Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Archive for April, 2013

Breaking the Deadline Deadlock

Posted by debrahelwig on April 26, 2013

NormanRockwellDeadlineYesterday, I was due to post on this blog.  I write here once a week.  If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I fell away for a time, and I’m determined not to let that happen again. Dammit.

So THURSDAY IS THE DAY. Post day. Something goes up, no matter what.

Only this week, it didn’t.

I’d been *thinking* about what I wanted to write for an entire week.  I’ve watched some TEDx videos, done research, had some great conversations with a very smart friend (Brantley Moate, this means you!), and started reading a mindblowing book that I think (in a crazy weird way) can provide some important truths to the professional services industry. I scribbled and jotted and started the post about seventy bazillion and six times. I was so excited about my idea!

But dangit, the words were just eluding me.

A week of think-work and scribble-work and all I had to show for it on Thursday afternoon was a mountain of crumpled paper and a half-baked idea that I *hope* will transform itself into genius at some point in the very near future.

In the meantime, my anxiety was rising – and rising – and exploding.  IT’S TIME TO POST!  WHERE IS THE POST!! And even though I got a lot of other good work done yesterday, this blog was hanging over my head like the Sword of Damocles. WHAT DO I SAY?  I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY! OH MY GOD, WHAT DO I DO NOW??

I was very, very, very tempted to avoid posting again today. But that would turn into tomorrow. And tomorrow. And suddenly, it would be three weeks from now with no post.  NO NO NO NO NO.

As I was thinking (worrying, freaking out!) about what I should DO about this evil problem, two different ideas struck at one time:

First, I remembered the Saturday Evening Post cover above by Norman Rockwell.  The anecdote behind this 1938 cover, called “Artist Facing a Blank Canvas (Deadline)”, is that Rockwell had a painting in progress but it was not coming together – much like my half-baked post. Instead of trying to come up with a new “big idea” painting from scratch, he told the story of what was happening to him right then – it’s a deadline and I have no idea what to say! – and in so doing connected beautifully with his audience and created one of the most-oft-reproduced Post covers of his repertoire.

This whole story gives me tremendous relief.  This sort of STUCK happened to Norman Rockwell, for goodness’ sake.

And it tells me one thing: when the deadline arrives, say something.  Give ‘em what ya got.  It may not be genius. It may not be the thing you thought you wanted to say. But it will be connecting – which is the most important thing – and it will be good enough.

Next, my brain took this idea to a whole different level.

I opened my inbox at work, and I realized I’m STUCK in this exact same way with a number of my business development contacts.  A popup will come on my calendar that it’s time to reach out to a person I haven’t talked to in a while, but because I don’t have the perfect article to share or the best pithy thing in the world to say, I skip it “for now.” And another day. And another. And another.

This is silly. And wrongheaded.

Those folks would have been quite happy with just a quick “touch base” and a friendly hello; maybe an inquiry about what’s going on in their world and some fun pleasantries.  Not every conversation has to have depth and meaning. Sometimes it’s fine to connect – just to connect.

In both cases (work and the blog), it comes down to one basic truth – one that scares me a little bit, which is probably just evidence that it’s REALLY TRUE:

If we want to make a difference, if we want to grow (ourselves, our businesses, our relationships), we cannot wait for the timing or the words to be what we think is perfect.  Our warm feelings, our brilliant thoughts, the connections we make, all the possibility that we bring to our business and to the world – all of it is worth absolutely nothing if it stays inside our heads.

So, ready or not, this post is now in your hands (did I mention WHAT A RELIEF that is?!) – and I’m off to make some phone calls to those contacts I’ve been neglecting, which will also feel very, VERY good when it’s done.

Deadline deadlock? Broken. The STUCK?  Unstuck.  Go me!  Go world!

I’ll see you here next week.

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Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Networking, Relationship Building, Writing | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

What Really Matters

Posted by debrahelwig on April 18, 2013

What MattersBoston.

Oh, Boston.

Ricin mailings to the Capitol.  And now West, Texas.

Closer to home, a tiny but mighty-for-good church in my community just burned to the ground. We’ve had six burglaries in my neighborhood in the past two weeks. My mother is back in the hospital.

Overwhelming.

And not just for me, for everyone.  People this week are battered by the outpouring of fear and sadness and high emotion surrounding these and a million other events negatively impacting the lives of people they care about.

The last time I was swamped with TOO-MUCH-FEELINGS and TOO-MUCH-BAD-STUFF, I wrote a post called Sometimes It Ain’t About You. The truths in that post still hold: when people are overwhelmed by bad stuff going on around them, you may have the most precisely targeted message in the world and it may fall on deaf ears.

But there’s another truth that has also shined through as this most recent series of heart-rending events has taken place:

When bad things are going on, people need to hear you say good things. Actively and on purpose. We need to be reminded that, as people, we can be knocked down, but it doesn’t have to be forever. We can help one another. We have gifts to share. We are worthwhile. This period of awful-ness is not eternal.

In the wake of the utter horror of the Boston Marathon, this beautiful commercial from Dove has exploded across Facebook and Twitter:


Yes, folks, this is marketing. This is intended to give you warm, fuzzy feelings about a brand so that you will buy their products. And yes, this same parent company (Unilever) also does some pretty sexploitative advertising for their Axe brand.

But you know what? Today, that doesn’t matter. Because this ad, this beautiful, wonderful ad, tells the truth. We are more beautiful than we think. Every single one of us.

When we are connecting with our clients this week, in the aftermath of Boston and West, Texas, after the exhausting finish of Tax Day and in the light of whatever personal crises we and they are managing, it’s critical that we learn from Dove’s example that positive messages resonate.

This week, especially, it’s time to cease and desist any of the standard “business development” activity we had on the calendar. Time to stop with the sales messages, the “look at us” pitch meetings, and MOST ESPECIALLY, now is the time to throw away any calls to action based on fear. (Don’t miss out! Last chance!  If you don’t do X you’ll be in trouble!)

We already have plenty of fear.

Instead, we need to find a reason to tell our clients how special they are. Remind them that, no matter what, we’re there to support them. That we ALL are more beautiful – and worthwhile, and full of possibility, and able to accomplish – than we think. Life is more beautiful than we think.

And that we will make it through whatever comes our way – together.

Photo by 350VT. License.

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Planting Seeds

Posted by debrahelwig on April 11, 2013

planting seedsYesterday, I did a “career day” presentation at my kids’ school about working as a Marketing Director – you know, a “stand up and talk with PowerPoint slides and video in the background” kind of deal.

I speak fairly often as part of my job, and my platform skills are pretty darn good, so I wasn’t particularly nervous about it.  Bring some props, show some video, it will be fun.  Right? Right?

Ummmm, well….I gotta tell ya – those fifth graders were the toughest house EVER.

Eye-rolling. Fidgeting. Looking-at-anyone-but-the-speaker. Yawning. And when I asked questions, you could practically see the kids diving under the tables to keep me from calling on them.

The longer I went, the sicker to my tummy I got. “You’re not reaching them,” my cynical brain whispered. “You’re making yourself look stupid. You’re wasting their time. You’re wasting YOUR time!” By the end, I was feeling pretty crumpled – chewed up and spit out in a vortex of pre-teen apathy. I packed my laptop case in a funk, pretty much determined I would never do anything like THAT again.

So, imagine my surprise when the guidance counselor who’d invited me walked up and said, “THAT was GREAT!”

Whaaaaat? How in the Sam Hades could that spectacular display of “I don’t care one bit about what you’re saying” be GOOD?

“They might not have looked like they were listening,” she said. “But they heard more than you think. And for a handful of them, you said some things that will really impact them later on. You wouldn’t know it now – but you planted seeds. It was perfect.”

HUH!

And this morning, when I took my kids to school, that very smart counselor was proved 100% right. A kid stopped me in the hall. One of the ones whose eyes were rolling the WORST during my speech.  Her eyes were bright and she was grinning as she said, “Hey! Thanks for coming yesterday – I thought you were awesome. I didn’t know all that stuff you do was out there. Pretty cool.”

So… Lack of immediate positive reaction does NOT necessarily equal failure?  Wow.

When I got to my office a little while later, I understood exactly why I had felt so bad yesterday – and why the counselor’s version of “success” seemed so strange. That’s because I turned on my computer, and my first actions were:

1.    Check my firm’s Twitter feed to see how many retweets and mentions we’ve had since yesterday
2.    Check Facebook to see who liked and shared my stuff
3.    Check my blog to see how many people have visited and who’s reading
4.    Check email to see who’s responded to notes I sent earlier

ALL of it an exercise in immediate gratification. Who likes me RIGHT NOW? What are they saying TODAY? Now, now, now, now, now!  Show me the return on my investment! This minute!

How utterly short sighted.

And here’s what else I realized: a lot of professional services firms are doing this.

When we come back from a seminar, we don’t wonder how many people might remember us months or even years down the road. We count business cards to see who spoke to us and provided a lead we can follow up on TODAY.

When we post articles, we don’t think about someone stumbling across the piece in a Google search six months from now.  We want to know who read them right away so we can contact them immediately for “warming up” in our leads pipeline.

We don’t think about who might look at a year’s worth of our Facebook feed, or three weeks worth of Twitter, to get a sense of our company culture. We think about who we snared with THIS post, RIGHT NOW.

ROI, ROI, ROI – Google Analytics, multivariate testing, analysis, monitoring – all designed to tell us how our stuff is performing in the moment.  And sure, that’s important.

But maybe we shouldn’t forget that every time we put ourselves out there, every time we share good ideas and information and part of ourselves with the world, there is a strong possibility it will make a difference somewhere down the road (maybe far down the road).  And that’s true even if the reaction is muted or nonexistent at first.

You never know whose mind and heart you will touch – or how, or when.

So as we go to work each day, doing the business of business development, of course we should all keep an eye on the now – but perhaps we need to focus more clearly on taking every opportunity to share what we know, wherever we can, whenever we can.

Because the real work we’re doing is planting seeds – and we don’t control when they bloom.

Photo by London Permaculture. License.

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Run a Good Race

Posted by debrahelwig on April 4, 2013

runner downSpring has sprung!  Easter is past, warm weather is on its way, the flowers are beautiful…

…and for my friends in public accounting, the April 15 deadline is looming like a BIG LOOMING THING.

Every industry has something like this – the project deadline that can’t be moved, that comes with a workload so crushing it hurts just to breathe. Everyone is focused on URGENT and MOVE IT THROUGH and GET ‘ER DONE.

When the churn comes around, you’ll run into people who get hyperfocused on the work on their desks – and ignore everything (and everyone) else around them. If it doesn’t directly affect their projects, they don’t care. They can’t. They’re too busy. And God help you if you have a situation that affects your handoff to them! Watch them go from pleasant to surly to snarly in about 2 seconds flat.

It’s a constant litany of MY work. MY deadline. MY performance review. ME oh MY oh ME ME ME ME ME…it’s all about MEEEEE!

(Sounds pretty awful when you read it that way, doesn’t it?)

But it’s just that tendency which makes stories like these resonate so strongly when we read them:

Ivan Fernandez Anaya, Spanish Runner, Intentionally Loses Race So Opponent Can Win – a true story! Kenyan athlete Abel Mutai thought the finish line of a race was sooner than it actually was, so he stopped running. Anaya, who was a clear 2nd place, chose not to sprint to the finish and instead slowed down so Mutai could win.

Contestants in a Special Olympics Race Link Arms and Finish Together – a strong exaggeration of a true story, this tale of 9 Special Olympics race contestants who stop to help up a fallen companion and finish the race together is powerful, even if it’s not especially accurate.

‘Cause here’s the truth: as deadlines approach, work is like a race. Getting to the end as efficiently and effectively as possible is important. But paying attention to the people we’re running with, and helping where we can, has a much greater positive impact than just getting to deadline day with finished stacks of work on our desks.

I experienced this truth first-hand last Fall. And it changed my life.

Last September, we were in the critical stages of launching one of our association’s most important meetings, and I dropped the ball. Big time. Just as I should have been building and launching a complex marketing campaign, my father became critically ill.

I didn’t do the campaign. I couldn’t do it. My father died. I planned a funeral.

And my fabulous, awesome, amazing colleagues? They did my work for me and never said a cross word. They put in extra hours. They did things that aren’t in their comfort zone. In that race, they picked me up and carried me across the finish line.

And I will be grateful and loyal to them, and to my company, forever after.

Offices are full of people. Folks with lives that have nothing to do with work – folks with sick kids and sick parents and broken down cars and bills and snow to shovel and God knows what else. Sometimes those non-work commitments mess with deadlines. Sometimes they destroy those deadlines.

It’s up to us to pay attention. To see when our colleagues are struggling and help them across the finish line.

In my Twitter feed yesterday, leadership guru Ken Blanchard said “Life, leadership, and business are all about giving people opportunities to be the best they can be.” Sometimes that means stepping outside of ourselves to carry our friends and colleagues when they can’t manage on their own.

Especially when the deadlines are looming.

Photo by chucka_nc. License.

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Busy Season, Leadership, Professional Services | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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