What counts is what we can do

We had a very interesting speaker at a meeting I went to the other week. He was very knowledgeable in his subject and sounded as though he could really help his clients through tough times and to achieve their best.

After the talk, there was a general discussion during which it emerged that he had a doctorate in his subject. He was asked why he did not mention this in his talk or in his promotional material. He said he did not think it mattered. I suggested that potential clients and customers were not interested in qualifications, but only in what the person or business could do for them. That is my experience.

One way of showing what our business can do to help is to present case studies. I have several on my website. One client who came to me a couple of weeks ago first read my case studies last year. He was obviously a slow burner, but seeing what I had achieved for other clients ultimately persuaded him to come to me, and of course I can and am helping him to solve his problem.

People think of me mainly as a tax practitioner. What I really do is take away the worry and stress people go through when they have tax problems. That sort of pain relief allows my clients to get on with their lives rather than live a life of anxiety. Do you do that too?

 

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

Bad professional vibes

We all pick up work we do not like. Usually we do not know we don’t like it until after we are committed to doing it, otherwise we might have declined it politely in the first place.

The other day, I accompanied someone to see a professional person. I was there to provide moral support in an unpaid capacity. My companion was obviously uncomfortable during the meeting. She said afterwards “He doesn’t like me”. I told her that I thought he did not like her case because it had become messy and was rather a lot of trouble.

Of course, it was very unprofessional for this guy to let his attitude show. Also, he annoyed me rather by asking unnecessary questions about my qualifications (as I said, I was only the unpaid moral support) and as we were visiting his office he might at least have offered us a coffee. Anyway, he had an attitude problem and succeeded in antagonising me as well as the lady I was with.

Working rules for us should include:

  • If possible, don’t take work we don’t fancy.
  • If we are stuck with a messy job, grin and bear it, and do not unsettle the client by showing our discomfort. After all, poor professional relationships lead to less work and word-of-mouth comment can damage our reputations.

There is more to life than work

Doesn’t our work routine get in the way of real life sometimes? We need to have interests which take our minds off the daily routine. Even if we enjoy our work very much, which I hope we do, we need to think about our surroundings, our family, our health and how we spend our time.

I like to walk most days. That is how I relax and often when I have my better ideas. I always have a camera in case I see anything that needs capturing. It is better than my phone, although that takes a decent photo.

I also read a lot, including fiction. Some think it is a waste of time. I believe the brain needs recreational exercise to stay fit.

Most of all, we need to spend quality time with our loved ones. This may all seem obvious, but I know people who never stop to think, are always in a rush, and forget to give time to their nearest and dearest. Because the more we rush, the less of life we see.

The pain of business envy

iStock_000020557146LargeWe can always look over the fence and see how our colleagues and contemporaries are doing. Sometimes business acquaintances or former work colleagues are making shed-loads of money; much more than we are. I know people who get very jealous and ask why those other people should have more than they do.

The answer is always because those very successful people have worked very hard. They may have had a bit of luck, but luck does not help without hard work.

More to the point, can we learn from the success of others? What have they got right and should we try the same tactics?

Also, if we are happy with our lives and financially comfortable, why envy others who have more money. Are they happy too?

We can always learn from our peers and we should, but envy is one of the seven deadly sins and it can gnaw away at our confidence.

Work hard, be happy, and feel better without comparing our lives to those of others.

Staying in touch

Human beings are social animals. We like to hear from people. We like to know that we are in the thoughts of others. We like to belong.

Our clients and customers are human beings. They like to hear from us not just at the time we do work for them. They like to know we are thinking about them.

It is important to stay in touch, not just with the occasional generic email or newsletter. Check how your customers are. Make it personal. Ask them if there is anything they need. Make them feel wanted. You like to feel wanted, don’t you?

Don’t be greedy

Don't eat them all!

Don’t eat them all!

I believe in value billing. That means that I bill my clients what my advice and service should be worth to them. They get something they are happy with, and I get rewarded properly for my efforts.

However, greed for business can trip us up. I get offered more than I accept. Some I turn it down because the value of the work is not high for the customer or client, and therefore the reward for me would not be enough. I will not charge a client a lot more for something as good she could get somewhere else. I direct her to the somewhere else.

The greater danger for some of us is in being tempted to accept business that is outside our normal area and which may be beyond our current experience; even beyond our expertise.

I pick and choose what work my business undertakes. I do not do everything “in-house” of course. If it is work I can give my colleagues and supporting workers who can do it well, of course I accept. It is that stuff which we do not know enough about which can trip us up badly.

We can certainly recommend others in our stead if we are not confident. We should never be afraid to say “no”.

Schedules? Boring but important

26 Feb 12 upload 024 (2)“I don’t want to be hemmed in by my diary”

I am not a business coach, and have no ambition to be one. I do know a lot of business people and one who is in complementary therapy claims she has not enough work. Now I know she is good, because she has laid hands on a lot of people including me. Why does she not have enough work?

In her case, it is because she is not available consistently. She has been unlucky with premises issues, but she could get around these if she had fixed days for her therapy.

The trouble is she is too easily distracted. Therapy clients like to come once a week or once a fortnight, perhaps. They think of, say, Tuesday morning as their chill-out hour or so with their therapist. They don’t like to be messed around.  They do not like to come on different days of the week at different times. They have schedules too. They have people and events in their own diaries.

All of us who provide a service need to be there for our clients when needed. If it is a hands-on service, we need to be there at appointed hours, not Wednesday afternoon one week, and Thursday morning the next week, and Monday evening the week after. Our lives should have a pattern our clients can fit around.

Being there is what matters, and that means being there when needed.

Are you in a hurry?

iStock_000007991360XSmall cross businesswomanIt is easy to spot when someone else is in a hurry. We notice the window cleaner misses a bit or leaves a smear, or a cleaner misses a cobweb or so, or the vegetables in the restaurant are not cooked, or are cooked too much. That all indicates a lack of attention.

It is easy for us to judge, but we have to keep an eye on ourselves too. Have we rushed that report? Is it up to our usual standard? Have we made sure our client understood it? Have we remembered to follow up and speak to our customer to make sure they are happy?

Sometimes a dissatisfied customer will find a new window cleaner and complain to their neighbours and friends about the one who left the smears. We could be replaced as easily. Perhaps we need to slow down and think what we are doing, otherwise we will be in the same boat as the window cleaner.

Competition or attrition?

Blog pix 21 March 11 001I am in a service business. I have all the modern advantages. I can help people all around the world because we have email and the internet. I do not have to meet my clients, although it is great if I can. However, if they are in South Korea or Chile, they are a long way from the UK. If I can check exactly who they are and give them what they need, I am happy and I certainly hope they are happy.

There are people who have businesses on the High Street or in town, and their businesses look something like mine. I do not see them as competitors. I have working relationships with some of them. We can provide each other with skills the other does not have; rather symbiotic.

However, imagine having a business very near another the same where you are competing for the walk-in customer and where the footfall is limited. In the local village, there is a long-established men’s hairdresser, or barber if you prefer. There is the owner, who is the brother of a business acquaintance. He has two very competent assistants, one female and one male. I do not have so much hair these days, but I am quite happy to have such hair as I have cut by any one of the three. It was a good business, quite busy, and open Tuesday to Saturday.

And then…. A year ago another similar business opened directly opposite. That business takes quite a lot of the walk-in trade. Our village is not that big. I doubt there is enough work to go around. Both shops are now open seven days a week, desperately trying to out-do the other. It is a war of attrition as far as I can tell. One is bound to crack. I know the owner of the longer-established business feels under serious pressure, not just because of the new lengthy opening times, but because I see him looking across the road to see how many people are in the other premises.

If I formed a business relying on walk-in trade, I would not set up next to another. I would find a parade or street lacking my sort of business. We have only one greetings card shop. Why would anyone risk setting up another next door? We did have a florist come to our village to compete with a well-established one. They failed and have gone. Why would a men’s hairdresser risk a similar fight? Even if they “won” by putting my preferred place out of business, the fight must make life and cash flow very tough in the short term.

I do not have the answers, but it all seems crazy business planning.

Treating customers as doormats?

DSC02467I have had a problem with a company that was hosting four of my websites. The business makes a point of promoting that it provides for its customers to use WordPress. That encourages those who believe they can manage the WordPress interface to sign up. I was one of those people, though my “main” sites were already managed professionally elsewhere by a WordPress specialist.

I receive a message from the hosting company stating that my sites had been suspended because of a script which was not finishing, thereby overloading the server. The problem was a particular file. However, I could not remove it because my access was blocked. Eventually I was allowed to remove the file. I did not understand why it was a problem, but “Support” told me it would cure the problem.

A week or so later, the same thing happened again. I was very puzzled, and annoyed at the loss of my sites. After a few exchanges “Support” removed the file for me and reinstated the websites.

Guess what? Another repeat performance, but this time I was to be fined £80 before my sites could be released to me. I was being held to ransom. It was blackmail. I thought they must really hate me.

Of course I protested, and was given a lecture about security being my responsibility to prevent hacking. This was the first time anyone had suggested the sites had been hacked.

I sent a very angry email (but with moderate language) to “Support”. I then had a reply from a more senior person who said that they would release the sites without a fine and had removed the offending file.

“I have reviewed your previous suspensions which you’ve had for your WordPress backup scripts not finishing and causing high load on our shared servers, and it looks like you were also warned about the suspension fee last time if there were any future suspensions for this same issue.

The files and scripts contained in your account are entirely your responsibility, and it is also your responsibility to comply with our terms of use. The only reason that we charge a fee is for continued negligence with regards to this, such as this case where there have been multiple suspensions on your account for the same reason. (NB “multiple” meant three.)

Normally however, we do have our 2nd line technicians review the account after the second suspension to help you in making sure that this doesn’t happen a third time, but it looks like that wasn’t done in this case.

So for this instance we will unsuspend your account without collecting the fee, and our 2nd line technician will help you make sure this gets taken care of.”

I was also informed that the issue was related to a WordPress backup plugin. They had not mentioned this before. The site had not been hacked. I deactivated the plugin immediately. If “Support” had told me what the actual problem was at the time of the first incident the whole saga could have been avoided.

The Company has two problems. The first is that their junior staff (“2nd line technicians”) are too inexperienced to deal with some technical problems because they do not understand the issues themselves. The second is an inflexible policy designed as a deterrent to supposedly errant users, and not one intended to help those customers who had run into trouble.

Can you imagine having a business which tries to impose punishments on its customers? Very large service providers are able to do that because they are able to distance themselves from their customers and because they are hard to contact other than by email.

We try to help our customers; not abuse and fine them.

I have moved my websites to the care of a professional manager whom I trust. That makes it more personal. I believe that as small business owners our own purchases of goods and services should be from people we know and whom we can contact when we have questions or (Heaven forbid) when things go wrong. And sometimes we just need to be able to ask for help and know that we will get it.