It’s worth the pain

iStock_000005618867XSmallMy aim for each client is to give them a valuable service, and I charge a fee to match that service; one that reflects that value and rewards me well for their use of my brain-power. As I normally charge a fixed fee agreed in advance I hope not to end up spending more time than budgeted for.

Sometimes life is not quite like that. A while back I had a client to whom I gave very detailed advice. I expected him to come back with questions. That is fair enough. I expanded on points where necessary. However, he seemed to want to pin me down in my opinions when I thought I had already been pretty clear and explicit. I was patient and polite but, to be honest, secretly irritated.

Although eventually the client declared himself satisfied and paid my bill after a few weeks, I thought he might be unhappy. I decided not to press him on this, although I felt disappointed that I had not come up to expectations, notwithstanding that actually I thought I had done really well. I put it out of my mind; onwards and upwards.

Just recently, I find that this client has given me a really great referral. I am delighted. Obviously my client was very happy after all and his gruff, questioning manner belied this.

My patience and effort has paid off. I shall remember that not all people express their satisfaction with our work in the same way, and that it is always worth going beyond expectations because our clients remember, and mention this to their friends.

Phew!

 

Marketing, networking and evolution

A dozen or so years ago when I set up my own businesses, they were local. I joined various networking groups and met a lot of people. I belonged to on-line business networking sites and went to off-line meetings facilitated by those sites and their owners. In those days, I gained business from doing this, in return for doing my bit in referral networking. I recommended those businesses and their owners whom I felt could help my clients and contacts. That was the way it worked, and possibly still works for some.

Recent local networking has really not brought me any business. Of course I have had referrals from happy local clients, but I cannot remember the last local network referral I have had, and that is despite having referred many of my contacts to other people.

It does not matter in the sense that I get business from all over the world through marketing on-line, and advertising still works for me locally. I just wonder if local breakfast and lunch groups have had their day except maybe for start-ups. What do you think?

Don’t be shy. Be positive.

I met a very go-ahead sort of guy recently, who needed my immediate help. In the longer term I felt that one of my business friend’s offerings would be a better fit. I told my client of my recommendation, spoke to my friend, and introduced them by email, giving them each the other’s contact details.

My business friend then sent my client an email listing his businesses generic services. “We can offer… etc.”

Goodness me! I give my friend a new client “on a plate” and instead of taking the initiative, telephoning and introducing himself, and proposing a meeting, he gives a rather dusty impression, writes a boring email and sounds like everyone else.

I telephoned my friend and asked “Have you spoken yet?” The reply? “No, but I will later in the week”. That is probably too late

I made the introduction because I know my friend is good and well up to looking after this client. However, the only way to make an impression is by introducing oneself confidently and quickly after getting the referral, and by explaining to the hot but rapidly cooling prospect how much better she or he will be by engaging us and allowing us to take the stress.

First impressions really do count. We must not make a mess of them.

Networking with old friends

Successful Business People.I have been in business on my own account for a dozen years, now. In that time, I have met many people, both in formal organised networking and just in bumping into people in the course of business.

I enjoy networking, and have a long track record of meeting new people. Isn’t it great?

Now, people come and go from our attention as we move on and expand our informal networks, and maybe we over-stretch ourselves. I think that in my case, although I must have met thousands of people, Dunbar’s Number is relevant. I can only relate to around 150 business friends. Some come into the group and some fade out, but 150 is a fair estimate of those in my circle.

When I look back, though, I have had a greater connection with certain people whom I may not have seen for a while. Those people I can still help, and maybe they can help me, and what is more, it is great to work with those who make one feel comfortable.

So it is that I have been catching up with old friends, seeing how we can help each other, and at the same time it is great to reminisce, compare notes and generally enjoy ourselves.

Are you staying in touch?

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?

The value of clients and the value of you

In many businesses including mine, owners feel obliged to chase down what they see as the competition, and match their low prices. It is a race to the bottom in terms of fees and makes the profit margin on many clients very low or almost nothing. Yet we are in a business to make a profit, or how else will we live?

This race to the bottom often involves small businesses trying to compete with large ones, who “pile them high and sell them cheap”. There is of course room for such big businesses otherwise they would not exist, but it is impossible for them to offer a good personal service individual to the client. That would be too expensive for them.

Personal service is the major advantage a small business can offer. Of course that still comes with a price, but the client who pays more and receives a great service will feel more valued, and value you and your business. A client like that will recommend you.

Conversely, if you try to chase down the market to a low fee level such as that offered by the big boys (and girls) the sort of client you get will value you no more than the big providers, which is probably hardly at all. You will be just another commodity to them, and not appreciated and valued or recommended. Of course because of the low fee they will be of little value to you.

Do not sell your services or your business cheap, and don’t sell yourself cheap either.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Promoting your start-up business – Part 5 – Networking

 

.

Don’t be a networking butterfly (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

What is networking?

What do we mean by networking? It means getting to know people. We are a social species, and of course some are more social than others. I am quite a shy person by nature, and really had to push myself to get out and meet people when I started my own businesses. Other people, such as my wife, are natural networkers and real social animals, knowing large numbers of people in the local community without thinking about it.

Of course what I am concentrating on here is business networking rather than general social networking.

It is not possible to categorize or talk about every sort of business networking opportunity. Meeting any other person in business, or who is a potential client, is business networking. However, I will discuss the different types of organized meetings which are available in most towns and cities.

  • The one category of business per group / chapter.
  • The several category of business per group type.
  • Networking lunches usually with a talk from a business person.
  • General gatherings organized by chambers of commerce or small business membership organizations, representative and lobby groups.

BNI and others

What do I mean by “one category of business per group”? This is the model started really by Ivan Misner with Business Network International (BNI) in the Eighties. The format is that in every “Chapter” each type of business is represented by one member. There are no duplications of businesses.

Originally all the meetings were over breakfast, although some are over lunch now. The emphasis is on the networking, not the meal. During the meeting, and often during the meal, each member has perhaps one minute to talk about her / his business and the types of referrals wanted. The talk-time is strictly managed and the whole meeting is very much to a format.

Members often take turns on a rota basis to have a whole ten minutes every few months to talk about their business in more detail. Towards the end of the meeting, each member has an opportunity to pass referrals from their referral pad, and all referrals are monitored for quality and success by the Membership Co-ordinator (I have been one, as well as run such meetings myself).

When I first started out with a business no one knew about, and the Internet was less advanced, my coach suggested I tried BNI.  I am very glad I did. It gave me confidence to speak in front of other people and to present my ideas, and most importantly I got to know other local business owners almost immediately. I gained some business and referred quite a lot to the accountant, the solicitor, the carpenter, the web designer, the heating engineer and the financial adviser.

BNI was not hugely successful for me at the time in terms of business gained, but the confidence gained was invaluable. Long after I left I got a huge amount of business from another ex-member.

BNI is great when you start out. I think my BNI “life” of about three years was typical, but some still benefit hugely after a decade or so.

Non-exclusive groups

There are some membership organizations which run breakfast or lunch meetings, like BNI require a significant joining fee and membership subs, and also like BNI are franchised to local organizers. Unlike BNI they permit any number of people in the same business to go to the meetings and indeed to go to multiple meetings in different towns. Whether this works very well is hard to tell. It helps you meet others in your own business as well as many others, but may produce conflicts in terms of getting referrals. 4N is typical of such organizations in the UK. There will be many varieties around the world. Try them out and see how successful they seem. Many will allow trial membership.

Business lunches

I mentioned networking lunches, usually with a talk from a business person. These groups are also often part of a franchise. They have an advantage in that they are focused on networking and you will get good opportunities to talk to the people around you at length. You never know who you might meet who could be an ideal referrer (you might be theirs) or even the perfect person for a joint venture.

The general gatherings I mentioned, organized by chambers of commerce or small business membership organizations, tend to be less focused, in that there is no real format. You may be fortunate to find and gain business at one of these, but especially if they are free at the door or there is simply an entrance fee and no on-going membership required, people turn up to sell. They tend to go to every meeting of this type so that you keep on bumping into them, when you really do not want to see them. I call these people who turn up at every meeting to sell networking butterflies. They never settle and probably never get or receive business, so they waste their time..

It is most important in business networking not to sell, but to be interested in other people and listen to what they have to say. That way you will get more respect and more referrals.

Less useful lunches

As for Chambers of Commerce lunches, I guess it is worth trying one or two, but you may be out of luck if the primary stated object is not networking. I have nothing against pensioners. I am related to pensioners and am going to be one myself one day, but I have found Chamber lunches to be the domain of the retired. If they are not in business any more they are not likely to be able to help you, and are unlikely to think about referring you to their friends.

Get out there

I enjoy getting out to network. I like meeting people, which BNI trained me to do. I have since run a “BNI clone” group. I have tried different sorts of groups, and you should try various types too, to see which you like and which might work for you.

Do not be disappointed if results in terms of business gained are slow to start with. You have to persevere, get known, gain the confidence of other business owners, and show that you really do a great job for your customers and clients. Remember not to sell. Business will come from networking, and maybe years afterwards as it did for me from an ex-BNI colleague.

I would wish you good luck with your networking, but you should not need luck if you work on it and give it time.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The trouble with referral networking

Where do I start?

A colder climate

Given that there are so many groups, not just the breakfast meetings, referral networking is hard work. As we said, there is a lot of dilution with people being torn several ways.

The recession has brought more difficulties into the referral networking arena, because there are lots of people who have started new businesses having come out of employment. That is absolutely brilliant is some ways, or should I say admirable? It was what I did ten years ago. However, ten years ago there were not crowds of people suddenly in the market and looking to sell their skills.

As a new business, if you are really struggling to get work, you have no track record. That means you have few or no recommendations and I don’t know whether you are any good. It also means I would be wary of referring you because when I refer anyone, I am putting my own reputation at stake. I may know other businesses who do the same thing you do, and because they are established I know whether they are worthy of recommendation.

With a little help from your friends…

Someone who has had no business yet has to rely on longer term friends to get work, be able to give a reference from a former employer, or has to take a punt with advertising. I cannot recommend an accountant I don’t know to be good, or a printer or a plumber or an HR specialist. I may meet a web designer when out networking, but I know lots of those and I already know good ones because their work is out there for all to see..

Much more than it was ten years ago, the future of networking is more distinctly on-line, or it seems to be. In some ways it is easier to build relationships there. Quite often one “sees” people more often there. I have referred people on Twitter and have been referred, leading to some decent business.

Has the world changed?

Local referral networking seems too hit-and -miss now, by which I mean that there are more worried people without business bouncing between one networking group and another, and who don’t understand how you have to give first in order to receive. Referral networking works through genuine relationships. There are too many networking butterflies.

Do you get business through networking? Is it through on-line social media or is it though old-fashioned meetings? Is it a mixture of the two?

Enhanced by Zemanta

The trouble with breakfast networking

An English breakfast

An English breakfast (Photo credit: Riggwelter via Wikipedia). Hold the beans, please!

Sleepy time

A few days ago I went to breakfast networking meeting. It is several months since I last went to one and I wondered how I used to get up every week at such an unearthly hour to get to my breakfast networking group. I now seem to have a job staying awake if I have to get up at crack of dawn or even before.

Just the same I have a long history of breakfast networking. Nearly a decade ago when I first started out with my own business I joined BNI. There were very few breakfast networking groups then.

Halcyon days

I enjoyed BNI and although in my sort of business I didn’t get dozens of referrals unlike the florist who benefited from the “desperation referrals”, I did pick up some useful business, and most importantly one great referral which kept my wife and me out of the poor house.

BNI was good for me. Most of the members were fairly new business owners, but one of the important rules was that we were supposed to refer a particular type of business to a member of BNI rather than a business owner we knew elsewhere. We were not supposed to belong to any “rival” group. There was also some quality control via the membership committee in that they followed up on referrals and made sure that if we got business we delivered the best service we could. I am sure we did in the group, being mindful of our own reputations.

Being a member of BNI was not cheap in terms of upfront outlay. With joining fees, annual membership and the meeting costs including breakfasts we paid out about £1,400 (S2,200 in today’s money) or so in our first year and £1,000 annually thereafter. It was worth it though in terms of business.

Falling from grace

I enjoyed BNI while it lasted for me. However even an easy-going chap like me ultimately fell out with the franchise owner. Never mind.

In more recent years I enjoyed other breakfast groups. I have been a serial (not cereal) breakfast networker. I even ran a group for a while, but nowadays there are so many groups meeting at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning. Unlike the group I ran, most are not run on the BNI principle of exclusivity where there is only one of each type of business in the same group.

There are also many “free” groups which do not even have formal membership. This means that people tend to belong to a number of groups and are torn between members of different ones when it comes to referrals. Maybe they are so confused they never give any and forget the important tenet of networking, which is helping others.

In my most recent breakfast networking I did not find it very profitable. I met some nice people, but because of the sheer number of groups and divided loyalties, I think the age of profitable breakfast networking is over. Except maybe for those who swallow hard and stump up for BNI.

I would love to know what your experience is as a current or former breakfast networker? Does it still work for you?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Reputations, referrals and let-downs

If we get a referral from a colleague or fellow business person, it is very satisfying of course, but we have to live up to the recommendation. If we run our businesses as efficiently as we can and offer a great service that distinguishes us from the rest then we have no need to worry about letting anybody down. We have a duty to the referrer as well as to our new customer. After all, the person who has referred the work has put her reputation on the line by recommending us.

I have had a good and reliable service from one of my suppliers over about eight years. I thought nothing of recommending that supplier to one of my favourite colleagues in my network. Apparently my supplier has let her down. I feel bad about this because it is as though I have let her down. I gave the referral in good faith. My reputation was potentially at stake.

My friend is philosophical about it and says I shouldn’t worry. I still feel let down, and I would hesitate to refer the supplier again.

Reputations are precious. Mine is. I refer people I think are good, but I will be even more sparing with my referrals in future.

Have you been let down like this by someone in your network? What did you do?