Getting advice for free

Last time I mentioned those time-wasters who call or email on the pretext of getting a quote, or sometimes even without the pretext, just to get free information. It is so annoying.

However, we can understand that not everyone wants to pay. Many do want a free ride. The downside for them is that even if they do get free information from one of us in an unguarded moment, it is probably of little value.

Think about it. No telephone call or brief interaction will entail a proper exchange of information for the free provider to give any useful advice. Vital facts will get left out, context will be missed and comments will be misunderstood.

If your free-loader has not paid for something, he has no comeback if the advice he got was wrong, whether based on a correct understanding or a wrong one. He has no one to turn to if there is a hitch, even if the free advice is correct. He is floundering in the darkness rather than having paid for advice, help and support which should be of real value. There is no friendly ear to listen to the problems and no helping hand to steady the ship.

Free advice is useless unless it is from a friend. Then it is paid for in another way and given by someone who cares and is committed. You give benefit through your friendship, and you get pleasure from giving too.

If you need free advice from a stranger, make sure you pay for it and have a proper agreement of the terms. Then you know you have something of value.

The decline and fall of a successful business

 

Shut up shop?

Sun roofs

Once upon a time there was an entrepreneur (except they weren’t called entrepreneurs in those days) who had a brilliant idea for a business model. He put it into action, offering a type of franchise and took lots of money up front with promises of good and even very large income.

The money just rolled in, year after year. Those were heady days in the eighties bubble with everyone making their mark in fashion with those shoulder pads, and having sun roofs cut into their runabout cars. The profits of the franchisees were not so huge, but in pre-internet days it was easy to keep from prospective new recruits that life wasn’t quite so rosy within the organisation as they might have been led to believe.

The web they wove

Then, gradually at first, the internet enabled people to talk to each other. Those who had bought in found that they were not alone in not making the large amounts of money they had been promised. After a while, everybody was talking and those who might have been potential recruits in the wider marketplace found that the road within the organisation was not paved with gold.

The sign-up income of the erstwhile entrepreneur dried up. He still many of his recruited members, but perhaps had lost the energy to plan. He hadn’t counted on everyone being able to communicate and be so well-informed. In a foolish moment he had decided to do away with the basic annual subscription and without new recruits buying their way in, he had no income.

He decided to sell, but unsurprisingly with no income coming in, there were no takers. You cannot sell a model that doesn’t work.

The Empire crumbles

Our owner had never listened to advice. He had always known best in the past. His was one of those autocracy businesses, with him at the top of the pyramid.

So the business started to crumble away. The owner tried to reintroduce a subscription to keep the basic infrastructure in place to allow the members to communicate with each other. Many of them laughed at this, having seen little return on their investment even in the organisation’s heyday.

Necessity is the mother of invention

What was a great business model 25 years ago might well be a poor one in the age of the internet. There are other ways and, yes, very many ways of making money if we are adaptable.

That is the point. We must be adaptable. We need to change. We need to use the new tools to the best of our ability.

What will become of our autocrat? He will probably retire and is handing over the remnants of his business to his son who is far more experienced in information technology.

What do we take from this? The answer is that the business environment is always changing, and even if we think we know best, we must seek advice as soon as we have a problem we cannot handle. You know when you need help, don’t you?

Confidence in our business strategy

 

Photo by Peter Hires Images

 

I have been writing recently about making assumptions about our business and our clients which may be unwarranted. In the business process, whether we are selling goods or services, we do need to understand those who may buy from us, and what they are looking for when they do buy, whether from us or our competitors. That means that research is essential to ensure that we do know what we are talking about. Of course we will still not know what we don’t know, but the more we do know by asking the right questions, the better position we will be in to meet the expectations of our market, or to be specific, our customers and prospects, because they all have their individual needs.

So as long as we are prepared to keep testing our marketing strategy and our business approach, then we are probably doing our best, but no complacency is allowed! We should always listen to our peers and colleagues of course; it is essential. They have a collective knowledge which is a huge resource.

Of course, we may not always get the right advice, though, and sometimes our own experience may tell us more than what we hear from our friends and colleagues. Recently, someone said that blogging was not very effective in marketing. Well, I wouldn’t say that blogging should be the only marketing we do, but I know from personal experience that it works for me; it does bring in significant new business and that is a big plus for me because at the same time I really enjoy the writing.

We should always listen to advice freely offered, and often we should take paid-for professional advice on marketing and other strategies. However, if we already know that something works for us we should stick to our guns; if someone thinks it shouldn’t work they may not understand our niche. I believe in always listening but being confident in what we believe works for us. Every business is unique and needs its own strategies to take it forward.

What are your thoughts?

© Jon Stow 2010

Need a service? Get recommendations

A couple of people I know had a little success selling items on eBay, and not wishing to be wage slaves all their lives invested a considerable amount of money setting up a shopping website serving a niche market they know well. I am all for enterprise, and would always wish them good luck. However, usually we need more than good luck, because we need to do proper research.

Our shopping site owners realised that they needed traffic to their website, for which they had paid quite a lot of money. They settled on a company which promised to get them up to the top of the search engines. As most of us know, this service is called Search Engine Optimization, SEO for short. They paid £3,000 over the first year, which is just over US$4,600 at the time of writing. Was their site easily found for the top key words a year later? No, it was nowhere to be seen.

The SEO company owned up to the failure and promised to work for free until they had got a result, which would be to get the site up the search rankings. Even if they are successful, at least another six months will have been lost, and there had been very few sales after the first year. My worry would be that if they failed once, they may well fail gain.

I know several SEO experts who really can deliver results. One or two may even read this post. To you I say that I have recommended you, but unfortunately pride gets in the way of making a judgment about spending even more money.

Sixteen months on, the site is still nowhere to be seen. I have tried several searches on key words I would use, one even using a word which is part of their URL, but I cannot find them unless by typing in the name of the business, which of course no one will do if they are just looking for a particular product.

I have not pressed the business owners again with my recommendations. I feel reluctant to intrude on private grief, but if either of them comments again on their poor sales I will bring the matter up. In a way I am pleased for them they have not given up their day jobs, but that very fact may explain why they lack business focus.

As most of us know, when buying in a service, do not go for advertising hype. Get a recommendation or two or go to someone you already know and trust. That way, apart from knowing about that provider’s ability to deliver,.they will have an added incentive not to let you down.

What is your experience? What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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