The Remote Working Recovery Plan for Freelance Consultants, Coaches and Trainers
We're living in unprecedented times. At least for our generation.
And I'm not going to pretend that I know exactly what to do right now or have all the answers. Anyone who says they do is either deluded or lying.
But we can apply the lessons of what worked in other crises like the financial meltdown of 2008. And we can learn as we go along from what's working right now and share that with each other – which is what I'm doing in this post.
I'm going to lay out a clear strategy and options for switching your business from face-to-face delivery to remote working in a variety of forms. Something I've done myself over the last decade or so. Something many businesses are doing right now and something you will need to do if you want to survive the current crisis and be prepared for the world beyond.
It'll require you to take action fast and potentially make some tough choices. But it could well save your business and put it on the path to recovery and growth.
I hope it helps.
Where We Stand Today
Just to start, let's recognise how serious our situation is.
Most importantly of course, it's deadly serious from a human perspective. Huge numbers of people are ill or dying and we have to do our part to help keep the contagion under control. We have to comply with social distancing and quarantining recommendations.
Now is not the time to play maverick or think we know best or let our egos tell us we can second guess the medical experts and epidemiologists who are the real experts in this. Now is the time to follow the rules.
But it's also deadly serious from an economic perspective. Especially for those of us in service industries who are freelancers or run our own businesses and just don't have a government safety net to fall back on.
I'm hearing from consultants who've lost 70% or more of their planned work. Speakers and trainers with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of bookings cancelled.
And according to the models that are informing government plans, we're going to be seeing similar levels of restrictions for a long time. Perhaps 12-18 months on and off or until a vaccine or other form of treatment is found.
Now maybe those predictions are wrong. Maybe it lasts just a few more weeks and things begin to return to normal. But my advice is to plan for this to be the “new normal” for a very long time.
If you act as if this is just a short term blip and try to wait it out, you're going to be screwed if it lasts longer. If you act like it's going to be here for the long term and it finishes early it's all upside for you.
And the big thing to remember throughout all this turmoil is that huge numbers of clients still need our help. Some more so than ever.
Leaders still need to lead. And many need help with that.
Salespeople still need to sell. And they still need help and support.
Supply chains absolutely still need to be efficient. Projects still need to be managed.
Clients will still need consultants, coaches and trainers.
But they may need us to deliver our work in different ways. Or focus on different issues.
And, of course, we still have mouths to feed and bills to pay. We can't just give up because the world is going crazy.
But we need to do things differently.
We need to take action, not sit and wait for things to happen to us. We need to make the switch from face-to-face to remote marketing and remote delivery of our services.
But we need to be very mindful of tone and timing.
Our first challenge, I believe, is knowing what to do right now to get our businesses moving but that isn't tone-deaf and doesn't stress our clients when they might well be focused on huge issues like laying off staff or securing loans or dealing with personal health problems.
I'm going to suggest that reaching out to clients to try to sell them something at this current point in time is the wrong thing to do.
It's the wrong tone and the wrong timing.
And that includes offering strategy sessions or free consultations or any form of “let's talk about how I can help you” call where your real goal is to sell them something. Client's aren't stupid. They know where “let's hop on a call to see how I can help you” is headed.
Most clients are either panicking right now, or having to deal with huge issues they never imagined having to face: laying off staff, fighting to secure the future of their business, perhaps focusing on how they're going to manage during a lockdown or dealing with health issues for their family.
When all that is going on in their heads the last thing they want to hear is you trying to sell them something.
When they're past that phase and able to think about the path forward, it becomes your job to talk to them about how you can help.
But not right now.
Right now, your job is to be a good friend and colleague. To help them without expectation of immediate return.
When this is all over, they'll remember how you showed up in their time of need.
Did you turn up as a friend? Or did you try to sell them something?
Be a good friend and add value now and you'll get plenty of work. Try to sell and they'll turn away from you.
Yes, you have to think of your own business. But you'll get the best results for your business by thinking of others first.
Your 3-Step Action Plan
To put that into action, I'm advising my clients to take the following 3 steps:
Step 1: Be a good friend and colleague.
Reach out to clients and contacts – as friends – to check-in and see how they are. To offer support. To help them feel they’re not alone and they have someone to call if they need.
And by checking in on friends I don't mean email a bunch of CEOs you barely know to ask how you can help just because you think they might be able to hire you. I mean checking in on the people you're genuinely friends with – which will no doubt include a number of clients.
The side benefit of this is that it gives you a feeling for where your clients and contacts are mentally which will let you judge when the time is right to return to talking business. Are they just in panic mode? Are they dealing with a heavy workload of contingency measures they need to put in place for their business to survive? Or are they beginning to get their head up and think about what comes next?
Step 2 is to offer relevant value for free.
Maybe you've got experience of leadership in a crisis you can share. Or communicating difficult messages. Or managing a team remotely.
All of this could be hugely valuable to your clients and contacts right now. So offer to share it for free.
But do it in a re-usable and leverageable way. Make a video or write an article you can share. Do a live Q&A broadcast (and record it).
You might have some of this prepared already you can reuse. Or you might need to create it from scratch. Or it might be a combination of both – like me updating Email Persuasion and turning it into a free PDF on a page where people can download it.
Value-Based Marketing is even more important in times like this. When people are stressed but desperately need help they'll react well to an initial free offer. They won't react well if the first thing you try to do is sell them something.
Ideally, you want to add value in a way that also strengthens the social bonds in your community.
Right now we're all locked away and carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. At the time we most need the social support of our community we can't get it.
So if you can, find a way to bring you community (your clients and contacts) together.
As you might know, I'm a bit of an amateur magician. And in the magic community, publishers are hosting free live lectures by leading magicians that include Q&A and discussions. Just allowing magicians to connect with their fellow magicians like they would if they were able to go to live events.
That's why following up an article or video with a live Q&A or community call can be so powerful. It brings us back together.
Step 3 happens only after you've been a good friend and delivered value.
Step 3 is to plan and transition your traditional client work to the new remote working environment we have today.
There are 4 different ways or levels you can do this at:
Approach to Delivery
Current Client Base
Direct Replacement (e.g. video coaching call instead of face-to-face coaching)
Current Client Base
Significantly different delivery (e.g. weekly 1 hour video training instead of full day live training event)
Current Client Base
New Work (e.g. video training in crisis management)
Whatever fits best
New Market (e.g. online training for individual salespeople vs project sold to a corporate)
Harnessing existing expertise
Whatever fits best
At Level 1, you're replacing your current work with a direct remote equivalent. Instead of face-to-face coaching, do it via a video call. Instead of a day's live training, do a day's virtual training via webinar.
At Level 2, you're replacing your current work with a significantly different remote delivery method. Instead of a day's live training, do an hour a week via video. Instead of 1-1 coaching face-to-face, do group coaching online. The new approach might even be better for your clients.
At Level 3, you're offering different types of work to your existing client base based on new needs they have. Leadership experts can switch to helping leaders manage in a crisis. Presentations trainers can teach people how to present online.
Finally, at Level 4 you're leveraging your expertise to offer services remotely to different audiences. For example, if you were previously hired by large corporates to run sales training courses for their teams, maybe you can sell online training on sales to individual salespeople looking to up their game.
If you work in a sector that's been hard hit by the crisis, option 4 may be your lifeline.
Options for Remote Working
As service providers, much of our work is built around our interactions with clients and our ability to build relationships with them through those interactions.
But they don't need to be face-to-face interactions.
Of course, it's can be more difficult to build a relationship and deliver our work remotely than face-to-face. But it's not impossible. Let's look at some of our options:
When we think of communications it's easy to imaging that everything needs to be live. But in reality, much of our communication is asynchronous. You send a message to a client and they respond later in their own time. And vice versa.
We don't need an instant response to everything. And often it can be much more productive to allow someone to respond in their own time after thinking about something. Simple tools like email, text and messenger apps or systems like Slack are every bit as important as video calls and more complex systems.
When we're collaborating with clients, the ability to share documents and allow multiple people to update them without messing up previous changes is vital. Dropbox, Google Drive/Google Docs or project management tools like Asana can help with this.
It's also important for clients to be able to schedule time with you without playing email ping pong. Some email tools like Mixmax have scheduling built-in. Or you can use a booking tool like Booklikeaboss (the one I use and sometimes available on a lifetime deal from appsumo like here), ScheduleOnce and Calendly. All these options can save hours of messing about trying to find times to speak.
One group of tools worth considering are video demonstration tools. With tools like Loom, Wista Soapbox or Snagit you can record videos from your webcam simultaneously with your desktop or browser screen. This allows you to walk someone through presentations, or show them how to use an app or website, or give them feedback on a document.
It's the next best thing to sitting down beside them to explain something. The video element adds a lot over and above just sending some text instructions or a copy of the slides with notes. And at a time when we've become distant from clients physically, it's good to have somewhere where they can see us and hear our voice rather than just reading what we write.
Loom and Wistia Soapbox both have free versions. Snagit has a low-cost one-off purchase price.
In many cases, your clients themselves will have preferred tools for communication and collaboration. If so, you should get up to speed with the tools they use so you're easy to do business with for them.
But it's also well worth having a backup option you can recommend and start using immediately if they don't have anything.
I'd recommend a getting a Dropbox Plus or Dropbox Business account so you can quickly share links to key files. And get used to using Google Docs at least at a basic level.
Get a free version of Loom or Wistia Soapbox too.
But don't overcomplicate things. Don't try to introduce messaging apps or project management tools if the client doesn't use them. Stick to good old email and plans in a spreadsheet.
One-to-One Interactions – e.g. meetings or coaching
All service providers have significant numbers of 1-1 meetings with clients. And if you're a coach, 1-1 sessions will usually be the core of how you deliver to clients.
To replace these remotely, don't overlook the good old phone call. It's quick, doesn't require any software, and people know how to do it.
Most of the time though, you'll want to do a video call of some sort to fully replicate the in-person experience. That means you need a software tool that both you and the person you're meeting with can use.
As before, many clients have their own preferred video conferencing software. So you may well have to adapt to what they already use.
If not, Zoom is usually your easiest option for working with businesses. It's popular, so they may well already know it. And it's pretty easy to use. Eyeson is a good browser-based alternative (you can currently get a deal at Appsumo here) but isn't as well known.
Don’t underestimate how important it is to make things easy for clients and contacts who themselves are switching to remote working. They have enough on their minds already without being asked to use some new, obscure software they've not heard of that's difficult to use. Stick to the big, familiar tools like Zoom or ones that are drop-dead simple to use.
Many people might also be familiar with Skype if they use it at home. It's a better option than Facetime as you can record calls directly or with external apps (which give higher quality recordings).
I'd recommend starting with a free Zoom account to test it out. The free version lets you have unlimited 1-1 meetings and 40 minute long group meetings, and it allows recording of those meetings to your computer. You can test it out and learn how to use features like recording, screen sharing or using the whiteboard.
If you feel comfortable with it, upgrade to a Pro account for $15/month. This gives you unlimited length meetings and recording to the cloud.
Zoom needs you and the other person on the call to download their software. So if you're doing a call with someone who hasn't used Zoom before give them clear instructions on how to download it and give them a few extra minutes before the first call. Make sure you agree on a backup plan in case they can't get it to work, like reverting to a phone call.
If you're going to be using Zoom frequently get plenty of practice with the key features. Nothing breaks a client's confidence in the idea of remote working faster than experiencing you struggling to switch on your video or start the recording. You want the experience to be smooth for your clients and potential clients. If you can use the tools well it can become seen as a real alternative to face-to-face rather than just a poor substitute.
Many to many meetings are when multiple people (but usually less than a dozen) participate in the meeting, and all of them can contribute in some way. So this isn't a webinar where one person presents and everyone else asks a few questions. This is where anyone can be the primary speaker at any given time.
To make a many-to-many meeting work you need two things.
- You need technology that allows you to select speakers to focus on (or autofocuses on the person speaking) and allows you to mute other attendees.
- Most importantly, your meeting leader needs good “crowd control” and facilitation skills to bring contributors into the meeting, ensure one person doesn't dominate and that everyone gets heard. They also need to keep the meeting on track and make sure actions are noted.
As before, your clients may have a preferred tool. But if not, Zoom again is a good option and Eyeson a good alternative. Skype is less effective as even though you can do group calls, there are fewer participant controls: it's more of a free-for-all.
As with 1-1 meetings, practice is key to make sure you know how to use the tools for recordings and for managing participants. And since you'll most likely be leading the call, you need to know how to use them without having to think, so you can focus on facilitating the meeting.
Something I've found useful is to ask one of the participants in advance to take a note of actions agreed in the meeting.
When you're running a face-to-face meeting it's relatively easy to manage the meeting and make notes on a flipchart. But with an online meeting, it's really difficult to facilitate, manage the technology, and take notes too. You have to move your hands from mouse to pen too often.
So ask someone in advance to take notes and during the meeting call out the key actions for them to note down. Distribute the actions after the meeting along with the recording.
For longer meetings, organise breaks. Don’t worry about giving everyone 5-10 minutes to grab a coffee, go to the toilet etc (if you don't, they will anyway and probably at the wrong time).
As before, make sure you can use the tools effectively so this becomes seen as a good alternative to live meetings rather than a poor substitute.
And also as before, make sure you've pre-agreed a backup plan in case the technology fails. For many to many meetings try to send all materials (like slides or reports you'll be going through) out in advance so you can fall back to audio only. Get set up on a voice conference call system like freeconferencecall or powwownnow and give out the details before the video meeting so that people know what to do if the video call fails.
One-to-Very-Many Meetings (Webinars or Livecasts)
Next up in scale is when you're broadcasting to large numbers of people (i.e. more than a dozen or so).
With these type of events it's not really a discussion of equals with different people being on camera. It's usually one or perhaps two people presenting and often using slides. The rest of the audience watches and asks questions through a text Q&A box.
There are many tools for this. GoToWebinar is the historic tool of choice for webinars but nowadays the webinar option for Zoom is equally as popular. There are a huge number of webinar platforms like WebinarJam, ClickMeeting and EasyWebinar which you can try out to find one that suits you.
The key is to pick a tool you like and get good at using it. Learn the options for registrations, reminders, follow-up emails etc. Zoom is often a good option simply because you're probably going to be used to using it for smaller meetings too.
For livecasting into Facebook or Youtube, Zoom again allows this option. Or you can use a dedicated live stream option like Be.live, Streamyard, Ecamm Live (for Macs) or Vmix (for PCs). The dedicated livestream tools give you better options on managing comments and how your livestream appears, but Zoom works fine too. Or, of course, you can use the native Facbook Live option built into your phone app or desktop.
A two-screen setup is a good choice for webinars where you're presenting with slides. It enables you to show the “presenter notes” on the second screen so you can see which slides are next along with any notes you made on the slides. And you can have the chat/Q&A showing on the second screen too so you can spot when questions come in.
For a good webinar try to mix live video and slides for variety. And keep the pace moving fast with new information on screen frequently to prevent people switching off (and switching to email or social media). All this takes good preparation.
Interaction on a webinar is usually via chat/Q&A – if you have this visible on another screen/device you can usually manage it yourself for webinars with up to 100 people. Over that you’ll need someone to manage the Q&A and pass questions on to you.
It's similar for livestreaming where questions are coming in by Facebook comments. You can manage a small number yourself but after that, it becomes useful to have someone helping.
In theory, you can have a backup option if you're doing a webinar or livestreaming. In practice, it's difficult to keep paying the relatively high fees of a webinar tool just to use it as a backup. And you'll lose the majority of your audience if the technology fails anyway, so the easiest option is usually to email a rearranged time if you have problems.
Virtual Workshops (Very-Many-to-Very-Many)
Virtual workshops are an attempt to do large workshops online. They combine elements of webinars with a single presenter with many to many online meetings by using breakout rooms within the software platform to allow participants to discuss issues with each other and report back.
There are fewer software tools that allow this. Zoom, as ever, has the feature. As does Adobe Connect which is often used by larger corporates. And there are dedicated tools like Remo built specifically for virtual workshops with breakouts.
Personally, unless you're very experienced at running online events I would avoid many to many virtual workshops initially. They're very difficult to do well and almost always need more than one person to run them.
If you do decide to do them, pick an appropriate tool and test it with friends. Split them into breakouts and practice joining different groups and calling people back to the main room.
For your live session, plan the breakouts in detail. Give people written briefings on what to cover when they get to their virtual breakout room (they won’t remember if you just say it). And ideally pre-appoint a facilitator per room.
As with webinars you need to keep the pace going or you'll lose some participants. In particular, make sure the pace is high during report backs from breakouts which can become long and drawn out and give specific instructions (e.g. “no need to repeat anything someone else has said – just highlight what your group said differently”)
For large virtual workshops, you will need help – e.g. with managing the tech, handling late arrivals while you're presenting, etc. Find someone you trust to work with you and prepare and practice together.
Perhaps the ultimate form of remote working it to create online training programs where you don't have to be present when your clients are using them.
These are a great option where you need to change your target market to focus more on an end-user or consumer market. Rather than selling a small number of big projects to large organisations you sell a large number of courses or memberships to the people who'll actually use them directly.
Creating online courses is a big change if all your work so far has been live delivery. It's a very different way of working: focused on planning, writing, creating and editing videos, structuring and uploading courses, and marketing them to end-users. It's much more of a “back-office” and solo environment than the direct work, interaction and team work most professionals are used to.
It's also a different business model. For most professionals, you don't start working with a client until you've been paid or have a contract for payment in place. When you're developing products then to a certain degree you're always doing your work in advance to build the product in the hope of big returns later when people buy it.
If you find you enjoy it and you can make it work, it can be a great way of generating an income without relying on face-to-face work. And it can scale much better too. Once you've created a training course or other product you can sell large numbers of copies without needing much more work to deliver it.
In terms of the technology to run your course, you essentially need a shopping cart to sell it, some way of hosting the courses and managing access and progression (ideally with learning management features like lesson progression, certificates etc.) and some way of communicating with new course members via email.
There are a whole host of options and tools for doing this on your own website. But I'm going to recommend the best way of getting started is to use an all-in-one platform like Teachable, Thinkific or Kajabi. These platforms cost a bit more and usually take a cut of any payments you get for the course. But they manage everything for you making it much quicker and easier to get up and running and much less maintenance and admin. (NB For those of us in Europe, Teachable would be the default choice because it handles VAT properly without needing an external add-on)
One of the secrets of online courses is to make sure you only invest in creating courses you know are going to sell. In fact, the biggest reason people fail with online courses isn't anything to do with their ability to create them or master the technology. It's simply that they create courses that don't sell.
A good method for creating courses that sell is to start by interviewing or surveying your clients and contacts to focus the course on their biggest goals or problems. Based on that, create an outline for a pilot program which you can then offer them at a discount to buy before you build it. If enough people buy, you start building the product and delivering it to them week by week. But if you don't get enough take-up you simply don't waste your time building the product.
If you're switching to remote working you need to make sure you have the right technology in place. And sometimes the critical components aren't what you think they are.
The first thing to think about it your internet connection. If you have a slow or patchy internet connection you're going to struggle to do video calls or webinar. So make sure you’re on the best plan you can get with your service provider.
Try to have a backup plan too. Many people are already reporting intermittent broadband issues. And it's unlikely your provided will be able to rush round to fix your line if they're in a lockdown. So in addition to your main broadband, make sure you have a mobile phone with a large data allowance and a good 4g signal in your house in case you need to revert to that temporarily.
For 1-1 and small group meetings, the webcam on your laptop (or any basic webcam) and a basic podcasting microphone is fine (and you can often get by with just your computer or webcam internal mic – people will make allowances right now).
- Rather than a headset I prefer to use a standalone microphone and plug a simple set of earbuds in for the sound. They're much less visible on screen than a big headset.
- For my microphone I use a Blue Yeti which is an excellent option. Other frequently recommended options include the Audiotechnica ATR2100 or the Samson Q2U (very similar but with better availability in the UK). A good option if you travel frequently (and assuming we get to a stage when you can again) is the Samson Go Stereo which is a small, portable but high quality Mic.
- If you must go for a headset, look at the Plantronics Blackwire 435 for a less visible “madonna style” headset that doesn't obscure your face or look too call-centrey.
- Your phone or iPad will usually work fine too and is actually very high quality if you have a recent model. Your ability to manage the call will be restricted but you can do it by having 2 logins – one for you computer just to manage the call with no audio/video, and one for your phone for the audio and video.
If you’re doing more formal webinars/livestream presentations, you need to upgrade a bit:
- At least a 1080p webcam like the Logitech c920 or equivalent. My preference is the Logitech Brio as it works better in low light.
- Studio lighting so you appear nice and bright. Look for Video Lightbox kits – brand doesn’t matter, LED lights are best these days. A ring light is good too (it goes behind your webcam) but can reflect off glasses if you wear them. Wherever possible bounce the lights off walls and ceiling rather than having it directly on you.
- Try to have a nice clear background – consider green screen if you can’t – but you need to get the lighting right or it can look weird.
- You’ll probably want to edit the webinar recording – use Screenflow (mac) or Camtasia (PC) or free tools like iMovie or Hitfilm Express.
If live events start to become a serious part of your business, you can enhance your visual presenting in a variety of ways.
You can livestream video of you at a whiteboard or screen:
- This needs good camera like a Logitech Brio for resolution and light levels.
- A Lavalier mic that works with computer or a podcasting or boom mic close to you as you present.
- High levels of lighting are needed to see you and the whiteboard, but don't point them directly at the whiteboard or you've get a lot of glare.
- You'll probably need an assistant to handle questions, move the camera etc.
- For very high quality video you can stream from DSLR cameras via a “blackmagic” interface box.
- The Mevo camera is a wide-angle, 4K streaming camera that allows you to zoom in on different selections, show different angles etc.
As an alternative to a real whiteboard, apps like Doceri allow you to draw on your desktop screen from your iPad while broadcasting. Or you can broadcast your tablet screen directly. And some video meeting tools like Zoom have whiteboard features.
Finally, apps like Ecamm live, OBS Studio or Wirecast give you full multi-camera studios. These usually need an assistant to operate them while you're “performing”.
My primary advice though is not to get seduced by all the technology options. You don't need them for your bread and butter replacement of live meetings and events with online ones. After you've mastered the basics of 1-1 and small group calls, and if you see this as something you want to pursue long term, then you can upgrade your technology step by step.
Turning Options Into Action
Let's go back to our simple action plan from earlier.
And let's assume you've done steps 1 and 2. You've been a good friend and reached out to your contacts. You've offered them something of value for free to help them.
Your next step is to plan and transition your traditional client work to the new remote working environment we have today. Let's look at how to do that in detail.
First, you have to analyse the type of work you have or could have with clients and figure out how to replace it with remote work. Then you have to set that up with your current clients or get new clients for that sort of work.
Review your current clients, prospects and contacts and identify:
- Level 1: What current, planned or usual work can I do for them by just directly replacing my face-to-face delivery with the equivalent remote method? (e.g. replace a face-to-face coaching session with a video coaching call).
- Level 2: Can I meet their needs in a different way that’s better for them and me? (e.g. replace a full-day live training event with weekly 1-hour video training sessions
- Level 3: Do they have additional needs I can help with remotely? (e.g. would their leaders benefit from coaching in crisis management?)
Then look more broadly at how you might be able to reach completely new clients and markets:
- Level 4: What other audiences can I feasibly reach given my connections and visibility? And what are their needs that I can help with remotely?
- Level 4: What skills and knowledge do I have that can be delivered remotely and are valuable? And who could be an audience for this?
In practice, the core of securing or recovering your income in the short term is going to be Level 1 and Level 2. These are projects you currently have booked with clients, have been discussing with them or typically do with them. And you'll be replacing face-to-face work with a direct or similar remote equivalent.
So it's much easier for clients to quickly make a decision and move ahead. You're not proposing working on something new. And you're not moving into a new market where clients don't know you.
You're simply suggesting to clients you already know that the work you'd planned or had discussed together is delivered remotely instead. In many ways you're making life simpler for them and taking away an issue they would have had to deal with anyway.
The key here is to secure this switch as fast as possible. Don't assume clients will think of remote delivery themselves, or that they'll know you can deliver remotely. Contact them to discuss it as soon as is appropriate (see below for how to get the timing right).
Otherwise you'll find that by the time they talk to you they've already made the mental decision to cancel or postpone the work. And once that thought is in their head it becomes difficult to dislodge.
Work at Level 3 is a much bigger decision for a client, since you'll be proposing new work they weren't planning to do and isn't something you've done with them before. It may be desperately needed, but it will still probably take longer for them to be able to move ahead with. So unless you can tell that your client has a real burning need in a Level 3 area for you, stick to discussing Levels 1 and 2 first.
Level 4 is all about finding new markets and audiences. It'll be particularly important to you if your current client base is struggling and might be cancelling most of their external work as we're seeing in some sectors.
That said, it's obviously going to take a significant amount of work and potentially time to build up a presence in a new market and to refine your services to meet the specific needs of that market. For that reason it's wiser for most people to look at Level 4 after you've secured level 1 and 2 and looked at Level 3.
Your Client's Decision Making in the Current Crisis
The key to getting the timing right so that your clients are open to your suggestions of remote working is to understand their decision-making in a time of crisis
Of course, everyone's mental processes for decision making are different. But typically when faced with a crisis, most people go through 3 phases.
- Shock. Faced with terrible or frightening news we often go into shock. Thoughts like “this can't be happening…there must be some mistake…” dominate. It takes a little while before we can get our head together and begin to think about what to do.
- Emergency Actions. When we do start to think about what to do we focus on the immediate emergency actions. “Right, we're in lockdown…I need to tell my staff not to come in. I need to transfer the accounts stuff over to my home computer. I need to get in touch with our top 5 customers to confirm orders are still in place…”. Actions designed to shore things up in the short term and get themselves and their business on a steady footing again.
- Planning Ahead. Finally, once all the emergency actions are in place, we can turn our minds to the future. We can think longer-term about next week, the week after, next month and beyond. And we can begin to think about new opportunities.
This is where your action steps of being a good friend and adding value pay dividends.
If you're in touch with your clients and contacts you'll have a read on where they are in this process. Are they still in shock or desperately scrabbling around working on their immediate actions?
If so they're not going to respond well to being asked about that training course you were going to run for them next month. And certainly not to your brilliant new idea about how, with your help, they can move into a new market.
But those initial phases will only last a few days for most people. If you get a sense they're emerging from them, then it's the right time to start talking:
- If you have something free you think will be of immediate value to them – it'll be appreciated and can open the door to a conversation about what next.
- If you had already agreed face-to-face work with them you can absolutely contact them to talk about how it could be delivered remotely and your ideas will be appreciated and often agreed to quickly. It's one more issue off their plate.
- If you were in early discussions about work further out into the future, then your ideas about doing it remotely will again be appreciated. It might be something they immediately jump on as meeting a need. Or it might be something they park and want to think about later. Either way, you'll have done no harm at all by bringing it up.
For many clients, it might well be too early to talk about completely new pieces of work.
On the other hand, it might not. It might be exactly the right time.
So this is something you'll have to play by ear, responding to the sense you're getting from your clients and contacts about whether they're ready to look at new things or not.
Chances are, many of them will be.
And if you don't have a great read on where they are right now? Rather than delaying, broach the subject with tact and be prepared to back off if it becomes apparent this is not the right time. You can't afford to delay and delay, worried someone might get upset if you speak to them.
The areas clients will need help in and will want to talk about will change over time too.
In the immediate aftermath of shock, they'll be focused on emergency actions to make sure their business doesn't go under. Right now I'm seeing lots of people with expertise in business finance really helping clients look at their business and personal “burn rates”, finances and pipelines to figure out how long they have before they run out of cash. And then helping them extend that runway.
After they've “stopped the bleeding” the next step for most businesses will be to figure out how to stabilise their business in the near term. How to get operations functioning, retain their customers and start bringing in new ones.
And then when that's in order, they'll be able to think about preparing for recovery and how they're going to operate once the current crisis is over. Some might have ambitious plans to grow. Others might be looking at their options and deciding they want to take their business or like in another direction.
All three phases need different types of support and advice. Depending on your skills and expertise you might be well placed to help in one of those phases, or all three.
A Timeline for Action
Plotting all our activities on a timeline, you get something like this.
In essence, while your clients are coming to terms with the issues, you're planning what to do.
When they're beginning to think ahead, you're suggesting simple ways of achieving their goals with the minimum fuss by switching from face-to-face to remote delivery.
When things are back under control, you're talking to them about new opportunities.
And when you've secured all the work you can from your existing client and contact base, you're moving into new markets if needed.
If you can move quickly and put these steps into place, you'll not only survive and recover from this current crisis, you'll be incredibly well-positioned to succeed as we come out into a new world where remote working becomes a core part of every business.