Rushing around achieving nothing

Make some family time

Make some family time

We all want to make money and have a better life. What we really need is one good business.

Now I know the old adage about not putting all our eggs in one basket, but it is very difficult to run two or three businesses efficiently on our own, or with just one or two other people. We would end up time-poor. That means that not only would we not have time for family life, we would not have time to plan how to run our businesses efficiently. We would probably make less money out of the two or three businesses than the one, unless we recognise our inadequacies in time and invest in good managers.

Life can be very chaotic if we have to be in several places working on separate businesses on the same day. We would need to keep one central diary (easy these days with on-line technology) so as not to miss appointments, as I know some of these over-busy people do. In any business that is one of the worst crimes. Of course we can organise our time, but there are only so many hours in a day.

Then again, if we make ourselves time-poor we will neglect our family and our relationships. We will be unhappy as well as permanently exhausted.

Do not over-stretch yourself. Don’t run too fast.

Admitting our mistakes

Sheepish?

Sheepish? (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

We all make mistakes in our businesses. Usually they are not serious, and should normally mean an apology to our customers or clients. Recently I forgot a client had given me a document and I asked for it again. When she put me right, I apologised, and I am sure that our business relationship has not been harmed. It is best to own up straight away.

The other day, I went to collect an order from a local shop. The business owner, who is someone I like and respect, denied he had received the order, even though it had been ordered in person. I suppose he simply forgot to write it down, or mislaid his note.

He has fulfilled the order now, but has been a little “off” with both my wife and me when we have seen him since the incident. As there was no real harm done, I am not sure why he would not have apologised, even if he genuinely thought we were mistaken rather than him. It would have smoothed the waters after all.

It is a terrible cliché to say that the customer is always right, and sometimes customers are wrong even if we don’t say so. However, if we want to continue doing business together, quiet diplomacy is the way forward even if our feathers are ruffled.

What do you think?

Encouraging the shrinking violets

Violets

Violets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we are managing a team in business, we will have one or two people who shine more brightly. They will show their talent and volunteer for difficult work. They are great to have working with us.

There may also be some in the team who are more shy and self-effacing. They may have great potential ability, but lack confidence. They may feel intimidated by the unintentionally more forward colleagues.

We need to encourage our quieter colleagues by allowing them more demanding tasks and giving them support to see them through. We may well find that they will flourish, produce great work and push for more, having gained confidence from their achievements.

I was once a shrinking violet. I was fortunate to be given my head in difficult demanding work, which helped me realise I was really very good. I also learned that false modesty gets you nowhere. :)

Were you one of the shrinking violets? Do you nurture them? It can be very rewarding.

Telling your clients they are wasting their money

Aug 16 2011 028A lot of my work with clients is helping them get out of a mess. Usually that is because they have made mistakes in dealing with their taxes or have “forgotten” to declare certain income or gains.

Sometimes there is a question of the law and whether we can debate with HMRC, with a prospect of getting a good result for the client; in other words, proving that they have a lower liability to tax, or perhaps none.

At other times it is a question of negotiating lower penalties for the client, and making the case that a client’s guilt is less than HMRC contends. Perhaps the client has been involved in a tax “scheme”, and it is my job to decide whether it is worth resisting HMRC’s attack. Frankly it is often not worth resisting, especially if HMRC is not pressing for serious penalties or claiming negligence or carelessness on behalf of my client.

Sometimes clients feel very strongly that they are being targeted unfairly. They will want me to resist at all costs whatever attack is launched by the tax man or woman.

“At all costs” is all very well, but sometimes it is my duty to advise my clients that they really have nowhere to go, and that they have no chance of success, or very little, however much they spend on my fees or those of someone else. Quite apart from raising false hopes, I think it is quite wrong to take people’s money while believing that they are wasting it. That would be quite dishonest.

We all have our particular areas of expertise. We should all know when our customers or clients are wasting their time. If we “sell” our services knowing that they will be of little use, it is no different from the DIY store selling you a lawnmower they know will not do the job for you. It would be mis-selling.

Don’t you agree that to preserve our integrity, sometimes we have to advise our clients to save their money because they are “on a loser”?

 

Verbal understandings are not contracts

 

coppersIn my business I think it is important to have agreements in writing with my clients so that they know exactly what I will be doing for them in conducting their affairs (and what I will not be doing). I have always said that verbal agreements are no use especially when the parties fall out or one side has a perceived issue.

Many of us look after family members or agree financial arrangements with them, and somehow it seems less comfortable to ask them to enter into a written agreement. Yet why should they be any different? They are people who may have ideas you have not fathomed.

So I confess. My wife and I entered into a financial and verbal understanding with a family member ten years ago, and when it came to the crunch last year, he reneged on the agreement. That has cost us a lot of money. That is the point: where money is involved, people may have an eye for the main chance when greed, and other motives unknown us, kick in.

If you are relying on a family member to repay you or at some stage meet certain financial obligations, have it all in writing no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. That is an insurance we all need.

As for us, we have again learned from experience. Trust no one where money is concerned, and get it in writing when you need to. Onwards and upwards!

 

Stress and the small business owner

origin_544510865 (2) head scratchStress is a major threat to the health of a small business, quite apart from being a threat to the owner suffering the stress. It affects productivity, it affects creativity, and it can affect the way we interact with our customers and our staff. It is generally bad news.

We have all had those times. I have had a very difficult few months myself, being involved in some litigation unrelated to my business. That is all over now, and although we have (very unjustly) lost our claim against the other parties, we can try to put it behind us.

How did I get through? I worked as hard as I could with my clients, but due partly to the stress itself but also the work involved in putting our case together, my creativity and the amount of my writing and blogging took a bit of a knock.

I coped by talking to sympathetic ears and both my wife and I are grateful for our friends and the support we have had. I have also used my walks and time off to relax a little, although being under pressure my normal “bright ideas” that I have when out in the fresh air have been somewhat eclipsed by the darkness of the court case.

It is all over now, and although we have lost and there are costs, at least we can move forward, and I can again enjoy the business game as I always have.

How do you cope with stress when it strikes your business and you?

Running your own business down

So often I meet earnest business people who work hard and are not making money. So often it is because they undervalue themselves and what they do. They offer a great service, and if you asked their customers they would say that the businesses really stand out in terms of service quality.

This is one of my favourite themes. You need to value yourself and your own business, and know that your extras and special care for your customers and clients warrant higher charges, and your clientele will not complain. You must not join the race to the bottom.

And if you don’t believe me, see that that Master of Marketing, Jim Connolly, thinks. Do you believe me now?

Religion, politics and small business

An amateur radio operator, Yvette Cendes, KB3H...

An amateur radio operator, Yvette Cendes, KB3HTS, at station W8EDU, Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the Dark Ages when I studied for my amateur radio license we learned that we must not discuss politics and religion with our fellow hams. That was actually a condition of our licenses, but it is easy to understand why such talk was forbidden. We all have different views and these would lead to arguments and bad feeling.

When I was first licensed I used to talk to radio amateurs all over the place, but many were in what was then the Eastern Block. It was really nice to chat about everyday life as well as technical stuff, but it might have caused bad feeling if we had ever strayed into politics or even talked about how much better life was in the West.

I never had an argument with a fellow ham, but instead was able to build genuine relationships over the air. It was great.

Now in our on-line digital world we have social media and the noise of it all is deafening. Like most people, I share news stories on Twitter and Facebook, but I try to avoid being political. I look for interesting techie stuff, and tweet news relevant to my niche and followers. The closest I come to politics is passing on stories of communities in crisis due to war, but I do not speak in support of or against any faction or Government.

Of course I have my views, but I also have my network on-line, my colleagues and my potential clients, and those to whom I would look to refer business if they were the best fit for someone I know. The last thing I need to do is antagonise anyone with whom I might work.

I think I need to treat my business network in the same way as my radio contacts. I respect the fact they may have strong views and a right to those views. If I do not have any conversations concerning politics and religion there is hope we might work together in the future, which we will not do if we argue and end up hating each other.

Do you treat politics and religion as taboos never to be discussed on-line?

You are judged by your appearance

Now you can criticize...

Now you can criticize…

About a month ago, one of my clients asked for a special consultation. She wanted to discuss how her plans for the future and change of lifestyle would affect her tax position. I knew that she would also need some financial advice, which I am not qualified or allowed to give.

I printed off details from their websites of two very nice financial advisers whom I know well, and took them with me to my client. When she saw these and I spoke about both advisers, my client was immediately drawn to the lady who had obviously had her on-line photo taken professionally. It is a good photo, my friend looks sympathetic, which she is, and she obviously had her nose in front of the “other guy”.

The “other guy” I had thought of is as easy to talk to as is the lady, but did not have a photo. I said to my client that I wanted it to be a fair competition as to whom she chose, so I would find a photo of the male financial adviser. When I got back to the office I did manage to find a portrait, but it was self-evidently a “selfie” taken in the office, there was no smile and he looked rather stiff and self-conscious. I could find no better photos of him.

As promised, I emailed my client the photo of the guy, but really, I knew it was “no contest” as my client was bound to choose the lady with the nice smile in the smart business suit, as opposed to the stiff chap with the open-neck shirt and the braces (= suspenders in the USA).

Now I admit that my non-business Google+ photo is a selfie, but that is non-business and I am smiling. My business portraits are professionally-taken and up-to-date. Without plastic surgery I cannot improve my look any more.

It really is not difficult too appear professional, smart and business-like on your website by using a good photo. People do choose based on appearance and if you look untidy or uncomfortably posed you fall at the first hurdle in getting a new client, and you will not even know!

This is one of those posts where we think about people who live in glass houses, but I am risking it anyway.

Do you think your photo costs you business and money?

Window shopping business services on-line

Comma butterfly June 2014

Comma butterfly (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of new enquiries for my services via email. That is all very nice, but many of the potential new clients are located a long way from me. That does not matter in terms of the service they will get, which I aim to be the very best. The difficulty is that it is harder to establish a relationship to make the sale.

When someone contacts me via email, they can be somewhat vague about their requirements, which will lead me to ask for more information. I may or may not hear back from them, which leads me to the next point; I do not know how many other people or businesses they have contacted. Having got responses from a lot of people, they may only go back to a few, and those might be the businesses offering what appears to be the lowest price, without having qualified what they deliver for that price. I do not know if the person is seriously looking for help. Are they butterflies flitting from flower to flower?

In my case I am wary of quoting based on scant information. If others have quoted, that is fine, but I would rather not get the business than find that I am tied to an unprofitable quotation.

So how do I deal with the email enquiries? Well, I try to grade them. The best hopes for business and being genuine enquiries are the emails that start with my name. “Dear Jon”, “Dear Mr Stow” or just “Jon” are good signs, but not conclusive.

Looking at the content of the enquiry, does it have a lot of detail? Does it refer to a particular point or article on my website? Those would be good signs.

How is it signed off? Is there a “Kind regards”? Is it signed by first or given name only such as Sophie or Chris or Mohamed? More good signs.

On the other hand, does the email look like a copy-and-paste exercise? Does it not address me by name at all? Is it signed impersonally, e.g. Dr. F S Smith? Apologies to any Doctors F S Smith, incidentally.

The various pointers help me decide which of these enquirers are more likely to be interested in doing business because they are the ones with whom I can more easily establish a relationship. If I cannot meet new prospects face-to-face, it would certainly help to speak to them on the telephone, or ideally via Skype, because that normally is face-to-face.

The reality is that many on-line enquiries are a waste of time. My grading system saves me some of that time and I hope gains me more business. Wasn’t it so much easier when we gained nearly all our business through networking meetings and off-line relationships?

How do you weed out the window-shoppers, time-wasters and “copy-and-pasters” in your on-line sales enquiries?