What is the Real Value in Free

freeFree is zero, nada, zilch, nothing. In the mind of the consumer, free means whatever you give away for free has no cost to you. The same applies to your time. If you are giving away your time for free, how do others adjust to understanding your “real” value? Do they realize your true worth?

Most people are very leery of free offers. Based on experience, we are trained to look for the fine print, the exceptions and qualifications.  Our better judgement tells us that there is usually a “catch” to getting something for free.  A free day at the spa comes with the catch of attending a vacation rental sales pitch. A free juicer included with a top priced refrigerator comes with the catch of spending more on a product just to get a small appliance you may never use. A free soft drink when you buy the big meal comes with the catch you have to super-size your entire meal. If we are always suspect to the catch, how does that reflect on the perception of you giving away your time for free? Maybe there is a catch.

We are all very susceptible to the attraction of a free offer. Free works. We often all like to take advantage of free! Significant purchases are emotional. Free sparks our interest, it draws attraction to possibilities. Free also plays on the strong emotion of fear. The fear of losing out on the free.  Will someone else get our free?

What is not often measured is the “buyer” remorse of a free offer.  Why?  Well, you didn’t pay for your free, how can you be remorseful. You got what you paid for – zero, nada, nothing. You can’t return “nothing”. Your stuck with your free.  The cycle continues, giving and getting for free and then we are left wondering was it worth our time as the giver or receiver. It might be easier to leave the emotions behind and get to the real offer of people paying for your services. Paying for your valuable time without an emotional gimmick.

Free feels like it should have value. We perceive that whatever we get will be of greater value than what we have to give to get it.  It is very difficult in business as a service provider and solopreneur to not give away your time. We often justify this as a “marketing and sales” expense.  Unfortunately, the expense is not something you can list on your expense records as a tax deduction. You can not expense your hourly rate as a cost of sales. It’s lost time or to put in a more feel good term, an investment.

When you give away your time, what you do and who you are is represented as free.  It may appear to be a good idea. If you give your time away regularly others will soon see that your time has no value and what you perceive to be a great gift often goes unused or disregarded. Are you creating the perception that you are “free” for the taking?

The best advice for giving away time for free is to set a specific free time budget.  How many hours can you afford to give away each week?  Also, keep your “power of negotiation” at your central point of where you do business.  Meeting at coffee shops and for lunch may seem like a convenient way to give away your free services; however, you are no longer in a business setting, which demonstrates that your business is the priority. 

We all desire to help others, pay it forward and do good. The best good you can do is to make sure that you get value for what you do. Free is a teaser, a sample. Maybe it is required to build a relationship and establish an opportunity for a transaction.  Then again, maybe if what you give away for free is so valuable people will actually pay you for it. Limiting your exposure and risk, means you have limited availability to always give away your time and services for free. Use your time wisely.

If you were to offer a thirsty man all wisdom, you would not please him more than if you gave him a drink.” — Sophocles

Jamie Glass, President and CMO at Artful Thinkers @jglass8

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How May I Help You?

ImageIf you provide service as part of your value, the first opportunity you have to learn about your customer’s needs is to ask one very simple question, “How May I Help You?”.  These five words will enable you to define the pain and opportunity. Carefully listening to the response opens the door for how you can provide the greatest value, how you might actually help!

Asking someone how you can help them may be viewed as a conversation opener. It does provide a moment to engage.  Engagement is critical in moving a target to a potential buyer or consumer of your goods and services.  What better way to get the dialogue started by asking how you might fulfill a request or need.

Asking someone how you can help them is different than using professional etiquette to ask, “How are you today?”.  Though this is a nice sentiment, it doesn’t require you to stop and listen. In fact, most people use this as a long form hello or welcome.  Many will respond with a trite and unemotional “good”, when in fact it may not be how they are at all. It limits your engagement.

The better way to open up a dialogue with a potential customer is to ask how to help them.  It requires you to pay attention.  It means you have to participate in a conversation that will have to use your perception skills, your listening skills and your problem solving skills.  A much higher demand upon your brain than a rehearsed canned response of “good”.

A person skilled in the art of providing outstanding service will anticipate the potential requests that will ensue from the question of how you can help.  The proposition of providing outstanding service also demands that the response demonstrates how you plan to deliver the help or better qualify the type of help that will best serve the customer’s needs.

Expectations of your engagement will be defined when you ask how you can help someone.  It is up to you then to determine how you can deliver that help or point them in the right direction.  The first impression is set by your willingness to open the door, invite someone in and learn of their requirements.

Here are some easy ways to remember how to create the greatest value of HELP:

H = HOW the person defines their need when you ask how you can help them. It is your opportunity to determine how you can be the best in serving them when you ask the question.

E = EXPECTATIONS are set when a person is asked how you can help them.  Knowing exactly what is expected gives you the opportunity to WOW them with your determination to provide outstanding service.

L = LISTEN carefully when you ask someone how you can help them, as they will assume you will hear and understand their needs.  Your first response will be their first impression of how good you will be in helping them resolve their problem or attain their goal.

P = PREPARE to deliver when you ask how to help.  Every request may be unique; however, you have standard services that will fit the needs with or without some customization.  Know your responses and the value that you will provide in helping them.

Most important, when asking someone how you can help them, is to respond with honesty.  If you cannot help, tell the person you are not able to help.  It is a measure of your integrity.  If you can extend yourself by giving them a referral to others that can help or pointing them to another resource, you will be a better service provider.  Your value to help does not require you to actually provide the help, only yield to a pathway that gets the person to where they can get the help they need.  Then you are truly a great service provider.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.  ~Mohammed Ali

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Arizona Capital and Business Growth Resources

300X300Meet Arizona Capital and Business Growth Resources on June 11, 2013 at the MIT Enterprise Forum and Arizona Commerce Authority Innovation Arizona Summit.  Full details and registration available at www.mitefphoenix.org.

There are many organizations in Arizona that support innovators, startups, entrepreneurs and the established business community from early stage to exit.

This is an easy to use reference of various groups, associations and service providers in Arizona that help businesses with financing, strategy, venture development, M&A, growth and mentoring services and business networking.

Accelerators, Venture and Growth Advisors

Investment Bankers (FINRA Registered)

Angel Investor Groups

Venture Capital Sources and Funds

Collaborative and Shared Work Space – Map

Associations and Support

Pitch Contests & Competitions for Capital

Chambers of Commerce

Additional Resources:
 If you know of an organization that fits into the categories above, you can add the reference in a comment or email jamieglass8@gmail.com.

This list is maintained by Jamie Glass, President of Artful Thinkers.

5 Essential Topics for a Winning Sales Proposal

Selection of Offerings

A sales proposal is your persuasive argument as to why the client must choose you now to solve their problem.  Proposals need to be positively articulated with a sense of urgency and demonstrate how the client wins.

Sales people and consultants often neglect the most important part of a sales proposal, the statement of why the client needs to buy now.  I have watched presentation after presentation where sales people talk about themselves, their company and their amazing, fantastic, one-of-a-kind solution.  It’s the feature marathon and often leaves you falling asleep or gasping for any air left in the room.

Successful sales proposals must always begin with a conversation about the client.  Those inclined to start talking about themselves before the customer are likely to fail. Why? Customers want to talk about their issues, not you!

Whether you plan to present your proposal in writing, in person or through an online presentation, every sales proposal must include the following five essential topics in this order:

1. Statement of Understanding
2. Needs Analysis
3. Recommendation
4. Pricing and Terms
5. Next Steps

The Statement of Understanding is your opportunity to showcase the research you have done prior to presenting to the client.  Always start your proposal with what you learned about the client.  Gather facts about the client from their web site, annual report or press release boiler statements, along with facts gathered in talking to the prospect.  Make it brief and affirm that you have done your homework.

Be sure to include one or two sentences about the area of business you are targeting for your proposal.  If this is a finance proposal, talk about the financial situation.  If it is a technology proposal, talk about the functions in the company that will be impacted by your solution. The Statement of Understanding is a confirmation.  It should be no more than one or two paragraphs (one slide) about your knowledge of the client.

Needs Analysis details all the work you have done to qualify the prospect.  Here is where you make your case as to why the company needs your services or products.  Whether you are a single person selling advisory services or a Fortune 500 company sales executive, you must define why the client needs YOU based on their needs.

Warning!  Do not use the needs analysis section to sell.  It is a series of facts of why they need your help.  Think of it as your presentation of due diligence. In conclusion of your detailed needs analysis, summarize the needs in bullet form to easily reference again when the buyer reviews your proposal.

The Recommendation portion of the proposal is where you will highlight the features AND benefits of your offering.  Now you can start selling. The same order that you outlined the needs of the client, is the order to present your recommendation.

Often sales people believe this is the most important part of the proposal; whereas, the buyer will still be stuck on their problems outlined in needs analysis.  This is why recommendation follows understanding and needs analysis, clearly stating the problem you are solving!  It is imperative to be clear and to the point in your recommendation.  Use key features and benefits in one or two sentences – outline format is best.  Don’t create a sales whitepaper on your product.

Provide supplemental collateral to the buyer separate from the proposal if more product information is necessary in making the final decision.  Hopefully, you covered product reviews and demonstrations earlier in the sales cycle before delivering a proposal.

Remember, PROPOSALS DO NOT SELL.  Proposals are affirmation to conversations you had prior in qualifying the client and getting agreement that you can solve their problem.  If you are using your proposal to unveil your services or product features and benefits, you have not qualified your buyer.  You will likely fail.

Now on to Pricing and Terms.  This should be one page (one slide).  Outline your pricing based on your recommendation.  If there are specific terms to the agreement, add them to this area of the presentation.  Terms and conditions should include time of agreement, dates for implementation, and milestones or KPIs to assess progress.  Avoid the dreaded commission breath when talking money by making it all about you.  Be steady, assertive and remember it is about the customer winning!

The assumptive closer will always conclude a proposal with the list of Next Steps.  Number the steps and make them fewer than five so you do not overwhelm the buyer with the fact their decision will require more work.  Be succinct and use action words.  The list should show the commitment by you, the seller, and the expectations of the buyer.

The Customer Bites on Your Proposal

Selling is creating a story that you can tell convincingly face-to-face, in writing or over the phone that addresses a customer need followed by an effective recommendation. Your sales proposal needs to be enticing and compelling to get the buyer to bite.  Organized proposals that put the customer first, will get more attention than those that solely focus on what you are selling.  When you focus on the buyer, you are a problem solver.  People like people who help them!

Flying as a Solopreneur

The Flying Solopreneur – Life as the Independent Consultant

Your mind is a beautiful thing, so don’t waste it.  Put it to use as a business.  All of your collective experience gained through enterprise successes and failures can be commercialized into a service business, if you are willing to fly solo.

“Solopreneurs” is the trending word for self-employed entrepreneurs, also known as independent consultants.  On the networking circuit, they are called “single shingles”.  Solopreneur means the business is you! Your commodity is available time.

Business professionals worthy of being hired to fill a gap in an organization based on skill, knowledge and experience, should be open to the opportunity that multiple businesses may benefit and pay for that expertise.

The first step to determining if you are a good candidate to be a solopreneur is to convert your resume into a list of “product” features.  Once you have a good product description, then you need to determine if there is a market for what you are selling. In other words, will businesses pay for your time and the benefits you can provide?

As a solopreneur, you can save time and money by first drumming up attention from those that have witnessed your expertise in action.  Reach out to test your market viability through your network. Using the standard sales technique of asking for a referral, let people know you are open for business and ask your network to share your availability with others.  You may further extend your marketing message by offering referral fees to groups, partners and business associates that help you retain clients.

As a solopreneur, make sure your professionalism is demonstrated in your communications and social profiles.  Have a business card and professional web site that details your “product” and services. Create a professional business email account and secure your social site URLs, if you are going to brand your business beyond your name.

Working independently requires discipline and good time management.  You have to work on your business every day. Solopreneurs typically spend 20-30% of their time working on their business, leaving only 70% of the day working for paying clients.  Expect to dedicate at least three hours a day to marketing, meetings, invoicing and selling your services.

If you choose to be a solopreneur, build an advisory group of successful solopreneurs with expertise different than yours.  Meet once a month to share industry information and advice on how to best manage your business.  As a benefit, they may extend your reach by talking about you to their clients and network.  They should be your best unpaid marketers!

Solopreneurs succeed when they can fill a day of hard work, sharing knowledge and expertise and producing results for those that pay for that mindshare.  I am proud and excited to be flying solo as Artful Thinkers, it is truly an adventure.

Be not simply good – be good for something.” Henry David Thoreau

Best Networkers Go Where Others Won’t Go

Yesterday I met with a successful executive coach who is starting to explore opportunities of expanding her business. She was sent to me by a trusted colleague and notable networking expert.  The typical goal of these meetings are to learn about our respective businesses and then make introductions or provide advice on how to reach new clients.  It’s the life of an independent business owner and consultant.

One of the questions I always ask people looking to develop more business is “who owns your customer?”. Often there is pause. Yes, I want to know who owns the relationship with your customer, not who is your customer. The reason I ask this question is to identify the strongest influencers of those potential new customers.  In my experience, it is the shortest path to multiple buyers.

An influencer provides reach and accelerates your ability to grow market share.  Research suggests that we “buy” when we are influenced by someone we trust.  In fact, ninety percent of consumers surveyed in a 2009 Nielsen Survey said they trust recommendations from people they know.

This is not only applicable in retail situations or online recommendations, but also in business services as well. The business community often gives their business to those that come through their trusted network of peers or with whom they have a past relationship. Why? It eliminates the vetting and testing. In the old fashioned sales vernacular, it saves time and money.

Here are a few recommended steps to reaching your influencer:

1.  Identify your influencer, ask yourself who “owns” your customer.

2.  Research your influencer.  Where do they meet?  Who is in their network?  Who are their customers?  What events do they attend?  What association and industry groups do they belong to?

3.  Start following. Not literally stalking of course, but follow companies and connections in LinkedIn, through social media channels like Twitter, Facebook Fan Pages and Google+.  What are they talking about?

4.  Go to events where they gather and start building your circle of influence.

The biggest mistake I see others make in networking to find business is they go to where their friends and competitors go. For example, I am probably less likely to get business at another marketing event, as opposed to hanging out at a physicians conference or speaking at a non-profit event about advisory boards. My competitors do not go to these events, or at least very few do. I get more time to interact.  I can learn more about their needs in a particular industry or market vertical.  More importantly, I can start to build a network of influencers face-to-face.

How do I get those in the room that have nothing in common with me enter into a trusted relationship? I start by listening.  I then offer to make introductions to my trusted network, when there is a good match. I share my knowledge to see where we have similar business interests, like expanding markets, growing revenues.  Sometimes I offer to participate in events as a speaker on mutually defined topics of interest. Finally, I look for ways I can help them achieve their business goals and give them a “sample” of what I have to offer at no charge.

The saying, nothing ventured nothing gained seems to work well in the world of networking for business.  Sole proprietors and consultants have little time to work on their business, as they are the business.  You need to be your own best PR agent and maximize your limited selling time effectively. If you are competing for air time in a room of people that look and talk just like you, that is an educational or skill expanding event. Learn about your craft and further your expertise.  Don’t expect to get customers at these events.

When you want to network for business, go where you expect to see the least amount of your competition. The fewer people that are “talking just like you” that are in the room, the better chance you have to find business. You also create more awareness about your services because you are not a peer. You have more “meme” time. That will drive curiosity, and that opens a door to “sell yourself”.

Venture Out and Be DifferentNetworking is a skill.  Before you say no or turn away from the idea of going to a meeting or speaking at an event of complete strangers, realize that this is where business starts.  Venture out.  Be different. Go where others won’t go.

Talk is Not Cheap for Entrepreneurs

Planning, Strategizing, Ready to Change the World!

Countless CEO’s and leaders surround themselves with trusted advisers for counsel on a variety of business topics. Plunkett Research estimates $366 billion will have been spent in 2011 on global consulting, including HR, IT, strategy, operations management and business advisory services.

These billions are spent to generate new ideas, validate existing plans and provide strategic vision on solving problems and growing markets.  Most consultants dream of the engagement that is purely focused on strategy, 100% of the time creatively brainstorming on ways to be more, do more and get more.

Whiteboards filled with plans of grandeur, detailed reports, heart-thumping counseling sessions with these hired experts are alluring, especially to an entrepreneur hungry to take their business to the next level.  More revenue!  Less costs!  Decreases in human capital! Increases in productivity!

We have all seen the movie, hand-in-hand the strategist and business leader announce they have a better way. Bring in the team!  With the plan baked, the leader announces to his company, “I have a new idea and you will be responsible for the outcomes.”  The room is silent.

Why? A plan with little or no buy-in from the team sets off alarms.  The people who do the work know that every time they have to implement something new there are great costs.  Time. People. More time.  Did anyone ask for input from the doers?  Who is going to execute this new plan?  Who is going to be accountable?  It is probably not the consultant.

The first step to being a great strategic consultant is to build consensus within an organization.  Identify the problem, interview, validate, analyze and then present recommendations.  Buy-in is critical to achieve the best results. The most important person in every business is the person that actually does the work.  It is easier to get those that don’t do the work to agree with your plan.  What about the people who have to actually implement the program or new revolutionary way of doing business?  Consideration and respect for the doer’s role is essential.

When entrepreneurs take on counsel for one or more advisers, the amount of work that can be created for an organization and the doers can be overwhelming.  In fact, it can result in chaos, lost productivity, decreases in morale and lack of confidence in leadership.  You see, talk is not cheap.  Whiteboard ideas that go from chatter to “let’s do this” have a big cost to an organization.

Every time a consultant sells you on an idea, take the estimated “savings” and reduce by 75% and the estimated “costs” and double it.  It is not the intent of a strategic adviser to mislead his or her client, it is simply a factor of unknowns and assumptions made in the planning.

Leaders need to be able to evaluate every idea, every strategy and every problem solving plan that comes from outside consultants with great care and consideration to those that do the work.  Create consensus.  Ask the team to identify the risks and potential rewards.  Understand buy-in takes time and capital.

Business strategy consultants may be a very wise investment to spark innovation, challenge a new idea or share experiences to avoid pitfalls.  Define accountability in execution.  Too much time on strategy can actually be detrimental to any business. It is tactics that move the needle. Tactics are completed by doers. The “labor pool” gets the job done.

So, the next time a consultant sells you a “great idea”, remember talk is NOT cheap.  Be cautious, measure your tactics and define your outcomes.  Get buy in from your team before you “buy the plan” and know your costs, which are always far more than the just the consultant’s fee.