Brands, value and me

Photo by Jon Stow

Photo by Jon Stow

I would normally avoid medical matters in this blog, but it is relevant that I am allergic to pollen floating about from early spring to mid-summer. You see, I buy anti-allergy pills which I find very helpful.

I needed some more, so went to one of the local supermarkets. They only had the famous brand variety, at £5.99 a packet. I am used to paying £2.00 for the generic version, which is exactly the same. Yet people must buy the well-known brand at that higher price otherwise the pharma company would not bother to maintain it. Brand power is worth a lot to big business, but I have to see value, and as far as my antihistamine requirement was concerned I did not see the value.

I crossed the road to another shop and paid my £2 for a generic version. What would you have done?

If you build it, will they come?

I have mentioned before that my local village has largely become a collection of cafes and fast-food outlets. Within a couple of hundred yards we have two Indian takeaways, a Chinese takeaway, two pizza places and three cafes. One of the cafes is more upmarket and has an alcohol license, but I suspect they are popular because of their good coffee.

With all this competition I was surprised when I heard that one of the famous coffee shop franchises was opening up in the village. This was on two fronts. Firstly I thought they would struggle against the established probably cheaper establishments, and secondly I supposed that our village was not the kind of place that the typical coffee franchise customer might live.

Of course I was wrong. I think people are prepared to travel and pay more for a guaranteed good quality standard, once word gets around. The new place is doing OK as far as I can tell.

What about the other places serving coffee, other beverages and food? Well, I think they have their regulars, although the one not on the main drag is never packed with customers.  What they have to do is give outstanding quality and service to succeed against a well-known tried-and-tested formula as exhibited by the franchise. That does not mean they have to spend more to do it. Service and quality is about attention to detail. Then word-of-mouth will do the trick in terms of getting customers in.

I would wish all the café owners luck, but it is not about luck. It is about getting things exactly right to succeed.

Infectious cheerfulness at work

I think you would agree that we should always enjoy our work, whether we have our own business or we work for someone else. Otherwise, we really should find something else to do.

If we have a good time at work, this will rub off on our customers naturally when we talk to them. They should feel very comfortable dealing with us and it will increase the likelihood that they will stay as customers for the long term.

Yesterday my wife Gloria and I met someone who obviously did enjoy her work. She was on the checkout at our local supermarket. In our three or four minutes with her she chatted non-stop (OK, some miseries might have been irritated) but as far as we were concerned she made the end of our shopping experience really fun. She brightened up our day. She is a credit to her employer.

If we do our work cheerfully, we may make someone else’s day better. It is worth thinking about.

It’s worth the pain

iStock_000005618867XSmallMy aim for each client is to give them a valuable service, and I charge a fee to match that service; one that reflects that value and rewards me well for their use of my brain-power. As I normally charge a fixed fee agreed in advance I hope not to end up spending more time than budgeted for.

Sometimes life is not quite like that. A while back I had a client to whom I gave very detailed advice. I expected him to come back with questions. That is fair enough. I expanded on points where necessary. However, he seemed to want to pin me down in my opinions when I thought I had already been pretty clear and explicit. I was patient and polite but, to be honest, secretly irritated.

Although eventually the client declared himself satisfied and paid my bill after a few weeks, I thought he might be unhappy. I decided not to press him on this, although I felt disappointed that I had not come up to expectations, notwithstanding that actually I thought I had done really well. I put it out of my mind; onwards and upwards.

Just recently, I find that this client has given me a really great referral. I am delighted. Obviously my client was very happy after all and his gruff, questioning manner belied this.

My patience and effort has paid off. I shall remember that not all people express their satisfaction with our work in the same way, and that it is always worth going beyond expectations because our clients remember, and mention this to their friends.

Phew!

 

Blinding your clients with science

The other day I had a call from a lady who is running a small business. She wanted to hire me to explain the letters she received from her accountants, and translate the conversations she had with them. Clearly they were using technical terms all the time and not making any effort to ensure she understood what she was being told.

This poor business owner was embarrassed to tell her accountants that she did not understand. Plainly she was feeling intimidated by them and her relationship with them was poor.

Much as I would have liked to pick up some more fee-paying work, I just gave her some advice over the telephone. I suggested that she had two choices. Either she should insist on speaking to the partner at the firm responsible for her business to explain her discomfort so that she could have proper explanations of issues that she could understand, or she should change her accountant.

Not being an accountant (although often thought of as one) I could not act for her myself. I did advise the lady that I could suggest a couple of more helpful local accountants. I think she will go with one of them.

We can all adopt tech-speak and when talking to our colleagues, that is what we do. Some of us often forget that it is a foreign language to our clients. If we do not explain their issues simply they will not understand, and they may feel too embarrassed to tell us. As regards our future relationships, the clients may vote with their feet if we blind them with science.

Scamming small businesses and individuals

On two successive working days, I have experienced attempts to obtain bank details via cold calls.

The first call purported to relate to a renewal of insurance for an appliance. We did have such insurance but I thought it was up to date. I was suspicious and thought that if it needed to be renewed we would have received a paper schedule via the post. The caller assured me they were trying to save trees. I told them they could send an email, but they were not interested in my email address and rang off.

The second call was from someone claiming to represent the “Call Prevention Service”. They would prevent cold calls from abroad for a fee of £1.99 per month on a four year contract. Again I was suspicious. I asked “Surely my telephone provider would offer such a service if available?” I was told they worked with all telephone providers.

I asked for a number to call back and was provided with one before they rang off. My research on this number led me to this link, so it seems the police are aware. Whether they do anything about it is another matter, but do be careful with these callers. If anyone else in your business is authorised to deal with purchasing, banking and payment matters, do make sure they are aware too.

Insults, self-respect and selling by value

I had an email enquiry from someone who was concerned about possible tax liabilities should he sell a property he used to live in, but had let to tenants recently. There was one particular point he had got completely wrong. I wrote a reply as follows:

“Hi Fred (his name is not Fred)

Thank you for your enquiry. I think you are under several misapprehensions…

I should be pleased to advise you and give you estimates of any tax payable after renting out for 24 or 36 months and my fee would be £XXX (a fair professional fee) plus VAT.

Kind regards

Jon”

I received the following reply:

“Hi Jon

I appreciate you getting back to me. However, that charge is way above the figure I am looking to pay for what I understood to be 1-2 hours work.

Thanks anyway

Fred”

I responded:

“Thank you for your email, Fred. Although it was brief, it caused a sharp intake of breath this end.

From an employee’s point of view, they may think their hourly rate in a service industry reflects the value of the work provided, but the reality is that their employer has overheads and the cost to provide the service may be two or three times that hourly rate. Then there is the profit element since we all have to live.

I provide a service based on my expertise, the cost of my continuing professional development (CPD) which is obligatory for members of my professional bodies in practice, my office overheads, insurance, the services I buy in from others, and with a view to profit and tax which has to be paid. The CPD is pretty important in practical terms and there have been several changes to the taxation of let property announced even in the past year or so.

You would have had the benefit of a road map in order to plan the possible sale of your property (or to keep it), you would know the possible tax payable at various stages, be aware of all the tax reliefs which could be available and have reasonable certainty based on different outcomes. You would have had the benefit of all my long experience and learning. All this is of substantial value. One should always look at and understand the value rather than the cost of a service.

Oh, and to provide the answers to several “what ifs?”, outline the reliefs available and to put you right on your misapprehensions would have taken considerably more than one or two hours.

If you can get professional advice upon which you feel you can rely a lot more cheaply from someone else, that is fine, but you know the saying “if you pay peanuts…”

Regards

Jon”

We all know there is no point in doing unprofitable work and it does nothing for our self-respect if we provide a service which is simply not valued by our customer or client. It is much better to do less but more valuable work, and far more profitable too.

If we do not value ourselves, how are we to sell our value to others? We can certainly do without being insulted by those enquiring about our services.

Have you had this sort of comment in response to your quote for business?

Turning down work – really?

One of the mistakes many start-up businesses make is taking every project or job, no matter what. I made it myself.  It is very tempting to accept anything which comes along, but the new business owner needs to consider:

  • Is it within our expertise?
  • Will it be profitable?
  • Have we the capacity to do it?

If the answer to any of those questions is “no”, then we should decline politely.

Sometimes even more experienced business people can get this wrong too, and accept work which cannot be delivered satisfactorily. That may lead to damage to reputations. Never be afraid to say no. Feel able to refer another business for the work if you think they will be able to do it. That will make more friends too.

What does not make for a good reputation is a business owner saying “I will get back to you with an estimate or a quote” and then not doing that because they do not fancy doing the job. That is a good way of losing friends and again damaging reputation.

Never leave a prospect hanging. They will think more of you if you decline and tell them why.

If you can’t say something nice…

There are a few people you come across in the flesh or in social media are like Marmite. You either love them or you can’t stand them. There is really nothing in between. Yet if you really don’t like someone, perhaps it is better to keep your own counsel.

In a private forum recently I saw some unpleasant comments about someone I know well. I rather took against the commenter and the people who “liked” her comments. We Marmite lovers really get put off those who say nasty things about it, or make snide comments about our friends. Do not the naysayers know that they damage their reputation?

As Thumper said “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.”

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

“Thank you for your time”

That is something the TV news presenter says quite often to someone they have just interviewed. I think that phrase is a clue that they have not learned much from the interviewee; perhaps nothing at all which will help the viewers with an understanding of whatever subject was being discussed.

If the presenter had said “Thanks very much for your input, which was really interesting” then I think we can take it that the information gleaned was useful.

In the past I have to confess that a prospect might have said to me “Thank you for your time” after we had had a discussion about how I could help them. I now know it is a warning that I did not get my message across. Has anyone said it to you?

I always do my best to engage possible new clients in how their situation might be improved considerably if they went with me. If I hear that phrase, either I should ask before they go what they did not understand. Otherwise I think I should call back soon to clear up anything they did not understand.

“Thank you for your time” is the big brush-off, but we should not take it lying down. Follow up and clarify, and maybe not lose the business.