The Alchemist's Lair
Thoughts on writing, language, life as a freelancer,
and what comes to mind.
and what comes to mind.
Mid-year reviews help business owners see how they are doing, and make adjustments to achieve their goals. An objective assessment makes for a vigorous reality check – and can help you improve your company’s performance over the second half of the year.
Preparing for your mid-year review
If you believe that mid-year check-ups are a “large corporates thing”, think again.
All businesses can reap the benefits of a halfway assessment – and the process isn’t that painful after all.
Still, conducting a valuable assessment takes time. To get ready for yours, schedule your review just like you’d schedule a meeting with a customer.
I like doing mine right after the summer break, before the grand reopening rush.
Having some distance between the stress of daily business chores and the review helps me looking at facts and figures more objectively. But there is no set rule.
To play it safe, book around 4-5 hours of your time. And plan for the review at least a couple weeks ahead, so you can collect all the data and documents you need – such as your sales summary, marketing plan, and financial records.
Mid-year business review: key points
Depending on your situation, your assessment might cover different angles.
If you manage a team, mid-year is a good time to see how they are going, and whether you need to hire more help for peak times. If you’re selling physical products, it’s time to check your stocks, and assess your relationship with suppliers.
As a rule of thumb, your review should cover at least the following points.
Your business goals are more than items on a list. They are a snapshot of the stage your business was in when you set them. As such, they might need adjustments from time to time. And your mid-year check-up is a great time to assess that.
It happens, you know? Businesses change and evolve, for different reasons.
A new collaboration. That once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you couldn’t miss. A long-time contract coming to an end. A change of scope and vision.
Consider the following:
STRATEGIES AND METHODS
Next, focus on your strategies and methods.
What is working well, and what isn't?
Maybe you focused on a marketing channel that isn’t converting.
Or invested in productivity tools, but still have to untap their full potential.
Or started a collaboration that is draining tons of energy, but delivering little value.
Yes, six months have gone by.
But there’s still time to turn the tables.
CASH FLOW AND BUDGET
This might be scary … but now it’s time to check the numbers. Regardless of your specific business and situation, there are some important points you need to consider:
If everything looks OK: well done! If you’re struggling, consider e.g. reducing your business expenses, revamping your offers or adjusting your marketing activities.
MARKETING AND CUSTOMERS
Marketing is mixed blessing all year round. But with six months gone, it’s time to take a closer look at your promotional activities, and their overall performance.
Weigh your offline and online marketing activities. Check whether your assets (website, social profiles, brochures, CV) need a makeover or an update. Run a cost-benefit analysis for your ongoing activities, and decide on any cuts or amendments.
Mid-year is also a good time to assess your customer portfolio.
Is it balanced? Do you have enough long-term clients? Are there any collaborations you’d rather end? And how about your acquisitions?
Wrapping up your mid-year review
Congratulations, you made it!
To complete your assessment, look at the big picture and define some action points based on your insights. These will guide your work over the next six months.
Then, take some time to celebrate your achievements. Mid-year business check-ups are about gauging the positives too – so praise yourself. It makes you feel good, and helps you keep your motivation as a nice bonus.
When you're a business owner, customer complaints happen.
It's a fact - yet one we gladly forget until we have to deal with some angry message.
For freelancers, complaints are usually daunting and intimidating. We put so much of ourselves in our work that we tend to identify with it. And when negative feedback strikes, this strong association can have a bad impact on our self-esteem too.
Mix it with the fear of losing the customer, and it's a recipe for disaster.
Yet, sooner or later we all end up reading that angry email.
And when the time comes, we need to put our fears aside and act.
How about it?
1. Focus on facts
At times, customer complaints come with rough and aggressive language. This often adds up to the emotional burden of the situation, and makes it more difficult to react properly.
If letting it go is tricky for you, acknowledge the complaint and set a time for discussion.
This will help you take a step back, and focus on what makes the customer angry.
Just remember: for customers, complaints are a pressing issue.
When deciding on a time for discussion, make it a priority to handle the situation quickly.
2. Avoid the blame game
When addressing negative feedback, you should aim for a constructive discussion.
Resentful remarks won't do any good - and can soon escalate to the "blame game".
Hence, keep your comments professional. All the way through.
This often mitigates the customer's harsh feelings and manners too.
3. Ask questions, and summarise
When clients complain, the situation is stressful on both sides.
Asking questions is a great way to:
Active listening techniques will help you get the most out of it.
Besides the ongoing feedback, summarise the key facts of the complaint at the end of the discussion. Rephrasing the contents in your own words supports mutual acknowledgement and understanding - and makes the client see that "you got it right".
4. Apologise gracefully
When dealing with angry clients, keep your apologies short and sweet.
Being defensive or indulging in long explanations won't help.
Just say "I'm sorry about that", and focus on how to make it better.
5. Take action
At times, complaints are based on excessive expectations or inaccurate perceptions on the client's side. In that case, explain what went wrong to avoid further misunderstandings.
Again: keep it to a point, and don't blame the customer. Instead, be thoughtful and suggest ways to handle the situation differently in the future.
In other cases, the complaint originates from a fault or mistake on your side.
Here, you should amend your work to bring it up to par. If you can't do it, find someone that will help you solve the issue quickly and effectively.
Depending on the scope of the complaint, you might also want (or need) to offer some kind of compensation to the client. You could offer e.g. a free product upgrade or a reduction on the project price. Even though losing money (or giving out freebies) might hurt, it's only fair.
6. Follow up
Negative feedback is valuable. When the complaint is resolved, reflect on what happened and see if you can get any important lessons out of it.
Maybe you could improve your workflow to avoid relapses?
Do you need to work a bit more on your skills?
Or maybe you should make your sales copy clearer?
Also, get in touch with the customer - and see if they are happy with your work now.
When handled properly, complaints can help us strengthen our relationships with clients.
So don't fall into the "fix and forget" trap.
Wrapping it up
Author's note: this post was first published in 2014. It has been expanded and updated.
Over the last few weeks, my beautifully detailed planning bombed.
For good reasons, you know. A new client, a couple extra projects in the pipeline, some CPD. But there’s only so much you can squeeze in - and keeping it all together can be tough.
And guess what? Instead of treasuring the positive, I obsessed with what I wasn’t doing according to plans.
Looking at it now, the negative wasn’t even an issue. Postponing the long-term stuff would have been a no-brainer, because it really is long-term. I could have just trusted my planning skills, and celebrated the results of all the hard work.
But I started beating myself up instead.
Fast forward to last week, when I came across an article about a new suite of wait-learning apps. Even though I found the project’s paper interesting, the concept gave me shivers.
And I realised that my self-sabotage had a lot to do with the over-productivity myth.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in for productivity tools – and even wrote an eBook about the topic. But there’s a difference between “being productive” and “filling every minute of your day”.
People aren’t robots. People don’t have idle times.
Our brain needs downtime. We are allowed to wait for the elevator … just waiting, and looking at the clouds. But that’s so easy to forget when all you hear is DON’T STOP, DO MORE.
That’s what happened to me. I forgot.
When you remember, things get better.
Post pic: screenshot from I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK – a 2006 film by Park Chan-wook. If you’re in for a surreal, poetic and somehow dark movie about the normal/weird dichotomy, that’s definitely a keeper.
One of the trickiest things copywriters need to master is white space.
Whether it's print or online, white space matters. It gives readers time to process key information, and assimilate important messages. When used wisely, white space also provides your copy with structure and texture, to best guide the readers through.
I believe the same applies to mental white space.
For freelancers, developing long-term projects is often an issue. With "paid work coming first", we keep pushing our own projects towards the bottom of our to-do lists - which are often jam-packed, and messy.
As a result, our long-term projects seldom make it to our desk.
And when they do, we have little energy left.
When you're flying solo, making time for your projects is key. But how?
In this inspiring TED Talk, Laura Vanderkam shares some insights that will make you reconsider the whole issue, and simple strategies to make time for your professional and personal projects.
Enjoy it, and let me know what you think!
Earlier in March, we touched on the benefits of using sensory language to power up your e-commerce website, and help customers "see and feel" your products.
If you need more inspiration, this infographic is for you: 91 captivating words that will help you enhance your sales copy - and more.
In fact, sensory language is a powerful ally.
Like a fragrant mix of herbs, it adds depth and vibrancy to any kind of writing - and helps you captivate and seduce your audience.