Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Go, Make Something!

Posted by debrahelwig on March 14, 2013

MakeSomethingThis week, the stomach flu landed at my house.  On me.

Two days of evilness, followed by the sickest feeling I’ve ever had in my life: coming back to work to a list of 35 urgent “to do” items and an inbox with 150 actionable messages in it. It’s Busy Season in the accounting world and I was already crazy with work. Now…God help me.

And I had thought I was queasy before…

My immediate reaction was one of overwhelming inadequacy and stupidity.  Especially taking into account that there isn’t just WORK stuff. At home I have kids on spring break who are screaming “I’m bored!”; a house that hasn’t been cleaned, with puppy tumbleweeds flying across the den like we’re the last outpost on the lone prairie; bills to pay; a gratitude journal to write; a thank you note I haven’t sent; and OH MY GOD Easter is coming and I haven’t thought about cookies or egg hunts or any of that stuff….

It’s enough to send a person back to bed in a crumpled heap, never to emerge again.

It’s my guess that most of us have been in this place at some point – crushed by the feeling that “the world is falling on my head and I’ll never get out from under.” Frankly, considering it’s Busy Season, I’ll pretty much guarantee I’m not the only one feeling at least a little like this at the moment.

But, in the middle of all these feelings of “Oh My God, I will never be able to do all this,” and “I am suuuuuuch a miserable faaaaaailure!”, two independent pieces of wisdom floated into my inbox yesterday and combined in a way that stopped me in my tracks.

First, there was this post by Mike Figuolio called Quit Being a Critic and Go Create Something. Mike makes great points for anyone in a leadership role, saying:

What you must understand is your criticism carries weight.  It impacts the performance reviews of your people.  It determines whether a supplier wins a contract or gets booted.  It shapes the perspective on whether someone gets promoted or not.  You get the picture – your words change lives. I invite you to go a step beyond the simple criticism.  Help build something beyond your words. … change your mindset from one of critic to one of creator.  Instead of looking at your job responsibilities as only setting direction and judging the work of others, spend time with your team creating new ideas. 

From that came my first BIG THOUGHT:

I am the leader of Team Debra. And I am spending all my time criticizing me, instead of creating great work. I am a professional critic – of myself – and boy, am I a mean one!

Hmmmm.

Then, from my friend Michelle Golden, I received a link to a brilliant TED Talk from Elizabeth Gilbert called Your Elusive Creative Genius.

In this presentation, Gilbert presents the idea that we are not solely responsible for our own creativity. She explains that in ancient cultures, they believed there was an external source for creativity (called the Daemon, or the Genius) that helped the process along. That, in that context, our only responsibility is to show up and do the work, and the creative spark will come. That it’s not on us, as radically frail and freaky creatures, to be the source of making good stuff happen.

Double hmmmmm…

SO – this was my internal conversation that pulled all these thoughts together:

I am a tremendously horrible critic – mostly of myself. When my workload gets too deep, I immediately go to that place of “I’m a horrible failure and it will never get better.”

          This is not helpful. Instead of being a critic, what if you become a creator?  Create, don’t berate.

But I’m too BUSY to create anything! There’s this awful to-do list of mechanical stuff that just Has. To. Be Done. And it’s not creative work! It’s spreadsheets and database files and uploads and….

          Who says that stuff can’t be creative? You’re making something.

Um…

          Even if you have some stuff that isn’t “creative”, so what? Not everything has to be. Just make something every day and you’ll feel more energized for other stuff you have to do.
Maybe just make ONE thing. Make dinner. Write a blog post. Clean up something (make a clean space!). Tell the kids a story.

But I’m soooo tiiiiiired and overwhelllllllmeeeeeddd, I can’t be creative!

          Oooh, but if Elizabeth Gilbert is right, YOU don’t have to be creative. That external THING has to be creative (call it what you will, the genius, the divine, God) – but YOU
don’t have to do it. You just have to show up.

And then I do stuff?

          Right.

And work gets done? I make things?

          Right.

And I feel good about it?

          YES.

But there will still be this huge list of stuff that I didn’t do!

          But it won’t feel the same, if you’re paying attention to what you ARE doing and what you made today. Things will move faster and feel better.

In so many ways, this internal shift doesn’t change a thing. My to-do list is still a morass of electronic insanity. I’m still eating toast and bananas and wishing I felt good enough for a cup of coffee.

But this morning, thanks to Mike and Elizabeth, I’m deciding that the place where I begin my day is not with the idea that “I can’t do all this” and “I am the worst employee ever”.

Instead of being scared of my list, now I’m curious. I can’t wait to find out what my Genius (the Divine, God, the Muse) is going to bring – and what I’m going to get done.

Anticipation, not fear.

Today, I am going to make something great. I wonder what it will be?


Photo by jessica wilson {jek in the box}. License.
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Posted in Attitudes, Busy Season, Leadership, Professional Services | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Looking for Spring

Posted by debrahelwig on March 11, 2013

tulips_in_snowBack last summer, I finally got around to picking up the red-hot series by George R.R. Martin called A Song of Ice and Fire – a set of books most popularly known by the name used in its HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones.

Martin is a brilliant writer. For a person like me, who loves words and a rich character tapestry, the first books in the series were almost narcotic. I had picked the first one up casually, as a beachtime “well, it’s something to do.” Then, just a few chapters in, I became obsessed. It was one of those “read while you brush your teeth, read while you take out the trash, read while you should be cooking dinner” sorts of love affairs. I bought the second and drained it dry in a matter of days. Then the third. SLURP. Gone.

The fourth, I had to slow down. What had started as a bleak sort of story had gotten positively deadly. Everyone was betraying everyone else. Not a shred of hope in sight. My favorite characters, all expired. The hopeful plot threads? Extinguished.  The main character’s family motto – Winter is Coming – well, YEAH. Holy hell. Winter is HERE, dude. Landed on your head.

I bought book five (in hardback, mind you!), because I hate giving up on a good writer. But I had to give it up completely only about 40 pages in. I realized I was sad and exhausted by what I was reading. The reading high I was getting before had turned into nothing but bad smack.

Welcome to dystopia.

Not familiar with the term?  Dystopia is the opposite of utopia – a society characterized by human misery, where everything is as bad as it can be.

And George R. R. Martin isn’t the only guy presenting us with this stuff. Over the past 10 years, pretty much the entire culture of science fiction and fantasy has turned itself away from a positive future to a horrific, dystopic one – and that focus has begun bleeding into popular culture. Besides Game of Thrones, witness the popularity of The Hunger Games. I bet you can think of a dozen more books, shows, or movies you’ve seen in recent times that had a dark beginning and a darker ending, that left you feeling sad or scared or – dirtier – than when you started watching or reading them.

Is this a turn of our cultural psyche, in tandem with the tough period we’ve all been going through with our businesses and our jobs? Maybe. Heck, the guys in Congress can’t even pretend to be friends anymore. It feels like we’re all going to Hell in that metaphoric handbasket, only now we’ve got Game of Thrones and Hunger Games and fights on Reality TV as preview entertainment to show us the way. Whoopee!

What’s even worse – and what I only started realizing the other day – is this dystopic miasma is creeping into our personal and business language as well. It’s changing how we think about and talk to each other. And it’s negatively impacting the way we keep ourselves motivated, our families together, our staffs happy, and our clients satisfied.

When we talk about work, we say words like busy and stressed and overwhelmed. When we get together with our friends and clients, we talk about the disasters on the news (North Korea! Gas prices! Sequester!), the disasters on the sports field (did you SEE that awful NASCAR wreck?), and the disasters in our lives (dead car, dead dog, not enough money, and God knows what other crazy bad thing that happened this week). We Tweet and Facebook with righteous anger about the bad stuff going on all around us and mourn the devolution of our society. Then we go home and pop popcorn and watch the devolution of other fictional societies as if it’s supposed to make us all feel better about the one we’re living in.

This. Is. Not. Working.

Now, you and I are not going to fix the whole social order by refusing to buy into a dystopic worldview. There will still be plenty of people to watch and read and buy whatever the hot new “end of the world” saga may be. Congress is still going to fight, people are still going to do the wrong thing, and gas may be $10 per gallon by the end of the summer. I get it. And I fully admit that being a Pollyanna and pretending stuff ISN’T going wrong won’t work either.

But I CAN make some small changes to my thinking that will directly impact my outlook, and you can too. Maybe even more important, we can make changes that impact our ability to reach and help the people we live and work with every day.

While everyone else is focused on the fact that Winter is Coming, we can be Looking for Spring.

My friend Melinda Guillemette touched on this idea in her recent post The Upside of Self Centeredness. She’s 100% right. If we evaluate the media we’re taking into our psyches, the conversations we’re having, and frame them through the lens of “is this making me better? Is this making my relationships better? Is this elevating the people around me in any way?” we may stop a lot of trash thinking/trash talking before we even start.

There are some other things we can do, too, that I’ve seen work very effectively in recent days. Join me in trying one or all:

  • Write a gratitude journal. Every day, at the end of the day, jot down five things/people/happenings in your life that you are grateful for.
  • Write a gratitude journal at work. Before you shut off that PC for the day, write down five meaningful projects/interactions with clients/interactions with colleagues. Because it’s a narrower slice of our lives, this is harder. But it can also be intensely rewarding.
  • Focus on the positive in conversations, especially with colleagues and clients. Sometimes the most positive you can be is “I hear you. We’re in this together.” But just that little statement in place of commiserating (creating co-misery!) can elevate a situation in surprising ways.
  • Spread cheer. Just once a week, think of someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Send a note or a card (or an email, if it’s all you can manage) telling them they matter to you. In today’s raft of busy-ness, getting a card like that in the mail can be stunningly meaningful.
  • Clean up. Your language, your work space, your car, your house. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and miserable in a messy space. And that includes your head space.

Little changes. Incremental progress. That’s all it takes to change us – and it might be the start of changing the world.

Image by SimonWhitaker. License.

Posted in Attitudes, Leadership, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Starting Over

Posted by debrahelwig on March 6, 2013

StartTwo years, five months, 14 days. That’s how long it’s been since I posted on this blog.

So long, in fact, that I forgot the login credentials for WordPress. So long, my design template is officially obsolete. So long, I almost quit.  Forever.

You see, I got busy. Super busy. My company merged, tripled its international reach, and completely renamed and rebranded. There were three different bosses – with three utterly different management styles – in less than a year. As lead on the branding project, I worked 18 months straight of 18+ hour days, full of multi-lingual, multi-cultural insights and difficulties.

Blog? What blog? I made the excuse that I was too overextended to worry about it – though occasionally I would remember and be sad that I’d left it behind.

We launched the PrimeGlobal brand in July last year (hooray!) and I turned back to my regularly scheduled life. I thought about starting to write again.  But it had been SOOOOOOOO LONG.  “Who would care anymore?” whispered my inner demons. I had started something good and let it die. I was embarrassed, so I pretended it didn’t matter anymore. But it still tied my guts in knots every time I thought about it.

Then my dear friend John Hill died at the age of 44. Thirty days later my beloved father died suddenly. Then 45 days after that, my friend Spencer Cox. Then, my great-aunt Ruby. Mom’s cancer became terminal. My not-quite-so-toddler-anymore started Pre-K. My 9 year old acquired her first boyfriend – and her first breakup. Holidays set up and fell like dominoes, one set of decorations down, another up. For a control freak like me, this much uncontrolled life left me spinning, deliberately unengaged for fear that if I connected, just ONE MORE THING would happen. I didn’t want any ONE MORE THINGS. And this blog was just that. One more thing.

The internal dialogue went like this: “How could I start again? Real writers, they write.  Real bloggers, they have something to say all the time and post like mad. They are witty, insightful, and most of all, timely. That can’t be me.  It’s been two years. No way. Just do your day job. Take care of your kids. This writing thing, that was just a fun little dream anyway. Forget it.”

But the day I went to hit “delete”, I didn’t remember my WordPress login. And before I could find it, I had a chance conversation with my friend Melinda Guillemette. Melinda is a woman with thoughts like spun gold. She is 100% witty, insightful, and one of those folks who on my better days I wish I could be like. And she, this person I admire so much, said pointedly, “Darn it, I want you to start writing again. The world needs your voice.”

Really?  Me?

Then just a few days later, another extremely smart friend, Michelle Golden, posted a statement to Facebook that hit me in the face:

“Just declined doing the wrong work at the wrong time at the wrong price. Always hard to do but feels good once it’s done.  Also about ready to walk away from the wrong work at the right price. Even harder to do.”

Wow. So, don’t just work. Do what you love. And let the work figure itself out from there.

That idea really made me think. And I stopped feeling sorry for myself long enough to start looking around. This is what I saw:

Heather Kreiter, launching a line of cute-as-heck plush toys via Kickstarter.
Ashley Garrett, officially the Baddest Mother Ever, launching a blog because the world needed to hear her voice (and believe me, it does.)
Michelle Golden, not staying pat in the social media space, but sharing brilliant insights on Value Pricing.
Tracy Crevar-Warren, who blew up her life as a professional services consultant to be SuddenlySwiss (and remain one of the brightest minds in professional services at the same time).
And, to take the tale back to professional services, Grossman St. Amour CPAs, who just launched a fabulous niche in equestrian accounting.

These folks naturally GOT something I missed, in my busy-ness and malaise of the past couple of years.

It’s never too late to start – or start over.

This applies to my whole life, and maybe to yours too. Do you have a friend, or maybe a client, that you’ve neglected because you got too busy with other things, then never called because it had been “too long” and would be “embarrassing”?  Do you have a hobby at home, or a niche or a certification at work, that you always wanted to pursue, but stopped yourself because “it’s too late, I’m doing other things now?” or  “I don’t have time, and who would care anyway?” A type of work you want but haven’t pursued because “someone else is already doing it?” or “no-one will like me doing this?”

Let me tell you what Melinda said to me: “Honey, they aren’t doing it like you. Because they aren’t you. The world needs YOU doing this, even if everyone else is doing it too. Because your way will be different – and it will be something that people need.”

If it’s true for me, it’s true for you too.  Both in your personal life and in your professional career.

What have you been neglecting out of embarrassment or fear? What dream or idea keeps running around in the back of your mind, unwilling to be laid aside? And what step can you take today to say “to hell with what anyone thinks, I’m doing it anyway?” and see where it takes you?

Me, I’m taking a stand. I choose to be brave like Ashley and Heather and Michelle and Tracy. I’m going to write. Right here.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride – and that you’ll share your dreams and plans in the comments as well.

Let’s do this.

Photo by Stevendepolo. License.

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Professional Services | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Focus, Focus, Focus!

Posted by debrahelwig on September 21, 2010

Do you know Drew McLellan? Marketer, editor of the Age of Conversation books*? He’s brilliant, always. But this week he’s sent me way into raving fangirl mode with his blog post called Be Brave Enough Not to Tell the Whole Story.

Drew’s premise? When you get excited and try to tell your customers everything at once, they don’t hear anything. To quote, this “is satisfying to us, but miserable for the audience. Like a firehose — we’ve flooded them with facts, features and benefits. And in the end, they can’t remember any of it.

Yes, yes, YES. Reading the post, my little heart went pitter pat. Because in professional services, we’re probably more guilty of this faux pas than most other businessmen and women. Our work is intangible. Complex. We want people to believe in the value we provide. We want to look smart – smarter than the other firms who are bidding on the work we want to do.

Unfortunately, this desire to show off our competence often makes us talk too much.

Look around in your firm. Bets are that you know folks who manage client meetings (or collateral, or business development events) like this:

  • Telling the prospect every scrap of experience the firm has ever had in their industry.
  • Giving exhaustive bios of every professional who will touch the client’s work.
  • Providing arcane detail about technical issues so the client will know the firm REALLY knows its stuff.

And then, when the firm does’t get the work, they wonder, “Why, oh why, didn’t we win that proposal?! We had everything they wanted!”

The answer is THESE FOLKS LOST THEIR FOCUS. Toooooo much information. And it killed the story. Suddenly, there’s nothing memorable, nothing that says, “This is why you will love working with us.”

Yes, LOVE. Because purchase decisions are emotional, not intellectual. Even in professional services. Maybe especially in professional services.

Drew’s brilliant expression of this truth: “Too many words clog the brain and never allow you to connect with their heart. And that’s where the buying decision happens.”

So next time you’re talking to a client, or attending a proposal meeting, or writing a piece of collateral, I encourage you to get brutal with yourself. Find out as much as you can about that prospect or group of prospects, and decide what ONE thing they really, truly care about, and focus on that. Make that thing your theme – the single idea you need to convey. And find a way to state it elegantly. I think you’ll be impressed with the results.

Be sure to check out and comment on Drew’s post – and click through from his post to watch the Nissan ad that was the genesis of his idea.  Whether you like the brand or the message or not, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that it’s darned effective and a good example for how we might rethink messages in our own industry.

And don’t forget to let me know what you thought!

*NOTE: I was a contributing author for The Age of Conversation 3: It’s Time to Get Busy.

Photo by ihtatho (license).

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Beat Perfection Paralysis – Take it to the Happy Line

Posted by debrahelwig on July 26, 2010

To quote the immortal Hannibal Smith from A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

All right, I can’t believe I’m quoting the A-Team. But it’s true. Don’t you love it when your projects are spinning along just right? When your writing zen is on and you author the blog post of your life? When the marketing campaign you dreamed up lands ten times its projected leads? When your well-placed phone call makes the difference between keeping and losing the biggest client on your balance sheet?

Of course you do.  I do too.

When you’re aiming at perfection and actually hitting the mark, work is bliss. As the poem says, God’s in his Heaven and all’s right with the world.

But there’s a problem in this land of sunshine and glory, and I’m sure you already know what it is.

People. And circumstances. And you. Yes, you, on the days you have a cold, or didn’t get enough sleep, or had way too many jalapeno poppers at dinner the night before, or whatever other circumstance you can imagine. Stuff you can’t predict will always get in the way, darn it. And things get messed up.

Note, mind you, by “messed up” I don’t mean that your project is a train wreck, or even a moderate failure. By messed up, I mean that it doesn’t match up to what your inner perfectionist says it should be.

I’ve lived in this place. It’s not fun.

For the longest time, when things at work didn’t go exactly the way I thought they should (nevermind what anyone else thought), I would feel like a huge loser, because I knew I could do better. I had a vision of the perfect result I should have achieved, and my evil inner perfectionist would whisper, “What makes you think you know anything?” or, “If you keep this up you’re gonna get fired.” Then, I would react in one of two ways:

1. Overwork it. If the project didn’t feel perfect the first time, I’d keep at it. Rewrite for the thirtieth time. Take it back to design again – and again. Set up another focus group. Hold another group of employee meetings. Better to deliver the best possible job than let go something that’s less than perfect.

2. Avoid it. If I was afraid I couldn’t do a perfect job, then I’d push the project down to the bottom of the to-do list until I had the experience/skills/talent/contacts to do better. Or I’d ignore it until the need for it went away and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Bad, baaad.  The perfection paralysis became a never-ending, vicious cycle, with my self-esteem as the target.  It took a very wise boss to jerk me out of it.

One afternoon a number of years ago, this boss called me into his office and asked to see the status of a marketing campaign I was working on. I told him I wasn’t happy with it, that there was still work to be done, that I wanted to tweak it for a couple more days.

He looked at my work, tossed it on his desk, and said, “Send it.”

“But wait,” I protested, “It’s not ready.”

“Oh yes it is,” he replied. “You’re at the Happy Line. Get it out the door.”

As I was leaving, he called after me, “Quit trying to make everything so perfect. Get to 80% of perfect and 99% of people will be happy with it. And you’ll get a heck of a lot more done. Take it to the Happy Line.

His advice rocked my world.  And I still live by it today.  Because he’s right.

Sure, there are some professions (tax accounting is one of them) where 100% accuracy is required.  But in marketing and customer service, the truth is that 80% of perfect is always, always better than 100% of unfinished.

By applying the Happy Line principle in my job, I’ve discovered:

1. I get more done – and more quickly – than I ever did before.
2. My creativity opens up and I have fresher ideas.
3. I stop playing it safe and try new things – and those things sometimes turn out to be my most innovative and groundbreaking work.

If you try this, what you do won’t be perfect.  But your work will be finished (on time!) – and maybe even great. Probably even great.

Aim for the Happy Line and see how far it can take you.

At minimum, you won’t be driving yourself crazy anymore.

Photo by • • • annajarske.com (license).

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

Your New Busy Season Mantra: Just Take the Darn Call

Posted by debrahelwig on February 2, 2010

Have you met Sparky Firepants?

If not, you should.

Mr. Pants (aka David Billings) is a darn brilliant graphic designer and an equally brilliant wordsmith.  On his blog, he’s got a lot to say about the business of making art.  Which, by chance, happens to say a lot about the business of doing good business. Which, in turn, directly applies to all of us folks toiling away in the accounting and legal sphere.

This week, he’s penned two thoughtful (and very helpful) posts – Why I’ll Never Say I’m Booked, and Why I Said Not to Say “Booked”.  The gist – it’s never a great idea to just hang a sign on your (locked) door that says “Sorry, Can’t Help You Now,” no matter how busy you are.  No matter if tax returns are stacked in mountains threatening to collapse on your head. No matter if your email box passed overflowing two hours ago and your iPhone is starting to smoke.

Just. Take. The. Darn. Call.

I can’t think of a more important message for accounting folks to hear at the beginning of Busy Season. (And all you lawyers out there, you listen up too – sometime your case load will reach tilt-tilt-tilt overload and all of this will apply to you too.)

Here’s a short excerpt:

There’s a big difference between announcing to the world, “I’m booked” and turning down a project after you’ve heard the deadline. Saying, “I’m booked” is locking your door until August. Then what? You open the door, peer out and wonder aloud, “Where did everybody go? I’m ready now. Heeeeyyyyyyyyy!”

What does it cost to listen? How much time does it take to let someone in your shop (figuratively speaking) and ask you for help?

Yep, Mr. Pants nails it, 100%. You should read both posts this minute and take them to heart. Because here’s the bottom line: the thing that kills relationships – especially professional services relationships – is insufficient communication.

When I tweeted Mr. Pants’ post earlier today, I got a great response from Dennis Howlett (@dahowlett), a guy who knows whereof he speaks, with 10 years under his belt as an accounting firm partner and a long IT consulting career after that:

“The biggest source of ‘pissed offness’ is NOT to speak with clients, however busy you are. A 2-5 minute call does wonders.”

Hallelujah! You bet it does. Because it’s about respect. And decency. And the kindness to say, “I hear you, and what you need matters to me.”  Nothing elaborate. Not an hour long “how’s your great-grandmother’s butler-in-law these days?” coffee clatch. Just acknowledgement, and a promise to follow up or a helpful referral. Even if you say, “Sorry, my schedule is full, but here are some other options for you,” you will have acknowledged that client’s need. You’ll have shown that you care.

And “I care” does a heck of a lot more to build and cement relationships than (indifferent) silence.

So take your calls. Return your calls, every day. Especially when you’re busy.  Do it quickly and with all the empathy you can muster.

It’s the best way I can think of to ensure that your post-Busy Season will be, well….busy.

Photo by Mr. ATM (license).

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

 
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