Ten questions to ask, to gain clarity in your business

Glasses, Reading Glasses, SpectaclesWhatever stage we are at in our social business endeavours, ill-thought out action or inaction, can lead us down metaphoric roads that we may not intend to travel.  Ideally, we would ask a plethora of questions (because after all, questions often are actually the answers) and get really clear at inception, with regular reflective pit-stops along the way. This reflective process, often best undertaking with a skilled professional, such as a mentor, is useful in relation to the business as a whole, or for individual projects/new service developments.

Whether these questions are couched within ‘discovery’ sessions, strategy sessions, leadership coaching or professional supervision, they need to be asked.  Before I continue, I am not suggesting that there is no difference between these session types because of course, they each have their own specific function.  However, what they do all have in common, is that they require us, as business owners, leaders and managers, to take a step back and explore some fundamental considerations, summarised in a sample of questions, listed here:

  1. What is your service offering and how does it benefit end users?
  2. How will your service or product be financed – will it be purchased by or will you source funding and it be offered without cost to commissioner/end user?
  3. What is the legal structure of your business and how does this impact your funding options? Do you have the skills base and capacity to apply for funding? (if not, outsource it)
  4. What are the considerations within the wider social landscape? Are there regulatory or legislative aspects?  How do these impact the service offering or organisation?
  5. What are the strengths and areas of development for your business and how will you bridge the gap between what exists and what needs to be developed?
  6. Do you have a ‘soft’ heart for the work, or are you motivated by other factors?
  7. Do you have a ‘soft’ heart for the work, or are you doing what you have always done and/or feel you ‘should’ be doing, or are expected to do as a career?
  8. How does your business contribute to a broader social narrative and is what you are doing (or planning to do) congruent with that?
  9. How would you describe your business in 60 seconds? (Yes, I know, the elevator pitch but it is a good way of tying us down to the bones of the matter!)
  10. How does your business contribute to your own trajectory – for instance, if it is a time-intensive business that is not able to be automated in any way, how does that fit with your life goals?

This list is in no way exhaustive, neither are the questions relevant to all business scenarios but they form a great basis to begin a grounded and focused process. Feel free to consultachameleon to get the ball rolling for your business.

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Five ways that tenders and bids are valuable reality-checkers

desk-3076954__340 writingI recently wrote about the need for bid writing to be a collaborative process and for some organisations, this may have served to further problematise an already challenging process.

However, in defence of bids and tenders, they do have a wonderful by-product which can help to overhaul professional practice.

In the social business arena, bids and tenders often ‘speak into’ current issues and/or regulatory demands and as such, provide an up-to-date contextual reality-checker for organisations.  Commissioners will often endeavour to integrate as many regulatory factors as they can, especially in tenders, so that the contractual framework ensures an obligation for providers to be compliant.

In relation to tenders, I always have a notebook open at the ready, at the ‘reading stage’, to compose a list of items needed, such as policies, etc (although some commissioners kindly supply a checklist)*.

Often, the policy request is different to that which an organisation has, so a bid may ask for one policy that covers ‘a,b,c’ and the organisation may have this as three separate policies. In the early days of my bid writing career, I would dutifully oblige, making policy adjustments accordingly.  The problem with this, is the next bid may ask for three separate policies! So this is not a viable foundation upon which to make business decisions.

Indeed, I remember almost ten years ago, one of my doctoral research collaborators (interviewees) warned of the danger of “chasing funding bids” in the form of totally galvanizing the whole organisational approach!  I concur and nowadays, I am more inclined to clearly convey in the submission, that the organisation has the information and does what is required and that it is constructed in a different way to what is requested.

In any case, outside of the opportunities for contractual commissioning and/or additional funding, when taken as a frame of reference, the requests of the tender or bid offers a useful strategic planning tool, in the following five ways:

  1. Providing a snapshot outlining current challenges, significant regulatory requirements and a way of self-assessing the organisation and identifying gaps and development areas.
  2. Providing a ‘sneak peak’ at expected forthcoming strategic considerations, concepts and development areas, to be integrated into organisational policy and practice.
  3. Outlining how legislation may be translated into practice – demystifying some of the reams of text presented elsewhere (and the financial costs of attending events intending to do the same).
  4. Encouraging organisations to revisit their brand, their values, their ethos and how these are pitched and to re-energise commitment to the service offering. By using the tender/bid method statements, organisations are able to consider the service from other perspectives, perhaps shifting from inward-looking, including that of people who use services.
  5. Develop new service offerings and projects.  Sometimes, leaders sit with ideas, or they are bandied around in meetings but do not materialise.  The idea of a pot of funding, or to be competitive in a tender submission and having to consider who and how, re: project management and the finer details and required capacity, can be the push that is needed to birth a concept that can really enhance the organisation.

So, there it is………

Five ways that bid and tender writing can be beneficial and I could have continued!

There is a statement often used in bid writing, which relates to no bid ever being a waste of time, whether or not it is successful.  The potential for purposeful reflection is priceless and if you commission an experienced and professional bid writer, you benefit from strategic consultancy, as an inherent part of the process. What’s not to love?

*Checklists may not cover EVERYTHING, always, always, always double check that you have all that you need to fulfil the bid or tender criteria.

 

 

 

Funding bid MAGIC – ALWAYS a collaborative endeavour

Document, Paper, Business, Chart, GraphI am often approached to help people with their funding bids. Usually, this is a charity or a voluntary group that does not have the money to pay for the help that they so desperately need.  Sometimes, it is an organisation that does not have the time to undertake the task they so desperately need to be invested in.  More often than not, the premise for approaching me is a combination of both.

Whether undertaken pro-bono or paid, there is one common misconception that I encounter.  Desperate commissioners will want to pass the baton to me, to ‘take care of things’, without considering that writing funding bids cannot be done in a silo.

Sometimes, people will say, “how much will it cost for you to do it all for us?” and what they mean is ALL.  As in, everything as a fully sub-contracted role.  I am happy to oblige but it is important to establish common ground about what ‘everything’ entails.

Now, there is a lot that I CAN do and most definitely, I can ease the pressure for organisations.  I can definitely bring expertise, strategic insight, advice, guidance, a range of systems to approach the task.  I can also bring calm to what can sometimes be a highly stressful process.  It goes without saying, that I bring my skills as a professional writer (it always amuses me that we refer to bid writing, when the writing is actually a smaller part of the process, than the organisation skills it requires – any writers out there thinking of bid writing – be prepared!).

Unless I know the organisational strategy, the ethos, the values, have a sense of the history, preferably some case studies, feedback from previous projects, typical budgetary projections, access to policies, account information, impact statistics…the list goes on…I am left without the ingredients I need to bake the ‘winning cake’.

There is no real ‘magic’ in bid writing, whether for statutory tenders, or independent or governmental funding streams, so no amount of ‘special ingredient’ from me, can replace the bridge that working in collaboration provides.

Even if you commission me to “do everything”, that ‘everything’ is dependent upon you. As a policy writer, researcher and stakeholder consultant, I can help you to develop aspects that are missing but to make it work and to compile the bid to time frames, you must be fully on board, especially with the first bid.

Are you really ready?  If so, give me a call.

 

 

 

What Milan taught me….

City Centre, Street, Milan, Italy, MilanMany years ago, I was scheduled to give my first ‘talk’ in another country.  Of course, I was full up of both excitement and apprehension and couldn’t wait for the experience to unfold.

I say ‘talk’…it was an academic conference, so its not the same as other speaking engagements, as its usually based upon research that you have conducted, is much less of a free-flow and there is an inherent expectation that there is a fully referenced theoretical underpinning.

My ‘gig’ was actually a workshop, related to professional identity and personal story and was at the very early stages of conceptualising chameleonism – way before it became a business idea.  As an aside, this has been a process that I have valued, as all too often academic concepts, studies, etc, remain ‘up there’ and are not made ‘live’…consultachameleon embodies an academic concept ‘becoming’ reality.  I’ll be writing more about that in future blogs.

Anyway…

As it was my first engagement abroad, I wanted to make sure I didn’t wobble – believe me, presenting to professors and academic leaders, doctors, etc, is not for the faint-hearted!  If ever there is a time for ‘imposter syndrome’ to strike, this was it.

So, to add reassurance, I carefully constructed a powerpoint and was good to go.  I had two USB fobs, just in case and I had read it back to front on the aeroplane and in the hotel room.

The venue was a beautifully rustic community building, with a courtyard, a large room, with many smaller rooms for us speakers to ‘do our thing’.

It came to my time and I strolled into the room, adjusting my new red jacket (afterall, I was in Milan) and allowed my eyes to sweep the room. Gulp! There was no screen….there was no computer…there was no powerpoint facility!

I had to swallow my rising panic, making my throat dry.  No powerpoint started to sink in and I realised that my chameleonic resilience was needed.

The funny thing is, I had for years resisted powerpoint.  I didn’t take to it…I thought its was a distraction and was (and still am), part of the anti-reading-the-slides brigade.  Around 2003, I gave in to the lure, mainly because it was a useful tool for saving and then digitally sharing all my wonderful nuggets of wisdom…

By the time Milan happened, I was already a convert, so had to very quickly undo my powerpoint habit.  Thank goodness for my reflexive capacity…as I (to this day, I feel ‘just about’) pulled it off.  For the record, if this had been a talk in England, I may have used humour a bit more to relieve the tension…but in these European Academic Conferences, there is much less of those type of shenanigans!

You may be wondering if the lesson I learned was to check that a powerpoint facility was available.  No…that was definitely on my preparation list and I had been assured it would be there….waiting for me…

What I learned in Milan was much more powerful and has helped me through many situations since.  Like when I show up to lead a seminar with twenty students and show up to find three groups hoping I can work with them (it happens, we are human, people get sick…).  Like in Spain, when I had to pronounce conscientização (from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed) in a talk with a group made up of many Portugese scholars (I only speak one language – note to self to change that ‘one day’).

I learned to always expect whatever.  To not cling too tightly to one idea, approach, scenario, etc and to take a few deep breaths and dive into the situation as it is, rather than what I had predetermined.

Thank you Milan.  You did your job very well, indeed.

For more about me, jump over here.

 

Why ‘white label’ works for me

white label-3150732__340In a busy (noisy!) market-place, the absence of people vying for centre-stage is appealing. It may seem strange, given that the Chameleon (and me) is all about growing colours (aka being who you are) BUT as enablers, we do not need to be the ones ‘on show’.

Providing ‘white label’ services is actually the epitome of the chameleonic paradigm – the chameleon reflects colours, it does not impose them.

At consultachameleon, we can work behind the scenes to help you to develop YOUR content, YOUR materials, YOUR programmes and we promise to leave our brand out of it.

Of course, high quality speaks for itself and most of us are happy to recommend a great service, so if you believe that ‘sharing is caring’, we always appreciate new connections.

In fact, that’s how we prefer to ‘do’ business, afterall nothing articulates a job well done, than good old word of mouth. Check out our testimonials here.

Take a browse of the many (many) services we offer – white label or otherwise.  There’s sure to be something of interest for entrepreneurs and socially focused businesses.

 

Is ‘passing’ a thing of the past?

passingAre the days of ‘passing’ a thing of the past?

“We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.” (Emerson, 1841)

 

This article was written to celebrate ‘Black History Month’ and as such, I felt torn by the expectation of writing from a positive position and the compulsion to write about something that is real and feeling unsure, as the words fell onto the page, as to whether this article would be celebratory or positive at all.  Logically, I want to proclaim how great things are and how much has changed for us as black women in business, yet perhaps I am unsure whether ‘things’ have changed, or whether it is US who have changed.  For that reason, I found myself writing the word ‘perhaps’, both as a reflective endeavour but also by way of inviting the reader to also engage in the inquiry. There is no denying our growth and consequently there is now a plethora of female, black role models, to inform a broad frame of reference, yet it is perhaps inevitable that there have been casualties along the way.  Perhaps though, we can now relax and be who we are, without the pressure of being ‘strong’, of being ‘superwomen’, of sacrificing parts of ourSELVES, to be so-called successful in business?  Perhaps also, we can release the grip of ownership and competition and have a quiet confidence in the fact that there is room for us all.  Perhaps.

2We have a collective history and we each also have our individual stories.  Stories of rejection, marginalisation, invisibilisation and isolation, of inner and outer conflict and defence, of maltreatment and abuse, of sacrifice and of blood, sweat and tears.   As we celebrate our success, we wear our experiences as badges of honour, collected along the way as we walked the path, some even creating new paths and new generic milestones to celebrate and aspire to.  Few of us have travelled a smooth journey and this instigates a precious independence in us.  As black women in business, we can stand together in solidarity and we can also tear each other down, both consciously and unconsciously.

I recall once, being told that my achievements in academia were related to my skin tone – that I had been afforded a ‘fast pass’ access that a darker-hued woman would not be given.  I also remember a separate occasion, where I was told that I would be chosen in a job interview setting, not due to my own merit but because my so-called ‘fair’ skin tone would earn me the position.  On both occasions, I remember feeling hurt and offended; that my hard-earned achievements were being unfairly translated into fruits of favour and privilege.  Over the years, I have managed to balance feeling that my efforts are being wrongfully dismissed and belittled, with a deeper understanding of the contributory societal and historical context.

mixedIn my own entrepreneurial journey, I chose to go against well-meaning advice and base my business on the notion of chameleonism, a concept I first started writing about in 2010, which is borne from my mixed-race identity and the subsequent resilience and flexibility that necessitated my survival.  Central to my business, is a transient brand-identity, which many told me was a bad business decision but which felt perfectly natural to me, even though I knew, having studied brand management as part of my first degree in Advertising, Media and Marketing, that they were right! In many academic studies, ‘the chameleon effect’ refers to mimicry and ‘behaviour matching’, although it is also recognised as having social value.  For some, its uncertainty raises some anxiety, particularly in relation to professional identity, with one of my ‘embrace the chameleon’ workshop attendees, stating that they did not want to be ‘professionally naked’ and that “to be chameleon, is to risk being invisible”.

This leads me to the theme of this article, that of ‘passing’ or ‘passé’. One author, Marcia Dawkins, proclaims that racial passing “suggests secrecy and complicates a politics of visibility”, interestingly, Dawkins titled her book, published in 2012, ‘clearly invisible’.  Dawkins refers to the popularity of passé in literature and media and the common association that ‘mixed-race’ equals confusion, which is a perception I have defended against for as long as I can remember.

mixed girlI can see the temptation for people to ‘pass’, having experienced continually being asked how I ‘see myself’ (i.e.: as black or white), as though I had a choice. I have previously written about mixed-race parentage being a creative embodiment in itself, paradoxically straddling two or more racial identities, which for me is what led to my ‘chameleonic perspective’.  When asked ‘how I saw myself’, I sensed that this was not out of interest in me but to serve the purpose of other people’s anticipated communication and relationship with me, which aligns with an historical perspective, shared by Emerson in 1841 that, “A man must consider what a blindman’s-buff is this game of conformity.  If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument”.  In relation to ‘passing’, there is no doubt a sense of being an ‘outsider on the inside’, which could be a powerful position to be in, especially in the context of business.  In relation to racial passing, Dawkins poignantly comments that, “To take the analogy of passing and airbrushing a step further, we can say that passing is all about who has the airbrush and who has the latest version of photoshop!”

I have written in a previous article, about the massive shift in power dynamic and the rise (and rise and RISE) of black women in business, especially in entrepreneurial spaces.  The power fuelling the new order is palpable and one could claim that we are very firmly holding the airbrush and that we indeed do have the latest version of photoshop.

Rachel D passingThis was evident in more recent years, with the ‘incident’ involving Rachel Dolozal, who caused outrage (and perhaps also incited some humour) in 2015, as she allegedly misrepresented herself as black, sparking global conversation about racial ‘passing’.  Of course, as a ‘black woman’, Dolozal led an organisation that she likely would not have, had she not been passing.  Indeed, in this instance, it could be said that this was less a case of ‘passing’ and more one of manufacture, which would imply much more effort on the part of the individual. This example, unusual in that it was white-to-black, could symbolise a move towards there no longer being a need for ‘passing’ from black-to-white, whether intentional or otherwise.  It is not a new thing for black women to be appropriated in some respects but not necessarily in relation to professional life.  In any case, this type of ‘passing’ is not just about “mere disguise”, as Dawkins highlights, it is “about rhetoric – the symbolic social construction and reconstruction of identity within particular situational constraints and social networks”.

Traditionally, ‘passing’ was motivated by need, rather than desire, sometimes a need to survive or safeguard self or others.  It seems that a related matter is that of assimilation, not ‘passing’ per sé but an adoption of certain characteristics, as highlighted in a previous article, where I recalled a CEO, who I interviewed for my doctoral studies, becoming aware of her voice lowering several octaves, whilst in male-dominated management meetings.  She had felt the need to somehow become ‘more male’, to fit in, to be accepted and perhaps most importantly, to be heard.  Clearly, this is not ‘passing’, she presented as a woman and there was no misunderstanding of that but one could argue that ‘assimilation’ and ‘passing’ do share some common tenets.

grey blackIs ‘passing’ a thing of the past? Is it now redundant in its function? Perhaps. If not, is that a social disorder, or a personal dysfunction? Perhaps we are moving closer to the notion of ‘womanity’, as coined by Alice Walker, whereby we are able to express the facets of ourselves, racially and culturally as women, in a cohesive and harmonious way. Perhaps this is the ‘something’ to celebrate right now.

NB: this is an article for a forthcoming edition of ‘Highly Fabulous Women’ but it was felt that there is a need for it to be ‘aired’ now. 

Thank you Dr. Patricia Benjamin, for your support and understanding.

Genuity and Personal Branding. Do they co-exist?

imageI have been interested in brands since the early 90’s, when I studied my first degree in Advertising, Media and Marketing. I remember writing about the importance of brand consistency and use of strap lines, using the examples of NIKE ‘just do it’ and Cadburys Caramel, where one should ‘take it easy’.

More recently, I have focused upon personal branding and in particular, the use of Story.  I have engaged in many discussions, both on and off line, about personal branding and I have not as yet been able to reach a comfortable conclusion.

For entrepreneurs and business owners working in the ‘helping’ professions (coaching, mentoring, therapy, training), personal branding is perhaps inevitable.  The old adage that people buy from people they like is central in this instance, especially if what is being bought are the personal skills of the business owner.  How can one not engage in personal branding, when people are engaging and investing predominantly in the person?image

In fact, sometimes people convince themselves that personal branding doesn’t matter, that it’s all about the business brand and that the two are separate. I’ve heard some compelling arguments for this and yet I still am not convinced.  A business that is borne from an individual, that they have given ‘birth’ to, will invariably carry the traits of it’s parent.  Some of this may be conscious and some may be unconscious; in much the same way that we have a nature/nurture dynamic in human beings, so too in our ‘brand-child’.  As such, I struggle to let go of the notion that personal branding is synonymous, when it comes to entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Much of the discussion about personal branding seems to centre upon the tenet of congruency and whether a person is or should be telling ‘the whole-true-self and nothing-but-the-whole-true-self’, which has been further coloured by the popularity of ‘authenticity’ in business nowadays. I’ll admit that I am a bit of a truth seeker and can ‘sniff out’ what is meant in a message, hidden behind a glitzy bit of ‘good’ copy.  In fact, it’s a bit of a bug bear of mine. If I believe that someone is being disingenuous in their presentation, in the quest for client procurement, inside I am saying “No, no, no, no, NO!”.image

I don’t think people mean to do it. They are selling a ‘lifestyle’, they may even have been coached to…..and after all, it is no different to the big brands on television is it….?…..encouraging us, through their advertisements to buy this, achieve that, be like them.  In those instances, however, the illustration is depicted by an actor….or endorsed by someone, usually a celebrity, with the desirable qualities.  This is where for me, the personal/professional interplay is illuminated. IF said celebrity engages in anything that betrays the desirable qualities, this is a risk to the brand.  Often, said celebrity is eliminated from any association with the brand.  Haven’t we seen this many times?

So, there are some obvious faux pas activities that perhaps we would all agree upon as being brand-detrimental but what about the more subtle acts of disingenuity?  The acts that lead to a perception which may secure clients who may not have been secured if the truth had been portrayed.  So, let me break it down:

1) Pictures in the smart new car (or showing off anything) and implying that the entrepreneurial lifestyle led to its purchase, when in fact it was bought on credit.

2) Images of serene places where the ‘laptop lifestyle’ takes place but it was just one random day, not an ongoing experience (and implying that it is).

3) Offering ‘discounts’ when you have NEVER sold same product or service at full price (and probably never will).

4) Referring to ‘clients’ who have not actually ever paid you a penny (they are not your clients).

5) Presenting a lifestyle at a moment in time, then revisiting at a later date (when clients have been secured) and saying ‘hands up guys, it wasn’t quite like that, let me now tell you how it really was’.  Ok, so this may become part of YOUR success story but what of the people who believed what was presented at the time?

These are five examples that I can think of – if I thunk hard enough, I’m sure there would be more! The big question is, does it really matter? Do we really care? Am I being too nit-picky?  After all, no one is lying, are they? It’s no different to what they do in commercial branding, is it?

imageIn commercial branding, we are not expecting to see the behind the scenes drama, are we? We WANT to see the good stuff.  We don’t want to see the blood, sweat and tears that go into the products, do we? We want to see the glamour, to be taken to a place where anything is possible, don’t we? Even when we know that reality has been sprinkled with some magic dust, even when we are established cynics, we know the game and we (somewhat) happily play along…….don’t we?

I am not sure that I am any closer to a resolution here, almost 1,000 words later (one of my longer blogs).  However, I do feel better, having got a few things off my chest and onto paper….so that next time a ‘branding’ debate takes place, my opinions are clear, even if my position is not.

Until next time.

🙂