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Contractors and Freelancers: Tips for Crafting a Fair and Appealing Proposal

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!


Tips for Crafting a Fair and Appealing Proposal

When you take the entrepreneurial leap and venture out on your own as a contractor or freelancer, one of the biggest challenges is creating a competitive and consistent pricing model you can stick to. It’s a real test of self-confidence to put a rate on your hours and truly believe you are worth this much. But it’s imperative to running a successful and sustainable business!

I have previously written on topics related to pricing services (like how to price for efficiency or tips for being smart and fair). However, even if “the price is right,” a subpar proposal can jeopardize your chances of getting a signed contract. How you package your proposal gives businesses a sense of your professionalism. It’s also an important opportunity to properly scope your work and protect your pricing.

As you might anticipate, I have passionate advice to share on this topic. This has come from my own trial and (sometimes critical) error, so take note! Here are six components that help to make up a fair and appealing proposal.

Account for any task that will require your time

When you create your proposal, you want to be as specific and all-inclusive as you can be with the services you will perform. My rule of thumb is to include any task that will require a reasonable amount of your time.

So often as contractors, we forget about the time and effort we put into things like doing research, attending meetings, answering emails and jumping on phone calls for clients. This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to charge more for these “expected” tasks, but it’s worth showcasing everything that goes into your relationship with your client so they understand the full value of the work you perform.

Quantify your deliverables

Simply saying “…will post to social media accounts” doesn’t put into perspective the tangible work that will be performed. Your client may worry about what they will actually get for the money. Be overly clear – there’s no reason to be vague with your efforts! A better version is, “…will post 6 times per week to Facebook, 3 times per day to Twitter and 4 times per week to Linkedin.”

I also prefer to use language like “up to 3 rounds of edits” because this protects you from getting stuck with a difficult client who requests that you redo your work from scratch 8+ time while still providing you with the flexibility to not have to deliver 3 rounds of edits, if they are not needed.

If you don’t define it, you can’t defend it. Should a project exceed its scope, you want to reserve the right to say that it is outside the terms of the proposal and is subject to an additional cost.

Organize services by goals

Showing your client you are an organized and detail-oriented professional begins with your proposal. Help them quickly grasp the value of what they will receive by organizing your services by the goal they aim to achieve. This will help to paint the bigger picture of how each service is strategically designed to work together and will also make your deliverables clear and direct. For clients who came to you without really knowing their goals, this added feature of your proposal will help them to feel secure under your direction (i.e. you’ll look like you have your stuff together).

Include an hourly rate for miscellaneous services

It’s natural for a project to exceed its scope once you’re signed into a contract and dig into the tasks. For example, your client may want five more web pages designed or would now like to add a weekly blog. These items will require more of your time and you need to get paid for this.

So long as you properly quantified your deliverables (see previous section we just discussed), you should have no problem responding to your client with “That sounds like a great idea! Let me get you a quote for that additional work.”

In an effort to appear both professional and transparent, I often include a line item in my proposals that note that miscellaneous writing and communication services can be completed at the rate of $X per hour. This gives clients a heads up for your normal hourly rate and reminds them that work outside the scope of this proposal is subject to additional cost.

Offer a discount for long-term commitments

For contracts that intend to be on a reoccurring basis (i.e. they have the same repeated deliverables each month with no obvious end date), I structure the pricing of my proposal to encourage clients to sign into a long-term commitment in exchange for a price break. Why? Contractors and freelancers love residual paychecks and clients love to feel like they’re getting a deal!

I suggest having three different price points. The most expensive is month-to-month. The added value here is the client’s complete flexibility to get out of a contract with minimal commitment. The next tier is per quarter. Finally, there is the annual contract pricing which is the best deal. I allow clients to still pay the breakdown each month (for cash flow sake), but they are committed to the length of the contract.

Bonus tip: I also include wording in the contract to allow for the client to adjust or increase services at any time, so long as the minimum contract price remains the same. This gives the client flexibility to add and remove services should their goals change over the course of a long-term contract, or should they wish to increase services (always a welcome change).

Set an expiration date

Finally, I have learned to include an “expiration date” on my proposals (usually 30 days from the date issued) to protect my pricing. I’ve experienced some clients go completely radio silent after receiving a proposal and then come back 4+ months later ready to engage. I can’t anticipate what other clients I may take on in the future and how my pricing may need to change to accommodate my bandwidth. The proposal expiration date allows me the right to issue a new proposal after 30 days has passed and change my pricing as I see fit. Every business must be mindful of supply and demand and how this impacts pricing; for contractors and freelancers, this is your hourly rate.

Additionally, an expiration date should give clients a nudge of encouragement to make a decision within 30 days and lock in your pricing and services while they are favorable and available. I’ve preached about how “a no is as good as a yes.” You want to receive a response to your proposal, even if it’s a no, so you can move forward….or move on.

What other questions do you have for crafting a fair and appealing proposal? Ask and I’ll answer!

How to Fix America’s Broke and Broken Healthcare System (Guest Blog by Kent Anthony)

The following post comes to us from Kent Anthony, president of Anthony Insurance, who writes this article based upon his 40 years of experience in the insurance industry.


broken glass

I am a small business owner and employer. My expertise is in the Property/Casualty Insurance field, but, I am also licensed in Life and Health Insurance. Not a week goes by that I don’t get a call from someone that asks for a good Health Insurance plan that is affordable. Sounds simple, right? What if that elusive question has no answer? What do I tell people who trust me and need my help? Who has the answers? Government? Private Industry?

I read a recent Pew Research study that indicated 60% of Americans said that the government has a responsibility to ensure that every resident of the United States has health care. That means to me that the majority of Americans feel it is a “right” to have the coverage. It also means, I think, that they feel that private industry is ripping people off by not giving them what they want – free, unlimited coverage.

Reality check, people: Our founding fathers set up a system of checks and balances that requires compromise in order to get laws passed. What is “broke” is that there seems to be no such thing as any type of compromise today. If it is a Democratic plan, the Republicans hate it and vice versa. To complicate things further, factions within each party make compromise impossible as they all have to have it their own way. Obamacare is a perfect example. Mitt Romney, a republican who ran for President, essentially set up the same program as Governor of the State of Massachusetts. If Mitt had been elected, I am firmly convinced that the Democrats would have been against his health care plan on political “principal” alone. National organizations, such as AARP, the AMA, Drug Companies and all of the affiliated Hospital organizations, unions of all types, you name it… force the political process to grind to a halt when they exercise their influences. They all want it their own way.

Second reality check: This stuff isn’t free. I am amazed by how many people honestly think a magic wand can be waived and that we can just pass the bills off to the “rich people.” Maybe the rich people are tired of the “jam it to the rich,” class warfare or socialistic approach to their wallets. They have tremendous political influence. Are they ready to allow themselves to pay more?

Last reality check: Obamacare was designed to fail. Whether you think it is a good or bad program, there simply isn’t any funding to pay for it. It was designed to get something in place and worry about who and how it would be paid for later. Private industry was promised reimbursement by the federal government for their losses for the first 3 years if they participated, knowing that the worst health risks would be signing up right away. The last statistic I read is that they have only been reimbursed 12.3% of what they are owed! No wonder they are bailing out of the program.

What are “fair” answers?

Compromise has to be obtained for a lasting solution. Everyone has to participate; no opt outs. All Americans have to be enrolled and pay something. Insurance, whether it is car, home, business is about spread of risk. The healthy young, the poor, the rich…everyone has to pitch in to pay. The Heritage Foundation calls it “individual responsibility.” By having people pay something we may be able to end the cycle of entitlement. We can’t have people thinking everything is “free.” It isn’t. Actuarial tables exist that show what people should pay. Subsidize disadvantaged groups if necessary, but make them pay something.

Allow the health system the legal ability to negotiate costs of drugs, hospitalization, etc. We have cost control right now in Pennsylvania for auto, medical billings and workers compensation payments. Prior to those controls, the billings were totally out of control. This has to be in place or any system will spiral out of control. I have read that doing this will lower costs 30-60%. We have to make premiums affordable and save taxpayers on Medicare programs.

Finally, I would love the healthcare industry to be mostly privatized. We have seen how government gets too tied up in politics, crippling the system. I have to point to the inadequacies, bureaucracy and cost overruns of Medicare to make a simple point: Is Government really able to run anything the way the American people need it done? Allow free and open competition, with cost controls, and you will see a system that innovates and provides incentives to be better, rather than bloated bureaucracies that are too subject to politics to provide the services that the American people want and deserve.

What has been your personal experience with health care? Do you have an opinion on how we can improve things? Share your ideas by leaving a comment!

Kent AnthonyAbout the Author: Kent Anthony is president of Anthony Insurance, an independent insurance agency headquartered in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. Kent has more than 40 years of experience working in the insurance industry, specializing in both personal and business insurance. Learn more about Anthony Insurance by visiting them at www.anthonyinsuranceinc.com.

 

 

 

7 Tips to Stop Procrastination

Woman in computer room with feet up thinking

It’s funny how procrastination works. It feeds upon insecurities, negativity and frustration. Procrastination quite literally makes mountains of molehills. Would you believe I found myself procrastinating writing this very article? Sometimes writing comes easy to me, other times I am distracted by something as small as dust floating by.

I don’t think there is one person who hasn’t experienced procrastination at some point in their life. This inspired me to share a few tips I often use to stop procrastination and to start getting things done. Here they are!

Be realistic with your time

One of the biggest reasons why people procrastinate is because they underestimate the time it will take to complete a task. They lead themselves to believe it will only take an hour or two, when realistically it’s an all-day assignment. In return, this causes you to become overwhelmed by and frustrated with the task at hand. Be realistic with the time it will really take. Maybe it is a 3-day project, but knowing that will allow you to properly manage expectations and to get in the zone to get it done.

Choose a smart work environment

Another good piece of advice to stop procrastination is to pick the right work environment. This will depend upon your personality, so think about the setting where you tend to get the most, uninterrupted work done. For me, this is a calm and completely silent setting. There’s no background noise, the lights are dim and there are no other people. Did I mention I’m an introvert? This isn’t ideal for everyone. I know a lot of people who can’t work when it’s silent. They actually need background noise, bright lights and other people to drive their energy. To each their own! Learn what works for you and replicate that work environment the best you can when you need to get in the zone.

Put it on your calendar

Next, pick a specific day and time that you plan to tackle the seemingly insurmountable project and put it on your calendar. Block out time that you can dedicate solely to this task and make it a commitment. If you can treat a project like a meeting or conference call, meaning you don’t schedule something else during this time and you show up on time, you will have a far better shot at knocking it out in one fail swoop.

Start your day with the hardest task

I’ve written about “eating a frog” for breakfast, and by that I mean taking your least favorite task of the day and getting it done first. Why? First, it ensures it gets done even if nothing else does. Second, once you tackle the thing you’re looking forward to least, everything else seems easy. By starting your day with the hardest task, you’ll go on to conquer the world!

Shut out distractions

When it’s really crunch time and you need to get something done, don’t allow any distractions to interfere. For some people, this may mean burying your phone under a heap of laundry and turning off your computer’s wifi. You may even need to leave the office and head outside or to a library just to avoid phone calls and small talk. Procrastination will make everything in the world, but the task at hand, a welcome distraction, unless you make an effort to shut it out. Don’t rely on your own self-control; do what you can to eliminate even the potential for distraction.

Set mini deadlines

If you’re task is exceptionally large, you may need to set mini deadlines to make it less daunting. Section it out so that you create smaller tasks that build upon each other to get you to the finish line. This also gives you obvious breaking points so that you can step away, refresh your mind and come back with a renewed focus.

Get excited about it

Finally, change your frame of mind about the task. You’re likely procrastinating because you’re intimidated by the task or you just really don’t want to do it. Dig deep and put a positive spin on it, even if the only positive is that it will be off your shoulders. Convince yourself that you’re going to knock it out of the park. Get excited for the finished product and the sense of accomplishment you will soon feel. A little positive self-talk will go a long way toward breaking through that procrastination!

Have you fallen victim to procrastination? Share the tips you’ve used to overcome it!

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!

8 Reasons Why We Never Have Enough Free Time

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!


8 Reasons Why We Never Have Enough Free Time

Think of the last time you went a whole day without doing something that could be considered work. Whether this is catching up on emails over the weekend, working ahead on a project after the kids have gone to sleep or spending what should be leisure time overexerting yourself cleaning the house, tending to the garden or sorting out a closet.

If you’re lucky to have recently enjoyed a fully unplugged vacation, you are in the rare minority of people who can actually recall a day in which they have not worked. What’s worse is that most of this “work” is self-imposed when really leisure time would totally be acceptable. We are creatures of habit and work has become a habitual part of our daily routine that gives us comfort and security.

As Americans, our growing addiction to using every ounce of our day doing something productive has greatly impacted the way we view and distribute our free time. We are now wired to always feel like free time is this luxury we can never afford when really it’s surrounding us all the time. We simply cannot break out of our habit of busyness to enjoy it.

After some deep reflection on the way I personally view and use my own free time, I want to share with you 8 reasons why I believe we feel we never have enough free time (even when we do). Take a look…

We quite literally see time as money.

Back in the 18th century, the clock was first used to synchronize labor. Ever since then, our society has grown an increasingly strong correlation between time and money. We are paid by the hour, bill by the hour and even if we’re salaried or paid on a per project basis, we still know approximately how many hours we’re working and how that breaks down into dollars.

In our minds, time is money. This is why we worry more and more about spending, saving and profiting from time.

Busyness is a badge of honor.

Centuries ago, only the wealthy were afforded the luxury of free time. Now we no longer see free time as a luxury, but as a sign that we’re not working to our full potential or that we are not needed. Think of the typical office environment. The people who are deemed dedicated and successful are often the first to arrive in the office and the last one to leave for the day. Sometimes it even becomes of competition over who is willing to skip lunch, forgo bathroom breaks and steer clear of water cooler talk just to appear the busiest.

Our society now sees the busy person as the more valuable person. Clearly they must be more talented and in higher demand if they have nonstop work to do, right? With busyness as the new indicator of success, free time makes us question our self-worth.

The more we feel our time is worth, the stingier we become with how we spend it.

As we continue to link the relationship between time and money, here is one more reason why we never feel like we have enough free time. It’s because we overvalue what our time is worth. We keep moving the target for how much we should earn per hour, always striving for more. Because for many of us, this amount will never be enough, we struggle to find any leisure activity that is worth the opportunity cost of not working (thus not earning money) for this amount of time.

The thought of “wasting time” is causes more anxiety and stress than we realize.

And because we see time as money, it now has a real value to us. Anything that is valuable seems scarcer, therefore we see time as this resource we cannot afford to waste. When we have free time, our habitual minds tell us to use it to do something productive or something that will earn more money.

We feel comfortable and secure when we are spending time working. It’s what we know and what we ultimately crave. If someone were to take away your means to be productive for a day (cell phone, computer, tablet and internet connection), how anxious and stressed would you feel? See how long it takes people to realize the internet isn’t working in a coffee shop and you’ll see this scenario play out before your eyes. You would think the oxygen had been “turned off.”

Choices raise the opportunity cost of leisure time.

There are so many ways we can spend our free time and this often results in the paralyzing inability to spend it at all. We struggle to narrow down our options and stress over the opportunity cost of picking one thing over another. Simply put, we overthink how we spend our free time and then default to the easy and familiar option of work.

We can earn more money, but we can never earn more time.

One of the biggest traps we fall into is deferring our happiness for this mythical moment in the future in which we will finally enjoy the fruits of our labor. The reality is, we will always keep pushing this goal further and further away with the promise that the end result will be even bigger and better if only we work a bit harder for a while longer.

As we work hard to earn more money to one day afford a life of leisure and happiness, we are using up prime hours that could make us very happy right now. The bottom line is that we can earn more money, but we can never earn more time.

Instant gratification breeds impatience.

Yet another reason why we can’t seem to enjoy free time is because technology has us so high strung. We want instant access and gratification for everything we do. Leisure activities become stressful when we feel like we are being inefficient with our time – which is the whole point.

I know I personally feel annoyed or panicked when I try to stream a movie and the internet is slow. I get impatient and usually check emails or answer texts while I wait. Or think about spending a day at an amusement park. Not only does it cost a lot of money, it also requires a lot of time to wait in line, sometimes several hours for a single ride. For these reasons, many would agree that a trip to an amusement park feels anything but leisurely.

We are surrounded by constant reminders that our work is never done.

Even if we dare to take a break and use some of precious time to do something that is unrelated to work, we can never fully escape. Our phones, computers and tablets seem to always be within reach. Our deeply rooted habits tell us we should be refreshing our emails or answering any call that comes in “just in case it’s an emergency” (though it rarely ever is).

One of the biggest reasons why we don’t feel like we have enough free time is because we never actually experience being completely disconnected to the point we couldn’t answer a work email even if we really wanted to. If you haven’t taken a vacation somewhere where internet simply isn’t an option, I urge you to do so this year (think tropical island, secluded cabin, etc). Shutting off your phone and stowing it away for a few days is one of the best things you will ever do to find true relaxation and redefine your self-worth beyond your hourly billing rate.

Do you share in some of these reasons why we never seem to have enough free time? Do you have others to add to the list? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

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

Qualified specialist

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!

Low Cost and No Cost Business Tools Every Entrepreneur Should Use

When I first began my Public Relations Consulting Business now nearly six years ago, I had to find every possible low cost or no cost tool to grow my business with minimal overhead. Still to this day,  I find myself continuing to use many of these same tools not just because they are cost-effective, but because they work. Take a look at the top 10 tools I recommend for every entrepreneur.

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Email Management

gmail

Gmail – I’ve been with Gmail from the inception of my business. Though my email is @bennisinc.com, I can login just as I would for an @gmail.com account. It’s familiar, it’s user-friendly and it’s free – or about $2 per month, depending upon your plan. Through some of my clients, I’ve had the experience of using Outlook and have found no added benefit that Gmail doesn’t match and then blow out of the water. Need I say more about Gmail’s awesomeness?

Email Marketing

mail chimp

Mail Chimp – Mail Chimp has won my heart for several reasons. First, I appreciate that it keeps things simple and user friendly. If I want to send out a quick press release for a client, I can easily brand a template and have this sent within minutes. I have also seen unique and intricate templates created by my fellow designers that make a Mail Chimp email look just like some of those more “expensive guys’.”

Speaking of, I have experience using Constant Contact, Emma, MadMimi and more. I find these platforms to be far more fussy and expensive. If your contact list is less than 2,000 people and you send less than 12,000 emails per month, Mail Chimp is completely free!

Scheduling

doodle

Doodle – If you can relate to the scenario of countless “reply-all” emails with dates and times being thrown about trying to schedule a group conference call, then you need to get acquainted with Doodle. I have to schedule anywhere from 4 to 10 conference calls per month, often with ten or more people each. Doodle has been a huge time saver. I simply select a variety of dates and times that (foremost) suit my schedule, then all participants select the dates and times that also work for them. Doodle shows you what option works for the most people, so making a decision is easy!

Business Phone

google voice

Google VoiceI have never paid a dime for a dedicated business phone number and voicemail – it’s Google Voice makes this possible. My cell phone is an 814 area code, but I now operate in the 717 area code. In an effort to accurately portray my business as local, I selected a 717 business phone number via Google Voice and linked it directly to my cell phone. This means when someone calls my business line, I see “Google Voice” appear on my phone and know to answer it as a business call. My favorite feature is that I can record an alternate voice mail that people hear when they call this line, so they aren’t greeted with my personal voice mail. You can even record a specific voice mail for one specific person, if you really want to give a personal touch!

Conference Calls

free conference call

FreeConferenceCall.com – The name sounds a little shady, but this service has never done me wrong. You simply create a free account and they assign you a unique conference number to use again and again and again. If you want to pay a little more, you can add on any number of features, but for me, all I wanted was a dedicated, reliable conference line for free.

Invoicing

quickbooks

Intuit QuickBooks’ Invoicing Software – I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I managed my growing PR consulting business completely with invoices I created in Word for the first five years. Starting in 2017, I was finally introduced to Intuit QuickBooks thanks to a client. From my first use, I was hooked.

This year alone, I am currently managing 22 active client accounts, and growing. Without QuickBooks, invoicing would be a nightmare. I can see who owes what, what’s overdue and easily compile a report to see any imaginable metric of my business finances. I’m trying not to kick myself too hard for not implementing QuickBooks sooner, but really it’s a shame how unnecessarily painful I made compiling tax information for my business. Lesson learned.

Productivity

boomerang

Boomerang (for Gmail) – Boomerang is my spirit animal. It allows you to draft and schedule email messages to go out at a specific date and time in the future. This allows me to schedule meeting reminders, follow-up emails or send out a proposal several days from now when it would hit my client at a better time. I can take care of the task while it’s on my mind and not have it sit in my draft box. Boomerang is like my personal assistant that takes care of the rest! This service is free for up to 10 messages per month, which suits me just fine. For a little more money you can unlock their entire suite of features. If you feel like you’re always forgetting to send out or follow-up on emails, definitely check this one out!

Social Media Management

hoot suite

Hootsuite – I’ve explored several different types of social media management platforms and my loyalty remains with Hootsuite. I pay just about $10 per month and I’m able to accommodate the management of all of my clients’ social media accounts. The feature that sold me is the ability to schedule social media posts in advance. I still get real-time notifications if anyone likes, comments or shares a post so I can immediately react, but the day-to-day logging into each account and posting is eliminated. This gives me back at least an hour of my day, every day!

File Storage and Organization

dropbox

DropBox – I might have one or two physical file folders with paperwork, everything else is in my DropBox – and that’s 6 years’ worth of storage! DropBox makes it easy for me to share entire folders with a client, graphic designer or anyone else who may need access to these items. I also gain peace of mind knowing I can access these same files from my phone or any other computer via DropBox.com. So should anything tragic happen to my laptop, I still have all of my client files at my fingertips.

Collaboration

g suite

G Suite – We started by talking about Google as a no cost or low cost resource to entrepreneurs, so let’s end by talking about it some more. G Suite, specifically Google Docs and Google Sheets, is a great tool for collaboration. Multiple people can edit a document in real-time, eliminating the back and forth with multiple versions of the same document and not knowing which is the most up to date. In short, G Suite is a simple and free collaboration tool that most everyone is comfortable using – a huge selling point especially when working with clients who aren’t tech-savvy.

What are some of your favorite low cost or no cost business tools? Share the technologies that have helped you to grow!

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!

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!