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ACE Blog

Because the mission of ACE is to foster 'Success through Collaboration', the Membership is resolved to promote internal communication and to enable interchange. One effective means to accomplish these objectives is through Blog activity to broaden the audience for thoughts, activities, and successes. 

This forum enables the members to share expertise and learning regarding topics of interest to the consultant community or to call attention to key work and current activities. However, areas of focus and expertise are better displayed in the Member Directory.

  • December 28, 2020 2:16 PM | Tom Renehan

    Why is it important for the leaders and managers in any organization to use coaching as part of their leadership style? There are a growing number of organizational leaders who recognize the importance of coaching in their companies. They see that effective coaching by leaders at all levels will empower, engage and develop employees. According to a 2016 survey by the Human Capital Institute the business case for a strong coaching culture is higher employee engagement and higher revenues.

    What Will Prohibit a Coaching Culture?

    Many will tell you that they do not have the time to be a coach. The red flag here is your managers are telling you they do not have the time for the people for whom they are responsible. If managers do not have time for employees, they (employees) know and feel it which can lead to a disengaged team. Another reason is the lack of accountability. If the leaders of an organization want a coaching culture they need to:

        Develop the skills themselves.

      Provide professional development for all leaders to learn coaching skills.

      Hold all accountable to use the skills (hint, put it on their personal     development plan).

    In other words, one just cannot say we want a coaching culture and expect it to happen. Finally, some leaders or managers will not be able to add coaching skills to their leadership style. Effective leaders would take appropriate action as their company permits for these non-responding individuals.

    What Are Coaching Skills?

    The International Coaching Federation (ICF) has identified eleven skills to be an effective coach. Some top skills are, establishing trust, asking powerful questions, being open, flexible and confidant and practice active listening.

    For the leaders and associates establishing trust will be the foundation for a solid coach/coachee relationship. Leaders build trust by being honest and supportive, show the team that you genuinely care about them and by being competent. This will promote open communication and constructive feedback for both.

    A leader who is asking powerful questions is helping associates discover their own insights. Asking open ended questions to get the other party to speak and being comfortable with dead air (allow time for responses) are both good practices for effective questioning. Powerful questions are simple but meaningful and should always have a purpose. Michael Bungay Stanier author of The Coaching Habit focuses on seven questions leaders can use to help their teams.

    The Kickstart Question: What’s on your mind?

    The Awe Question: And what else?

    The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here for you?

    The Foundation Question: What do you want?

    The Lazy Question: How can I help?

    The Strategic Question: If you’re saying “yes” to this, to what are you saying “no”?

    The Learning Question: What was most useful for you?

    A leader who is open and flexible is showing employees that their way is not the only way. In other words, these leaders are receptive to other thoughts and ideas and they do not have to have all the answers.

    Great listening skills are essential for a coach! Many of us have learned that active listening is making eye contact, nodding and appropriate responses show you are engaged in the conversation. In addition, great listeners will ask clarifying questions to promote understanding. This will create a deeper conversation and result in the associates feeling that they have been heard.

    Coaching Culture Conclusion.

    Implementing a coaching culture, like any cultural change, will take time. The senior leaders must invest in the employee’s development with the appropriate training. All stakeholders must be held accountable. Senior leaders need to walk the talk and become coaches themselves, all leaders in the organization need to be held accountable to practice the coaching skills they have learned and employees must own the coaching the receive.

    Over time in your organization, you will see that the leaders will understand the difference between coaching, which will empower people to find their way and directing, which will require specific actions.

    Tom Renehan, of Tom Renehan Coaching and Leadership Development, is a Certified Professional Coach working with individuals and groups to improve their leadership skills. He is also certified in Leadership Effectiveness 360, an assessment that measures 22 leadership behaviors. He can be reached at  He is based in Yarmouth, Maine.

  • December 14, 2020 11:46 AM | Francis Eberle

    What’s happened to creativity?

    A client asked me, “Our team has settled into the routine using video for meetings, although everyone seems to be either tired or a little irritable. They are productive, but what can I do to get their creativity back?”

    Productivity is good, isn’t it? Some studies have shown that video meetings can be more productive than face-to-face meetings.  Virtual work skills – managing media-based interactions, establishing communication norms, building social rapport, and demonstrating cooperation – enhance trust within teams and increase performance.

    Where’s the disconnect?   Work gets done, but the team lacks energy or creativity. Team members are not engaged.

    The root of the problem.

    Two factors are at play.  First, the human connection is missing.  Video meetings jump right into the task without socializing. There are no greetings, chit chat, physical taps to say “Hi,” or side conversations before and after the meetings.  There’s sensory deprivation:  no smell of coffee, perfume or even body odor.
    Second, the physical environment never changes.  Those quirky human interactions, and “time away” from our work areas create mental space to clear the mind.  Creativity jumps into that space.

    Productivity isn’t everything.

    Creativity is important.  Today’s challenges are both complicated and complex.  Technical challenges are complicated, but their solutions are linear.  Complex challenges are multidimensional; they are messy, unstable, unpredictable, and ill-defined. They require strategic and innovative thinking, and the solutions cannot be found in a straight line, requiring multiple people or organizations.   They require creativity.

    Connected leadership is a term I use to describe sharing and engaging others as leaders.  Connected leadership facilitates innovation, creativity, and develops new interactions and wide-ranging ideas.  Diverse teams are better teams.  As a leader knowing when to step up and when to step back and let others lead begins to allow for more thinking from others. 

    Several recent studies by Google3, ADP, and Gallup have found that when people in teams are engaged, they are more productive, more creative, and happier.

    Hacks to promote creativity and engagement.

    Thinking differently builds resilience, flexibility, learn and be creative; these are all good for business.  These skills of the future can be developed.  

    Preparing agendas for different types of interaction requires different planning. Mix up meetings so not all have the same level or kind of interaction. Interactive meetings are more inclusive and engaging for all members of a team.  And that encourages creativity.

    Here are some things you can do to promote creativity on your team in video meetings. 

    1.      Simplify the Number of Digital Tools. Stick with one or two platforms to minimize glitches.   Learn them well.   Resist the allure of new technology; your team members will thank you if they do not have to learn a new platform every few months. 

    2.      Individual AND Group Brainstorming.  Group brainstorming is over-rated.  Individuals can be more effective than groups in generating new idea, if you give them time to think. Have your team members brainstorm individually before a meeting and bring their ideas to the meeting.  Start with the full list of ideas, brainstorm some more, then prioritize them.  Seek contribution from all of the members of the team.

    3.      Create Opportunities to Connect.  Remember you are working with humans, and humans need to connect. Design a variety of groupings, breakouts, of people.  Let them be together for enough time to express their ideas and to chat.  Bring them back, discuss the ideas.  Send the ideas back to the groups. Mix them up to discuss if time allows.  

    4.      Encourage Transition Space. Provide transition time between meetings. End them early.  Don’t meet on Fridays.  Take lunch breaks away from screens.  Encourage team members to make a clean break from the work day.  Rather than respond to email, suggest that they “commute” back to personal time by doing what they need to distinguish personal time from work: cooking, spending time with family, yoga.  Let them know it’s fine to take a walk around or go outside and walk if time allows. They shouldn’t feel compelled to stay glued to their screens; they can stand up and walk away from their workspaces when they feel stale.

    5.      Loosen up. The possibilities are endless:  costumes, screen shots of silly faces, stories of embarrassing moments of video calls.  I saw a photo of a leader wearing h a funny hat and expression; it became a team meme – with stickers.

    6.      Adjust Timelines.  Spread sessions over several days so the team can think about the task between sessions. Rather than strive for 100% productivity, understand that some tasks take longer without face-to-face communication.

    7.      Diverge and Converge.  Zooming in and out is great for planning and thinking about strategy or goals.  Zoom out for a couple of sessions.  Ask “What else?” at least three times. Then rank the ideas for as a way to solve the problem.  Take the top three and zoom in.  Focus on each idea and explore it in depth.  If one seems best, zoom out again to predict the larger implications of the idea to the company, customers, and partners.

    For more about creativity and team dynamics contact

    Read more about connected leadership in my new book:  Connected Leadership, engaging your workforce to lead themselves. Aloha Publishers.

    Further reading:

    Dulhigg, Charles and Graham, James. “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team,” NewTimes Company, 2016.

    Ferrazzi, Keith. (2014). Getting Virtual Teams Right. Harvard Business Review. December.

  • November 28, 2020 2:37 PM | Dana Morris-Jones

    John Shorb co-authored this post. 

    Great leaders are not born with mystical qualities.  Leadership is about the ability to take advantage of opportunities to develop yourself and rise to the challenges you are handed. Contrary to conventional wisdom, leadership is not about ambition, charisma, or gaining power.

    Hallmarks of an Effective Leader

    Effective leaders have certain tried and true qualities in common:

    ●        Self-knowledge: Awareness of personal predispositions and preferred styles, use of self-knowledge to inform choices and decisions, being open to feedback

    ●        Culture: Understanding the importance of culture, ability to create organizational culture based on values, and establish consistent practices and policies to reinforce it

    ●        Alignment: Clarity about the organization's purpose and values, ability to align structures and practices with values, and build relationships across and within all parts of the organization in support

    ●        Motivation & Engagement: Understanding what motivates people to do their best work and ability to create culture and practices that create those conditions

    ●        Building High Performing Teams:  Ability to align mission, goals, roles, practices and relationships to maximize team effectiveness

    ●        Leading Change: Recognition that change is constant and having the ability to adapt, able to engage others in accepting and implementing change including communication and conflict resolution

    Leadership is learned…….

    Jim Collins, a highly regarded expert in the leadership field, says under the right circumstances – with self-reflection, a mentor, a significant life experience – the seeds of leadership begin to develop. The problem is, how do you create those circumstances if they have not come to you?

    ……Therefore, it can be taught.

    This was a question posed by alumni of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs’ business development programs.  “Business founders who had gone through other MCE programs were telling us ‘It’s lonely out there’, says Skip Bates, Senior Vice President of Bangor Savings Banks and Director of’ Main Street Banking. He joined the MCE board last November. “They need trusted colleagues confronting similar issues, and access to leadership expertise.”

    “MCE’s programs are designed to offer a continuum of care from early-stage startups to national distribution,” according to Tom Rainey, Executive Director of MCE. “A leadership program was an obvious next step for us.” At the same time as these ideas were forming, staff of the newly launched University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center (Maine Center) wondered how they could best support growing businesses in Maine and provide development opportunities for their leaders. The Maine Center brings together programs in law, business, policy, and public health to provide interdisciplinary educational opportunities for graduate students and Maine professionals.

    The Visionary Leadership Program (VLP) is a collaboration between MCE, Bangor Savings Bank, and the Maine Center and launched in early October. Through monthly virtual meetings, the VLP builds a strong peer group for emerging business leaders, develops leadership skills and tools for today’s business challenges, and introduces participants to experienced Maine business and thought leaders. Facilitated by Skip Bates and Alexa Dayton, COO at the Maine Center, the sessions feature a lineup of leaders from the Maine business and leadership communities. The pilot cohort has 16 members representing a range of sectors and businesses from across Maine.

     “Strong leadership drives the economy, and leadership can be cultivated through a combination of information sharing and experience sharing,” said Alexa Dayton. “VLP is an approachable program, designed for growing Maine businesses. It’s responsive to what the participants need to know to be successful Maine leaders and for their businesses to excel.”

    Learning through Experience

    The experiential aspects of the program are critical. One goal of the VLP is to help each participant take advantage of their current situation to move closer to that ideal by exchanging past experiences with one another and continuing to use one another as a sounding board as they apply what they have learned. Participants work together to apply concepts as well as complete assignments related to their own business situations.

    Marada Cook, General Manager of Crown O’ Maine, participated in the first Cultivator class, and accepted the invitation to be in VLP’s pilot cohort. Crown O’ Maine is a Kennebec County business distributing product for a network of independent, small to mid-scale food producers from Maine.  “We care a lot about our employees’ experience. I’ve learned more about the different strengths people are showing through their actions, and how to interact with those people in ways that enhance their natural strengths and talents. 

    “My classmates’ experiences are also valuable because our businesses are quite different.  We do one-on-one meetings with another business leader between the sessions.  Crown O’ Maine is a wholesale distributer, but other businesses in the program are retailers. Our customers are retailers.  This is a good opportunity to explore my customers’ perspective through the eyes of a business owner/manager.” 

     “I am honored to be part of this conversation,” says Kerem Durdag, President and CEO of GWI, guest presenter at the November session.. “The pilot group members share experiences, work together to solve real problems, and have volunteered their businesses as classrooms.  They are forward thinking, candid, and are experts in their fields.  VLP provides tools, space, and expertise to help them grow.  I believe, firmly, that theirexperience here will put them in a position to address larger socialchallenges. They are the business leaders we need.”

    Learning to Lead is a Continuing Journey

    Becoming a strong and effective leader is a lifelong pursuit that is never complete. The opportunity to explore and reflect on what that pursuit looks like for oneself, along with a cohort of other leaders, is invaluable. This pilot program will be the first for Maine business leaders who want to further their growth toward leadership greatness, with more to follow.

    Dana Morris-Jones and John Shorb have been principals of The Delphi Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting firm, since 1998.  They will be VLP guest presenters in February 2021. Reach them at or, or 207 883-2333.

    Other Visionary Leadership Program presenters include Kim Pope, David Pease, and Bob Montgomery-Rice from Bangor Savings, Tara Jenkins of Conscious Capitalism, Richard Bilodeau of USM, Steve Musica from Lean East, and Sam Fratoni of Maine Angels.

  • November 16, 2020 4:32 PM | Anonymous

    Finding reliable short-term help for your business can be a daunting task. While a skilled professional member of the gig economy can be one option, an intern can potentially serve you well – if you know how to use their talents effectively.

    Make a plan

    The first step to incorporating and using new talent effectively is developing a detailed understanding of your organization’s needs. Are there specific projects or initiatives that you need help with? What steps will be required to finish them? Breaking a project down into pieces can be a useful exercise, for you, too, and will help you identify areas where you can enlist help.

    Say you’re developing a stakeholder report. You can’t hand off that project to an intern wholesale, but by putting together an outline of the needed pieces, you’ll be able to select areas where an intern can help with research, information assembly, or other tasks.

    A solid understanding and documentation of what you want an intern to accomplish is key to a successful experience for both parties, says Renee Kelly, assistant vice president of the Office of Innovation and Economic Development at the University of Maine and one of the coordinators of the Innovate for Maine Fellowship program, which connects Maine’s best and brightest college students with exciting, growing companies in the state for meaningful internship experiences.

    “An internship is not the same as hiring an employee,” says Kelly. “It’s about a learning experience for the student. Employers shouldn’t expect to find someone who can do everything right out of the gate – part of your responsibility in hosting an intern is to mentor them and teach them and guide them.”

    That mentoring, teaching, and guidance requires active participation from the employer throughout the internship experience.

    “If you want your intern to be engaged, you need to be engaged with your intern,” says Emma Wilson, co-coordinator of UMaine’s Innovate for Maine program. “Most employers want to offer a great experience to an intern, but other demands can get in the way and interns tend to get stuck doing low-level work when they’re capable of much more. Employers who plan projects and organize check-ins around deliverables and goals create a much better and more efficient experience for the intern and for themselves.”

    This is especially important in the COVID-19 era, when an intern may be hired from afar to work remotely.

    “When your intern is not working in your physical office, it’s even more important to establish plans with milestones and connect regularly in a one-on-one virtual meeting,” says Wilson.

    Goal-setting and regular check-ins are key to ensuring that expectations are well understood. Employers should focus on communicating clearly and encourage interns to reiterate assignments to verify that important details have not been lost in translation.   

    Experience not (always) required

    Though you may feel you need a more experienced worker, there are some surprising advantages to incorporating entry-level talent, such as an intern.

    “Interns bring a fresh perspective that can really add value versus being locked into a traditional way of doing things,” says Kelly.

    In addition to helping employers innovate, interns can grow into roles or help reshape them.

    “Sometimes employers don’t realize that an internship can help them develop someone who can hit the ground running,” says Kelly. “It may start out as a short-term need but hiring an intern can help you define or redefine a role and nurture talent for the long term. Productive internship experiences build goodwill and a sense of investment that’s hard to replicate.”

    Finding talent

    Now that you’re armed with some strategies to make effective use of an intern, how do you find one and bring the person on board?

    Colleges and universities are a great place to start, says Kelly, and winter is an ideal time to recruit.

    “You want to start early,” says Kelly. “Students are already exploring their options and starting your own planning process now ensures you’ll be able to onboard your intern swiftly so they can get right to work.”

    Programs such as Innovate for Maine can help employers not only find talent but manage the HR logistics around hiring and training that individual. This can be especially helpful for startups and small businesses who can benefit most from an intern but may lack the hiring infrastructure enabling them to bring a new person in easily.

    “A program such as Innovate for Maine helps identify strong candidates, provides training, supervision and mentoring throughout the internship, and handles all the paperwork, including around payment,” says Kelly. “For early-stage companies or even established businesses, these services can really streamline the process and ensure the employer can focus on providing the best experience possible.”

    To learn more about Innovate for Maine, please visit the program website.

    This is the fourth and final post in ACE’s Blog Series on the Gig Economy.  Our next series will be on Leadership.  It will begin on November 30, 2021 and will run through January 2021.

  • November 02, 2020 9:58 AM | Carrie Green (Yardley) (Administrator)

    As my colleague, Terry Johnson, noted in the first installment in ACE's Gig Economy series: “From an employer’s perspective, independent contractors, hired on a project basis, and free to take on other gigs, may make more sense than a full-time hire in a bad economy.” That having been said, it’s unlikely that employers look at a downturn as an opportunity to replace their workforces with a fleet of contract workers. Moreover, there are legal limits on when it can be done.

    There are serious consequences to misclassifying a worker as an independent contractor, and classification is not always clear-cut. The IRS weighs twenty (20) factors to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.  State laws vary on matters such as workers compensation and tort liability.

    There’s good reason to be cautious. In general, though, these are the usual hallmarks of an independent contractor:

    • The worker is responsible for a result, as opposed to a series of incremental tasks, and is free to determine how the result is achieved;
    • The worker has a skill set, achieved through education or experience qualifying her in a trade (electrician), profession (optometrist), occupation (hair stylist), or business (distributor);
    • The worker keeps profits associated with accomplishing the result cost-effectively;
    • The worker is free to hire or contract with others to assist in accomplishing the result; and
    • The worker is free to offer her skilled services to others, provided she fulfills her contractual obligations.

    Under these circumstances the worker, in most cases, could be an independent contractor or could also be hired as an employee.  At this point a business can look at economics, which will obviously include matters such as insurance, access to benefits, withholding, and payroll taxes, as well as the potential cost of misclassification.

    An employer does not need to be so risk-averse that it automatically puts every worker on the payroll. The legal rules allow a fair amount of flexibility in staffing a project and assembling an expert team.  To take advantage of this flexibility you need to ask a second question:  Who should be the employer?

    Shifting Employer Responsibilities by Contract

    Temporary Agencies

    A temporary staffing agency is a simple example of an alternative employer, and the business model has been around for a long time. Typically, the agency acts as an employer, and is responsible for payroll, payroll taxes, wage and hour requirements, and other legal employer responsibilities.  The agency and the business have a contract where the business pays a set hourly rate for the services of an agency employee, inevitably at a higher rate than if the business had added the worker to its own payroll.

    The temporary agency is both an employer AND an independent contractor in this scenario.  It can provide workers to other businesses.  It can re-deploy its employees once it has fulfilled its contractual obligations.  If it can keep its direct and indirect costs down it will be profitable.

    Creative Variations on the Theme

    With the Gig Economy’s expansion, the staffing industry has developed creative variations on the traditional “temp” theme.

    Ed McKersie, founder of ProSearch, a staffing and recruiting agency in Portland, says that his firm has been increasingly involved with skilled freelancers, particularly in information technology.  ProSearch effectively acts as a matchmaker.  As McKersie describes it, gig workers come to his firm, his team evaluates the skills and experience of that worker and matches them with the staffing needs of the firm’s client, but not necessarily as a “temp hire” or permanent placement.

    Custom-Built Back Rooms For example, if your business is quality winter wear, your suppliers are far away, and a significant portion of your sales is online, you rely heavily on IT, but it’s not your core business.  You may not be able to create an in-house tech team to meet your needs.   Nor do you want to manage a tech team of independent contractor specialists because, quite frankly, you wouldn’t know where to begin.

    Instead, you might consider contracting with a business that has access to a wide variety of IT workers, has the expertise to assemble them into custom-built teams, and coordinates their efforts to deliver the services you need.  The workers might be employees or independent contractors, they may work part time or full time, but that is not your problem to solve. 

    Project Staffing. Besides contracting for a custom-built backroom, an outsourcing strategy can also apply to projects demanding a high degree of expertise across several disciplines.  In this case, the contractor might retain an experienced project manager, then work with the project manager to identify and recruit gig talent to staff the project from a well-vetted portfolio of skilled professionals.

    Note that the service the business buys in these cases is not expertise in a particular profession or trade, but rather the ability to assemble and manage a team that requires different kinds of talent, and the ability to correctly classify employees and contractors, and to serve as an employer when legally required to do so, without risk to the client.

    Before the COVID pandemic, Upwork, a leading digital platform, projected that by 2027 more than half of U.S. workers would be self-employed.  An employer does not need to stretch definitions of employee and independent contractor and risk liability for misclassification.  As the gig economy expands, we can expect to see more creative approaches to allocating employer responsibilities contractually, and honoring employees' legal rights. 

    This is the third installment in the ACE Blog’s series on the Expanding Gig Economy.

    See previous Gig series blog articles:

    Maine’s Expanding Gig Economy, by ACE President, Terry Johnson

    Preparing Yourself Financially to Join the Gig Economy, by Allison Bishop, CPA

  • October 05, 2020 10:16 AM | Allison Bishop

    Starting a business comes with a lot of considerations.  If you have the luxury of having another job while you prepare to join the gig economy, you can – and should - take care of some important items while still collecting a paycheck. 

    Preparing to Take the Leap

    First, building up a cash cushion is critical to get you through those first months of getting your business off the ground.  The alternative is to start off your newfound independent life by incurring debt for your basic needs.  Also important: creating a website and other marketing materials, arranging physical space if necessary, setting up a business bank account and credit card, and figuring out your health insurance.

    Make sure you have a good sense of what your personal monthly cash needs are.  It can be as simple as going through your bank statements and making a list of everything you’ve spent money on for the past few months (maybe going back to your pre-pandemic spending habits).  Understand how you can realistically make enough money through your business to cover at least those basic expenses, and a timeline for when that might happen.  Forecasting your business income in this way can help you to gauge whether you’re on track to meet your goals and help you to estimate how long your savings will last.

    Managing Unpredictable Income

    Once you begin your business, you may be living off of your savings for a while, but at some point you will be making more than you need to cover your living expenses.  If your income fluctuates from month to month, it can be difficult to manage your personal finances.  A simple way to handle this is to set up your finances so that you’re paying yourself a salary.  Figure out how much it costs you to live (for easy math, we’ll say $2,000 per month).  Set up a regular transfer – maybe weekly of $500 or bi-weekly of $1,000 – from your business account into your personal checking.  If you don’t use a separate business bank account, you can deposit your gig earnings into a traditional savings account.   Over time, as long as you’re making more than you need to live on, you will gradually build up a cushion that you can dip into during slow times to keep your personal income smooth and predictable.


    Income taxes are tricky for gig workers.  Often it takes a few years to make positive taxable income, so during those first years you don’t have to worry too much about putting money aside to pay Uncle Sam.  However, once you are making money, make sure that you’re putting enough aside every month to cover your tax liability.  Often a separate bank account specific to taxes is a really good idea, so that money stays safe. 

    It may take a while to perfect the percentage of your gross income that needs to be put aside every month.  You might start with 25-30%, which should cover federal and state taxes.  Depending on your personal situation, including your spouse’s income and withholding, as well as number of children and other income or deductions, the right number for you might be more or less than that. 

    Once you’re making taxable income, you’ll owe self-employment tax of 15.3% - although you can take a deduction of 50% of that.  

    Taxes are a moving target: if you get yourself into a situation where you owe a lot, you have to make more money to pay it off, which means that you’re always incurring new tax debt.  Making the effort early on to stay current with your taxes can save you a lot of stress and heartache down the line.

    Retirement Planning

    Once your business is up and running, and generating a profit, you can turn your thoughts to the future.  You no longer have a 401(k) set up for you, so preparing for retirement is entirely up to you.  At first, a traditional or Roth IRA might be enough (2020 contribution limits are $6,000, plus $1,000 if you’re age 50 or older).  Once you outgrow those accounts, you will have multiple options available to you: a SEP IRA, a SIMPLE IRA, a solo 401(k) – all of these are designed for self-employed individuals or small businesses. 

    Don’t forget to look at your full family picture; if your spouse has a retirement plan through work, make sure you’re taking advantage of that – particularly if there’s an employer match on the table.

    For more on this topic

    See also the November 2, 2020 MaineBiz AskACE column, "How do I prepare myself financially for running a business?"  Allison also presented on this topic at a virtual event for the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce on October 20, 2020, called "What They Didn't Tell You About Starting a Business."

  • August 31, 2020 1:21 PM | Terry Johnson (Administrator)

    Gig workers are independent contractors, typically service providers.  They run the gamut from Uber drivers to freelancers to highly paid professional consultants.  They are paid by the project…. the “gig.”  The Gig Economy is the sum of those contractors, the work they perform, and the businesses that pay them.

    Entrepreneurs are the foundation of the Gig Economy, and when you join you become an entrepreneur. You are starting your own business and becoming a member of the start-up community. You are also an essential contributor to the health of the startup world.

    Remote work and an Economic Downturn Set the Stage for Expanding the Gig Economy

    Before the COVID pandemic, Upwork, a leading digital platform, projected that by 2027 more than half of U.S. workers would be self-employed.  The pandemic added two key drivers to this trend: 1) a pivot to remote work; and 2) an economic downturn.

    Remote work is here to stay. Never have so many employers and employees tooled up for remote work.  According to Dr. Ryan Wallace, Director of the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the Muskie School of Public Service, from 2000 to 2016, before COVID, remote work expanded 123% nationwide, compared to 18% for non-remote work. By 2016, more Maine workers worked remotely than worked in the entire forest products industry. As a share of overall in-migrants, in 2018 mid-coast Maine had the highest concentration remote workers than anywhere else in the US, while two other regions in Maine also made the top 20.  As remote strategies post-COVID have succeeded, both employers and employees have warmed to the idea that work can get done outside a traditional workplace.

    Live + Work in Maine, a non-profit initiative designed to increase awareness about Maine career opportunities, has watched this trend carefully and considered its potential to attract talent to Maine and to keep it here.  Director of Engagement, Katie Shorey says “Maine ranks high on things that matter: healthcare, educated workforce, public education, safety.  Talented people with high-level skills have been thrown into the deep end of remote work because of COVID, and they like it.  They find it more efficient, and less stressful. If being close to the office doesn’t matter anymore, they ask themselves why they shouldn’t live where they want to. Maine’s quality of life naturally supports remote work and deepened interest in moving here.

    Gig work makes sense for skilled workers in an uncertain economy. Unemployment numbers are high due to the pandemic. There are more skilled service employees looking for work, willing to accept – even embrace – contract work.  

    Technological innovations allowing employers to pivot to remote work are essential to gig workers’ ability to be in more (virtual) places at a time, for more than one client.  Instead of moving for work, once again placing all eggs in a single employment basket, why not stay put for the quality of life, and take on discrete projects for a larger number of businesses…including businesses outside Maine that have embraced remote workers?

    What does this mean for Maine?

    If remote workers who relocate here already work for out-of-state employers, how does that help Maine employers fill positions?  If they are traditional employees, how can they be members of the Gig Economy? Aside from adding a few employees from away, how does it foster new business?

    If you bring them, they will mingle. Isolation is a challenge in remote work; work may be possible from a distance, but workers continue to crave human connection.  Shorey notes that nearly 100 freelancers and remote employees attended a social networking event for remote workers in Portland last winter. The event was organized by Luke Thomas, Founder of Friday - a South Portland software startup focusing on how remote workers can improve communication.

    Economies are dynamic.  Talent stands out.  Workers change jobs.  Employers lose employees.  All other things being equal, personal connections count in hiring decisions, and personal connections are easier to make….in person.  If talented remote workers come to Maine, it is just a matter of time before they will become known and available to Maine employers.

    They will also develop new businesses.  According to Wallace, it’s a matter of critical mass and proximity.  “When enough talented people are in one place at one time you get ‘knowledge spillover.’ This leads to more opportunities and more new business.”

    When gig workers come to Maine, they will also settle in and raise families which adds future generations to the workforce and entrepreneurial environment, thus providing long-term sustainability.

    Fluidity.  Participation in the gig economy is fluid.  Side hustles abound and may be a wise financial hedge in an economic downturn. Side-hustles evolve into full time self-employment, by themselves, or with a nudge from a declining economy. From an employer’s perspective, in the same way that  “just-in-time” supply strategies save manufacturing costs, independent contractors, hired on a project basis, and free to take on other gigs may make more sense than a full-time hire in a bad economy.

    Start-ups, by necessity, rely on the gig economy. Skilled professionals, available on a contract basis, are essential for launch, and ultimately for scale-up.  It is not financially feasible to hire the skilled talent a start-up needs, but the start-up still needs the talent. The Maine Center for Entrepreneurs relies on its Mentor Network to support its TopGun, Cultivator and MarketShare programs. Members of the network are largely independent consultants, and many go on to a continuing role with the companies they mentor. Technical grants are often available to pay for contracted professional services for promising new companies.


    Gig workers are within seven years of becoming most of the US workforce. Traditional job opportunities have shrunk, and skilled service workers have an incentive to become entrepreneurs. Remote work has long been the norm for talented skilled independents; COVID has altered employer perceptions that physical workplaces are superior, and they have responded by retooling infrastructure to retain skilled employees.  Remote workers are now looking at Maine as a lifestyle choice, adding to a talented pool of potential independents whose knowledge will spill over into new ventures.  Start-ups particularly need access to skills outside of a traditional employment relationship.

    This is an ideal set-up for expanding Maine's Gig Economy.

  • July 28, 2020 3:58 PM | Francis Eberle

    By Dr. Francis Eberle

    July 22, 2020

    Recently I came across a familiar video I had not seen in a while. It has two teams, one in black shirts and the other in white shirts, passing basketballs to each other. As you watch it, you are asked to count the number of passes. Sounds easy, right? If you want to watch the original video, go here.

    After you report how many passes you saw, you are asked if you saw the gorilla. And yes, during the video a gorilla strolls into the middle of the action, faces the camera and thumps his chest, and then walks away. When groups of people watched the video for the first time and were asked if they saw the gorilla, about 50% answered no. I have shown this video to groups and seen the same reaction.

    Two researchers, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, developed this experiment at Harvard University in 1999 while studying unintentional blindness. They did the experiment thousands of times, and half of the people who watched the video did not see the gorilla. This experiment is described in most introductory psychology textbooks and is featured in dozens of museums.

    The experiment reveals how we miss a lot of what goes on around us, though not always intentionally. In fact, most times we don’t know what we are missing. This second point is the most striking. We don’t get the chance to decide if we want to notice everything or not. If you are a fan of detective or police television shows you know that eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. We miss a lot.

    Paying attention, really paying attention, is critical all the time, but probably more so right now for your team, colleagues, and partners. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, you could walk over to, have lunch, meet for coffee or call team members and colleagues to easily connect with them. If you haven’t noticed just how much the human interaction part of work is different now, you’re not paying attention.

    Being aware that things have changed is different from paying attention to your people because they have changed. And taking the time to learn what has changed, instead of assuming that you know, is paying attention.

    In a recent McKinsey & Company poll, more than 80% of respondents said they would remember companies that did they right thing by their workers around safety and layoffs. At the same time 75% said they wouldn’t forget those businesses that took missteps long after the COVID-19 pandemic is done.

    Harvard Business School professor Hirotaka Takeuchi completed a recent study of Japanese companies based in the Tohoku region where the 2011 tsunami hit that continue to operate today. Despite facing serious financial setbacks from the disaster, many are thriving. One of the reasons was their dedication to responding to the needs of employees and the community first, over business. Pursuing layoffs and other cost-cutting measures were not part of their moral commitment to their people.

    To increase your attention as a leader, there are three things you can do: increase visibility, remove roadblocks and have renewed focus on what is important.

    Increase Visibility. There are often behaviors and actions that go unobserved because of the pace of work. Slow down and make them visible or transparent. If a behavior offends at the worst or is biased at the most subtle, make it visible by asking why, what was the motivation, did you really mean, and how does that make others feel? Build support for good works through recognition. Note those quiet people who don’t speak up but always deliver quality work. Put your people first. Paying attention like this can help increase inclusion and promote quality work and employees.

    Remove Roadblocks. Consider, what is holding people back? Move from a closed mindset where if people don’t deliver then they are somehow not capable, to an open mindset that asks what is the potential and what was in their way. Roadblocks can run the gamut of power positioning, not giving all the information, budgets, or outright blocking. Until you pay attention to the barriers, they will continue to exist and be put up. Some employees in your company will not have access to success because they were not given the opportunity. Paying attention is seeking out the roadblocks to preempt them and not waiting for them to appear.

    Renewed Focus. This is the most basic way to pay attention. Focus in this case is not only narrowing but instead an expansion of what a leader might see including monitoring, accountability, identifying problems, observing, adapting, improving, searching for people’s talents and celebrating milestones. It is also narrowing the focus on the larger goal and not getting distracted by office politics, behaviors or structures. Know the context for each employee. Paying attention is really seeing your people, processes and structures, and noticing how they work to ensure they will accomplish the best for your company.

    The noise around leaders is loud right now and so much seems to be vying for our attention. Internal and external interactions, social media, marketing, newsletters, offers and news are relentless. Paying attention to your people, focusing on what you what to accomplish and helping them get there will help everyone be successful.

    To talk to Dr. Eberle about focus and attention as a leader, email him at

  • May 11, 2020 9:53 AM | Judi Jones (Administrator)

    Panel discussion with members of the SPC and ACE.

    We shared what we’re doing to get through the crisis and recommended potential solutions and resources to help you through these tough times.

    How Do I Apply for SBA Loans? The CARES Act made loans available for consultants and solo professionals. Robin Hamilton shows you how to navigate the maze of PPP, EIDL, and other SBA programs so you can apply for economic relief for your business.

    How Can I Use Online Talent Platforms to Find New Clients? – Online services like Catalant and Business Talent Group match consultants with projects. Gina Abudi will show you how she’s found new clients through these platforms and shares her best practices for success.

    How can we manage our reactions to stress-related client demands? Under stress we don't behave as we normally do...and neither do our clients. Join Theresa Peek as she explores this topic during this time of stress. How can I pivot my business focus as the economy changes? The world has changed - and it continues to change.

    How do you pivot amidst the changes to keep your business healthy? Join a conversation with Terry Johnson to discuss innovating your business.

  • March 14, 2020 5:47 PM | Francis Eberle

    I have heard some version of this many times from clients over the years. Leaders often tell me that a team isn’t as effective as they once were, team members don’t want to participate, or they need more cooperation so they can move faster.

    Many leaders forget that teams are fluid. What I mean is they change over time due to variable factors. These can be things like someone joining or leaving the team, projects changing dramatically, tasks becoming routine, fear about job safety due to changing market forces, or more. All of these dynamics impact the people on a team and their performance.

    Teams are more important now than they have been in the past, partly because problems are more complex than they have been in the past. Solving them requires multiple perspectives and experiences.

    Studies of highly effective teams find that appealing to employees around purpose and their role in accomplishing that purpose is more effective to teamwork than other approaches, such as incentives or accountability systems. Not only that, but teams need ongoing support and encouragement when it comes to purpose. People have a tendency to relax or regress if not constantly reminded of their role in making the company work well, according to Andy Johnson, author of Pushing Back Entropy.

    Leaders aren’t immune from this either. Johnson calls this regression entropy, or the natural decline into disorder or lack of energy. If one energy state is left alone without an infusion of new energy, it moves to lower energy states—or more simply put, goes “downhill.” A leader’s job is to help his or her team continue “up the hill” with support, appreciation and acknowledgement for what they are doing to meet the larger company purpose.

    Additional studies from Google, ADP Research and Gallup found that when people on teams are engaged, they are more productive, creative and happier. To engage them, leaders need to guide purpose to accountability—but in a thoughtful way. One negative outgrowth of intense accountability systems is that people may act solely to achieve their performance measures, losing sight of purpose.

    Jack McGuinness wrote about the important features of effective teams and how they optimize collaboration in today’s workplace. He agreed that an important factor was gaining clarity or purpose, as well as being clear about how to integrate that into how people work.

    Doing the foundational work to ensure teams understand purpose can seem like a slow start, but without a strong purpose, frustration, floundering and miscues are more frequent.

    McGuinness also stressed the importance of reinforcing collaboration principles on teams. As team members move into action, what is the behavior they have agreed to? Have they discussed how they will work? McGuinness’ skills for leaders fostering effective team collaboration are:

    • Communication—Be clear, direct, honest and talk often
    • Listening—Demonstrate that you value people and they are important
    • Feedback—Give and receive feedback, and adjust as exchanges occur
    • Compromise—Seek to understand, which means compromise and being humble
    • Dependability—Be accountable to yourself and the team

    While these may not be new, and may seem quite simple, they are hard to do consistently. Actions such as team building days or retreats can help a team learn about each other. Even better, though, is to use these principles weekly so they become part of the way you work. This approach has a longer life span and more impact than one-day events.

    I frequently use these basic principles with leaders and teams. Clients have seen results such as improved communication, reduced workplace conflict, uncovering hidden skills of team members, and overall positivity at work. Since our people are not static beings and will change, we as leaders need to continuously review and refresh our approaches with them.

    To discuss these tips for teams and more, email

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