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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 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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Online Bullying Even When Working From Home (Contribution from freelance writer Jenny Holt)

The following post comes to us from Jenny Holt, who left her HR career behind to pursue freelance writing and to spend more time with her young daughters at home. This article is based upon her own entrepreneurial journey and balancing family and work.


Online Bullying Even When Working From Home

African man sleeping at his workplace in officeFor me, this is a personal topic. Bullying was endemic in the company where I worked prior to becoming a mother. Human Resources is a challenging and fast moving area of any business. At first it excited me – the ability to find ideal, new employees, evaluating them, helping them flourish and rewarding the good ones. However, it soon became like many other areas of business and life in general – a case of who you know, what you say to the right person, and more, how you destroy those you do not like. Those in power bullied the new, the weak, and the ostracized. This had nothing to do with ability or work ethic, but everything to do with cliques.

No Boundaries for 21st Century Bullying

The level of bullying increased whenever someone was ill, made a mistake, or worst of all, got pregnant. So you can imagine my own feelings on becoming pregnant for the first time. Sure enough, the bullying stepped up a notch. Luckily, senior management was flexible and accommodating, so they let me become a remote worker. My jobs could be done from home just as well as in the office and for a while this was fantastic; largely because I had a new daughter who brought joy to my life, a supportive and engaged husband, and maternity leave – sweet maternity leave.

Once back, even though I worked from home, I would receive bullying emails, text, Skype messages, and phone calls. Eventually I was released from my work for “under-performance,” despite being one of highest producing employees. Working from home is not a protection from bullying in the 21st century. Whether as a remote employee or a freelance worker, those who seek to bully will do so regardless of the working environment. It can be brazen and open or covert. In fact, the proliferation of smart devices, chat apps, online work platforms, and so on make it easier for bullies to get a hold of their targets and harass them 24/7.

What Employees can do to Reduce Online Bullying

If you need to leave your current employer or client, then you are presented with several options. There may be legal angles you can take due to the nature of the bullying. This is, however, a long term compensation rather than a solution. Finding new clients is obviously the first thing for a freelancer to do. Being self-employed, there are benefits and problems when work is slow, so it can feel difficult to give up a source of income and trade it in for insecurity. If you have been earning for long enough, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance. While there are federal regulations, most of this is handled on a state by state basis. Any unemployment insurance and benefits can be vital in giving you the chance to turn around your situation and find new employment, new clients, or a totally new direction.

However, it may be possible to save the situation. Being bullied has untold effects on our bodies and our minds, but it is not something to suffer or put up with. First, you should gather evidence of how you are being bullied by this person or people. Then you need to find the support of someone in authority – this can include a Union Rep if you have one. Check your legal rights under both federal and state law. Then you need to stay tough, hold your ground, and sadly, as noted above, have an exit strategy just in case. Now, the important part is not to confront the bully directly because they can and will twist this to suit them. First confide in management or a colleague, and work with them to address the situation.

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Bullying can come in all shapes and forms – and even from someone you consider a friend. If a colleague or client’s actions are causing you mental and emotional distress and impacting your work, it’s time to take action. No amount of money is worth putting up with negative and harassing comments. Often it’s the subtle harassment that builds up over time that is the hardest to identify. Working together doesn’t mean you have to be friends, but it absolutely means you must treat each other with respect!

Have you been a victim of workplace bullying? Please help us shine a light on the common occurrence of this very important topic!

 

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9 Quick and Effective Ways to Relieve Stress During the Workday

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!


9 Quick and Effective Ways to Relieve Stress During the WorkdayOne area of my life which is a constant work in progress is managing stress. As an entrepreneur, wife and mother, you simply cannot avoid all the triggers that can cause you to worry or feel anxious. I will also admit that my desire to have things fit into pretty little boxes in life doesn’t help in this effort one bit.

Throughout my workday, I can feel subtle signs of stress creeping in. My shoulders get tense, I hold my breath and I get easily distracted. This is something I can’t – and shouldn’t – push through. I need to address the root of the problem and take action to relieve my stress. It’s the only way I can change this mindset and get back to working effectively.

Can you relate? If you have ever experienced stress at work (or even at home), here are nine techniques you can put into action quickly and discreetly to let go of this tension and get on with your day.

Take one minute to simply breathe

When tension sets in, one of the most common reactions is to hold our breath. Do you remember the last time you took a deep, conscious breath? Try it right now. Breathe in and out slowly three times. Not only will this drive oxygen to your brain, it will also give you a brief moment to collect your thoughts and reflect on what’s really weighing on you. I personally tend to carry stress long after that stressful moment has ended, leaving me feeling anxious and “off” for the rest of the day. A few deep breaths can do wonders for restoring a peaceful mindset.

Do a quick stretch

Even at your desk, you can get in a discrete but effective stretch that won’t draw too much attention to you (and make your co-workers wonder why you’re in a full on yoga pose in your cubicle). Lift your arms over your head, look side to side and pull your arms forward while looking down. Focus on whatever seems tight and tense. Stretching, combined with breathing, will get your blood moving and help you to feel more alert. It will also relieve stress.

Get outside

If you work in an office space that lacks windows or natural light, make getting outside for a few minutes throughout the day a priority! Sunlight, fresh air and new scenery are all great stress relievers. This will also boost your mood. If you are feeling particular stressed or tired, get outside and take a few minutes to reflect on how you can improve what’s getting you down.

Mentally list a few things for which you are grateful today

When we’re stressed, we tend to only focus on the problems of our day, but forget about everything that’s actually going right. Make a mental list of all of the positive things you’re taking for granted and appreciate the little blessings of the day. Most of what we’re stressed about are first-world problems anyways.

Browse a collection of inspirational quotes

Over the years, I have compiled a folder on my computer that consists on inspirational quotes. These cover all topics imaginable and are from authors old, new, famous and unknown. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or uninspired, I turn to these quotes. In just a few minutes, my mind is no longer on whatever was bothering me and I have a renewed positive outlook. I highly recommend trying this!

Make positive small talk with a co-worker

As an introvert, I have never been fond of small talk, but I promise it can do wonders for relieving stress. Talk to a co-worker, friend or complete stranger and keep the conversation light. Talk about the weather, plans for the weekend or a funny show you recently watched. When I’m stressed, I love talking to someone who knows nothing about my problem and is simply happy to see me. Realizing there are other, wonderful things in life aside from we are I’m worrying about is a refreshing reminder to not overlook the good all around us.

Look at photos of happy memories

Similar to keeping a folder of inspirational quotes on your computer, keep a folder of some of the best memories – family vacations, weddings, holidays and birthdays. When you are feeling stressed during the workday, take your mind to a positive place and reflect upon happy memories. This will give you a brief distraction while reminding you that the big things in life are really the small things. Tip: Limit each folder to no more than 20 or so photos so that you don’t risk browsing photos for hours as a means of procrastination.

Enjoy a healthy treat

People respond to stress differently when it comes to appetite. Some have no desire to eat at all, which can leave you tired and weak. Others crave junk foods as a coping mechanism, which is equally as detrimental. No matter what camp you’re in, you could benefit from eating a healthy snack when you need a stress relief. Why? These nutrients will provide your body with fuel to combat stress, grant you a break from whatever task you’re working on and give you the peace of mind that you did something good for yourself.

Get off social media

Finally, resist the temptation to turn to social media for distraction. Social media is a great platform for personally connecting with people, but it can also be a stress and anxiety inducer. Have you ever been casually browsing social media and feel your mood worsen? You are not alone. Many people experience this effect as they see the “highlight reel” of everyone else’s life and compare it to their own. Combine this with already being stressed out about other things going on in your life and you have a recipe for disaster.

Stay away from social media and anything that might tempt you to compare yourself to someone else. Everyone’s journey is unique. Instead, relieve your stress by practicing any of the techniques mentioned about (or combine two or three for added effect)!

How do you relieve stress during the workday? Share your tips and tricks by commenting below!

 
 

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The Two Week Evaluation Every Entrepreneur Should Take

The Two Week Evaluation Every Entrepreneur Should Take.pngAs an entrepreneur, the only thing that is constant is change. There is an ebb and flow that takes some getting used to – if you can ever really get used to it at all. To make things more complicated, try throwing a family into the mix. That means other little humans rely on you for both time and money to keep them going. You begin carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, and after enough time, you forget how to relax and enjoy downtime.

Candidly, I’m describing my personal scenario since I became a business owner nearly six years ago and a mom nearly four years ago (and again just last year). Ever so gradual I have taken on more and more responsibilities in my day. To think back to simpler times, I wonder how I could ever feel like I was busy then. It’s true. Life can gradually add weight to the baggage you carry; you hardly notice as it happens, then all of a sudden it feels like it’s going to bury you.

What I’ve discovered to be effective for “checking” yourself every so often is a simple two-week evaluation that forces you to recognize unhealthy habits that could send you into a downward spiral of stress, anxiety and overload. It can also help you identify where you’re making progress so that you stay on the right track. Take a look at the eight questions I ask and answer every two weeks to gauge my happiness and satisfaction with my business. I highly encourage all fellow entrepreneurs (and especially hybrid moms) to do the same!

Overall, would you say most days you felt happy/positive/fulfilled or sad/negative/stressed?

This questions is so important to note trends in your mood that could signal a need for a change in your lifestyle. To live, even just two weeks of your life, where you felt sad more often than you felt happy is a waste of precious time we have here on this planet.

On average how many (waking) hours a day do you spend working?

Through this question, if you realize you have been putting in 10+ hour work days (even if not consecutive hours) for two or more weeks, your life is greatly unbalanced. This means you’re splitting the other half of your day among sleep, family, hobbies, self-care and household duties. Something is bound to get pushed out!

On average how many (waking) hours a day do you spend NOT working?

This is essentially a follow-up question to the one prior. Say you work 10 hours then sleep 8 hours in a day. It’s a shock to realize you’re giving yourself, your family and your friends just 6 hours of your day, at best. In the grand scheme of things, isn’t this where you would rather spend your majority of time?

Have you felt like you had time to pursue hobbies that weren’t work-related?

I can’t recall (seriously) the last time I read something for fun. That’s sad. In my latest two-week evaluation, I realized I really needed to carve out time for personal reading. It’s a simple fix, like putting down my phone before bed and replacing it with a book. Catching this early will help you dedicate time to your hobbies so you don’t risk losing a sense of self.

Have you dreamt, or woke in the middle of the night thinking about work responsibilities?

If the thought of work is now disrupting your sleep (especially on an ongoing basis), something needs to change. This means you’re struggling to “shut down” after works hours and you are carrying the stress of work with you wherever you go.

What costs you time, and that you don’t enjoy doing, which could be outsourced?

If there’s a responsibility on your plate that takes up a good chunk of your time, you don’t enjoy doing it and your time would better be spent elsewhere – see if it can be outsourced! For me, this was cleaning. For my husband, this was lawn work. It sounds very “real housewives” of us, but when ran the numbers of the value of our time versus employing someone who runs a business doing these tasks, it just made sense. And it might make sense for you too!

Have you let someone guilt you into taking on more responsibilities when you did not want to?

Oh how I struggle saying now! A little pro bono work here and there is to be expected, but if you’re allowing multiple people to guilt you into to lightening their load, while adding to yours – that’s not right! Not only will this cause you stress, it will negatively impact your relationship with the person long-term. Put a plan in place for standing your ground and being upfront with people when you simply don’t want to take on more work.

What is the one thing you want to improve in the next two weeks?

This question is aimed at getting you to set a short-term goal. If you wanted to improve only one thing in your life in the next two weeks, what would it be? For some of you, you might discover it’s the need to let a trouble client go. For others, it might be getting on a better exercise routine or taking up a new hobby to relieve stress. Set this goal today, and in two-weeks you’ll again have the opportunity to see if you made progress toward reaching it.

Are you up for taking this two-week evaluation? I would love to hear what you discover as a result. Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Write Objectively on a Personal Topic

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 Write Objectively on a Personal TopicWe all have at least one area of expertise in our life. When it comes to sharing this knowledge with other people, whether it be on our website, blog, social media or newsletter, it can be challenging to stay objective and make it relatable to an audience who doesn’t share this same expertise. A similar challenge is writing about ourselves. Of course we know everything on this topic, so how do we concisely convey this information to everyone else?

My clients have various areas of expertise and often challenge me with the task of transforming their knowledge into captivating content. While there is no magic formula per se, I have found several strategies for writing objectively on a personal topic. Let’s take a look…

Do your research.

Doing research on a topic you already know intimately well may seem a bit odd. .What more could you stand to learn? A lot, actually. A simple Google search or browsing the Wikipedia page on the topic will highlight what the rest of the world deems as the most important and essential information.

Additionally, your research may uncover recent news coverage or articles that could impact how others feel about your topic. Preparing yourself with knowledge and being aware of public sentiment is an important first step to objectively writing about a personal topic.

Begin with an outline.

Now that your research has provided you with even more information on your topic of choice, create an outline to help organize your thoughts and highlight the most important points you wish to cover. One of the biggest challenges of writing objectively on a personal topic is boiling the information down to a clear and concise message. Your outline will let you see how your points flow together and if there are any gaps or holes you need to fill.

Hone in on your purpose.

When writing on a familiar and passionate topic, it’s easy to lose touch with the purpose of the content. All of a sudden you have pages upon pages written with no clear “take away” for your readers. When looking at your outline, are you able to quickly identify the main purpose of your writing?

For example, your personal topic might be creating your own bio. Of course you know yourself better than anyone else, but rather than spilling your whole life story in no particular order, you want to strategically pick what it is you want your readers to gain from reading your bio. Do you want to highlight your entrepreneurial spirit, leadership skills or love of education? Hone in on the purpose of your content and carry it throughout your writing – beginning to end.

Edit and simplify.

By this point you likely have way more content than you need. A 5-page bio is a bit excessive even for the President of the United States. Uncap your red pen or turn on the “review” feature on your Word doc and get to chopping. Read your writing out loud and look for redundancies, insignificant details and long winded descriptions that can be eliminated. This will be one of the hardest, but most important steps for creating content that will captivate your readers.

Ask for outside input.

Finally, ask a friend or family member who doesn’t have near the amount of expertise on your particular topic to read over your writing. Their outside perspective is valuable for identifying areas that need more explanation or industry-specific words that need to be defined or replaced with something more common. This input is a great litmus test for how your target audience will also respond to your writing.

What personal topics have challenged you when it comes to objective writing? Share how you overcame this struggle – or ask your questions on how to do so, by commenting below!

 

 
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Posted by on April 3, 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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