At the last Professional Consultants Association of Central New York meeting on April 12th, our presenter, Levi Spires, talked about his goal of trying to get elected to the New York State legislature and how he used technology to try to accomplish that goal. Even though he was unsuccessful in his bid, he wasn’t far off while running against a 20-year incumbent, and felt that using the new tools available to him helped get him closer to his goal than trying to run a traditional campaign.
Some of the tactics he used were illuminating and cutting edge. For instance, he created postcards that he was able to send out to the populace with specific links on each one, so that he could track who had visited his site and what they were interested in. He used that information and other databases to then conduct a door to door campaign of those he felt might be ready to hear his message and, instead of giving them a broad based message, spoke directly to each person about their interests based on visiting his website.
Frankly, that’s both amazing and scary at the same time. While some people lament the loss of privacy most of us get on a computer, visit websites, and conduct searches without realizing that almost all of these sites drop tracking cookies onto our computer. They do this to advertise to us, but also to gather demographic information. That a mailing could result in that same sort of thing is disconcerting and brilliant at the same time. It’s disconcerting because of the simplicity of finding out who we are. It’s brilliant because one only has to send out a mass mailing once, then can focus on those people who actually responded to it.
Even at this time in history many consultants are reluctant to try to use a lot of online technology to conduct business. It’s not always easy to do for one reason or another. Some of us have clients who aren’t really online looking for what we have to offer. Some of us aren’t good at it, preferring face to face connections because you more immediately know what someone needs as opposed to phishing, if you will, without knowing what the audience might be responding to.
Regardless, there is no stepping backwards. One can decide to tread water, and if you’re older then it might work out just fine. However, if you’re getting into consulting at a younger age, and that’s considered as late 30′s to early 40′s, you need to be willing to put yourself out there in some fashion to help market yourself while reaching out to those who might be able to use your services. It’s a global world, even if you have a local business, and if you’re unwilling to have a website, blog, Facebook page, account on LinkedIn, or whatever else it takes to make sure you’re controlling your message, you allow your competitors to pass you by, and it’s always harder to catch up the later you get into the game.
In February, we had Jill Hurst-Wahl of Syracuse University and Hurst Associates give a presentation to the Professional Consultants Association of Central New York on the topic of learning how to find trustworthy information online. As consultants, it’s important for us to have the right information when we talk to clients, and yet there’s so much information that it can get confusing.
One of the ideas Jill presented was to start with a particular industry or location to see what you can find out from them. For instance, if you’re looking for information about something going on in San Antonio, it’s probably best to look for an online news source in San Antonio because people there would have more of a reason to get the information correct. Likewise, if you’re an accountant you’re more likely to find the most accurate information for doing taxes on the federal and state tax sites rather than anywhere else.
Another idea she presented was an interesting belief about Wikipedia. She stated that if you need technical information Wikipedia is usually very accurate and offers way more information than you might get elsewhere. For instance, if you needed to know the full breakdown of an enzyme, you’ll get it correct and possibly get more information than you need.
On the other side of that, if you’re looking for information on people or newer companies and technology, some of what you read might be slanted or not totally correct based on timing and the number of people who are editing it, thus you might not want to trust everything you read about those subjects and use it as gospel.
Finally, she stated that using a source like a blog or a social media site might not give you the most accurate information based on the point of view of the writer, and the same can be said for certain businesses or associations whose points of view might be skewed towards what they feel is representative of their members or clientele.
For instance, a local chamber might share their opinion on a local business issue without being balanced enough to share the opinion of someone who feels a different way. Social media sites like Twitter might break stories faster than news does, but accuracy is always faulty because it’s coming from the perspective of the person who happens to be breaking the story, and many news sources place more emphasis on being first than being totally accurate.
Overall, you find sources that you feel are trustworthy and you stick with those unless you need total confirmation. Then you go to those sites where you’re getting direct information instead of conjecture. Very good advice across the board.
Last April the Professional Consultant’s Association of Central New York had a presentation on the topic of ethics presented by Arnie Poltensen, and it was a pretty powerful conversation. On the surface, everyone seems to have the same personal ethics, and yet once the discussions began, we started to realize that based on background and history and experiences not everyone sees those ethics in the same way.
Justin Baeder via Compfight
Arnie began by asking three good questions:
1. Why is something private?
2. Is it legal?
3. Would you mind seeing it on the 6PM News?
The one point all of the consultants in the room agreed with was the last one. The other two turned out to be interesting because there are certain things that occur every day that are supposedly business related that some people feel should be illegal while others believed they were valid business models, even if it wasn’t something they themselves would do. And the question of what’s private and what isn’t led to the types of debates that often happen in social media forums, usually broken down by generational beliefs.
Arnie also talked about the ethics of contracts and information by stating “The minute you write something down things get complicated.” Every person that goes into business hears the famous words uttered by Judge Judy: “If it’s not written down it didn’t happen.” Yet, even the simplest of contracts can cause distress depending on how each side interprets things, and longer contracts always cause consternation by one party or the other. We’re past the days where ethics decided things based on a handshake, and yet things didn’t get easier.
Another question that came up was “how do you help someone work out their issues while not only recognizing your limitations but theirs?” This becomes an ethical discussion because as a consultant your goal is to help a client solve their issues, no matter what they are. But sometimes the client’s perception is different than yours, or the client isn’t up to what you’re going to give them. Is it ethical to give a client what they asked for when you know it’s not what they need, even if they want to argue with you about it? Is it ethical to give a client more than they’re ready to deal with, such as a complicated computer program where they’ll never use more than 95% of it, because it makes you more money?
Logically Arnie ended with a phrase that transcends business, one that many of us use often: “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” This action often supersedes most problems that might arise in life, and is a great start to an ethical base that, unfortunately, can be more complicated than we’d like.
At the November meeting for the Professional Consultant’s Association of Central New York, the topic was using technology to schedule and plan one’s time by using things such as Microsoft Outlook. That’s because it’s a program that allows not only email but the ability to do all sorts of planning, note taking, creating folders and then colorize things so that you can identify priorities by sight quickly. Of course not everyone uses Outlook, which is why process is more important than whatever tool one uses.
One of the things that a lot of us took away from that meeting is that sometimes the art of planning can be overwhelming. While some people thrive at planning their days, like me, some people either feel constrained by that process or get to the point where they need to schedule time to schedule time.
In essence, those people who schedule things the best understand three principles. One, keep it simple; two, flexibility is your friend; three, tweak your system so it fits your personality, not someone else’s.
Truthfully, this is what consultants are supposed to do. If we go into a client’s company and start offering complicated or pricey options and that’s all we have, we’re not going to make much money or be a benefit to anyone. Clients want things fixed, and unless the mess requires drastic changes, they want things done quickly and easily. Almost no one wants a consultant to come in and change up the entire business, though sometimes that’s what’s needed.
The same goes for scheduling and planning time. For most people, everything can be done in the concept of 5′s.
For instance, if you need to have categories of things, only have 5 categories, maybe a 6th called “miscellaneous”. If we go by the Pareto Principle then the overwhelming majority of what you need to deal with should fall into those 5 categories, maybe even fewer.
When you’re planning your day, always build in 5 minutes between each event as a minimum. It might take you some of those minutes to complete your last task or to get to the next one, or you might just need to go to the bathroom; none of us is a machine. Planning breaks is also a smart idea if you’re one of those workaholics that doesn’t know how to take care of your health by making sure you eat or rest your mind periodically throughout the day.
Planning and scheduling really is the smartest thing for all consultants to do. How you do it should make your life easier and help you keep things straight. If you need to write a lot of notes to remember things, do it. If you can remember things by only writing a few words down as reminder points, then do that. Don’t fret over perfection; schedules are meant to help, not disturb your mind.
On October 12th the Professional Consultant’s Association of Central New York had its first meeting of the new year. Our presenter was Nasir Ali of Upstate Venture Connect, a non-profit organization that helps new and emerging businesses find both business structure and capital to work with towards multiple goals. One of those goals is working towards keeping talent in the central New York area. The other is helping those businesses grow so they’ll create new and good paying jobs in the community.
He began the presentation with a discussion of how things had been in New York state up until the mid 2000′s. New York led the country with 119 companies that were listed on Forbes 500; now we’re hovering close to 50. In his own way, he dispelled the myth that business has left New York because of taxes. Instead, it’s that business has changed overall, and those traditional businesses that are surviving are on the way to being replaced as it concerns jobs and the modern economy, and they’re being set up in other places.
The reasoning for this turned out to be interesting. The central New York area creates a lot of talent that ends up leaving. Some of the best social media technology in the country has been the brainchild of someone who studied in central New York such as Four Square, and that intrigued UVC, as they’re known. So they traveled across the country to meet with these people and ask them why they left the area.
Their response wasn’t expected until they started hearing it more and more. What young entrepreneurs wanted was answers and support. They were graduating with ideas and no support system, so they left town and went to areas where they could find people willing to hear them out, work with them, offer them advice and of course money so they could explore their vision. It’s a different business world because social media involves trying to come up with something that no one even knows if there will be an interest in, which means there’s no data for it. Just ideas, such as Pinterest, another major social media platform that was developed from a guy with central New York connections.
What UVC and Syracuse University decided to do was test the results of their survey. They decided to select from student bids those whose ideas seemed the most viable, then set them up with business leaders in the community, from bankers to lawyers to CEOs and anyone else willing to offer time and consulting to them, as well as a place to work in the Syracuse Tech Garden. The first year they selected 5 teams out of 10 bids, and it’s grown every year, as this past year they selected around 50 applicants out of more than 250.
What has happened has been fairly amazing. Around 70% of the students that went through the program have stayed in this area and are working on growing their businesses into something that will create new technology jobs. They’ve even been able to encourage some entrepreneurs who left the area to come back, especially since they never wanted to leave in the first place. With local mentors they can access, they have a support system that understands their needs, and in turn they become a support system for the new generation.
This can only be beneficial to the central New York region, and to consultants in general. After all, helping others is what consultants do, and everyone benefits in the long run. It was an engaging presentation, the type that PCA is known for. We hope to see more people at our next event.
There are a lot of great things that can be said about consultants. But something that has to be said about them in a group is that they can make a major mess of things sometimes.
I don’t mean that you won’t get good advice. What I mean is that consultants all believe that they’re correct almost all of the time. It’s an occupational hazard because one doesn’t stay a consultant by being wrong too often. Sure, consultants can make mistakes, but they’re almost always informed mistakes as opposed to not knowing what they’re doing.
In our own consultant’s group, whenever we have meetings we know that we’re all very strong willed individuals. Each of us can listen to someone speaking on a topic that we might not even know and we’ll all have opinions on it. Sometimes one person goes overboard and has to be reeled back in, and sometimes that person reels themselves back in; that’s what professional do.
But let’s face a couple of facts. Consultants are hired mainly for one thing; their ability to come up with ideas to help move things forward. As much as someone might say that consultants are hired to fix things, no one walks in and just fixes things if they have any sense at all.
Consulting takes evaluation. For instance, I had an electrician come into my house because one of my rooms had lost power from 5 of the six outlets. He could have come in, just fixed the problem, and left in 10 minutes. Instead, he took time to evaluate everything and realized that it was a wiring problem that extended beyond that one room, and was something that needed to be addressed for safety beyond just fixing the one problem.
Consulting takes guts. I say that because often we come into a situation where we throw out an idea and we get the response “we tried that already.” Did they really? I’ve often found as a consultant that they tried the concept but not the practice as I’m ready to define it. And even if my process doesn’t work, reality shows that scientists go through thousands of tests with something whether it works or not to see if the same thing occurs each time. Sometimes you just have to rule things out.
Consultants aren’t perfect by any means. We can make a mess of things, but we’ll usually fix them and make things better before we leave. There is no “one solution fixes all” procedure that works for everyone. Sure, it might work for almost everyone, but eventually it won’t work for someone; that’s when real consulting begins.
Consultants might shake things up, but they won’t do it more for you than they do it for themselves. You should see what we come up with when we meet on our own; what a raucously good time. As a matter of fact, if you’re a Syracuse area consultant or independent business person, we’d love for you to come to one of our meetings to see what we’re all about.
At the last presentation of the year for the Professional Consultants Association here in Syracuse, John Hunt of Movin’ 100 put on a show that was quite unexpected. Well, that he was fabulous wasn’t unexpected. What he gave us definitely was. He had an interesting take on a lot of things that most of us see in business, and in the end, with the combination of stories and insight, he ended up with four main points that I took away from it all, and it’s hard to argue with any of them. Let’s take a look.
1. We are all competitors in some fashion. In his mind, it doesn’t matter what industry someone is in, if someone else is marketing themselves and you’re marketing yourself you’re competing for the same person’s dollar.
On the surface you might want to disagree with that but think of it this way. The customer has $200 to spend. Does the customer go to the grocery store, a retail store, pay for some coaching or consulting or maybe pay some bills? All of those things are different, but they’re all competing for those dollars the consumer has.
2. Use clean language & be specific in what your strength is. How many businesses do you see selling themselves as #1? Can every business be #1? Do you believe every business that says they’re #1?
The idea in business and marketing is to find that one thing that separates you from all the other people who do what you do. That’s not as easy as it seems, but it can be done. Domino’s promises you’ll have pizza delivered to you in 30 minutes or you get it free. Cracker Jacks always promised a free prize in the box, no matter how cheesy it was. Time Warner Cable allows you to stop live programs for a short while, or go back to the beginning of a program or to any spot in between; you want to see that touchdown or home run again, you can, over and over, and no one else offers that right now. What can you do or do you do that will separate you from everyone else?
3. Look at your strengths and your competitors weaknesses. Most everyone has heard of the SWOT analysis, right? John’s take on it is slightly different when you look at weaknesses.
The example he gave us was in looking at an ice cream stand that was very popular. It was also next to a dump, and when the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, it made for a bad customer experience. So, he worked with his client on a marketing plan emphasizing that no matter what time of year, no matter the weather, your ice cream experience would always be wonderful.
4. Opportunities don’t slam competitors, then enhance their own strengths. John’s big point was that when you decide to slam your competitors that it can make you look petty, and that’s not a good business impression to leave on anyone.
Instead, what makes you better than everyone without having to name anyone else? This can be hard to decide because many times we’re not really taught how to talk about ourselves without trying to show why we’re better than someone else. We’re also taught not to talk all that much about ourselves, not to brag if you will, and thus we fight our instincts.
These are some great business lessons to learn and think about, especially for small businesses. What do you think you can offer to others, and learn from what you see here?
At the final meeting of the year for the Professional Consultant’s Association of Central New York, our presenter will be John Hunt, a long time professional in the field of broadcast media sales, working with numerous companies over the years in the Syracuse area. He will be specifically addressing ways that small and independent businesses can use this medium to market themselves and drive more business their way.
As it’s our final meeting, I hope you click on the link above to see the types of programs we out on this past year. We covered marketing via social media and print. We’ve talked about ethics, protecting your money and assets, avoiding scams and the like. We’ve learned sales techniques, and we’ve talked about some governmental things that impact business as well.
When it comes to looking at broadcast media, my bet is that most of us feel that the expense has to be overwhelming, and if our cash flow isn’t great that can be a daunting thing to consider. I’ve sat through a presentation with John and he offers many things one could do to help get affordable publicity, one of which could even mean having your own radio program and trying to get just a couple of advertisers to underwrite it. Even though I found that a fascinating prospect it was also a bit overwhelming for my mind. Yet it could be something that works for you; after all, there are guys with radio programs that talk about fixing cars.
If there’s one meeting you should think of coming to this year, think about coming to this one. You won’t be disappointed, and it’ll only cost you $10. It starts at 8AM on June 8th at the CenterState CEO building at 572 South Salina Street. Just ask for Dick Snyder or Mitch Mitchell, the second one being me. Hope to see you there.
Working for oneself can be a scary proposition. Truth be told, working for someone else is equally frightening. The threats and worries of both are always there, and even if the impact seems more direct for a small business owner, large companies fold every day for some of the same reasons. Let’s take a look at some of these things that come our way.
1. Competition. There’s always someone out there who can do what we do. Some can do it better, or at least as good as we can. This means that we have to find ways to differentiate ourselves from others so that we’re the first choice. We don’t have to be miles ahead of someone else, we just have to be a bit more persistent.
2. Wages. Wages can also be seen as rate, how much we charge, how much money we want to make. Businesses feel threatened by attempts to increase minimum wage because even if they pay more than that they feel pressured to modify salaries based on it. For those of us working for ourselves we have to balance what the market will bear against what we feel we’re worth based on our experiences and education. At the same time we have to see what our competitors are doing and, to an interesting extent, try not to harm our industry by offering services so low that no one can make a living.
3. Government. Everyone has to deal with all these regulations. We all have to pay taxes and chart our income some way. We also work with other businesses that deal with the same types of things, and sometimes we have to work under those rules. It seems strange saying that government is a threat, but it’s definitely something that’s always in the back of our minds, whether it’s federal, state, local or even law enforcement, which is a part of the government by extension.
4. Complacency. This comes either when things seem too easy or you just can’t figure out your next step so you do nothing. So many people that have said “I don’t have to market because I get all referrals” suddenly find themselves one day needing to market and they don’t know how. So many people decided to work for themselves, got something immediately, had a long term commitment, and one day that ends and now they’re wondering “what next”? These are the times we need to plan for because almost everyone goes through it at some point.
5. Fear. We might we well throw fear in here because all of us have it at some point. The problem with fear is that it can lead to total inaction; we can’t even get started because fear has gripped us. This happens in large businesses also; we just need to look at Kodak and how tightly they tried to hold onto a past that was closing up fast.
6. Media and Social Media. These may not seem like threats but they are. Do someone wrong and it can be on Twitter in seconds. Really do someone wrong and it turns into a blog post. Get your marketing message wrong and, even if you fix it, your business could be done before dinner. Ignore it and you might not only get left behind, but you may not know you’re being trashed and not even know why the phone has stopped ringing, if you’re getting lots of rings to begin with.
Nothing is ever simple; then again, if it was why do it? Keeping these things in mind as things to worry about shouldn’t paralyze you. They need to inspire you because you at least have some ideas of things to watch out for and to not be immobilized by. Truthfully, it’s one of the reasons I joined PCA, because everyone has stories that involve these things, and everyone has tales of how they pushed forward and achieved something positive. We all can use more of that.
In March the Professional Consultant’s Association of Central New York had a roundtable discussion on looking out for and dealing with business scams. All of the members talked about the types of scams they’ve encountered, and for things people need to watch out for.
Mitch Mitchell of SEO Xcellence led the discussion, and below is the outline and highlights of the discussion:
The basic anatomy of a scam is comprised of 3 things:
1. It’s too good to be true
2. It looks legit but isn’t
3. You don’t see it coming.
People tend to get swayed by two things. One, making money, especially when times are tough, and two, the promise of bigger money that your logical mind says can’t be possible, yet your other mind decides to explore. These are the things scams are built on.
Next we have the different types of scams and how they’re presented to us. They are:
Everyone’s gotten email from someone promising us millions if we’ll send them a few dollars. When it comes to businesses, the letters are better written and the promises not as large, but the same type of thing occurs.
2. Regular mail
These things come all the time in the mail, sometimes by postcard or flyer, but we have to read them carefully.
If you see anything posted on a pole or on a wall, it’s probably not the best business opportunity in the world.
4. Online Scams
You can find some legitimate work in places like Craigslist, but there are also a lot of scams that are looking to take your money and run.
5. Phone calls
These people sound legitimate, but you can’t promise anything to anyone until you’ve had time to research it. I had one weeks ago from someone representing GSA jobs, but the costs for going with them involved a monthly consulting fee of $250 and a fee per contract they helped write of $6,000 per, with no promise of getting the contract. You have to research everything.
6. Link scams
This is where you read something that looks really good and you want more information so you click on a link, and the next thing you know you have either spyware, malware or a virus on your computer; never good.
This topic got a lot of debate as to whether it’s a scam or just a bad business model. The general consensus was that these things promise you the opportunity to supplement your business with cash yet, because of their nature, end up flooding the market with so many others trying to market the same thing that you’re never going to make any money off it, and it distracts you from your regular business.
The final piece of the discussion centered around the topic of the types of offers that take money and time away from you working on your own business. The categories were:
2. Fake business/payment schemes
Remember that online scam point above? One of our members contacted someone on what looked like a great deal, only the person wouldn’t meet them in person. The last correspondence was the potential client saying he’d send a check for an amount way over what the work was worth, asking the person to cash it and send back the rest of what the check was for. Luckily, no papers were signed, but it looked good up until that point.
3. “You market me and I’ll pay you a percentage”
This is a scam because you’ve just signed on to be a de facto sales person for someone else during a time when you’re trying to market your own services. If you have need to use a certain product all the time and you value it, such as maybe being a computer repair person that only uses a certain type of hard drive when repairing computers, that might not be a bad idea, but otherwise anything that takes you away from marketing yourself first is an indirect scam.
4. “Pay me and I’ll tell you about a lead”
This goes along with point #5 above and even goes further. There are many websites that say they have lots of jobs and contracts you can bid for, but you have to pay them for access. Although nothing is ever guaranteed, you can bet that by looking around you’ll find the same jobs or potential contracts on your own with a little research.