Insults, self-respect and selling by value

I had an email enquiry from someone who was concerned about possible tax liabilities should he sell a property he used to live in, but had let to tenants recently. There was one particular point he had got completely wrong. I wrote a reply as follows:

“Hi Fred (his name is not Fred)

Thank you for your enquiry. I think you are under several misapprehensions…

I should be pleased to advise you and give you estimates of any tax payable after renting out for 24 or 36 months and my fee would be £XXX (a fair professional fee) plus VAT.

Kind regards

Jon”

I received the following reply:

“Hi Jon

I appreciate you getting back to me. However, that charge is way above the figure I am looking to pay for what I understood to be 1-2 hours work.

Thanks anyway

Fred”

I responded:

“Thank you for your email, Fred. Although it was brief, it caused a sharp intake of breath this end.

From an employee’s point of view, they may think their hourly rate in a service industry reflects the value of the work provided, but the reality is that their employer has overheads and the cost to provide the service may be two or three times that hourly rate. Then there is the profit element since we all have to live.

I provide a service based on my expertise, the cost of my continuing professional development (CPD) which is obligatory for members of my professional bodies in practice, my office overheads, insurance, the services I buy in from others, and with a view to profit and tax which has to be paid. The CPD is pretty important in practical terms and there have been several changes to the taxation of let property announced even in the past year or so.

You would have had the benefit of a road map in order to plan the possible sale of your property (or to keep it), you would know the possible tax payable at various stages, be aware of all the tax reliefs which could be available and have reasonable certainty based on different outcomes. You would have had the benefit of all my long experience and learning. All this is of substantial value. One should always look at and understand the value rather than the cost of a service.

Oh, and to provide the answers to several “what ifs?”, outline the reliefs available and to put you right on your misapprehensions would have taken considerably more than one or two hours.

If you can get professional advice upon which you feel you can rely a lot more cheaply from someone else, that is fine, but you know the saying “if you pay peanuts…”

Regards

Jon”

We all know there is no point in doing unprofitable work and it does nothing for our self-respect if we provide a service which is simply not valued by our customer or client. It is much better to do less but more valuable work, and far more profitable too.

If we do not value ourselves, how are we to sell our value to others? We can certainly do without being insulted by those enquiring about our services.

Have you had this sort of comment in response to your quote for business?

Turning down work – really?

One of the mistakes many start-up businesses make is taking every project or job, no matter what. I made it myself.  It is very tempting to accept anything which comes along, but the new business owner needs to consider:

  • Is it within our expertise?
  • Will it be profitable?
  • Have we the capacity to do it?

If the answer to any of those questions is “no”, then we should decline politely.

Sometimes even more experienced business people can get this wrong too, and accept work which cannot be delivered satisfactorily. That may lead to damage to reputations. Never be afraid to say no. Feel able to refer another business for the work if you think they will be able to do it. That will make more friends too.

What does not make for a good reputation is a business owner saying “I will get back to you with an estimate or a quote” and then not doing that because they do not fancy doing the job. That is a good way of losing friends and again damaging reputation.

Never leave a prospect hanging. They will think more of you if you decline and tell them why.

Born free, but life isn’t free

I get a lot of business through websites; both my own and others where I have a presence. The enquiries I receive as a consultant on somewhat technical matters fall into three categories:

  • Genuine requests for help from people who have evaluated my expertise or need confirmation that I can help them.
  • Requests from some who want answers, but do not appreciate what value those answers will have.
  • Requests for free information or queries that are designed to try to obtain free information in any proposal from me.

It is not always easy to tell the difference between the three, but I usually have some idea. I respond sometimes to ask more questions before quoting a fee, but if the requirements set out are pretty comprehensive then I quote straight away. I avoid giving free information for my own safety, but also for that of the foolish person who might act on it without having given me all relevant facts.

By the second email I will have proposed a fee based on the value of the information required, provided it is worth my while. Usually for those who understand that value in the context of their own circumstances, I will get a swift acceptance. These will prove to have been the genuine requests.

For the other two categories of requests, once having proposed a fee I will hear no more. Very occasionally, if a telephone number has been provided I will make a quick call to make sure that my “prospect” has understood what I have said. Mostly though and without a phone number, I know it is a waste of time following up.

Experience tells me when I am wasting my time. I may get business from around one-in-six to one-in-eight of the incoming emails seeking information. I am quick in dealing with them because it is not worth wasting time, and certainly not on follow-ups. One-in-six to one-in-eight is plenty enough too.

Not every business is the same. If I were selling goods I might follow up more.

Are you a consultant? Do you follow up when your enquirer goes quiet? How much?

Religion, politics and small business

An amateur radio operator, Yvette Cendes, KB3H...

An amateur radio operator, Yvette Cendes, KB3HTS, at station W8EDU, Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the Dark Ages when I studied for my amateur radio license we learned that we must not discuss politics and religion with our fellow hams. That was actually a condition of our licenses, but it is easy to understand why such talk was forbidden. We all have different views and these would lead to arguments and bad feeling.

When I was first licensed I used to talk to radio amateurs all over the place, but many were in what was then the Eastern Block. It was really nice to chat about everyday life as well as technical stuff, but it might have caused bad feeling if we had ever strayed into politics or even talked about how much better life was in the West.

I never had an argument with a fellow ham, but instead was able to build genuine relationships over the air. It was great.

Now in our on-line digital world we have social media and the noise of it all is deafening. Like most people, I share news stories on Twitter and Facebook, but I try to avoid being political. I look for interesting techie stuff, and tweet news relevant to my niche and followers. The closest I come to politics is passing on stories of communities in crisis due to war, but I do not speak in support of or against any faction or Government.

Of course I have my views, but I also have my network on-line, my colleagues and my potential clients, and those to whom I would look to refer business if they were the best fit for someone I know. The last thing I need to do is antagonise anyone with whom I might work.

I think I need to treat my business network in the same way as my radio contacts. I respect the fact they may have strong views and a right to those views. If I do not have any conversations concerning politics and religion there is hope we might work together in the future, which we will not do if we argue and end up hating each other.

Do you treat politics and religion as taboos never to be discussed on-line?

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?

Avoiding taking the rough with the smooth in your business

iStock_000020557146LargeI started writing On Our Bikes to help others who, like me, found themselves with no work and had to go out and find it as an independent business person. I had no experience of running my own business and had not expected to have to do so.

It was for me a really tough position to be in, especially when like many, I expected that someone was bound to want my services. Of course I did not understand that clients have to be convinced that they need us, and understand our value to them.

Someone I have known for quite a few years through social media and face-to-face networking is Rory Murray. He has written a great Kindle book, The Saw-Tooth Dilemma (this is not an affiliate link) on getting work as a consultant and how to avoid the “feast-and-famine” scenario so unfortunately familiar to independent service providers and consultants.

Here is my review of his book on Amazon:

“Rory has written a roller-coaster account of his feast and famine experiences in work opportunities, and most importantly he tells us how to avoid them. This is a very personal account which would help anyone who is unemployed, who is a contractor or a consultant without a guaranteed stream of work. You will learn how to apply your social skills to gain work and how to use the on-line networking sites to best effect.

I cannot recommend this book more highly.”

Other reviews are here.

This book gave me a lot of food for thought, and I have run my own businesses for a dozen years now. We are all learning all the time, or we should be.

Do buy the book and download it onto your Kindle, PC, Mac or whatever device you choose. As I said, I am not on commission for this. I must really mean it, don’t you think?

Come back and tell me what you think of it.

 

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?

Picking good clients is like appreciating fine wine

This image shows a red wine glass.

(Photo credit: André Karwath via Wikipedia)

As you know, I do like to be appreciated by my clients and do not like being seen as a commodity.

I am not a wine snob. I do not know all that much about wine. However I do appreciate a decent claret. That is why I would rather give a good bottle of wine to someone who would savour it and appreciate the drinking of it, as opposed to someone who saw a bottle of wine as a means to an end; to get tipsy or worse.

So it is that I would rather have clients who appreciate my business services and with whom I can have that friendly relationship. Small business needs to be personal and should be enjoyed by both business owner and client, don’t you think?

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What do you stand for?

 

Delivering satisfaction (and fish and chips)

You know what they sell and it’s not pizza

Supermarket blues and reds

Big business or small business – we all have to have a type of offering our public understands. What do we represent? Whom do we represent?

Even the best most experienced businesses can get confused. In the UK, our biggest supermarket, Tesco, has lost sales. Their appeal may have declined because they cannot decide whether to emphasise their quality or their cheaper offerings.

One of their rivals, Sainsburys, has done well as a known purveyor of quality. They have not tried to be so cheap, though they do try to represent value. That does not mean that in supermarket-land there is anything wrong with cheap. The big discounters are doing well too. People know what they stand for and what to expect when they go to their shops.

My bigger pictures (or photo albums)

I like to take photographs and I like Flickr. That does not mean I am any good as a photographer (probably not) but I like a good place to share and especially to learn from others. I know what Flickr stands for.

Recently I thought I would look at Google’s Picasa as I had heard good things two or three years ago. However everything has been moved to Google+ Photos  and while I am on Google+ it all seems a disorganised mess. Google changed the offering, and while I appreciate that Google is innovative and keen on evolution of its products, Picasa web is no good to me.

Credit is due to Yahoo for creating a platform in Flickr where everyone understands why they are there and can share their photos and network with those whose work they like. Of course there are complaints about any changes to the site’s appearance and presentation, but Flickr developers do ask for feedback for beta changes, so we feel we belong.

Confused? You will be

Too often I see professional firms saying for example that they specialise in e.g. Accountancy, Corporate Tax, Corporate Recovery, Financial Services, Human Resources, Office Support etc.. You see what I mean? They do not actually specialise in anything, and do not seem an obvious choice if you need one of those services. You would rather go to the firm which concentrates on the service you want, or at least had some provenance in that particular area.

Take a stand

What do you stand for? My “High Street” tax help offering is for landlords and let property even though I could help you with other things if you asked.

What is your speciality? What convinces your new customers to come to you rather than someone else?

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.

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