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!