Archives for April 2013

Adapt, change or your business will die

My Kindle

My Kindle

I have had my own business for nearly eleven years. It hardly seem possible. However, it is not the same business I started. In the beginning I hardly used email to correspond with clients. It wasn’t that I was an old dinosaur; I have been using email since around 1989. No, it is just that it was not what my clients expected back then. Many of them were not computer literate anyway. Some still are not, but we can cater for them.

Eleven years ago I would not send documents for approval by email either. That was largely because we did not have an easy format such as PDF which we have today. I used the telephone a lot more although it is still important to talk to clients, or rather, to listen.

We didn’t receive so much in the way of services through the Government Gateway on-line a decade back. All my clients were local. Now I have clients from the UK to New Zealand and from Honduras to South Africa.

All this is possible because the world has changed, and also necessary because there is less “local” business of the sort which is interesting or profitable. I have adapted and changed because if my business had stayed the same in terms of offerings, service and the way those services were delivered it would have been broke. Milkmen are a rarity because there is no demand. People buy their milk at the supermarket.

I hope I do not seem unkind, but this week I had one of those on-line petition emails from some booksellers who were petitioning for Amazon to pay more tax. Yet I am sure the reason for their knocking Amazon was because Amazon is eating into their business. I feel sorry for the booksellers, but we cannot run our businesses as museum pieces., because we will make no money.

Some booksellers have moved half their premises over to selling coffee to encourage the browsing client, something I first saw this approach in Dallas more than a dozen years ago. I am not sure if this still works, but surely it is the browsing public who would still buy books in bookshops, where they would choose a good read? If you know what book you want you buy it One-Click through Amazon, or it is delivered to your Kindle. You do not go to the High Street to see if the local shop might have it.

In business we cannot blame others if our sales are weak. We need to change or get out and start anew with something else. How have you changed your business to move with the times?

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It’s not politics, it’s about reputation management

Stuck

Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) accuses political opponents of ‘scrutinising each and every one of our 1,732 candidates, monitoring every social media output over the last few years’ to look for comments embarrassing to UKIP.

If there are ill-chosen words in the Tweets and Facebook comments of UKIP’s candidates he cannot blame UKIP’s foes for finding them. They are stuck with their injudicious comments. We all have our reputations made or potentially destroyed by our on-line presence.  Our stuff is out there and it would be hard to delete all traces.

Our comments are our responsibility as are our reputations. If we have no self-control how can people trust us any more than the political candidates who shoot their mouths off on-line?

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Broken tools, new toys and business

Where have I got to?

Where have I got to?

Sometimes tried and trusted methods stop working, and we hardly notice because we carry on out of habit. That is what happened with me and breakfast networking.  It took a while for it to dawn on me that I was not getting business any more. Perhaps I was in denial because I always enjoyed meeting people and even running a group. However it is jolly hard work and very time consuming to run a group if you make no money in doing it.

Fortunately, my on-line social media activity and my websites do get in business. It is still all about talking and especially listening to what people need, and of course not selling. I enjoy the on-line stuff too, so it isn’t as though I have no fun marketing.

Recently it dawned on me that Google Alerts wasn’t (or weren’t) working. I have for several years used the service to spot when my name was mentioned somewhere on the web, or when my business names were mentioned and to find key special words which interest me. I find I am not the only one to have noticed and although there are reports it has been fixed, I still have not had an Alerts email for weeks even though I try to pop up all over the place. How much am I missing?

TalkWalker has been suggested as a substitute but I am not convinced so far.

Have you found trusted tools and practices can start letting you down? I would love to know.

 

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Your great customer service can be damaged by your service suppliers

iStock_000011891859XSmall bored womanThe lazy courier gives poor customer service, but the irony is that they were letting down another multi-national company who in my experience shows very good customer service.

A couple of years ago I bought two LG computer monitors. I was very pleased with these. The definition and quality of the displays were excellent.

About eighteen months ago, one of them started to fail. Having checked the fault was not at my end (faulty leads, faulty computer etc.) LG said they would replace the monitor. They sent a new one by courier and took the other one away.

A week or so back the other monitor bought two years ago exhibited the same fault and failed. Again LG offered to replace it and I accepted. Unfortunately their courier is far less good at customer service than they are, and has let them down.

In all our businesses, sometimes things go wrong. It is how we deal with the problems that preserve our good reputations or lose them completely.

I sympathise with LG in that they have done their best to put a problem right. They need to sort out why their courier does not in reality have the same great customer service philosophy that they do.

Don’t let you service providers let you down.

Have you enjoyed great or poor customer service recently?

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The Smart Aleck networker

iStock_000007991360XSmall cross businesswomanDo you know that person at your networking meeting? The one with the loud voice, saying “Hey, look at me”? The one who is always telling everyone how great their business is as opposed to the competition? In fact, the person who always disses everyone else as being inferior?

We try to avoid those “networkers”, don’t we? We try to get as far as possible from them as we can. We can do without those boorish opinions, and we know they will never connect us or refer us because they are too busy thinking about themselves.

It is the same in the world of social media. There are people who claim superior knowledge not just in their line of business but in every aspect of of the world. They rubbish other users of Twitter, they give their opinion of those who hold a different view within their expertise, they show their political prejudices by rubbishing certain politicians, and they have those Smart Aleck comments about any and everyone who doesn’t agree with their bigoted views.

We avoid that sort of person when eating our bacon roll at the local breakfast meet, and thank goodness we can un-follow them on Twitter and un-friend them on Facebook once we see the cut of their jib.

I don’t reckon the Alecks and Alecksandras get much business from their networking, but they are too arrogant to understand why.

Don’t you avoid them like the plague?

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Selling our services through others

Photoxpress_10909891 calculatorPart of my business is to facilitate services to other businesses which they may provide to their end-client. I am good at selling services to my own clients ( though I say it myself) because I know the value of what my business provides, and I can help my clients and prospects to see that value and buy into it. That will be because they receive great comfort and very likely substantial financial benefit from “buying me”.

Many of my potential clients are small firms of accountants who do not have the tax expertise that businesses like mine can provide. Of course we never steal other people’s clients, but just the same there is a reluctance as well as a lack of ability for the intermediary accountants to sell our services, and that means that their clients do not get the service and expertise they really need.

The blocking factors are:

  • Many accountants do not charge their clients enough for what they do.
  • Their clients expect to be only a low fixed fee whatever services they require each year.
  • Accountants are quite often hopeless at selling, and especially at selling value.
  • They join the race to the bottom in terms of fees for selling generic services such as accounts and tax returns and have no room for manoeuvre on fees.

How do we get round this, and sell more through those other businesses who themselves should be “making a turn” on the fees we charge them?

  • Firstly, we need to convince the intermediary business of the value of what we offer.
  • We should ask to draft any proposal they send to their client, emphasising the value if we honestly think we can deliver the value for that client, or
  • We should ask to speak to the client direct, reassuring the intermediary that we will not steal their business.

Of course this is not just a problem in my profession, but in so many where we need our services to be sold through others.

Do you get frustrated when someone else ends up selling you short to their customer?

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Living up to our business philosophy

English: US postal stamp from 1902 for special...

English: US postal stamp from 1902 for special delivery service, depicting a bicycle courier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was expecting a parcel. I was told that I would receive from the courier a text on the day of delivery giving me a time slot. I duly waited in. No one showed up, but I then got a text saying my parcel had been delayed because no one was in to sign for the order.

I was given an automated telephone service number to “rearrange” my delivery. I called. The automated lady said I had to keep the card put through my door by the delivery person, although I didn’t have one because no one had called. I pressed buttons to arrange for the delivery the following day.

In the morning I had a text giving me a delivery slot of 1215 to 1315. At 1241 I had a text saying my parcel had been delayed because no one was here to sign for the order. Actually there were two people here, and yes, the door bell is working and so is the knocker. Again, no card was put through the door, because of course no one had called.

Imagine if we were as unreliable in our small businesses as some of these giant logistics companies are (and I have had experience here).  We have to deliver our services when we say we will, and we have to go the extra mile to look after our customers, because that is how we keep them loyal, and anyway we want to go the extra mile.

The joke is that the strap-line of this dreadful courier company is “Performing with Integrity.  Living our Values.” That is something to aspire to provided our values are commendable. The multinational parcel delivery company has failed. We won’t, will we?

Have you had a bad experience similar to this?

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The magic of being different

Don't be the same!

Don’t be the same!

The way to get noticed in business is to be different. Of course you may offer the same service as many other businesses, or at least the same type of service. It is the way you present it and market it that will make your business stand out. That probably means presenting yourself, and being the trusted person that your customers will come to first and of course going the extra mile.

You may be able to find a particular niche within your area of business. In terms of tax, I am the property man. Of course I do other things, but real property and all that comes with it are a very strong theme in bringing clients to my door

However, none of us can rest on our laurels. I may provide property tax magic, but even magicians need to keep changing their presentation because people keep copying and stealing their acts. In marketing terms we have to keep reinventing ourselves even while staying in our niche.

Have you changed your act recently?

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“Experts” versus specialists

26 Feb 12 upload 024 (2)

The other day I tweeted in exasperation: “Hate the word “expert”. None of us knows everything. We specialists do know how to find out what we don’t know when asked to.”

I don’t know about you but many people who try to sell me their stuff try to impress me by telling me how good they are at what they do. That may be true, but I want to know how they are going to solve my problem and make me happy. I am not going to be swayed by how pleased they say another customer of theirs has been. If I knew that other customer and he or she had made a recommendation without pressure from the seller, I might take this person more seriously.

Of course the self-proclaimed “expert” does not know everything there is to know about a subject either. However if he believes his own hype he may not think too much about my problem and come up with the wrong answer or solution.

I had a difficult technical issue to do with my business recently. I “phoned a friend”, and she gave me an answer instantly, but actually I had less confidence in her answer than if she had paused and audibly thought the problem through. Sometimes we all need to think about a problem rather than assume straight away that we know the answer.

I specialise in a certain field, but I do not have an instant answer to every question posed. In my area of business I know how to find out the answer for my client, and when asked I might think I do have an instant solution. However, unless it is an issue with which I am totally familiar I would rather take a deep breath and think before responding, and my response might be “I will consider this and get back to you”.

Describing someone as an expert is misleading. Most of us know quite a lot about our area of business, but not everything. I think we specialists should stick together honestly against all those “experts”. Don’t you?

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