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Working smart # 11: Pre-meeting management

I was amazed the other day to receive a text message from one of my clients, that he needed the mobile number of another of my clients (they were meeting for the first time).  Turns out that neither of them had confirmed the meeting the day before, nor had they shared their mobile numbers.

And, the restaurant they had agreed to meet at, had closed two years before!

Whew!  They did find each other, on the corner on longer inhabited by the restaurant.  How?  One looked up the email message on his phone, called the main office number of the other (which was in his email signature), and got the mobile number from the office’s out-going message!

All was well that ended well.  But this sorry tale urged me to write one more list of tactics on business etiquette.  Here it is:

  • When setting a meeting with someone you don’t know, request the mobile phone number in your first communication, and offer yours.
  • When setting the location for the meeting, first verify that meeting place is available on the day you schedule (not closed for private function, not out of business, etc.)
  • Keep the email or calendar alter live on your phone until after the meeting, and include all details (location address, parking options, mobile phone, and names of other attendees).
  • Re-confirm all meetings the day before, no later than noon. Re-confirm your cell number.  This can be as simple as forwarding the email that set the meeting place, time and mobile phone number, with a note that says, “Re-confirming — still o.k. for you?  Please reconfirm.”
  • Always include a signature on your emails:  it is only basic courtesy to leave your contact information.  Include at least your phone and/or mobile phone.  You can also include other ways you like to be reached when you are away from your office.
  • Leave your cell phone number on your out-going message on your voice mail, if you have more than one phone.

In preparing for meetings, pre-select several places that you know that are good for meetings (that are: is quiet enough, allows you to sit long enough, has available parking) in various parts of town, especially if you live in a big city and you both must travel to meet up.  Keep a list of these places, with details on their location, their local phone number and their URL or Yelp link.  This will allow you to cut and paste the information into your email when suggesting a meeting place, as a courtesy to your guest.

Yes, this sounds like simple planning and administration, but it will smooth out your busy day and reduce your angst.  And it shows respect for your time and your guest’s time.

Working smart # 10: Changing your context to power and authority

All of us have our unique demons that can undermine our confidence and erode our authority to stand up for our value, demand our pricing, and refuse scope creep from our clients.

Many of these creatures of the night snigger at us to create or sustain a context of scarcity and fear.  Maybe we learned it as children.  Perhaps in our early careers we over-reached and were rejected in our bid for work, or told to “learn your place.”

I hear the whispers of these demons from my clients — and every one of my clients is established and successful and making excellent revenues.  But the whispers are still there.  And they confide in me about the demons.

“Who is going to pay me that much money for this work?”  (The client never asked about the price).

“Don’t you think the total package-price of services is too high for this prospect?”  (You don’t know until you ask.  Trust your prospect to object to the price if it is too high, and negotiate with them if you want to, when you have more information.)

“What if we structure the program this way and they only want to do half of it?”  (That would be fine, as you will have protected your profit margins in the core pricing, and the client can increase the scope of work later.)

I understand better now, how much effort it takes to shift your context to one of deep self-value.  Quietening those demon whispers is a work of years of diligence.  It took years to embed that context into your world view, and it may take years to shift it.

But you can do it.  It takes courage to defend your value:  to say no to prospects that are not suitable as clients, to refuse speaking engagements that do not contain your target audience, to ask for more payment as the scope of work exceeds the boundaries of your agreement.

And if you consistently assert your value, and then notice what happens (and what does not happen), you will have new information about how the world sees you, and respects you.  Make a note of it every time — write down (briefly) the prospect or client, the situation, your dread, your handling of the issue, and the response you received.  Years ago, I wrote up a page on “What I learned from working with XXXXX” when a consultation had gone really wrong.  I learned a great deal from those notes about carefully screening my prospects before beginning, and about insisting on rational deadlines for deliverables.

So, take some care — with yourself first, and then with your prospects and their expectations.  And pay attention to the results of your standing up for yourself, your expertise, and your pricing.  It is the only way re-train your context for the future.


Working smart # 9: Managing the miscellany

I broke my own rule again this week… I over-extended, over-promised and, in keeping all my commitments, I exhausted myself.

That made me mad (at myself).  Then two of my clients reported doing the same thing — focusing on the less-important promises and neglecting the more meaningful work deadlines, then rushing to catch up.

Bad stars?  Over-zealous networking?  Too-generous offers of favors?

So often I tell myself (and my clients),”You don’t have to raise your hand.”  Or, “when making an offer that is a favor, set a reasonable and extended timeline of expectation, to allow your priorities to be completed first.”

Of course, sometimes we just get into “administrivity head” and want to clear up our lists… even to the detriment of our real deadlines upon which our business depends.  The administrivity head is useful for those tasks you may despite (like filing, and handing insurance issues, and cleaning up your blogpost categories), or which pile up behind your desk and make a clutter you cannot escape, and which worries you that you have forgotten something important in the pile.

But, better to devote a half-day to cleaning up those messes, and fulfilling those favors, after the business-critical work is done, when you have no immediate deadlines.

One of my clients actually scheduled himself 3 hours next week to handle the “follow up” outreach he had missed doing this week.  Separate from his two-hour block of time he has on his calendar for end-of-week administration.

I bet this sounds really creepy at some level, scheduling in the miscellany that needs to be attended to.  But the miscellany needs to be done.  And the scheduling works.  And you can do it with a clear head, because the business deliverables are done.

I’m going to try it out, again.

Living well #1: Controlling your medical information

Our complex world, now dominated by information, has not yet affixed to our wrist an embedded chip containing everything we need to communicate to Others (and maybe we don’t want that). The Cloud doesn’t yet know our name (but it will soon).  William Gibson’s USB-jack-behind-the-ear linked to the Internet has not come to pass (yet).

So, we must rely on old technology — print.  Paper & pencil.  Typewriter.  Computer printout.  A paper-based medium to tell folks about us, particularly our medical information — so medical helpers do not damage us while in their care.  So persons on the street know what not to do.  So, when traveling abroad, we have some protection in emergencies.

You will find, when you are in a hospital, that you must recite the same information many times (like, 10 or 15 times) to different people, all of whom write it down in their notebooks.  Particularly in the hours before surgery, when you are freezing (surgical floors are kept cold to reduce infection) and sleepy (because you were up at 5:00 a.m. to get there at 6:30 a.m.), and maybe scared too.

So, write down everything, bring several copies, and hand each person the paper.  Or read from it, so you don’t forget anything. And so you don’t confuse anyone.  Confusion in the surgical suite is dangerous.

I have just such a paper filled with medical information, and I bring it with me where it will be needed.  I keep a copy in my car, in case there is an accident.

And recently I have learned to take yet another page of paper: a list of my medications on my doctor’s stationery.  I carry this especially when I travel, and always when I travel internationally.  Technically, we are supposed to carry our medications in their prescription bottles.  But that sure invites theft from my luggage along the way, in my view. And it is bulky.  So, since I carry my various herbs and supplements and medicines loose in boxes that remind me to take them (I have other things on my mind while traveling), I carry now an authorized list on doctor’s letterhead. Just in case.

Is the preparation of this paper a hassle?  Of course.  Are you glad you did it when suddenly in surgery, or delayed by some foreign government’s version of Homeland Security?  Sure.  So just do it.

I found a reference in Seth Godin’s blog to an outline that begins the process, which will help.  It does the initial thinking for you.  Feel free to add other information that occurs to you.  (Thanks, Seth.)

You’ll be really glad later.  I promise.


Live Long and Prosper: Tactics for real life is a series of articles focused on the minutiae and management of our increasingly complex lives, the administrivia we all need to deal with to live well, to control the establishments that may well control us, and to get through that checklist that prevents minor and major personal aggravations which always seem to arise under stress and emergencies.


Speaking tips: handling crowds following your presentation

You take the trouble to speak in public to share your knowledge, and to attract people you want to know for your business.  Beyond the expertise you offer in your presentation or on your panel, the next most significant event is speaking to those from the audience who want to connect with you.

Handling those crowds is more effective if you are prepared, and can make them all be comfortable enough to wait in line to speak with you.  Here are some tactics:

  • Move away from the podium.  If the room is needed for the next speaker, move into the hallway or the speakers lounge (if it is nearby) with your crowd.
  • If you can, set a stack of your business cards a full arm’s reach away from you on a table, so folks can pick one up if they don’t want to speak with you directly at this time, or cannot wait in line for the chance, or if they want to learn more before contacting you.
  • Keep more of your business cards in your left hand pocket.
  • Acknowledge the line of people waiting to speak with you, with a nod and a welcoming smile at the line.
  • Focus on the person in front of you.  Offer direct eye contact and shake hands (with your right hand) while offering your business card with your left (from your left hand pocket).
  • Focus on the person’s name so you know it.  Ask for their card.
  • If they hand you a laminated card (all the rage just now, but you cannot write on them), pull out a post-it (2 1/2 inch by 1 inch) from your pocket and write your notes on that.
  • You must take notes on the cards.  You will not remember what each person said.  Not even later tonight.  And remembering will distract you from the next person in line.
  • Set aside high-maintenance talkers who disregard the others in line.  Smile deeply at them, and say “Please, I want to attend to your questions in depth.  Let me speak with these people who are waiting, and come back to you in a few minutes to speak in more detail.”  If that person objects, ask them to phone you the next day (offer specific times you will be at your desk).  If they phone, they are serious; if not, it won’t matter.

If you are wise, you will have offered your URL and email address during your introduction before speaking, so those who did not wait can still contact you.

Allowing yourself to be accessible in these ways will smooth the way to expanding your network of colleagues, contacts, prospects, customers and clients.

Working smart # 8: Getting to work (thinking less, doing more)

I get exasperated at my colleagues sometimes.  They think too much and do too little, especially when starting out, re-starting, or pivoting.  My clients do not fall into this error, because we are accountable to each other to keep up their pace in closing new work, refining target profiles, getting out into the market, and so on.

But lately a couple of colleagues have tapped me for some “quick advice” and I find that six or 10 weeks have gone by and they are still “doing the creative thing” or “re-considering how I might start out.”

Now, I believe in planning along with all the other strategists in the world, don’t get me wrong.  But I have learned a lot from my colleagues and clients in the tech world about being “agile.”  We need to be agile when testing our service businesses and consultancies, just as we are in our product-world.

And agile means: take your skill set and go out into the market with your best initial positioning and pricing, and see what you get.

Then adjust.  Re-position something: your offering?  your target prospect profile?  Your pricing?  Your packaging of your services?

And take it out again.  Test the market.  Look where you can provide value to whom.  And adapt again.

I find those with new partners tend to indulge in this creative thinking way too long… it is as if they urge each other on.  Then again, some folks talk to themselves for weeks or months before they act.  Still others, on their own, dream about creating a specialized team of colleagues — that is, not going out to test the market until they have others with them, or others’ bios with them — not understanding that then they will have to “rain-make” for all of them!

There is a message in this behavior.  It might mean they are not going to act.  It might mean they are not going to launch at all.  And at some point their runway (of capital) will run out, and they will be left with their creative ideas and no data from the market or direction from the real world about what value they can offer to whom for what price.

Don’t let this be you.


Creating & keeping customers, making jobs, and innovating products to change the world

Peter Drucker once wrote:  “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”

Steve Jobs once said:  “Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

Now, that customer may be your client (for your service business or consulting practice), or a consumer or enterprise purchasing your product lines, or your shareholders if you are heading up a public company, or some combination of all three (if you run a public company that offers both products and services).

Keeping your focus on these mandates will likely ensure that your business succeeds.  Why?  Because revenue “covers a multitude of sins” as my father (a successful entrepreneur) liked to say.  Profitability covers even more errors and experiments. Top line revenues and bottom line margins allow you to create new products, adapt to changing market wishes and demands (including product life-cycles and pricing), and hire the best minds and skills in your industry to carry the business into the future.

Erik Lidow (1912-2012), founder of International Rectifier, the first power semi-conductor company (founded 1947 and still going), used to tell me that the purpose of innovation was to build companies to create jobs for thousands of workers, and to build products that made a difference in the world.

This begins with keeping in touch with your customer(s) — all of them — and listening, and hearing, and adapting to what you are hearing, so you can build not just a business, but an enduring legacy.  Drucker, Jobs and Lidow did.


Working smart #7: Find your hidden markets and verticalize your practice

My head keeps ringing with “refine your ideal client profile” and “test your pricing model again to increase margins.”  These are the repetitive tasks every consultant must attend to, in order to drive profitability in his or her practice.  Lately I have been working with my consulting clients on a new approach: refining their client profiles and pricing models based on specialized offerings to targeted market sectors.

Many consulting practices have specialized (vertical) offerings within their broad-based expertise, even successful solo practices. Our expertise can easily apply to many industries, so we consider our offerings “horizontal.”

But then, successful positioning becomes a challenge because we are speaking to multiple audiences.  So often I see a highly-regarded consultant listing all of his or her services in one long list, presented to everyone who may drop by the website or Linkedin profile.  The work falls to the readers (prospects) to sort out which services best apply to their situation (this is not “working smarter”).

So I have been working with my clients to refine their positioning and targeting of prospects.  Pulling out these “vertical markets” is not as simple as it seems.  But once identified, we can build out all the value propositions for each specialty, draft positioning language for each one, build supporting materials, content, and presentations to deliver to each sector, and highly refine our targeting of prospects.  Then we can price and package the offerings to suit the buying preferences of each market sector, based on the value delivered.

With all this prepared (whew!), we can design a revenue strategy which prioritizes how many clients we want from each sector, at what price and package and commitment, to bring us the highest margins with the best balance of time and effort (and lifestyle).

One client just carefully converted an aggressive pursuit from an employer (to abandon his practice and take an executive position) into an opportunity for long-term consulting.  Another is considering adapting her pro-bono experience for not-for-profits into a new, paid market sector for similar organizations to hire her expertise.  Yet another is leveraging his recent international work for an emerging market sector for work across the world.

Finding your hidden markets, and addressing them directly, is a key competitive advantage that will raise your profile above the other “generalists” who say they do what you do.


Working Smart #6: Integrity and transparency in value pricing

I recommend to my clients that they directly address their value and their pricing when speaking with prospects.  This can apply not only to consulting services, but also to products, or any other professional services provided.

Here is how:  In the first conversation about pricing of your services, focus on the value you are offering.  Assume your value, and speak clearly about how you will be partnering with your (new) client over time, to evaluate and re-assess that your pricing is in line with the value being received.

Nothing is more compelling than the quiet confidence that you will deliver value, speak openly about your client’s satisfaction, and check in on that satisfaction on a regular basis.  You might go so far as to reflect this openness in your written agreement (it is part of my standard template).

This frank approach to value pricing reassures your prospect that you will deliver value, that you can be approached openly about deliverables and expectations, and that you must have many satisfied customers if this is your policy.

Try it.

Working smart #5: track your value to your clients

Your clients are busy, caught up in the pace of growing their business.  They have little down-time to reflect on what value you are bringing them.  They may appreciate your deliverables and your results — both very important — but this is an appreciation that is tactical in nature (as in “glad that is done!”).

For your clients to value you for the long-term, for you to become an essential trusted advisor retained to solve problem after problem, to support the company’s next transition and the next, you must embed your value as well as your results into the mind and memory of your client.

Value is rarely specified beyond deliverables.  In meetings with the teams you are supporting, no one tends to remember whose idea was pivotal and strategic.  Some consultants don’t concern themselves with getting the credit for that leap of judgement that moved the team to the solution, so long as the solution gets implemented.  Your client may not even be in these meetings to witness your expertise. And most folks will miss the subtleties of your contributions, even though these are very clear to you.

So it is important to blow your own horn a bit.  And you can be subtle in its delivery.  The entire team doesn’t need to applaud you, or even recognize your contribution.  But the person who signs your check and offers you the next consulting project needs to be aware of your contributions and your value, so you need to tell him or her.

One way to handle this is a simple, old-fashioned concept:  write a regular report on the work you have accomplished to the person who controls your contract and payment. Even if it is not expected or requested.  Many consultants, particularly those embedded in a team for part of their time, skip this step, as the team moves forward together.  But you are an outsider, and you are vulnerable to a shift in priorities or a new hire on the executive team, or a downward trend in revenues.  You will likely be the first to be terminated, before any employee.

The report can be a simple set of bullets identifying what you have accomplished and contributed in the last month, set against the goals of your contract.  In this format you can assert that you offered that strategic leap, and how that led the team to its next level.  You can remind your client of all the activities you commit to reach those goals.  Also, these reports will stand to defend you against any internal political hassles and external law suits, and will gain you the appreciation of the executive who must justify your fees to the compliance authorities.

Your client may appreciate your efforts and your presence.  But appreciation is not the same as a deep understanding of the value that you offer (and can continue to offer) to the team and the company.  And that value is the basis of your ongoing engagement with the client and the company.