No time-wasters?

Blog pix 21 March 11 001I do not like having my time wasted. However time-wasters are hard to avoid when they telephone to try to elicit free information or professional advice, even though they should know that free advice is not worth the paper it is written on, as Sam Goldwyn might have said, but didn’t.

I well understand the sentiment of wishing to avoid such people who just want to use us, but quite often I see small ads selling an item or a product, with that “No time-wasters” prominent in the entry.

It just gives a bad impression of a grumpy person or business owner. The average would-be purchaser would want to avoid dealing with an angry seller, and time-wasters would be too thick-skinned to care and would turn up anyway.

If you are selling a product or a service and are writing any sort of copy, you want it to be attractive and to sound inviting, and more genuine than someone else’s offering in the same market. That is why you need to explain what your offering will do to make the buyer feel better.

Comfort is what most people want. They do not wish to be scared away by someone’s list of qualifications which most of us have, because they think such a list sounds pompous and expensive. They do not wish to read about a business’s prestigious premises on the High Street because that sounds expensive as well.

Customers want to feel welcome and hope to get that nice warm feeling inside, and we all need to remember that when presenting ourselves and our businesses. Don’t you agree?

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Are you making up the numbers?

Not just a number

Not just a number

Just because I do not like to be seen as a commodity does not mean that I can influence the thoughts of everyone who sees my business offerings in that light. Unfortunately there will always be people, whom we may regard as prospects who will waste our time.

Recently I gave up an evening to visit someone who clearly needed my help. I was able to give him some reassurance that matters were not as bad as he thought, and we agreed a fee. All well and good, I thought, and we seemed to get on very well.

A few days later, after I had sent my engagement letter stating the terms and my fee which we had agreed, I received a letter from the prospect saying that he had changed his mind. He did not have the grace to pick up the telephone to tell me.

I could not be bothered to try to call him because the only reason he would have gone back on his agreement with me (we had shaken hands) was that he had found another firm who was more than £5 cheaper than me.

I should be grateful that I did not waste any more time with someone who saw me as a commodity rather than a person who would hold his hand and keep him out of trouble with the authorities.

It is important for small business owners to establish a personal relationship with their clients; to have an understanding and expectation of what will be delivered, and when. It does not matter whether you are a baker, an accountant or a car mechanic. Your friendly face and your service are your greatest business tools.

Remember you are not just a number amongst many.

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?

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Keeping our nerve with unpleasant business experiences

iStock_000011891859XSmall bored womanIf we run a tight ship in our business lives, for the most part we will avoid major problems. Sometimes things do go wrong, and it will not be our fault. It may be that we have simply come across someone whose standards of behaviour are not as high as ours. That can be quite shocking.

It has happened to me in the past. I undertook a very significant task of getting a new client’s affairs in order when he was in serious trouble with various Government departments. I did a lot of work, and he paid my bills at the beginning. However, he did not pay for the last and quite significant portion of work, and disappeared off the face of the Earth as far as I was concerned. Neither normal search methods nor Google found any trace of him until a year or so later, when Google did find him convicted of a serious non-financial offence.

I thought of this incident and one or two lesser ones when, this week, the tenant of an apartment saw fit to flood his first floor flat by leaving on the shower tap and abandoning the property, not having paid the rent of course. The bill to fix the floors and stairs might run in to thousands, subject to the loss adjuster’s inspection. The damage to someone else’s downstairs apartment is far worse, the ceilings and architraves having come down, and their floors likely a write-off too.

Of course sensible people in the landlord business are insured as we all should be, and it is no use getting upset by such incidents in our business lives. We cannot legislate for bad behaviour, and it isn’t our fault that there are such dreadful people in the world.

We just carry on and put it all down to experience. If we make a mistake we can fix it. If someone else does something dreadful to affect our business lives, we should not take it personally, but accept there are these people out there.

Other people’s bad behaviour is a habit, not directed at us. We have to vet our customers as far as we can, but sometimes a bad apple slips through. Have you had a rotten one?

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Communicating with your employees and colleagues

iStock_000020557146LargeThe team

All successful small businesses need to have their owners, management and employees work as a team. That means quite a degree of commitment from everyone and that has to be based on mutual respect.

When I was a manager in someone else’s small business, and indeed when I was in charge of a department in a larger firm, I always believed in a relatively hands-off approach. I didn’t tell people what to do, although I helped them if they asked. I tried to be approachable and friendly, and I always thought that I got the best response.

I found that way of managing because it worked for me. I think one’s charges respond better if they like their manager. That doesn’t mean that I am making out I am a wonderful guy. I did it because it was the easiest way and I knew it worked.

Everyone wants to feel included as part of the team and to help each other. I know I did when I was further down the ranks, and I also remember (confession coming up) not trying nearly so hard when I was getting blamed unreasonably for things going wrong which were entirely outside my control. The fact I was blamed was a communication failure in the managers not taking the trouble to get to the bottom of a problem. It was counter-productive of course.

Changes

Businesses do not always run smoothly and sometimes owners and managers will feel that there needs to be a change in working practices. If they do need to be implemented then it is far preferable if the employees are consulted properly and are on board. If they have specific issues they need to be met.

Communicating the need for change is not always easy. Gini Dietrich, writing here in her excellent blog, highlights how badly Yahoo! recently got it wrong and how they should have done better in asking their work-at-home people to work in the office in future.

It’s good to talk

A well-known telephone company if the UK used to have a strap-line “It’s good to talk” and it is, if you are talking with your employees on a level of respect and understanding. They need to appreciate why change is needed, and “management” needs to empathise and understand what problems their staff may have in making the change.

Do you agree it’s good to talk?

Related posts:

What the BBC can teach us about management and team work

Why managers and workers need to respect each other

 

 

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Taking our business network leaders for granted

A Breakfast venue

A Breakfast venue

Getting the boot

I belong to a monthly networking group that has recently been unceremoniously ousted by the venue which has hosted us for a couple of years. It was not that we were a rowdy bunch. They just didn’t think they were making enough money out of us for the room we hired. No doubt they conveniently overlooked the amount we were spending in their pricey bar and café.

Our chairman had to find a new venue at rather short notice. His first attempt (and where we had our February meeting) was not a huge success. Not his fault. It turned out that other visitors made a considerable noise next door so that we were hardly able to hear each other. This is the sort of venue issue which only comes to light when you actually try it out rather than visit in the middle of a quiet morning.

Anyway, apparently we have a new venue for March and our leader thinks it will be a success. Let us hope so, but remember that he has spent a considerable amount of time researching and visiting potential meeting places. We owe him a vote of thanks.

Not a sausage

I have until recently been a long-time member of business breakfast clubs. I led one for a couple of years. The first venue went out of business and didn’t tell me or anyone else in the group. We turned up at 7 one Tuesday morning with the temperature at -4 Celsius (not a detail one forgets) and waited in the cold for about half an hour while we tried to find out what was going on.

In the glasshouse

I then had to find a new venue who would let us meet, serve breakfast and leave us alone for our meeting. It was difficult and I spent a lot of time on the telephone and then visiting possible meeting places. We stayed at the first place I chose for about three months.

We got great personal service but the room was noisy due to being rather open to other people coming in and out, and also because when it rained on the glass roof, no one could have much conversation without shouting. It seemed we would have to move again.

Out of the frying pan

I moved, partly at the request of a couple of members, to a posh new hotel on the seafront. The environment was better, but the service was corporate and therefore less personal except when one particular young lady was on duty, and who took the meaning of customer service seriously. We soldiered on until circumstances meant I had to quit as leader.

It would have been great to be thanked by everyone for all the hard work I put in in dealing with the venues, collecting the money and paying them, leading the meetings, thinking what was topical and canvassing members, keeping the records and generally contributing much more time than the weekly hour and a half. Yet when I stopped, only a couple of members took the time, and I had absolutely no thanks whatever from the group brand owners.

I did my best. I could not have done better in the circumstances, I don’t think. I made no real money from my efforts but that was never my intention. I am not complaining. It was an interesting experience. I would have just liked a bit more appreciation.

Do remember to thank your network group leaders for their efforts. They deserve it. They do it for you so that you can get more business. They are certainly not in it for the money that you pay each week, nearly all of which goes to pay for the meeting room and catering.

You would not want to deny someone that nice warm feeling one gets from being appreciated and thanked, would you?

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Shouldn’t you part from your ungrateful customers?

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

Giving thanks

We should always thank those who give us good service. It oils the wheels, makes them feel good towards us, and it is only polite. It is a question of respect, and most of us know this.

Unfortunately not everyone understands. We know thanking people is the right thing to do because we like our hard work and attentive service appreciated. As Shakespeare wrote:

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;

Now and again there are customers and clients who take advantage of our excellent service to make continuous demands, taking advantage of our attentiveness. They call and ask for extra advice they do not wish to pay for. They resist an increase in our charges even at less than the rate of inflation. They never thank us and they are brusque in their letters and emails.

I do hope that any clients you have who are like that do not represent a substantial part of your business, because if they do, you are their employee rather than their service provider. As long as you are not beholden in that way, then it is time for you to ask that client to find someone else.

I like good relationships with all my clients and from my side do my very best to look after their business needs to their satisfaction, but all relationships are two-sided. If a client is gruff, demanding, unappreciative and fee-resistant then they regard what your business provides as a commodity with a price. They do not see the value in what they get. They do not value what they get from you. They do not deserve to have you.

As you like it

There are always times when we have to ask our clients to find someone else because they must be unhappy whatever we do, but mostly because they make us unhappy. I like my business to be fun. Do not be afraid to weed out the unhappiness in the nicest possible way.

Have you parted with an ungrateful customer recently?

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Is your business funny?

Joking apart

So, is your business funny? Mine isn’t. It isn’t funny to clients whose businesses are struggling, and people do not like paying tax, so while clients might appreciate my help in reducing it they don’t fall about laughing over their tax bill.

Some businesses are funny but that is because funny is what they do.

Within all our businesses we should be enjoying ourselves and seeing the funny side because we do not work so well if we are not happy. However unless we are in the business of entertainment we do need to be suitably serious when talking to our clients because they expect our proper attention and would rather we didn’t see them as figures of fun and objects of mirth. We have to remain professional.

A time and a place

Recently in our family we have had a rather sad time and lost a loved one. Being thoroughly modern and removed from the location the funeral would take place, we checked out funeral directors (funeral homes to you North Americans) via their websites as well as listening to recommendations. Sensibly, none of the sites were too gloomy, but one featured “amusing” incidents and photos of their employees having a good laugh, including one where a female worker was having difficulty climbing onto a horse-drawn hearse.

What was our reaction to this apparently hilarious business? We moved on. They would have been the most convenient firm for us to use, but we were put off by their website and marketing, and I think so many people would have been. We were in no mood to share the humour.

Don’t frighten the horses

In any business there will be moments of hilarity amongst colleagues. Doctors often have a “gallows humour”. That helps them deal with some of the things they have to deal with. Just the same our clients and customers expect to be treated with respect. They want to be taken seriously. They want to feel they are our most important clients when they are dealing with us. With proper attention that feeling of importance is easy to deliver and essential for customer loyalty.

Don’t you agree there are times we should be serious and try not to frighten the horses?

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Plumbing the depths and ruining a business reputation

 

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Vice Pres...

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Vice President George H. W. Bush – Don’t talk about them! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Less than professional

While I am talking about reputations, which I was the other day, have you noticed the comment threads on some of the professional websites? Often one can have a perfectly well-chosen and appropriate piece ultimately damaged by some very stupid comments.

What seems to happen is that initially there will be useful intelligent responses but a certain point someone will latch on to a throwaway remark in an otherwise considered response and then it is all downhill.

The silliest comments usually start after the first twenty more reasoned ones.

Quite often we will get into kitchen sink politics involving prejudices about Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan or George Bush the elder or the younger, which is bound to get some peoples’ backs up, depending on their own views. Fortunately, on professional websites (and I include accountants’ websites) we do not generally descend as far as invoking Godwin’s Law  but there is no guarantee. Once a thread has gone into decline it deters others from commenting who would have had something of value to add.

Anonymity is not what it used to be

It is of course true that many of the most unconsidered comments are from those who suppose they are anonymous, but they are bound to be known to some through their style or from clues they give. For example in my professional (accounting and tax) area, the world is not that large. Most people know someone who will know someone else and identities are not so hard to guess.

Then again there are there are those who actually get into ridiculous debates using their own names.

If you see someone making intemperate comments about another, arguing ignorantly over ancient politics or re-writing history, would you engage them to act for you on a professional basis ? No, I thought not.

Avoiding Radio Ga Ga

Apart from politics, the only more sure-fire way of getting someone’s back up is to invoke religion. Some of you may know that I am a licensed radio amateur (ham) though not very active these days. The one big rule we always had was to avoid talking about politics and religion. That is because discussing either is a guarantee of trouble.

Don’t become some background noise. You wouldn’t want to lose the respect of your fellow professionals or drive away a prospect with a silly prejudiced remark. Then again, perhaps these out-of-control comment threads are a useful filter for all of us when deciding with whom to do business. What do you think?

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Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in small businesses

Literary truths

I have borrowed from Shakespeare in the title, but also remember Enid Blyton who inspired me to be a bookworm as a child:

“What does it matter if things go wrong?
l sing and I’ll whistle my brave little song.”

Not that I was very keen on Noddy himself,whose song this was, but things do go wrong in business and sometimes there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. I asked a former client if she wanted her private papers delivered back by me when I was passing, or to have them sent by courier. She chose the latter and with the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight I should have chosen a local courier rather than the international company which had been recommended to me. Of course the parcel got lost.

Horrible accidents

No amount of compensation could actually compensate for the loss of unique papers. The couriers will not anyway pay compensation on something which has no intrinsic value. The former client is naturally very upset and keeps pressing me to extract something from the delivery firm or get back her papers. This is a hopeless task. They are one of the largest home delivery companies in Europe, they operate entirely on-line and have no telephone number for customer service and no published numbers for any of their offices or depots. They are all apparently ex-directory.

All my correspondence with this company has to be done via email. Generously they have refunded the fee I paid them to take the package; a whole £7.14. I have been as pleasant as can be with the ex-client, who is very short with me, but there is just nothing I can do to make matters better, though I will never use this company again.

So while I will keep bashing away at the courier company I have to move on, but it is stressful when people are unhappy with my business and me, even though the fault is not mine. I do care very much, but I cannot help any more.

Picking ourselves up

We have to look beyond upsetting events in business. We have to relax and de-stress. Following the latest telephone call from the lady whose papers are lost I went to the gym and felt better afterwards.

We have to look to the future and put behind us that which was out of our control. We have to keep focussed, to do what is right, and not let anyone down even though multi-national companies dump on us.

How do you get past unpleasant incidents and work off your stress?

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