Staying Motivated After The New Year Rush

Now that we’re well into February, are you staying motivated on your goals? In a new year Forbes post, I profiled Four Fun Ways To Make Your New Year Resoluions Stick – including gamification, habit stacking, scheduling your worries, and an interesting study on happy faces. If you’ve fallen off track anyway, here are 3 more motivation tips to try:

Pick new goals

If any of your goals are “should’s” (I should lose weight, I should save more money), just drop them right now. They won’t be interesting enough to get you past the tough times. Instead think of something that really moves you and gets you excited. It might even get you to the same end – e.g., instead of losing weight as the goal, you pick running a 5k or learning to tango. How will you reframe a stuck goal?

Shorten your timeframe

A brilliant idea from Miho Kubagawa is to pick 12 one-month resolutions in lieu of annual goals. This way, you don’t feel like you have to press on indefinitely, but there is an immediate light at the end of the tunnel. You can even stack your choices so they move directionally toward a bigger end – e.g., losing weight might be served by running a 5k one month, learning to tango another month, trying out gluten-free, etc. Do you have 12 smaller goals you can substitute for your fewer big ones?

Bundle temptations

The New York Times featured bundling temptations in its round-up of motivation strategies. In their example, you tie a delicious but wasteful habit to a new one you’re trying to encourage – so reading trashy novels might only be done when going to the gym. I may tie my Netflix habit to milestones in my writing projects. What can you bundle?

If one of your big goals this year relates to career, get inspired by this profile of career changer Susanne Rhow. She went from a corporate job in luxury goods to an entrepreneurial role selling high end real estate. Your move!

What If Half Of Your Customers Leave: Retention Strategies For Business Owners

In my Forbes column on the hot job market, I wrote about retention strategies for employers to keep their best staff. This is not just a corporate issue. As business owners, we have staff, vendors, and partners, and we need to remember that when the market improves, they have options for where to work and who to partner with. As business owners, we also have clients to retain. Have you thought about what you would do if half of your customers decided to leave? Here are three retention strategies to ensure that you stay front of mind with current customers:

Check in on a regular basis

Customers will reach out to someone when they have a need, but to reach out to you specifically, they have to remember you. Do you have a system to regularly stay in touch with your customer base in-between orders or services? This could be done via newsletter or an automated email series. Depending on how high touch your offering is, this also might include phone calls or hard copy mail.

Make follow-up generous and non-committal

However you decide to keep in touch with your customers, make the follow up generous and non-committal: generous, meaning that the focus is on the other person and not pitching your stuff; and non-committal, meaning that you’re not actively soliciting a response. Generous follow-up includes an article of interest, a holiday greeting, an idea or recommendation (for something other than your offering). If you’re a personal trainer, this might be an article on health and wellness trends, a Happy New Year greeting with an inspirational quote, or a book recommendation on the latest fitness science.

Offer bonuses

If you’re speaking at an event and have comp passes, offer them to your customers. If you have excess capacity in your schedule, let your customers know you’re available and offer a last-minute special rate. From your entrepreneur network with complementary offerings, pick some referral partners and offer each other’s audiences special packages or extras. Give your customers extra items they are not expecting.

Be proactive in your customer retention strategies because the improving job market means an improving economy, which means you want to be front of mind with your customers if they’re in a buying mood. How will you stay in touch? Let me know your favorite retention strategies and any questions or issues you’d like to explore further!

 

5 Ways To Structure Your Networking Pitch

In my latest post for Money and Time, I cover five ways to structure your networking pitch. Here is the unedited version:

If you’re looking for a new job, starting or growing your business, or even just looking to expand your network within your current company, you will need to meet new people. How will you introduce yourself? You want to be brief, but also leave enough information that you pique the listener’s interest. Here are 5 ways to introduce or “pitch” yourself at a professional conference, association mixer, or even a social event where other professionals will be:

Start with a shared experience

If you’re at a wedding, open with how you know the couple. If you’re at a conference, open with your affiliation to the organizer or your interest in the topic. If it’s a company mixer, mention your role, department or years at the company. From this shared experience, you can share parts of your background that build from there. But you have already built rapport by starting with what you have in common. This is great for a career changer who may not want to associated himself with the role or company he no longer wants

Tell a client story

Instead of just listing your title and company, talk about who you serve: I’m an accountant with We Love Taxes. I prepare taxes for retail companies, mom and pop businesses, circus performers….The more specific the better. You can also drill down to one specific story: I am working with a retail store owner who came to us with a laundry bag full of receipts, invoices and other papers, and I created an electronic system that can now be accessed on her phone. The client story is particularly useful if you’re a business owner and want to leave your listener with a clear idea of your value but without a sales pitch.

Use a before/ after structure

The laundry bag full of papers to a streamlined system on your phone is not just a client story, but also a before/ after story. The before/ after can be a client’s result but it can also be what you brought to your role or department: I manage logistics for We Love Mail. The company used to spend over $1 MM on shipping costs, and my group figures out how to cut that cost in half. A before/ after structure is accessible because it’s visual and the conversational structure prevents too much business jargon from creeping in. Creating a before/ after pitch also forces you to identify and specify the value you bring.

Focus on your expertise

This is the most traditional pitch in that you summarize the arc of your career – industry specialty, years of experience, and/or role you play: I’ve been in marketing most of my career – consumer products, luxury, and now retail. I work in direct mail or social media or brand management…This is a dependable way of introducing yourself, and if you keep it concise, you’ll share a rich amount of information. One drawback is that many people use this pitch so you risk getting forgotten, especially in a crowded event like a conference where people are continuously meeting new people. That same marketer could have said: I am the social media strategist for We Love Books. I build a community for booklovers to discover our store online; OR We had a pretty dormant Facebook page three years ago when I started so I put us on YouTube, Pinterest, and Facebook and now we a third of our customers hear about us first online.

Get personal

Most pitches rightly include professional history or accomplishments or results because people do expect this, so it’s a legitimate chance to share this. But an introduction is really about the start of a relationship. The professional sharing could come after. You might try sharing something personal first – where you grew up, a cherished hobby, a side project you’re currently working on. If the personal nuggets engenders a genuine rapport and a chance to talk again later then it’s a good pitch to use. You might combine it with the shared experience: I’m a friend of the bride. We went to school together – elementary actually. I grew up in St. Louis and didn’t come to NYC till well after college…

Ideally, you create, then mix and match all of these pitches. You decide which to use based on the situation. You experiment, and use the ones that seem to resonate the best. You continually add – new client stories, new before/ after results, new ways to summarize your career, new personal tidbits to share. Make sure your networking pitch evolves as your career, skills and interests evolve.

More Strategies For Radical Career Change: Overcoming Critics And Naysayers

strategic career moves

In a recent Forbes post, I profiled management consultant-turned-journalist Archith Seshadri, who shared his lessons for making a radical career change. Archith mentioned that his colleagues were “supportive but also shocked.” Support and shock are common reactions from the people around you when a big career change is made. People will be happy for you but they will worry. They may project their own insecurities onto you and get critical. You have your own fears so the criticism hits hard. Here are 5 strategies to deal with critics and naysayers:

Don’t tell anyone

If you’re concerned about people’s reactions, make your plans in secret. Yes, admitting to a goal is a legitimate form of accountability that can help you stick to a goal. But for career change, which is a multi-stage, long and involved process, you don’t have to divulge every plan and certainly not right away. Experiment with your career change efforts on your own. Once you feel confident in your direction, you can share more liberally, and you’ll be in a better position to withstand any push back.younger job candidates

Don’t tell haters (or wet blankets)

Alternatively, you can share selectively. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, had an excellent term for naysayers – “wet blankets.” When you share your plans, only select the people who are your cheerleaders or natural optimists themselves. Steer clear of wet blankets, even if they are friendly overall.

Indulge the worst-case scenario

What if you have already told people, even wet blankets, and you’re steeped in criticism now? Play out the criticism. If someone warns you that leaving your job will prevent you from ever getting a job again, look at that possibility. What happens if you don’t work in that role again? Are there other roles? Are there other industries? Is that bleak scenario even true – can you find people who prove the opposite? When you actually look at the worst-case scenario, oftentimes it’s not that bad.

Practice other changes

What if you’re trying to overcome the criticism but still unable to move on? Move on with other changes – change in routine, change in physical exercise, change in diet, change in hobbies…Practice other changes so you get used to thinking, acting and being a different way. When you come back to career changes you want to implement you will be a more flexible, resilient person overall and better able to now incorporate the career changes.

Fight fear with fear

This is the strategy I used when I left my corporate job to be an actor full-time (actually I was unemployed and going to auditions full-time, but I did earn my union card). I was afraid of looking foolish. I was afraid of running out of savings. I was afraid of taking myself off a fast track and never getting back on (of course, I didn’t like the track I was on but I was still afraid of getting off). I was afraid of making the change. Then I became more afraid of regretting not having tried. When I looked at the alternative of not going for it in the lens of regret I was finally able to make the change. I fought my fear of change with fear of regret. I’m a fearful person so I may as well use my natural gifts!

 

Are you looking to make a big career change? What’s stopping you? What’s helping you get over your fears? I’ll be profiling more real-life career changes in my Forbes Leadership column. Tell me your story!

Employer References: A Deal-breaker Most Job Seekers Overlook

As much as the market changes, good job search practices (like strong employer references!) stay the same. I have written before about how your professional references are critical and should not be an after-thought in your job search. Yet, in two separate searches in the last month, the employer reference stage either sealed or unsealed the deal.

 

An experienced but junior marketer had a short stint for his most recent job. In the interview, he was forthright that there was a personality difference between him and his supervisor. In the reference check stage, the head of HR actually broke company policy to speak candidly with me (it’s common for companies to have a policy forbidding reference checks). But this HR executive wanted to confirm the candidate’s story to ensure the candidate got fair consideration in his next role.

 

On the flip side, I reached out to a former supervisor of a senior executive. The upcoming role was a top job which meant management, operational and business development responsibility. I needed to confirm that this executive was effective on all three fronts. One of his references could not give me solid examples, so it was clear he wasn’t that close to his work. Another reference was solid but was an industry peer, not a supervisor. The third reference gave a strong personal reference but discounted much of the professional accomplishments the candidate had taken credit for. Yikes! Needless to say, this candidate is out of the running.

 

Do you have references who will speak up for you and support you, even if it means bending policy or stepping into a conflict?

Do you have references who know your work firsthand?

Do you have references who can substantiate the claims you make on your resume and in your interview?

 

Poor references are a deal-breaker in the job search — at every level in every role. Make sure you take the time to manage your references well before the offer stage so that you sail through a reference check.

Productivity Tips For Working At Home (Unexpectedly)

In my latest career advice column for Money and Time, I share productivity tips for working at home (unexpectedly, say, because of a snow storm!). Here is the unedited version:

If you’re a resident of the Northeast, you’re probably impacted by the big snow storm hitting the area. Your office may be closed. Your kids might be home from school. How do you stay productive when you’re unexpectedly forced to work from home?

Get coverage for time-sensitive activities

The most pressing items are scheduled meetings that involve others. If you have a live meeting, notify attendees of the change and work on rescheduling it. If you have important calls, make sure you have all of the material you need for each call. If you haven’t been set up to work remotely and don’t have access to your files, you may have to work with IT and/or your boss to gain access – this takes time so do this early.

Eliminate distractions

OK, your kids aren’t always a distraction. But their unbounding excitement at a snow day distracts from calls that require quiet or deadlines that require focus. Trade babysitting with a neighbor. Pay your older kid extra chore money for impromptu babysitting. Tap the electronic babysitter — extra TV or computer time — for when you need silence or uninterrupted blocks of concentration.

Create a more realistic schedule

If you’re not used to working at home, you may not have the best setup. You may not have all of the files you need. You may not have the best equipment. You may need to interact with colleagues who are not readily available. Itemize what you had planned to do and categorize by what you can postpone for when you’re back in the office, what you still can do from home, and what you still can do but might need some preparation (e.g., help from IT in downloading a file). Knowing what you can do and when enables you to focus on feasible activities now and gives you a heads-up on how your days will unfold when you return to the office.

Maximize the advantages of working from home

Even if you don’t have the best setup, you still might be more productive overall. You’ll probably eat better, since you can fix a nutritious meal instead of rushing out for fast food. If meetings have been postponed, you now have blocks of time to catch up on another project. Even your break time can be productive, as you grab a snack with your kids or put in a load of laundry or do a quick home workout.

Start planning for the next work-at-home emergency

A lot of today’s knowledge-focused, technology-enabled work can be done remotely. So an unexpected snow day shouldn’t derail your individual efforts. If you find that you’re ill-equipped to work from home, work with IT when you return to the office to improve for next time. Plan for remote access of files, invest in a faster laptop or mobile device, and know which activities and projects are equally effective when done remotely.

I share more productivity tips in my upcoming webinar on Laser Focus: Make 2015 The Year Things Happen on February 4, 7p ET. Details on Eventbrite.

Career Questions Answered On Career Change, Negotiation, and Breaking Into Management Consulting

In this episode of the SixFigureStart Career Coaching Radio Show, I answered questions on whether to make a career change and how to do it, negotiation for resources, money, title, and appreciation, and breaking into the selective field of management consulting:

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Rhonda asks: …my current position is that of a managing writer/editor for a software company. My responsibilities include leading a team of writers, and managing and producing all of the customer-facing documentation for the product….I’ve been with the company for three years; however, I feel underpaid, under appreciated and under valued overall. My direct boss has communicated to me that the work I do for the company is not a priority – the software development takes precedence. Therefore, I’m left to handle the workload of many individuals under unattainable deadlines with little to no support. That being said, how do I promote myself within the organization so that I’m recognized, monetarily and title, by those above my boss as a valued contributor to the organization so that I’m able to expand my group to successfully complete the requirements necessary?

Jackie asks: I am unsure of whether I want to stay in my current field, I am a realtor, or not.

Anonymous asks: …I was reading one of you article “Five Reasons Your Interviews Don’t Lead To Job Offers: Why Your Career Change Efforts Are Not Working” posted on Forbes….I have a question in regard to one of topics you mentioned on this article – “You promise to learn instead of learning already” You mentioned  ” …. A better approach would be to come in with an existing strategy — in this case, an assessment of how this organization was using social media and ideas for how they might improve, including examples from peer organizations.”….I understand ‘social media’ was just an example. Your advice can apply to any system, or anything used by the target organization….I initiated an information interview with the target organization, but the company refused to provide information on their internal system due to whatever reason, so, I ended with no sufficient information to write a good assessment report like you’ve suggested on this article…..I have made connection to someone working in the organization, but that person has no knowledge on how his/her employer using the system I am researching. My question is how would you be able to assess your target organization’s internal system when you don’t have access to their system, or you cannot get sufficient information about the system?….I am not giving up too soon for my career change (step down in the pay scale) efforts. But, how many rejects one person can take or, is supposed to take before she/he loses the faith, or lose her/his house?

Shirley asks: How do you break into management consulting and how realistic is my attempt to apply at the top firms?…I have no related experience and study in a non-target school.

 

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