Archives for December 2013

Staying in touch with our clients and customers

 

If you have a good relationship with your customers they just keep coming back

If you have a good relationship with your customers they just keep coming back

One way and another, this past year or so my family and I have seen a lot of doctors and nurses. On the whole we have been dealt with very well, but sometimes we have had to take the initiative in asking for help. That has been rather frustrating because we would all rather have our affairs managed by professionals rather than have to manage those professionals to have them provide their services to us.

If we are regular clients we expect our professional and many other service providers to be proactive and stay in touch, so that we do not have to ask. Not always, of course. For most people, a lawyer will be reactive because we go to her for help when we need it. That is the same as the local dry cleaner. If a suit needs cleaning we take it in. That’s it.

However, if we are accountants or opticians or dentists or business advisers, at the very least we need to check in with our clients regularly to see how they are doing and to remind them if they need to take action on something. I think we should make a point of speaking to them regularly. In other words, we need to maintain the relationship. Our clients and customers are our livelihood and they are people too, who like to feel wanted.

For other service providers it is worth making the effort to stay in touch with their customers. I appreciate even a Christmas card from the local curry house but I do not recommend just sending round-robin emails as a way of maintaining a relationship. Newsletters are useful but are no substitute for the personal touch.

In the same way that I would like our local doctors’ practice to invite us in for the regular health checks we are supposed to have but do not, surely we should all think regularly about all our clients’ needs and speak to them, whether visiting or on the phone?

Is not just being reactive a serious failing for so many in business? Are you proactive? How often to you call your clients or customers?

What do you stand for?

 

Delivering satisfaction (and fish and chips)

You know what they sell and it’s not pizza

Supermarket blues and reds

Big business or small business – we all have to have a type of offering our public understands. What do we represent? Whom do we represent?

Even the best most experienced businesses can get confused. In the UK, our biggest supermarket, Tesco, has lost sales. Their appeal may have declined because they cannot decide whether to emphasise their quality or their cheaper offerings.

One of their rivals, Sainsburys, has done well as a known purveyor of quality. They have not tried to be so cheap, though they do try to represent value. That does not mean that in supermarket-land there is anything wrong with cheap. The big discounters are doing well too. People know what they stand for and what to expect when they go to their shops.

My bigger pictures (or photo albums)

I like to take photographs and I like Flickr. That does not mean I am any good as a photographer (probably not) but I like a good place to share and especially to learn from others. I know what Flickr stands for.

Recently I thought I would look at Google’s Picasa as I had heard good things two or three years ago. However everything has been moved to Google+ Photos  and while I am on Google+ it all seems a disorganised mess. Google changed the offering, and while I appreciate that Google is innovative and keen on evolution of its products, Picasa web is no good to me.

Credit is due to Yahoo for creating a platform in Flickr where everyone understands why they are there and can share their photos and network with those whose work they like. Of course there are complaints about any changes to the site’s appearance and presentation, but Flickr developers do ask for feedback for beta changes, so we feel we belong.

Confused? You will be

Too often I see professional firms saying for example that they specialise in e.g. Accountancy, Corporate Tax, Corporate Recovery, Financial Services, Human Resources, Office Support etc.. You see what I mean? They do not actually specialise in anything, and do not seem an obvious choice if you need one of those services. You would rather go to the firm which concentrates on the service you want, or at least had some provenance in that particular area.

Take a stand

What do you stand for? My “High Street” tax help offering is for landlords and let property even though I could help you with other things if you asked.

What is your speciality? What convinces your new customers to come to you rather than someone else?

The value of clients and the value of you

In many businesses including mine, owners feel obliged to chase down what they see as the competition, and match their low prices. It is a race to the bottom in terms of fees and makes the profit margin on many clients very low or almost nothing. Yet we are in a business to make a profit, or how else will we live?

This race to the bottom often involves small businesses trying to compete with large ones, who “pile them high and sell them cheap”. There is of course room for such big businesses otherwise they would not exist, but it is impossible for them to offer a good personal service individual to the client. That would be too expensive for them.

Personal service is the major advantage a small business can offer. Of course that still comes with a price, but the client who pays more and receives a great service will feel more valued, and value you and your business. A client like that will recommend you.

Conversely, if you try to chase down the market to a low fee level such as that offered by the big boys (and girls) the sort of client you get will value you no more than the big providers, which is probably hardly at all. You will be just another commodity to them, and not appreciated and valued or recommended. Of course because of the low fee they will be of little value to you.

Do not sell your services or your business cheap, and don’t sell yourself cheap either.

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Monetising your hobby

Have you lost your job and cannot find a new one? Do you have a job but want a small business to make extra income which could perhaps become your full-time business.

Sometimes it is difficult to do business in the area which you have been working before. That’s tough. But wait! What other interests do you have? Do you have a hobby which has taught you a lot about a different area of work?

  • If you collect stamps you might know enough to buy and sell them for serious profit if you had or made time to do it.
  • Do you know about antiques?
  • Can you write a good report on any subject you are set?
  • Are you a good enough amateur artist that you could sell your work? Have you already sold the odd piece?

You get my drift. You could have a business doing something for which you already have a real passion. Your job might have just been a job and nothing more. Why not try doing something you enjoy and make money out of it?

After all, business should be fun, shouldn’t it?

Last orders in your small business

None of us likes being told what to do. Sometimes we do need to listen to our business friends if we are in trouble or some of our systems are just out of control.

I remember as an employee being told to do things which were clearly ridiculous and which did not make good business sense. I just had to do them. That is why I know it rankles to be given instructions.

Just the same, a little bid of advice comes in handy if we get it at the right time. One of the worst mistakes we can make is to get embroiled in the administration, forget to run our business and not use our special skills that our clients and customers expect.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help to do the boring things which are not part of our business and are just distractions. Those things might be bookkeeping, filing, even taking customers’ orders, especially if they interrupt the real work our business does. We can get people to help with all those difficult issues so that they don’t get in the way and we can stick to what we are good at.

Of course our helpers will have to be paid, but we will be making a lot more money.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A lifeline at the right time can put us on the road to great success.

Can you believe your prospects?

Do our prospects always tell the truth? Some think not and they may be right. As I offer professional services I need a new client to be as committed to our relationship as I would be.

Over the years I have been in practice I have had apparently successful meetings with people who assured me they would be delighted to have me act for them, only to find that I never hear from them again. Should I keep following up and leaving messages? I am inclined to think I should not, because if they are avoiding me they do not wish to commit to me and I need to be paid at some point if I do the work.

So why do some positively encourage us to spend a long time with them with the prospect, in our mind at least, of a happy business relationship? There are two possible explanations. One is that they are not as comfortable with us as we are with them. The other is that they think they can pump more information out of us without having to pay for it. The truth from my side is that often we can fall into the trap of giving useful information which proves to be free in simply selling our services.

For example, if my prospect says that he is unhappy with the tactics used by his current professional in a tax investigation, if I honestly agree that the incumbent adviser is on the right track I will say so. However, if I suggest that I would take a different line, I might hope that I would get the business, but the prospect might simply suggest that his current practitioner change tack in the way I had suggested.

In another instance I came across, the prospect signed up and got past my usually reliable intuition when it comes to spotting hidden agendas. Our relationship did not last long because he would not share vital information with me, and I can only suppose he had some ulterior motive for consulting me in the first place; perhaps a family dispute.

If we keep honesty on our side in terms of what we can do for prospective clients, we will sign up most of them, assuming we are comfortable with them. We must not let such knock-backs from people who are using us get us down. On the contrary, we should be happy we can rise above them. Do you rise enough?

 

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