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Dear New Entrepreneur…A Letter to My Younger Self

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!


Momsquad

Credit: Perry Media Group where I am proud to be a part of the “Mom Squad” team of fellow communication consultants.

It was July 2011 when I handed HR my two-week notice. I still have this simple letter, modeled after a template I found online when I googled “professional resignation.” I put no more effort into creating this life-changing document than I had put into what was supposed to be my “dream job” for the past 4 months.

Before taking the entrepreneurial leap to start my own Public Relations consulting business, I worked in the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Office of Legislative Affairs. The title and the perception were the only things remotely impressive and glamorous about this job, I assure you.

My tiny cubicle, stable salary and paid time off, while a luxury for most fresh college grads, all contributed to creating a comfortable prison that just might have kept me locked away until I earned my vested retirement, had I not longed for so much more.

Blame it on my entrepreneurial spirit – or foolish confidence, but I was willing to walk away from the guarantee of a stable, but unfulfilling, career for the chance at creating something so much greater.

Nearly seven years later, I thank this young entrepreneur who wasted no time pursuing her dreams. Every day I work to make her sacrifices and uncertainties worth something by continuing to grow this business while never slipping back into the monotony of a career I don’t truly love.

Like most entrepreneurs, I wish I could somehow equip my younger self with the wisdom I’ve since gained from years of experience. Though I can’t, I can hopefully inspire other new entrepreneurs to take the leap – and maybe, just maybe – change the world…or at least their own!


Dear New Entrepreneur:

I know you’re busy, and likely skeptical about the advice I want to give you, so I will get straight to the point. You know a lot; a lot more than you might give yourself credit for right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stand to learn a few things from a fellow entrepreneur who is a few years ahead of you on this journey.

I’m not trying to tell you what to do – I know that’s exactly what you’re trying to escape. But I would like to tell you that you’re on the right track, your gut is your best navigation device and the passion you feel today will continue to grow, despite what people may try and tell you. Please read on. I promise it won’t take long and it just might be that reassurance you’re so desperately looking for right now.

My advice to you, new entrepreneur is this…

Office space and employees don’t determine your success.

Right now you may be working from home as a sole proprietor just waiting for your first chance to lock into a commercial lease and hire your best friends. Stop looking for ways to tie yourself down and add to your overhead. This is everything you ran away from in corporate America. Learn to love the freedom and efficiency of working from home with no one to answer to but yourself. Hire fellow contractors only as you need them, get to know the best coffee shops to hold client meetings and enjoy keeping so much more of your salary – and sanity.

It’s okay to walk away from a “bad” client…even if you really need the money.

Go with your gut here. If a client tries to undercut your pricing or negotiate you into a corner, be willing to walk away. There will always be more, I promise. Yeah, you could really use the money…you always will be able to “really use the money.” The drawbacks to taking on a client that is a bad fit for your business will always cost you more in the long run than they’re willing to pay. Set boundaries and respect your values. You will learn to appreciate those “good” clients so much more!

You will always be surprised by those who want to see you succeed…and those who do not.

There will always be “friends” who you think will support you way more than they actually do. It will hurt and may make you question your decision to become an entrepreneur. Your decision is not what you should be second-guessing, rather it’s your friendship with this person. But don’t take it too hard; there will also be people you barely know that will rise up as your greatest cheerleaders. Appreciate these people and do the same for them in return!

Basic skills, like mail merging and stuffing envelopes, will be just as important five years from now.

When I first started out, I thought someday I might hire someone who would send my invoices, set meetings on my calendar and answer my phone calls. Five years later and the most capable person to handle these tasks is still me. These basic skills will always be important for running your business. Stay as hands on as it makes sense. Don’t outsource something just because you think you’re above it. Keep your overhead – and your ego – in check.

Make friends with your competition.

You will meet many other businesses along your journey that appear to do exactly what you do. Before you choose to secretly stalk their social media accounts and compare your client list, sit down and get to know them! Learning more about businesses I once deemed as competition has helped to create some of the best “power partnerships” I have. It’s amazing how once you really get to know about each other and the ideal client you are each hoping to find, you will realize you don’t overlap at all. Rather, you are great referrals for one another that can work together to help you both thrive.

Never make excuses

Mistakes will happen. Hopefully they are small, but they also might be big. No matter the size or scope, take ownership of any mistake and never make excuses. If something was truly a mistake or oversight, you have nothing of which to be ashamed. We are fallible humans, even us entrepreneurs. A reasonable client will understand this simple truth, as they are bound to make a few mistakes too. You will build credibility and trust if you own up to a mistake quickly and openly without blaming it on something, or someone else.

Only you can determine what you are worth

Deciding how you will price your services will be one of the hardest parts of running your business. You will have moments when you feel horribly underpaid and moments when you question whether you’re asking for too much. My best advice is to be strategic and remain consistent. This doesn’t mean you will (or should) charge the same rates for the rest of your life. Your experience will increase and so should your fees. But developing a strategy for how you will price your projects early on will save you from second-guessing, losing clients and losing income in the future.

Work toward creating a lifestyle, not just a business

In an effort to run a business, it’s easy to make the mistake of letting the business run you. Don’t recreate the same hell you fought so hard to leave to start your entrepreneurial journey. Take time off, travel, spend some money on fun things (all within reason, of course…it doesn’t take much)! Always keep in mind your goal of creating a particular lifestyle – one that affords you to be flexible and fulfilled – not just earning a certain income no matter the real costs.

Begin and end every day with affirmations

The entrepreneurial journey can be rough at times, that goes without saying. Amidst your efforts to be self-motivated and fearless, also take it easy on yourself when you need it. Promise to begin and end every day with affirmations as to all the things you’re doing well and that are going right. It’s easy to forget and take for granted life’s little blessings when you’re so focused on ironing out every wrinkle. Appreciate the small gestures, like a green light when you really need it, that are reasons to smile.

That’s all I have for you, new entrepreneur. It’s not all the advice I could give, but it’s all I feel you really need right now. Remember…after all, you’ve got this!

What piece of advice speaks to you? Do you have other words of wisdom to offer new entrepreneurs based upon your own experience? Join in the conversation by commenting below!

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How To Make Your Startup Business More Efficient Now (Guest Blog by Kiley Martin)

The following post comes to us from Kiley Martin, a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, editor and blogger.


TimeIncreasing the efficiency of operations should be a primary goal of all business owners . However, enhancing business productivity often falls by the wayside when workload increases. People push things off and get stuck in the same old routines.

You might be worried about the need to spend money in order to make your business more streamlined. Especially in the startup world, it’s unavoidable. You’re introducing things for the first time and it will cost time and even perhaps a new position. You’re building something that wasn’t there before.

But spending money doesn’t mean inefficiency. In fact it often means the opposite, especially if you’re investing in the future of the business. If you spend $5,000 to save $5 every time you do a repetitive process, you’ll make your money back in no time.

With that in mind, here are some ways you can make your startup business more efficient.

Invest strategically to reduce costs

When a startup is founded, business owners choose not to invest in a lot of technology or equipment because it may initially increase costs. For instance, you may choose to use a manual fax machine instead of buying an electronic one with Bluetooth access.

However, if sending and receiving faxes are a critical part of your daily operations, using an electronic fax machine would save you time, paper costs, and the hassle of manning the machine when waiting on an important document. So, even though you may have to spend some money and invest in a good machine initially, it will make things easier later on by increasing your time and cost efficiency.

Cost benefit analyses like this are very useful for when you’re setting up your business as they can help you in the long run. Focus on strategic investments that impact your most important operations.

Automate your tasks. Focus on your specialties

As an entrepreneur, you will quickly become aware that just because you own a business, this doesn’t mean you are equally good at managing all aspects of it. You could be well versed in the nuances of how to sell an app, but you might not be familiar with the specifics of app development or coding. This paves the way for task delegation.

Foremost, you need to learn to identify which tasks you can do best and which need to be delegated to other employees so they can do it best.

This concept also applies to menial tasks. Even though you are a business owner looking to cut down costs, taking a full burden of responsibilities will not help your situation. If you spend three hours manually sending invoices to clients, you are spending way less time overlooking the state of affairs for your business.

It would be prudent to get software that takes care of your invoicing so you can pay attention to other tasks that demand your attention.

In the same way, menial jobs like sending receipts or overseeing the delivery of documents could take up mental space, time and energy. Hiring an employee to take care of these tasks or using a computer program can not only make things easier for you, but also streamline your business processes in the long run.

It will also free up most of your work hours so you can focus on other tasks that require your attention.

Furthermore, if you have a website, which you should, don’t spend too much time running it if you’re a website amateur. Allow a hosting service to take the reigns. You’re running a business, not a website or an AP department. You need to invest in these processes so they don’t eat away all your time.

Give feedback and encourage employees

Your responsibility does not end at hiring personnel. The reason why most startups fail is because they are unsuccessful at retaining talent. The employees may feel useless in terms of contribution to the overall venture if they are not encouraged regularly.

Sometimes business owners will stick to brief comments and words of appreciation that mean nothing to the employee. Without proper feedback, they can stagnate their progress.

Therefore, it is important that as a business owner, you develop a keen eye for the work of your subordinates, providing ample constructive feedback where necessary. This will develop your rapport with the staff and provide work fulfillment so they can keep working with you.

Plan your schedule and focus on one thing at a time

Most startup owners work long hours and sacrifice sleep for work. Yet, they always have tasks on their to-do list that still need to be considered. For them, the work never ends.

This does not mean that other startup owners have it considerably easier than you do. It just means that other business owners have learned to manage their time and their tasks.

But how do you end up going about that ridiculous pile of work on your desk? Well, the first thing is to list everything you need to do. Then, list the time you have in a day that you will dedicate to the tasks, and plan accordingly. Do not attempt to take on more work than you know you can do.

The same goes for your employees. Encourage them to direct their focus on single tasks, rather than multitasking. Intense concentration will produce better results and take less of a mental toll, resulting in quality and efficiency.

Do you have a tip for helping a business to run more efficiently? Share your advice by leaving a comment!

Kiley MartinKiley Martin is a freelance writer, editor and blogger from Philadelphia, PA. She has worked with several popular blogs and magazines. She recently graduated from Drexel University. She also enjoys mentoring and connecting with others on new technologies in web development and programming. Feel free to contact her at KileyAMartin@gmail.com

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2017 in Business & Success, Guest Blogger

 

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7 Mistakes that Push Away New Business

7 Mistakes that Push Away New Business

When you’re fortunate to have new business come knocking at your door, it’s still far from a done deal. Winning over a client takes time, patience and strategy. In my industry, things always begin with an initial client phone call or an in-person meeting. This casual, first meeting is the opportunity for both parties to feel each other out. Do our visions and values align? Do we share realistic expectations for what can be accomplished with the given budget and time frame? Most importantly, is there chemistry? No, nothing romantic, just a good synergy that will help create a productive working relationship.

Even if all of these things appear to be on target, there are still quite a few ways in which I can push away this new business, if I’m not careful. While the ability to read a client and build a strong connection from the start isn’t something you can necessarily teach, there are a few obvious mistakes you should avoid when trying to win over a new client. Save yourself some future regret but taking note of the next seven items on this list!

  1. Being unresponsive

The first mistake you can make is to be anything but highly responsive to your prospective client. This is the first impression you make. If they call you to learn more about your services, respond to them same day. Even if you’re not able to connect by phone, the least you can do is email them to set up a time for a future phone call or meeting. Carry this level of responsiveness into every phase of working with this client. Chronically late responses are a red flag to the client that you may not be the easiest person work with.

  1. Acting like you have all the answers

In your first client meeting, don’t come in there like you have all the answers. You don’t. You’re meeting this client for the first time and you likely know little about the industry and nothing about their business (more than a website and social media can tell you). I know in my case, people call me in because there are serious internal problems taking place. This is something you can’t know simply by Googling them. Come ready to listen, take notes and ask questions.

  1. Lacking examples of your insight and experiences

While you don’t want to come in acting like you know everything about the client’s particular business, you do want to walk in ready to prove your knowledge and expertise. Offer plenty of examples of past client success stories that relate to the services you may provide to this new client. Real-world examples are not only powerful, they are memorable. Additionally, be prepared to offer some examples of new ideas you have, tailored to the client’s needs. Make them feel like you’re offering fresh solutions and not something canned that you provide to every client.

  1. Pushing a client toward a final decision in your first meeting

Let the first meeting be a no-pressure zone. If you do a good job selling yourself, there is no need to pressure a new client into making a final decision as to whether they want to work with you right then and there. In fact, it’s likely going to be in your favor to have them sleep on the ideas you presented and to get even more excited about them! Don’t be so desperate to close the deal that you end up closing the door on yourself.

  1. Leaving the first meeting with no action plan

Just because you’re not going to pressure the new client into a final decision doesn’t mean you can’t have a clear path for the next steps you will take toward that final decision. You need to leave the meeting with an action plan in place. If possible, leave with the ball in your court. That means it’s on you to get the client a proposal or follow-up with additional information to help them make a decision. This gives you the power to reach out to them on your terms, rather than waiting to hear back from the client.

  1. Not following-up

This loops back to mistake number one and the need to be responsive. Just as it’s important to be responsive, it’s equally important to initiate a response. Give the client some space after your first meeting and after you’ve provided them with a proposal and an outline of next steps. Then, about one week later (or if they specified how much time they need), follow-up! Keep it short and sincere. Ask them if they have any additional questions you can answer. Or if a new idea has come to you, share that with them – along with your enthusiasm for working with them soon. These techniques enable you to stay in touch without nagging them.

  1. Charging a new client for your business development time

Another mistake that pushes away new business is charging for things like your first consultation meeting, putting together a proposal or any other initial communications. If you’re properly vetting your leads, you should be closing just about every new client meeting you take. Your time spent in business development stands to yield far more profit in the long-run than the couple hundred dollars you may make charging your client for every interaction. Furthermore, the practice of nickel and diming a client is sure to make them question your business practices and possibly scare them off altogether. Do your homework, qualify your leads and then invest that initial time at no cost, knowing you have a great shot at making it back ten-fold!

Have you made any of these same mistakes and found that it pushed away new business? Or can you think of something else that is missing from this list? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below!

 

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Getting Paid to Make Decisions

getting paid to make decisions.jpg

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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