Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Archive for the ‘Networking’ Category

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 »

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 »

In Praise of Showing Up

Posted by debrahelwig on March 22, 2013

MailvEmail

A few days ago, this Internet cartoon drifted through my Facebook feed.

My reaction? Oh my God, YES.

So I shared it. And my friends and colleagues reacted the same way.

What is it about this that makes everybody I know react so strongly? I sat down to blog, and I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it.  What is it that makes this idea important?

The answer struck like lightning at my kids’ PTA meeting last night.

Our school has a high overall level of parent involvement. The event was skillfully planned. Robust agenda. Thoroughly publicized. Food and childcare included. All this should be a recipe for a well-attended, highly successful meeting, right?

Exactly five parents showed up.

The result? Huge disappointment for the folks who worked so hard to make it happen. Big hard feelings of “does anybody really care anymore?” (This EVEN THOUGH the Facebook page for the PTA is quite active, and there were a ton of “So sorry I couldn’t make it, go PTA!” messages posted there.)

That crushing disappointment is the place where the meeting and the cartoon connect.

Because through technology, we’ve created a culture of convenience.   And, all over the place, our cyber-induced complacency is short-circuiting relationships that matter.

It’s true that sometimes for real reasons (the economy forcing people to work two jobs) and more often for fake reasons (spending time sucked into Facebook or online games or email), we seem to have less time than ever before.  It’s easy to connect with people via email and Facebook, in our own time, at our own schedule. It’s convenient and quick and we can do a lot more of it and feel very productive.  Look at all the connections I have!  Look at who I contacted today!

But at their heart, the very effortlessness of these connections devalues them.

In our deepest selves, we appreciate effort. It matters when we show up. When we connect in a physical way.

A virtual hug, however appreciated, can never hold the same value as feeling sheltered in the arms of a person who cares.

An email, however lovely, cannot substitute for the time and effort that goes into a card that is hand-chosen, handwritten, hand-stamped, hand-sent.

Online support and donations are valuable for a charity or service club or PTA. But they cannot replace the nurturing that comes from being present with people who need us.

In professional services, no amount of email, or newsletters, or excellent technical work, can substitute for face-to-face time with a client. Looking them in the eye. Hearing their concerns. Saying “You matter to me” in ways much louder than words.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Interwebs ever so slightly. Facebook, Twitter, email, and all the rest need to be a tool to augment personal interaction, not replace it. Don’t stop emailing or Facebooking. God no.

But sometimes, you just gotta show up.

In our hearts, we know this. It’s why this cartoon has been shared and shared and shared. Why we rejoice over cards in the mail and make a big deal when there’s a great turnout for the Food Bank workday.

If we want to make a lasting difference to the people around us – clients or friends or family – we must find a way to be physically, tangibly present when they need us.  We can’t wait for other folks to do this work. It’s up to us. Even when it’s inconvenient.

Maybe especially when it’s inconvenient.

Cartoon by Victor at http://www.poofytoo.com.

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Marketing, Networking, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

End the Name Blame Game: Be a Hero

Posted by debrahelwig on March 19, 2013

SuperheroOver the years, I’ve wished over and over for a very specific superpower. And if it comes with spandex tights, mask, and cape, so be it.

It’s not flight. Not super strength. Not plasti-girl flexibility.

I want the superpower to remember people’s names.

I live a public life. I see people all the time at networking events, at conferences, at my kids’ school, at church. I know who they are. I know who they’re connected with. I know something about them.

But their names?  Far too often, they’ve blown away like smoke on a windy day.

Sometimes, the problem is contextual, like seeing an always-elegant work contact in their sweats and sneakers at the grocery. That sort of missed connection makes sense. But what I’m talking about here is more blatant. My best client’s business partner. The person who sat in the front row at two of my recent conferences and asked good questions. The mom of my kids’ classmate, who I see every weekday when I walk the kids to school. The person I see and speak to at church EVERY WEEK.

Faces I know. Names I should know.

Here’s a great example: I was volunteering at a church workday this past Saturday, polishing brass, and two other women came into my workspace to help. I know both of them.  I’ve been attending this church for SEVEN YEARS. I see them every Sunday.

Names?  Dang it, I couldn’t recall either of them.

Over the years, the primary tool I’ve used in covering this weakness has been my status as a woman of the American South.  Because I am a girl from Georgia, with an accent to match, people assume that it’s just normal for me to use “Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Sugar,” or “Darlin,” instead of a name.  I cover my lapses with whichever pleasantry comes to mind first.  But this day, I knew it wouldn’t work, not on two at once – especially since both were Southern women themselves. They’d know in a heartbeat what I was up to. There was nothing to do but suck up the embarrassment and admit my fault.

But it turns out that the way I did it sparked a whole new way of thinking about my name-centered memory lapses – one that benefited both me AND them – and that might benefit you too.

I did something far different than simply plead amnesia.  I prefaced my confession by telling them what I did remember.

To Gal One, I said, “I know you’re a dental hygienist, and you always wear the most beautiful jewel tones, but for the life of me I cannot remember your name.”

Her reaction? “Oh my gosh, it’s so sweet of you to remember all that about me! I’m Kathy.”

Wow.  I did not dissolve into a puddle of embarrassment.  The world did not explode.

I kept going to Gal Two: “And you sit in the front pew every week, and you always have a big smile for me.”

She said, “I’m Kenny, Debra. I’m glad you remember my smile.”

Holy Moley. It worked. No angst. No pain.  And in reflecting on it later, I figured out why it worked then and (more important!) why it will work in the future.

Saying what I do know makes all the difference. You see, one of the biggest perceived slights in forgetting a name is the feeling that You Forgot Me. ALL of me. By saying what I do remember, it honors the person and says, “I remember you, and you’re important; my brain just doesn’t work well on names.”

That’s a very different communication. One that speaks of value and caring. One that opens the door to a much more rich and interesting dialogue. A dialogue that builds a relationship.

In that case, a lost name isn’t a reason to beat ourselves up and feel bad.  Instead, it’s an opportunity to build someone else up.  A real, honest-to-goodness chance, if only for a moment, to allow them to see themselves as we see them.  To remind them of things that stand out, positively, from their encounters with us, even if the name didn’t stick.

Because the superpower isn’t remembering the names. The superpower is connecting with the people behind the names.

I had my superpower all along. Fellow name amnesiacs out there, you do too.  All we have to do is use it.

No cape required.

Photo by Kaptain Kobold. License.

Posted in Attitudes, Networking, Relationship Building, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

You Are Not a Loser if You Hate to Blog (or Tweet, or Facebook, or…)

Posted by debrahelwig on June 29, 2010

Wherever you go these days, there are people talking about how we have to get into social media. Blog now! Start a Facebook page! WHAT? You don’t have a LinkedIn profile??? The mantra, “You have to be ‘out there’ to be successful today” resounds from every corner of the business world.

But if you’ve given it a try, and every time you type a tweet your innards scream “I don’t WANNA!” Or if every time you sit down to write a Facebook status or blog post your guts cramp up, I have a wonderful, liberating piece of news for you.

You don’t have to.

Yes, social media is real and is here to stay. The blog, the Twitter account, the Facebook page – all that stuff will change the way some businesses work. But these things are TOOLS to help you do your business, which is accounting or law or whatever other great service it is that you provide. Contrary to what many, many consultants will tell you, it is permissible to read other people’s blogs and learn from them without having your own. You are not a gutter-trawling loser for limiting Facebook to just your friends and family.

Doing anything – social media or otherwise – because you’re afraid (of looking dumb? of being left out? of losing business or friends?) is a really bad idea. Fear is an incredible spur to action, but a terrible way to stay motivated and productive.  So don’t give in to fear.

If you have other offline ways you’re more comfortable working with people – you’re fabulous face-to-face or on the phone, but you’d rather eat uncooked tripe for lunch than write – then for goodness sake do what you do best. Work your magic your way and to hell with what anyone else thinks. Just realize that your clients may be looking for you in these social media spaces, and if you don’t want to be there, you’ll have to find other ways to keep them engaged. Or find clients who don’t care whether you have a social media presence or not. Both things can be done. You can do things your way and be successful.

This is not permission to quit with social media before you start. This is permission to say “No thanks, I really, truly tried that, and it doesn’t work for me.” That’s honest. And the people who work with you will know the difference.

Photo by jeannahmc (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Professional Services, It’s Time to Join the Age of Conversation

Posted by debrahelwig on May 19, 2010

Let’s talk social media for a second, folks. By that, I mean the “it’s more than just technology” part of social media.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs – they’re all exciting tools (or toys) on their own, sure. But it’s the stuff behind the technology where the magic happens. All that “people” stuff we were supposed to be good at as professional services providers before? Social media just makes it, well, MORE. Bigger. Like a guitarist who figures out how to crank his amp six notches past “10” and rock the night away.

When you take on social media and become “part of the conversation”, you open a door to tremendous possibilities: the potential to build and maintain solid relationships over distance. To share ideas. To make connections. To help people do their business better.

Pretty spiffy stuff.

And now, no matter where you are on your social media journey, there’s a book that will give you a lot more insight about how to get social media working its magic for you and your firm. It’s called The Age of Conversation 3: It’s Time to Get Busy – and I am pleased and proud to say that I am a contributing author.

171 folks contributed to this book, providing lessons, insights, and examples of how to stop talking about social media and actually get the job done. As editor Drew McLellan says on his blog, “There are excellent case studies, some very candid ‘this bombed’ examples and a much more pragmatic, ‘from the trenches’ view of social media.”

I personally found a tremendous number of takeaways – and I believe the honest insights in this book would be of help to any professional services firm seriously interested in taking their firm to the next level with social media. Plus, 100% of the proceeds from sales of the book go to the Make a Wish Foundation, so you help kids while you’re helping your firm. What could be better?

You can find the book here: Hardback, Paperback, or Kindle.

Thanks to editors Gavin Heaton and Drew McLellan for giving me the chance to participate in this project. It’s been a blast! If you’d like to read the blogs of some of my fellow authors, click in the table at the bottom of this post. You’ll be blown away by the insight and value you’ll get from them.

Then check out The Age of Conversation 3. Because the world has changed. Our business has changed. And there’s no going back.

Thank goodness.

Untitled Document

Adam Joseph

Priyanka Sachar

Mark Earls

Cory Coley-Christakos

Stefan Erschwendner

Paul Hebert

Jeff De Cagna

Thomas Clifford

Phil Gerbyshak

Jon Burg

Toby Bloomberg

Shambhu Neil Vineberg

Joseph Jaffe

Uwe Hook

Steve Roesler

Michael E. Rubin

anibal casso

Steve Woodruff

Steve Sponder

Becky Carroll

Tim Tyler

Chris Wilson

Beth Harte

Tinu Abayomi-Paul

Dan Schawbel

Carol Bodensteiner

Trey Pennington

David Weinfeld

Dan Sitter

Vanessa DiMauro

Ed Brenegar

David Zinger

Brett T. T. Macfarlane

Efrain Mendicuti

Deb Brown

Brian Reich

Gaurav Mishra

Dennis Deery

C.B. Whittemore

Gordon Whitehead

Heather Rast

Cam Beck

Hajj E. Flemings

Joan Endicott

Cathryn Hrudicka

Jeroen Verkroost

Karen D. Swim

Christopher Morris

Joe Pulizzi

Leah Otto

Corentin Monot

Karalee Evans

Leigh Durst

David Berkowitz

Kevin Jessop

Lesley Lambert

Duane Brown

Peter Korchnak

Mark Price

Dustin Jacobsen

Piet Wulleman

Mike Maddaloni

Ernie Mosteller

Scott Townsend

Nick Burcher

Frank Stiefler

Steve Olenski

Rich Nadworny

John Rosen

Tim Jackson

Suzanne Hull

Len Kendall

Amber Naslund

Wayne Buckhanan

Mark McGuinness

Caroline Melberg

Andy Drish

Oleksandr Skorokhod

Claire Grinton

Angela Maiers

Paul Williams

Gary Cohen

Armando Alves

Sam Ismail

Gautam Ramdurai

B.J. Smith

Tamera Kremer

Eaon Pritchard

Brendan Tripp

Adelino de Almeida

Jacob Morgan

Casey Hibbard

Andy Hunter

Julian Cole

Debra Helwig

Anjali Ramachandran

Jye Smith

Drew McLellan

Craig Wilson

Karin Hermans

Emily Reed

David Petherick

Katie Harris

Gavin Heaton

Dennis Price

Mark Levy

George Jenkins

Doug Mitchell

Mark W. Schaefer

Helge Tenno

Douglas Hanna

Marshall Sponder

James Stevens

Ian Lurie

Ryan Hanser

Jenny Meade

Jeff Larche

Sacha Tueni and Katherine Maher

David Svet

Jessica Hagy

Simon Payn

Joanne Austin-Olsen

Mark Avnet

Stanley Johnson

Marilyn Pratt

Mark Hancock

Steve Kellogg

Michelle Beckham-Corbin

Michelle Chmielewski

Amy Mengel

Veronique Rabuteau

Peter Komendowski

Andrea Vascellari

Timothy L Johnson

Phil Osborne

Beth Wampler

Amy Jussel

Rick Liebling

Eric Brody

Arun Rajagopal

Dr Letitia Wright

Hugh de Winton

David Koopmans

Aki Spicer

Jeff Wallace

Don Frederiksen

Charles Sipe

Katie McIntyre

James G Lindberg & Sandra Renshaw

David Reich

Lynae Johnson

Jasmin Tragas

Deborah Chaddock Brown

Mike O’Toole

Jeanne Dininni

Iqbal Mohammed

Morriss M. Partee

Katie Chatfield

Jeff Cutler

Pete Jones

Riku Vassinen

Jeff Garrison

Kevin Dugan

Tiphereth Gloria

Mike Sansone

Lori Magno

Valerie Simon

Nettie Hartsock

Mark Goren

 

Peter Salvitti

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Law, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Stifle Your Inner Wallflower

Posted by debrahelwig on March 26, 2010

Last week, I had the chance to attend a really cool session by MECLabs (parent to Marketing Experiments and MarketingSherpa) on Marketing ROI. The materials were great. Dr. Flint McGlaughlin had some truly eye-opening things to say. There was an entire room full of engaged, bright people there to share ideas with.

And I blew it.

I didn’t talk to anyone outside the two people sitting on either side of me at my table. I didn’t initiate conversations. I didn’t try to find out more about why people were there and what they’re dealing with and how I might learn from their pain.

That’s not like me, either. Usually, I’m full of advice and ideas and stories and — well, let’s just say I ain’t shy. And more to the point, when I’m up in front of professional services marketing directors talking about networking, my first advice regarding events is “Don’t hide in the corner.” I didn’t even take my own advice! Ai yi yi.

So what happened?

Bluntly, the topic was not in my comfort zone.

See, if you put me in a room of professional services people, or maybe even social media people or customer service people, I’m good to go. I know the lingo, and I have enough experience with the industry to know the general pain points and maybe even some solutions. I have stories to tell. I can gab. It’s fun. And I shine.

But at this meeting, I was the newbie. I’m not a numbers gal, and I’m not a huge believer in ROI. I attended the meeting to see what I might learn, what I might be missing – but I really felt unsure of my handle on the topic. My tongue tripped over phrases like “quantifying returns” and “multivariate test results”. Frankly, I felt a little dumb.

So I shut up. Did my best wallflower act. And I missed out on a great opportunity to connect with neat people.

I know for a fact I’m not the only one to do this. Great consultants in our industry coach on networking skills all the time. They talk about firm handshakes. About how to enter and exit gracefully from a conversation. About asking for the business card or the referral.

But probably the most important piece of advice I can think of is one that gets missed in many coaching sessions: you don’t have to be an expert on everything.

We all seem to have a touch of this animal fear when confronted with a subject that’s not our passion: I don’t know enough yet. I’m not good enough yet. I’m not enough of an expert yet. I can’t talk about that!

Maybe not. But here’s what I figured out, after a “try again” moment at an event this weekend where the topic was way outside my expertise: You can engage. You can listen. And you can learn.

At my weekend event, the hot topic was tax implications of the new healthcare bill – another area where I am definitely out of my depth – but because I jumped right in and asked good questions instead of playing the wallflower, I walked away with a handful of business cards and a whole lot of valuable information I can use both in my job and my personal life.

It was a magical sort of thing, really. When I asked questions, people got engaged. They liked it when I let them talk about what they know. I didn’t have to be the expert on their thing (taxes and healthcare). I could be the expert on my thing (service and relationships), and my questions helped us find common ground so we could talk about both. Hooray!

You can bet I’ll be taking these tools to my next session on Marketing ROI (and every other meeting, conference, and event I attend from now on.)

Take it from me: the next time you’re thrust outside your comfort zone, stifle your inner wallflower and tell the fear to go stuff itself. Dive in, introduce yourself, ask a few questions, and listen. You’ll end up smarter and more confident. You’ll make new connections with great people.

And you won’t look dumb in the process.

Photo by Bettina Tizzy (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Be Who You Are – Out Loud: Why Authenticity + Consistency Are Critical to Wooing and Keeping Clients

Posted by debrahelwig on February 25, 2010

I have a new crush.

A few weeks back, a friend of mine turned me on to a great company called Better World Books. This bunch sings to me on a lot of levels – I’m an avid reader, a bargain junkie, a believer in literacy programs, and “green” enough to be a good recycler. Win + win + win.

But the other thing I love about Better World Books is their style. Check out this follow up email:

If your order hasn’t blessed your mailbox just yet, heads are gonna roll in the Better World Books warehouse! Seriously though, if you haven’t received your order or are less than 108.8% satisfied, please reply to this message. Let us know what we can do to flabbergast you with service.

Fun, simple and service oriented, just like their site and blog. These guys will get my money, because from site to blog to email, they present a consistent voice that I relate to.

But there’s another part to this story.

You might not like Better World Books’ message, and that’s cool too. If you’d rather have a cup of Starbucks at Barnes & Noble and finger the pages of every book before you buy, go with their blessing. There are plenty of other people in the world, like me, who belong with them. It’s a matchmaker’s tale. Find a person / client / business that resonates with your needs and values, you’ll wind up together.

With all that in mind, here’s the lesson for our industry – and the $64K question for you:

Are you gutsy enough to take the Better World Books approach? To unapologetically be who you are, with an eye toward working only with clients who are a great fit for your firm?

In a down economy, it’s such a temptation to say that any work is good work. Believe me, it’s not.

Doing work you don’t like for clients whose worldview is a bad match to yours sucks the energy out of your culture. Over time, your office will become a giant revolving door – for work, for clients, for staff. Because the synergy, the passion, the “why we belong together” isn’t there.

Do you know your firm’s culture inside and out? If not, then get to know it now. This minute. Be able to put images and words around it. Show other people what you’re good at, what you like to do, and how you get it done. Then be authentic and consistent in sharing that special culture of yours everywhere you do business, online and off.

Because if your communications don’t reflect the culture of your firm, the disconnect is costing you business – both by saddling you with clients who are a bad fit based on misperception, and by missing clients who would be perfect but who don’t understand why you’re great for them.

It’s not about fitting into what “society” says is hip and cool, either. It’s 100% OK to be a buttoned-up, marble-column, three-piece-suit firm in today’s world. But clients who want a firm like that won’t find you if your Web site is full of edgy Madison Avenue imagery and your firm partners network at trendy cocktail parties.

On the other hand, if your firm is hip, fun, and youth-oriented, having a Web site with a five-year-out-of-date board room photo of the partners on the main page, a blue and grey color scheme, and a nonexistent social media presence won’t do a thing to win the clients you want.

The path to success lies in fluently expressing your firm’s culture in communications designed to reach your “right people” (as Havi Brooks would say), and not being concerned about clients who aren’t a good fit. If you stay consistent, the right people will find you. And because they are your right people, the likelihood that they’ll stick around for the long haul is a lot higher.

Be who you are – out loud. Because authenticity + consistency = clients that stay. Clients you like, because at least to some degree they think like you.

Getting there is worth the effort.

Photo by Roland (license).

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Posted by debrahelwig on January 13, 2010

Did you miss me?

No, really, did you?

Hurrah if you did (you make me blush)….but my bet is you’re so busy you never even noticed that I’d stopped posting to this blog for the last two months.

The stopping part wasn’t on purpose, mind you. A freakish set of health issues and work crises conspired to make every second of my available time disappear from November to now. But I’m grateful to say things are better, and I’m back on station to to share and discuss ideas with you.

SO – now you know where I’ve been, back to the question at hand.

Did you miss me?

The answer isn’t about my ego. It’s important because your reaction to my absence proves a point that’s applicable for your professional services career.

When you lose regular contact with the people you do business with, EVEN PEOPLE WHO LIKE AND CARE ABOUT YOU, you very well may drop out of their scope.

People like important clients. Referral sources. Heck, even good friends.

The old saw “Out of sight, out of mind” is a very real thing.

It’s not that people don’t care. They’re busy. According to studies, busier than ever before. And stressed to boot.

If we don’t make the effort to stay in touch, even (maybe especially) when we’re busy and overcome with crises, the likelihood is the important people in our lives won’t remember to either.

And when the moment arrives when it would be beneficial to reconnect….well, it’s awkward. Difficult. Easy to postpone. So we don’t.

And if we don’t – the potential for lost opportunities is infinite.

In my case, I’d have been much better off if I’d written a quick post every couple of weeks. Nothing earth-shattering, just a little placeholder note to the blogosphere to keep the connection open. For you, it might be sending a greeting card with a quick two-line note to a favorite client. A three word email (“Thinking of you!”) to a friend you haven’t talked with in a while. A forwarded article, or maybe a five minute phone call with a referral source you’ve neglected.

Even the smallest gesture can make a difference.

Sure, there are times when life happens. When we lose contact with important people. When we stop blogging, or emailing, or calling for real, honest reasons. And it’s hard to get started up again. Reconnecting is awkward. What do you say? How do you explain why you didn’t call or write or blog? It feels icky – at first. But, trust me, the benefits from the connections we reforge infinitely outweigh the discomfort of our avoidance.

For all you accountants out there, Busy Season is coming. Getting intentional now and making a firm commitment to stay in touch with the important people in your life and career, before your schedule swerves out of control, will go a long way toward keeping you TOP of mind, instead of OUT of mind, when April 15th rolls around.

As for me, watch this space. I’ll be hanging around here regularly from now on.

Photo by helgasms! (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Busy Season, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Teaching Moment: Relationship Builder or Dealbreaker?

Posted by debrahelwig on November 9, 2009

peach jamOne of my guilty pleasures in life is making homemade jam.

Few things make me happier than spending hours chopping and dicing peaches or strawberries, then stirring and stirring that boiling pot of fruit and sugar until the smell fills the whole house. Oh, the simple beauty of those little gemlike jars of goodness lined up in perfect order on the countertop. Bliss. Unadulterated, yummy, creative bliss.

But teaching a group of my friends how to do it, one summer a while back? Um. Wow. Huge lack of bliss there.

Important point – it wasn’t their fault. All my friends are plenty smart. And they showed up on time that day, with the right equipment, ready to learn. But when I worked with them, my usual bliss experiment wasn’t so blissful. It was work. Hard work. None of us had any fun at all. I was so disappointed – but at that moment, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why things went wrong.

Then, just recently, I read these two beautiful little tweets from @carl_ingalls:

When you teach or advise, let people discover things. Don’t tell them all the answers.

and

When people discover an answer, the knowledge becomes theirs.

AHHHHHH.

Reading those tweets made me think about my jam problem on that afternoon so long ago. And I realized something pretty embarrassing.

That fateful day, from the minute my friends set their bags of peaches on the counter, I’d told every single one of them exactly what to do without telling them why. I’d said super lofty (and, dangit, super stupid) things like “No! What are you doing?,” usually followed by snatching the spoon out of someone’s hand and completing the task myself.

How utterly asenine of me.

So WHAT if there had been a lot of questions, a lot of false starts, a lot of mistakes? We could have laughed about them. It might have made us closer, a real “remember when” event. We might still have been laughing about it – over a jar of  THEIR homemade jam – 20 years from now.

But nooooo. I was a lot more worried about looking smart and being the expert than having fun and building on my relationships. And I lost an opportunity. A big one.  You can bet none of them wanted me to teach them anything for quite a while after that. Fortunately, they’ve forgiven me since. But they’re good friends and I’m a lucky gal.

Now, my question to you:

Are you making my “jam” mistake in your business relationships?

Are you more concerned with showing off your impressive credentials and sharing your hard-earned expertise than understanding what your clients and potential clients want to know?

Every time you come into contact with a client or potential client, you have the opportunity to help them grow. To build a relationship. To lead them to new knowledge without preaching at them. To be helpful without needing to look smart. Are you taking advantage of those opportunities? Or are you wasting your time just snatching the spoon away, so you can show them what an expert you are?

Your clients might not be as gracious as my friends are. There’s no promising they’ll give you a second chance.

These days, I’m a lot more mindful about how I share what I know. And the difference in all my relationships – both professional and personal – is astounding.

How can you use your knowledge to build and strengthen relationships with the people who need your advice?

Photo by Kfergos (license)

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Law, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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