Earlier this summer, the woman who is arguably America’s best and most versatile female distance runner grew tired of answering reporters’ questions about her upcoming birthday and how it might affect her performance. In response she said, “What’s the difference between 29 and 30? Or 30 and 31? One year doesn’t matter Life doesn’t end at 30, especially not running life.”
As her family, friends and coaches now know, that’s precisely the sort of direct, confident response to expect from Lynn Jennings. An articulate and outs spoken woman who has weathered the peaks and valleys of world-class athletic competition for more than 15 years, Jennings has reason to feel confident. She’s running her best ever in track, road and cross-country races. And now, at age 30, she feels that women’s running and racing have evolved far enough to help her fulfill her extraordinary athletic potential.
“Each year, more women of all ages run faster than ever,” says Jennings. “I think the improvement in women’s racing is partly the result of better training and coaching for high school and college women. But the continued growth of all-women’s races, such as the Tufts 10K and Freihofer’s 5K, and the fact that most other races now treat women equally also help women race better”
The ultimate fulfillment of her own potential, says Jennings, will come in the 92 and 96 Olympics. “I’ll be 32 in Barcelona. I want to improve on my sixth-place finish in the 10,000 meters (in the 1988 Seoul Olympics) in 92. And in’ 96, who knows? I’ll be 36, but look at how 37-year-old Francie Larrieu-Smith is breaking new ground, running a 2:28 marathon PR this year Like her, I intend to run fast well into my 30s.”
And with those words, Lynn Jennings has issued a challenge. To herself. To other women. It goes something like this: Forget about your age and about what others may think. Follow your ambition and go full speed ahead.
Since 1987, Jennings has
lived in a tidy white Cape
Cod-style house on a quiet street in Newmarket, New Hampshire, population about 3,000. It’s an old mill town, and Jennings, like many New Englanders, is in no hurry to leave. “I love this area. I grew up near Boston and I’ve always lived here. I even have my dream property-complete with an old house, barn, apple orchard, and dilapidated outbuildings-picked out.”
Jennings, who recently described herself to a reporter as a “single mother of two… Siamese cats (Stirling and Dundee),” clearly treasures her time in Newmarket. So much so, in fact, that she has had no desire to cash in her 1 0,000-plus frequent flier miles to travel someplace exotic. “The world’s a big place,” she says. “I’ve been to a lot of nice places-Paris, Oslo, Auckland, Zurich-but I want a little corner of the world to call my own. And that corner, for me, is Newmarket.”
Her father, Stephen, and mother, Pat, live in the family homestead about 80 miles away in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts (an hour west of Boston). Nearby lives her 27-year-old sister Della, who has been to most of Lynn’s major races (along with their parents). “We’re pretty tight,” says Della. “And Lynn’s really generous. She usually buys my airplane ticket so I can be there when she races.”
“We’re best friends,” says Lynn.
Last March, Della accompanied Lynn to the World Cross-Country Championships in Aix-Les-Bains, France. The day after Lynn won the race, becoming the first American to do so in 15 years, they took off on a 10day vacation. “We had a great time. For the first five days, we were itinerants,” says Lynn. “We drove from town to town, stayed in hostels, and ate baguettes and Brie in the car. When we arrived in Paris, we spent five days exploring the city on foot.”
As for being “Lynn Jennings’ sister,” Della says, “I enjoy seeing Lynn race, and I’m really proud of her. But I’m not a groupie. I have my own life and identity.”
Della has reason to be proud. In February, Jennings set an American indoor record (8:40.45) in the 3000 meters at the TAC Indoor Championships Rather than holding back during the early laps of the race, as she frequently does, she ran all-out from the start. She passed the leaders-fellow Seoul Olympians PattiSue Plumer and Vickie Huber-with two laps to go and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
“That race was a breakthrough for me,” says Jennings. “I’d never hammered full speed from the gun-the way Ingrid Kristiansen does-and I felt that it was time to lay it all on the line.”
Since winning that race, Jennings hasn’t looked back. In fact, she hasn’t even glanced over her shoulder. She followed up by setting an American road record at the Red Lobster 10K (31:06), winning the World Cross-Country Championships and capturing the TAC Championship at the Freihofer’s 5K (15:31) in early May. Even when rival Judi St. Hilaire ended Jennings’ 14-win streak at the mid-May Nike Women’s Race in Washington, DC, Jennings was already looking ahead: “Now that this streak is over, I can start working on the next one.”
Unlike some elite athletes who migrate to Florida or New Zealand for winter training, Jennings prefers to live in New Hampshire all year. “I stay here because I have very basic, traditional values: home and hearth, family and friends. And I really enjoy running through the seasons, especially in the fall with the changing leaves,” she says.
And so, no matter what the season,
Jennings trains in New Hampshire. She runs twice a day, every day, except Sundays (when she does a single 13- to 16-miler), logging tom 65 to 95 miles per week. “I never take a day off,” she admits, “but I do get regular massages and make sure I sleep and eat well. My body has handled high-mileage training really well, although I wouldn’t recommend double workouts and mega-mileage for most runners.”
To satisfy her need for speed, she travels to Boston once or twice a week to run track workouts. Under the supervision of John Babington, who coached her during the mid-’70s when she was a child prodigy and again briefly before the’ 84 Olympic Trials, she has flourished.
“We’ve both matured and shed our emotional baggage,” says Jennings, whose current stint with Babington began in 1989. “After being self-coached for about 4 years, I felt that I had done all I could for myself. I’d worked through my serious post-’84 Olympics blues (she failed to qualify for the team), and I needed someone to coach me, so I asked John. We agree on, basic coaching philosophy, so it was a natural progression.” And last but not least, when she’s not running, traveling or doing media promotions for Nike (her sponsor since 1985), Jennings renovates her house, “puts up” jam, reads, writes letters, spoils the cats and chops the logs that fuel her woodburning stove year ’round. It’s my crosstraining,” she says. “I went through about four cords last year-it was a rough winter.”
But a very good year.
Next to sore throats, back pain is America’s most common ailment. It’s nature’s fault-we’re really not built to stand and sit erect. But since we can’t zap ourselves a few million evolutionary years into the future, the best way around back pain is to work toward proper posture. Proper posture is a learned, athletic skill; like any athletic skill, it involves muscular support and awareness. Weight training can help you develop the muscles you need for good posture, and you can work out with weights whether your back is healthy or in need of rehabilitation. (If you have a bad back, check with your doctor first.)
Measure yourself when you get up and before you go to bed, and chances are you’ll have shrunk: Gravity spends the day compressing your spine. To keep your back healthy stretch it several times a day. Stretching your spine, then twisting it gently while it’s elongated, rehydrates your spinal disks.
Stretching is easy to do in the weight room. Using the lat pulldown machine, stack on weight that exceeds your body weight. Position the thigh bar so you’re held snugly in place, grab the bar and hang-don’t worry if your buttocks lift.
if your wrists are too weak to hold onto the bar, try hanging from straps attached to it. Hang for about 30 seconds, then rotate your rib cage gently to the right. Keep your pelvis facing forward by pressing your left buttock into the seat, and breathe deeply and evenly. Rotate for 15 seconds, then reverse. Make sure you’re hanging evenly (have someone check you from behind), and don’t roll your pelvis forward, which forces your lower back to arch.
If you currently have back pain, start your workout with this exercise, and return to it any time pain recurs. If you’re pain-free right now, incorporate this stretch into your workout to help prevent future problems. Follow the stretch with an overall body warmup.
BUILDING BACK STRENGTH
If you have back pain, chances are your back and abdominal muscles are weak. Strengthening them will speed up your recovery and make you less susceptible to a relapse.
The hyperextension bench is an excellent tool for strengthening the lower back. if you’re injured, lie so your navel is at the edge of the pad. Place your hands on your shoulders, lower to 45 degrees, then lift to parallel and hold for five counts. Never lift above the parallel position if you have an injury
Do as many lowerings and lifts as you can. If you can easily do more than 10, hold a weight behind your head. When the set is completed, let your whole pelvis slide off the pad and hang with your head toward the floor to stretch your back. You’ll probably experience some tightness in your lower back after completing this exercise; this is a sign your back muscles are working. To alleviate the tightness, stretch on the lat machine.
To strengthen a healthy back, position your pelvis farther forward on the pad. You may lift higher than parallel (to tone gluteus and hamstring muscles) if your back is pain-free.
Strong back muscles are useless without strong abdominals-together, they hold your spine in proper alignment. Strengthening abdominals is a three-part process: You need to work your lower abs, obliques, and upper abs. Use the knee-up machine for lower abs. Keeping your whole back flush against the pad, bring your knees toward your belly, then push your legs out to a diagonal. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Do two sets of as many as you can.
For obliques, use the tricep pressdown machine with the rope grip. Kneel on the floor with your back straight, and pull the rope handles down to your ears. Using your stomach muscles, bring your left elbow toward your right knee; your back will round. Repeat 25 times, then switch sides. If you can easily manage sets of 25, add more weight.
To tone upper abdominals, lie on your back with your knees at a right angle over a bench. Contracting your abdominals, lift until your shoulder blades clear the floor. Start with two sets of 1 0; work u p to as many as you can do.
Developing correct posture and body awareness is the key to alleviating back pain. If your back hurts while you’re lifting, listen to it: That pain is telling you your form is wrong. Train wisely, and you’ll develop the muscular support your back needs to be healthy.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: I THINK PEOPLE WHO PREY ON children for their sexual kicks deserve the harshest punishments our legal and social systems allow. I do not want anyone giving pornographic material to my children, whether it is printed, filmed, videotaped, or beamed by infrared links or radio waves to a personal computer, a television, or a videotelephone.
That said, the Communications Decency Act, part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 signed by President Clinton earlier this year, is an ill-conceived, unneeded, damaging, and dangerous piece of legislation that was created by people who are as ignorant about technology as they are savvy about politics.
I’m willing to concede that many congressional supporters of the so-called decency legislation acted in good faith, with a sincere desire to protect children from wired weirdos. But the law Congress just made is more harmful to our children than anything they are likely to encounter on the Internet. It is dangerous for grown-ups too.
It is also stupid, because it assumes that Congress can regulate an international computer network that is 99 percent private and that is composed of users who are more than 50 percent non-American. Additionally, it is silly because it assumes it can outsmart my two teenagers technologically, and it is offensive because it assumes that the Government can provide a better moral compass for my kids than my wife and I are already providing. It discounts the effectiveness of such user-controlled programs as Surf Watch, which is so thorough that it even blocks the White House’s World Wide Web site (because it contains the word couples).
Congress, sensing it may be on shaky legal ground when it passed the Communications Decency Act, made a special provision in the law for “fast track” judicial review all the way to the Supreme Court.
Whether or not the law is struck down, the forces that sought to “curb the spread of obscenity and indecency, speech that is not protected by the first amendment, from the Internet in order to protect our children” will not rest, not as long as the Internet continues to expand and grow in importance.
(The quoted words were entered into the Congressional Record by Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, who, only seconds later, slipped in a passage in the Telecommunications Act that just happens to criminalize the mere discussion, over computer networks, of certain aspects of abortion.)
But the new law is bad. Here’s why the Communications Decency Act and its inevitable successors represent a threat to anyone who uses online systems, whether they work in a home office or simply use the Net to do home banking.
* To comply with the new law, both Internet and online service providers will be compelled to track, and most likely divulge, our electronic footsteps and fingerprints to a far greater degree than ever before.
* The best way that online and Internet access providers can protect themselves from criminal prosecution under the new law is to do everything possible to make sure their customers are identifiable.
This means that online service providers must ask for a credit card from people when they are registering for service and then keep track of what those people do when they are online. It means keeping records about a person’s e-mail. Such information will make telephone pin registry records (the kind that detectives get from the phone companies) seem as crude as cave paintings.
Far-fetched? America Online and the other services give law enforcement officials access to private e-mail files, as long as the government provides valid search warrants, which are becoming increasingly common in cyberspace.
It is not a new idea. Long before the Internet was invented, President Dwight D. Eisenhower offered some advice for those who, a generation later, think decency can be regulated.
“Don’t join the burners,” President Eisenhower said in 1953. “Don’t be afraid to go to your library and read every book, as long as any document does not offend your own ideas of decency; that should be your only censorship.”
The first amendment to the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
To quote a favorite Internet e-mail signature line, “Hey Congress: What part of ‘make no law’ don’t you understand?”
Just before Christmas in 1985 Matt and Gail Taylor called a staff meeting at their Washington, D.C., office and gave each of 20 staffers a modem and a book on running their own businesses. They announced that, henceforth, they would be running MG Taylor Corp. from their home on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. More than 10 years later, most of the 20 staffers are still active in their company, a network that has grown to more than 50 workers nationwide.
Whether individually or as groups of small organizations, more entrepreneurs are following the Taylors’ new business model. They’re organizing technologically linked workgroups on a project basis or as full-blown companies. Together, they deliver services or products that they couldn’t provide alone. They’re called virtual companies or distributed workgroups.
While technology is a key, it isn’t the most important ingredient. “This is not a technological problem,” says Charles Grantham, who has studied the trend as president of the nonprofit Institute for the Study of Distributed Work, based in Walnut Creek, California. “You don’t need online conferencing; you can do it with fax and a telephone. It’s a sociological issue.”
There’s no recipe for successfully organizing or running a virtual company, but an increasing number of entrepreneurs are making it work in a variety of fields.
MG Taylor is just one example. This $5 million enterprise defies easy description. Call them “management consultants” and you’re in trouble. “There’s one thing we don’t do,” says Matt Taylor. “We don’t manage people. In our organization a whole lot of what management does simply doesn’t exist.” It’s the same message they offer clients. Perhaps “unmanagement consultants” is more accurate.
The Taylors work in five-day “engagements,” usually On or near the client’s site, aimed at solving a problem: Create a strategic plan, merge two companies, improve a manufacturing process, to name a few. Clients have included NASA, Avis, Ernst & Young, and the City of Boulder, Colorado. For each engagement, MG Taylor provides a crew of “knowledge workers.” Depending on the engagement, they cull as many as 20 graphic artists, videographers, writers, analysts, or researchers from their network of experts.
The Taylors query their pool of knowledge workers by e-mail, but they use their years of experience working with these people to know which ones will work best for any given engagement. The group comes together to create an office of the future at the client’s site, including more than 200 feet of whiteboard, magnetic walls, more than 20 Macintosh computers, kiosks to the Internet, fax machines, a library of books and CD-ROMs, and other gear. MG Taylor’s group helps as many as 60 workers from all levels of the client’s company to brainstorm and plan until they reach a solution.
Regardless of the total number involved, the Taylors bring everyone’s creative energy and valuable perspectives–the client’s invitees, the Taylors’ knowledge workers, and even the Taylors’ roadies and truck driver–to bear on the problem. By finding the right combination of talents that they temporarily draw from their network, the Taylors continue to win renewed business. They anticipate revenues to hit $10 million over the next year or two.
Distributed Production The Taylors’ virtual company provides a service, but David Cole’s virtual organization supplies a service and puts out a product. The Cole Group is a distributed newspaper technology consulting and publishing business that tops $250,000 in annual revenues.
The former systems editor at the San Francisco Examiner knew something about the equipment necessary for putting out a paper and wanted to tout his expertise to newspapers around the country. After the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, Cole put together a disaster preparedness plan and distributed it for free as a newsletter to promote his new one-man consulting firm. Cole produced the newsletter by himself for 18 months, distributing it at no charge.
But in the middle of the last recession, few newspapers could afford the budget to hire consultants. So in July 1991 Cole put a price tag on the newsletter, and it sold. Suddenly, he was managing a growing publishing business that might have detracted from his consulting work. “I knew I would need help.”
He recruited two friends–a couple, he was the Sunday editor at the Baltimore Sun and she was a homemaker–to handle production and fulfillment. For a long time Cole made the film and shipped it to them. The couple later relocated to Urbana, Illinois, and a service bureau there now makes the film. Whether they lived in Baltimore or Illinois, the two were able to continue working with the San Francisco-based Cole.
Cole also recruited seven part-time correspondents in several states for the Cole Papers, which now has a circulation of just under 1,000, and a subscription price of $139 per year in the U.S. With regular revenue from the newsletter, Cole stepped up his consulting efforts and continued to use the virtual business model. He now has two part-timers helping build up the consulting business: one based in Honolulu, the other in Boca Raton.
Scoping Out Business Katie La Chance and Maureen Robinson not only created a virtual firm, they also met virtually. They formed Legal Services Institute Inc. 18 months ago, even though La Chance lives in Clearwater, Florida, and Robinson resides in south Philadelphia. They’ve met face-to-face only twice. Each is a scopist–someone who proofreads a court reporter’s notes to help turn them into a polished transcript. Robinson’s been scoping for 20 years, La Chance for five. Both were running their own businesses from home and–here’s the key–both were on CompuServe. Frequently.
“Through e-mail, we realized we were spending a lot of time consulting [prospective scopists],” La Chance says. “We were giving away a lot of time.” In August 1994 they decided to write down the advice they had been providing on the forum and create a training program. By the end of 1994 they were training would-be scopists.
Scoping itself pays mid-$30,000 a year. In the first nine months of their training business, La Chance and Robinson grossed more than six figures. They do all marketing and much of the training online. CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy, the Internet–they work them all. Robinson runs many newsgroups and La Chance is a section leader on a Compuserve forum. They’ve got an online newsletter and are setting up a Web page.
A scopist needs about $900 in software and modules, followed by a year of support that sells for $2,185. The total start-up cost? About $3,000. Part of the training teaches students how to market. themselves and run a business. The year-long support consists of critiquing the first three or four transcripts.
La Chance and Robinson are incorporated in Florida for tax advantages. They split profits evenly. Would they consider a third partner? “Two works well. Three gets sticky,” says La Chance.
They finally spent 15 minutes together in person when La Chance passed through the Philadelphia airport in October 1994, then had some quality time–three days–at the annual court reporter’s national convention in Cleveland last summer.
Making It Happen Virtual companies face a peculiar set of dilemmas. By their very nature, they require a different sort of person than is attracted to a traditional entrepreneurial company. Once you’ve made the decision to go virtual, the three crucial factors to your success are finding people you can work with, figuring out how to keep in touch with them, and managing the whole process.
Partners and alliances. Like any company, virtual organizations need to find the talent that allows them to deliver products and services to clients. Some tap into working mothers who prefer to work from home. In many ways, these types of organizations resemble a traditional office, only distributed. However, virtual companies are almost always part-time alliances. Rarely do people work exclusively within one organization. They’re primarily Form 1099 folks to the IRS. Building trust is a key component.
La Chance and Robinson went through a get-to-know-you period before forming Legal Services Institute. “We found ourselves within the scopist on-line forum of the court reporter’s forum on CompuServe,” La Chance recalls. “We decided we had similar philosophies.” After getting to know each other online, they formed a business without meeting in person.
Their business marriage works because La Chance and Robinson both share a strong commitment to their craft, trade a lot of e-mail, use technology wisely, and complement each other’s talents. La Chance says she is more polished technically and Robinson has more highly developed social skills.
MG Taylor also follows a partnership model. The company has a core salaried staff of about six–also distributed. The CEO lives in Waynesville, North Carolina, and the finance person in Louisville, Kentucky. Besides the core staff, five or six workers derive nearly 100 percent of their income from MG Taylor. All the others have additional outside work.
The Taylors talk a lot about “the net,” but they don’t mean the Internet. They mean their distributed workforce of more than 50 knowledge workers–and growing–from all fields. The ever-expanding net allows them to take on many more engagements than the core staff could handle. “Our knowledge worker group at any given time tends to be extremely eclectic and talented, many of them genius-level people,” says Taylor. “Often, they are people who have not done well in traditional environments.” New recruits usually join by word of mouth, and their first engagement is an apprenticeship–MG Taylor pays only expenses.
David Cole tends to follow a more conventional means of finding talent. He recruits writers from the people he knew when he was a systems editor–people who were doing similar work at other newspapers. Through CompuServe’s Journalism forum, however, he also met and corresponded with a writer in Connecticut who went on to become his top reporter.
Cole is a sole proprietor. None of the 10 people he works with is an employee. “We keep the IRS independent contractor regulations close by,” he says. Everyone has other sources of income. Cole lines up the work, makes assignments, coordinates, and does the billing.
Keeping connected. Once you’ve found people that you feel you can work with, you still need a way to stay in touch. OccasiOnally dropping by a desk to ask a question won’t work because there’s no office. You also can’t rely on simply picking up the phone to get an answer. Whether voice mail or e-mail, you need some way to leave the equivalent of a Post-it note for your part-time partner when she’s off working with a client for her other business.
For MG Taylor, e-mail is key. The Taylors themselves have been using e-mail since the late 1970s. Now they use e-mail on AOL or the Internet to keep their network active all the time. Several weeks before each engagement, they put out the call on e-mail. Within 48 hours, members respond about their availability for that particular event. From that population, the Taylors choose the right people for the team.
Until last year, members of The Cole Group all communicated on CompuServe. Then Cole took a Mac IICX and turned it into a server. He now has a Web and e-mail server at his house, which he finds much cheaper for his company than CompuServe. It also lays a foundation for his business strategy, which includes selling Web consulting services to newspapers. He already puts out a weekly Cole Newswire–edited press releases distributed to about 180 Web sites including his own (http://www.colegroup.com).
Cole advises people to use e-mail properly. It’s easier to offend someone on e-mail than in person. Be cognizant that one of the frustrations of a virtual company is that you can’t just run down the hall to get rapid action from a worker. Leave a voice-mail or e-mail message and the worker gets back to you when they get back to you. “If a virtual worker does not want to be contacted, he or she will not be contacted.”
Managing. In all, Cole figures his virtual workgroup of 10 is manageable. He spends at least 10 percent of his time managing, especially writers. “Independent contractors, virtual or not, are people who by definition do what they want to do. You have to spend time and energy convincing people that making a specific deadline has a real important rationale behind it.”
Cole believes face time is crucial. He gets together with the couple in Urbana at least twice a year. Once a year he pays for everyone to attend NEXPO, the annual trade show for newspaper technology. They not only work but hold a staff dinner the night before the show and get together frequently during the week.
Although the Taylors believe that it’s crucial to get extremely good at virtual connectivity, they also understand the benefit of getting together with their people often. The team gathers the Sunday before an engagement to go through a ritual of setting up and walking through the session. The Taylors believe that bringing the right people together allows them to do what they’re good at: be creative. They also like to provide big enough challenges so they’ll build a high-performance team. MG Taylor builds on this success by assigning newcomers to the people who recruited them. The recruiter becomes the newcomer’s mentor.
Virtually Too Much? Virtual is not always virtuous. Ask Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist and one of four founders of First Virtual Holdings. The company was formed in early 1994 to develop software products for Internet commerce. There were no physical offices for 15 months. Borenstein says they couldn’t have hired their software developers if they had tried to relocate people.
In the beginning First Virtual was an extreme example of a virtual company. The four founders lived in New Jersey, Silicon Valley, San Diego, and Orange County, California. The team hired additional members in other states. Marketing was in Washington, D.C.; public relations in San Diego; lawyers in San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle, to name a few. They rolled out their first product–a payment system–in October 1994.
Shipping its first product, however, led to a rude awakening. Although First Virtual found that it could technically handle customer service from remote locations, it discovered problems with training and keeping up the morale of its dispersed customer service representatives. “The customer support staff is like the sewer crew,” says Borenstein. “They’re slogging through problems. That is not the ideal job description for someone working in isolation.” The support crew needed to work together in one place to trade solutions and blow off steam.
The company also found a need to group together its creative staff. Today Borenstein says that creative people need to hang out with other creative people.
So after 15 months, First Virtual consolidated all its business, marketing, and customer services operations in San Diego. Borenstein relocated to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to establish an R&D center for its creative staff. The four programmers will be free to work from home or hang out at the Ann Arbor office.
Borenstein had worked from his home for 13 years and thought any kind of work could be done from home. “I started with the assumption that a whole lot of people were old-fashioned and stuck in offices. I got some rude surprises.” Some people and some tasks are well suited to working from home, and others aren’t.
Today the company has about 30 employees, seven of whom still work remotely. Borenstein’s advice: Maximize the advantages of a distributed company and minimize its disadvantages. The right question is not, “Should you be virtual?” but “How virtual should you be?”
Yes, there are even more!
Professional and business association dues. The business contacts and client leads you can generate by joining an organization are invaluable, but you get a lot more than marketing benefits. Align yourself with an association and in many cases you gain access to trade lawyers, financial advisers, and industry-trend analysts. If you need help collecting from a slow-paying account or fear a client may slap you with a suit, put those dues to good use and give your association a call. Even better, you often get group discounts on insurance, supplies, and travel expenses.
Trade group membership fees vary: I budget roughly $500 a year for dues and an annual meeting (not including travel expenditures) for a writer’s association; accounting, medical, or legal organizations charge more. Entrepreneurial association fees range from $49 annually for the Home Office Association of America to as much as $1,000 (if you choose to donate that much) for the National Federation of Independent Business.
* Fax/voice/data modem. Service entrepreneurs know that communication is key in business. One on-the-road computer consultant I spoke with swears by PhoneBlaster from Creative Labs (800998-1000; Win 95/DOS). For $269, including voice-mail software, it recognizes preset phone numbers and automatically alerts his paging service. Within minutes, he calls back on his cellular phone. Whether his client is having a computer crisis or just wants to meet for drinks, he’s never out of touch. Those “I’m always available” types also tout plain-old pagers and call forwarding as favorites.
* Accountants who specialize in your field. Even if you’re like the editorial director of this magazine who’s a do-it-yourself tax filer, you can pick an experienced accountant’s brain for deductions and save hundreds of dollars. Just hire a good CPA who you know represents other clients in your industry, and ask him or her to review your tax situation once a year. At roughly $75 to $125 for an hour of advice, you’ll reap many overlooked deductions and get sound savings suggestions.
* Phone company voice mail. Have you ever lost a caller because you didn’t pick up call waiting soon enough? Then you’ll treasure a voice-mail service (see this month’s Up Front). Although phone carriers dub it differently and rates vary, Bell Atlantic’s Answer Call will set you back a mere $7 a month. Add this to your communications system and the next time your line is busy, new callers will hear a recording that sounds just like an answering machine. You dial in for messages at your convenience and can save the ones you want, forward others, and wipe out the rest. And for an extra $2 a month, you can make your converted-garage office sound like an eight-department corporate headquarters. With Multiple Mailboxes, callers will hear the “to-speak-to-the-marketing-department-press- 1″ message.
Here’s yet another utility that home-based entrepreneurs can’t live without. Assuming you have two phone lines, Commstar II by Pacific Bell, is a $16.40-a-month service that lets you answer calls on your business and personal lines from any phone in the house–replacing the need for a multiline phone–by entering a code. Call your local carrier and ask if it offers a similar service.
* Reliable backup drives. If you’ve suffered a computer crash, you know why this product made it to our best-money-ever-spent list. If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky–but still consider this an office essential. Our editors suggest the Iomega Zip Drive (801-778-1000; Win/ Mac; $189, plus $20 for a 100MB removable disk). It’s a lifesaver and a time-saver for those working with huge files or memory-intensive graphics.
* Business coaches. Most people become self-employed because they’re great at their craft, but they soon find out there’s more to running a business than they first thought. That’s why respondents to our poll included expert advice among their top investments. You can hire a marketing coach to perfect your sales pitch, a financial coach to clean up your balance sheet, and a PR coach to polish your image. Find your weakness and hire a pro to help strengthen it. Consultants charge about $75 an hour and up, but you can gain a lot of know-how in a few hours. Better yet, offer your own services in return for free advice (see “Peak Performance” in the August issue). To find an expert, contact your business association or a group that represents experts in the area in which you need help, such as the Walters International Speakers Bureau, http://www.walters. intl.com/bureauhome.html.
* Online services. Although many information-starved business owners use service providers to venture directly onto the Net, our poll shows that entrepreneurs still value their online service memberships. Some say they like the sense of community they get from signing on to special interest groups on America Online; others praise the articles archive in CompuServe. (I favor CompuServe because it doesn’t force me to download unnecessary graphics. Only text scrolls past my screen!) Respondents say they use cyberspace to blow off steam, keep abreast of their fields, do research, get tech support, and scout for new clients.
* Chairs with lumbar support. Heading the list of ergonomic office essentials is a good chair. They range in price from the $100 Ikea special to the $3,499 Recaro (800-873-2276). One California attorney can’t remember life without his $199 Harvard Executive Lumbar chair (OfficeMax, 800-788-8080). Pump a small button on the back of the chair (available in gray, crimson, green, and blue), and a cushion inflates to give you more lumbar support.
* Miscellaneous picks. Here are other items that made it to the top of our best-of list on the office supplies side: automated backup software, a strong file cabinet with weight-balanced drawers, and a big paper sorter. You can find all of these at your local office-supply store. On the human resources side–and much harder to find–respondents touted reliable babysitters and good clerical help.
The trick to spending wisely is to experiment a little yourself and to profit a lot from the advice of others. And if you end up with an occasional white elephant, remember that no money is ever totally wasted. At worst, it buys an experience, a story, and stuff to fill your storage space.
WHETHER YOU’RE A WRITER LIKE ME OR A REPAIRPERSON, an accountant or an artist, we all have our favorite office products and services: the plain-paper fax that ended the era of curly paper; the tax software that lets us plan year-round; the voice-mail service that banished phone tag forever. Then there’s the why-did-I-ever-buy-that category. You know, the stuff that’s collecting dust out in the garage faster than my Lionel Richie record collection. Funny how those products seemed like such great investments–until you got them.
It turns out that the self-employed have very similar tastes when it comes to what works and what doesn’t. In an informal survey–online, on the phone, and in person– of dozens of businesspeople, I found that the same products, supplies, and services turned up on almost everyone’s “favorites” list. And many people’s regrets were the same too. Here’s a roundup of smart money choices, starting with my personal favorites. The items I’d buy over and over and over include ….
* Fax software and modem. In my house the fax machine is in my husband’s office, two stories above mine. In the old days, when I wanted to send a quick letter, I’d have to print the document, run upstairs, and waste time feeding the balky machine sheet by sheet. Now, after spending $209.95 (including software) on the SupraFaxModem external modem (Diamond, 800-727-8772; Win/Mac), I press a couple of keys and send faxes automat’1cally from my desktop. Besides saving me hundreds of hours annually, the software also stores all my client’s fax numbers.
* Contact management and calendar software. For years I resisted keying contacts into my computer on the theory that I wasn’t a salesperson and didn’t need to track cold calls. Boy, was I wrong. Since I’ve invested the time and dime (well, $49.95) on TouchBase & DateBook Pro (Now Software, 800-237-2078; Mac), I’ve changed the way I do business. Ask me who the source was for the column I wrote last month, and I can find him in a couple of keystrokes. If I want to reinterview a financial expert I used in a credit card article years ago, I can locate her name and number immediately. When I need to send a follow-up letter or dash off an invoice, I can print addressed envelopes automatically from my computer. What’s more, I buy Avery Rolodex cards specifically designed for laser printers (available from Quill, 800-789-1331; a package of 400 sells for $18.88) and create customized address hooks for various locations around my house.
* An extra phone line for data. This was by far the most popular item in my informal survey. If you’re still juggling voice, modem, and fax through the same line, give it up. A fax line that you can share with your modem will change the way you do business forever. What’s great is that it won’t set you back as far as you think: For a business fax line, Pacific Bell charges $14 a month; on the East coast, Bell Atlantic costs $21.75 a month.
* Computer checks. If you write your checks by hand and then enter the information in Quicken or Microsoft Money, you’re doing the same boring task twice. Instead, buy checks from the publishers of these programs. Designed to work with their software, computer checks require that you enter your monthly accounts payables only once; from then on you need only hit a few keys to print checks whenever your bills are due. Besides, they look professional when you buy those little window envelopes to go with them. Intuit (800-433-8810) sells 1,000 checks for $87.95 and l,000 envelopes for $59.95.
* A comfortable headset. Anyone who uses the phone a lot complains of chronic shoulder pain (usually on one side) and backaches. That’s because they constantly lean into the receiver or cradle it on one shoulder. Thanks to office ergonomics, headsets are no longer those big, uncomfortable things switchboard operators wore in the 1940s. Plantronics (800-544-4660) sells the basic SP05 for $79.99. And if your budget allows, check out the company’s FreeHand for roughly $220. One of this magazine’s reporters who’s always on the phone swears by its little 0.3-ounce cushioned earplug, which has a microphone that reduces background noise.
* Removable disk labels. These wonderful office inventions actually encourage you to recycle disks because you can label and relabel them. No more messy, crossed-out writing or half-peeled-off labels. Better yet, you can reuse all those extra America Online disks crowding your desk. Quill sells 1-by-l.5 inch labels (500 for $2.77).
You MAY HAVE BEEN ON THE PHONE WITH THE CHIEF executive of a prosperous business, not knowing that he or she was crawling around on the floor, wearing only underwear, searching for an escaped hamster. In fact, you may have been that chief executive. Many of us who work from home have a more relaxed work-style than our corporate cousins.
But even if we wear formal attire and banish the family pets from our offices, there are still times when we don’t want people to see what we’re doing. The Internet has the potential to ruin my workstyle. (My wife says it’s already ruined my lifestyle by keeping me up too late at night, but that’s another issue.)
The problem is that videoconferencing will soon become too easy and inexpensive to ignore. Suddenly, we have relatively cheap multimedia computers, $200 high-speed modems, $20-a-month unlimited Internet access, and free videoconferencing software that can plug into our almost-free Web browser. Within a few Internet years–which are like dog years, only faster–the prices will fall even further.
All of these seemingly beneficial developments, taken together, will have the sinister effect of forcing me to behave while at my desk. Someday soon–consider this an alert to the Environmental Protection Agency–I may even have to clean my office.
Videophones have been tomorrow’s technology ever since the New York World’s Fair of 1939. Despite the gee-whiz appeal of being able to see Aunt Tootie at the other end of a telephone connection, videophones have never really caught on. The clearest sign of their moribund status: They’ve yet to be embraced by the telephone sex industry, despite the obviously lucrative potential.
Videophones are too expensive, and they require the person at the other end to have one. On the other hand, millions of households and corporate cubicles now have computers connected to the Internet. From a technical standpoint, it will soon be relatively trivial to convert those computers into videophones.
The greater obstacle to computer-based video– and the potential salvation of those of us who occasionally work in our underwear–is bandwidth, the capacity of regular phone lines to handle the torrent of bits needed to produce a video image.
Whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words did not anticipate the demands of digital video. Measured in terms of digital bits and the amount of space those bits take up in the computer pipeline, a picture is the equivalent of at least 10,000 words. A video segment, which can consist of hundreds or even thousands of pictures displayed in rapid sequence, puts phenomenal demands on both the incoming data pipe (typically the phone line) and the computer’s ability to display the images.
Put another way, it takes a digital fire hose to pump data fast enough to produce television-quality video, and most of us are still using the equivalent of garden hoses.
Another factor is the pump itself. The most common pump today is a modem that handles 14,400 bits per second. At that speed, video is broken down into a choppy display of still images. With a modem capable of pumping 28,800 bits per second, images are slightly better. But to truly see customers the way we imagine, users will have to install ISDN phone lines, which pump data at 64,000 bits a second per channel with two channels running.
We’re hearing a lot today about cable modems, special pumps that attach to the fat, black coaxial wires that bring cable television into our homes. They will start showing up in volume next year, and can carry millions of bits per second-in theory. In practice, the actual speed will depend on how many of your neighbors are using the cable system at the same time.
The good news is.that we have some time yet to develop plausible excuses, or an agreement on etiquette, for not switching on the videocameras that will inevitably be built into our personal computers.
In the meantime, I’m also placing high hopes on the development of software avatars, the computer-generated images that will be our stand-ins in many online environments. If I’m having a particularly bad hair day, I might flip the switch and let my Mel Gibson Hunk[TM] avatar answer my video calls. If my video caller-ID service tells me it is a video sales call, click! I load my Mike Tyson in a Bad Mood[TM] avatar.
Best of all, perhaps someone will create a Martha Stewart Perfect Home Office[TM] avatar, which will allow me to get back to chasing that darned hamster.
These days, computer-generated presentations are practically a given when you visit prospective clients. But just because you’ve created the snazziest slides this side of the Mississippi doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get the prospect to sign on the dotted line. According to experts, what makes or breaks a presentation are your selling skills, plain and simple.
* To find out which techniques work, we talked to authorities on sales and presentations as well as to successful entrepreneurs who use presentations to grow their businesses. Then we devised the following 10-step, start-to-finish process for creating and delivering presentations that are both pretty and powerful.
* Step 1: Don’t Touch That Computer “The biggest mistake you can make when giving a presentation is failing to determine ahead of time what the prospect’s needs are,” says Tom Hopkins, author of Selling for Dummies (IDG Books). “So you start presenting and making statements of fact that aren’t the hot buttons for that person.”
The process of creating a successful presentation actually starts long before you sit down at your computer to create an outline. The best way to begin is to gather as much information about the prospect as possible. To do this, you’ll need to ask the right questions when you first talk to a potential client.
“Be sure to ask open-ended questions,” says Thomas Winninger, founder of the Winninger Institute for Market Strategy and author of Price Wars: A Strategy Guide to Winning the Battle for the Customer (Prima). “Use who, what, where, when, and why. Ask, ‘How soon will you be doing something on this project? Who will be making the decision? How much time will you have? When was the last time you did something like this?'”
In addition to getting information from the client, Winninger suggests researching the company and the industry, using the Internet and other sources. “You should always have data that relates to a client’s industry in your presentation,” he explains. “This raises a prospect’s receptivity level to the other information you present.”
Step 2: Stage a Sneak Preview
Although this isn’t true in every case, if you’re up against stiff competition, you may need to do a preliminary presentation just to get an audience with the prospect. Putting your pitch on a floppy disk or compact disc and sending it to a potential client may do the trick.
This strategy worked for Darryl Gordon of Kenneth C. Smith Advertising in La Jolla, California, who creates presentations for other companies. “A few years ago, I was contacted by Quantum Communications, a small ad agency in San Marcus,” Gordon recalls. “They wanted to pitch a very large account and were worried about competing against the other, larger agencies that would be pitching. They brought me in as a consultant and told me they wanted to do something totally different–something that would show they should be allowed to compete.”
Using Aldus Persuasion (now Adobe Persuasion), Gordon created an interactive, multimedia presentation. “Then we put it on a SyQuest disk and stuck it in a box with a bag of microwave popcom. We gave no indication of what it was–just included a message that said ‘Sit back and enjoy.'” Quantum got the go-ahead to pitch the account.
Another variation on the sneak-preview theme is employed by small-business owner Ray Litman of Ray Litman Photo Graphics in Phoenix. Instead of calling on clients individually, Litman uses Software Publishing Corp.’s Harvard Graphics to create high-quality slide shows; he then presents them to local service organizations and trade groups. “All of us here are bombarded daily with cold calls, and we don’t want to do that to our clients.” says Litman.
Litman explains that the group presentations allow him to get in front of prospective clients and show them his work in a setting where they’re receiving information rather than a standard sales pitch. “Many times, the next day we’ll get a call from someone who saw our show and wants to talk to us” Litman says.
Step 3: Pick a Plan of Attack
Once you’ve gathered information about the client and been given the green light to give a presentation, you’ll need to decide on the format (for example, overheads, slides, or an onscreen multimedia show). Answering the following questions will help you make that decision.
Who is your audience? What’s their business background’? How technologically savvy are they? An older audience may be intimidated by an elaborate multimedia presentation, whereas a technology-oriented crowd might look condescendingly on a 1ow-tech overhead show.
How large is your audience? While a large crowd calls for a high-resolution, smooth-running slide presentation that everyone can easily see, an informal overhead presentation may be just the thing to encourage dialogue in a small group.
What tools are available? And how much time do you have to use them? Exciting multimedia shows may be all the rage, but it’s important to know your limits and make the best of what you have. It’s better to create a well-planned, graphically pleasing slide show than to try out an interactive presentation on a client before you’ve thoroughly tested it.
What technology is available at the site? You may be limited by the lighting or projection equipment at your client’s site. If so, it’s up to you to prepare a presentation that’s nonetheless effective.
Whatever method you use, the theme that continually crops up with each of the presenters we talked with is simplicity. Although you wouldn’t go into a high-power meeting with nothing but a few black-and-white overheads, neither should you overwhelm your prospects with technology– an approach that often has the unfortunate effect of detracting from your message.
Keeping this philosophy in mind is a top priority to entrepreneur Luong Tam of LTD in San Rafael, California, a multimedia production house and Web site developer with a staff of four. Tam and his team use Macromedia Director to create a custom CD-ROM presentation for each client. The disc is a “living portfolio” of LTD’s work, showing multimedia projects the company has created for other clients. Although Tam uses attention-getting graphics and music at the beginning of a presentation, the rest of the interface is simple.
“I like to let my work stand for itself,” says Tam. “So our ‘brochure’ has a friendly interface–we’ve found that the simplest interface is the one that gets us the job.” Tam adds that he tries hard to make sure the technology is secondary. “The communication is what’s important,” he states.
Step 4: Choose Your Tools
Although there are many good presentation programs available, Kristine Moore, partner of Mavis and Moore print communication seminars, advises: “If your software does what you want it to do and you’re familiar with it, there may be no need for you to run out and get something else just to create your presentations.” Moore practices what she preaches by using PageMaker desktop publishing software for everything–including presentations.
Other presenters are equally devoted to their favorite software packages. For example, Litman’s company uses Harvard Graphics exclusively on its network of five computers. “We find it’s head-and-shoulders above the rest for features and ease of use,” says Litman. “It gives us the ability to take an image and modify it onscreen quickly and easily until it’s exactly what we need. Many features can be accessed with the click of a button–including changing the leading, revising the background color, or creating a bar graph. In other programs, you have to struggle to achieve that degree of polish.”
Gordon also talks about ease of use, in his case with Adobe Persuasion. “I love interactive multimedia, but as a designer, I don’t want to have to learn another language to do a presentation,” he says. “In Persuasion, links are extremely easy to create. It’s like using PageMaker with an interactive format.”
When you’re evaluating presentation software, here are the main features that expert presenters suggest you look for.
Templates. Does a variety of template styles come with the product? Are they well designed? Are they easy to modify?
Graphic capabilities. How easy is it to create and revise charts and graphs? Are you limited in the number of colors you can use? Does the program offer fades, builds, and other transition effects?
Revisions. How easy is it to modify existing presentations?
Handouts. Will the program automatically create audience handouts from your slide presentation?
Presenter’s tools. If you plan to give presentations electronically, does the program make it easy to hide and reveal slides and to jump from one slide to another?
Step 5: Concentrate on Content
After determining the type of presentation and the program you’re going to use, it’s time to create the content. As you do, you’ll need to go beyond simply explaining your company or product–you must also use effective sales techniques.
According to Ted Tale, author of Just Sell It: Selling Skills for Small-Business Owners (John Wiley & Sons), the best presentations “convince a prospect of three things: First, that you have something she needs. Second, that you’re the right person for her to get it from. And third, that whatever price she pays will be justified.”
Although it’s crucial to describe the benefits of working with your company, it’s possible to go overboard. Experienced presenters stress the importance of keeping your presentation short and straightforward. “The best advice I can offer is to be well prepared and get your message across rapidly,” says veteran presenter Jeff Bekos of Market Media in Norwalk, Connecticut. Bekos uses Microsoft PowerPoint to create overhead presentations on advertising vehicles for supermarkets–presentations he gives regularly at such companies as Coca-Cola, Nabisco, and Heinz.
“You don’t want to bore people with details,” says Bekos. “People are so busy these days, they’re grateful for a presentation that’s to the point.” He advises presenters to include answers to anticipated questions in the presentation and to use charts and graphs to make numerical data easier to understand. “In my presentations, I stress the benefits of our product and include graphs that get right to the point– and I make them easy to understand by not putting in too much data.”
Step 6: Dare to Design
With your content determined–preferably in the form of a detailed outline–you’re ready to begin designing. The type of presentation you’re creating will greatly affect this process. For example, if you’re leaning toward interactivity, Darryl Gordon recommends beginning your design on paper. “I draw boxes representing different screens and connect them with arrows,” he says.
Gordon also advises spending time perfecting the opening screen. “When you open up a book and want to find something, you go to the table of contents. The opening screen of an interactive multimedia presentation has the same idea,” he explains. “It should be attractive and easy to read. You also need to establish links back to the table of contents from the other pages, and make sure there’s a way for the viewer to move backward and forward one page at a time.”
Using audio and video will add excitement to interactive presentations. “There’s a lot of material available now that’s royalty free;’ Gordon says. However, he cautions presenters to limit the number of multimedia effects. “You don’t want to go crazy with this stuff–it can get distracting.”
One way to keep your presentations simple is to think of ways to show your information rather than spell out every word you plan to say. Kristine Moore says, “A lot of the people who attend our seminars tell us that they have trouble describing their visions to clients. I tell them to show examples of other, similar projects they’ve done–give visual examples.”
Financial figures and statistics also benefit from a visual treatment. “Charts breathe new life into numbers,” says Roger C. Parker, author of Desktop Publishing and Design for Dummies (IDG Books). To make sure your charts clarify rather than confuse, it’s important to choose the right format. Generally speaking, “pie charts show how parts relate to a whole; vertical bar charts make it easy for readers to compare data that changes over time; horizontal bar charts display comparisons that do not involve time; and line charts effectively display trends,” Parker explains.
Besides looking good, charts can enhance your credibility to clients. “Put up one chart early in the presentation,” Winninger advises. “This frames you as a data-based presenter, not just information based.”
If you’re leaning toward a more traditional slide show (including overheads, 35mm slides, of electronic images), the place to start is with a template. Bekos creates his own by using one of PowerPoint’s backgrounds and extensively modifying it to meet his needs. “There’s more detail in my presentation than the typical template,” he notes. “And I have my own cover page that includes our company logo and some custom graphics.”
Step 7: Hand It to Them
With all the effort you put into your presentation, it’s easy to forget about audience handouts and leave-behinds. But they’re an important way to emphasize your message.
Typically, handouts consist of pages with small black-and-white renditions of your slides and a space for notes. But you might want to consider leaving behind something a little more impressive. For example, Bekos prepares an outline of his presentation for his clients. “I don’t like to give them a copy of my entire presentation up front,” he says, explaining that a simple outline with a space for notes is easier for the audience to follow. Afterward, he gives them a more elaborate package, consisting of black-and-white full-page copies of each slide with a color cover and spiral binding.
In addition, Tate recommends that you hand out testimonial letters. “The most powerful tools to use in a presentation are letters from satisfied clients, because that’s a third party telling the prospect that you’re a good person to do business with” he says.
If your audience is small, think about printing all your leave-behind materials in color and having them bound at a local copy shop. If your presentation is electronic, you may want to leave a disk with your client. Most programs allow you to create a self-running version of your presentation, and viewers don’t need to have the original software to run it.
Step 8: Take One,Take Two…
It was good advice when your More gave it to you before your first school play, and it’s good advice now: Practice makes perfect. According to experts, being prepared is the best way to combat nervousness. Start by giving yourself enough time to put the presentation together. Once it’s done, you’ll need time to review it thoroughly and rehearse it several times.
If possible, practice in front of an audience, and ask the members to point out mistakes. Those little typos may seem insignificant, but you can be sure your audience will notice them when they’re magnified on an overhead projector.
In addition, make arrangements to get advance admittance to the room where you’ll be giving the presentation. This will enable you to check your materials, set up your equipment, rearrange furniture as needed, and adjust the room lighting.
“You don’t want any glare on the computer screen,” says Tam. “Check all the lights–you may need to turn some off or move the computer or close the blinds.”
Step 9: Take the Stage
Before you launch into your presentation, take a minute to establish rapport. “You can do this by discussing something topical, giving a sincere compliment, or talking about something you have in common,” suggests Hopkins. Prospects will be more receptive to your ideas if you break the ice.
But you shouldn’t act as if you have unlimited time, Winninger cautions. After establishing rapport, he advises that you say something like, “I appreciate your taking the time to see me. I have just a few things I’d like to show you that other clients have been able to benefit from.”
Next, position yourself to present. “If you’re presenting to a group, try to stand along the long wall– this helps open up the group,” says Winninger. “Likewise, if you’re presenting to an individual, try to have some type of visual to show right at the beginning. Ask him to come around the desk so he can see it more easily.”
Once you start talking, “you don’t want to give too much information without stopping to anchor it,” says Winninger. Anchoring involves pausing periodically to solicit verbal agreement from the client. Stop and say such things as “Based on what I’ve shared with you, which of these options would you prefer?” or “Given this information, what do you think your timeline will be?” Getting an anchored agreement every few minutes can ensure a successful close at the end of your presentation.
Step 10: Shake on It
Although most experienced salespeople develop their own styles for closing deals, a few basics always apply. First and foremost, you have to ask for the sale. Experts say people would be surprised at how many presenters don’t do this.
Litman at Photo Graphics says, “We try to do a handshake deal right after the presentation. We’ll say, ‘You’ve seen what we can do, do you have any questions?’ If not, we ask if they have any objections, and try to take care of them immediately. Then we try to take an order. About a quarter to a third of the time, the client is ready.”
Tam of LTD agrees. “It’s important to try to take advantage of the opportunity while the client is excited. After the presentation, I ask, ‘What will be our next step? Whom should I contact about getting started?'”
Winninger suggests that, instead of asking for a sale in a yes-or-no manner, you give a prospect three choices for his or her buying decision. For example, you’d say, “There are three things you could do here: A, B, or C. Which would you prefer?” Each choice would be a slightly different version of how the job could proceed.
“You don’t want to fall into the trap of ending by saying, ‘Here’s what I can do for you,'” Winninger says. Too often, the client will say, “Thanks, we’ll get back to you” and then go look at what your competitor has to offer. If you give them choices on a project, clients are more likely to seal the deal.