Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Following in someone’s footsteps

Setting out on your own path can be exhilarating, challenging, even overwhelming, at times. Figuring out where you’re headed and how to get there can take a lot of energy, as you head into new territory, adjust your course, encounter obstacles and respond to unexpected and new circumstances. Yet making that journey and having the change to make your own decisions can be powerful, grounding you in your identity and values, and allowing you to decide what really matters.

Over at Branded Blog, Anneleigh Jacobsen tells the story of a walk with her barefooted husband. Now Anneleigh’s no follower – she’s an accomplished marketer who runs a business and was recently named a contributing editor to Fast Company’s first non-US publication. But she likens the journey with her husband to being the “same as following or hiring an expert in an area you don’t know – as long as you’ve chosen them well, you can follow their footsteps confidently and trust that they know where they’re going, and they also know what to do if things don’t go entirely according to plan.”

The thing with working with an expert is that you don’t have to listen to every detail. You don’t have to embrace every point they make or do everything they say. But leveraging their hard-won experience, their insights and their journey can save you time and resources, not to mention an awful lot of mental energy. People often write to me and tell me that Consulting Fees: A Guide for Independent Consultants helped them feel more confident and kept them from banging their head on the wall. And so it should be anytime you turn to someone for expert guidance. Your own clients should feel the same way – that you’re making this easier for them, saving them trouble and keeping them from making costly mistakes.

As you work with your own clients, reflect on how you can help them feel confident in you. Our free report, 6 Tips for Jumpstarting Your Expert Status, provides some suggestions for how to help people feel more confident about your expertise. You may also want to assure yourself of your expertise – see Who You Calling an Expert? and Have the Confidence to See Yourself as an Expert.

Following in someone’s footsteps or at least finding someone to help you on your journey can help you get a foothold, even when you’re supposed to be the expert.

How to introduce a speaker

 

As you build your expert status, you may be called upon to introduce speakers or panel guests. It can be a great way to build your presence without taking on the larger task of preparing an entire presentation. It’s also a good way to start building rapport with an audience and keep your name out there. For those who tend to the shyer side, if you’re not quite ready for prime time, taking the opportunity to introduce others can help you with getting comfortable in front of an audience, since it tends to be short and sweet. But while introducing a speaker involves a little less commitment, it isn’t a task you should take lightly.

How to introduce a speaker

Eyes and ears will be on you. People will pay attention to how you talk and what authority you convey. Perhaps more importantly, they’ll remember how you set the speaker up. You’re aiming to build trust with the audience, so you want to do a good job in introducing the speaker. And you want the speaker to remember you. So, if you’re not sure about the task, take some time to reflect on how to introduce a speaker.

In writing that, a quote by the late Maya Angelou pops into my head:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So your job, in introducing the speaker, should be to aim to establish credibility, warmth and rapport – not just for yourself, but also for the person whom you’re introducing. You want to get their name right – stumbling over the speaker’s name may suggest you didn’t do your homework and that possibly the person in question isn’t exactly a household name, even in their niche. So practice, practice, practice. (I happen to have a name some people stumble over. I sometimes send a little audio recording of my name, just to help out.)

Over at The Raising the Bar Blog, Robin Hensley has a great piece on “When It’s Your Turn to Introduce the Speaker”. She notes that, as the person introducing the speaker, you make the connection between the speaker and the audience and you’re the next most important person, after the speaker. It’s an important role and Hensley lays out a great how-to guide to introducing the speaker. While her blog aims at a legal audience, the information should work for just about anyone.

Incidentally, I went through a phase where I had a fear of public speaking. I managed to overcome that fear and now I’m comfortable speaking to large audiences. So, if you find yourself sweating over introducing a speaker, take a look at my post and consider taking baby steps. It worked for me.

Is The Motley Fool targeting BC parents and their $40?

As a Vancouverite, I just popped over to The Vancouver Sun website to read the latest headlines. And the ad for the Motley Fool has me wondering whether someone’s taking advantage of the school shut down to get people investing.

BC is in the middle of a bitter job action situation, pitting teachers and the government against one another. School has been out since mid-June – when it ended abruptly. The most famous mediator in Canada finally got the two sides talking late last week, but declared an impasse over the weekend. School will not be starting tomorrow and people are predicting a late September or October start. Meanwhile, the BC government is offering parents of younger children $40 per day as a temporary education supplement.

And that’s what has me wondering about this ad in The Sun…

The ad makes it look like The Motley Fool might be soliciting people who want to know how $40 could make them a millionaire. The link goes to a promo pitch about Warren Buffet and winds up asking for your email address so that you can learn “the 1 stock to own when the web goes dark”. It suggests, “But you’ll probably just call it “how I made my millions” and says “Big money is already on the move.” Big, bold suggestions. (Incidentally, I did not review the ad for compliance with Canada’s new opt-in advertising rules, which are “a whole nother story”, as anyone but my high school English teacher would say.)

Maybe The Fool, an investment and financial advice website, runs ads for $40 investments all over the world. Maybe they’re not targeting parents in BC.

But tomorrow, the day BC schools would normally be opening, schools will be closed. And BC parents will be eligible for a $40 a day subsidy.

It’s possible the advertising folks at The Sun or even a media buyer suggested this to the advertising folks at The Fool. I have no idea whether The Fool or someone else is capitalizing on the $40 a day deal or which parties even know about the ad and its content. I am making no claims about the validity of the advice or the stocks mentioned and, because I didn’t finish watching the ad and the stocks it mentioned were blacked out on the disclaimer page, I have no idea whether I might own those stocks as part of my portfolio.

But, whatever the case, someone seems to have picked $40 as the right number for people to invest. And that just seems a little too coincidental to be an accident on the eve of the subsidy’s start.

As a marketing consultant, I’m always intrigued by campaigns that tie into current events, especially since I run ad campaigns for my businesses and those of my clients. (Heck, there are ads on this website and, depending on traffic levels, probably on this page.) I make my living from running a consulting business, teaching marketing and business courses and helping people start and run consulting businesses through my consulting books and course. I am a total marketing geek and I live for this stuff. I can’t say, though, that I’ve ever noticed an ad before that tapped into the specific amount of a government grant or rebate I stood to receive. I don’t get a lot of kickbacks from the government and I suppose it’s rare that a grant goes to people, simply based on the age of their children and regardless of income level. Maybe some website cookies led this ad to appear – my Internet history would no doubt reveal cookies for financial and business sites and that I heavily read education articles. Or maybe everyone gets served this ad in rotation. I’m not sure. But it does seem, as I say, like a big coincidence. I’m not passing any judgement. I’ve just never seen anything like this before.

But, hey, if I can become a millionaire while my kids are out of school and without an education…well, then this is all just a grand adventure! Maybe some good can come of this school job action after all.

What do you think?

Building your risk tolerance

building your risk tolerance

“Isn’t starting a consulting business risky?” asks many a nine-to-fiver. Well, sure, there’s risk in starting a business, but there’s risk in anything. If there’s anything the last 25 years have taught us, it’s that there’s no such thing as a job for life. Even secure government jobs have seen downsizing, hiring (and promotion) freezes, low wage increases and more.

Building risk tolerance through consulting

When you go into consulting, in some ways, you may find that you have a little less risk. Whereas you might have staked everything on one employer before, a portfolio of clients can potentially provide multiple revenue streams. Rather than depending on the fate of one organization, you’ve spread your risk around. In fact, depending on how you structure things, you may not even depend simply on consulting. Over the years, my own consulting business has also included revenue from products, commissions, facilitating, coaching and teaching. Building your risk tolerance may involve similar steps.

Of course, financial risk just poses one kind of risk – building tolerance for several kinds can help you build your business. Over at YFS Magazine, there’s an article about the University of Missouri’s Entrepreneurship Alliance. The EA has come up with some lesser discussed ways to build risk tolerance – travel and physical challenges – as well as more traditional recommendations, such as mentorship, financial management strategies and face-to-face communication.

The comment about travel really stood out for me. When I launched my business, I had just come back from backpacking Europe. I had become pretty familiar with launching into new territory, arriving with only a few dollars in my pocket (smaller towns tended not to have bank machines and a late night or early morning arrival meant the cambio was closed), striking up conversations with strangers and trying to make sense of new systems and processes.

Physical challenges, say the EA, can build your risk tolerance too. Perhaps that’s why I took my business into new territory after embarking on a new exercise regime and birthing my first child. Hey, there’s nothing like a 56-hour labour to build your tolerance for risk. That year, I moved into new consulting offerings, built new products, took up my first formal teaching assignment and even winged it as a math instructor for a while. (That may not sound like risk to some of you, but my undergrad was in English. Granted, I use math all the time now, but it was still a leap of faith.)

The EA alliance article talks about bridging the gaps in risk tolerance between young entrepreneurs and more experienced ones. I’m not sure young people are necessarily more risk averse. Launching a business when you may have roommates, cheap rent, flexible living arrangements, no children, no aging parents and so on may allow you to take risks you might have thought twice about later. Of course, in mid-life and near retirement, entrepreneurs have a wealth of experiences, large networks of contacts, perhaps more financial resources, and a strong sense of themselves and their talents, which can reduce many other risks.

The lesson, then, is that you can work at risk tolerance through life experience. Whether it’s climbing a tower, hopping a train to rural Laos, navigating the health care system for an ailing family member or some other experience, each life experience offers a chance to gain new skills and compentencies, which, in turn can reduce our risk. That’s why I recommend to people interested in consulting that they work through our consulting books, specifically the personal inventory in Discover Your Inner Consultant, our consulting business startup book. Exploring the richness of your life and work experiences, along with your other unique attributes, can help you find the right business for you. And, next thing you know, your adventures in consulting will add to the depth of experience you carry with you.

What you learn from your first client

That first client – every one of us starts somewhere. Many of us think of our first client as a chance to get our foot in the door. But Client One does more than that. They provide an opportunity to learn and grow and shape your business policies.

Consulting fees certainly strike the fancy of many consultants (our article is the most popular post on this site). Many consultants struggle in the early days with estimating project-based fees and opt to bill by the hour, feeling some assurances that they won’t end up eating their quotes. It may make sense instead to work through your estimates carefully and to track your real time when you do the project. Your contract should be very specific about timelines, access to clients and deliverables from the client’s end. However, if you’re not at the point where you feel comfortable going with a flat fee, you can bill by the hour. But it still makes sense to give a range and to collect a deposit, so that both you and the client have an idea of what to expect.

Learning to manage client interactions takes some consideration. Many new and even veteran consultants struggle with what to do when a client calls or emails asking for advice. If you’re billing by the hour, make sure the client knows calls and emails are part of the fee and that you’ll be billing. However, if you think of the upset many people have with lawyers, who bill in six-minute increments, you have a sense of how feeling like the meter is running can affect your work with a client. If the client’s questions are critical, whether to the project or the relationship, they’re worth answering. No one wants to feel like they have to get out a checkbook every time they have a question and constantly noting the length and time of calls can really get in the way of a good business relationship. That’s why going with a project fee or Solution-Based Fee pricing contract may work better, since you can focus on the solution and delivering value to the client. If you find the client’s questions stray from the project and that they need ongoing service and support, consider moving to a retainer model, which, again can be under the fold of Solution-Based Fee pricing. Whatever the case, figure out a plan and be sure to communicate it to clients upfront, so that no one gets upset about a future invoice.

When I think back to my first client, I remember feelings of excitement and validation. My very first client was a major newspaper. I’d pitched them on an article and their editor decided to expand my proposal and create a special project for me. I was going to be published on the editorial pages of one of my country’s biggest newspapers. I was thrilled. I sweated over the project, had a friend go over it with me and I put way more effort into the project than warranted. And the paper accepted it without any changes. I was elated.

And I had a similar experience with my second client. But my third client – oh, my third client! What a stressful project that was! I was new to the consulting game and the client asked if I would first do three short test projects to see how I handled their project. They assured me that they would not use the work, but they asked me to work for a much lower fee as a result. It turned out they were also having two or three other consultants do the same thing. But I made the cut. And then they asked me to do a little bit more for a slightly higher rate – this time while they actually used my work and evaluated how I was handling it. Being just out of university, I wasn’t quite sure about this, but it was a higher rate than my peers were getting at their jobs. So I signed on. After a couple of weeks of this, I realized I was being strung along. They had no intention of ever contracting with me at a decent rate and this was just a game to get me working for a low rate. So I balked and left. I’ve never discounted my rate again. In fact, funny enough, it was only a few months later that I was making $500 an hour doing consulting for a Fortune 500 firm.

So, you could say I learned a lot from those early clients. I learned to a href=”http://consultantjournal.com/consulting-fees”>estimate my time, negotiate fees, put contracts in place and stick to my guns. I don’t regret any of it – the experiences were valuable and my ability to learn from it all allowed me to build the career I have today.

Moreover, those early clients took a chance on me. We built relationships and I’m still in contact with many of the people with whom I first worked. In fact, some of them are close friends. So remember you’re building relationships and connecting with people. Genuine, trusting relationships can just as easily be borne of your consulting work as any other endeavour.

The lowdown on becoming a consultant

Here’s a handy info graphic

Infographic about becoming a consultant

Get help with your new or existing consulting business – check out our books and course.

Consulting – a growing venture

Hourly rate calculator

Wondering how much you earn per hour or what to use as a base rate comparison for a consulting or freelance fee? Start here.

  • Your compensation is ${{compensation}} and you work {{annualhours}} hours.

For the value of your benefits, include either how much you receive from your benefits package or how much it would cost you to replace that benefits package.

This calculator helps you work out how much you make per hour. It is based on a 52-week year.

You may also be interested in using the results of the Hourly Rate Calculator as a basis for establishing what to charge for your services as a consultant, freelancer or entrepreneur. One approach is to simply double or triple these results. However, it’s important to look at all the costs involved in running your business, so that you’re in a position to turn a profit. And, more importantly, you may want to make the switch to Solution-Based Fee &trade pricing so that you’re not caught in the trap of hourly rates. Check out Consulting Fees: A Guide for Independent Consultants for more information on working out fees for consulting, freelancing, contracting and providing professional services.

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Get a copy of my famous article on consulting fees, along with a free six-part mini course - click here. It will give you a taste of what I offer in the book.

Lies, damn lies & #bced statistics

The BC teachers’ strike has social media abuzz with insights. Today, The Vancouver Sun noted that Google searches for “private schools” in BC are up since the strike started. However, as a marketing consultant, I wanted to check a hunch. And my hunch is right.

The Sun notes that private school searches are up three times what they were before the strike. This set off my marketing consultant spidey senses. After all, you have parents assessing their family’s plans for the coming year. May and June seem like times I’d expect people to be shopping around for private school. So I pulled up stats in Google Trends, just like the Sun, but expanded them for a view of the past nine years, the most it would give me.

Searches for private schools have been on a downward trend since 2005 in BC, although there are recurring peaks and valleys. There were 2 fewer searches for “private schools” this past May than the year before.

So, what looks like a short term trend – an increase in the past 3 weeks – doesn’t look like an increase when put against historical data.

I like Chad Skelton’s usual columns in The Vancouver Sun and I’m not here to knock him. But I do want to draw attention to what happens when we only look at part of the research for a market. In fact, if I had a little more time and wasn’t busy finishing off some financials, I’d see if I could triangulate the data through other search engines. related keywords and more.

Consulting market research matters. In this case, the research was for a story. But stats matter in business, government and more. An entrepreneur might have spotted this seeming trend and considered ways to take advantage of it. However, with the expanded research, we can see that interest in private schools has fallen over several years and looks somewhat steady now, with seasonal fluctuation – usually at the start and end of the school year. So, if you’re using market research to back up decisions for your organization, make sure you get the full story.

…unless you’re trying for link bait, which is “a whole nother” story.

Andréa Coutu, a Vancouver marketing consultant, lives and works in Vancouver, BC. She is the author of several business books, including Consulting Fees, Discover Your Inner Consultant and the Consulting Start-up Course, available here and on Amazon. Andréa Coutu has taught for UBC and SFU and has been interviewed by Entrepreneur, CBC, CBC Radio, Radio Canada, Business Week, CanWest, The Vancouver Sun, The Vancouver Province, The Toronto Star, Realm Magazine, Business in Vancouver, Buffalo First, Buffalo Law Journal and many other media outlets. She has spoken about consulting, entrepreneurship, business start up, marketing, management, business strategy, advertising, work-life balance, parenting, working from home, MBAs and even road rage. She has also worked as a freelance writer, publishing articles in a range of magazines and newspapers, including USA Today.

Scope creep & your business

Scope creep dogs both clients and service providers, but it should never be considered the cost of doing business. Scope creep poses an important business risk from both sides and it’s important to take steps to manage it.

In fact, scope creep strikes me as such an important factor that I’ve created a new page on managing scope creep.

Many times, people think they’ve got a problem with consulting fees when where they really need help is project management. That’s why my Consulting Fees Guide goes into detail about managing sticky client situations.

I’ve seen scope creep plague consultants from a range of industries, from life coaches and graphic designers to accountants and lawyers and from carpenters to social media specialists. It’s natural to want to please a client or avoid conflict, of course. And many people get so focused on the excitement of the project or the potential for greatness that they may lose site of the original scope of work.

When I was just out of university and happily working for a firm, I was brought in to help with a software project that had got out of control. The young specialist who’d been leading the project had missed many key deadlines. When I took a closer look, I saw that he’d made several helpful suggestions to the project team along the way. They were excited to have so many opportunities to build cool features and functions that they too lost site of the original plan. On delivery day, they presented what seemed like an incomplete application to us – except that it still had all those cool features and functions. Seeing that the problem was scope creep, I had to set up a meeting between senior management at both firms, go through all the documentation to sort out feature requests, agreement and the lack of money that changed hands. While I hadn’t been involved with the project or its scope creep, I needed to figure it out. I was fortunate to have a fantastic mentor in senior management, so I gained a tremendous amount of information about scope creep. After sorting out the legal and billing issues with the senior management teams, I worked with the service provider to get the project back on track. I appreciated the opportunity to be a turnaround artist and that’s stuck with me for the rest of my career. But seeing how the other young specialist had almost derailed with the project, I also learned how important managing scope creep was. (For the record, the young specialist is now in senior management and very successful in his life and had many other skills and talents that he brought to the project.)

Check out the new article on handling scope creep.