Why You Need to Say No In Order to Grow

Just Say No with a flower box of daisies

As a solopreneur, there’s only so much work I can take on. Even if I work with my favorite trusted freelancers. Even if I work a few extra hours. Sometimes, I have to say no.

But, it’s tempting to take on just one extra project. Or to say “yes” when a favorite client asks you to take on a project that’s not part of your core capabilities but that you could potentially take on.

We tell ourselves that doing these things will help us grow our business when in reality, the opposite is true. As solopreneurs, it’s what we say “no” to that will actually help us grow. Let me explain.

That Extra Project Can Burst Your Dam

Many of us say “yes” to things we don’t have time for—to clients, friends, and even family—without thinking through the consequences. We become women who do too much and are miserable about not doing any of it up to our standards.

It’s hard to know exactly when you’ve gotten to your maximum capacity for doing. Plus, that capacity can ebb and flow over time and is affected by your health and relationships in addition to your work.

So, unfortunately, we find out we’ve taken on too much only after the fact when we crash—hard.

How to Know if You Are Overcommitted

Here are a few signs you’re nearing your capacity or are already overcommitted and about to burst your dam:

  • You aren’t practicing self-care. Yes, a latte can be self-care. But if it is the only self-care you’ve done in months, you need a reset.
  • You are ignoring health issues.  It can be hard to find time to exercise, go to doctor appointments, and other things maintaining our health requires. But the consequences of not doing so is even more costly.
  • You’re not getting critical tasks done. You have a stack of unopened mail you haven’t gotten to, including bills that need to be paid. The kitchen light has been out for weeks. You can’t seem to get to important day-to-day tasks because they seem exhausting.
  • You are working longer hours without seeing results. Tasks that used to take you an hour are taking two. Projects that could be completed within a two-week timeline are taking three. You’re tired and burnt out.
  • You’re skimping on sleep. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a nice quip, but it’s a bad motto to try to live by. Your body needs at least seven hours of sleep each day for you to feel rested and be productive.
  • Crying at your desk (or in the ladies room) is the new normal. We all need to have a good cry every so often. But if every so often is every day, that’s your body’s way of telling you things are NOT alright.

When you are seeing these signs, it’s imperative you start to say no.

How to Say No And Improve Your Client Relationships

Overcommitment isn’t the only hazard that comes from an inability to say no. As I mentioned in a recent post over on Hey Orca’s blog, saying yes to client requests can actually be a great way to ruin a solopreneur or small agency’s biggest advantage—their specialization.

Before saying yes to a client that asks if you can do an activity that’s outside of your team’s core capabilities, you need to do a frank assessment. Can you deliver what they need at the same level of excellence as the rest of your work for them? If you can’t answer with a confident “yes,” then don’t branch out!

Your clients are drawn to you by what you do best. Any additional work you do for them needs to be at that same level of competence. Otherwise, you run the risk of ruining their opinion of your work overall and damaging your brand. No client wants you or your team to be learning on their dime. They want to hire you because you presumably already have experience with what they are paying you to do.

And this is where having a network of trusted associates comes in. I know a number of small agency owners and freelancers who offer services that complement mine. I’ve worked on some of their client projects, and I’ve referred my clients to them for other projects. These are all people I enjoy working with and whom I know will give my clients the same level of service I provide. And while I’m not going to have a direct financial benefit from referring client business to my network (i.e. I’m not paying out or asking for referral fees) it pays off when it comes to that client relationship.

How to Get Comfortable With Saying No

Now comes the hard part. It’s one thing to know you need to say no and it’s something else entirely to actually do it. Especially when it’s saying no to a big client. Here are a few ideas on how to approach it:

  • Reframe your “no” as a positive. It can help to reframe how you think about—and present—your “no” as being a helpful statement, not as letting your client down. “I’m honored you’ve asked us to [request]. It’s a little out of our wheelhouse, so I’d love to introduce you to [person] who specializes in that. I’m confident they can deliver on it for you.
  • You’d love to, but you’re booked. Realistically, every solopreneur or small agency only has so much capacity. Use this to your advantage as a way to buy an easy out with a client who may not want to take “no” for an answer.
  • Focus on the fit. Be direct and let them know the project isn’t the right fit for your current staff and their core skill sets. And then refer them to someone else who is.
  • Don’t say no, say “yes, but”. Let them know you’d love to help them. However, since it’s outside your area of expertise, it’s going to take X amount of time, plus X amount of external resources or training or tools, so it may be a better fit for [your referral].
  • Delay the no. If you’re just not comfortable saying “no” on the spot, buy yourself some time by thanking them for the ask, and saying you need to talk it over with the team (even if “the team” is your cat) and you’ll get back to them. Then, you can get back to them through a channel you’re more comfortable using for your no.

The good news is, it gets easier to say no every time you say it. And a client you have a solid relationship with will respect your boundaries and accept that no without it having an adverse effect on your relationship. And in the best case scenario, you’ll be the rock star who introduced them to a specialist that knocked their critical project out of the park.

Have a helpful tip for saying no? Let me know in the comments.

It’s Time for Your Revenge Career Communications Plan

It's Time for Your Revenge Career Communications Plan

Living well is the best revenge. This is true when it comes to your career as well. But we can forget that when we are in the middle of a career crisis.

It’s easy to get caught up in obsessing over the unfair performance review. Or to sit around in your sweats binge-watching Netflix after getting fired. Or to obsessively read the Facebook and Instagram updates of the person who got the promotion you were gunning for but didn’t get.

You can spend days obsessing about what went wrong, and drafting and redrafting emails that show how you were wronged. But none of those activities are going to help you get your career back on track.

Take 24 hours to find some way to release that anger. Go to the gym. Take a hot bath and scream under the bubbles. Do whatever you need to do to address your anger and let off some steam. Now you’re ready to take all that negative energy and channel it into something productive. And that’s where the revenge career communications plan comes in.

What’s a Revenge Career Communications Plan?

Just to be clear, a revenge communications plan is not where you lay out a plan to undermine your current/former/potential employer by talking smack about them. Rather, it’s a communications plan and content strategy you devise to get your career back on track after a setback.

For instance, let’s say you had a boss give you a performance review with your area of improvement being your communication skills. You’re a marketing communications manager, whose prior jobs have all been communications roles. You think you’ve got some pretty solid communications skills, but your boss apparently does not.

Now here’s the thing: sometimes we get tough feedback we don’t want to hear. But that’s entirely different from getting flat out incorrect, career-limiting feedback. When the feedback is wrong, it’s up to you to show your boss that side of yourself to help change their opinion. And that’s where a revenge career communications plan can come in handy.

A revenge communications plan is, at its heart, a content and comms strategy that fully aligns with your career development plan by positioning yourself as a thought leader in your field with those who can help you on your career path. It’s the means by which you are going to show the world—including that company/peer/boss who has the wrong picture about you—what you can do when you set your mind to it.

4 Times You May Need a Revenge Career Communications Plan

Over the past 20+ years as a manager and consultant, here are a few of the situations where I’ve recommended putting together a revenge career communications plan:

  1. You earned a promotion but had it suddenly withdrawn without cause. You then received negative feedback regarding your skill set that you feel is not accurate.
  2. You were passed over for a promotion. You made a strong business case for the promotion, but your peers didn’t see you as demonstrating the right skill set.
  3. You were fired from a job that made poor use of your skills. You don’t have work samples you want to show anyone as a result.
  4. You were second runner-up for your dream job. They went for someone with the same amount of experience but who had a more developed personal brand.

In each of these examples, you need to change public opinion regarding your skill set and area of expertise. And that’s exactly what your revenge communications plan is all about.

What to Include in Your Revenge Communications Plan

Before we dive into the plan itself, just to be clear, this plan is for you. It is not something you are going to share with your boss. You are not going to post it on Facebook and tell everyone this is how you are going to show them what a big mistake you made. It’s just for you. It’s your personal action plan for how you are going to use your communications skills to get your career on track.

Here are its basic components:

  1. Your objective. Start with your why. What are you trying to accomplish with this plan? An objective could be “Improve my reputation as a knowledgeable content strategist and valuable member of the marketing industry.”
  2. Goals to support your objective. What does “improve my reputation mean” in a quantifiable way? Goals to support this example objective could be have your LinkedIn profile appear in 50% more LinkedIn searches, to increase your overall personal social media engagement rate to 5%, and to increase the average number of social shares of any content you produce by 25%.
  3. Strategy for reaching those goals. What is it going to take to reach your goals? For example, it could include build relationships with industry influencers and invite them to collaborate on content creation, join and participate in relevant industry communities, and identify opportunities for more 1:1 connections and conversations on LinkedIn.
  4. Measuring your progress. How do you know that your actions have made an impact? For example, your metrics could include the following actions — publish a weekly blog post, include influencers in 25% of all content creation, and contribute two guest blog posts per month.
  5. Your differentiator. What can you offer your audience that no one else can? For instance, perhaps the other prominent experts in your field have only held consultant roles for the past 20 years while you have been in-house in the trenches doing the work. Your differentiator will influence the key messages you include in all your communications and your content creation.
  6. Your audience. Who are you specifically trying to reach with your content and communications? Whose opinion are you trying to sway? For example, you could be trying to reach those who influence the opinion of your boss or future employer.
  7. What’s in it for the audience. What will your audience get that’s useful to them from the content and communications you’ll produce? Yes, your content needs to help you with your goals. But how do you make it a win-win? For example, you could host a meetup for other content strategists. The get to mingle with and share ideas with their peers and your newly engaged audience might help influence your current boss’s opinion of your skill set. Or they could even be potential new employers.
  8. Your topics. What are the topics you’re going to focus on to reach your goals? Be sure to focus on topics where you have expertise and passion. For example, don’t decide to focus on Facebook video just because it’s a hot topic. You want to find a niche that combines your personal expertise with something that will engage your audience.
  9. Calls to action. What do you want people to do after they consume your content? Do you want them to share it on social? Are you looking to start a conversation? Clearly define the next steps you want people to take after interacting with your content and communications.

Choose the Right Activities to Support Your Revenge Career Communications Plan

One of the most difficult parts of all this can be identifying the right activities that will support your objectives and prioritizing your time to do them. After all, you can’t spend all day on social media, crafting creative content, and networking in Slack communities. You’ve got to prioritize.

Start by identifying a couple of content channels that appeal to you. A few thought leadership-building content creation activities you could consider include:

  • Blog on your own site
  • Guest blog for industry blogs and publications
  • Start a podcast
  • Host a meetup
  • Create an online course
  • Host a webinar
  • Provide free office hours where you use your skills to help nonprofits or SMBs
  • Submit presentation proposals for industry conferences

Next, identify the communications activities that can also work towards your goals. These could include:

  • Update your social media profiles to focus on the topics you identified
  • Overhaul your LinkedIn profile to better reflect the career path you want versus the jobs you’ve had
  • Curate a list of key influencers to engage with on social media and in-person
  • Attend relevant industry conferences
  • Participate in online communities or forums related to your topics
  • Become a regular in a popular industry Twitter chat [shameless plug: check out #ContentChat, the weekly chat I moderate, if you’re a content marketer]
  • Share your career accomplishments—both internally and publicly

It’s tempting to try to do all the things. But it’s not realistic. Think about how much time you have to commit to your revenge career communications plan. Which of these activities have the highest likelihood to help you meet your goals? And it’s OK if this activity mix changes over time! It may take some trial and error for you to find the right types of content and communications to connect with your ideal audience.

Measure—and Bask in—Your Success

As you put your revenge communications plan into action, hold yourself accountable by regularly tracking your progress against your goals. Did you pick the right activities to help you reach your objectives? If not, it’s time to revise your plan. Did you hit a milestone or achieve one of your goals? Take time to celebrate that win!

We all have those moments when all we want is to get even with someone we feel has wronged us. But instead of wasting time daydreaming about getting even, putting together and acting on your own revenge career communications plan puts all that creative energy to work for you instead of against you. And who knows, you just may find your true career calling in the process.

Header image made with original photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash.

How to Turn a Freelance Project Into a Long-term Working Relationship

How to Turn a Freelance Project Into a Long-term Working Relationship | citygirlcareer.com
Photo by Mariya Pampova on Unsplash.

When you’re freelancing, it’s great to land a juicy project. But it’s even better to build relationships that continue over time. It’s so much easier to do outstanding work for a company and a client you’ve gotten to know over the years.

But all too often, creative projects are one and done, leaving freelancers scrambling to find their next client. So, what does it take to build longer-lasting relationships? Start by understanding the challenges companies face when working with freelancers.

This infographic from Robert Half sums up their recent freelancing survey results:

The Future of Freelancing infographic from Robert Half
Infographic from Robert Half (Source: https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/the-future-of-work/the-future-of-freelancing)

5 Ways to Stand Out as a Freelancer

So, how does this help you, as a freelancer? It gives you some helpful insights into how to stand out from the competition by addressing the top challenges companies reported. Here are five concrete actions you can take to help address your freelance clients’ challenges:

  • Get involved. Give your client ideas for how to make you feel like part of the team. This could include your working on-site on a regular basis, being invited to team Slack channels, or even taking part in annual kickoff meetings. Get yourself added to internal email lists and subscribe to their newsletter. Follow the company on social media. Show you’re taking a proactive interest in getting to know them and their business challenges.
  • Provide project pricing. Everyone hates negotiating rates, including freelancers. And when it comes to hourly fees, many companies have a set maximum rate that can’t be exceeded without special approval. By setting a deliverables-based fee, you can get paid what you’re worth and provide the client with a concrete budget number. That’s what we call a win-win.
  • Toot your own horn. Are you looking for new freelance clients? Let your network know. Have you added some new skills or areas of expertise to your offering? Update your LinkedIn profile and your website to include those new skills. Finished an especially creative project you’re proud of? Share it with your clients so they can see what you can do!
  • Communicate early and often. Each of us has our own communication preferences. While some clients spend their day in Slack, others prefer a quick text or email. Find out the best channel to use for communicating with your client, then use it to ask questions, provide updates, and generally keep your project moving. No one likes a deadline to come and go without the promised deliverables. But when you keep a conversation going, deadlines or scope can be adjusted, keeping everyone happy.
  • Have an onboarding plan. When I take on a new client, I ask for their content strategy, brand style guide, and brand voice documentation. If they don’t have all of these items, I make sure to obtain a solid creative brief that we go over in a meeting, to ensure I’m up-to-speed on their brand. What do YOU need to know to make your project a success? Ask for it up front and give yourself enough time to go through it before starting your project.

While these five actions won’t guarantee repeat freelance work from a client, they should go a long way towards running a smooth project and creating solid deliverables. And that’s a good recipe for earning positive referrals and repeat business.

3 Reasons to Read Job Listings Even if You Have a Job You Love

3 Reasons to Read Job Listings Even if You Have a Job You Love

Several years ago, I had a direct report who wanted to move from a marketing specialist role into a marketing manager role. She came to me her request after her annual review, where she’d received a good rating, having exceeded some of her goals.

I asked her to tell me why she wanted the role, and how she thought it would differ from her current role. After some conversation, it became clear she didn’t have a clear view on what a marketing manager’s job actually entailed. I pulled out our job families descriptions and went through it, and I could tell she wasn’t buying it.

So I told her to keep our job family description in mind and go take a look at marketing manager jobs with our competitors to get a better idea of what the job entailed.

I asked that, after she read a few of those job listings, she come back to me with her own draft job description and a career development plan for getting her ready for that role.

Why It’s a Good Thing for Your Employees to Read Job Listings

When I relayed this story to my own manager, she furrowed her brow and asked me to explain my thinking. Why would I tell my employee to read job listings? Isn’t that akin to telling her to leave?

I gave her three reasons why it’s a good thing for all of us to read job listings even if we’re in a job we love:

1. Identify in-demand job skills.

When you work for an organization for several years, it can be easy to lose touch with how your profession is evolving. This is especially true in highly regulated industries which can be slow to adopt new marketing tactics, with social media being a prime example. By reading job listings you can quickly identify the new must-have skills for your current position and the one you aspire to next.

2. Get a feel for experience requirements.

I once worked for an organization that promoted its top performers every year. Which is how we ended up with a 25-year-old Vice President with four years job experience. While the title made him happy, it also became an unrealistic expectation when he went to look for his next job. Most organizations will require you demonstrate the skills and gain the experience needed prior to promoting you. Surveying current job listings can help you understand when you’re ready to take on a bigger challenge.

3. Uncover your ideal career path.

How many of us knew exactly what we wanted to do career-wise when we graduated from college? And of those, how many of us wanted that same career path after five years in the workforce? By taking a look at available jobs in your career area, you may determine you don’t actually want to move up the ladder in your current career track. For instance, if you excel as an individual contributor, and don’t like managing a team, you may want to become a specialist in your career field, rather than be on the management track.

What’s next?

In the case of the first employee I told to go read job listings, she came back to me with her career development plan. But it wasn’t for becoming a marketing manager. Rather, she realized that to pursue what she found to be most interesting, she’d need to get her MBA. She plotted out the experience she wanted to get in her current position to help with that transition. In all, she gave me about a year’s notice of her intention to leave. And over that time, she was committed to her work, and happier than she had been previously.

She didn’t have the right skill set to advance in the position, so realistically, we probably wouldn’t have retained her for more than six months. And instead of having an employee sneaking out to interview, I had more than enough time to document processes and recruit her replacement before she left. I’m calling that a win-win.

Isn’t it time you headed over to LinkedIn and set up some job notifications and got a feel for how your career is evolving?


3 Reasons You Can’t Afford NOT to Attend That Conference

3 Reasons to Attend That Conference

I’m writing this while on the plane to Chicago, en route to attend the Business Marketing Association (BMA) conference. It promises to be three days of learning and best practices sharing and networking with other B2B marketers like me. Inevitably, when I tell others I’m headed to a conference, I hear variations on the theme of “Oh, I’d love to go to that conference, but I can’t afford it.”

I get that. For many of these conferences, even with early bird pricing, you’re looking at $1200 in registration fees. Plus hundreds of dollars in airfare and hotel costs. It’s easy to sink $2500 into attending a conference. But that said, I still think it’s a small price to invest in your professional development. In competitive, hyper-change fields like marketing, I think you actually can’t afford NOT to attend these events, if you want to stay competitive and employable.

Reason #1: Conferences, by Their Nature, Give Insight into Emerging Industry Trends

Why is this important? Because although you may not be up on what’s going on in your industry or profession, chances are your organization’s competition (and the professionals you compete within the job market) will be. Not all industry trends stick around for the long run (remember when Second Life was heralded as the next frontier in marketing and customer service? No? Well there you go.) but many of them are relevant and timely markers for shifting customer expectations.

Adoption of social media for customer service and marketing is a great example of an emerging trend that’s gone mainstream. Companies and professionals who quickly embraced this trend, and figured out how to make it work within their customer ecosystems, saw their brand image and customer loyalty increase. Imagine how much of an opportunity cost laggards have accrued if they’re just now waking up to the impact of social media on current society.

Reason #2: You Learn More, and Have More Creative Ideas, by Immersing Yourself in a New Environment

Most of us work in the same office environment, surrounded by the same colleagues, on a daily basis. There’s comfort in this familiarity, but numerous studies on creativity and breakthrough ideas have shown that breaking out of your comfort zone and working in a new environment is a great way to spur creative thinking and creak out ideas.

Packing up and traveling to a conference not only gets you into a new physical location, it changes up your information inputs, and surrounds you with all sorts of unfamiliar people who have the potential to spark new ideas. And that’s even before the education sessions have started!

Similarly, the trade show floor is your opportunity to have 1:1 time with suppliers of products and services others in your industry are using to be more effective. Walk that show floor and see what catches your eye. It just might be a tool that can help you work smarter and faster. And who doesn’t want that?

Reason #3: You Can Build Connections With Other Professionals With Similar Challenges, Building Your Own Personal Think Tank

Perhaps even more valuable than the best practices and new ideas you take away from conference education sessions are the connections you make with other professionals like yourself. More than just building your LinkedIn network count, these connections can start to form your own personal best practices community, that you can consult when you are wrestling with business and professional challenges of your own, or looking for recommendations for new service providers.

I should note that I tend to “meet” a number of attendees at conferences through livetweeting interesting tidbits from sessions I attend. The same goes from sharing my key takeaways from events in blog posts like this one, on my experience at Content Marketing World 2013. The real-time conference back channels at conferences are a great way to connect with others. This is especially helpful if you’re an introvert who gets hives at the thought of walking up to someone you don’t know and making small talk.

How to Make it Happen

It can be difficult to find the funds for attending a conference. This is especially true if you’re self-employed. Luckily, it may be an eligible tax write-off. Talk to your accountant to see what would qualify.

Many companies don’t have a budget set aside for staff professional development. However, if you can provide your boss with a concrete area of learning you’ll be able to bring back and share with the team, you may be get your company to foot at least part of the bill. Some of the other ways you can bring that conference price tag down a notch include:

  • Group registering with your colleagues
  • Paying before the early bird deadline
  • Volunteering at the conference
  • Successfully applying to share your expertise by being a speaker
  • Asking partners who are exhibiting if they have a discount registration code

If none of these options are open to you, and you can’t swing a large lump sum at once, start planning a year ahead. Save a little bit each week, for your conference fund. Consider starting a change jar, or skipping one fancy coffee each week and putting that cash into your conference fund. You may surprise yourself with how quickly you meet your goal.