10 steps to developing a productive team

Essential Steps for Building a Strong Team

Develop a strong team by planning first and actively working towards productivity.

It takes a strong, intuitive leader to build a motivated, productive team.  A leader that can consistently build productive teams is worth hanging on to.  Team building is not easy and requires a leader who understands people, listens, can see and develop strengths, mitigate conflicts, select applicable motivators and keep a team engaged and helping each other.

Working toward productivity.

Whether you are taking on an existing team or developing a new team,  it’s critical to devote time and energy to establishing how you want your team to work and not just what you want to do. The first few weeks are critical. “People form opinions pretty quickly, and these opinions tend to be sticky,” says Michael Watkins, the cofounder of Genesis Advisers and author of the updated The First 90 Days. “If you don’t take time upfront to figure out how to get the team working well, problems are always going to come up,” says Mary Shapiro, who teaches organizational behavior at Simmons College and is the author of the HBR Guide to Leading Teams.

Starting a team out right.

1) Introduce team members and give time to get to know each other

It is surprising to me but I have been in teams with people I did not know and the team leader never took the time to start by having each team member introduce themselves and tell a bit about themselves. And, it might seem elementary, but name cards help take one stress off the list which is remembering everyone’s name.

2) Try an ice breaker

It is worth the time to consider an ice breaking type of game or exercise that opens up the team to learning a little more about each other before jumping in to the task at hand.  Keep the activity relevant and on topic.

3) Set operating guidelines for the team

These are those “housekeeping details” that you, as the leader, set up to make sure efficiency and success. They include the simple such as (Be on time for meetings, no cell phones, or whatever you need to add to establish a positive, collective, respectful team environment) and general guidelines (Every team member has the opportunity to offer ideas and suggestions in an environment of open discourse).

4) Understand that each team members ideas are valuable and should be treated as such.

Respect is important for team members to feel they can share and be helpful.  Open sharing and feeling needed and helpful will open the group up to more creative ideas and solutions.  And, remember that there is no such thing as a stupid idea. It might sound off beat at first but you never know what another team member can add and another and fleshing out that idea-it might be the best one

5) Set team aims

Make sure that the team has a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished; what are the objectives, timeframe, responsibilities, and understanding of what success will mean for this team.  If you think of team sports, such as football, the prime goal is to win but also to demonstrate a support of team members and good sportsmanlike conduct even when things are not going their way.

6) Encourage trust and cooperation among employees on your team.

Remember that the relationships team members set up among themselves are every bit as important as those you establish with them.  As the team begins to take shape, pay close attention to how team members work together and take steps to improve communication, cooperation, trust, and respect in those relationships.

7) Encourage team members to share information.

Reiterate how important each team member’s contribution is and prove how all of their comments work together to move the entire team closer to its goal.

8) Follow your words by actions.

As the leader, follow your own guidelines and rules and model this type of interaction. Be authentic and do what you preach. Talk is cheap and easy, authentic follow-through is more difficult.

9) Facilitate communication.

Since communication is an important factor in successful teamwork, also understand that miss-communication is easy especially when dealing with cross cultural teams and varied personalities. Actually, miss communication can happen with any team no matter how homogenous the members. Set an example by being open to suggestions and concerns, asking questions and offering help, and by doing everything you can to avoid confusion in your own communication. Use visual communication examples where applicable.  You don’t have to be a refined artist or for that matter an artist at all to visually communicate an idea or message.

10) Encourage real listening.

If this team is made up of employees from the same company they may be  afraid to disagree with one another and this fear can lead your team to make mediocre decisions. Encourage thoughtful debate because that opens the group up to more creative ideas and solutions and therefore get better results.

As said before, leading a team is not easy so learn along the way, make adjustments, be flexible and enjoy the process.

 

11 steps to selecting and hiring a consultant

Selecting a Consultant

Putting the pieces together to hire the best fitting consultant or freelancer.

Best Practices to selecting a consultant or freelancer

I select, hire and work with outside consultants and freelancers for my own company as well as my clients. And have, for the most part, positive and workable experiences leading to successful project outcomes.

In my experience, I learned and continue to learn best practices to selecting and hiring an outside consultants or vendors so we all (my clients, freelancers and me) feel that rush of successful project completion with objectives met with “no surprises.”

In the past, I have also worked with clients who have been unhappy with earlier consultants and/or project outcomes because of the rush to hire someone or team that turned out to be the wrong fit. At that point, they have brought me in to either redo the project, start all over again or hire the right resources depending on what is needed. That costs time, money and can be avoided.

Here are 11 tips for helping you select and hire the right outside resource.

1.Start by analyzing, articulating and writing down what you need with regards to projects, skills or pain points or issues you need resolved.

Are you looking for a website developer or a website designer or an art director or do you know? If titles are not familiar to you take a really basic approach and define what you need, where are your pain points and what skills do you think are needed to fix the pain points. For example, visitors to our site are only staying a few minutes how do we get them to stay longer or our blog is getting very few readers-what do we need to do to increase our readership? Or we have a team that is not meeting deadlines or working together.

I am assuming you will get a list that you can rank by what you need most. Then prioritize that list by what is most valuable and most profitable to your company.

2. Define the project, the scope, budget limits and rough schedule.

Once this information is defined and established, internally in your organization, then you can have clear, complete information for your selected consultant. These actions will also help you get more specific information from them. This includes how their skills, experience and working style matches your needs.

Knowing and defining what you need and are looking for is critical to do before talking to any outside consultant. But don’t get too rigid, flexibility will help you accept feedback from the consultant you select as well as those you don’t. If you are truly hiring an expert, they will be able to further define the scope of the project and perhaps even steer you to a more suitable project type or other solution that might be better or help you define the more basic issues.

Be realistic about budget and schedule requirements—you may have to compromise on the deliverable date to get the best provider for the job. And, you should be open to budget negotiation to get the best consultant for your needs.

And, again you want this consultant to share their thoughts, ability and recommendations with you too. You are hiring someone who has the ability you and your company do not, so you want to listen and learn from this trusted source.

3. Interview the consultant.

Now that you are closer to knowing what you need and want, you will want to interview various consultant/freelancers.

Ask questions—lots of questions. You are hiring a partner for the duration of the project and you want people who not only have the experience and background but also the “soft” skills that include communication skills and interpersonal skills and ability to work with you and communicate effectively with you.

If you are working with a remote consultant/vendor, communication criteria and accountability become even more critical. These are always important but especially with someone you might never meet face to face.

Check their references and ask for feedback from other clients who have used their services. If you have any concerns about a vendor’s specific capabilities, voice your concerns to them now. And, remember the vendor is putting their best foot forward with their best people.

Be aware that if you are hiring someone new to the consulting gig or just out of school, they may not have clients you can talk to or they may have reservations because of confidentiality issues. That is okay. If you take time to start them on a basic, simple project, it will allow you to see how this person or team fits within your group.

Make sure you know who your day-to-day contact will be and interview them too. Then ask that unless there is an unforeseen emergency that consistent interfacing contact is with you through the duration of the project and the vendor is not changing contact people periodically during the process. Getting a new person up to speed and understanding you and your business can slow or halt the project progress.

4. Look for specific experience fit

Ideally, the vendor that you select has the specific experience with the type of project that you defined and in the area that you need.

Don’t be your vendor’s “guinea pig.”

5. Review the vendor’s work

Review their “portfolio” (if they have one), their website, their online presence and reviews. Make sure that your expectations about style, quality and, if copy and design, that tone and way are applicable to what you want and need.

6. Confirm who will be doing the work

Some vendors outsource various parts of projects to other vendors, if you are comfortable with that then that is okay. But ask the vendor beforehand if all aspects of the project are done with them or what outside vendors might be involved. Having your selected vendor outsource some of the project isn’t necessarily an issue such as a designer working with a website developer. But you should be aware and be comfortable with which aspects of your project might be outsourced. If it is the crux of the project that is outsourced then you may want to consider another vendor.

7. Test

I do this allot particularly if the consultant/freelancers I think is best doesn’t have the exact experience that I would like. I start with a small project. That way I can see the vendor in action and when it is crucial will know if this vendor is trustworthy and can handle what I need. And, you can do the same.

Some companies ask for a “mockup” or sample project but I think it is better to use a real project. This allows the vendor to get paid for their work and you to really see what the provider’s capabilities are in action.

8. An agreed to schedule

By this point, you have defined with your provider a budget and working plan. This plan should include defined, concrete goals. This will allow you to know the scheduled checkpoints and review the status and direction of the project at those check in points. Also, be sure, to find the project scope and budget parameters, you do not want to be surprised with “change” fee notices when you thought that the second-round copy was included.

Stay involved in the project and define what you mean by updates and when those updates are need. If any course corrections need to be made allow adequate time to make those and don’t allow yourself to be in the dark until you get a finished product, which by then is too late. My motto is “No surprises” and this is a way to avoid as much as possible project or vendor surprises.

9. Final product ownership

For any type of outsourced project, make sure that you are clear about who owns the work product and any important components of that product or project. Make sure the service provider understands how you intend to use the deliverables that they are providing. This is particularly true of photography, illustrations or other artwork, this vendor created. And, be fair, you might need to pay usage fees or pay more money if you want outright sole ownership.

10. Define what you expect as far as any ongoing support

During the planning phase, negotiate with your vendor what happens when the work is complete. Is there ongoing support or options to make changes? If artwork, what do you need and in what format. Don’t be greedy but try specifying some amount of free support or negotiating discounted prices for future modifications. That seemingly small detail can save you time and money later.

11. Get everything in writing

Include the scope of the project, what the deliverables are, the agreed to budget, schedule, and criteria that may change the scope and cost of the project.

Keep a record of all interactions as well as changes to the agreement. Save email, text or any other exchanges.

Hiring top-notch expertise, as outside vendors and freelancers, is a great way to meet your business needs without hiring a full-time staff member. There are numerous, excellent vendors available and by being upfront with honest and open communication you can have a successful outcome and even better a successful, ongoing relationship.

What is innovation?

Thinking about innovative ideasInnovation defined.

Not surprisingly, innovation means different things to different people.  In one case, your audience might be thinking of a large, breakthrough change in technology or in the way an employee or consumer functions in their daily lives.  To someone else, an innovation may be a small step that seems small to the producer but makes a big change in enhancing the user experience.  In another case, it might be a small change that doesn’t appear to make allot of difference but over the long run and with additional changes makes a big difference. It could also mean a change in system or procedure that affects the employees in your company.  This list could go on and on.

If you read anywhere there’s lots of discussion about innovation to the point where the term seems overused.  So when you talk about innovation, it is a good idea to start by defining what innovation means to you and ask what it means to your audience, what the purpose of a new innovation might be and what lengths you or your customer is  interested or willing to go to incorporate a new innovation.

As an innovator, I hope for and work towards breakthrough innovation.  However, in tough economic times, innovation may require too much risk and expense for an organization.  It is also not uncommon for customers to resist change and therefore companies have a difficult time innovating product changes even if it is clearly a benefit to the customer.

So instead of dreaming about the next big thing for your product incorporate a step-by-step plan to develop and implement the innovation.  Focus on smaller changes and make changes easier to implement and easier for the customer to accept.  Use inexpensive and small experiments to test your new ideas. For example, add or make a small product improvement and test that improvement by watching users try the new feature.  Then evaluate how well, how significant, and how beneficial the audience considers this change to be.  Is it worth the money if the innovation affects your product’s price or the time needed for your customers to learn how to use the new feature?

In many cases, difficult economic times require product innovations that are easily adapted and cannot require a large investment either by the company or the consumer.

If you want to have the best possible outcome, have a plan for product innovation or for a major innovation as a series of palatable building blocks that moves toward and reaches your bigger goal. This approach, if the innovation is beneficial and is communicated that way,  should be met with less resistance from either  the company itself, company employees or their consumers.   This approach will allow for a smoother transition and incorporation of the innovation.

 

 

 

Why is a content strategy really necessary?

network-star-crop-527Because it is the foundation of your marketing program and by creating quality branded content and posting that across your applicable media outlets you can deliver a consistent message which provides your customers and potential customers with engaging material and value added information. This is not only valuable for your target but also for your company. Advantages are many including a positive brand image, the opportunity to build trust, increases sales and the ability to save money and time in the creation of marketing materials.

How do I build a content strategy?

Here is a step by step approach.

1. Outline objectives
First, conduct an audit of your current content strategy program. Is the graphic identity as well as message consistent? Is it the image you want to portray? Does it communicate your unique selling proposition? Is is geared to your target audience? When you have a clear picture of what you are currently doing you can start to evaluate weak areas and needs. Start by defining the over reaching content strategy objectives and then take each media outlet you are using and define the specific objective for each medium.

2. Define your audience(s)
Do you have a good idea of who your target audience is? What do they want to hear? What does this audience need or want from your company? What content would benefit the target as well as your company? This is a time to set objectives that will provide a focus as well as positive results. Include how you are going to measure the success of each program. Research what other communications your customers receive from you and your competitors. Where does your target audience get information about the category that you are involved in?

3. Consider targeting opportunities
Targeting different types of customer through segmented content can make the process much more efficient and cost-effective, so consider producing different versions of your publication and digital content. But if you want to segment, you will need a database or list that offers that segmented information. If you don’t have one, consider what you need and start building the database that allows for segmentation. This can be as simple as utilizing a spreadsheet to begin this process. Once you have finalized what data and criteria you need then you can look for a more sophisticated, productive method of handling your customer database.

4. Establish your distribution strategy
How will your content reach your customers? What combination of media channels best fit your target audience? From print to online, digital to video, there are a huge range of channels to choose from. If you don’t trust the accuracy of your customer database (or you don’t have one), consider buying a list that matches the profile of your customers.

5. Establish measurements
Having regular, high-quality content can be a significant investment of time and money for your company, so establish benchmarks for success based on your objectives. Your objective should include measurable results. If you can plan or estimate how this approach will benefit the bottom line or the brand image of your company. You then need establish a workable budget. Next, get internal buy-in from all relevant departments, especially if you are expecting them to contribute to the budget.

6. Consider contracting with a content marketing agency
Very few client companies have the resources or expertise to create effective content in-house, so you may need to hire an outside agency. Be specific with the agency on what you are looking for and include the items that are important to you and your company including project criteria and potential working budget. Choose wisely not every consulting content marketing agency will fit your needs. Invite several to meet with and learn about all their services and what they can offer your company. For more information on selecting and working with an outside agency read blog post.

7. Create content
Once an agency has been selected, as them to provide a full content plan for your approval before they start creating any content. At these initial meetings you should agree to a communication plan between you and the agency including working arrangements, deciding such issues as how you want the content to be presented and who will approve the content within your organization.

8. Agree to a launch strategy
Do you have a launch date in mind. Are you going to include any research or user feedback from a sample group of your trusted, loyal customers and get their opinion. Also be sure to include introducing the content program to your internal company audience.

9. Launch systematically
Take the time to launch systematically-just in case there is something that you did not anticipate.

10. Debrief/Evaluate
With the introduction of the launch and initial results gathered, you and your agency should now have a debrief meeting in which you go over all aspects of the content. With any new information and feedback, your agency can then start on the next phase of the campaign. Meanwhile, review your targeting strategy and ensure any internal results or opinions are communicated to your agency.

11. Move forward!!

 

10 tips for selecting an outside vendor

IMG_0164Throughout my career, I have hired and worked with outside consultants and freelancers and have had, for the most part, positive and workable experiences and successful project outcomes.

Here are 10 tips for selecting an outside vendor.

1. Define the project, the scope and rough schedule.

Knowing and defining what you need and are looking for is critical to do before talking to any vendor.

Once this information is defined and established, internally in your organization, then you can provide clear, complete information to your selected vendor and this will in turn help you get more specific information from them.

Be realistic about schedule requirements—you may have to compromise on the deliverable date to get the best provider for the job.

2. Interview the vendor.

Ask questions—lots of questions.  You are hiring a partner for the duration of the project and you want people that not only have the experience and background but also the “soft” skills that include communication skills and interpersonal skills and ability to work with you and communicate effectively with you.

Check their references and ask for feedback from other clients who have used their services. If you have any concerns about a vendor’s specific capabilities, voice your concerns to them now. And, remember the vendor is putting their best foot forward with their best people.

Make sure you know who your day-to-day contact will be and interview them too.  Then request that unless there is an unforeseen emergency that that consistent interfacing contact is with you through the duration of the project and the vendor is not changing contact people periodically during the process.  Getting a new person up to speed and understanding you and your business can slow or halt the project progress.

3. Look for specific experience fit

Ideally, the vendor that you select has the specific experience with the type of project that you defined and in the area that you need.

Don’t be your vendor’s “guinea pig.”

4. Review the vendor’s work

Review their “portfolio” (if they have one), their website, their online presence and reviews.  Make sure that your expectations regarding style, quality and, if copy and design, that tone and manner are applicable to what you want and need.

5. Confirm who will be doing the work

Some vendors outsource various parts of projects to other vendors, if you are comfortable with that then that is okay.  But ask the vendor beforehand if all aspects of the project are done with them or what outside vendors might be involved.  Having your selected vendor outsource some of the project isn’t necessarily an issue such as a designer working with a printer.  But you should be aware and be comfortable with which aspects of your project might be outsourced.  If it is the crux of the project that is outsourced then you may want to consider another vendor.

6. Test

If you can, start with a small, simple project.  That way you can see the vendor in action and when it is crucial will know if this vendor is trustworthy and can handle what you need.

Some companies ask for a “mockup” or sample project but I think it is better to use a real project.  This allows the vendor to get paid for their work and you to really see what the provider’s capabilities are in action.

7. An agreed to schedule

By this point, you have defined with your provider a working plan. This plan should include defined, concrete goals.  This will allow you to know the scheduled checkpoints and review the status and direction of the project at those check in points.

If any course corrections need to be made you will have adequate time to make those and you won’t be in the dark until you get a finished product, which by then is too late.  My motto is “No surprises” and this is a way to avoid as much as possible project or vendor surprises.

8.  Final product ownership

For any type of outsourced project, make sure that you are clear about who owns the work product and any important components of that product or project. Make sure the service provider understands how you intend to use the deliverables that they are providing.

9.  Define what you expect as far as any ongoing support

During the planning phase, negotiate with your vendor what happens when the work is complete. Is there ongoing support or options to make changes?  If artwork, what do you need and in what format. Don’t be greedy but try specifying some amount of free support or negotiating discounted prices for future modifications.  That seemingly little detail  can save you time and money later.

10. Get everything in writing

Include the scope of the project, what the deliverables are, the agreed to price, schedule, criteria that may change the scope and cost of the project.

Keep a record of all interactions as well as changes to the agreement.  Save email, text or any other exchanges.

Hiring top-notch expertise, as outside vendors and freelancers, is a great way to meet your business needs without hiring a full-time staff member.  There are numerous, excellent vendors available and by being upfront with honest and open communication you can have a successful outcome and even better a successful, ongoing relationship.

8 Steps to Identifying Relevant Marketing Content

people-target-fullsize-960What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is an ongoing process that involves creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience.

The primary objective is to attract current and potential consumers to engage, take action and support your product or service by sales and positive referrals and reviews.

Content marketing is not only an art but a creative process that provides relevant communication to your customers and prospects without overtly selling and potentially driving the consumer away. Instead of talking only about your products or services, you deliver information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, consumers ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.

To identify relevant content, I recommend using an 8 step content mapping approach that defines a process to gather appropriate, relevant information for the purposes of identifying and implementing the right content.

8 step content mapping process

Step 1.  Identify key personas.

In a previous post, I identified key identifiers for your target persona.  These identifiers include title, time in job, works with, daily tasks, responsibilities, likes as well as dislikes, frustrations, pressures, needs, activities, emotional mindset and role in buying process. For more information regarding identifiers refer to my previous blog post on building personas.

Step 2. Information/questions

What information or questions is the persona or personas, identified in step 1,  asking at each stage of the buying process?  The buying process includes 6 steps–awareness, interest, research, desire, user and finally evangelism.

Step 3.  What are the answers to their questions?

What answers can you provide for each of the questions identified?  Answer specifically and in depth those questions you anticipate your persona to be asking.

Step 4.  Review

Carefully look at your answers and identify what value added information you can provide that would be beneficial to your persona.   How are the products or services you provide able to tie into this process?

Step 5.  Map

Now take the time to mind map this information and see what content you have available or could research that would help your persona answer their questions and learn more in the process.  Take this time to identify steps to answering the questions-if the questions have multiple parts to the answer.

Step 6.  Research and Analyze

Look for places where more information is needed. Look at areas where you might be missing content.  Research and find answers to the holes in the content.

Step 7.  Create

Start creating content to fill the holes, answer the questions and add value to your customers with your product or service.

Step 8.  Evaluate

Keep track of the content you provide and evaluate analytically what benefit this information provided your company.

As with anything, this process takes time, effort and work but is well worth doing.

Building Personas– Part 1

people-network-blue-960x300What information should be included in developing a complete ideal persona?

 

Recently a client asked me to create a persona of their company’s key buyers.  He wanted to focus on the small percentage of consumers that spend the most and prove to be great advocates when talking about and working with his company.

Because this practice was new to the company, I started with a profile template that is familiar to me.  There are a number of persona templates available online and any would provide information needed.  However, some are more complex then others and can be a deterrent to getting the persona done and functional.

The first step included outlining the types of information that are helpful in the persona.  The second step was taking the template and talking to key buyers and advocates for this company.  In our exercise, we were able to fill in much of the information and only asked  customers about information not readily available or we weren’t sure about.

Information to include in a persona.

•    Title–If your major buyers work in small companies you may find that titles are a thing of the past.  So while identifying a specific title may be difficult, you can specify function which is still a valid selection.
•    Time in the job–How long have they been at their present job and how long have they been in the field?  This is a good indication of the group to target.
•    Who do they work with directly?  Who do they work with indirectly?
•    Responsibilities and daily tasks.  What are the daily job tasks and what are their key responsibilities?
•    Likes/dislikes include items relating to their job as well as personal likes/dislikes.  Review things this audience might appreciate during the sales process and things that they will definitely dislike if included in the sales process.
•    Frustrations and Concerns include both personal and job frustrations and concerns.
•    Pressures.  Again include both job and personal pressures.
•    Needs.  What needs is this person looking to fill both tangible and intangible.
•    Role in buying process and at what stage does the persona get involved.–The buying process consists of 6 stages.  Those stages are awareness, interest, research, desire, user and evangelist.  Which stage or stages is your persona involved in?
•    Key Drivers–What drives this persona to make the buying decision for your company’s products or services?  Include both tangible and intangible.

Once you have this information it helps to come up with a name and image.  Having a name and image of the persona helps all team members to think of this buyer as a real person.  I like to have the image available for meetings.  Or, as Steve Jobs did, designate an empty chair where the key persona joins in during meetings.

Remember that in the buyer persona, we are trying to learn who this person is both at a rational and emotional level.  We often make buying decisions by rationalizing our decisions but the emotional component is a strong influencer of behavior and should be studied.

Creating a name, image and persona is a bit like getting to know a friend so you can really understand your key customers.