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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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Book Smart vs. Street Smart: What I’ve Learned about PR Outside the Classroom

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While I was earning my degrees in public relations and communication from Penn State University, I was already putting these skills into practice for some of my first clients. It’s amazing to look back and realize that real businesses put their trust in a young student who had really just “book smart” PR skills, and little to no real-life application. What’s even more amazing, is some of these very first clients continue to work with me to this day.

Now, I have matched and well exceed the length of that college education with “street smart” PR experience. Over the last six years, I continue to place a high value on forever educating myself on the latest trends and techniques in the public relations field. This just happens to come in a different form than a brick-and-mortar classroom. From networking groups and industry associations, to simply staying up to date on the news, it takes dedication and a hunger to learn, not just degrees upon degrees, to fine tune your PR skills.

Here are the key public relations skills I’ve gained since leaving the classroom and entering the real world, and I would consider all of these to be critical to the success of my PR consulting business!

Prospecting and Qualifying Clients

Early in my business, I would take on pretty much any client who came my way. I kind of had to. I have no idea how to prospect or qualify these contacts to ensure they would be a good fit for my business. This wasn’t something I was taught in my PR classes. I learned how to develop goals and tactics for clients, once I had them, but I wasn’t taught the important early steps like first matching a client’s needs with my services.

I’ve become very “street smart” with qualifying leads. I don’t immediately commit to a meeting or even a phone call until I’ve done a bit of homework and asked some essential questions. This has saved me a lot of billable work hours, and has afforded me a few more afternoon naps.

Growing Long-Term Relationships

Another valuable skill not found in textbooks is the ability to turn one-time projects into quarterly or annual retainers. This has become my bread and butter. Just about every single client that has started off with a small or finite project (website content, monthly blogs, media training session) has come back to then sign on with an ongoing contract worth sometimes 10x more per month than that first contract. The key to setting yourself up for residual business with a client is handling that initial project, no matter how small, with the same passion and dedication you would handle your biggest annual retainer. Often a client is testing you to see if you’re a good fit for a long-term relationship. Don’t fail this test!

Effectively Managing Payments

In the first half of 2017 alone, I’ve billed 25+ clients, many on a monthly or quarterly basis. That’s a lot of invoices to manage! My (oddly reluctant) switch to using QuickBooks couldn’t have come at a better time. Rather than relying on a spreadsheet, or worse, a post-it note on my computer, I diligently log everything into QuickBooks. Invoicing is still a process I must make time to do, but it’s a much more streamlined one. I can see what clients owe me money at any time and how many days has passed since issuing the invoice. My husband jokes I could be a bounty hunter in my next life. And to my tax attorney, you’re welcome in advance!

Monetizing “Scope Creep”

This skill ties back to “growing long-term relationships.” It’s a good thing my clients often come to me for more work! However, it can go south when these clients don’t realize the additional work requires additional time and needs to be billed as such. Fresh out of college, I lacked the business savvy to monetize the “scope creep” of a project. I would bill it as “good will” and do the work without earning an extra cent. I still believe in some good will favors, but I only have a certain amount of good will to pour into any given client.

Rather, I am quick to show my interest in taking on this additional work for a client and let them know upfront that I would be happy to give them a proposal for that additional work. This softly reminds them that the work they’re asking to have completed is outside their current contact. I can do it, but for a fee. I have not once had a bad reaction. Clients often respond “Oh of course, I want to pay you for your additional work.” I’m so glad I’m not still losing money on all that good will I was throwing around!

Knowing When to Let Go

Knowing when to cut ties with a client that is no longer a good fit for your business was never covered in any of my PR textbooks, that’s for sure! This is a skill I am still learning along that way, and unfortunately it still remains a pretty steep learning curve. Because of my ability to prospect and qualify clients, I have reduced the need to let a client go, but it has and still will happen from time to time.

What I’ve learned is, make it about you, not them. Don’t focus on their shortcomings, as tempting as it may be, but rather focus on why your business isn’t in a position to best serve them. Be upfront, keep it short and do it early! Those are my pearls of wisdom.

Having Confidence in a Unique Vision

Lastly, the ability to believe in yourself and not compare your journey against someone else’s is something I 100% had to learn outside of the classroom. This applies to both business and life. I am passionate about being a PR consultant. I don’t want a big firm with lots of employees and overhead. I want the complete freedom and flexibility to take on all of my own clients, team up with power partners when I need it, or run a completely lean operation when I don’t. I want to take unlimited vacation days and hit the gym at 2 in the afternoon, if I want!

I like that no client or colleague owns my time completely. I have a unique business model to which many cannot relate. It’s taken time for me to confidently say “I’m a professional public relations consultant” without feeling the need to hide behind a fictitious and irrelevant title like “CEO” or “Principal” to make it sound like a run a big firm. After all, I advocate for my clients to be transparent and genuine; it’s important I am too.

In your career, how would you compare your book smarts to your street smarts? Which do you value more? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 
 

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How to Give Customers What They Need, Not What They Want

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 Give Customers What They Need, Not What They WantWhether you refer to them as clients, customers or accounts, your experience working with any of these groups has likely presented you with the tough decision to either give a business what they want or to give them what they really need.

If you are lucky, these two areas overlap and you look like a hero as you deliver favorable results to your smiling clients. All is right in the world!

But sooner or later, after enough years in the business and after working with enough people, you will find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place as you deal with clients who bring you ideas that you know are not going to help them achieve their goals.

Henry Ford alludes to this conflict in his quote, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Often, customers are too close to their own business to see the bigger picture of what it really needs to get to the next level. They will ask for a bandage to fix a gaping wound, when really the underlying problem – and its solution – is much deeper.

So how do you gracefully persuade customers to accept your recommendations for what they need when this differs from what they want? Let’s take a look at five steps that will get you headed in the right direction.

Be kind, but honest when sharing your opinion and expertise

There is never a need to be rude or condescending when informing clients that you do not believe their ideas will achieve the results they desire. Remember, they have sought out your expertise because they want your input. Strive to build a relationship based upon kindness and honesty so that you are able to openly share your opinion and they are well received by your clients. The more your clients trust you and the more your track record of advice has panned out in their favor, the more likely they are to listen to your recommendations in the future.

Offer real examples backing up why something may not be in their best interest

Some clients will want to see proof as to why their idea is not good for their business. Do your research and offer real examples or statistics of other businesses that have used a similar idea or strategy only to have it yield less than desirable results. Another method is to back up your own ideas with research and examples. Don’t just tell your clients, show them why you and many others have found your idea to be of greater benefit.

Give them (only good) options from which they may choose

Give your clients a sense of control and involvement by presenting them with options from which they may choose. The key is to give them only options that will help achieve the same overarching goal. By controlling the options presented, you can help steer your clients toward only good decisions, whether they know it or not.

Get them excited about these options!

Your clients may come to you with a “bad” idea because another business did it (likely in a different industry, with different goals and a different budget) and it looked cool so now they want to do it too. They’re excited about it and for that reason alone it’s attractive. Use this “shiny object syndrome” to your benefit by turning your “better” options into other, shinier objects that catch their eye. Your excitement for these options will get them excited as well. Best of all, they should love that these ideas are new and different from what another business has already done. They will get to be among the first!

Offer praise and encouragement (even if it was your idea)

Finally, step off your soapbox, get down from your high horse and take a back seat to receiving the glory when your ideas deliver the results you’ve promised to your clients. All the credit you could want will make its way to you in the form of a nice paycheck. Until then, be a cheerleader for your client and offer praise and encouragement for their smart decisions that have helped them to achieve their goal.

How have you had to delicately steer your customers toward what they need, and not just what they want? Share your personal experience by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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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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The Real Service I Provide to My Clients is Reliability

the-real-service-i-provide-to-my-clients-is-reliabilityA question I often receive is what type of services I provide. Well, literally speaking, that’s not a hard question to answer. It’s a blend of communications strategy, content creation, social media, media relations and event planning. But as I tend to do, I have gotten philosophical with my answer. The real service I provide to my clients is nothing more than reliability (okay, and some communications expertise).

Every single one of my clients needs me to be reliable in order for me to be successful with my work. I often deal with busy people who easily get buried under their own workload, so they don’t have the time or energy to micromanage the services I provide them. I prefer it this way. My personality type is built on the foundation of reliability. I can’t not see something through completion, to a fault. But in the case of my business, this has been a big point of success. Here’s why….

Responsiveness

A key part of being reliable is being responsive. During regular work hours (and admittedly, even during non-regular work hours), I give my clients quick responses. Sometimes the response is that I will look into this tomorrow or have the task completed by the end of the week, but it will warrants a response so they know the status of their question. It’s how I would want to be treated and so it’s how I treat my clients.

There’s no reason why I should close my laptop for the day without every email in my inbox receiving a response to the sender that it’s been received and will be handled in a timely manner. Even if I plan to be “out of the office” a day…or five, an auto-responder message accomplishes the same thing. I’ve found that my responsiveness to my clients results in their responsiveness to my invoices.

Consistency

Another big part of being reliable is being consistent. I have clear deliverables for each client that I accomplish for them on a monthly basis (most commonly). They know that if they are expecting a weekly blog and monthly newsletter to be created for them, it will be done just about the same time each and every month. It’s this consistency and reliability that they really pay me for. Often these are busy business owners who would never get to these tasks themselves, which is why they trust them to me.

Proactive Thinking

I strive to answer my clients’ questions before they have to ask them. For example, rather than making them come to me for my thoughts on what should be the topic for this month’s newsletter, I provide several options from which they can choose when I sent over the invoice. This kick starts the planning process and reinforces the value of the service I provide – a key time to do so when also giving them an invoice.

Follow-Up

Finally and most importantly, a lot of my job is follow-up. I’ve venture to say it’s the single thing I do that directly contributes to the success of my business. Some days I feel like all I do is follow-up with people who have fallen off the radar and breathe new life into a project that has gone stale. I’ve gotten pretty creative with the ways I follow-up with clients and leads, so as not to come across desperate or annoyed. By keeping clients engaged, I ensure the success of my work and the likelihood they will continue to contract my services.

Aside from the obvious, what service do you provide to your clients that makes you standout? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Would You Ask a Man That Question?

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A real life snapshot from my life as a work-from-home mom

A few weeks ago I was asked a question that I initially didn’t hesitate to answer. It’s actually a question I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, so I felt prepared to defend myself with an explanation. The question was, “How do you plan to balance work with a family?”

It’s not an unreasonable question, right? It was asked in a light-hearted way by a new client who, I truly believe, felt like they were going through any normal paces of qualifying someone to be their new PR consultant. The board voted unanimously in my favor and I ultimately got the job. Sometime later, a female colleague of mine, who was also at that meeting, brought up her frustration that I had to answer such a “ridiculous” question. She picked up on the (not so subtle) sexism of that question that I’ve come to view as normal as a female business owner and working mom. Her point was clear. Would you ask a man that question? No, no you wouldn’t.

Picture a man being asked “How do you plan to balance work with a family?” during a job interview. I envision a bewildered look come across his face as he responds “What do you mean?” He would likely ask for clarification before he felt compelled to offer an explanation…an excuse, really. Meanwhile, I had my “excuse” locked and loaded because it’s one I’ve had to provide time and time again. Sometimes I even voluntarily offer it up as I can see the look of concern come across a client’s face when they learn I have two young children, one of whom stays at home with me 5 out of the 7 days of the week.

“When do you have time to do work?”

That’s another common question. I used to be proud to answer this with a description of my highly disciplined and efficient schedule that is required for raising a family, keeping up with the house and growing a business. But now I see that I was defending myself from society’s disbelief that I can be a mother and a business owner – and do both well.

I’m not angry or outraged at these questions. I hold no grudge against the people who asked them. Rather, I’m shocked by my own numbness toward sexist remarks made to women entrepreneurs daily. I’m sad that I allowed myself to feel guilty, even for just one second, for “balancing work and a family.”

It is without question that a woman most often gets the lion’s share of work and responsibility when it comes to raising a family. Rather than questioning her ability to work and parent, congratulate her, offer encouragement and be flexible with your demands.

How refreshing would it be to instead hear “I know you have a young family. It’s wonderful you’re pursuing your passion. We will flexible, as we know family comes first.”

I’m fortunate to work with understanding and encouraging clients who not only know I am a hybrid mom, but see it as a badge of honor. They know when they call me there’s always a chance you’ll hear a babbling baby in the background or that I may need to reschedule a meeting because I’ve got a sick toddler. But as a mother, I also know how to power through a challenge and multi-task like it’s an Olympic sport. If you want something done, give it to a busy person. And if you want something done quickly, correctly and with every distraction going on around her, give it to a mom.

Have you ever been asked a sexist or unfair question? Share how you responded, or wish you had responded by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The 5 Biggest Myths About Public Relations

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Somewhere along the line, the Public Relations industry has been attached to some common myths that frame the way in which people value this service for growing their brand. Throughout my entire career spend working in Public Relations, I have found five reoccurring themes of PR myths that have challenged me to prove to clients they are simply not true.

Take a look at these myths and the real story behind them, and let me know if you agree or disagree!

  1. Myth: Public Relations can solve marketing and business development issues, too.

Truth: On several occasions a prospective client has contacted me to help them grow their business by adding Public Relations. After an initial meeting, I start to pull back the layers to discover some problems, far bigger than a lack of PR, exist. Things like a lack of focus, no business development plan and inability to scale are just a few of the common offenders. No amount of Public Relations, no matter how good, can fix these types of problems. In fact, PR that pushes customers to a “broken” business will only amplify these problems.

  1. Myth: Public Relations is a lot of twisting truths and calling in favors.

Truth: Thanks to Hollywood and TV shows like Sex and the City, people have somehow gotten the impression the successful PR professionals are those who rub elbows with the right people and lie or blackmail their way into getting good press for their clients. Ha! The truth is you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar and this applies to Public Relations. Building genuine relationships, delivering honest and accurate information and providing reporters with relevant tips and timely follow-up are the ways to really earn good press for a client.

  1. Myth: Public Relations delivers results almost immediately.

Truth: Especially for clients who are just beginning to implement a Public Relations strategy, they want to see results almost immediately. Not every press release, social media post or YouTube video is going to go viral, but that’s not a reason to not promote your news. You never know what the media is looking for that day, and your information could catch someone at the right moment and result in a really great pick-up. Also, every time you put yourself out there, you’re building brand recognition in the long-run.

  1. Myth: Public Relations results are easily quantifiable.

Truth: Just as Public Relations is not immediate, it is also not easy to quantify. Unlike paid advertising that can give you a pretty good estimate of the number of people it should each during your ad campaign, Public Relations is a lot more volatile. You’re trying to earn media instead of purchasing it, which means you don’t have control of the results. On the flip side, when you do earn that live interview or feature story, it’s worth far more than anything you could purchase – and it only costs you the time you or your PR professional put into it.

  1. Myth: Public Relations is overpriced.

Truth: I’ve personally experienced a few clients who will set a meager monthly budget for Public Relations, but blow 3 or 4 times that on their monthly advertising budget. People expect advertising and marketing to be expensive, but then want Public Relations to be cheap. It’s a mental block I haven’t quite figured out. What I do know is that a good PR strategy can easily return its investment each month with a single press pick-up. People are getting better and better at tuning out traditional advertising, but still perceive a news story as genuine, trustworthy and memorable.

What other myths have you debunked in the field of Public Relations? Share your personal experience by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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