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Volunteering Builds New Skills

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For many years, Pinstripe has been committed to causes that are close to our hearts. Our own personal and professional growth can be tied directly to the many organizations that provide valuable services for our community. And, because of this, we have gained so much.

Leadership

Each opportunity with a nonprofit organization places us in a new environment. These organizations are short on resources, so you have to really know how to get the most from people you know, especially within your business network. Getting others involved in a nonprofit shows leadership and drive.

It’s through volunteering that you may get the opportunity to lead others, especially when there are limited opportunities in the office. Volunteering has taught us new leadership skills, such as:

  • Maximizing a limited amount of resources
  • Application of expertise in new ways
  • Using innovative ways to reach people
  • Leading a group of individuals with one common goal

More importantly, the relationships you build while volunteering can last a lifetime. These relationships will expand your personal and professional network, helping you to realize your goals.

Soft Skills

For recent graduates, soft skills have become more prized than technical knowledge. Business owners can teach them how to perform their job, but not how to interact well with others. If you have these skills, then practicing them is just as important as developing them. Volunteering is a good way to both learn and continue to practice soft skills.

What are soft skills? They include the following:

  • Communication skills
  • Time management
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Being a good team player
  • Empathy and compassion

Developing these soft skills can have a big impact on your career. For millennials, this type of experience can boost credibility and give them the edge in a tight marketplace. Over time, volunteering teaches how perseverance and tenacity can overcome roadblocks and changes in the economic landscape.

Personal and Professional Growth

With all of the changes in technology and the way we do business, we need to be able to react swiftly and with confidence. We can vouch for the fact that volunteering helps us face new challenges without fear. Volunteering is as much about personal growth as it is about helping others. It allows us to engage with people in our community, listen to them and try to help. This gives us a deeper understanding of what the community needs and also experience in addressing those needs. Volunteering may start small, but who knows, over time this can change to even bigger roles. That’s up to you and how far you want to take it.

Women’s Conference of Florida Recap

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We attended the Women’s Conference of Florida this fall – what an incredible experience. We walked into the Marriot Waterside Hotel on a bright and sunny Thursday morning, full of anticipation. As we walked through registration we saw other faces full of excitement, anticipation, hope. And boy, we were not disappointed.

The first presentation was given by Nely Galan, author, real estate mogul, founder of the Adelante Movement, and former President of Telemundo. What a great way to kick off the conference! Nely was full of energy and inspiration, her stories were riveting, and she sent a wave through the crowd that made us all want to leave that room and do amazing things. She started her story with her childhood, when her family immigrated to the United States from Cuba. She ended up in a strange school, strange neighborhood, and they all had to learn a new language. She told of her and her family’s struggles, but through each and every obstacle, she was able to make the most of the situation and create positives out of negatives – EVERY SINGLE TIME!

Galan was so vivacious in her story-telling, so funny and sincere – she really wants other women to succeed and listening to her story is a step in that direction. Each attendee received a copy of her book, “Self-Made: Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant, and Rich in Every Way,” which we will review when we’re done reading! The title is fairly self-explanatory, and as a sneak preview, Nely recounts the story of her childhood and rise to real-estate moguldum and self-made woman. Her motto, “buy real estate, not shoes,” is wise advice, one that we can all learn from. As she told story after story, this kept coming up; she also reminded us that everyone has moments of insecurity and “around the corner from my biggest failures are my biggest successes.”

Another stand-out presenter was Tiffany Dufu, Chief Leadership Officer of LEVO. She talked about “dropping the ball” as a positive, in the sense that if you let yourself drop the ball on certain things, you can excel in others. In other words, you have to figure out what is most important for you and focus your energies on those things. For example, sometimes you have to leave the dirty laundry for another day when you have a tight deadline to meet on a project, or you may be forced to order pizza for family dinner instead of that super healthy home cooked meal if you really need to squeeze in a workout. She also recommends learning to ask for help. Many super women try to take on all the heavy lifting without asking partners or friends for help. Stop this! Tiffany’s final point is that when we do things like this, we should own it, not feel guilty, not beat ourselves up. No one is perfect. If you’re going to try to “do it all” and be Wonder Woman, you will have to accept the occasional slip up or assistance. And when it comes to ordering pizza for family dinner instead of that healthy, vegetable heavy meal, you know no one else is complaining!

There were many other incredible women presenting during the conference, each one with a unique story of their rise to leadership, fortune, and in some cases, fame. Our takeaways – if you see a women’s conference or presentation, sign up for it – it will inspire you. Women are powerful, stop doubting yourself. Hard work pays off. Do something every day to achieve your goals. Rid yourself of guilt and go conquer the world!

Setting Client Expectations

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You’re talking to a prospective client. How would you present the work your company does? What might you say about your company’s productive efficiency. How responsive are you to client needs? What would you say about the professionalism of your staff? How important is corporate responsibility?

We’d guess our readers always answer these questions exactly to same way, even if talking to their BFF at their favorite bar and after a drink or three. But for others, there may be glaring discrepancies between some of the answers in first scenario and those in a relaxed, non-selling situation. If that’s the case, it’s reasonable to worry that somebody’s business is off to a bad start managing client expectations.

We know the temptation to oversell. A good company that provides a worthwhile product or service and operated by a competent staff of decent people can suddenly become a socially crusading, budding Amazon, led by super heroes (but with a gentle, caring touch) and providing a better ROI opportunity than the ground floor investment in Microsoft.

Okay, that might be a little hyperbolic, but few prospective clients come away from a sales pitch expecting to frequently hear the word “no” to future requests. And when there has been too much “gilding the lily,” someone is not going to be happy. Interestingly, that someone is often the business owner and her or his staff.

Unless a company is run by true rip-off artists, most clients can walk away from bad business relationships having merely lost a little time and not quite getting what they thought their money was worth. More often, the real suffering comes to the other side of the equation as businesspeople take on unprofitable jobs that require excessive workloads. The probable outcome is a painful, ultimately fruitless attempt to hang on to a difficult client.

So how does one prevent (or handle) this predicament? Well, here are our thoughts:

  • Appreciate your own worth. For contractors and others in professional services industries there can be a tendency to take on work for too low a fee because “something is better than nothing.” Often this is accompanied with the rationalization that one can raise rates later. (Why would a client agree to that?) It can be same with willingness to accommodate abnormal business hours. Make your standard prices understood upfront and don’t give the impression that you’re anyone’s indentured servant.
  • Lead with your value proposition. You’re not exceptional at everything, because no one is exceptional at everything. If someone claims to be, you know they’re lying. When selling, make your top value proposition clear to the prospect and be realistic about other aspects of your business. Don’t be afraid; a strong value proposition should appeal to a lot of clients, and others may like enough of everything else they hear to give you a fair trial. You can’t win them all, and you don’t want to lose by “winning.”
  • Listen to what your client is saying. Rarely do prospective clients hide what’s important to them. In fact, they usually mention it quite often, especially if they’ve been previously disappointed. If their demands have been a problem for others in your line of work, they might be a challenge to you as well. Carefully and thoughtfully evaluate what prospects want and let them know where you can, and where you might not, meet their expectations.
  • Lower the bar. We joke and say that every client wants everything yesterday, but thankfully that’s not (always) true. People may be quite reasonable in their expectations—they simply don’t want to be disappointed. What if you made your costs estimates a little higher than you truly anticipate and your set deadlines a little further out than you think necessary. Then you could watch your client’s delighted reaction when you can charge less than you initially said and you get the work done faster than promised!
  • Play up the client success stories that you’d want to repeat. Testimonials and case studies make for excellent sales collateral, but be careful about how you present these stories to prospects. When you go far above and beyond the call of duty for a client, perhaps you should keep the specifics to yourself and share the client’s appreciation in a brief testimonial. And when you’ve done a great job following your normal procedures, that’s the time to go into the details with a lengthier case study.
  • If you’re having trouble competing, look for the cause and make changes. Suppose you’re regularly disappointing your clients while killing yourself and your employees, AND losing money for your trouble. Then you notice your competition seems to be doing fine. It’s time for some research. Try to figure out what advantages your competitors have and see how you can even things up. If the advantages are inherent (like a better location) find out how others in your situation have coped and emulate them. Be prepared to change your marketing strategies to better attract the available audience, rather than continuing to push the same old boulder up the mountain.
  • Be willing to give up. You may have heard the saying, “Winners never quit and quitters never win,” but we have another one: “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.” Some jobs and/or clients are simply not worth the effort and never will be. Don’t run yourself or your business into the ground trying to make something happen that can’t. After you’ve done your best but simply can’t make an arrangement work for everyone, thank the impossible client for the opportunity and bid them a fond farewell.

As Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations” … and so does his (or her) client.

Avoid Industry Jargon in Customer Communications

avoid industry jargon marketing_news copySome days ago, an acquaintance shared his recent experience breaking in a new hair stylist. She asked how previous barbers cut his hair, specifically which of two cutting implements was preferred. He didn’t quite catch the first option but heard “shears” for the second. Thinking of the shearing tool used on sheep, he chose that, but he left the choice up to the stylist.

He was a bit surprised to see the woman start with the scissors, but said nothing. After what struck him as an unusually laborious process, however, he commented on her meticulous care. (It was his gentlest nudge to hurry her along.) The stylist explained she wasn’t used to cutting hair with shears. Recognizing the misunderstanding, he quickly encouraged the stylist to change her method—much to her own relief. He then offered that most people referred to what she had been using as “scissors.” In response, she insisted with a terse smile, “Shears.”

Several factors led to the mix-up, and in the greater scheme of things the incident was no big deal. Yet the story does lead one to wonder how often companies—and the professionals who lead them—lose productivity and poorly serve clientele by using “correct” terminology rather than the words customers best understand?

Some industries are more prone to jargon—as well as jargon-based acronyms—than others. Healthcare (jargon examples: topical, hypoglycemic) and finance (examples: securitization, liquidity) are big offenders but technology (examples: Cloud, onboarding and solution this-and-that) may be the worst. (We must admit, though, that people in marketing also habitually throw around terms that are meaningless to the average person.)

Industry jargon can be difficult to avoid because it rises organically as people with similar knowledge and training create a common language of sorts. Additionally, professionals tend to enjoy their jargon as a way of showing off and differentiating themselves from the great unwashed. Understandable … but stop it! You want to make a connection with your customers, and you can’t do that if important information comes across as “blah-blah,” “thingamajig” and “doohickey.”

Here are five steps to help clean the jargon from your external communications:

  • Identify your target audience. Add jargon-killing as another reason why this should always be the first step in any marketing initiative. The better acquainted you are with your potential customers, the easier it will be to understand how best to craft a message that resonates with them. And if you happen to be targeting another segment of your own industry, you may be able to keep (some of) the jargon after all!
  • Test language for common understanding. As we get comfortable in our surroundings (in our bubbles, nose-blind … etc.) it’s hard to recognize what’s jargon and what isn’t. Try presenting your marketing materials and Web content to people outside your industry for their feedback. A good professional marketing firm (like Pinstripe) can also help you “democratize” your promotional content and sales spiels.
  • Identify things by their functions. Not only will this approach help assure that your audience knows what you mean, it may serve the dual purpose of clearly presenting a benefit to a potential customer. That’s a good thing.
  • Avoid acronyms … or at least spell them out upon first reference. Often, if someone can see what the letters stand for, they can figure out what you’re talking about. This however, doesn’t always work. For example, noting UI means “user interface” may not help a lot. In this case, see Rule #3.
  • Encourage customers to ask questions. No one likes to admit a lack of understanding, so customers may smile and nod even though they have no idea what you’re talking about. Keep this in mind, explain your proclivity for jargon (“it’s not you, it’s me.”) and sincerely encourage them to ask questions if there’s something they don’t understand.

This shouldn’t need to be said, but sometimes it is: Ignorance is not the same as stupidity. Customers may not know the right word(s) for what they need, but they are the only ones who can accurately define it. Don’t let understanding your jargon get in the way of your understanding what’s truly important.

b2b marketing

If I Have to Go to One More Happy Hour…

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Networking always seems like it revolves around a happy hour or cocktails in a conference room with some finger foods. These events can be effective in bringing people out to mingle, but really lose their luster after a while. Below are a few networking ideas that stray from the traditional “bring your business cards” happy hour networking events.

Building Relationships – Strengthening Bonds

Today, business networking is more than an exchange of business cards. Your time is more precious than ever, and spending it with people you barely know may feel like you’re taking away from other work and family time. If you want more meaningful interactions, then it’s time to change your point of view about networking and concentrate on building relationships. One of the best ways to break out of the happy hour habit is through alternative forms of networking.

Volunteering

Some of the strongest bonds you can form are with like-minded people. Volunteering for a non-profit organization will get you in touch with people who care about the same things you do. With your business experience, you may choose to sit on the board and use your strengths where they are needed. The added bonus is that there are a lot of other business people who are the board for non-profits. They donate their time to causes they care about, which will be something you have in common.

For Entrepreneurs

There are many community organizations for entrepreneurs. Usually, these are focused around specific areas and have criteria for getting admitted. Nothing too stringent, just rules in place that limit the types of businesses in the group. You can practice your elevator pitch and share some insight into owning your business.

Social Media

Build and reach out to your network through social media. This is a great venue to share information about your business or the industry. It’s also a good way to share any leads to people in your circle. Remember to keep your profiles up-to-date and regularly post interesting information to capture their attention.

Even when we volunteer, we need to open ourselves up to talk to strangers. Try not to be too shy and maybe you’ll have something in common. If so, focus on talking about those things, then branch out from there and talk about business. These are like-minded people, so just be yourself and enjoy your time together.

 

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