How to Give Gifts That Build Relationships and Build Your Brand

wrapped_giftWe’re barreling to the end of the year and, in addition to examining what went right and what went wrong, planning to make the next year even more successful, it’s also time to decide how we’re going to say thanks to our clients, strategic referral partners, and even our special vendors.

Thanking your team members and staff is also important but I’m going to save that for another post.

Whether this has been a banner year financially for you or not, it’s still important to find some way to show your appreciation to the special people in your business life.

No matter whether you give your gifts during the month of December or you save them as a kick off to the new year, I’ve got some tips on how you can use your budget effectively without looking like a Scrooge.

The most important phrase I learned about gift giving came from my very first consulting client, Bruce Kamis of Kamis Imprinted Products.

Bruce and I met in a networking group and we just hit it off.

He gave a presentation once that educated us on “perceived value”. This speaks to the price the receiver has in her head about the overall worth of your gift.

For example, we’ve all seen aluminum travel cups on sale in coffee shops. They’re typically priced around $10 to $20. So when you give someone that as a gift along with a bag of their favorite coffee and a few cookies, they’re going to see that as a gift worth anywhere from $20 to $40 dollars.

If you bought the cup in quantities from a promotional products company it’s possible that you spent only $5 or so for the cup. That takes the actual price of your gift down to the $10 to $15 dollar range.

Understanding perceived value and that the recipient of your gift is going to do the mental comparisons in her head is important if you want to keep your gesture from creating more harm than good.

For example, It’s common for a real estate agent to give a gift to the buyer after the purchase.

When we bought our house last winter, our real estate agent gave us a gift of a bottle of olive oil and a bottle of balsamic vinegar.


We gave him $18,000 in revenue and he gave us something that cost maybe $20 tops and that’s if he bought really high-end stuff (trust me, he didn’t) and if we add in the sales tax.

That made me feel as though he either didn’t appreciate our business or was too thoughtless or lazy to put any effort in choosing something.

A much nicer and more thoughtful gift would have been a gift certificate for dinner at one of the gourmet restaurants in town.

Even if we had the most expensive thing on the menu, plus dessert, plus cocktails it would have cost 1% of what our sale was truly worth to him.


But it’s not just dollars and cents in the perceived value equation.

It’s also the thought and sometimes the effort involved.

This is when it pays to adopt some of Sherlock’s powers of observation.

I work pretty closely with my clients and strategic referral partners over the course of a project. I discover who has a sweet tooth and who’s gone gluten free.

I know who is an empty-nester and who is struggling to juggle the new baby and work.

I also know who the proud pet parents are.

One of my colleagues once gave me a tiny tree. I was over the moon! It couldn’t have cost more than a few dollars, but that gift showed just how well she knew me (I’m a big birder and gardener). I planted that thing in the perfect spot and said goodbye to it when I moved. (Yes I take “tree hugger” to new levels).

Another person “adopted” a seal for me.

I was crazy with joy over that and still have the picture and the “adoption certificate”.

if you don’t know much about your clients, do a little research. Connect with them on Facebook and LinkedIn. Scan their wall or profile for things they post about and things they’re interested in.

Do you know their home town or university? Get them a t-shirt, sweatshirt, or even a coffee mug with the college emblem.

Even a key chain is a good idea. Something else Bruce taught me was you want them to use the item (or at least look at it a lot) and think of you (fondly) when they use it.

I actually like getting junk mail catalogs and I scan them all year for goofy stuff to give.

I had a colleague who had a Santa collection. So when I saw a toy Santa with a Mexican hat and maracas that played and danced to Feliz Navidad (her favorite Christmas carol), I knew I had a gift home run.

Not sure if they celebrate Christmas? That’s ok, everyone celebrates the start of a new year. A great way to stand out from the December holiday deluge of cards is to save yours (and your gift where appropriate) and send them to coincide with New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

It helps your gift or card stand out a bit more and it takes some of the pressure off you too.

When figuring out your holiday budget, it also makes sense to prioritize the gifts you’ll give.

For example, a client who is paying you thousands of dollars isn’t going to get the same gift as a potential client who you’ve had a couple of meetings with.

As my examples show, it’s not necessary to spend a ton of money to show you appreciate and care for the person. But you don’t want to give something that looks like next to no thought went into it at all.

It’s easy to say “bah humbug” at this time of year because there’s so much to do and maybe you feel as though there’s not enough cash to go around. But when a gift is well thought out and conveys the right emotion it’s easy to build your brand and strengthen your relationship with the recipient.

If you’re a notoriously bad gift giver or you’ve got more money than time, consider hiring a professional gift buying consultant who can help you use your budget wisely and make you look good at the same time.


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The secret to being seen as totally unique


I was very flattered when the woman on the phone told me she heard me speak a few years ago and has been hanging on to my card ever since. But the conversation took a turn for the worse when she then said, “I want to work with you, but I’m afraid when everyone else in my industry sees what we’re doing they’ll copy me and steal our ideas.  And if we work together, you couldn’t work with anyone else in my industry.”


First of all, an entrepreneur who is serious about standing out in their field, can’t allow the fear that someone will copy what she’s doing keep her from taking action.

A mindset like hers tells me this person is operating on fear because she’s not confidently and clearly positioned in the market.

Positioning is the action of communicating your unique value so clearly that you get into the mind of your ideal buyer and anchor yourself in so deeply that everyone else is seen as just an also ran.

Your Position is a combination of…

  • the role you play for clients
  • the niche segment you serve
  • the problem you solve
  • your approach to solving the problem

It gets communicated visually — through your brand elements like website, logo, color palette, and your or your staff’s appearance — and verbally — through the tone of voice you use as well as your specific word choice (I use “verbally” to mean written or spoken, online and offline)– and is the foundation of the brand you’re building.

This is about more than just about “brand awareness” or being known for what you do.

When I say “soda” (or “pop” as they call it up here in the Niagara Falls region), your first thought may be of Coke. But that doesn’t matter if Pepsi is what you spend your money on.

The best positioning goes deeper than just the mind. It resonates with the potential client’s heart.

There are four steps to Positioning:

First you have to actually get clear on who and what your business and offerings are all about.

The Father of Modern Advertising — the legendary David Ogilvy — called Positioning “the most important decision you can make” about an offering. That’s because it impacts every other decision you need to make about said offering.

Committing to claiming a position is a brave act — something solo professionals or the owners of small firms might talk about but often resist at a subconscious level for fear claiming a position is going to turn away too much business.

Ogilivy was faced with how to position Dove® soap and the decision is a great example of how powerful the choice is.

He had to decide if Dove® should be positioned as a a cleaning agent — something that gets skin very clean — or should it be positioned as a softening agent — something that cleanses skin while also making it soft?

Lever accepted his recommendation about 50 years ago and it’s still the foundation of Dove’s position.

The second step is getting found. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best at what you do. If those who want what you offer can’t find you or your insight when they need you, you’re struggling. Since the majority of people turn to the Internet to begin the search to solve a problem, you need a large digital footprint that communicates your position effectively so you resonate cognitively and emotionally with your Ideal Clients.  And whatever you do needs to be able to be viewed no matter the tech device used.

Step three is to get into their heart. It doesn’t matter if you’re first in their mind or not. What matters is if they know, like, and trust you enough to choose to work with you. H&R Block might be the first name I think of if you say “Tax Accounting” but that’s not who I trust with my taxes. I might have moved 500 miles away from Bob, my accountant, but he still does my taxes.

Bob’s in my heart. And by getting into my heart he’s my go-to choice.

The fourth step is staying top of mind. Professional solution providers are nervous about this because we’re worried we’ll come across as a pest or that we’ll be seen as salesy.

But when your overworked, overwhelmed ideal client needs a solution provider they can often make a decision driven by convenience. The person who sent them an email this morning may get the business because the client forgot about you.

If you’re ready to truly attract more of your best clients and make it easy for others to refer you, then it’s time to uncover, embrace, and fully communicate your unique so you’re clearly differentiated from the others in your industry segment.

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The secret to powerful messaging that’s not salesy

If you’re a consultant, coach, licensed service professional or other expert who’s stock in trade is their expertise, one issue you may struggle with is getting your message out in a powerful way that doesn’t come across as salesy.

If you’re a corporate escapee like me, you were probably an expert at talking about the problems your employer’s customers had. But once out on your own, you’ve probably struggled to create a message that consistently resonates with the mind and heart of your ideal clients (who I refer to as your Prime Suspects).

One big element of that problem is deeply understanding the problem your Suspects have and communicating in a way that shows you GET it. This video talks about that.


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Tips to Focus on Those You Serve Best — Ideal Clients

One of the frustrating challenges of starting, running, and growing a business — especially a small consulting, coaching, or other expertise-based business — is narrowing your focus so you’re talking to and attracting ONE type of client.

This is really hard for those of us who are creative and who also consider ourselves spiritual or conscious.

We hate to turn people down.

It’s also easy to get a little nervous (ok…a lot nervous) in those moments when clients may be harder to come by….it’s summer and people are distracted….the holiday season and people are thinking of parties….end of the year when people are caught up planning…

But focusing on serving only those who you’re truly aligned with actually helps position you as the leader and expert for that segment.

This video gives you a few tips on the topic of what I refer to as Prime Suspects and Ideal Clients.

Think about who you’re trying to attract. The chances are good that if you’re messaging isn’t resonating with anyone it’s because you’re speaking too broadly. That’s a sure sign you need to narrow your focus.

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Hate Selling? Try getting back to the origin of the word “sell”

Most of the service-based entrepreneurs I talk to and associate with are passionate about and experts at what they do.

But they DESPISE the sales part.

They’re afraid they’ll be seen as pushy or salesy so they actually lean too far in the other directions and end up working way too hard for every sale they do make and every client they get.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

And one of the first steps is to getting over your hatred of selling is to stop seeing it as something bad you’re doing to someone.

You’re not taking something from them. You’re GIVING something TOO them.

I explain it in this video….

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Are you making these mistakes when networking online?

As my friends Stacy and Robin – the founders of Interconnections for Women  – are fond networkof saying, “you gotta network to get work”.

And as much as you may tell yourself that’s true, I wonder if you’re not actually treating your networking like flossing.

You know you NEED to do it and you SHOULD do it, but you don’t always get around to it and when you do you might not give it your all.

While we tend to think of networking as something that only happens at a conference or mixer, networking is something we do whenever we come into contact with other people.

Networking has a ton of benefits, but the biggest one is you can directly control the message you’re sending and help make sure people truly understand what you do.

That’s critical if you hope to generate more referrals.

Yes, you have a website, you speak, you write blog posts…but business is still a personal experience that’s built on an emotional connection.

And that’s really the heart of what networking involves.
And in today’s world, we don’t just network at events. We also do it online.

Online networking is something that’s still in its infancy (“social networking” is an incredibly young concept) but it’s apparent how we’ve embraced it when you consider that as of May 1, 2014 300 million people use LinkedIn, and Facebook hit 1 billion users way back in 2012.

Networking online may seem easy to do but it’s fraught with problems and can easily damage your reputation if you’re not careful.

Make mistakes and you’ve damaged your reputation and your personal brand. Do it right, and both your reputation and your reach grow.

Here are the top 5 mistakes people make when networking online so you can avoid them.

1. Traveling incognito. Unless you’re the Lone Ranger or Spiderman, people need to see who you are. Use a photo that’s appropriate to the forum. Professional pictures are a must on a site like LinkedIn. You don’t have to pay a pro for a headshot (although it helps) but be sure your image communicates that you’re a competent professional. Leave the party pictures for Facebook. On second thought…eliminate them from there too since people are checking you out and looking at your overall web presence.

2. Making seeming random connections. Several people have named this as a mistake specifically on LinkedIn – sending someone a connection request without explaining why you want to connect with them or reminding them how you met. One person equated it with trying to kiss a stranger. We’d all like to think we’re memorable but keep in mind the other person has met a zillion other people the same week and therefore you’re one of a crowd. Remind them where you met, or mention that you have mutual friends and you’d like to learn more about them. Dan Muchnok, COO of Opticom Consulting is probably speaking for lots of others when he says a request from an unknown person – especially one with 500+ connections – feels like spam. LinkedIn is much more personal than Facebook in many ways so take the time to personalize the connection request and don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t want to connect with you there. I’m more open on Facebook than I am on LinkedIn but if you explain where and how we met and why LinkedIn is where you’d like to connect I’m likely to accept.

3. Becoming one of “those” people.” Val Neighbors, an elder care advocate and business coach for home healthcare providers, andW endy Terwelp, the Networking Coach, both expressed revulsion at the tendency for some new connections to go into sales mode way too quickly. As tempting as it is to start sharing your fabulous offering or to ask that expert you just got connected to for a referral, please resist the temptation. It comes across as desperate. You have to take steps to raise your KLT-Q – your Know-Like-Trust Quotient – first.

4. Not being active in the platform(s) you register with. Networking is not a fast solution to growing a business. It’s like farming. You plant seeds…fertilize them…water them….care for them…and then you harvest the bounty once they grow. Not being active on a platform conveys you’re not really interested in relationship building, but instead are just out to promote yourself. That completely flies in the face of the concept of networking.

5. Relying on social networks as your online home. The popular blog, Copyblogger, posted an article decrying “digital sharecropping”  and the danger of “building your business on someone else’s land”. We entrepreneurs are famous for bootstrapping our way to success but as soon as possible you’ve got to build your online headquarters as the hub of your web presence. You can’t let Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other site control your online identity. You can start a site for as little as $100. It’ll be basic, but it’s yours. Get a custom site done as soon as you can. It’s money well spent and critical to your business development efforts because it’s marketing – and networking — for you all day, every day.

Online Networking is becoming an increasingly more important way to build your reputation as an expert and attract referral partners as well as potential clients. The challenge is in presenting yourself effectively and clearly distinguishing yourself from the rest of the others in your professional category.

Be careful to stay current with the best practices in this area and be sure to balance relationship building with selling.

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The 3 things you’re asking clients to do — other than pay you

I hear from all sorts of solo professionals — whether they’re independent consultants and coaches or they run a small firm — that sales cycles (the time it takes to go from the “getting to know you” stage to the signed agreement) continue to take “too long”.

In their mind that is.

In the mind of the buyer, the sales  process takes as long as it needs to take.

In this 6-minute video I explain the 3 things you’re asking your Suspects to do. These things are what they have to feel good about doing or they’ll never make the purchase.

What do you do to make it easier for your Suspects to decide to buy?

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Help your potential client get past price and deal with their buying personality

One of the challenges all consultants and coaches face at some point is dealing with what appear to be price-driven Suspects.

(Keep in mind, a Suspect is someone you aren’t working with yet but who looks and sounds like a possible fit for your offerings.)

It’s easy to blame the recession, inflation, and every other thing that’s going on in the economy; but the truth is – especially when it comes to services – the people you’re talking to are confused and afraid.

Your Suspects are afraid of:

  • being taken advantage of
  • paying too much for the service you offer
  • not getting a relatively quick return on their investment to recoup what they spend with you
  • making a decision that’s irreversible
  • how their business or life would be different by working with you
  • you not fulfilling the promises you make

They’re confused because…

  • they just flat-out don’t know if your offer is a good value
  • there’s so much inconsistency in pricing among those who are in your category
  • they may have no frame of reference for your price if they’ve never hired anyone like you before

When you get to the point in the conversation that deals with price, your Suspect takes in this information and compares it to existing information in the filing cabinet that is their brain.

They start comparing that price to things they’ve bought before – whether they’re products or services.

The reason they’re comparing price and not your offering is price is an easier thing to compare because it’s fairly black and white (in their mind anyway). And the brain is always looking for a reason to dismiss something new so it can remain focused and ready for the really hard stuff of living.

So you may quote $1997 for an offering and feel you’re giving the Suspect the bargain of the century.

But if the Suspect has never engaged a professional service provider like you before or has never bought a service like yours or never made an investment in herself or her business like the one you presented her, she could be completely mystified about whether to say yes or not.

And then there’s the inner conflict – “Should I or shouldn’t I?”, “Nothing I’ve invested in has worked; will this be different?”, “Is this the right program and the right person for our company?”.

If she doesn’t know what to base a decision on, the easiest thing to look at is your price and compare it to what’s in her bank account.

If she’s underestimated what you would charge and she’s embarrassed by that, she doesn’t want to insult you (or embarrass herself further) so she just says “I can’t afford it” or “that’s outside my budget”. (And if you asked her what her budget was at the beginning she probably said she didn’t know.)

And then there’s her decision making personality. There’s…

Commitment-phobic Connie – she wonders if you’ll be a good fit for her and if there’s someone else who can do the job better, faster, cheaper.  She may want to have multiple conversations and email exchanges looking for some magic words

Terrified Teresa – she longs to make a difference in the world and has great offerings, but she’s secretly afraid of playing bigger, being seen, and the impact that would have on her life and relationships.

Rejected Rhonda – she’s got a big need to be liked and wrestles with feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. She knows not everyone will want to or is ready to work with her but she’s afraid of rejection and hasn’t mastered being detached from the outcome of selling her services.

Tapped-Out Tina – Tina has been following every guru out there, investing in every program offered. She understands the value of working privately with an expert but got sucked into the promises made on their expertly crafted sales pages. She’s now in debt and feeling the weight of those monthly bills. She’s afraid to invest in anything else or believe in anyone else.

Fearful Fran – She works in a growing organization and reports to a big cheese. Other people have made mistakes and they’ve been punished for them. The punishments have ranged from just the usual personal embarrassment to being labeled a “bad decision maker” to actually being fired. She struggles with understanding her boss and is secretly afraid she’ll lose her job over some dumb mistake.

Indecisive Isabelle – Isabelle has many of the traits of the other ladies in this circle. Her problem – that she can’t make a decision – is rooted in fear.  She’s afraid to make a mistake…afraid to lose or waste money…afraid she won’t get results…and since she really doesn’t trust herself she’s always looking for guidance about what to do. She’s wracked with self-doubt and second-guesses herself constantly.

Short-Attention Span Sally — She’s not going to read all the information you’re sharing with her. She probably thinks a 5-minute video is the Gone With the Wind of marketing. The big challenge with her is to get her attention and help her to focus on the pain she’s in and the solution you’re offering her.

I know you’re thinking “Hey, my Ideal Client loves what I do, makes fast decisions, and pays me what I’m worth.”

That’s true. That’s your Ideal Client.

Unless your dance card is completely filled with Ideal Ida, I’m going to bet even the most fun clients you’ve worked with have exhibited some of the traits of the ladies I’ve mentioned.

Heck, I’ve seen people display all of these personalities as if they’re the next star of a remake of Sybil.

But we’ve all had moments in our lives when we’ve had split personalities haven’t we? When we’ve shared the thoughts and emotions of these women?

So how do you help them move past the issues they wrestle with?

  1. Understand that decision making is emotional at its core. Even the most logical of decision makers will have some emotions at play in the process. Understand the dominant emotions your Prime Suspects and Ideal Clients have and what helps them decide. Ask your favorites what made them decide to take action at each point in the buying process. Also understand that even that isn’t a fool proof process because we don’t understand ourselves very well. But It’s better than just guessing.
  2. Commit to only talking to Prime Suspects and only working with Ideal Clients.  Then you can focus on understanding their motivations, emotions, wants, and needs along with where they are in both the online and offline worlds.
  3. Getting clients is a numbers game combined with practice. Most people hate sales conversations so much that they only engage in them when it counts – when they talk to a potential client. So when you don’t get the sale you see it as failure rather than as a learning experience. But every other performer and professional has some sort of practice to be great at their craft when it’s time to perform for real. Get a coach, find a colleague, do something to practice and get feedback on your process and your conversations.
  4. PreSell yourself and your offerings.  PreSelling involves creating a process that acknowledges the research people do prior to engaging with a “sales person”.  By building your brand as an expert and the go-to person for the results your Clients want along with creating a process that educates them and treats them with respect, you help them recognize your genius and develop trust in you.

Remember when people voice questions and concerns it’s actually a good thing. They’re asking you to help them make a decision. They’re doing their due diligence. Give them the tools they need to make a good decision because buying is a demonstration of trust.

What’s your strategy to help someone move passed price?

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A simple, 3-part formula to introduce yourself powerfully without being salesy

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What makes an expert? | Are You an Expert?

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