Thinking of Going Freelance? Before Leaving Your Job, Follow These 8 Steps

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Thinking of Going Freelance? Before Leaving Your Job, Follow These 8 Steps

I remember when I accidentally became a freelancer. It wasn't planned. Something happened at the website design company I worked at and, suddenly, it meant that I and 20 of my colleagues were inadvertently no longer employed.  

My strategy was to try it all – get freelance work, do contracting, get another job.

Strangely the freelancer approach seemed to be the most secure – I was in charge of my own destiny. I could go out there and meet people, tell them what I could do and hope to be hired. The first six months were certainly hit and miss – I didn't know how I would match my previous salary and make my mortgage payments!

But slowly I learned all about networking, new business development and concisely explaining what I do. Imagine if I had had the foresight to learn this and set this up before I lost the security of a paycheck? 

If I knew then what I know now. 

So, you've got a certain skill – whether it's consulting on the topic you're an expert on, writing copy, graphic design or cake making – and you want to go out on your own and earn a living from doing what you love (hopefully). You'll need to convince customers you're a safe bet and get them buying these services or products.

It takes time to build up a customer base and lead them to a close. It takes longer when you don't have a portfolio or track record. Before you take the big leap into the freelance world, there are several things you can do to prepare – and it's safer to do so when you are still getting your normal salary for your job!

Note: I don't recommend that you use your working hours to do this prep; it's got to be done on your own time. And in a way, the double shifts you need to do to get everything in order gives you some semblance of what life is like as a freelancer and business owner. 

Here are eight steps to help you prepare for your freelance career. 

1. Hone your personal bio and brand. It seems obvious but it's still important to consider. In your freelance business, what will you name yourself? Will it be your own name or a brand name? What will your tagline be and how can you make that clear? How do you define your personal brand? What's your "I do what for who" sentence? Getting this right means when you introduce yourself in the future, you can tell people clearly these basic things. When people are given this clear basic information in a simple sentence, they are more likely to ask questions and start to consider if they or someone else needs your services.

2. Build up your LinkedIn skills. Even though LinkedIn is widely respected as the professional social network, so few people even do the basics, which includes a proper summary written in the first person and a good professional photo. Some people are cautious about updating their profile in a very obvious way – they don't want to raise suspicion from their employer. But there are still things you can and should do – explaining in full sentences what you achieved and learned at each of your previous roles (if done well, this tells the story of your career and helps people understand how you got to where you are), and connecting with the people who you've met or corresponded with so you can reach 500 or more connections. Even recommending others on LinkedIn will serve you well in future when you need to reach out to your contacts and tell them about your new freelance business.

3. Determine your social media strategy. You may or may not already be active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. But when you are running your own business, there are different behaviors to adopt. You could possibly harness your usernames and set up professional channels. You can preselect images and prewrite captions (ensuring the images are high quality and well designed) with clear typography. You'll need to plan your content and create a good rhythm, decide whom to follow and devise strategies on how to connect with them, and create effective articles/tips/images and share these. Before you quit your job, read up on this beginner's guide to social media, download e-books, watch YouTube videos, start doing setup and content creation.

4. Devise a system for money in, money out. Unless you're planning to be a freelance bookkeeper/accountant, chances are the financial part of running a freelance business will be new to you. You'll need to work out a system for recording outgoing expenses, raising invoices and tracking your income growth. You'll also need to work out what your initial overhead will be and how you will make sure you cover it. And you can interview three or four different accountants to see who would be the best fit for you – the accountant for your freelance business should ideally be a trusted adviser, and many accountants enjoy working with startups and freelancers.

5. Network. Yes, it's a skill, and I am lucky it's something I enjoy. But I did have to learn all the different nuances – how to introduce myself, what to listen for, how to follow up. There are many options in the business networking world – I like to mix it up. Breakfast events where you get to do an intro speech for 60 seconds about your business mean everyone in the room can hear what you do and vice versa – meaning you can really focus on who you want to meet. Open networking events are similar to parties but for business, while learning events usually have a speaker or a workshop – and you can mingle after and/or before. In the freelance world, the No. 1 way you gain new clients will be because you met someone who liked and trusted you enough, or you were referred by someone. So getting some networking events under your belt even when you're still employed means you have a head start and some new contacts to connect and follow up with on LinkedIn.

6. Develop your "productizing" and pricing strategy. Whatever you do in your business, sooner or later you'll need to learn the art and science of pricing and how to package your services into products. This is something I probably took far too long to learn, and I still continue to tweak and adjust how I present the products my business sells (even though they're services, it's helpful to consider them as products so you can list exactly what's included and how to communicate their value). The first iteration is never the final one, but working on this while still employed will help clarify things in your mind. Further, you can get feedback from your wider network to refine these products so when you do launch, you are more ready to confidently market to your audience.

7. Balance realism with optimism. I have seen talented and likable people start freelance businesses and then get cold feet and go back into the safe (but unfulfilling) world of the corporate job when they could have made it work if they had only given themselves more time to prep. The reality is that it usually takes longer than you think to make the money you need, and to match or exceed your previous salary, plus you need to be consistently motivated to put the work in. You'll need to form good discipline and working habits – how will you do all you need to develop the business, find your clients, write articles, product sheets, and proposals even if at first you're working from home? Considering these and even following these habits on a weekend/days off from work will allow you to test out your working habits and stress test the risk of lack of self-believe/lack of motivation. If you can clear those cobwebs out of the way before you quit your job, you'll have an advantage.

8. Conceptualize your ideal client. While this is something that will evolve as you gain experience in your freelance business, it's worth writing up all the characteristics of your ideal client. Make sure you include the demographic information (for example, with B2B businesses, it would be industry, location, growth stage and business size), but also the attitude and personality you want your customers to have. Writing up this wish list will make it easier to spot those potential clients when you meet them and if you share your wishes with friends and contacts, they can look out for those people for you.   

Some of these things (No. 1 and 8 in particular) require sitting down for a couple of hours and brainstorming, then talking about this to friends and contacts in your normal interactions (those who are able to keep a secret, of course) to gauge how easy it is for people to understand what you'll be doing, and, from there, refining your message.

Other steps are simple to incorporate into your normal working week, and some require more study time. Regardless, getting your head fully wrapped around these new habits will certainly set you up for a successful start in your new business. Good luck, and see you on the other side!

Social Media Marketing for the Holidays

Social media is perfect place to promote your business during the holidays. People are looking on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter for gift ideas and great deals. With the right social media marketing strategy, you can boost holiday sales, engage with potential customers and spread holiday cheer. 

We talked to social media experts about how businesses can use social media to boost sales this holiday season. Here are four tips. 

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1. Use Twitter polls to identify customer pain points.

Social media platforms are constantly updating and adding helpful features. From Instagram questions to Twitter polls, there are a range of ways to easily engage and connect with your followers online. 

Chelsea McDonald, senior social media strategist at DEG Digital, recommends using those features to identify pain points and then provide a solution. 

"Another great tool to use is Twitter Polls," she said. "If you can identify a problem your customers are facing and solve it for them, you will create customers for life." 

Twitter can boost sales by monitoring the competition and certain keywords as well. 

"We have a designated keyword stream on Hootsuite set up primarily to Twitter-butt into conversations when appropriate and let folks know that we have the products or blog posts they may be interested in," said Jason Myers, senior account executive at The Content Factory.

"It's a tad more aggressive than we usually operate, but all's fair in love and holiday shopping." [Interested in finding the right social media management and monitoring tools for your small business? Check out our top picks.]

2. Use Facebook Live, create events and run giveaways.

McDonald suggests hosting Facebook Live videos to give your followers the scoop on your deals for the holidays, what new products you have or what services you're offering. Along with Facebook Live, you should also use Facebook's events feature. 

"Create Facebook Events for any in-store events you might be hosting during the season," McDonald added. "The sooner you get these out the better, and as people begin indicating interest or attendance, more people will become aware of the event and see it in their feeds." 

Once you've hosted a live video or created an event, be sure to continue to post all your promotions on your social accounts.  "Post regularly to increase stay top-of-mind, and if you have a paid social budget, be sure to reassess your strategy for holiday," she said.  

Another great way to engage and connect with your followers is with a giveaway contest. "People can use a little help this time of year and the chance to win a big gift that someone on their wish list may appreciate is a very attractive prospect," said Myers. "For the cost of one prize and some shipping, you can also work up a frenzy among your followers as they comment and enter for their chance to win."

3. Use Instagram stories.

Introduced in 2016, Instagram Stories quickly became a popular social media tools and marketers need to take advantage of this feature this time of year.

"Stories have nearly taken over the Instagram platform with their temporary availability and features that allow for product-feed integration and swipe-up to shop, simplifying the purchase experience for users," said McDonald. "And don't forget about Highlights. Your temporary content can be saved to Highlights on your profile for the duration of the holiday season and removed come January." 

While focusing on Instagram stories doesn't mean you should forget about posting regular picture, it does allow you to supplement your content and post more frequently, McDonald suggests.

4. Engage with followers and get creative.

While you use social media to market your business, your followers use it to have fun and engage with their favorite brands. Eileen McGovern, search coordinator at Efferent Media, suggests being creative on social media such as running a contest, creating a holiday playlist for your business on Spotify or offer holiday tips. 

"Tips for the seasonal holidays or winter season in general make excellent social media posts," McGovern said. "Whether you are discussing holiday safety or decorating tips, the holidays are a great time to give your business a personal appearance and voice. 

When you're creating your company's social media strategy, it's important to keep in mind why customers are on the platform and avoid being too salesy. 

"Maintain some humility and gratitude," said Myers. "Be the type of business customers 'know, like and trust' and have fun with it, after all, if you're not enjoying the process others likely won't either."

The Power of Instagram Influencers (and How to Find the Right Ones)

Gone are the days when traditional celebrities were the exclusive sources of online influence for brands. Today, if you hang around Instagram long enough, you're bound to see brands promoting their products through "regular" people, often known as Instagram influencers.

Instagram has made it easier for brands to tap into "people with influence." Brands can now use influencers to target specific audiences that might only be accessible through Instagram.

Understandably, more brands are lining up to associate with popular social media personas. After all, for each dollar spent on influencer marketing, marketers see an average of $7.65 in earned media value returned. Plus, according to Forbes, influencer marketing is growing faster than digital ads.

While those stats speak for themselves, that still leaves us with two main questions: Why are influencers so powerful, and how do we find the right ones?

Instagram influencers are usually people who have a passion and aren't afraid to tell the world about it. By putting their passion on Instagram, they're able to shape and influence the opinions of their audience through blog posts, videos, pictures and so on.

Since modern consumers rely more on influencers' recommendations than on traditional forms of advertising, it makes good sense to find people who your prospects follow and trust, to create an audience around your brand.

In this post, we'll discuss how working with Instagram influencers can help your business see long-term returns and how to find the right influencers for your brand.

Who are Instagram influencers?

Basically, influencers on Instagram are power users who can help your potential customers make a buying decision. People usually see these people as trendsetters, experts in their niche or trusted sources of information.

The total number of followers a user must have to qualify as an Instagram influencer is subjective. It all boils down to their niche and the level of engagement (likes, comments, shares and views) they receive on their Instagram page. A brand would rather have an influencer with 5,000 engaged followers than one with 100,000 followers and little to no engagement.

Instagram influencers can be found in almost any industry or niche. They focus on food and cuisine, travel, fitness and health, sports, fashion and entertainment, business, and other popular categories. Some great examples from food and cuisine are Jamie Oliver, a popular British chef, and Kevin Curry from Fit Men Cook. In fashion and style, we have Nicolette Mason, who works with Gabi Gregg on the plus-size line Premme, and Mariano Di Vaio, a stylish Italian blogger.

 

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Why your business needs an Instagram influencer marketing strategy

As we all know, Instagram is great for sharing photos and videos with our friends and family, but it's also become a powerhouse for influencers. In fact, it is the highest-performing platform for influencer marketing, beating out other social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. With an average 3.21 engagement rate (as opposed to 1.5 percent across all social platforms), Instagram is undoubtedly the king of influencer marketing.

What's more, a recent study revealed that Instagram influencers in the U.S. earned $1.07 billion in 2017. This is projected to more than double to $2.38 billion in 2019. Also, keep in mind that Instagram boasts over 1 billion monthly active users. Enough said.

All things considered, Instagram eliminates the need for traditional advertising. In doing so, it introduces you to a new audience through a more trustworthy source – your influencer partner.  

Why are Instagram influencers so powerful?

We've established who influencers are and that your business needs an Instagram influencer marketing strategy. But you may still question why. Why are brands and online marketers so eager to work with influencers? Why do their opinions matter so much?

Instagram influencers are experts at marketing on this visual platform. Using their personal brand, products or a corporate brand, they have managed to build an audience who finds their posts engaging and eagerly consume their content on a daily basis.

These influencers also know how to tell a story, rather than just selling to their audiences. In fact, some influencers have established relationships with their followers with their stories. When an influencer is willing to share your brand's story, their followers will be ready and willing to listen.   

Considering that average people like you and me value influencers' opinions nearly as much as our friends' and families' opinions, it's easy to see why you should use influencers to get the word out about your brand or products.

Here are several reasons why Instagram influencers are so powerful.

1. They can reach your target audience.

Influencers often have a targeted following in the same demographic as your brand. Once you partner with the right influencer, you can gain access to a new audience that is otherwise difficult to reach. Some Instagram influencers have already built and established trust with the audience you're probably looking for, who are likely to be interested in your content.

2. They generate sales.

Why do you think so many brands are hopping on the influencer marketing bandwagon? It's because influencers generate sales, from the moment they talk about your brand, product or service. Depending on the engagement rates of the influencer and the length of the campaign, you can start seeing upward spikes in sales almost immediately or over a few weeks. According to a study on Adweek, brands on average make $6.50 for every dollar spent on influencer marketing, with the top 13 percent earning $20 for every dollar spent.

3. They establish trust.

As mentioned above, consumers are more likely to trust the opinions of their peers than traditional advertising. In fact, 92 percent of people trust recommendations from individuals over brands. So, it's a no-brainer to partner with an influencer to communicate your brand message to your target audience.

4. They can drive traffic and convert leads.

It's super important to drive traffic to your website, online store or social media channels. Why? Because you want to create a profitable business. Collaborating with influencers on Instagram can drive more traffic to your platforms, which could lead to more paying customers. From the moment a potential customer sees your product on an influencer's page, they become more curious about the product and want to learn more, then possibly make a purchase.

5. They know their audience.

When you decide to partner with an Instagram influencer who knows their followers, you can understand the type of audience you will reach. Whether it's fashion-driven teens, stay-at-home moms or business-minded folks, you can gain insights into the influencer's following and how to engage with them. 

6. They are strong communicators.

Instagram influencers thrive in the digital space. As they've built their audiences, they've developed strong digital communication skills. They know how to communicate your brand's vision and message in a way their audience will engage and connect with.

Now that you know why you should be working with Instagram influencers, let's discuss how to find the right ones.

How to find the right Instagram influencers

Finding the right influencers for your brand can be a challenge. The trick is to start looking among your fans. Who knows? You might find influencers who are already familiar with your brand and actually love it. Remember, the type of influencer you're looking for depends on the goals of your campaign.

Here's how to find the right Instagram influencer for your brand.

1. Research relevant influencers.

There are many different influencers on the market with different personalities and attributes. Therefore, it's important to know the exact type of influencer you are searching for.

A quick and easy way to find a list of influencers is to go straight over to Instagram and search relevant hashtags associated with your brand. Not all hashtags are created equal, so I recommend starting with ones that have a high post volume. I use a hashtag generator to find the top posted hashtags and from there will start searching the most popular posts on Instagram to find influencers who have high engagement for those posts.

You can always rely on Google as well. Just type "[your niche] influencers on Instagram" into the search bar (for example, "fashion influencers on Instagram," "top food influencers on Instagram" or "best travel influencers on Instagram").

Create a list of 10 candidates, then use the following steps to narrow it down even further.

2. Check their Instagram engagement.

Once you've found an influencer you're interested in, don't reach out just yet. Instead, search their names or usernames on Instagram. Ask yourself these questions:

Do they just repost what other people are saying? Or do they actually provide real, individual thoughts and engage with their followers? Do they post regularly? Do their fans interact with their posts? Does the influencer match your brand? Do they have the ability to create and distribute content?

A high engagement rate means that their followers are paying attention and acting on their content. Ideally, you want to see an engagement rate of 2-3 percent on the influencers' posts. A rate of 4-6 percent is great, while those in the high teens and 20s are considered viral.

3. Reach out.

Now that you've identified the right influencers for your brand, it's time to make contact.

If you like what they're doing, tell them. In a short message, let them know how you came across their page and that you appreciate their work. Don't just rush into the ask. You can reach out by directly messaging them on Instagram. If you don't get an immediate response, give it some time. If they have read your message and still haven't replied after a week or two, they're probably not interested. If the message hasn't been read, they're likely just busy or you ended up in the back of the DM line. In these cases, you'll need to hunt them down through their website, LinkedIn or other avenues. Don't make it all about you. Try to create a natural conversation with the influencer. This shows that you value their opinions and thoughts, not just what you can gain from the partnership. 4. Connect.

As soon as the conversation feels natural, take it a step further. Take the conversation off social to an email setting. Here, you can discuss expectations for the collaboration and work compensation.  

How much does Instagram influencer marketing cost?

There is no set price to work with influencers on Instagram. However, you can estimate what an Instagram post will cost by looking at various factors. According to Adweek, a general rule is to estimate the cost of one post by calculating $100 per 10,000 followers. Considering the different factors, though, your cost could be more or less.

Pricing estimates could increase based on these factors:

Instagram post (video): 40-50 percent more than a single photo Instagram post (slideshow): 30-40 percent more than a single image Instagram Story: Increase of 10-15 percent Instagram Story with swipe up: Depends on sales conversion; may fluctuate between 10 and 20 percent Instagram Story with poll: Same price as an Instagram Story Instagram Story highlight: 15-25 percent more than a single post Link in bio: 5-40 percent more than a single post for a 24-hour link IGTV: 40-50 percent more than a single post

These are some other factors to consider:

Time allotment: A tight turnaround may result in higher fees. Usage rights: Requests to further distribute or amplify or repurpose the content can double or even quadruple the standard rate. Brand affinity: If the influencer doesn't feel like your brand is a good fit, they may charge more or not work with you at all.

Now that you have an idea of the costs, you can start creating your Instagram influencer marketing budget right away.

Influencer marketing on Instagram is an important tool for brands and marketers. It increases brand loyalty, trust, sales and your Instagram following. As this trend continues to grow, it's time to get involved and take your brand to the next level.

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The best salespeople know they’re the best. They take pride in their art form. They separate themselves from the rest of the pack regardless of circumstance. So how do they do it? What’s their secret? Are you one of them?

I’ve spent 16 years in technology sales, with most of that spent in sales leadership at Salesforce and other technology companies. I’ve had the luxury of observing great sales professionals in tech and beyond and have observed that the top performers share some of the same patterns, habits, and characteristics. I’ve distilled them down into five major categories and have begun integrating them into my work life — practicing them, honing them, teaching them. As a result, my teams have finished consistently at or near the top of the leaderboard year in and year out. Here’s what I’ve observed:

The best salespeople own everything. I used to give a speech to new salespeople, earlier in my career, titled the “It’s your fault speech.” It was very raw and full of overconfidence (chalk it up to leadership in your twenties) but the point was simple: Your success depends on you. The sales profession exists within a meritocracy. Statistically, it is not a coincidence that the same people are at the top of the leaderboard year in and year out. Some may think it’s because certain people have it easier, or are given this, or fall into that. We all have our starting points. Regardless, the most significant difference between perennial top performers and everyone else is attitude. Elite salespeople approach their goals with a total ownership mindset. Anything that happens to them, whether or not it was their doing, is controlled by them. It may not be their fault, but it is their responsibility. In the research, psychologists call this the internal locus of control. That’s a fancy way of saying that you think the power lies inside of you instead of externally. And you know what they found? Having an internal locus of control correlates with success at work, higher income, and greater health outcomes.

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This area has been the hardest to coach in my career because it seems to be so deeply rooted in one’s personality. The best way to self-assess is this: Take your current situation — your accounts, your role, your earnings — and ask yourself these questions: How did I get here? Did I build the right relationships? Did I put in the extra work? Did I speak up? Did I blame others for my failures but take credit for my successes?

You must own everything.

The best salespeople are resourceful. MacGyver was a popular show when I was in fifth grade. My friends and I would try to emulate MacGyver by turning a paperclip into a knife or a key or something, but we basically just twisted it around until it broke — we weren’t exactly aspiring engineers. But if you remember watching MacGyver, the premise was that the lead character was put in an impossible situation with few to no tools or weapons or resources, with very little time, and had to get out of the situation using only his wits and whatever he could find in his pocket or laying around near him. MacGyver didn’t stop and complain about how he only had a paper clip to work with, while other people had a blowtorch. He didn’t lament how hard his position was. He simply assessed his strengths and resources and made something happen. Every week, he figured it out. And every week he saved the day.

The best sales people I have seen are like modern day MacGyvers, sans the life and death scenarios. They’re often faced with difficult situations and time pressures, having to negotiate seemingly arbitrary obstacles armed with only their wits and their phones. Elite salespeople almost always figure it out. Resourcefulness is as much a mindset as it is a skill. If you don’t start with the MacGyver mindset, then you will never fully develop the skills associated with being resourceful. As an exercise, seek out or fully embrace the next ridiculous or impossible situation you find yourself in and then put your phone down, close your computer, re-focus, and apply your energy to find multiple alternative routes to your desired destination. Find a colleague and draw it all out on a whiteboard.

Embrace your inner MacGyver.

The best salespeople are experts. Sales is less about selling and more about leading, which requires high levels of confidence, which in turn requires knowledge and experience. This concept can be expressed mathematically as Knowledge + Experience = Confidence to Lead. You can control the first part of the equation; the second comes with time. Gaining industry knowledge and a strong point of view about the products they’re selling should be the top priority for any aspiring salesperson.

Study. Learn. Form an opinion. Expertise leads to confidence, which leads to trust, which leads to sales.

The best salespeople help others. Regardless of where you are in your career, there is someone else you can help. There is something you know about a product, a process, or an industry that someone new or less tenured does not. The best salespeople I have observed regularly pass their knowledge on to less tenured or less experienced sales people with no expectation of anything in return. Coincidentally or maybe ironically, the act itself becomes a catalyst for building confidence within one’s self. And others take notice as well. Shawn Achor, author of Big Potential, found that people who are social support providers at work (“work altruists”) are a whopping 40% more likely to receive a promotion.

The best salespeople move quickly. The best salespeople don’t move recklessly, but they do have a sense of urgency. I’ve often been amazed throughout my career when I’ve encountered salespeople who were slow in getting back to their clients or customers — who delayed in delivering contracts or materials needed to make a decision. Most elite salespeople get things done, to quote Norton in The Shawshank Redemption, “not tomorrow, not after breakfast, now!”

Look at the top salespeople in your own company and see if they possess most if not all of these characteristics. My bet is that they do. And I also bet that they’d be willing to share their strategies with you.

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In November, Prince William joined a discussion on working in high-pressure environments at “This Can Happen,” the UK’s largest annual conference on mental health. Drawing on his experience as an air ambulance pilot, he noted that he had “worked several times on very traumatic jobs involving children” and that one in particular “took me over the edge.” His key to dealing with the incident: talking it through with colleagues. He pointed to the important role that leaders can play in supporting mental health by sharing their own stories — and making it safe for those who work in their organization to be open about their mental health challenges.

We at Accenture agree. We believe — and our research conducted on behalf of “This Can Happen” bears it out — that the number of people affected by such challenges is much greater than suspected or previously reported. For example, two-thirds of the UK workers we surveyed said they have experienced or are currently experiencing mental health challenges or have even had suicidal thoughts or feelings. And the vast majority, nine in 10, said they had been touched by mental health challenges in some way — affected either by their own health or by issues faced by a family member, friend, or colleague.

People are increasingly waking up to the magnitude of this issue and its importance in the world of work. It’s especially critical that people feel they can bring the issue out into the open without fear. But we see that change is slow. Just a quarter of workers said that they had seen any positive change in their workplace’s efforts over the past two years to show that mental health is important for everyone.

This matters not only for the individuals who are struggling but also for the organization. When employers create a culture that supports mental health, workers are more than twice as likely to say they love their job. They are also more likely to plan to stay with their employer for at least the next year.

What can companies actually do to take on this challenge? Research points to three keys.

Signal “it matters.” There’s a lot of concern about “opening up” at work. Many fear that doing so could limit their opportunities, get in the way of promotion, and generally be seen as a sign of weakness.

Senior leaders can make significant inroads in changing this perception by starting the conversation — talking about their own experiences and the company’s desire to actively help. In a study we completed earlier in 2018, just 14% of respondents had heard a senior leader talking about the importance of mental health. Just one in 10 had heard a senior leader talk about being personally affected.

Senior leaders can also ensure that employees at all levels are made aware of the services and support the company offers.

Raising awareness through training. It can be very hard, for both the speaker and the listener, to have a conversation about a mental health problem and then to know what to do next. Training in all forms is essential. Tools that the arsenal should contain include online training classes to help employees recognize signs of stress or mental ill health in themselves and in others, and webinars led by senior leaders.

Our own Mental Health Allies program includes both classroom-based and online training. In the UK alone, we have trained more than 1,700 employees — some 15% of Accenture’s UK workforce — to be “allies”:  colleagues others can approach in the knowledge that their discussion will be kept completely confidential. Each ally first took a short online course and then participated in a half-day classroom-based training session to increase his or her understanding of mental health challenges while building the confidence and skills to address common issues through role playing and scenario training. This training also explores the boundaries between the responsibilities of line managers, who must proactively intervene, having a duty of care to their people, and the role of a mental health ally.

Even small steps toward creating a more accepting and receptive culture can have a significant, positive effect. We found that most people who were able to talk to someone at work about the issues they faced were met with a positive reaction (one of empathy, support, kindness) from the first person they told. These individuals reported decreased levels of stress, decreased feelings of isolation, and increased confidence.

Curate and improve online tools. Most people are prepared to turn to online tools and applications for information and advice about mental health. It makes sense: They are available 24/7 and can be used anonymously. At Accenture UK, all employees have access to “Big White Wall,” a confidential, professionally managed chat environment in which they can remain anonymous.

Even companies with scarce resources to dedicate to these kinds of benefits can offer employees a curated list of the most trusted publicly available sources and provide access to those sources where possible. But it is one thing for an individual to seek support; it’s another for a company to shoulder the responsibility for curating (read: implicitly recommending) those resources to employees. More rigorous independent testing of available digital resources is needed; this would better enable companies and individuals to select those that are best suited to their needs.

The recently launched Mental Health at Work site is one exciting new resource that’s particularly valuable to smaller organizations that may not be able to offer a full range of support in-house. In one place, employers can find advice on everything from how to train line managers in mental health awareness to how to structure a full program of support.

One risk to bear in mind is the chance that an employee may over-rely on a tech resource when more direct and professional treatment is warranted. Business leaders need to ensure that they are also moving forward with in-person training and other initiatives that support mental health. And employees should understand what needs can be met online and when it’s important to get help from a medical professional.

Most employees we surveyed already actively manage their mental health and consider it at least as important as their physical health. Such a positive attitude toward managing mental health suggests that employees, and in particular millennials, are likely to welcome and embrace training and initiatives at work that help them thrive and recognize when they need help.

Much remains to be done. As Prince Williams says: “There’s still a stigma about mental health. We are chipping away at it, but that wall needs to be smashed down.”

As the lead for our mental health program in the UK, I love to run the training sessions for our new allies. As we explore the topic, one by one people tell their stories: a manager who has struggled with depression since his teens, an intern whose classmate at school took his own life, a new graduate living with a friend who has acute anxiety. A new joiner who had been caring for his girlfriend who has anorexia nervosa described being able to open up as an “utter relief” and “life changing.”

When I look around, I see how mental health challenges touch us all in some way at some time in our lives. As employers we have the power to help. To make it easier for people to talk, to help them get the support they need in the way that works for them, and to help them be their best selves at home and at work.

The author thanks Agata Dowbor, Dominic King, Dave Light, and Regina Maruca of Accenture Research for their contributions to this article.

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The festive spirit is everywhere during the holiday season. For some, each day feels like waking up to a holiday song — “children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile.” But, for others, it can be the loneliest and most stressful time of the year. According to a 2015 Healthline survey, 44% of people say that they are stressed during the holidays, with more than 18% reporting that they’re “very stressed.” Almost half the respondents cited finances as the main culprit for their tension, while being over-scheduled, choosing the right gifts, and remaining healthy also contributed to people’s holiday woes.

“The holidays are filled with both joy and stress,” shares Ellen Braaten, PhD, in Harvard Medical School’s blog, On the Brain. Dr. Braaten blames our increased multi-tasking during the holidays as the reason the brain’s prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive. Long-term, this high-level demand on the brain can decrease memory, halt production of new brain cells, and cause existing brain cells to die. On the bright side, seasonal stress is acute, so it can be remedied. But preventing it all together should be the real goal.

Coping with personal stress is already challenging, but when combined with workplace stress, it’s no wonder holiday cheers soon devolve into holiday sneers. The American Psychological Association found that 38% of people say their stress increases during the holidays — only 8% of people say they feel happier. Employees are often contending with shortened deadlines, meeting expectations for the end of the fiscal year, and coping with stressed-out customers, which are just a few of the reasons for their increased anxiety. The resulting costs for employers can be quite significant.

Based on an analysis by Peakon of more than 15,000 employees across the U.S., the UK, the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland) and Germany, 7-10% of people reported reduced productivity for the entire month of December, with 30-40% reporting a fall in productivity by mid-December. Dr. Chris Rowley, Professor Emeritus at the University of London Cass Business School, writes in his article, “Festive Celebrations: Human Resource Impacts and Costs of Christmas,” that nearly one-half of the workforce hits “festive fizzleout” by December 18th, where they spend more time worried about the holidays than about work. Rowley claims that more than two-thirds of workers were less productive throughout December, with nearly one-half admitting that they did 10-20% less work. Reasons for reductions in output included a combination of exhaustion, lack of motivation, and even hangovers. Women tend to be hit the hardest, with nearly twice as many women reporting that they are more stressed about Christmas than men.

Unfortunately, the tools most employers use to improve company culture are backfiring. The annual holiday party is a great example. According to a 2017 survey by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., 80% of companies plan to host a holiday party. However, according to new research from MetLife Employee Benefits, 37% of employees decline to attend the company Christmas party. The most cited reason for not attending was that the holiday parties, which are typically held in the evenings, clash with family duties at home. And, for those who do attend the holiday party, there is a 77% drop in productivity the next day, with more than half of the staff wasting the first four hours of the following day because they’re recovering from the night before — which is slightly better than the 20% who call in sick. And the U.S. isn’t the only country that struggles with this dynamic. For example, the festive fallout from employee stress and lost productivity cost U.K. companies roughly £11 billion in 2016.

So how can managers help combat stress and keep both productivity and spirits up during the holiday season? Here are a just a few ways:

Reach out. Ask your staff how they want to celebrate the holidays at work this year. Poll your team — there are plenty of online tools that make it easy to do a simple survey, such as Survey Monkey or Typeform.

Be inclusive. In an interview I conducted with Ben-Saba Hasan, SVP and Chief Culture Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Walmart Inc., he shared that leaders must recognize the different ways people celebrate the holidays. “As leaders, we need to create an environment where our team members feel comfortable and safe, so that we foster greater awareness among those in the dominant culture for those whose holiday observances look different from their own.”

Mini Khroad, Chief People Officer at Khan Academy, told me in a recent interview: “The holidays should always be an important time at companies. Ensuring that employees have the ability to recognize national or other holidays, at work and in their personal lives, helps to make the workplace enjoyable for everyone.”

Protect personal time. Why not offer one extra day off leading up to the holidays for employees to attend to personal needs like gift shopping, family demands, or down-time to regroup — whatever they need.  One mandatory day off can make all the difference in employee stress levels. These small but much-appreciated gestures increase loyalty and gratitude on your staff and offer long-term payoffs. Why does this matter? Research has proven that grateful staff are more engaged, community-minded, and happier at work.

Rebalance workloads. Competing demands sit at the top of employees’ stress lists. Work and home pressures converge at this time of year, and time seems highly compressed. Plan a review of the workload and see if some project deadlines can be extended into next year. “Periods of high stress such as the holiday season represent an opportunity for managers to treat employees as individuals by understanding and appropriately responding to their specific needs,” says David Almeda, Chief People Officer at Kronos. In a recent interview I had with him, he suggested that “tactics such as rebalancing workload among team members, or allowing atypical works hours for a set period of time, will deliver results, increase employee commitment, and materially decrease employee stress.”

Give time instead of gifts. Research by neuroscientists Dr. Jordan Grafman and Dr. Jorge Moll demonstrates that we are instinctually made to give. When the subjects donated to what they considered worthy organizations, brain scans revealed that parts of the midbrain lit up — the same region that controls cravings for food, and the same region that becomes active when money is added to people’s personal reward accounts. Ben-Saba Hasan connected this thinking back to his team as they bonded over volunteering in their community this season. “I believe one of the best ways to manage stress and care for yourself is when you turn your focus toward caring for others first.”

What is important for employees themselves to remember is this: most holiday-related stressors are self-imposed and preventable. Financial stress can be avoided by purchasing less, overcommitting can be averted by saying no, multitasking brains can be managed with reprioritization, and exclusion can be prevented by reaching out. Start today. Ask someone how they’re doing. Listen with compassion, empathy, and kindness. If needed, offer help.

As we head into the busiest part of the holiday season and stress levels increase, remember:  many of us are feeling this anxiety, and much of it can be made more manageable with the tactics above. Bringing more awareness to the increased pressure your employees are feeling at home and at work during the holiday season can go a long way toward helping to keep both productivity and employees’ spirits up.

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