Archive for February 2010

navigating client expectations

Oh come on, we’ve all been there. You know, in one of those situations where you’re not quite on the same page as your client regarding next steps, a particular item and/or the way to achieve the primary project objectives. It happens to all of us.

14957439_dd7d257118_mSo once it’s been determined that you and your client disagree, how do you move forward? Do you:

a.) Simply appease the client
b.) Stand your ground
c.) Find a happy medium
d.) End the project
e.) None of the above

Before reading any further, you have to understand that I am not of the school of thinking that the client is always right. However, I am not so vain to assume that I am always right, because I’m not. I’m of the frame of mind that successful relationships are rooted in how we choose to navigate these types of situations. They can be incredibly empowering and valuable to everyone involved.

Eye on the prize. What’s the end goal or intended outcome? Sometimes we get so caught up in how we’re going to get there that we fail to remember where we’re going. Refocusing on the end goal (or goals) can open the door to solutions or paths that we never even imagined. Being too focused on the “how” right up front can be incredibly harmful and misleading to a project. It causes us to unintentionally narrow our scope of thought and fail to identify all the factors that can cause change throughout the process.

Pick your battles wisely. There are times when you simply won’t agree with the client. Is it a small issue or a big one? Put the item in question into perspective. If it’s something small with minimal impact, then it may not be worth the headache. However, if it’s something big that could throw off the trajectory of the entire project, then it may be well worth digging in. Therefore, decide when it’s critical to not back down – and please make sure it’s always for the betterment of the project, and not your ego.

Mutual achievement and focus. Remember, beyond the actual end goal of the project, your client wants to succeed in an area where you can offer insight – and (I’m assuming) you want to see that client thrive as well. Even at the most frustrating and trying moments of a working relationship you have to take a step back and remember that you’re both focused on mutual gain. Therefore, work together to remain focused and achieve that mutual outcome.

Walk in their shoes. How you look at a particular item or problem may not be how your client sees that same situation. Take the time to ask questions and understand where their perceptions are coming from. Industry norms and corporate culture can play a huge role here. Being able to understand the ecosystem where your client works can foster a solution that takes into account other factors and preferences that scale well beyond your control.

Keep the lines of communication open. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, be sure to grab face time or pick up the phone. This is especially critical when you’ve found yourself in a disagreement with a client. Don’t go back and forth via email. Being aware of a brewing situation, taking the time to acknowledge the point of disagreement, and working towards a solution is incredibly poignant. Employing the tips above can further assist you in having a productive conversation with invaluable results.

My last word to the wise is – do your homework. Client unrest is normal, but make sure that you’re up front before they’ve become your client. Granted, we don’t always have a choice, but in cases when you do make sure to clarify expectations right from the get go. This will enable you to more effectively manage expectations throughout the relationship. The result is a healthier working relationship that can proactively manage disagreements and collectively work towards powerful solutions.

[Image: Dimbola Walk 004 Boat courtesy of Auntie P, Flickr]

how to establish a productive (distraction-free) workflow

Whether you’re a freelancer, contractor or simply work remotely it can be both convenient and uniquely challenging to work in an nontraditional office. My “office” has been anywhere from the Cambridge Public Library to my current location, the dining room table.

4131046128_a8dfb8d4f2_mThe perks of a nontraditional workspace seem almost endless – no cubicles, tea at the ready and flexible work hours. Though it also requires major self discipline and means holding yourself accountable by developing a workflow that’s flexible, productive and motivating.

Up and at ‘em. Each morning, I tackle the day as if I am in fact heading out the door to an office. None of this working in my bunny slippers stuff. It’s the same deal each day: up no later than 7AM, shower, breakfast, a large pot of tea and an outfit to promote productivity. Dressing for success doesn’t necessarily require you to go anywhere (but you’re ready if you do). You never know when an impromptu meeting or lunch will present itself.

The perfect spot. Usually, I’m not one for working all day from home. Circumstance and limited mobility has resulted in me converting my dining room into the ideal workspace. I’ve reworked the space so I can spread out, be comfortable, productive and most importantly minimize the distractions of being at home. It’s important to know where you work best. Is it one location – or a variety throughout the week or even day.

Routines that work. Find a routine that works for you. Identify what makes you most productive and motivated, then go from there. For me, I know I need to take the time to breakdown tasks, tackling the most important ones during my most productive peaks and making sure I have some form of daily social stimulation. The primary thing I miss about being in an office is the people. I love a good sounding board. Therefore, I leverage networks daily to ensure that I am able to stay connected and challenged.

Make it manageable. Make task lists (daily, weekly and monthly) and employ time management to keep you on track. Identify the priorities – and then break the day into manageable chunks based on client needs and your own. I always make sure to integrate time to write, research, listen and interact with others. The trick is to create a list that’s manageable. Think about what has to get done, considering each item in detail, then note realistic times for each. It’s amazing how quickly even eight to ten hours can be allocated – use them wisely.

Motivational milestones. Working solo means lots of self motivation, especially on tougher days. I thrive on goals. I like to be able to set a goal and work diligently to accomplish it. There’s nothing more motivating or rewarding. Goals come in all shapes and sizes. Set customizable goals weekly to foster not only productivity, but a sense of accomplishment. When setting goals, don’t forget to include ones specifically for you. If you’re a freelancer, make sure you make time to market and better yourself weekly.

Setting boundaries. Perhaps my own greatest challenge is knowing when it’s time to stop. It can be easy to work all day, but I don’t – and neither should you. To ensure maximum output and avoid burning out be sure to decide when you’ll be shutting down – and try to stick to it. Be flexible and let the day’s workload help you decide on that particular day’s length, but remember to be diligent in this practice. Otherwise, it will all just run into each other and the freedom, enjoyment and balance of freelancing dissolves – with work/life balance going out the window.

Flexible working is a great opportunity for many of us. It enables us to pick and choose the projects we are most passionate about, while being able to do so in a manner that’s conducive to our own lives. Though it’s up to us to toss out those fuzzy slippers and establish a workflow and community that maximizes productivity, quality and satisfaction, while fostering accountability and promoting balance.

[Image: Green Fuzzy Slippers courtesy of Jamiesrabbits, Flickr]

i’m sorry, your audience isn’t here to play

If you’re reading this post, then you probably came here via Twitter. You’re on Twitter, I’m on Twitter, but who isn’t on Twitter – or who’s on Twitter, but not really here (meaning inactive). This (slightly snarky) thought process was sparked by reading, 80%+ Twitter accounts inactive, but core users more committed, courtesy of dirkthecow via Social Media Today.

3514087519_f9c5aa9a88_mWhat about me. Twitter can be a great communications tool. It’s been great for me personally and professionally. Caveat: knowing that everyone’s not using Twitter. Knowing who’s using a tool is equally as important as knowing who’s not. Don’t forget who isn’t here to contribute to the conversation – they may have something amazing to contribute, but are voiceless.

And it’s not just Twitter. There are plenty of platforms and tools where folks are missing. For instance, Facebook, yes, there are millions upon millions of users, but who’s missing. For example, me. I don’t have a Facebook account (…really, I don’t). I might have something valuable to say.

Aligning audience and means of communication. Are there voices being left out of the conversation that could add exponential value to your organization, goal or community? Twitter can be used in the execution of a portfolio of communication means to tap into a range of audiences, but that should only happen once audiences have been identified. Have you taken a moment to determine who your audience is – and where they are?

Who’s making the decision. What happens when you don’t take the time to identify where your audience plays, well, you miss an opportunity. Someone misses the message, the chance to be engaged or an invitation to participate (either physically or virtually). Case and point, my ten year high school reunion, the reunion invitation was only sent via Facebook. As I said earlier, I’m not on Facebook. Meaning, I found out about the reunion only after it took place. The point isn’t that I missed the reunion, it’s that I never got a chance to decide for myself if I wanted to attend or not. The means of communication decided for me.

Take the time, do the work. Don’t let voices go unheard or leave communities ignored just because you missed the mark. Take time to understand your audience and then communicate to them in the space where they play. Why should they come to you? If they are that important, then you should go to them. In time, that may reverse, but you have to reach out and cultivate the relationship first.

Tools are going to change, audiences will change too – and where they intersect is going to change. What shouldn’t change is critical thinking around how best to link the two.

Remember, 80% of Twitter accounts are inactive. That’s whole a lot of people not paying attention to those thoughtful, value-filled, community building tweets you’re spending hours crafting. Make sure your audience is where you’re focusing your attention, before you start trying to get the attention of an audience that may not even be there in the first place.

[Image: The empty playground #1 courtesy of soulholder, Flickr]

self assessment :: identifying areas of improvement

It’s often more natural to assess and identify areas of improvement in others, especially when working with a client or if strategic assessments are part of your professional portfolio – but what about when it comes to you.

A personal heart-to-heart. Have you checked in with yourself lately to identify areas where you can improve? Taking a self inventory is incredibly empowering not too mention valuable to those you work with and support. Take a moment to ask yourself: What’s been added to my plate over the past few months? What activities have fallen off the radar – and gone incomplete? Are there areas of value that are no longer getting attention?

We’re always juggling something. 257772890_ead23e6a38_mFor me, it’s several freelance projects and a baby on the way. It’s easy to get caught up in everything and simply look away from items that have gone ignored. However, being able to acknowledge where you can improve makes you better equipped to tackle whatever gets thrown your way. You’re aware and will be able to appropriately allocate yourself to the most important tasks. This type of self awareness is sometimes (and too often) misinterpreted as admitting weakness or failure. Wrong.

Self assessment is about being able to review all aspects of your working self – the good, the bad and the ugly – then doing something to improve the bad and the ugly.

Take manageable bites. Self improvement doesn’t require a complete overhaul, start small. For me, I know “blog commenting” has fallen to the wayside. For a while I was simply kicking myself (…so not a productive response). I read so many wonderful posts daily, but failed to truly contribute or participate in the conversation. It’s something I wanted to fix and focus on – right now.

No time like the present. Therefore each and every day I’ve added to my daily work list: comment on one blog post. Just one. This might seem like a marginal, arbitrary goal, but one is better than zero. One is manageable, I can take my time, be intentional in my contribution, and will enable me to set up a new daily routine. Will I increase this target number, probably, but not yet.

For now, it’s just one comment daily. It’s about identifying an area of improvement and setting up a realistic, non threatening goal to achieve in a sustainable way. From there, I’ll take stock and improve further. The constant self assessing results in an organic checks and balances system that will ensure I’m always learning and offering the best istrategies and solutions to my clients and contributions to my communities.

[Image: Work courtesy of alexanderljung, Flickr]