The late show

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It could happen to any of us

I do believe in being on time for meetings. It gives a bad impression to be late. With new prospects and even with clients, they can be left feeling very unimpressed by a late show.

Sometimes we are late due to circumstances beyond our control. We are stuck on the road with a serious hold-up. There has been an accident. We might be let down by public transport. Our train has broken down. In those case we need to let the person we are meeting know in good time what has gone wrong and why we will not be there when we said we would.

Someone who does work for us at home was very late the other day. In fact we had almost given up on her, were noting her other inadequacies and talking about sacking her. Eventually she turned up just in time to save herself from getting the bullet, at least for now. However she failed to call to advise she was running late, even though her mobile (cell) is rarely neglected during her time with us; one of the little grouses we have about her. That is the point. Being late will be aggregated with other transgressions, real or imagined.

A late show can cut off future business. Be there, or at least apologise in advance if you can’t.

Do you like your clients?

I think we all want our clients to like us, and that means earning their trust from the outset. However, what if we do not like or trust our clients?

The other day I went to see a new prospect. I arrived at her flat and rang the bell. She opened the door but was on the telephone, to her father as it turned out. She interrupted her conversation briefly to ask me to take off my shoes or cover them with plastic slip-ons (no religious purpose here you understand) and then waved me up the steep flight of stairs to the hall. She then left me standing there while she went into another room to finish her telephone call several minutes later.

When she eventually reappeared, the first thing she said was “you look as though something is the matter” in a challenging way. If I was caught with the wrong expression it was not due to her rudeness, but because I was thinking about my Mum, who was in hospital.

When I was finally invited into the living room, the first thing this “prospect” asked me was my price. I said it depended on what she needed advice on, but when pressed I quoted a likely amount for a written note she could use as a reference or map. She pulled a face and then asked for a quote for the face-to-face consultation while I was there. That is an easier answer to give, so I quoted a figure. She said “It would be cheaper if I got the advice walking off the street in the City. I thought locally it would be a lot less”.

To my mind, good advice has a value whether it is given in the Big City or in the boondocks. The value is in the savings for the client. It is not like buying a sandwich produced at higher cost in town or at lower cost in the sticks, and to be fair, ingredients have to be paid for wherever.

Of course this person was being fanciful if she really thought her City advice would have been cheaper, but that is immaterial. The meeting was clearly over within ten minutes, at least as far as I was concerned. As News of the World reporters used to say, I made my excuses and left.

I could not work with this person because

  • She did not value me or my work
  • She was downright rude from the outset of our meeting
  • I really did not like her

This woman cost me an hour of my valuable time in travel, though, but with every bad experience we learn a little more.

I have to be comfortable to work with a client, and to be confident of a good relationship and mutual respect.

Do you like all your customers?

 

Contract essentials

It is worth reminding ourselves of the most important parts of our agreements with clients and customers, the details we must put in writing:

  • The work we will do and have been asked to do.
  • What we have not agreed to do and would charge extra for if asked.
  • The amount of our fee and
  • When we expect to be paid.

We might put plenty more into our contracts, but it is vital that our clients know what we are doing for them and that they do not have unreasonable expectations beyond excellent customer service. Being paid promptly is paramount too, so if everyone knows when the bill is to be paid, there will be no bad feeling on either side.

 

Values and work-time

Enjoy the fresh air

Enjoy the fresh air

This past year has been very challenging due to family illness. Despite this it has been a successful year on the business front from my point of view. I have worked less due to the non-business commitments, but have still found time to enjoy the fresh air on my walks, and with my wife.

How was this possible? Well, it has helped that the economy is improving. I have a lot of consultancy, and while I always bill this on the basis of value to the clients in what I do for them, my services have increased in value and people are prepared to pay for that value having less perceived constraints on cash-flow.

I should mention that my regular clients, although they value what they get, have not seen a big price hike They provide a regular basic income into my business.

So with the higher value work I can afford more free time and can pick and choose clients even more than I did. I also gain extra time by outsourcing the low value services with which I am less comfortable and which are, frankly, boring.

None of this is earth-shattering magic, but having a higher income but with more free time cannot be bad, can it? Do you value yourself enough?

 

What works for us

 

lonleliness

Remember what works

When I started my businesses I took an ad in local monthly pamphlets which go out to probably about 20,000 homes. It worked quite well, but although I was at one time advertising in four of these booklets going to different areas, over the years I have found that two local towns did not want to buy from me. I do not understand why, but I stopped my ad in those particular pamphlets. I still have ads in the other two booklets because they do work and they reinforce my local presence.

I used to do a lot of breakfast networking. You may remember I even ran a breakfast group for a while. That helped my business locally. However, for family health reasons I backed away from that scene, and I cannot say that my business has suffered to any degree. Maybe that networking had stopped working for me, so I do not feel a great need to re-engage.  I do network face-to-face at meetings later in the day.

What works for me now in getting business is my on-line presence both through my own websites and through that of an alliance where I pay for my profile via commission when I close business received through that “external” website.

I have tried to recognise where marketing does not work or has ceased to work, and close it out. I will always try new methods too. We have to test and see what works, and notice what has stopped working, otherwise we end up wasting money and our valuable time.

Do not be lazy with your marketing because it can be expensive. I know myself it can be easy to let it slip.

 

Politics, religion and social media for business

Some signs we ignore at our perilHere in the UK we have had an election. In the run-up, many people in my business circles have shared their opinions on the parties’ policies, and post-election they are sharing their views on those who have a different opinion from them.

We all have political opinions, and unfortunately when they are attacked we cannot help taking it personally. It seems they are taking pot shots at us. Yet in a business environment we may like those who differ from us, but it is inevitable their politics colour our opinion of them. In other words, their opinions damage our relationship because we see them in a different light.

Generally online, via Twitter or Facebook amongst other places, I do not see small business people spouting their religious views, which is a great relief. Religion is a cause of conflict when people do not see eye-to-eye.

When I became a radio amateur (ham) as a young chap, passing the exam, I knew that it was rule that we did not discuss on-air either politics or religion. That way we avoided bad feeling. To me, using social media to maintain my business circles, it should be a rule that we avoid politics.

Of course that is just my opinion.  I am human and can be offended by others’ beliefs if their outspoken opinions seem directed at my friends or at me.

How do you feel about mixing politics with business?

Your business safety net

Running a small business is engaging and enjoyable. We love the game, what we do, the people we meet and the buzz of being rewarded by our customers when they pay us.

It is so easy to forget that things can go wrong, and usually it won’t be our fault.

Suppose we might make a mistake which costs our client money. It does happen as no one is perfect, however much we guard against errors. Human nature being what it is, a customer might think we have made a mistake and cost them money, when we have not put a foot wrong. Either way, we need to be insured against action against us. Otherwise a vindictive client entirely in the wrong can cost us a lot of money and ruin our business. Professional indemnity insurance is essential and public liability insurance is important too.

Then again, how well are we insured against damage to our premises? Is our insurance up to date? Do we insure against loss by backing up all our data off-site?

Suppose our key staff have health issues and are off sick for a long time. What if we get sick and need to take time off? Are we insured to hire substitutes? Is our business income insured? Is our health insurance up-to-date?

Being insured for every eventuality sounds expensive, but when we think of the alternative of disaster and poverty we should grit our teeth and pay our premiums. Do you pay yours?

Learning by doing

Amateur radio station of DJ4PI

Amateur radio station of DJ4PI (Photo credit: Wikipedia) – not my station!

How did you begin to learn to do what you do for a living? I started in my first job by being given a pile of basic routine work to do. When I had done it, I was shown how to apply it to produce the finished product, which in my case was a service provided to a customer.

I could not have learned by watching someone else just sitting at a desk. We all need to have hands-on experience to learn and become interested in a subject in the first place.

It is the same with anything we do which can inspire us. As some of you may know, I am a radio amateur or ham. I first became interested in radio when I was at school, aged about fifteen, and watched and heard people (mostly older boys) using the army cadet forces network to communicate. It was learning by watching and by being involved, and it opened up a whole new world to me.

If it had just been a question of someone using headphones and hearing just one side of a conversation, I would have learned nothing, and would have been bored. My being involved in the entire conversation was essential to spark my interest. It gave me a hobby I value today in the same way I have had an entire career from being involved and useful from the start.

Whatever we do, we need to have a sense of self-worth. How do you inspire those who will come after you and follow you?

Having a sense of direction

It is no good starting in business if you don’t have a plan and ambition, or you are doing so for the wrong reasons. It is no good going for a job working for someone else if you don’t really know what you want to do.

I well remember, when I first started my business, meeting someone who had started his to undermine and destroy the guy whom he thought had destroyed his father’s business. Having left his father’s rival in the smoking ruins of his business he had no further purpose for continuing. That is no way to go about business or life.

A young person I know wants to leave home and get a job without knowing what she wants to do. She needs a plan, and just wanting to leave home is not a plan without something positive to build her independence in the way of a career.

If you want to start a business or get a job, just think what you would enjoy doing, and work out how you can achieve it. Running away without direction will have you ending up where you do not want to be.

“Dutch auction” clients

English: Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx...

English: Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx, cropped from group photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently a prospect to whom I had quoted a fee in an email replied to that email after four months. She asked if I was still prepared to act for her. Naturally I said yes, and assumed she had accepted my quote. I sent her the usual “terms and conditions” email.

In reply she said that although I had the knowledge and expertise she required, actually she had obtained some other quotes. She effectively asked me to cut my fee in half.

Clearly she did not value me despite her comment and did not appreciate my experience, the cost of my ongoing training, my business overheads etc. Mainly though, she did not see value in me; only in saving money. Frankly, if she can get a process done for half my price, I fear for her as anyone in my field of work who was half decent could not possibly be relied upon if charging such a low fee. Too many corners would be cut. Instead of saving money, she may waste money.

I didn’t come here to be insulted, but I have got the tee shirt, so am not too upset. Very likely I was dealing with Rufus T Firefly’s daughter. She will land herself in the soup with HMRC; maybe Duck Soup.

The moral: know your value and charge for it. Clients worth having will appreciate the work you do and will be happy to pay for the comfort you give them.