The value resold

A few months ago I advised a client on some potential tax issues he was concerned about. It took a while to research; well mainly to check as I had good knowledge of the issues. It is always important to check one’s memory against the latest legislation and case law as things can change.

What my client was looking for was not a tax scheme – I don’t do those – but the answers to a series of questions. It was a “what if?” sort of project.

When I was asked to quote in the first place, as always I thought about the value to the client. How valuable could it be to him in terms of money-saving in choosing the right path? How valuable was it in terms of peace-of-mind knowing what course of action he should take, and what to avoid doing?

I quoted a fee which he accepted. It was worth doing from my point of view because I could make a decent profit taking into account my overheads and time, but the determination of price was nevertheless the value to the client.

More recently I have been asked by another new client virtually the same set of questions and “what-ifs?”. Really, subject to a few minor tweaks, I can give pretty much the same advice. However, it will take much less time and other costs will be minimal.

Should I charge less? Of course not! I believe the value to the new client is much the same as to the previous client. I can bill him the same, and he will be happy paying for the money-saving and peace-of-mind. I know that because he has accepted my quotation.

Those of us who provide advice, knowledge, or if you like, our intellectual property, have studied hard for a long time, and have constantly to keep up-to-date with the latest happenings in order to give the correct current advice.

We have earned our value and deserve our reward. Why should we sell ourselves short and think in terms of labour costs? Never undervalue your own expertise when selling to clients.

Ignoring the signs

Some signs people ignore

Some signs people ignore

It is great when our businesses are running smoothly. It is easy to take our eye off the ball, and not think about the future.

It might be that there is plenty of income coming in, but are we relying too much on too few customers? We do not know how fickle those customers might be, no matter how hard we work on their accounts.

Are our suppliers creeping their prices up faster than they deserve, and can we sustain those higher costs? Should we be shopping around?

Is our admin work becoming too much of a burden? Should we get assistance before it gets in the way of our production and our marketing time?

Some signs we ignore at our peril

Some signs we ignore at our peril

Is our marketing working, or are there signs we should make a change? Should we make a change anyway before it gets too stale?

When our business is failing we may not notice the signs, or we may ignore them. If we look around us we may realise when we are in trouble and take action, and ask for help.

There is no shame in asking for help.

Seth Godin and the Time Machine

British author H. G. Wells' 1895 novel The Tim...

British author H. G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine is an early example of time travel in modern fiction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seth Godin said recently that we need the drive to want more and to be better. Our businesses and indeed our lives would be no fun if we knew we had achieved all we could, and that there was nothing more.

The will to win, the excitement of the game, and the reward of getting things done are what give me satisfaction, and I guess you feel the same.

What if we thought that we had achieved all we could? It would be so depressing having to have to sit on our hands, having no new ideas. That would be the decline and fall of our businesses, and if everyone caught the mood, the end of the world as we know it.

Have you read The Time Machine, published by H G Wells way back in 1895? In his story, in the far distant future everyone felt that they and technology had got as far as was possible, and there was no more incentive to be creative. Civilisation was apparently in terminal decline.

The moral is that fulfilment is in our work, or if you prefer, the game. It is not about achieving some ultimate goal, but in our journey getting there.

 

Networking with old friends

Successful Business People.I have been in business on my own account for a dozen years, now. In that time, I have met many people, both in formal organised networking and just in bumping into people in the course of business.

I enjoy networking, and have a long track record of meeting new people. Isn’t it great?

Now, people come and go from our attention as we move on and expand our informal networks, and maybe we over-stretch ourselves. I think that in my case, although I must have met thousands of people, Dunbar’s Number is relevant. I can only relate to around 150 business friends. Some come into the group and some fade out, but 150 is a fair estimate of those in my circle.

When I look back, though, I have had a greater connection with certain people whom I may not have seen for a while. Those people I can still help, and maybe they can help me, and what is more, it is great to work with those who make one feel comfortable.

So it is that I have been catching up with old friends, seeing how we can help each other, and at the same time it is great to reminisce, compare notes and generally enjoy ourselves.

Are you staying in touch?

Can you network when you are shy?

To move ourselves on

To move ourselves on

I am a shy guy. It is just how I am. In those psychological tests they had in the Eighties and Nineties, and even into the Noughties, I ended up on the quiet introvert spectrum. I would have been too shy to volunteer for these tests, but large firms I worked for made everyone take them, and I even had one sprung on me as an “entertainment” after dinner at a tax conference. I preferred the roulette and blackjack games to that test.

You will gather that I was not confident to speak in public. As it happens, I had done a course on public speaking at my old firm’s training centre. This was not because I wanted to, but because I had done all the other courses at one time or another, but was short of training hours that year. I still have the VHS video of my last performance (presentation) on the course. I was terrible, jumping about, wringing my hands, and looking like a startled rabbit as I was trying to look around the room to meet the eyes of different members of the audience.

As an independent business person, I learned early on that I would have to network. I started with the breakfast meetings, and was pretty scared when I found that I would have to stand up and tell everyone about my business, even if I was only on my feet for one minute. Still, I had to do it.

You know what? I got used to it. It was good training. I learned that I had the support of those listening. They did not want me to fail, any more than I wanted them to when it was their turn. They were on my side and we were in it together.

Later, I was asked to do my “ten minutes”. That was not a problem. I started to enjoy it. I learned to talk without a set script, though we all need something to remind us to cover all the points we want to make.

After a while, I was comfortable visiting business groups to do longer presentations. It is really quite fun, as is meeting new people.

That is the point. Once I had “broken the ice” in terms of getting out there, I became used to mixing with my fellow business people and enjoying their company.

I am not a different person, though. Most would still consider me an introvert, and that is fair. Learning to network and to speak in public are like learning to ride a bike. We all had to get on our bikes, didn’t we?

Cheapskate prospects

Photoxpress_10909891 calculatorWell, a cheapskate is not really a prospect, as why would you take on a client who was not prepared to pay you a proper fee or have any respect for what you can do for them?

The other day I had a call from a guy who asked if my business was something I ran “on the side”. He meant, “Do you have a “real” job working for someone else, and are you just making extra pennies on your evenings and weekends?” In other words, was I going to be cheap?

I told him my business provided my living and my fees reflected the benefit he would get from my services. I did not bother with the list of costs we have such as insurance, software and training, and the value my expertise would bring him, because clearly that would have been a waste of time.

I wished him luck finding someone who would do the job at a very low cost, and bid him good day.

What would you have done?

How to lose a customer in one easy lesson

Vostro 1000 with Windows 8A couple of weeks ago I needed to buy some software and found a company that seemed to offer what I wanted: a single license for a one-off project. I chose them because although I am very happy with my current supplier (this is for tax compliance) I needed a program for a back year which they could not supply to me.

I downloaded the program, found the license key, emailed for an activation key, and waited… several hours when I wanted to get the job done.

Eventually I had the email in reply, copied and pasted the key, and Hey Presto, the program worked.

I duly entered the required information, sent off to my client the work I had done, and everything was fine. When the client said he was happy, I went to start the program again, but was told my activation key had expired. I had paid my money. What was the matter?

I sent an email to the software company and asked for help, since they did not answer the telephone. Hours later I had an emailed reply, disbelieving my story. I sent a screenshot of my error message.

More hours passed. I was sent another email with a new activation key. I tried to copy and paste this, but a new error message said this was incorrect. I emailed back.

The next day (yes a whole day without resolving the problem) I had another reply suggesting I did not know how to copy and paste properly (yes, really). I tried to telephone again, but there was still no reply, only a recorded message stating their office was closed and their hours were 9 to 5 (but it was 11 in the morning).

I sent another email. I received another activation key after an hour or so. I copied and pasted, and worked this time it worked and the program ran. At least I had got the work finished!

At no time did I have any proper responsive or helpful contact with anyone in the company. The dialogue was from their side pre-programmed and unimaginative. I still do not know whether they ever answer the telephone, but it does not matter now because i will not be calling them.

Oh, and I will not be buying any more of their products.

The most important part of our relationships with our clients and customers is communication. We must keep them in the loop concerning the work we are doing for them, and we must be accessible at reasonable times if they need us or have questions. It is obvious.

I learned from this company how to lose a new customer, but I will not be putting it into practice.  Nor should anyone.

Where we are now

Canary Wharf from Excel Centre

Canary Wharf from Excel Centre (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

We can all look back and regret decisions we have made. I could if I felt like it.

Should I have been more serious about that girl? Should I have had ambitions to be a Lloyd’s broker when I was a lad? Should I have accepted a posting in the Far East? Should I have taken that job? Should I have left that job?

We did not know then what we know now. We started our businesses based on what we knew then. We have learned along the way, and with hindsight we can see our mistakes. That is called experience. As long as we learn from it, we will be stronger.

We should be happy with what we have achieved, but never complacent. There is so much more we can do and look forward to.

Don’t look over your shoulder with regret, but only to check the lessons you have learned. Me? Non, je ne regrette rien.

Are your prospects in harmony with your business?

I guess we can all make a splash once to get noticed, and a joke might be the way to do it. Will prospects really remember a business for the one joke, repeated over and over again, or will they get bored?

Here is eHarmony’s current ad in the UK:

 

 

 

 

I would rather that my potential clients felt they could relate to my business and feel comfortable that I could give them what they wanted.

Here is a confession. I have played the dating agency game, and did computer-dating back in the Seventies and Eighties (yes, they had computers then). I would far rather have thought that I did not need to have film-star looks, and did not need to be perfect. I was looking for a normal sort of girl, not some glamour model who would not give me a second look.

The old eHarmony ad featured real people who seemed normal to me; not ordinary, but with their own individual characteristics. Had I still been in the game, I know that this next ad would be much more attractive because I would be comfortable with it until I bought.

 

Don’t you prefer this to the joke ad? Well, I certainly do, but does the advertising agency know better?

Isn’t your prospect more likely to buy when they feel familiar and comfortable with your business and you?

Unreliability, sickies and trust

Rayleigh Market Photo credit: Jon Stow

Rayleigh Market – Photo credit: Jon Stow

A long time ago, when I worked in London, I had a female colleague who called in sick on a Thursday every four weeks. No one thought too much of it and if we are honest, we supposed there might be a biological reason for her absence and she had our sympathy. At least she had our sympathy until one day one of my work-mates who lived in the same town saw her on a “sickie Thursday” selling on a market stall. Obviously she was rostered by the family to work the stall every four weeks on market day.

I am not sure who actually “grassed up” my fellow worker, but she was called in by the boss and her monthly absences on a Thursday stopped. She had been rather dishonest since she was paid when on sick leave as well as presumably being paid for working on the stall. She definitely suffered a loss of trust.

Strangely, some self-employed people seem to have the habit of taking dishonest sickies even though they won’t be paid. Having had to put up with this, I find it harder to trust people who do not turn up and email or text at the last moment to say they are cancelling. Once upon a time they would have had to telephone and tell the lie, but now electronic media mean they only have to type their apology with their thumbs. That makes it all the easier.

I am sure we have all had days when we did not feel like working. However, really it is no excuse not to get out of bed if someone is relying on us, and a hangover is not an excuse in my book. Take the painkiller pills and turn up.

Being unreliable as some of the no-shows are means they are seen as untrustworthy by their customers. They are damaging themselves by losing earnings when they do not turn up, and more money when they are dropped by the customers they let down.

Why do they do it and ruin their reputations, when we all know that being there for our customers is the most important part of maintaining a relationship?