There is more to life than work

Doesn’t our work routine get in the way of real life sometimes? We need to have interests which take our minds off the daily routine. Even if we enjoy our work very much, which I hope we do, we need to think about our surroundings, our family, our health and how we spend our time.

I like to walk most days. That is how I relax and often when I have my better ideas. I always have a camera in case I see anything that needs capturing. It is better than my phone, although that takes a decent photo.

I also read a lot, including fiction. Some think it is a waste of time. I believe the brain needs recreational exercise to stay fit.

Most of all, we need to spend quality time with our loved ones. This may all seem obvious, but I know people who never stop to think, are always in a rush, and forget to give time to their nearest and dearest. Because the more we rush, the less of life we see.

Rude and aggressive clients?

“Most clients and people in general I come across are just rude and aggressive.”

That is a statement I saw on an accounting website, posted by an accountant. I am surprised by the comment. Is everyone rude these days? Are they just rude to this accountant? What has he done (or not done) to deserve it? Has he got the wrong clients?

In my previous piece I mentioned a rather rude ex-client. I know it takes all sorts, but if I do not have a good relationship with a client, and feel comfortable working with her or him, I ask the client to go. Of course I find a good reason. “I know another business which would suit your type of work better.” “The profile of my business has changed and we cannot any longer offer you the service you deserve.” “I would need to double your fee”.

All these can end an unsatisfactory business relationship fairly amicably. Certainly I see no reason to put up with uncomfortable communication and rudeness. Why would anyone? You don’t, do you?

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

 

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?

The leaky tap – are your customers happy?

We all try to do the best for our customers, but do we know if they are happy? There might be something which they see as having gone wrong with our service, and we do not even know about it. We cannot put it right if we don’t know.

As someone who has many landlords as clients, I take an interest in the property rental market. Sooner or later, if a house or flat is being let, something will go wrong. Maybe the stair carpet is coming loose, maybe there is a damp patch, and perhaps there is a dripping tap which might not just be annoying but do damage.

Most tenants would tell the landlord or the letting agent, and the problem would be fixed. Strangely, some tenants never complain. They just give their notice and leave, and it is only then that the landlord finds out they were unhappy. Really, no one likes to lose a tenant and have a break in the rent.

It is the same with those of us who sell goods or services. Even if we believe we have done our best, there will be customers who have not been happy, but did not tell us. They just did not come back for more of our offering.

How do we avoid this problem? Well, we can’t altogether, because some people will not tell us even when we ask what they think about us. However, we must make sure that we always do ask, and with the right feedback, we can make amends and get even better at what we do.

Always ask all your customers and clients if they are happy or if there is anything you can do better. You can never keep them all for ever, but you can retain more for longer. Perhaps some of your “natural wastage” can be avoided.

 

How to lose a customer in one easy lesson

Vostro 1000 with Windows 8A couple of weeks ago I needed to buy some software and found a company that seemed to offer what I wanted: a single license for a one-off project. I chose them because although I am very happy with my current supplier (this is for tax compliance) I needed a program for a back year which they could not supply to me.

I downloaded the program, found the license key, emailed for an activation key, and waited… several hours when I wanted to get the job done.

Eventually I had the email in reply, copied and pasted the key, and Hey Presto, the program worked.

I duly entered the required information, sent off to my client the work I had done, and everything was fine. When the client said he was happy, I went to start the program again, but was told my activation key had expired. I had paid my money. What was the matter?

I sent an email to the software company and asked for help, since they did not answer the telephone. Hours later I had an emailed reply, disbelieving my story. I sent a screenshot of my error message.

More hours passed. I was sent another email with a new activation key. I tried to copy and paste this, but a new error message said this was incorrect. I emailed back.

The next day (yes a whole day without resolving the problem) I had another reply suggesting I did not know how to copy and paste properly (yes, really). I tried to telephone again, but there was still no reply, only a recorded message stating their office was closed and their hours were 9 to 5 (but it was 11 in the morning).

I sent another email. I received another activation key after an hour or so. I copied and pasted, and worked this time it worked and the program ran. At least I had got the work finished!

At no time did I have any proper responsive or helpful contact with anyone in the company. The dialogue was from their side pre-programmed and unimaginative. I still do not know whether they ever answer the telephone, but it does not matter now because i will not be calling them.

Oh, and I will not be buying any more of their products.

The most important part of our relationships with our clients and customers is communication. We must keep them in the loop concerning the work we are doing for them, and we must be accessible at reasonable times if they need us or have questions. It is obvious.

I learned from this company how to lose a new customer, but I will not be putting it into practice.  Nor should anyone.

Gym crackers

Young adults doing exercises at the fitness clubOur local leisure centre has had a change of provider. One well-known company has taken over the running of it from another. However, they do seem to have management problems under the new regime.

In recent weeks, my wife and her friends have been messed around with their exercise class in the swimming pool. One week they were telephoned at home to be advised that the class had been cancelled because there was no instructor to run it. Later, it transpired that the instructor was actually unavailable for the following week. She had turned up to find there was no one there for her class, so it was cancelled anyway, and also obviously for the following week when she really wasn’t there. That seems like poor management and a lack of communication.

Now I hear that several ladies who have a studio class found their latest instructor poor, and apparently she is not qualified. They asked to see the manager, who had recently been promoted from swimming pool duties as a number of staff had left with the old management company.

The ladies expressed their concern about the quality of their exercise class. I do not know how strongly they made their point, but apparently this manager said “I am not talking to a lynch mob” and walked away. The problem was not resolved.

Of course this guy has possibly been promoted beyond his ability (the Peter Principle), and certainly lacks training which he should have been given. What has resulted is a very poor example of customer relations, and of customer service since he should have been offering compensation, even if it had been vouchers for free coffee in the café.

Word gets around. Reputations are damaged. If you asked me privately which leisure centre we are talking about, I would probably tell you.

Of course we can have difficult customers. Sometimes, if things have gone wrong, we must take responsibility. What we must not do is alienate those who provide our livelihoods.

How simple it is to ask “how can I make it up to you?”

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.

Here’s not looking at you

Even walking down the street, there are people with whom we have a connection. We exchange glances and we smile. We smile about the weather, their child, our dog, the shop window we peer through. We recognise those we pass as individuals and we even form a vague impression as to what sort of people they are, even if we cannot know.

Then there are other people with whom we cannot have a connection. They avoid our smile and look away. They may have headphones plugged into their ears. They may be looking at their phones, so risk bumping into us or the nearest lamppost or road sign. They hardly know we are there. They do not acknowledge our existence, even fleetingly, to avoid bumping into us.

Small business owners must realise that our clients and prospects are a bit like that. To me, clients are far more valuable if they engage with us and see us as welcome allies to be valued. We do not need to work for those who do not extend us a welcome or common courtesy. Have you ever visited a customer or prospect who does not even switch off the TV, or even mute the sound? I have, and I do not want that sort of client who is rude, does not know any better, does not see me as an individual and does not think of his guest.

Clients who engage with us and are prepared to have a proper business relationship are the clients I want. I will make sure my business does the very best for them, for they are our referrers and advocates, and therefore our unpaid marketers. If we like our clients that much, we will recommend them to others too.

You cannot beat having genuine relationships in the course of business, can you?

Do keep up!

Has your business changed in the past few years? Mine has. In fact, since I first started working in my profession as a young lad, the entire nature of what people like me do has changed beyond recognition.

My first proper job involved using a pen all day. On my first day I was given a pile of dividend counterfoils relating to the income of a recently deceased gentleman, shown the format in which I had to list his dividends for the year, and left alone to get on with it. This chap had had maybe a hundred shareholdings. It actually took me more than a day to write them out and to do some of the sheets again because I had not got it quite right. When the dividend schedules were finished, they were copy-typed.

Nowadays, if I had dealt with a client last year, his dividend list this year would be automatically generated by my software, and my only task would be to check for changes in shareholdings. Except of course that in modern times, far fewer investor-taxpayers have large portfolios of shares, loan stock or gilts. How I miss “3½% War Stock 1952 or after”!

The point is that we have to invest in new technology and we have to give our market what it wants – or rather something that they want, as our market consists of people. In my case the value is still there for my clients and the costs are in the software and in my knowledge and training rather than in handwriting schedules to be typed out.

We have to adapt constantly and I take no pleasure from a business failing because it makes a product no one wants any more.

Very few people have milk deliveries these days, no one buys meat for their cats from a street seller as they did before the First World War, and sadly no one buys sheepskin coats, cosy as they were.

If we cannot adapt our businesses we must invest in new ones before the old ones fail. I try to keep my eye on the ball. Do you?

Petty dictators

I remember when I was an employee working for a boss who was always right, even when he was wrong. There was no reasoning with him. We underlings were not allowed to have an opinion as to how things might be done better. We had to follow orders. It was no way to work, so of course staff turnover was high. The business suffered because of this and also because all suggestions made for improving the way business was done were ignored. Petty dictators are control freaks.

As independent business owners we should not be surprised that such petty dictators are hard to sell ideas to. After all, they are convinced they know better than us what is good for their business. They know more about web design than my cleverest designer friends. They know more about tax than I do; at least that is what they think.

Of course we may find out that we have clients who think they know best. From our point of view, we can let this ride unless they think they know better our value to them, and their idea is lower. In that case there may be a parting of the ways because we should never be intimidated. We cannot afford it.

Just because our client is a petty dictator does not mean we should not offer advice. After all, it is up to them whether they take it. We just have to remember that some people never listen.

Do you know any petty dictators?