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?

Forgiving the tyre-kickers

 

Ford Model T

Ford Model T (Photo credit: Jon Stow) – Don’t kick these tyres

Most of those who inquire after my services know what they want. They know that what I do will give them value. If they do not understand that, I hope I am able to persuade them of the value they will get.

Just now and again I hear from people who do not know what they want. They may think they might. It is a bit like wanting a car and thinking “luxury” in their mind’s eye. After going to the showroom they realise they only want to be able to get from A to B, and perhaps choose a cheaper option in an older basic model used car. That is fine and it will probably work, but they will not get the care and attention and after-sales service that a dealer in new cars will give as part of their three or five year guarantee.

I get prospects like that. My firm offers a great all-round service (I would say that, but we do our best to make it true), but if someone wants the basics and is scouting around for the best deal based on price, all they want is their papers filed and no after-care. So I forgive, refer them to a provider of basic services, and warn them against going with the cowboys.

Some people do just want the basics. Maybe that is not what they need and they could do better, but persuading them against their mindset will not result in retaining them as clients for very long.

I forgive the tyre-kickers and send them on their way. What about you?

Enhanced by Zemanta

The hard sell and me

Playing hard ball

When I moved from employment to running my own businesses I did a few sales courses. The first one I was obliged to undertake as it went towards getting and accreditation with a membership organization. The technique they employed was the hard sell.

Being wet-behind-the-ears as an independent business person, and also intimidated by being overseen on my first sales appointments by a “mentor”, I thought this was the way to go. The plan was to make the “prospect” or victim feel really in pain and then offer a solution at a price. The “close” involved applying psychological pressure along the lines of “Imagine how disastrous your business future will be if you do not sign” and “This price is for today only. We are only taking on a few clients at this special price so you must sign now”.

Fortunately I was no good at this type of selling. I did not like my “prospects” to squirm because I tended to empathise with them rather than see them as prey. I did not have the stomach for the hard sell.

One could well imagine that if any of my “victims” had caved in, he or she would have regretted the decision all too soon. Had she paid too much? How could he work with someone who had scared the proverbial out of him?

I never made a sale that way, thank goodness. I would have had it on my conscience.

Buy from me!

Buy from me!

 

Softly, softly

I learned that customers do indeed seek comfort and reassurance. They know when they need help. They answer a familiar ad; one that they have seen many times. They come by referral from a friend or fellow networker. They qualify themselves because they seek a solution, and they want to buy that solution from someone they like.

The failed biter bit

Last week my wife and I agreed to see a “surveyor” about perhaps having solar panels fitted to our roof. We want to help the environment and of course we want to save money from our electricity bills. So we had this person round and he brought his “compliance manager” with him. They spent five minutes in the garden looking at the roof, but none in the house looking at our loft access or current wiring. It turned out that rather than being surveyors they were a two-handed hard sell operation.

These guys were in our house for two and a half hours. They were very pally and friendly. They filled in various forms and made estimated projections of savings. It was only on the last half hour that suddenly the offer was only for “today”, there was a credit agreement with a bank for us to sign, and we had to decide. Despite the fact my wife and I knew exactly what they were doing, there was that psychological pressure and we feel we had been ambushed.

I said I needed time to look at their figures, and I could not agree to sign anything until I could go through them. They tried for several minutes to persuade me I was passing up a great opportunity and they tried to play my wife and me against each other.

A sour taste

When it was obvious that they were not going to get signatures on any agreements, suddenly the palliness had gone and the “manager” said they had to get back. They departed and it was obvious from their demeanour that we were no longer their “friends”. They left no figures or other documentation with us either, which seemed very strange, and I still have no idea whether the offer was good.

I could not sell like that, even if I had the ability. It seems immoral these days that anyone should be selling in this way, particularly in the domestic market where vulnerable people could be exploited. After all, even if it is a great deal on offer, no one should feel obliged to sign up to something they do not understand.

Do you think I am soft and lack ambition to be very rich? I would rather be comfortable in my own skin. What about you?

Turning the business around

Sometimes business declines because there is a lack of demand for the product or service and no amount of clever marketing is ever going to increase sales.

Recently I saw a feature on a news programme about a firm making sheepskin coats that would have to close if a buyer for the business was not found. Apparently sales had been in decline for a couple of decades.

I would have thought twenty years was long enough for the owner to see that diversification or a complete change was what was needed to save the business, and the jobs of the skilled workers who surely could adapt to tailoring another product. Also, while everyone wanted a sheepskin coat thirty years ago (yes, I had one) hardly anyone can afford to spend £800 or US $1,340 for a premium coat to keep warm.

I sympathise with those who wish to carry on the tradition of a company a century-and-a-half old but in the end all business owners have to think about preserving their income and that of their loyal employees.

If our business is not working we have to accept that there is something the matter. We must make the change. If we are stumped as to what to do, we must get help.

We all need help at times, otherwise we might be out on our uppers. That would be a real shame, wouldn’t it?

The cost of “fr*e”

English: Yaesu VX-6R handheld amateur radio tr...

Hand-held amateur transceiver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all know that supermarkets are clever in their labelling, trying to make us think we see bargains where there are not. “Only £1 today” might be a special offer or it might be the usual price, or they might have made the packet smaller. We have to be wary.

Sometimes we see clever marketing which is quite admirable. One example recently was in the realm of amateur radio also known as ham radio. (Yes, I have had my licence since I was a young chap.)

There is a nice little hand-held radio transceiver available at a low price, but two organisations have teamed up to sell the radio at the same “bargain” price others do, but bundle it with some low price goodies. They still sell the radio at £70 as do others, but they include a book and a cap and a map too. The total cost of the extras is about £10, I should think, and that cuts into their profit margin per item, but the aim is clearly to sell a lot more. The smaller margin multiplied is worth a lot more than the larger margin with smaller multiple if they did not have the offer available.

You know what? I have it straight from the horse’s mouth that this ploy has worked and they are inundated with orders for the bundle. I might even join in the scramble though I do not need the cap.

Sometimes it pays to think beyond just selling your product or service. Giving more may well bring you far more business, greater turnover, and greater profit. It pays to be inventive in your marketing. Do you offer special bundles to your clientèle?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Do not lie to your prospects

Being straight with your clients is essential as we all know. Being honest as to whether we can help new enquirers is also vital.

When we start in business there is a temptation to try to grab every customer who comes through the door or sign up every client who is interested ion our service. We have to be honest with ourselves. Can we deliver what they want, and can we make a good profit in doing so?

Experience tells us that some of our customers want too much for the money they are prepared to pay, or cost us too much to service them. Sometimes we know that we are not best suited to help and that another business we know would be a better fit for them. We should be honest and say so, and we will get greater respect from the prospect, who may praise us for our integrity and refer us to others.

On the other hand, sometimes a business owner will say they will help when they do not want to. Recently, my family has had two incidents where we were let down. My wife was quoted for some work on curtain tracks but the person who said she would fix them never came to see us despite several calls to her. Maybe the work was not worth doing or she was too busy, but we now think of her as unreliable and might say so if asked.

We also need some building work, but the person who quoted and whom we would have engaged then said he could not carry out the work for quite a long time as he was too busy. Why did he not say so? Again he will end up potentially damaging his reputation whereas he might have enhanced it by being honest and up-front and not wasting our time.

  • If you want the work and can deliver promptly, sign up and do it.
  • If you cannot deliver profitably or the task is not really in your niche, be honest and maybe refer a friend who can deliver.
  • Do not say you will do something and never turn up to do it.

Be honest when your new enquirer first gets in touch; can you deliver, and do you want to? If not say so, because your reputation is your most important asset.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Promoting your start-up business – Part 6 – Making business friends

 

Widen your market

Widen your market

Most start-up businesses start with one person – you. You might have one or two part-time staff or subcontractors. However there is a danger of feeling rather lonely. After all, you have to make all the decisions, and while you probably have experience of working in someone else’s business, the buck definitely stops with you now.

The good news is that you need not feel lonely. You should make some friends in your own line of work, preferably others running small businesses. Do not worry that they will try to take your clients away. There are plenty of fish in the sea. I have found that you can pick up ideas from others and perhaps you can help them too. Maybe they can help out with certain types of work you are not so keen on, do not enjoy or are simply not to skilled act. Perhaps you can help them out with their less favourite areas which you enjoy.

So that means you have a potential for getting business from your friends and acquaintances. How do you find those people?

Networking is the obvious answer, but a local trade association or professional group would serve well too. I can vouch for this. My monthly lunches with fellow professionals not only helped me feel part of the local community in my line of business, but we shared and still share problems that we come across. That sense of belonging to the group is a positive and valuable asset.

Another way of finding support from fellow-professionals and others in your business is through social media. I value greatly the friendship and camaraderie from people in my line of business with whom I have connected on Twitter. Sharing repartee and swapping business has been very valuable for me and Twitter is a great asset. Of course I have shared business from people in other lines of business through Twitter, and gained work from them as well as having subcontracted to them. Any way you can get known is useful marketing.

I talk to people through LinkedIn too and contribute to the discussions with specialist forums, but Twitter has built my on-line community rapidly, and I have added many to my LinkedIn contacts later. Twitter and LinkedIn have helped my businesses transform from local to national and beyond in terms of where my clients are located.

Consider having a Facebook page for your business and make sure you are active with a business page on Google+, not only to build your community but also because Google will help people to your website and your business once it knows where you are.

The more people you know, the better it is for support for your business and the more business will come your way. If you remember that as with face-to-face networking it is a matter of “give and take”, with perhaps more giving of referrals than taking, actually you will receive a great deal of business.

Get out there virtually as well as physically.

Enhanced by Zemanta

First steps in marketing your start-up business Part 1

Successful Business People.You are about to open your doors to the public, whether that is literally if you have retail premises or consulting rooms, or figuratively if you are working from home and are more likely to be visiting your customers.

How will your potential customers know you are there? You will have to tell them!

There are a few simple ways of announcing your presence. I will list a few and expand on some later in this series.

  • Prepare a press release. It is very important to get this right so I will discuss this in the next chapter.
  • Have an attractive sign if you have business premises, and make sure it says what your business does. Do not leave people to guess or have to find out by peering in your window.
  • If your premises are not on the main drag get an A-frame sign board and ask a nice shop owner in the busier area if you can put it outside their place. Many will be happy to help direct customers right up your alley.
  • Give careful thought to advertising. Many new business owners get this wrong and I will help you later in a future post.
  • Plan to network. That means making a point of going out to meet people in other businesses, and perhaps get an introduction to public speaking. Don’t worry. It will only be a minute or so and you will be surprised how quickly you get used to it.
  • Make as many friends as you can who are in the same business as you. I know from experience that camaraderie with others in a similar line is very helpful and that your “colleagues” will be happy to share tips.

Starting a business can be very daunting, but also the most exciting time in our working lives. Running a business ought to be fun. Don’t you agree?

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Don’t sell yourself short – lessons from a great physicist

 

As you know if you read this blog, I am all for selling our skills on value. All too many business professionals think “How much will it cost me to do a project?”, then they add a bit of a margin for their “wage”, and quote to a prospect. What they do not realise is how much they sell themselves short for three reasons:

English: American physicist Richard Feynman Po...

American physicist Richard Feynman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • They don’t think about how much learning and experience they have put into their project that they have accumulated over so many years
  • They forget how much specific effort they have put into the particular work they will be offering.
  • They forget the value to the client and how to sell that

In many ways, the third reason is the most important. When I meet a new prospect, that person is either looking for a particular problem to be solved, in which case their objective is peace of mind, or they are looking for me to deliver a particular result to help realise an ambition for them; to achieve an objective to make their lives and their financial situation better.

In either case, the prospect is looking for a nice warm feeling inside, and that has a very high value. It does not matter what you think someone else might bill for similar non-standard work. What really matters is what you deliver in terms of satisfaction. If you deliver a great financial result too then that has considerable value too. As long as the client is happy with your professional fee then it must be fair.

Strangely enough I was reminded of that recently when reading the memoirs of Richard Feynman, the great physicist and one of the marvels of the twentieth century. He was a great storyteller.

When he was a lad a fellow student asked him to solve a problem, which he did in twenty minutes or so. Later, when some other students asked him for help with the same problem, he was very quick to come up with the answers. They were very impressed and thought him really clever (which he was) and naturally they would have told everyone else how satisfied they were with the work. Just because he had only solved the problem once, it did not mean it was not of great value to each individual student later.

Feynman dabbled in art later on in his life. He was modest about his artistic achievements, which was uncharacteristic. Of course he certainly had no reason to be modest about his abilities in physics and maths. In my opinion, as someone with not much artistic ability, Feynman was rather good at drawing

He had a painting he was looking to sell. His normal price was $60, but those who commissioned it (brothel owners) did not want it. To sell it to someone else, a friend of Feynman’s suggested he tripled the price because “With art, nobody is really sure of its value, so people often think, ‘If the price is higher, it must be more valuable!’”. He sold it quite quickly to a weather forecaster.

So the value of what you do is in what the client perceives, and it is up to you to help with their perception to give you a fair price and a proper reward for your service. It does not involve ripping off fearful old ladies, but providing the luxury of satisfaction to people who really appreciate what you have done for them. Don’t you agree?

Related articles

Enhanced by Zemanta