How to be an ideal client

Two serious women in a business meetingSeveral years ago a social worker told me there are three categories of people whom she sees in counselling sessions. They are, she noted, people who:

  • Refuse to admit they have a problem
  • Acknowledge they have a problem but refuse to do anything about it
  • Recognize they have a problem and proactively, earnestly and enthusiastically seek out help

I was reading a post in one of my LinkedIn groups recently by a freelance copywriter who encountered an individual at a networking group, who didn’t believe in the value of hiring professional writers. He told her he was the one with the product and industry knowledge. And he felt he was a pretty good writer, so he could do everything himself.

And that got me to thinking about those three categories of people the social worker had told me about. More specifically, how, with a slight variation, they apply to the world of marketing communications and content marketing. Here they are:

  • People who think they have both the subject matter and communication expertise — the old, “everybody thinks they’re a writer.”
  • People who recognize they need communication help, but don’t budget properly for it, or don’t have a budget for outsourcing; or who want things done for pennies on the dollar
  • People who know they need help and understand the value of working with a professional communicator

You’ll never be an ideal client if you see yourself being in that first category. As a professional independent communicator, I know it’s pointless trying to win the business of someone who falls into that group. Even if you did hire my services, you’d probably always have the urge to rewrite what I’m writing for you. That would make me feel like I’m wasting my time on you. End of relationship.

Nor are you an ideal client if you’re in that second group. I know I’ll never win the business of someone who thinks experience and expertise should come ridiculously cheap. Because I charge what I know I’m worth. If you want two videos, four press releases and six blog posts all written for a total of $1,500, then you’re hardly an ideal client for any true professional providing their experience and expertise.

Agencies, consultancies with creative capabilities (which is what I am) and freelancers love and are always looking for “ideal” clients. Here’s my take on how you can be an ideal client for anyone. Whatever expertise you’re outsourcing for. Make sure you’re in that third category I mentioned a few paragraphs back.

There are three ways to do that:

  1. Be focused on value, not price. In the end, you’ll get what you pay for, either way. But the content that’s produced for you when you’re focused on value will be grades above content produced on the cheap. Make sure you have a budget — a reasonable one. We’ll make every effort to work within it. Professional independent communicators who know their value and worth, charge accordingly. Instead of being price sensitive, focus on finding the right person with the right experience and expertise to help you. If you contract with someone who has handled projects in your industry sector before; or has career communications experience or other clients in it, that’s a big advantage for both of you. They understand your business. And you don’t have to spend a lot of your valuable time bringing them up to speed. The content they produce for you will reflect their expertise, flair and understanding of your business and industry.
  2. Be relationship focused. When I land a new client, I’m not just thinking about that first project. I’m thinking about how I can help them and add value in the long term. Think of that first project as the start of a great relationship. Think about how you can both work together over the long-term to help you achieve your business and communication goals.

    When I worked for a major financial services company in communications, I supported the vice-president of a business unit who considered marketing communications as a necessary evil when it came to budget dollars. He was an old-school marketing and sales guy. But he understood the value of the communications support. He knew he could rely on me for anything he needed. He respected me. He knew that I knew how to write for him, in his voice. He’d joke about me taking his notes away and writing the first draft of a speech so he could rip it apart. We had a great working relationship for five years.
  1. Be respectful. Don’t, for example, make a regular habit of “the five o’clock surprise.” You know, that call or email at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon demanding that the material I’ve been waiting for from you for two weeks, be turned into a sponsored content feature for you to review Sunday evening. I’m always willing to go the extra mile for you when you occasionally run into a tight spot or there’s an event deadline to be met. When I was in charge of producing financial adviser conference communications, and I and the rest of the project team I led had to work until midnight to finish an important video, we did. Because when necessary, you just do what you have to do. But this an exception. It shouldn’t be a rule. If you make it so, you’re not only being disrespectful, you’re also not being relationship focused.
    Also, don’t think of your communication services provider as an order taker. We’re there to provide our expertise, insight, advice and suggestions to help you. When we suggest a better way to express or say something, there’s a reason for it and we know what we’re talking about. When we question why you want to say something, there’s a reason for it. If you continually say “just write it this way, it’s what I want,” then we’re going to feel as though you don’t really value or want our expertise. If neither of us feels respected, then the relationship’s going to suffer. Difficult clients usually end up getting fired. Bridges get burned. And that’s not a good thing for either of us.

Being an ideal client is really no different from being, or hiring, the right employee. It’s about fit. We’re both investing in each other for the long term. Or we should be. That’s what great working relationships are all about. Ideally.

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Dean Askin is the principal and creative director of Oomph! Allied Communications. Oomph! is a consultancy with creative capabilities offering content creation, communication consulting, editorial, design & production, media relations and photography services and expertise. Dean is an award-winning communicator with 30 years of experience in journalism and communications. If you’re swamped, or just know you need communications help, well, that’s what we’re here for. Contact Dean at 416-757-6333, or by email, dean@oomphcommunications.ca

How to be an ideal client

Choosing a business name with oomph

2016-07-21 Blog image - 2832 - laptop and dictionary - 96px

(photo by Dean Askin)

What’s in a business name? A lot. If you choose a name for your business and you have to explain it to people, you’ve not chosen a good business name that will resonate with prospects and clients. The wrong name can hurt your business big time.

Believe me. I know from experience.

I’d developed the original name for my independent communication business when I was faced with unemployment in a corporate re-organization. At the time, I thought it was a pretty cool business name. That’s because it played on an element of typography—the en space. It’s the dash (–) that is supposed to be used between number ranges. For example, 1989–1995. Trouble is, not many people other than those of us in communication and graphic design can relate to the play on words.

Let me put it this way: be careful and choose wisely. Sometimes your business name can turn out to be nothing more than an inside joke. Avoid plays on words when you’re developing your business name. If it sounds too cute or clever, it probably is.

The actual business concept I had in mind when I chose my original business name was solid. I wanted to align myself with other communication partners to be a “virtual” outsource communication team, not just a lone “freelancer.”

It took me a long time to come to the unsatisfying conclusion that my business name aligned with nothing, and just didn’t resonate. Not with my business concept. Not with anyone. Including myself.

If (or when) you come to that conclusion about your business name, it’s time to re-think, rename, rebrand.

Some companies spend weeks, months or even years—and thousands of dollars—when they’re rebranding. If you’re a small business or an independent consultant trying to name your business, you can consult business-naming experts to work with you. But that can get costly.

Coming up with the right business name does take a lot of thought. It needs to:

  • Reflect what you do
  • Resonate with people without sounding trite or corny

Is coming up with the right business name and brand identity difficult without consulting business-naming experts? Let’s say it can be challenging, even for someone with a background in branding and communications.

It doesn’t have to cost you thousands of dollars, or take months to do, however. I’m going to show you how you can name your business in as little as an evening—that’s right, an evening. It’s possible to do with only a few simple tools, some of which you’ve probably used before.

What resources do you need to name a business you want to start? Or to rename your business? If you can’t afford to invest in the services of a professional business-name consultant, there are online tools such as Shopify or BusinessNameGenerator.com. However, I think it’s much more rewarding to develop a powerful business name yourself. I renamed my business with:

  • careful thought
  • a pen
  • a notepad
  • the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language
  • the Oxford Thesaurus
  • my MacBook, to do a business name search online

It took me just three hours one evening. Here’s how you can do the same thing. There are four steps involved.

  1. Think about your mission and the concept of your business.

For example, here’s my mission: We help companies and non-profits communicate more effectively to build their businesses, brands and relationships with stakeholders, customers and employees.

Here’s the concept of my business: Bring together the right people for the right projects so I can offer everything from writing, to design, media relations, to content creation, to photography and project management as a one-stop, “virtual” communication team. Not only do I want to be a trusted communication outsource for clients; I also want to partner with other communication professionals in different disciplines.

  1. Now think about who you are.

What’s your personality? What’s your reputation? In my case, I’m known for writing with flair and energy, and being able to engage a wide variety of audiences. (I’m telling you this only to illustrate my point. I’m not saying it boastfully, and not without substantiation. I’ve got lots of recommendations to that effect in one of my social media profiles.)

So here are the key words I was working with: partner, flair, energy, style. I started pouring through the thesaurus looking for synonyms and word combinations, and jotting down names that came to mind out of them, on the notepad. Some I liked, some I didn’t. One combination I was keen on was already registered as a business and domain name.

Back to searching the dictionary and thesaurus, and more scribbles on my notepad. Then the perfect combination hit me.

A synonym for partner is “ally.” Another word for flair is “oomph.” The light went on: those two words were the perfect combination for my business name. In a matter of a couple of hours, I had the perfect name, with the perfect tag line.

I did a quick analysis: The name and tag line reflect what I do, and they’re catchy. They’re laser-aligned with my mission and business concept.

  1. Give it the litmus test

When I ran my rebranded name by a couple of trusted friends and allies, they thought it was catchy, too. And I didn’t have to explain what I do.

If you’re like me, you’ll instinctively know when you’ve hit on exactly the right business name. But give it the litmus test with these three questions:

  • Does it resonate with you, and others?
  • Is it catchy, but not trite or corny?
  • Is it aligned with your business concept?

If you can answer “yes” to all these questions, then you’ll have nailed your business name.

  1. Register it right away

I was jazzed. I knew it was exactly right. A quick online search revealed there were no other companies with that business name registered in Ontario. In most jurisdictions in North America, you’re legally required to register a business name and pay for a business licence if you’re doing business under any name other than your own. It’s often referred to as a “fictional name.”

Once you’ve developed the name for your business, I advise registering it right away. You never know who might be coming up with the same name at the same time as you! In the 21st century, you can do it in a matter of minutes from the comfort of your couch over the Internet. Long gone are the days when you had to venture to a provincial or state government office to register your business name.

Okay, you’ve come up with a jazzy name that works for your business. What about creating your brand visual identity? I’ll cover this in my next post.

Choosing a business name with oomph

Grab them from the get-go

Ovations

 

(I published this as a LinkedIn Pulse post a few months ago. But I’m re-publishing it here on The Oomph! Blog to lead off as the first post on our newly re-designed website. These are some valuable tips for dynamic presentations. If you missed this the first time on LinkedIn Pulse, read on!)

From pitches to lunch ‘n learns, these strategies can take your presentations to engaging new heights

 

Have you ever attended a presentation, lunch ’n learn, workshop or professional development seminar on a topic that was really interesting and valuable for you to learn about, but persevering through the session was a monumental task because the speaker was…um… not the right person (read, boring)? Worse yet, have you ever been rated as a boring presenter in a post-presentation audience feedback survey? (I hope you haven’t.)

There’s nothing worse for a presenter than losing your audience’s interest. If people are yawning, texting, staring blankly at the ceiling or checking their social media accounts before you’re two minutes in to a 30- or 45-minute presentation, you have a problem. If they’re tweeting, that’s even worse. They’re probably tweeting about how awful your presentation is. Especially if all you’re doing is regurgitating what’s on a series of PowerPoint slides they can see for themselves.

On the other hand, there’s a really rewarding feeling that happens when you finish your presentation and people stop you to say, “I really enjoyed your talk,” or “That was fantastic and it’s really going to help me. Thank you so much.” I know. Because it has happened to me more than once.

If you’re giving any kind of talk you have to engage your audience off the top. Here are six ways to do that. They can help you give more dynamic talks and be a sought-out subject matter expert…which can help you grow your business.

Tell a story.
Engage your audience in the first 30 seconds.

Like I’m doing right now. A few years ago, I put together a presentation titled, Living with Anxiety Disorder: It’s Nothing to Worry About for the annual conference of the London-Middlesex chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association. The evening before my presentation had been unbelievably stressful. (At the time my daughter, then a teenager, was doing some modelling.) I’d had to run my daughter to one audition in one part of the city and then to a fashion show in a different area of the city. We’d gone home from the audition thinking we were done for the evening.

Just as I was raising a forkful of much-needed food to my mouth, we suddenly found out she was supposed to be at a west-downtown hotel for a Toronto Fashion Week (now defunct, as of July) show. This was previously unknown because her agent forgot to tell my daughter she’d made the show, along with the girls who’d left the aforementioned audition session early. I dropped everything – literally – and we dashed. We were out until almost midnight. And I had to leave by six a.m. to make the two-and-a-half-hour drive to London, Ont., from Toronto in time for my talk.

I was still wound up like a yo-yo even as the facilitator introduced me to the audience. What did I do? Spend the first couple of minutes recounting the previous evening’s adventures. Passionately and excitedly. People laughed. Some of them until their eyes watered. They looked me in the eye. I looked them in the eye. I had them engaged. Find a personal story related to your presentation, and lead off with it. Engage your audience within the first minute. You’ll set the tone and pace of your entire presentation.

Be dynamic.

Now let’s face it. Not everyone is totally comfortable talking in front of an audience – and that can really show. (Practising beforehand will help – more on that later.) To engage your audience and hold their interest, you have to be dynamic. That means not just standing at the front of the room or at the podium. Walk back and forth. Gesticulate with your hands and arms. Point. Step closer to the audience occasionally. Perhaps most important – make eye contact with people as you talk.

All these actions charge your presentations with dynamic electricity that keeps the audience glued to their seats with all eyes on you, not their smartphones. Steve Jobs wasn’t the nicest person in the world, and he could be very abrasive and difficult with the people around him at Apple. But he was a masterful presenter at every product launch when he spoke. He knew how to bring audiences to their feet with standing ovations – for him and the latest Apple innovation.

Make slides your tool, not your presentation.

I’ve attended presentations at which the speaker essentially did nothing more than reiterate every single point on his PowerPoint slides, or read the slide notes word for word. My advice here is simple: don’t do this. Because you’ll lose your audience quickly. If you need slides to support your presentation, then that’s all they should do.

Here are the general working guidelines for effective PowerPoints:

  • no more than four to five bullet points per slide in at least 18-point type
  • no more than seven words per bullet point (the fewer the better)
  • one slide per minute of your presentation
  • graphics if necessary, but not necessarily graphics

Talk to the main points, expand on them. Work in some anecdotes along with “just the facts.” Talk to the audience. Look at the audience, not the slides. If you’re not comfortable “talking off the top of your head,” it’s okay to have a handful of index cards with some reminder notes jotted on them. If necessary, you can emphasize certain points on your slides with your voice and your body language. You’ll come across not only as a subject matter expert, but also as a dynamic one.

Rehearse…rehearse…rehearse.

Full disclosure here: I often don’t do this. That’s because I love speaking to audiences and engaging with people. I’m comfortable in front of an audience; I’m comfortable just jumping in and getting going. When you’ve invested a lot of time and effort putting together a presentation, you should inherently know your material inside out already. But spending some additional time practising your presentation is valuable. Listen to yourself. If you hear yourself talking too quickly, you can adjust your speaking pace. You can practice the inflexion in your voice at the right points in your talk. You may suddenly think of anecdotes or other information you hadn’t thought of before, that you can or need to include when you talk to your slides in front of the audience. Rehearsing also gives you the opportunity to time your talk. Make sure you’re within the allotted time you have. If necessary, tweak your presentation for both length and content. Gesticulate as you rehearse in front of your computer screen, just like you will when you give your actual talk. You don’t want to stumble in front of the audience. Rehearsing will help you make sure you come across as a confident speaker – even if you really aren’t. Appear and sound confident, and your audience will be engaged.

Gauge the audience continuously.

Keep your eyes on the audience constantly as you move through your presentation. It’s called, “reading the room.” You’ll know whether people are engaged; you’ll know whether you should pick up or slow the pace; you’ll know which points you should emphasize a bit more and which ones you can almost gloss over.

Leave time for questions at the end.

You’re the subject-matter expert. If you’ve really engaged the audience throughout your presentation, some of them are bound to have questions or comments about certain points you made. So make sure the length of your presentation includes leaving five or 10 minutes for questions and comments at the end of your talk. Don’t end with an abrupt “thank you” and immediately exit stage left.

A great way to lead into this question-and-answer session is by asking a question, with something like, “I’d like to thank you for taking the time to attend today. Is there perhaps anything I haven’t covered here that you’d like to know more about?”

If you’ve done things right, you may very well find there are more questions than time to answer them. And that’s a good thing. This is when you can offer to answer additional questions by email or phone. Collect people’s business cards, and jot down their questions on the backs as a reminder. This not only shows you’re interested in their needs, it helps you build your database of potential clients.

Whatever kind of presentations you do – whether regularly or only on occasion, you don’t have to be a dynamo. But you need to be dynamic and engaging. That’s because a powerful presentation can lead to new business or other new opportunities. Following these six strategies will help you make sure you deliver winning presentations every time.

 

 

 

 

Grab them from the get-go