Monday, November 28, 2011

Optimize your connections online

Prospecting for clients online
is like blazing a trail.
Photo by Liz Cezat, Zion National Park

If you belong to a professional service group that provides B-to-B services, you know how important it is to build a pipeline of prospective clients.
One of the fastest ways to showcase your talents and get your name known as a professional or head of your firm is through social media. To get the quality prospects that your business deserves, you want to connect with people online who can use your service or otherwise bring you new business.  Act in a manner that shows you’re in it for a great working relationship, not a quick one-time deal.
Many professionals fear making online connections. After all, you don’t really know who you are connecting with, do you? You can see their photo but you aren’t seeing the whole person. You can read their resume on Linked-In or their one-line bio on Twitter, but what aren’t they telling you?
One of the best ways to know who you are dealing with online is to engage with them in various ways:
• Join groups on LinkedIn in your prospect’s industry. If you’re a lawyer and you represent school districts, sign up for the educational groups on Linked In. If you’re lucky, you’ll be one of only a few lawyers seeking prospects in this forum. (Others may not be as savvy as you are.) Then ask questions or answer them. Invite the people who stand out to join your Linked-In associates. Communicate with them when something of shared interest comes up. Let them get to know your personality by talking about your lifestyle interests or joking with them (no emoticons please). If you’re going to be in their town for business, offer to meet them in person.
• If you’re not on Twitter, sign up immediately. You can choose who you want to follow. There will be a wide range of people following you. I follow back only those who post interesting items, are prospects or could become associates. Twitter is a great way to follow news and trends, and learn who’s who in various industries. It also links to many career-building tips, articles and interesting people.
• If you have a Facebook page for business, great. Utilize it to educate your clients and invite their feedback. Track how much new business you gain from this source. If you only have a personal account for family, friends and some associates, use it judiciously for business. A periodic post about your services and achievements is enough to keep your business in the forefront for referrals by your Facebook community. Don’t overuse this or you’ll irk your Facebook friends who often just want to know what’s new with the people they know and like.
• Blog. (That’s both a verb and a noun.) Those who have blogs need to gain visibility for their posts. Announce a new post via Linked-In, Twitter and Facebook (if appropriate). Customize the heading for each venue. Don’t say, “New post. Read all about it.” No one cares unless you give them a reason to care – use an enticing headline they can’t resist clicking on. For Twitter, repost at different times with different headings and see which works best.
Social media can be scary at first but once you get the hang of it and deploy it in your unique style, you will begin to see the benefits of prospecting online. Please share some of your tips here because this list is just the beginning.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rules of engagement

When hiring a consultant for a project or event, the client may think all they need to define is the deliverable, timeline and price. This is a good start but there’s a lot more that you, the client, should be concerned about when selecting the best consultant.
Here’s a checklist of what to look for or ask:
  1. Samples of their work – Even if the samples are not exactly what you are contracting them to do, you will get a sense of their accuracy, creativity, professionalism and attention to detail.
  2. Degrees of success  – When looking at their samples, ask what various projects achieved. This will tell you how well the consultant executed a job to attain a desired result for the client. (Don’t expect metrics on everything; feedback from users is also valuable information.)
  3. LinkedIn profile – Do they have testimonials that overlap in regard to positive statements about attitude or manner of execution? These are the consultant’s strongest traits. Do they match your needs?
  4. Handling details - How will the consultant work with people in your organization? When they send an e-mail, do you expect them to ”cc” three others or just direct the e-mail to you, the hiring client?
  5. Responsiveness - Do you expect phone calls returned the same day or is a range of one to three days sufficient? Ask what their normal turnaround time is for these methods of communication.
  6. Are they on time? When you are holding a meeting, photo shoot or event, are they on time and ready to start attending to the project or do they often run late and make excuses? (Cut some slack for traffic, bad things happening, or parents of small children. If lateness is a pattern, they don’t value your time or theirs.)
  7. Personality - You want to do business with someone who makes your day brighter rather than darkens the doorstep. Be attuned to a positive frame of mind, kindness, a nice smile, a genuine laugh. Choose someone you want to be around.
  8. Confidence – Do they seem to like and know what they are doing?
  9. Passion - Do they appear to relish the project you are offering? Are they excited about it? Or do they discuss reasons why it won't work? If they are passionate about why it won't work - listen to them; they may know something that you should too.
  10. Traits of a mentor – In addition to having the consultant do a project or event or work on retainer, could you learn something from them in terms of work style, attitude, ability to cut through red tape, how to deal with difficult people, how they deal with problems? If they also have these traits, consider it a bonus.

If your consultant meets your expectations for most or all of these “rules of engagement,” you found a great hire. Game on!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When to hire a consultant ... hint: before the candy runs out.

Four clues that reveal when a company's workload is at the breaking point:
Clue #1: Your employees have a startled “deer in the headlights” look when you walk by.
Clue #2: A smattering of “urgent” sticky notes on your computer makes it hard to see the screen.
Clue #3: You are starting to dread Fridays almost as much as Mondays because important projects haven’t been accomplished.
Clue #4: Instead of a candy dish, your office has one filled with aspirin and antacids.
These clues often point to the need for a consultant to keep the work flow manageable and your company's momentum strong. Now let’s delve into some definitive guidelines about when to outsource communication and marketing projects.
• Do you have self-contained projects that aren’t getting done on time?
• Do you produce a quarterly newsletter that only gets out twice a year? (Easy solutions: Outsource every other issue or the entire production, or get assistance with the articles or layout.)
• Did you plan to produce an e-newsletter for customers, prospects or donors, only to find your original content ideas are looking like yesterday’s news and you still haven’t put out an issue?
• Do you have a major presentation coming up? You know you can easily do a portion of the presentation but would really like a seasoned pro to conduct the interviews, obtain new information and package it in a way that informs and inspires the audience to take action. (We excel at creating content for scripts; graphics for presentations; and handouts that reinforce action items. Plus, If we produce your presentation, we can videotape it for YouTube or your company intranet.)
• Fear or uncertainty keeps you from ramping up your presence in social media. (Did you know that YouTube, Linked-In, Twitter, Facebook and other sites as well as blogs rank high in search engines? It’s a powerful way to brand your firm, boost your SEO and make new connections.)
• If you are a professional group without a marketing director, it’s hard for the principals to do all the rainmaking and branding for the firm. While your firm may be super at retaining clients, do you truly have the extra time and marketing expertise that it takes to keep a perpetual pipeline of new business?
If you are unsure what can or should be outsourced, we’re only a phone call or a click away. When contracted for a project, you can expect timely follow-up, excellence in communication materials, cost-effective rates, integrity and adherence to your deadline. And, once again, your staff will be able to eat the candy in your office dish.
Image: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot /

Friday, July 22, 2011

Time for a grammar tune-up?

I’m dismayed at the number of blogs, news articles and reviews that contain bad grammar. It’s not rocket science, yet many educated people (yes, even those with Master’s degrees and PhDs) often get tangled up in the proper use of the English language. Here is a quick primer:
Their (refers to people) vs. there (refers to a place)
They’re (contraction for “they are”) vs. there, which refers to a place (noted above)
It’s (means “it is”) vs. its,  a pronoun that shows possession (e.g.: its passage)
Proper usage: It’s cold outside. Let’s see if we can find its master. (referring to a dog’s owner)
Here’s a quick test to check if contractions are used correctly. Use the real words to see if the sentence still makes sense. For example, in the above sentence, it doesn’t make sense to say, “it’s master,” which translates to “it is master.”
To clarify, a contraction substitutes an apostrophe (‘) for part of the word. Why? Perhaps to save space. Maybe it was an early adaptation of texting – condensing two words into one.
Moving on then…
To (expressing motion or direction toward a point, person, place) vs. too (means excessive: too many, too much). Improper usage: “I had to much to eat.” (first “to” should be “too”; second “to” is correct)
When you see a red or green squiggly line under copy, something is wrong. Do a spell-check in Word or cut and paste the word into to verify the spelling and/or usage.
Even Hollywood knows the importance of good communication. You may recall a classic line from the cops and robbers’ movie “Heat” set in L.A. in the ‘90s. Police lieutenant Vincent Hanna (played by Al Pacino) was a superb communicator. Early on, he was arguing with his wife Justine, played by the amazing Diane Venora, over how much he worked.*
He intoned, “I say what I mean and do what I say.”
Diane did not exactly melt at the statement but she took notice. Vincent's credibility was ratcheted up among viewers, who could see that he was a man of his word. I know this line wasn’t original to Mr. Pacino but he gets credit for making it stick. He did a great service to English teachers and consultants who work tirelessly to communicate well and help others do so.
If your associates or employees need more in-depth help than this blog can provide, contact me about conducting an on-site seminar. I will discuss common mistakes made in writing; how to shorten and clarify e-mails; the need to proof and reread copy (reports, articles, e-mails) before submitting; and how to become a better communicator through effective writing. Check it out here: (Click on the PDF “presentations” attachment at the bottom of the Expertise page.)
I much prefer writing to editing, but need to share my pet peeves in the hope that these mistakes will never occur again!
Please report back on your success of changing bad grammar as well as glaring errors that you’ve seen. Measurement is a critical component of success.
*This is how I remembered it, without re-watching the movie.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Say “thank you” even when loyal supporters don’t give

Tip #5 – How to raise money for your nonprofit in 2011

As the nation struggles to regain its economic footing, donations from the middle class continue to wane. Michigan will no longer allow taxpayers to deduct charitable deductions on their state income tax, beginning in 2012. That cuts an incentive to give. Let’s see…should I pay more in taxes or give to a charity, where I know the money will help shelter, feed or otherwise assist someone in need? I trust that decision will be rescinded when times improve and our leaders see the benefit of this vitally important tax deduction.
Photo by Liz Cezat. Huntington Gardens, Calif.
Many people who have donated to food pantries now find themselves in need of basic assistance. With foreclosures continuing to mount, donors who previously had extra money to share at the end of the month are hard-pressed to pay their own bills let alone donate to worthy causes. What’s a charity to do? Get by as best you can with alternative support (foundations; corporate gifts – many are sitting on lots of cash these days; and collaborations with other nonprofits that offer similar or complementary services.)
In the meantime, don’t dismiss loyal supporters. If you keep them in the loop, they’ll return to support your mission when the economy improves. When people have jobs again and can hold on to their houses, they’ll want to share their good fortune with charities that do great work fulfilling their mission.
Thank lapsed supporters in low-cost ways: send an e-mail or a postcard, include a line in your print newsletter. Let them know that you are still counting on them and their support even if they can’t help you now. If you need a creative way to do that, hire a good writer. In fact, I know of one.

P.S. I started with good intentions to provide five tips in the first quarter. However, this series was put on the back burner as I attended to client requests for articles and publications. Did I mention that my middle daughter got married in March? That meant I was also busy being Mother of the Bride – one of the best times of my life. Yes, there’s always an excuse for why business owners (and writers) put off writing their own blogs. The truth is that I’d much rather be writing for clients.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Can color make you happy?

Photo by Liz Cezat, Utah.

How important is color in your life? If you live in a world of beige or black & white, you might not notice how much vibrant colors or a subtle hue can stimulate your senses: not only your eyes, but also your imagination. People living in a beige world may not be fully cognizant of their surroundings while those who live in a black & white world may view the landscape simply as a backdrop to the business of life.
For the left-brain readers, I will correlate these colors to my PMS book. In this reference, PMS does not refer to Pre Menstrual Syndrome, rather it’s a book of color swatches with numbers known as the Pantone® Color Formula Guide. It is an indispensible tool for graphic designers and art directors.
Today, when I stepped out of the shower, I reached for my towel. It was poppy-pink (PMS 1787). Not the usual beige. I felt uplifted with this new color. Then, I realized that poppy-pink is such a cheerful color, how can you not be happy when you see it?
Yesterday, while watering the flowers in my garden, I noticed that the marigolds were not just yellow, some were golden yellow (PMS 116) yet others were a vibrant orange (PMS 21) and others were burnt red (PMS 186) – all stemming from the same stalk. These intense colors made me appreciate the true beauty of a marigold.
While planting in a friend’s cottage garden the other week, my boyfriend instructed me to put a pot of geraniums into a bed of deep green groundcover. I asked, “Why? It’s all green there.” He replied, “It could use a pop of color.” He was absolutely right. That flash of red was the perfect foil to a mass of green leaves.
When creating materials for print (newsletters, annual reports) or the web (websites, e-newsletters), my graphic designers always play off colors. If someone is wearing green in a photo, they create a green element elsewhere on the page or use a complementary color – such as red. I appreciate color as an art form. I see how it stands out, makes you take notice and might even change your perspective.
Picture this: You're walking in the rain on a city street in the bad part of town and you've sunk into a dark mood. Then you see a yellow car. It's the brightest spot on the dreary, rain-soaked street. All of a sudden you think of the sun and you involuntarily smile. That spot of color makes a connection that lifts your mood.
Just for a day, observe the colors that strike you. How does color affect your mood? I don't think it's a stretch to say that color connects us to the world and has some sway in increasing our happiness.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Feed your donors first to instill giving

Tip #4: How to raise money for your nonprofit in 2011
Have you heard the saying, “The more you give, the more you get?” When reaching out to expand the number of donors who give to your organization, “feed” them first. I’ll touch on three ways to do this.
The first is through information they can digest. Present the need in a compelling manner. Many nonprofits do this with an appeal letter. Consider year-round efforts through a quarterly e-newsletter or print newsletter to keep your donors informed of the need and how their contribution will help the cause.  Bulletins or updates can be done online when there’s a deadline looming – typically to boost donations at year-end or before the start of a major program.
A second way to “get more” from donors is to host an informational session at the point of interest (where the donor funds will do the most good). Whether it’s the opening of a new hospital, a new park for under-served kids, or the wing of an art museum, invite prospective donors and longtime supporters to the actual location. You may need to erect a tent – but that adds to the festive atmosphere.
Painting a picture of “before” and “after” cements the reasons for giving. If it’s before, have a rendering of the building or wing on a poster and handouts. More often than not, donors need to see the end result rather than trying to envision it when they consider making a major gift.
The informational session can be packaged as a presentation, tour or seminar. Make a video of the event and post it on your website for those who couldn’t attend. Use the video as a reference for new donors.
The third point is to feed your donors. Refreshments make the “ask” more palatable at an informational session.  It’s a time-honored tradition to take wealthy prospects out to lunch or dinner and discuss your cause. Widen the net and include more mid-range donors and new prospects at informational events. They may be just the ones you need to increase planned giving and special gifts to your nonprofit.
By feeding your donor base regularly, your organization is fostering larger gifts and loyal supporters. Please share your experiences and other ways to feed donors.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Find bigger donors through social media

Tip #3: Follow and Link In with potential donors online

It’s no secret that fundraisers keep dossiers on people of high net worth when they are cultivating them for a major gift. To speed up the time frame between collecting information and getting to the “ask,” it pays to link-up with or follow some high net-worth individuals online.
It’s true that many high net-worth individuals have staff or assistants who do their social networking for them. You may need to go the circuitous route: follow their companies, their spokespeople, their foundations. They’re online somehow.
For universities, alumni are a major group of supporters. If you are a fundraiser at a college, join your organization’s alumni group on LinkedIn. Glean information from alumni about their allegiance to their alma mater, find out how many received scholarships and frame a question about whether they would support a student through a scholarship. Make the initial “ask” in a conversational manner rather than a formal request. Then follow-up offline. Don’t put someone on the spot on a visible communication stream.
Get creative about finding your supporters online. Do you follow prospective supporters and funders? Have you made a successful “ask” based on social media? Share your story.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Empower volunteer efforts

Tip #2: How to raise money for your nonprofit in 2011

Does your organization have volunteer groups that host events or challenges to raise funds? If so, draw up a list of ideas that they can use to raise funds. These smaller fundraisers may generate $5,000 or less, but it all adds up and can fund low-cost necessities that make a difference to the people that you serve in your nonprofit. Some examples are providing textbooks to low-income students; transportation to uninsured patients; outings for kids in foster homes; or household repairs for seniors struggling to stay in their homes.
Here are some ideas for your volunteer groups:
1.     Host a comedy club. If you’ve got friends who are the life of the party, invite them to use their jokes for a worthy cause. We all need a good laugh. Secure a hall rent-free (their contribution to your nonprofit). Have vendors come in and sell their food, giving your nonprofit a percentage of the sales.
2.     Go one better and stage a talent show, like they used to do in middle school…except use adults. The more outrageous, the better. Not to say that many of your friends and associates don’t have legitimate talent. But if they did, they probably would be in show business.
3.     Sell on Ebay. Collect items from people who want to get rid of “stuff” and auction it off with proceeds going toward your nonprofit.
4.     Silent auctions remain popular. Live auctions are even better because they build excitement and feed off each other’s bids. Plus, the auctioneers have a way of getting you to bid on something you otherwise might not want or need. Peer pressure reigns supreme at these events.
5.     Food cook-off. Select good cooks who are willing to prepare their favorite meal for a large group. Add in some great bakers who are willing to donate cupcakes, cookies, breads and cakes and you’ve got an event. Add some fine wines or specialty drinks by area bartenders and it will be an afternoon or evening to remember.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Five Ways to Boost Donations in 2011

 #1 Get more donors through social media
As philanthropy (advancement) professionals at healthcare systems, universities and nonprofits plan for higher levels of giving in 2011, it’s a great time to assess where new funds will come from and what these new donors need to know.
This series of five blog posts will review a range of appeals and report on best practices, based on news, my views (professional and personal) and research.
Social media will increasingly become the way to raise funds among donors who don’t need “cultivation” by development (advancement) professionals. These gifts typically are in the range of $5 to $50 and are generated through stories and appeals made to friends, family members, colleagues, alumni and neighbors on various social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.) Survivors tell their stories about overcoming breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, leukemia, addiction or other illness. Supporters become actively involved by registering for a rigorous walk, bike trek or mountain climbing adventure to help fund a cause.
Based on these personal appeals, motivated readers are directed to make a donation to the organization’s online fund. If the site also offers the option to mention the donor’s name and gift amount, that provides donor recognition and spurs additional donations from those who view the list and recognize friends, family members and others. The utility of using PayPal or credit card payment for online giving is a must. An automatic “thank you” receipt generated online is a great finish to this program. The whole process is fast, efficient and effective.

As an organization, make it easy for your supporters to use social media to tell their story. Include a widget on your website, develop an app, seek followers for your social media sites and conduct online surveys to elicit stories from beneficiaries and supporters. Go beyond the “like” button. Ask for input. Invite questions. Engage potential donors by asking them to take one action (then another and another) toward support of your organization.
Who does this best? In my view:
• Leukemia & Lymphoma Society  - compelling patient stories via e-newsletters
• Susan G. Koman 3-Day (for the cure) - sponsor sign-up & participant registration
Share your thoughts on these or other organizations that know how to harness the power of the web to draw in more donations.