Running a business these days is no joke. The global pandemic has put many small businesses into a tailspin. No one’s seen anything like this before and everyone’s talking about “pivoting,” but what does that actually mean? What does a pivot look like for you?
You’re great at running and marketing your business. You’ve got the branding, social media, and your new client funnel down to a science. You’re turning a profit and you can’t believe how far you’ve come since the first days of starting out, but this COVID-19 deal is uncharted territory.
You’re not alone. Sales for many businesses have dropped this month due to the distraction provided by the pandemic, but particularly, due to its associated social distancing practices. Yes, the latter are a matter of national health, but man, are they a pain for conducting in-person sales activities. And, our current world scenario has made all forms of sales and outreach activities far more difficult and far less effective, whether they be in-person, phone, or e-communications ones. That’s why we recommend that your pivot be one that includes relationship building.
What’s the deal with relationships? They will be what sustains you through this crisis and after it is over. By reaching out to potential clients now, you can be certain that you’ll be one of the first people they come to once the crisis has receded. You can establish yourself as a credible, helpful and friendly resource in your field, and even a “thought leader.”
How to make the pivot toward relationship building?
Establish connections online by devoting a half hour to posting and being present on your social media each day. That’s enough time to reply to comments on your posts or to comment on others’ posts. Always make an effort to do this, especially on Facebook and Instagram since that’s part of the algorithm that drives your posts to the top of people’s feeds.
Direct message followers who are your dream clients. Now’s the time to reach out and say “hello” and offer to help or provide information they might find particularly beneficial at this point in time. Most people have more free time lately and are craving connections. If you’re making a practice of extending your olive branch now in a very genuine/authentic and heart-felt way, you’ll be remembered by people for helping make this hard time a little easier for them.
Reach out to people who operate in fields adjacent to yours and who serve the same vertical (target audiences) you’d like to do work for. For instance, if you’re a copywriter, you could connect with someone who does graphic design. In the future, when you meet a client who needs a website re-done, you can provide your client with the copy they need, and then refer them to your colleague who will design their fancy new logo or design their new website. If you help nonprofits with marketing, but there are other firms that don’t compete with you that offer bookkeeping services for nonprofits, then why not try to be referral sources for each other? These referrals can go both ways. People in your identical spaces could be competitors but what if you shifted that perspective? What if you turned them into collaborators or work referral sources? Developing a “referral circle” is an excellent way to broaden and strengthen your network and increase your customer base.
Aside from all the business benefits that come along with establishing and maintaining relationships, having these positive, collaborative, helpful relationships just feels really good right now. In this time of isolation, it’s human and healthy to crave connection with others. Making the pivot toward relationship building in your business will not only make your business stronger, but it may help make you healthier and happier as well.
A Joint Blog Post by Gail Snow Moraski, Results Communications & Research and Nick Bartos, Social Motion
Where to begin? First of all deep breaths, everyone. We are all in this together and we will get through this period of crisis in our country and in our world if we all continue to remember that it is our purpose in life to look out and be there for others the way we are there for ourselves.
Now, on to the mission at hand. We – Nick and I – have been chatting a lot this week about the nature of content to include in social media posts, currently and in the short-term. It’s a very tricky time for organizations. Many for-profit organizations have already experienced or expect to experience a significant loss of income due to customer work being cancelled or delayed, or an abrupt end to a robust product sales pipeline or stream. And, many nonprofit organizations’ financial and human resources are being stretched to a degree for which they aren’t prepared.
Where we landed is this; these are unprecedented times. Yes, there have been pandemics before, but at least in the U.S., there are likely only a handful of individuals who have lived through something similar. And, there’s never been a time in our country’s or world’s history where we’ve been as digitally and electronically advanced, and therefore, where we’re expected to be continuously communicating and providing updates online. Given all the aforementioned, as we’ve been saying to a number of the people, ”there’s no official guidelines or rule book for this.” The best we can offer, therefore, are the opinions of two digital marketing and PR experts in this blog post that we hope can serve as an “unofficial” rule book for your organization related to your social media voice & presence now and in coming weeks.
Social Media Is Meant to Be Active and Interactive, Not Passive
Social media is, and always has been, a tool to connect with your audience fairly intimately. Social media is not a passive form of interaction, and thrives on conversation, emotion, and the sharing of ideas. Whether for-profit or non-profit, organizations should be utilizing social media —in this situation in which we find ourselves —as an opportunity to demonstrate the values your brand encompasses. While it is important to not profit off of, or appear to profit off of this crisis, it is important to express that your brand empathizes with and is a part of your community. Furthermore, your brand likely has a great sense of what your community’s needs and struggles are, and you may be able to offer valuable insights to your audience during this difficult time.
For example, a construction company may share information relating to grants, or low-interest loans that help contractors, electricians, and plumbers during this crisis. The construction company may also share the precautions they are taking, or share the standards/procedures they have created to protect their employees. Additionally, the company may reach a broader audience by demonstrating their commitment to the cause — like a photo or video of the masks they are donating to a local hospital. Again, social media is a place to build relationships and offer value – if you can do that, respectfully, during this crisis, you are already ahead.
Social Media Do’s and Don’ts During a Pandemic
In general, speak from the heart, demonstrate empathy and support; think about how you can truly be, and can be seen as, part of the solution. We saw a fellow communications professional post the phrase “innovate, solve, or stop” when speaking about current social media. We think that the first two in this quoted series sum things up pretty well – if you’re going to post or share others’ posts, then offer creative, meaningful, effective solutions to challenges faced by individuals and organizations right now. We’ll speak to the “stop” piece in our “DON’TS” section.
Post or share, comment on, like, retweet posts that:
Express appreciation to/acknowledge those who are working overtime and/or risking their lives during the pandemic, including police officers, firefighters, EMTs, healthcare providers, pharmacy and grocery store employees, gas station employees, home and office cleaners, and anyone else who has to tirelessly continue to work to keep us all safe and well.
Speak to the good work that various national, state, or local nonprofit organizations and agencies are doing to help vulnerable, at-risk populations, and the general public.
Ask for help. If you do ask for help, make it clear what kind of help would be useful. And, whether you are requesting financial donations, tangible goods or volunteer time, be very specific about where those contributions will go, how they will help, who they will support, etc.
Remind others to check on elderly or health-compromised neighbors, or anyone they know who lives alone and who may feel isolated; plus, creative ways to make these individuals feel connected and supported – glass door and window visits, signs you make and show outside their window, texts, e-mail, phone, and video chats, and anything else creative you can dream up
Announce that you are there/here to help and on what fronts
Describe promotional offers or new products or solutions that will be received as heart-felt and legitimate and reinforce a true desire to help, such as a discount on any kind of services that would help a business keep running or get back up and running again
Provide updates about your hours, reduced staff, open or closed locations, etc. that indicate potential impact on customers, i.e., use your posts to manage client expectations
Share ways for your followers to donate to causes in your local community, or industries that you serve, where people may feel most connected
Create an image such as the one below (created by the Girl Scouts) that contains your brand/logo, or create a short video or video snippet along the same lines that shows heart, desire-to-help, or innovation — We are here and glad to help you with this!
Provide helpful information about the pandemic vs. creating fear (for example, sharing scary statistics related to the virus and its impact or frightening videos showing suffering of victims). Helpful info. may include:
Where/how to get help if you think you or a loved one has COVID-19, where to get food or other assistance, e.g., websites, phone #’s, text lines
Federal, state, or local government mandates or recommendations, such as group size limits and social distancing guidelines
Thoughts on or links to others’ thoughts on how to reduce anxiety level during our pandemic
Ideas for crafts for children to make with supplies that are likely on hand in any home
Family games and other bonding experiences, such as reading a book together, watching a movie, baking, or playing card games
Thoughts on or links to others’ thoughts on how to stay healthy during the pandemic, such as a daily walk or eating as healthy as possible (recognizing somehow that everyone might not have easy access to nutrient-dense food)
Reminders to find gratitude and appreciation somewhere, somehow in every day (aka “silver linings”) – whether it be taking advantage of unexpected free time, or additional time with loved ones
Thoughts on how to work efficiently and effectively from home
In general, don’t post, like, share, retweet, or comment on any content that might be offensive or seen as heartless, un-empathetic, or completely oblivious to or out-of-touch with what is going on in our world presently.
Don’t post about:
A new product or service you are offering that might appear as trying to prey on others’ misfortunes/take advantage of them in their darkest moments
Services and products that would seem like an incredible luxury, or irrelevant to or off-limits to many at this point in time. For example, some investment and insurance company advertisements about helping one prepare for retirement just don’t sit well right now. Audiences may be feeling that they won’t be able to retire, or must work much longer than anticipated before they are able to. Restaurant and vacation ads feel out of place as well when we’ve all been asked to “stay put.”
Services and products that encourage individuals to engage in activities that ignore mandates and guidelines set forth by federal, state, and local officials.
We are both here to help you regarding your social media or other digital marketing needs, so please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. We really want to help as many organizations as we can during this difficult time, and we’re always glad to have a complimentary discussion. Be safe and be well.
Ninety percent of my blog posts cover marketing topics and trends, particularly digital ones. This, of course, makes sense as I want to be a resource for “all things marketing” for my existing and prospective clients, as well as demonstrate my expertise, and remind folks, in need of marketing help, that I’m here to assist them with both marketing strategy development, and hands-on, day-to-day execution of marketing tactics. That said, for a while now, I’ve been wanting to share with friends, colleagues, and particularly those considering starting a consultancy of any nature, the great, the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a consultant.
I know already I’ll be commenting on or editing this post as pros and cons of consulting come to mind that I neglected to include!
Let’s start with the GREAT!
New People, Partners, Connections: You meet so many interesting, knowledgeable, passionate and creative individuals — whether they be fellow small business owners/entrepreneurs/consultants or employees of small, medium, or large for-profit and non-profit client organizations. And, on certain client work, you get to partner and collaborate with fellow consultants who are experts in their particular field.
New Industries, Products and Services: You learn about so many different industries, and unique products and services, and you get skilled at getting up-to-speed quickly on various industries. You know the types of questions to ask and the information you want and need to hunt down.
Diverse Service and Solution Provision: No two clients’ challenges and opportunities are the same, so with each engagement, you are required to step back and think about which of the solutions and services you offer would most benefit a client and have the most immediate impact on whatever pain point they are struggling with. In my case, because of my line of work, this means I have the opportunity to oversee or assist with a large, diverse set of marketing activities and analytics.
Money and Time Savings: If you’re a consultant who works out of a home office — like me — or a local, shared work space, you save time and $$ commuting to an office. You also can spend far less money on work clothes and lunches.
Pajamas and Sweat Pants: I don’t do it very often, but yes, you can work in your pajamas and sweats and even attend phone meetings wearing the aforementioned. Before I hit my home office and computer, I prefer to get dressed for the day in something a little less comfortable than sweats or pajamas, so I don’t feel too relaxed and feel more professional and in “work mode.”
Flexible Schedule: For someone like me, where past cancer treatment left me with some chronic health issues, it’s nice to have the flexibility to take care of my health and work at a slower pace, if and when required, and to be able to go to doctors’ appointments when I need to. I can also take a longer break to meet up with a friend or colleague for lunch or coffee, knowing that I can make up the lost work time at night or on the weekend.
No Difficult Office Politics or Managers: I don’t think the former really needs explaining…keep in mind, though, you can end up with difficult clients, or clients with difficult office politics.
Now, the GOOD!
You Are the Boss of You — I’ve always been driven and self-disciplined, so I treat every week day as a work day and rarely run personal errands and/or do personal chores during that time, but for some being their own boss and not having someone tell them how to use their time or what their deliverables should be, doesn’t suit them. That’s why I listed this as “good” vs. “great”, even though I personally love being my own boss.
Nobody Rains (or Snows) on Your Parade — Literally and figuratively. If you don’t have face-to-face or in-person meetings scheduled, you can stay warm and dry on cold or wet days, and you don’t have to deal with negative co-workers dragging you down.
And, the BAD!
You Have to Look Good in Hats — You’ll be wearing a variety of them — CEO/President, junior- or entry-level staff person, bookkeeper, business development/sales manager, and marketing person, to name a few.
Friends & Family Think You Don’t Work — Friends, family, colleagues, etc. will think they can call or visit you anytime on a workday or you’ll drop everything to meet up with them because “you aren’t working” – hah!
Support May be Lacking— No matter how long your consultancy has been up and running, you’ll still frequently get asked by contacts, including friends and family, when you plan to return to a “corporate” job. Your circle may struggle with the fact that running a successful consultancy isn’t a temporary or short-term choice, it’s an active, long-term decision you made.
Boo hoo for the UGLY!
Client Work Gets Pulled — Promised work doesn’t come to fruition or projects for which you’ve officially been engaged or you’ve even started get put-on-hold or shut-down completely for a variety of reasons, such as:
your contact at your client’s office leaves
your contact’s manager or manager’s manager isn’t on board with proceeding with a project even if your contact is/was
your client has budget cuts
your client has new senior leadership or your contact at your client has a new manager
your client’s priorities shift — something unanticipated happens at their firm, in their industry, etc. that makes your work for them less of a priority
your client gets bought out by or merges with another firm
One of the most painful and expensive, but also beneficial lessons I’ve learned in the past five years of consulting is never leave “capacity” for a particular client unless you have documented approval of engagement for the work in-question.
The 50/50 Rule — At most, you will only be able to spend 50% of your work time, actually completing “paid” work for clients, this includes attending client meetings or participating in client phone calls. The remaining 50% of your time will be allocated something along these lines, unless, of course, you out-source some of this work:
Creating and issuing invoices, tracking expenses in an accounting system, such as QuickBooks — 2.5%
Posting to social media — 7.5%
Staying educated in your particular area of expertise through reading, webinars, and other trainings — 7.5%
Responding to RFPs/Creating Proposals – 10%
Phone or In-person meetings with prospective clients — 10%
Following up with individuals and organizations in your sales pipeline — 5%
Reaching out to individuals via LinkedIn, e-mail, etc. for the first time to see if they are open to a meeting — 5%
Attending short phone calls or responding to e-mails for which you can’t charge a client, since you don’t want to be viewed as “nickel & dime-ing” them. It’s just expected that a consultant will provide some “pro bono” hours – 2.5%
In sum, if you’re going to run a consultancy, you have to accept that about 50% of the work you do, will be “unpaid” work, i.e., work for which you won’t be able to bill someone.
If You Don’t Work, You Don’t Get Paid — enough said, and as I described above, even when you do work, much of it is work you can’t bill for.
No Employee/Employer Perks and Benefits (Both Tangible and Intangible)— when you are self-employed, you don’t have access to the following perks and benefits of a “corporate” employer:
true “paid”/”employee” benefits like health, dental, and life insurance, 401K contributions and matching, paid vacation time and time-off, short-term disability
office parties and celebrations
friendships and socialization that an office provides
support of and ability to brainstorm with co-workers, plus the ability to delegate work if you’re a manager
coverage of training and travel expenses
in-house training opportunities
You Work 60+ Hours, So You Don’t Have to Work 40 — So, I revamped this phrase that I snagged from Shark Tank, “entrepreneurs work 90 hours, so they don’t have to work 40”. But, basically, when you own and run your own business, it’s very unusual to have a week where you only work 35 or 40. Even if you’re not actively doing client work, you’re constantly checking your work e-mail at night and on the weekends, and quite honestly, often you you do have to work nights and/or weekends to stay on top of your accounting, proposals you need to create and send, blog posts like this one that you want to write, and client work that needs to be completed. And, yes, most consultants I know are thinking about their business 24/7 — while they are lying in bed at night, taking a shower, going for a walk, etc. It’s hard to turn your consultant brain off, particularly the part that knows that you need to constantly be creating new leads for your business.
One factor that both a corporate job and consulting have in common — workloads fluctuates. There will be times when you have far too much work, and times, when you have too little.
Despite some of the more difficult consequences and challenges of being a consultant, there is so much upside, and I wouldn’t change my work situation right now. I so enjoy where I’m at in my career — serving as an advisor and extra-hand to both clients and fellow consultants and marketing agencies — and I enjoy the challenges that come along with it. They’ve pushed and continue to push me to step outside my comfort zone and develop or enhance skills like sales and public speaking. I so look forward to what lies ahead for me in the next five years as a consultant!
A special shout-out to my niece, Angelique Snow, who alerted me to the expression in the image at the top of this post — one that is particularly fitting to my situation and that of other consultants — and to Angelique, who lives her life fully by stepping outside her comfort zone.
Okay, maybe I’m stretching the Connector and Pretender rhyme a bit, but I’ve had so many reminders recently of the power of connecting individuals to each other that I wanted a punchy phrase and tune to kick off this discussion.
One of the best characteristics I inherited from my mom, Terry Snow — through observation and/or genes — is recognizing the value and importance of connecting people to each other, and taking the initiative to do so. My mom is one of the classiest, kindest people I know, and while being a mother of six children didn’t allow for a corporate life, she always introduced individuals from one social or community/volunteer organization circle to people in another circle. She didn’t care how different the people she introduced were. She wanted everyone to feel included, loved, and supported, and she saw great value in ensuring that people with diverse backgrounds got to know each other.
Probably because of the above, I’ve always been a connector on the romance front. Two of my closest friends can attest to my introducing them to their husbands. My love of playing matchmaker dates back to my early 20’s and I continue that practice to this day; however, as my career and professional life grew after college and graduate school, I’ve also enjoyed and saw the great importance of connecting individuals on the professional front.
I’ve shared many a headhunter/recruiter name with fellow job searchers, and am always passing contract and permanent job leads on to individuals who might be interested in them. I’ve passed many a friend’s or colleague’s resume on to another friend or colleague in a hiring mode/capacity, and friends have landed jobs or interviews that way. I also regularly share information about someone else’s services with others who might benefit from that service and/or who might be in a position to take advantage of that service. My belief is that there’s always plenty of work, and permanent and contract job opportunities to go around, so why not help facilitate some discussions in situations where both parties might benefit? My other belief — and I’ve experienced this many times over — is that when you help someone out, they are likely to return the favor, and what you put out there in the universe is returned to you.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if I can make a “connection” on your behalf — I’m glad to do so. While I’m well-situated on the romance front — in fact, a lovely friend match-made me and my wonderful husband over 15 years ago — I hope you’ll consider “connecting” me on the professional front, as appropriate.
I’d love to hear your great stories about how the personal and professional connections you’ve made changed someone’s lives or how someone “connecting” you to the right person changed your life. During this holiday season, don’t forget the importance of connecting individuals who could really benefit from some new personal and/or professional connections.
While I’ve done contract marketing and market research work in the past — during times when I was looking for a permanent position in my field — it’s been about six months now that I’ve devoted my energies full-time to making consulting work my permanent employment.
Trying to get a consulting practice started is not for the weak of heart, particularly a marketing consulting practice. Part of the reason for this is many organizations I approach about the expertise I can offer already have a marketing agency or consultant in place. If they are an organization that’s been around for any length of time, marketing is essential to their well-being and it’s likely they’ve already solicited outside help to optimize marketing efforts. In fact, many have long-term contracts in place with marketing agencies that can’t be easily severed. And, I’m also finding the newer, start-up businesses are difficult to identify and many use family members or friends to help them out on a pro bono or low-rate basis while in start-up mode.
Bottom line of all the above is that, in order for me, or any business offering consulting or other services to make a successful go at it, we have to be skilled at networking. It’s imperative that we use our connections or the connections of our connections to get our feet in the door. Being more of a strategic behind-the-scenes person, that’s a challenge for me, but I’m rising to the occasion and I’m glad my business is causing me to grow this skill for a couple of reasons.
First, as a marketeer, even if I didn’t need to be out there trying to make sales and there was a sales team in place whose work I supported with marketing materials and activities, it’s very beneficial to understand the challenges, roadblocks, questions, concerns, etc. that a sales team faces on a daily basis. Secondly, the need to network is causing me to reconnect with individuals with whom I worked closely and had strong friendships with at different points in my career.
I’ve been working in the Boston area now for about thirty years. Thirty years. After studying in France my senior year and graduating from UCONN with a French degree, I attended the Katherine Gibbs’ three-month entree program. I always refer to it as a program that gave liberal arts majors the office skills they needed to get jobs. I will say attending the program served me well. After completing the program, I was able to obtain temporary office work at great organizations like Stone & Webster and Dana Farber, and soon landed permanent jobs at BayBank Harvard Trust and Fidelity Investments. After obtaining my M.B.A., mostly at night, I’ve been employed at Market Facts, Berklee College of Music, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of MA, Bay State Federal Bank, Best Doctors, Network Health, and BMC HealthNet Plan.
I list all of the above because it’s a good reminder that I’ve worked a lot of great places and made a lot of strong friendships and working relationships throughout my career — of which I should never lose sight. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people (since I’m a transplant from CT to MA, many of my closest friends are former co-workers). The need to network has caused me to reconnect with some of the many individuals with whom I haven’t stayed as closely in touch, but with whom I really enjoyed working. It’s been so much fun learning what former colleagues are up to, both professionally and personally. So, I’m grateful that networking has prompted me to “catch up” with these people. There’s nothing like tight schedules, heavy workloads, and what seem like impossible challenges for forming strong bonds. I’m really enjoying revisiting those bonds. If you aren’t already doing so, I encourage you to reach out to former co-workers. I know you’ll benefit in a variety of ways from the experience.