Freelancers And Small Business Owners: Being Great At Your Craft Isn’t Enough

You’re an experienced and talented [insert professional specialty here]. That’s a fabulous selling point, but it may not be enough Black text Value Is Everything on blue backgroundto attract your ideal clients or keep them happy for the long-term.

 

Sure, when you excel at the work you do, you have a competitive edge. To sharpen that edge, however, you may need to demonstrate other important skills, too.

 

Besides seeing yourself as a freelancer/professional extraordinaire doing your craft, strive to fulfill other roles, as well, to make yourself an invaluable resource to your customers.

 

Three Personas To Improve Your Professionalism

 

Competent Project Manager

Some clients have it all together—others not so much. If you have project management skills, you can fill a critical void for customers who lack the ability to organize efforts and keep projects on track. I was fortunate to have had the experience of working as a telecom product manager in my past career. Tasked with managing time lines and deliverables across various groups, the competence I developed in coordinating projects has become one of my biggest value propositions as a freelance writer.

 

Kick-Ass Communicator

Describing products and services, proposing rates, setting expectations, confirming responsibilities, explaining processes, and so on—things every business owner needs to do almost daily—all require communicating clearly. Concentrate on organizing your thoughts and getting to the point in conversations written and spoken. As an accomplished communicator, you can more effectively avoid misunderstandings and ensure you and your clients will be on the same page.

 

Intuitive Listener

Listening so you absorb what clients are saying, recognizing the motivation behind their words, and going a little above and beyond to understand their challenges can really set you apart. By getting to the heart of your clients’ issues rather than simply treating symptoms with Band-Aid solutions, you will earn trust, respect, and hopefully long-term business relationships. For example, I regularly have prospects come to me thinking their websites’ existing content is why they aren’t generating online leads. But after listening to them, reviewing their content, and looking at the big picture, I often find content alone isn’t their problem, and my services independently wouldn’t significantly improve their outcomes. In those situations, I refer these customers to other professionals who have the ability to fill the voids I cannot (like website design/development, SEO, and social media strategy).

 

The Value Of Being More

By developing these identities within your professional persona, you become more than just a service provider—you become an indispensable asset to your clients.

 

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” ~ Warren Buffett

 

Give them value and you’ll gain trust, respect, and loyalty.

 

What will you do to be more today?

My New Year’s Resolution: Take More.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I figured, “Why not?” Focusing on making ourselves better and doing Write it on your heart quote showing woman looking out to seaour work more effectively doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. I certainly have room for improvement, so I think laying out some strategies to become the person and solopreneur I strive to be makes sense.

 

In thinking through what I’d like to achieve in 2017, I discovered a theme.

 

I realize I need to “take” more.

Take stock.

Why is it we tend to dwell on what’s not right or what’s lacking in our personal and professional lives? I intend to start and end each day on a note of gratitude, taking stock of all I have to be thankful for.

Take 5 more often.

I’ve learned that overextending myself and cramming too much into too little time doesn’t benefit anyone. Not me. Not my family. Not my clients. Not my friends. When I need breaks, I’m going to take them. None of us can sustain a schedule that doesn’t leave room for rest and recovery.

Take a deep breath.

It seems as though we’re always jumping. Jumping to conclusions, jumping to judgment, and jumping at chances. But leaping before looking can lead to poor decisions and destroyed relationships. I vow to allow myself the time to take a breath and listen and think before offering opinions and making choices. I don’t know anyone who has ever regretted or suffered as a result of carefully thinking before speaking or acting on something, do you?

Take care.

Rushing never yields quality results. By consciously and methodically taking care, I can better avoid making those stupid little mistakes that gnaw at the core of my being for hours on end. Doing it right the first time saves time and sustains self-confidence.

Take a chill pill.

I’m a worrier. Not so much about myself but about others who I care about and who are going through difficult times. That’s not productive. Worry helps no one. What does help is keeping a cool head, giving a shoulder to lean on, providing guidance, and offering a helping hand.

Take it with a grain of salt.

Constructive criticism from trusted advisors and other people who care about you can serve as valuable feedback to move you down a more successful path. But naysayers offering unsolicited advice or making disparaging remarks about you or how you do something typically don’t have your best interests at heart. I intend to take their words with a grain of salt and consider their motivation. If someone offers harsh words that aren’t in the spirit of helping you improve, then it’s likely they’re driven by jealousy, rivalry, or by an inherently mean disposition.

The Overarching Plan For The New Year

So, my plan to take control of 2017 is to take more. What have you placed on your list of resolutions? Could you benefit from taking more, too, in the New Year?

 

Ways To Make Every Day A Take Charge Tuesday

It feels great when you know you’ve got control of your day, doesn’t it? As a small business owner, steering the ship versus getting Take Charge Tuesdayconstantly caught up in rogue currents allows you to chart your course and accomplish more. What better day than today to start making a more conscious effort to be the boss of your business instead of letting it be the boss of you?

Here are some ways to take charge of your Tuesday—and every other day for that matter:

 

Plan! Schedule your work for clients, your administrative tasks, and anything else that you know will demand your time.

Sure, the unexpected will sometimes arise and interfere with your best-laid plans. But with a schedule to guide you, you’ll be less likely to veer too far off course. Bonus tip: Schedule some “wiggle room” into your day to accommodate unanticipated client needs, technical issues, etc.

Don’t let email rule you; rule it. 

Suppress the urge to constantly check your email. Consider limiting the frequency at which you open your inbox so it doesn’t disrupt your workflow. Rather than let it interrupt your productivity all day long, plan to check it 2 – 3 times per day, applying the advice in bullet point number one.

Don’t keep your smartphone in the same room while you’re working on projects or tasks.

If you’re not expecting an important phone call from a client, project partner, or vendor, keep it out of reach. Or at the very least, turn off notifications and the ringer or forward calls into voice mail so you won’t find yourself distracted by the constant rings, dings and buzzes. Of course, if your business is one that by nature needs to regularly deal with emergencies, this tip may not be a realistic option. But for most of us, our contacts will experience no hardship by needing to leave messages we can respond to later when we can give them our full attention.

Don’t accept projects or clients that aren’t a good fit.

Sometimes you’ll quickly realize an opportunity isn’t ideal because of the scope, volume, or type of work. Other times, you may need to go with your gut instinct. As a business owner, you need to respect and make the best use of your time, talent, and energy. Choose projects and clients carefully, selecting those that align with your aspirations and goals rather than those that will suck the life out of you.

Begin the day by deciding to do one thing differently.

No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, think about what you can change in your processes, systems, and habits to give you more control and make your day run more efficiently. The three previous bullet points might be a good place to start.

A few other ideas:

Delegate a task that would be better done by someone else.

Start using a social media management tool like Hootsuite or Buffer to save time.

Unsubscribe to email newsletters that you never read.

Eat better.

Get enough sleep.

How will you take charge today?

You Owe This To Your Clients

When you’re a solopreneur, it’s all on you—managing all the administrative aspects of your business and serving your clients.Girl-pointing-at-you

 

That means you need to be as close as possible to the top of your game at all times.

 

The one sure-fire way not to get there is by neglecting your own well-being.

 

I know far too many small business professionals who do that. They eat junk, don’t exercise, and rarely get a good night’s sleep.

 

According to 2013 CDC (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention) data:

 

  • Nearly 30 percent of adults in the United States are obese.
  • Over 22 percent of adults eat less than one serving of vegetables daily.
  • Over 38 percent eat less than one serving of fruit each day.
  • Only 20 percent of U.S. adults meet aerobic and muscle strengthening guidelines.

 

Yep, a lot of people don’t take such good care of themselves. Are you one of them?

 

If so, realize it’s not only bad for you; it’s bad for your business, too. And it’s doing your clients a disservice.

 

Eat better to work better.

According to the World Health Organization, “Poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.”

 

Reduced productivity. That means if you’re eating crap all the time and billing your clients on an hourly basis, they’re probably getting shortchanged. And you’re likely hurting your business’s bottom line in the process because of not having the stamina to take on and accomplish more billable work.

 

Engage your body to engage your brain.

Numerous studies have shown that exercise improves cognitive function. Physical activity helps you think more effectively. That ability to focus more fully on your tasks can translate into delivering higher quality work more efficiently.

 

Make yourself a complete package.

This infographic by Hubspot shares some interesting statistics that show the strong link between nutrition, exercise, and job performance. A few to pay particular attention to include:

 

  • Workers who eat healthful foods all day are 25 percent more likely to have higher job performance.
  • Workers who eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables at least four times per week are 20% more likely to be productive.
  • Workers who exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight are absent from work 27 percent less and perform their jobs 11 percent better than non-active, obese peers.

 

And don’t dis the importance of catching your Zs.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends that adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep daily. Yet a survey by the CDC found that almost three in ten adults (28 percent) average 6 hours or less of sleep each day.

 

Sleepiness can severely thwart our ability to do our best. It slows down our ability to think things through, it impairs memory, and it makes it more difficult to learn new things. And it tends to make most of us moody—certainly not an attractive or beneficial side effect when collaborating with clients.

 

Do right by yourself and your clients.

What you do or don’t do to take care of yourself is your business—but realize that your habits can have a profound impact on your business as well. You can’t give your clients your best work when you aren’t at your best.

 

Your turn! How do you keep yourself near the top of your game? What could you do differently to be there more often?

 

Like this post? Then you might want to check  out these, too:

Not Drinking Enough Water? Six Ways To Make It Less Wishy-Washy

 

What You And Only You Can Take Responsibility For

 

Why Your Desk Should Be A No Food Zone

 

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Good Karma For Your Small Business

I’ve written about the topic of strategic volunteerism on several occasions, most recently for national media personality, investment expert, and New York Helping handsTimes bestselling author Carol Roth’s Business Unplugged™ blog.

 

As a solopreneur or small business owner, choosing your volunteer activities carefully so you take something (other than feeling good about yourself) away from the experience can do wonders for your business.

 

By selecting volunteer gigs strategically, you can improve your leadership skills, connect with influencers in your community, learn new technology, and become more business savvy.

 

But Professional Development Isn’t The Only Potential “What’s In It For You?”

While giving your time and talents, you can also increase awareness of your products and services—and that can eventually help your business’s bottom line. I typically don’t mention that because directly promoting your business and seeking financial gain through volunteering is generally a no-no. But as you volunteer with others to work toward common goals for an organization, people naturally learn more about who you are and what you do—and they spread the word as you earn their trust and respect.

 

In 2015, I can attribute over $8,700 of my year-to-date writing revenue to the connections and exposure I’ve gained through past volunteerism efforts. No, that’s not enough to sustain my business. But it’s a decent chunk of change that’s helping me reach my income goals for the year.

 

What Goes Around Comes Around: Good Karma For Your Business

I don’t advise that making money be your motivation when embarking on a volunteer opportunity—but know that volunteering can present the potential for building your business revenue. The key, I believe, is in leveraging the connections you make—and staying on the radar. Keep in touch, be active and engaged on social media, and do your best to network face to face when possible.

 

Have your volunteer efforts paid off for your business? Tell me more!

 

Image courtesy of KiddaiKiddeeStudio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

Four Ways To Instantly Boost Your Self-Confidence

As a solopreneur, I’ve experienced moments when I’ve felt like I can take on any challenge—and moments when I’ve felt like I can’t do anything right.Confident woman with clenched fists

 

Like when I accepted an assignment to write birthday card copy. My confidence was shaken after spending far more hours than I anticipated on the project and after dealing with almost two weeks of ideas not flowing as naturally as I expected them to.

 

Other self-employed friends have told me they, too, have stretches of self-doubt that rattle their confidence.

 

When you find yourself questioning your capabilities and competency to perform to expectations (typically your own!), sometimes you need a little kick in the pants to stop you from kicking yourself.

 

Need to be kicked?

 

Here are four ways to instantly give your self-confidence a boost:

Revisit positive feedback from clients.

Re-read testimonials on your website or LinkedIn, or look at thank you cards and emails that you’ve saved. They serve as reminders of how much others appreciate you and respect your work.

Eat the frog.

I don’t mean this literally (blah!). What I’m suggesting is that you dig in and take care of a task you were avoiding either because you were intimidated by it or you were dreading it for some other reason. When you “eat the frog” before you tackle the rest of your to do list, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment—and relief. With the worst thing awaiting you that day out of the way, all else will seem easier.

Look back on how far you’ve come.

When you feel like you aren’t measuring up or haven’t accomplished enough, do a reality check. Focus on what you have achieved, rather than what you haven’t. Reflect on the new clients you’ve recently acquired and the long-term clients you’ve built relationships with, take stock of how far you’ve come with your social media presence and website, applaud yourself for how many blog posts you’ve written in the past year, congratulate yourself for being asked to join a prominent networking group, etc. You’ve made progress. That’s something to be proud of!

Help someone else.

There’s nothing like empowering someone else to give your own self-worth a boost. When you share insight and information to help others avoid pitfalls or improve their skills or knowledge, you remind yourself of the value you bring. Doing that can be as easy as emailing them an article about an issue they’ve been struggling with or giving them a quick phone call to share some golden nugget of valuable info you just discovered.

 

Not feeling confident kills motivation and productivity. Don’t let lack of self-confidence linger and overshadow your solopreneur super powers. Confidence, combined with hard work and continual effort to learn and grow, breeds success. You can’t get there without it.

 

How do you conquer lapses in self-confidence and bring your self-esteem back up to speed?

 

Bonus! Here’s a list of some other helpful articles from some stellar sources about self-confidence:

 

Confidence Breeds Success—And It Can Be Taught via Forbes

Science Says Overconfidence Key To Success via Inc.

9 Ways To Show More Confidence in Business via Entrepreneur

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ways To Overcome Your Fear Of Public Speaking

Public speaking has never been in my comfort zone.Scared woman biting lip

 

My heart starts to race a little even during those short and sweet roundtable sort of elevator introductions we’re so often expected to deliver when attending a new professional group or meeting.

 

What’s with that?

 

I had performed on stage in theater productions all through high school, throughout my four years in college, and in community theater. Shouldn’t public speaking be easy?

 

It’s not.

 

When put in “in the spotlight” situations, I inwardly freak out a little every time.

 

Just last week, as a sponsor of a chamber of commerce program, I presented the Business & Technology Student of the Month Award to a senior at one of the local high schools. As part of that presentation, I was expected to stand in front of the class and talk about my business and answer questions.

 

Those same all-familiar nerves picked at me throughout my entire 10 minutes center stage.

 

Do you get those crazy butterflies and anxiety about speaking in front of a group like I do? The odds are you do.

 

According to Statistic Brain, the National Institute of Mental Health’s research in 2013 indicates that 75 percent of people suffer from speech anxiety.

 

That’s three out of every four of us!

 

Note that this number has been challenged by Richard Garber who blogs extensively on public speaking. According to information Garber has found, approximately 21.2% of U.S. adults have a fear of public speaking and 10.7% have a phobia of public speaking. Check out his post, which calls out the stats that are being used in articles everywhere.

 

In either case, we’re not alone in our suffering from fear of public speaking.

 

But what makes standing up and talking in front of people so doggone scary?

 

In an article on Psychology Today’s website, Glenn Croston shares, “When faced with standing up in front of a group, we break into a sweat because we are afraid of rejection.”

 

That makes sense to me. While we may not be consciously thinking, “I hope they don’t reject me,” we fear messing up or looking foolish. Or at least I do when I’m putting my personal self out there.

 

So how can we get past our anxiety and feel more at ease with public speaking?

 

I’ve searched for and found some articles that provide what seems to be some very sound advice for those of us with nagging cases of glossophobia. Here they are along with one tip from each that I found particularly helpful or interesting:

 

Five Tips For Reducing Public Speaking Nervousness – “Whether you’re good at public speaking or not has nothing to do with your value as a person. It’s simply a skill that you can learn and become better at with practice.”

 

Thirty Ways To Manage Speaking Anxiety – “Eat for success–foods containing tryptophan (dairy products, turkey, salmon) and complex carbohydrates tend to calm the body. Eliminate caffeine, sweets, and empty calories.”

 

Eleven Easy Ways To Finally Overcome Your Fear Of Public Speaking – “Slow and measured breathing is a sign that you’re in control. Before you go to the front of the room, concentrate on taking a few, slow breaths. Repeat this a few times. When you start to speak, remember to pause and breathe after you make a point.”

 

7 Little Tricks To Speak In Public With No Fear – “All you have to do is admit that you are a bit nervous speaking to your audience. When you do this, the audience will be more forgiving if your nervousness shows up later on.”

 

How I (Finally) Got Over My Fear Of Public Speaking – “Even if you feel you’re not entirely ready, actively seek out speaking opportunities and take each one that comes your way, whether it’s simply presenting to a few colleagues or giving a talk to a room of 30 people.”

 

Of course, each of these articles offers other tips as well, so dig in and take note of some things you’d like to remember and try the next time you’re faced with speaking to a group. I hope that in my quest to be more comfortable with public speaking I’ve helped you, too.

 

If you’re one of the lucky folks who either doesn’t have a fear of public speaking or who has overcome it, please share your tips and tricks in a comment.

 

Thanks for reading! — Dawn

 

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

7 Business-Savvy Irish Sayings

St. Patrick’s Day. What’s not to love about shamrocks, leprechauns, and having a justifiable reason to add a pinch of Jameson’s and a dollop of whipped cream Cloveratop your coffee?

And then there’s that rainbow to lead you straight to a pot of gold.

Sigh. If only it would be that easy.

If you’re in business for yourself, you know it demands a good bit more than the luck of the Irish to stay in business.

According to the Small Business Administration, approximately half of all new businesses survive five years or more—and some other sources report that as many as 80 percent of all new businesses fail.

The key point to home in on is survival as a small business eludes many. Those that don’t continue past their five-year anniversary don’t close their doors because they made SO much money they could take an early retirement to live a life of luxury. It’s because starting and sustaining a business is hard. Really hard. Not everyone can make a living at it.

It takes continual energy, learning, and listening (and heeding) wise advice along the way.

Sometimes the best wisdom comes in a simple phrase. So, because it’s St. Patty’s Day, I thought it appropriate to share some Irish sayings solopreneurs and small business owners might find insight and inspiration from.

Irish Words Of Wisdom To Remember

  1. It takes time to build castles.
  2. If you come up in this world be sure not to go down in the next.
  3. A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures.
  4. May misfortune follow you the rest of your life, and never catch up.
  5. Better be sparing at first than at last.
  6. You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.
  7. If you do not sow in the spring, you will not reap in the autumn.

So simple. So sensible. Keep these in mind today and throughout your small business journey; you just might find yourself closer to that pot of gold.

By Dawn Mentzer

Sources:

Top 50 Irish Sayings & Proverbs, AskMen.com

Irish Proverbs With English Translations, IslandIreland.com

Pay Attention. Did You Learn Something Lately?

As you’re keeping up with your social media presence and taking care of business, you really can’t help taking away some new knowledge, tips, and insightSolopreneur learning from the people and brands you follow and interact with.

It often comes in dribs and drabs rather than in big momentous sweeps. So if you’re like me, much of what you learn gets inadvertently lost in the shuffle. Useful, yet unacknowledged and unappreciated.

Sigh. Such a waste.

That’s why I’ve decided to start taking inventory of and sharing some of the bite-sized bits and pieces of wisdom I glean. Why not give those nuggets of practical know-how the cred they deserve?

My twofold purpose:

1. To give you a few useful takeaways. I figure there’s a chance what I share will be new to you, too.
2. To become more aware of what I learn in the course of doing business from day to day so I’m more apt to apply it.

Sounds like a good plan, right? Let’s give it a try.

Tidbits, Tips and Lessons Learned

There are G+ plugins for WordPress that add Google+ comments to your blog posts.

Thanks to Denise Wakeman for talking about these plugins in a recent post. As a big fan of Google+, I dig this. With such a plugin, when someone comments on your post, it posts to that person’s G+ profile and provides a link back to your blog post.

Denise shares that it has expanded her blog’s visibility and increased the comments and shares she gets. Sweet!

The term “Dark Social Media”

Brooke Ballard of B Squared Media sheds light on Dark Social Media in a recent article on her blog. Where have I been? I hadn’t heard that term before.

According to Buffer’s Kevan Lee in his article on the topic, “It’s a term that describes the sharing that happens outside the traditional bounds of social media. For instance, people may share via email or via IM, and these interactions are seldom included in traditional share numbers.”

Good news is more people than you think see your content. Bad news is you’ve got an invisible audience you don’t know anything about.

How do you tap into the untethered potential your invisible audience brings if you have no idea what makes them tick?

I sure don’t have the answer, but check out Brooke’s post for more insight.

Macbook Pro Keyboard Shortcuts to cut and add hyperlinks

I made the move from a P.C. laptop to a Macbook Pro in early August. I love my Mac, but that doesn’t mean it has been a seamless transition. Never much a fan of keyboard shortcuts with my P.C., I’ve found they’re a necessity with a Mac.

Here are two I couldn’t live without:

1. Command + x lets you cut (to paste, use Command + v).
2. Command + k opens the “insert hyperlink” box (first Command + c to copy the URL of the page you want linked, the highlight the text you want hyperlinked, then Command + k, then Command + v to paste the URL).

What Did You Learn Lately?

Here ends my short list, but I’ve got more waiting in the wings for another day.

How about you? What tips and tricks have you learned lately? Comment here to tell us all about them.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

 

 

Want to Make a Smart Business Move? Ask Stupid Questions.

None of us like to appear uninformed, uneducated, or ignorant. Where’s the glory in that? But none of us knows It's smart to ask stupid questions in businesseverything there is to know about business. Especially when we’re starting out and not even after years down the road. So, like it or not, there will be moments when we need to disclose our lack of knowledge about one thing or another: By asking proverbial “stupid” questions.

As they say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Of course, knowing that provides little reassurance when you’re fearing ridicule by your peers because you think you don’t know something that everyone else in the entire world already does.

We need to get over that!

The fact is, we don’t know what we don’t know until we realize we don’t know it. That doesn’t make us idiots. It just means some things haven’t been introduced into our frames of reference yet. When they finally are, we often need to ask basic (a.k.a. stupid) questions to understand them.

An embarrassing blast from my past when I wished I had asked a stupid question…

Back in college, I remember taking an essay exam in a P.R. course and one of the questions involved the concept of getting quotes (bids) from companies for providing their services. I was around 19 or 20 years old at the time (and an A student, I might add), and for whatever reason, I didn’t know that  “to quote” meant to propose a price. (Amazing, I know.) Because of that, the question didn’t make complete sense to me, and I was too embarrassed to get clarification from my professor. So I fumbled through answering it the best I could. When my professor returned my graded test, he wrote a comment telling me that it was clear I hadn’t understood the question, and he wished I would have asked him about it. I got a C on that exam, when I likely would have gotten an A, if only I had put on my big girl pants and asked what seemed to be a stupid question. Seems to me, asking and getting an A would have been the smart move. Live and learn.

Not knowing something is excusable. Not asking questions to gain the knowledge you need when you realize you don’t know something is not.

And not asking questions can be downright damaging.

If you don’t ask questions (even when you think they’re stupid and believe everyone else knows the answers), here are a few of the things that could go wrong in your business…

  • You could make serious errors in your bookkeeping and accounting.
  • You could pay more than you should be for products and services.
  • You could do something unintentionally illegal in how you manage your employees or independent contractors.
  • You could be missing the mark with a product or service.
  • You could be wasting time on the wrong social media networks.
  • You could take projects in a different direction than your client envisioned.
  • You could take on the wrong clients.
  • You could take on the wrong projects.
  • You could be taken advantage of.

Moral of the story: If you don’t know, ask!

Sure, it might be embarrassing for a minute or so. But after that initial hit to the ego is over, you’re left with an answer – and empowering information you didn’t have before.

 

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post