noise and whirlwind of the holiday season.

If your business is planning to run a holiday sale, be sure to avoid these common mistakes which can cause your efforts to get lost in the shuffle – or worse yet – turnoff a potential customer. Take a look!

  1. Not giving customers enough time to take advantage of the sale

Nothing will frustrate your customers quite like a sale that gives them hardly any time to react. Don’t send out a coupon or promo code that is set to expire mere hours from the time it is received. Plan ahead so that your promotion lands in the hands of your customers with at least a week to react to it. The holidays are busy enough; your customers don’t want one more “urgent” to-do added to their list.

  1. After one promotion ends, running another one that’s event better

This is a personal pet-peeve of mine. I can’t stand when businesses run a promotion touted as “the best deal of the season” only to follow it up with an even better offer the next day or next week. The customers who took advantage of the first offer will likely feel taken advantage of themselves. This doesn’t mean you can’t run multiple promotions in a season, but be sure to structure them differently so it’s not literally the same offer with a better price tag.

  1. Using generic messaging

Your holiday promotions are yet another prime opportunity to establish your brand. Don’t resort to generic messaging like “Buy now!” or “Don’t delay!” Speak directly to your customers with a message that relates to their wants and needs. Remind them why they should want what you’re selling and most importantly, why they should do business with you over a competitor. If your brand is hip and fun, reflect that in your messaging. If your brand is high-end and exclusive, again…reflect that in your messaging!

  1. Focusing too heavily on acquiring new customers

Sure, every business hopes their holiday sales bring in some new customers. However, don’t forget to pay special attention to your loyal customers who will be the ones most likely to come to your business to buy gifts for their loved ones. Send them exclusive deals and discounts and make sure they know they are receiving this because of their loyalty. Bottom line: when your customers feel appreciated they are more likely to open their wallets.

  1. Bombarding your audience with too many promotions

If you plan to send out a holiday promotion every day between now and Christmas Eve…don’t. Not only will you see your email opens drastically decrease with every passing day, you may also turn off your customers to the point where they unsubscribe entirely. Carefully think through every email you plan to send and be sure the messaging is valuable enough that even if a few people fall off your list because of it, you’ll attract enough other customers that it’s still worth it.

  1. Using scare tactics or guilt

Finally, don’t use negative sales tactics to try and gain new customers over the holidays. This is a time when people want to feel happy! By scaring them with messaging like “You’ll be the only one without…” or “This is the last chance you’ll ever have to get…” they will associate these negative emotions with your brand. Equally as damaging is using guilt like “Don’t let your child be the only one without…” or “Don’t you want to give your loved one the best…?” Keep it positive and uplifting! Sell joy, happiness and fun.

What holiday promotion tactics do you find most frustrating? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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How to Professionally Fire a Client

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!


How to Professionally Fire a ClientIn an ideal world, we would all become best friends with our clients and enjoy the work we do for them so much that we would wonder why we’re actually being paid. But in reality, some clients push us to the point of resolving that no amount of cash is enough to offset the stress and anxiety they add to our lives.

If you’re forced to make the tough decision of whether or not to cut ties with a client, it’s important to do so with professionalism and class. Even a strained client relationship has the potential to yield future leads and recommendations if you make the effort to leave with a mutual understanding.

Take a look at this list of common “problem clients” and how you can professionally approach each with a breakup line better than “Let’s see other people.”


The offense: Late (or nonexistent) payments

Everyone has a rare moment or two when a payment gets lost in the shuffle or maybe a particularly hectic month that causes you to make a late payment. But for this type of client, it happens all the time! It’s like they pay no attention nor do they care about your payment policy (i.e. net 30 days), yet they still want all their services delivered on time.

What you wish you could say: “I’m wasting way too much time pleading for your payments and acting like I actually believe your endless excuses.”

What you should say: “I enjoy working with you, but you are consistently late with making payments while I continue to meet your project deadlines. Out of respect for my time and for my other clients, I can no longer accommodate this relationship.”

Words of wisdom: After poking and prodding this type of client with reminders about making their payment, you might finally receive a check (sometimes with a nice “forgive me” note) and be tempted to continue the cycle with just “one more chance.” Just keep in mind that this relationship will continue to add stress to your day and steal time from your other clients. If you do feel compelled to stick with them, suggest that they move to quarterly payments (so that you’re only hunting down checks every 3 months) or invest in a system where you can automatically charge their account – businesses do it all the time!


The offense: Wants the moon and the stars on a shoestring budget

In my personal experience, these clients have been among my smallest accounts, yet ate up more of my time than clients paying 10x as much! They are great at micromanaging and wearing you down with negotiations on your pricing and requests for “just one more thing.” While you always want to under-promise and over-deliver for your clients, this business model is simply not sustainable.

What you wish you could say: “You are impossible to please and we’re losing money on you.”

What you should say: “I’ve carefully considered my workload and unfortunately I can no longer accommodate your needs at this time.”

Words of wisdom: The first red flag that you’re dealing with this type of client often occurs as early as contract negotiation. They may try to talk you down on price while refusing to take out any of the services you propose. Use your gut to decide whether to proceed with working with them, but keep in mind that the relationship cannot go on if you are constantly taking a loss each month on their billable hours versus the amount they are actually paying you. It’s not fair to you or to your other clients.


The offense: Verbally abusive

In personal relationships, we are far less likely to accept verbal abuse; yet so often we allow this to go on for far too long in business relationships. This type of client is one that is directly or indirectly demeaning and negative towards you or your staff. They may yell and swear at you, threaten you, or ever so subtly and indirectly put down your work. Whether the verbal abuse is obvious or subliminal, you cannot stay in this relationship.

What you wish you could say: “I dread interacting with you and no amount of money could offset the emotional damage you have caused.”

What you should say: “I strive to provide my clients with the best service possible and unfortunately I am no longer able to do that for you because of the difference in our work cultures and communication styles.”

Words of wisdom: The bottom line is no one ever deserves to be verbally abused and you must end a client relationship immediately if this occurs. I promise you, it never gets better. No amount of money is worth this stress.


The offense: Doesn’t respect time or boundaries

This type of client is toxic because they can really disrupt your work-life balance. They don’t respect your time by expecting you to meet tight deadlines, canceling meetings at the last minute, asking you to start a project and then changing directions or failing to get you the information you need to do your job. They also encroach on boundaries by expecting you to be available in the evenings and on the weekends and to be doing work for them during this time.

What you wish you could say: “You may pay me for my time, but you don’t control all of it. I need time to do other things that simply don’t involve you.”

What you should say: “It’s one of my top priorities to provide adequate time and attention to all of my clients. Due to my current workload, I am unable to commit to the hours you need from me and I cannot continue our partnership.”

Words of wisdom: There will come a time when important projects require you to work late into the evenings or on the weekends. However, this should not be the case for most of this client’s projects. If they insist that all of their work is propriety, where does that leave your other clients on your list? While you may be doing work for your clients, you are still your own boss and must maintain a sense of control over your time by letting go of clients who don’t respect these necessary boundaries.


The offense: Bigger problems are brewing within the business

This client wants you to have the magic solution to fix all of the problems within their business even when this task goes far beyond your area of expertise. For example, the client is asking for a new website, but really this is merely a bandage on a gaping wound of mismanagement, a weak business model and an unhealthy company culture.

What you wish you could say: “You are a mix bag of problems and bad decisions. It would take an entire overhaul of your business to prevent you from inevitable bankruptcy.”

What you should say: “While I would be happy to provide you with services that fall within my area of expertise, it’s come to my attention that you need help in additional areas that would impact the success of my work. At this time, I cannot take on your project until you have first resolved these other important matters.”

Words of wisdom: No one has all the answers – or expects anyone else to. If your client looks to you to be their marketing director as well as their business partner, investor, therapist and cheerleader…don’t walk away, run! Unless they acknowledge a good understanding of these other problems and demonstrate their determination to fix them, this is a toxic relationship that will only bring you both down.

Have you ever had to make the tough decision to fire a client? What was the determining factor and how did you handle it? Share your experiences by commenting below! 

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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How Public Relations is Different than Marketing

how-public-relations-is-different-than-marketing

If you use public relations tactics and hope to get results that really only marketing can produce, you’re going to be frustrated and likely begin to doubt the effectiveness of using PR to grow your business. The same is true if you mistakenly use marketing tactics and hope to get results that are more PR-related.

So what do you need to know? Let’s cut to the chase and set the record straight on the biggest and most important differences between public relations and marketing. This is not to say there won’t be exceptions to the rule. There always are. But for the sake of drawing a clear line, take these statements with a grain of salt.

Marketing is proactive. Public relations is reactive.

Marketing is almost always planned and purchased well in advance. Whether that’s a direct mail piece or promotional materials. When needed, public relations can be reactive in an effort to solve a problem, address a concern or announce something newsworthy. As a PR professional, I would certainly advocate to not make your PR efforts solely reactive. That’s as silly as it is dangerous. Public relations can and should be both proactive and reactive; however, marketing is rarely if ever reactive.

Marketing is business. Public relations is communications.

Here me out on this one. At Penn State (and likely at many other colleges across the world), my major of public relations was housed in the College of Communications, along with other majors like advertising and journalism. Marketing, however, was in the College of Business. This may seem trivial, but really it can help you understand just how closely marketing is linked to business and public relations is linked to communications. From the time someone begins to formally study one of these industries, they are placed on one of two very different paths.

Marketing changes your bottom line. Public relations changes public perception.

If you want to know if you marketing tactics are working, look at your bottom line. How have they impacted sales? On the other hand, quantifying your public relations efforts isn’t so straightforward. A good PR strategy will help to positively change the public’s perception of your brand. This can be tracked in various ways including focus groups and customer surveys, but the data tends to be harder and more expensive to obtain than simply pulling last quarter’s sales numbers.

Marketing is focused on sales. Public relations is focused on relationships.

If you remember nothing else, remember that marketing is growing sales and public relations is growing relationships. By growing relationships, this often leads to greater sales – which is why marketing and PR work well to support one another – but this is not the main focus. This understanding is critical because all too often I run into clients who are disappointed that PR isn’t producing higher sales, when that’s not its number one objective! If your focus is sales, look to marketing and if your focus is increasing good will with your customers, look to PR. Both will work together to grow your brand, but in their own unique way.

Still struggling to differentiate when to use Public Relations and when to use Marketing to grow your business and brand? Ask a question and let us help you answer it!

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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