Are You There In That Moment?

Several headlines/links float through my Twitter stream every second.  Most of them I glance at, maybe favorite to read later or if they are really compelling, I’ll click through and take a look now.  90+% I just let float by.   Same with TV commercials or print ads or even songs on the radio, just about anything type of media I consume.  Most of it floats in “one ear and out the other” metaphorically speaking.

It is not that they are bad headlines.  It is not that the articles are not meaningful.  It is not that the commercials are not entertaining.  It is just a matter of timing.  My brain, like those of every human, has been conditioned to be drawn to the thing that we most need IN THAT MOMENT.

How often do you stop and think about what the customer you are trying to attract needs IN THAT MOMENT.   When I think about a business’ failure to give a customer what they need or most want IN THAT MOMENT, an image that constantly comes to mind is the store changeover at the end of a holiday.

I walked into a major drug store chain on December 26th and the previous holiday items were already gone and they were on to Valentine’s Day.   They were rushing me into THEIR schedule.  Never paying attention to what I needed IN THAT MOMENT (which, coincidentally, happened to be a New Year card) They were forcing me to jump immediately into the next thing because it was what was on their schedule… not mine.

Digitally we see it all the time. Another great example –  I saw my first “year end wrap-up/year in review/lessons we learned in the past year” posts before the end of October!  In this industry staying current and knowing what worked and didn’t in social media in the past year is important stuff, but I don’t need a year end wrap-up in October.  I need it at the end of December because at the speed digital moves, what you wrote in October is unlikely to be accurate or relevant by the end of December.   We do such a disservice to our current, future and potential customers when we fail to pay attention to what they need IN THAT MOMENT.

Our failing to give our customers what they need IN THAT MOMENT is rooted in our general failure to pay attention to what they need and our insistence on giving them what we think they should need.  The sad reality about all business today is we are so busy trying to be/do/say/deliver the next big thing and make a buck that we rarely really ask ourselves – Is this…

  1. something that our customers really want or need
  2. is it something they need now

So what is it that your current or potential customers need?  Are you giving them access to it when they need it or when you think they should need it?  Are your messages relevant to them IN THAT MOMENT or are they memorable enough that they will remember them when they need your product or service?  Have you learned to walk that fine line between inundating (and probably annoying) them with messages they don’t need IN THAT MOMENT and making sure you are top of mind when they do what you have to sell?

All tough questions that can be fairly easily answered by talking to your customers and asking them.  When was the last time you actually did that?

50 Ways to Leave Your… Client

Note: This was originally posted on an old site of mine in December 2008 and is one of my most popular posts.  I have been seeing a lot of questions lately from people about how to end client or partner or vendor relationships, so I figured it was time to recycle this one.

You just slip out the back, Jack

Make a new plan, Stan

You don’t need to be coy, Roy

             Just get yourself free

(50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon)

Every once in a while we come across that situation with a client (or partner or vendor – for the sake of continuity, we’ll just go with client throughout this one, but the principals are the same) that we know we just can not make work.  Whether it is an unreasonable client, changed expectations or just personality differences that are preventing us from doing our best work, the reality is that sometimes we just do need to fire our clients.  For our reputations, for our pocketbooks and most often for our own sanity or the collective sanity of our teams, we just need to walk away.

Unfortunately, like any relationship, we have usually gone into these business relationships with high hopes of this being “the one”.  The long term client that we enjoy working for, doing work that intrigues and inspires us and making a decent buck doing it.  Now, like a bad boy/girlfriend, we have to figure out how to disentangle ourselves from this client.  Just like you would in a romantic relationship, do a truly honest evaluation for yourself. Is this an irretrievably broken situation?  Are there changes that could be made on either side to alter the situation and make it reasonable to continue the work?  If you have done that and still feel that you must fire the client, then the sooner the better.

It is always a tricky situation.  The first thing you must do is look at the “out” (cancellation, exit or termination) clause in any agreement or contract you have with this client.  What are the terms that allow either of you to exit the relationship and what actions have to be taken before you are released from your contractual obligations?  Don’t have an out clause in your contracts/agreements?  Get one. Now!  Consider it your prenup – we never want to think about getting divorced, but if we aren’t protected before the rings go on, we can lose it all.  Make sure you understand the contract cancellation terms and that you fulfill them to the letter.  Do you not leave yourself open to claims of breach of contract because your agreement required something as simple as delivery of written notice to a specific address and instead you sent an email to your contact at the company.

Second, you must make sure that you have performed all of the work that you have already been paid for.  Either that or be prepared to issue a reimbursement to the client for any prepaid, uncompleted portion.  You never want to leave them in the position to say that you were paid for work that you did not do. Have all the financial details worked out before you communicate to the client that you are ending the relationship.  Know exactly how much has been paid, for what specific work and be able to clearly and accurately communicate that to your client.  Also be able to articulate how much may still be due to the client (or in some cases to you), what it is due for and when you expect to issue the reimbursement to them (or expect payment to be issued to you).  Also, be prepared, per the terms of your agreement, to turn over any and all documentation or work product belonging to the client or that is a result of the work done for the client.

Third, if there is uncompleted work, have a contingency plan ready to give the client.   Be the kind of contractor that you want working for you.  Don’t leave them completely in the lurch (unless they have never paid you, then maybe they deserve it).  Lay out what additional work may need to be done.  It does not have to be a detailed plan for them, that is their responsibility, but at least be able to say, “I was retained to do X,Y & Z and only X & Y have been completed, you will need to make alternative arrangements if you still wish to proceed with Z”.  Simple but courteous.  Often clients have hired us because they don’t know what to do, at least if they have a direction, they can take the steps necessary to replace you. And you take less of a risk of the client badmouthing you to anyone who will listen.

Now to the tricky part, telling them.  The best way to accomplish this is to be short and sweet.  Don’t get into pointing fingers or accepting blame.  Don’t go into any deep details, only those that are necessary to conclude any outstanding business.  Just advise the client that you no longer feel that you are in a mutually beneficial relationship.  Always stress that you regret taking this action, but you feel it would be in both of your best interests to dissolve the relationship.  If you have someone else that you can refer the client to, that is always a nice way to end the communication.   If the client comes back and wants to know why, then be prepared to be tactful, but honest.  You are probably doing them a favor by telling them the truth.  Be sure to have examples ready if they question you.  Also be prepared to stop discussing it.  Like most difficult breakups, some clients will keep trying to get you to go round and round, basically trying to wear you down. Before you get into the conversation, know your stopping point so you do not get frustrated or angry and leave the conversation on a bad tone.

Try to do the “break-up” in the manner in which you had most of your communications with the client – ie. by phone, email, face to face.  It is only respectful.  If you feel it will be accepted better in writing, then do so. If you end the relationship face to face or via telephone,  I also recommend following up with a letter or an email just reiterating what you said, confirming that any prepaid work has been completed, any final details that have to be resolved (payment, document or work transfer, etc…) and wishing them the best.

This is never an easy or pleasant situation to be in.  it is however necessary to know how to handle the situation in the most professional, mature manner possible.  Your reputation depends on it.  The client will probably not be happy, but if you can walk away on civil terms with no one screaming lawsuit or breach of contract, it’s probably a win-win.

Who are the people who make us better?

We hear this, or some version of it, all the time…

Surround yourself with people who make you a better person

But how often do we stop and really think about what it means?  What is it in someone who makes us a better person?  How are we defining “a better person”?

If we can’t be clear on the “better person” we are trying to be, how can we be sure that who we are surrounding ourselves with can help us move towards that goal?

Like all goals, it is comes down to a honest assessment of ourselves – what we are good at, what we need to improve and how do we get there?

So, when was the last time you really did an honest thorough assessment of yourself?  I know I wasn’t doing it often enough.   Yet, it clearly is something we should be doing regularly.  This does not mean long days locked away in a cabin (or beach or wherever makes you happy and  calm) somewhere to “get in touch with ourselves”.  Although those are nice and occasionally necessary, there are simpler ways to figure out whether we are surrounding ourselves with people who make us better.

It requires taking a good look at yourself and your interactions on a regular basis.  Because it is so hard and time seems to fly by so fast, recently I started putting this on my calendar as a regular event every two weeks.  I schedule myself a half hour of time to just review the last two weeks.

I ask myself these questions –

  • What did I accomplish? What did I not get done?
  • Who did I interact with?
  • What prompted those interactions?
  • How did I feel about the people I interacted with in the last two weeks?
  • Who did I want to interact with that I did not get to?
  • What lessons have I learned?
  • How productive have my interactions been?
  • What expectations, of myself and others,  did I have that were or were not fulfilled?

 

This quick review, of a manageable time period, allows me to really focus and get clarity on what I am trying to achieve and whether I have moved closer to those goals.  It also allows me to look at the people I have in my life or that I have interacted with and whether they have done one of five things to help me move some aspect of myself to the “better person” I hope to be.

  • Did they teach me a lesson?  It doesn’t matter what kind of lesson. Personal or professional, something about myself, something the word around me, a professional insight, whatever the lesson might be, just did I learn something from them passing through my life?
  • Did they “touch” me? Meaning, was there something about this interaction that touched me emotionally, intellectually, professionally or spiritually.
  • Was there something about interacting with them that changed, enhanced or diminished my perception about myself or the world around me?
  • Did they inspire me? More importantly, did they inspire me to act?
  • Did they just plain make me feel good?  Did they make me smile? Did they make me laugh?  Did they make me see the joy and light in life?

The pattern that emerges from my responses allows me to not only decide if this is a person, or type of person, that I want more or less of in my life, it also allows me to see the “better person” I strive to be.  How I react to and interact with the people that have passed through my world steers me towards the person I want to be, the goals I want to achieve, the impact I want to leave on the world. I see a pattern emerge, based on what I thought or felt about interacting with someone, of what is important or moving to to me.

How are you deciding if the people you surround yourself with make you a better person?  

The Best Advice

A college professor friend of mine recently asked for the best piece of advice we had ever received as we started our careers.  I have gotten a lot of really great advice over the years, but there is one piece of advice from early in my career that was by far the best piece of advice I ever received.

Get over yourself – Be confident, focused, humble & grateful, not cocky and entitled. Yes, you have worked hard and are probably very smart and talented, but there is a fine line before you cross over from being sure of yourself into appearing obnoxiously overconfident.  Remember you have a lot to learn about your job, yourself and the world around you.   Make sure your employer and your new coworkers know that you realize that and you are open to being taught.   No job or request is too small for you. If you are asked to make copies or get coffee, do it.  Everyone who is really successful did their time doing the the shitty work too.  Embrace it and learn from it.

Most importantly, treat EVERYONE – from the CEO to your co-workers to the janitor to the person at the coffee shop – the same – as if they and their contributions are valuable and you have something to learn from them.

Your attitude and work ethics will get you as far, sometimes farther, then the results you produce.

 

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What do I work on first?

In both my consulting business and from friends, I get a lot of questions similar to this one…
“I came up with a list of 14 possible projects to work on yesterday but now I need to narrow them down to ones that will, well, work.  When you have a list of projects, is there some equation you use to determine the priority?”
Although the process of prioritization comes naturally to some, it can still be a time waster for many.   We can get so wrapped up in setting priorities and writing lists that we fail to take action and move forward with completing the things on the list.  Since I can be as guilty of this as anyone, I work with a simple structure to prioritize those things on my to-do list. 
1) Deadlines – obviously the soonest deadline gets the first attention
But for those items when deadlines are not a factor –
2) Try to alternate easy/short projects with a longer/harder projects. By allowing yourself time to do projects that you can complete in a shorter period of time you are consistently rewarding yourself with the feeling of finishing something.  This feeling of accomplishment and completion are crucial to maintaining motivation when your to-do list is long and/or complex.
3) Try and determine which of the 2 or 4 projects you will enjoy doing the most. Put 1 or 2 of them at the top of the list and 1 or 2 of them at the bottom.  You get to start with something you enjoy and have something else you will enjoy towards the end.   It is the ages old carrot – stick method of motivation.  Start with something you enjoy to motivate you and get your creative juices flowing and then accomplish other things by knowing there is a fun reward at the end.
So those are my tips on how to prioritize.  How do you prioritize that never-ending to-do list?

Things we like… Red Tettemer + Partners & Under Armour

The team at Red Stapler Consulting knows what we like and what we believe in.  One of the things we like to do is share.   In that spirit, we have decided to start a semi-regular series sharing things we find that highlight some of the things we like and believe in.

So what are some things we like?

Passion blended with creativity

Things that help businesses grow

Things that bring communities together

Things that help people

And the candle on this birthday cake of goodness – Effective uses of social media that do any or all of those things.

The inaugural entry in our Things We Like series is a campaign developed by the creative masters at Red Tettemer + Partners.  They have hit a trifecta!  A social media campaign that is creative, is helping a business (their client) grow and is helping people (college students).  Check out the Under Armour Ultimate Intern Team program.

Does it get better than this?  Simple, clean, straightforward, fun and giving a few lucky college students the opportunity to have “the most memorable summer of your life.”   It reaches the demographic where they like to communicate – on Facebook.  It is fun without being goofy.  It is intriguing. It tells you what you need to know, but holds back just enough to make us want to fill out the application to find out more and get to have the fun they are promising.  And it is all wrapped up in a solid marketing principles.

Definitely a +1 in the Things We Like category.  Head on over to Facebook and give them a Like – They deserve it!

Philly “BloggerGate”

Last night I attended the “Bloggergate” Happy Hour where city officials tried to answer questions and provide explanations of the current city tax regulations and how they are applied to members of the creative economy and freelancers.  There is an excellent writeup on the Phillyist site, so I am not going to summarize everything that was discussed.

I posed a question that seemed to be on the minds of many of the local bloggers I know –
The current Philadelphia revenue regulations require that anyone conducting business and receiving revenue in the city of Philadelphia is required to have a Business Privilege License.  An issue that arose among the blogger community is not the requirement to have the license and pay taxes on actual income.  The issue is the “recreational” blogger who does not blog for income.  They may place an ad on their site and charge just enough to cover hosting and domain renewal costs.  They are now being told because they receive revenue (the payment for ad placement) that they are a business and are required to have the Business Privilege License and pay taxes.  Obviously because it is a break-even financial arrangement, they will not owe any taxes, however, they are now being required to buy the Business Privilege License which likely amounts to much more than the amount they are charging for their blog ads.  Is this issue being looked into?

The city indicated that, because of situations exactly like this one, they are looking into the relevancy and applicability of the Business Privilege License.  They made no promises that change would come, but they are considering options.   They genuinely seemed to have had their eyes opened to some of the differences in conducting business in this new creative economy.   That the old ways of regulation and collecting taxes have to be re-evaluated to better apply to how a large majority now do business.  It is a start.

Several other freelancers and business owners asked questions and expressed their frustration with the current tax system and the complexity of starting a business in Philadelphia.  To the city officials credit, they listened and did their best to explain the current system.  The city gets props for showing up on “our” (the tech community’s) turf, National Mechanics (as opposed to say a stuffy room in City Hall), for listening to the questions and complaints and for, at least appearing to, trying to understand the issues and questions.  No one got the answers they wanted last night, but anyone who came expecting instant results was being unrealistic.   As I said to KYW’s Robin Culverwell,

“The fact that they called this meeting tonight, they’re willing to come out, they’re willing to take questions of any kind is a positive step forward.”