Do you supply your services 24/7?

Is Generation Y in front?

Is Generation Y in front?

As a professional person it is important to respond to clients’ questions promptly. Gone are the days when generally a client would write a letter and would be happy to have had a reply within a week. Now they mostly expect a reply to an email fairly promptly, by which I mean within hours. However I was surprised to see in an article that “Generation Y” accountants (born between 1980 and 1993) were best placed to deal with modern clients demands because “Greater use of mobile devices and online technologies is leading to clients expecting more support outside of the traditional nine-to-five working hours.”

Of course I am ancient compared with “Generation Y” people. In my early working life, people wanting an answer to an urgent query picked up the telephone.. Everyone had access to a telephone, even if they had to walk to their street corner and enter one of those strange red boxes with windows. Actually all our clients had a land-line in their house.

It is true that with a smartphone (I have one), a computer (I have several), a tablet (got one of those too) anyone can be in touch with their clients and answer a query at one in the morning. However, is that wise? Should anyone, ancient like me or in her twenties, be answering client queries at all hours? Even young people get tired, might have had a glass of something and would have a much higher risk of making a mistake.

Young people get stressed and ill from work pressures too. I have seen it all to often. A close and able colleague of mine of twenty-something had a complete breakdown over pressure of work.

Yes, people expect answers and quickly. Yes, we should do our best to respond promptly even if to ask for more time to think. But no, none of us should be available day and night because we need our time to relax and rest, our downtime and our sleep, otherwise we will never be at our best.

I see clients out of hours by arrangement and am open to talking to clients in New Zealand via Skype at crack of dawn if needed, and by appointment, but otherwise if someone messages me in the evening they really do not expect a reply within minutes, especially not a technical one.

It is down to time management and discipline and even Generation Y will have to ration themselves otherwise they will not get to be as old as I am. Even being on-line most of one’s waking hours should not mean working most of one’s waking hours.

Maybe I am old-fashioned. On the other hand, perhaps my experience has taught me better time management. I think the conclusion of that article was nonsense, but do you agree with it and think it was Sage advice?

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The ignorant blunderbuss approach to sales and marketing

26 Feb 12 upload 024 (2)Knowing our abilities and our limits

My business is helping people with their tax issues, and finding help to support their businesses. I know a lot about how to do that, and that is down to hard work, training and experience. I am not an expert in health and safety or financial advice or insurance or carpet-laying. I would not dream of trying to advice on the first two or get on my knees on the floor to trim a carpet to size. There are people who are much better at doing that.

I am not an expert in social media (no such person) though I know a bit, read what I can about on-line engagement, and learn from people who know more. I pay those people who know more for their advice and for their knowledge. I am their client.

Blundering

So why is it that people blunder into an area, and think they can succeed without studying how it all works, and looking at what the more successful people do. Accountants make that mistake with social media, but so do web-designers and SEO specialists, and, heck, they must spend quite a lot of their lives on-line.

What do you make of a business which says in its Twitter profile: “We are one of the Most Reputed Online & Local Business Branding SEO  SMO Company” and then just tweets from a tech news feed it doesn’t own, with no personal interaction?

What about “Welcome to Prince and Draper’s Twitter page, we are Hertfordshire-based accountants and advisors”? (I changed the name and County). They hardly ever tweet, there is no actual person or photo of the very occasional poster / profile owner

How about a Twitter account in the name of a firm of solicitors “Proud to offer competitive fixed fees across our company / commercial and private client departments” again with no personal interaction.? As an aside, I hate to see “proud” to do anything in a website or marketing page. Why not say how they can help; ease the pain? I despair.

Blunderbuss or scatter-gun?

I was at a business exhibition the other day. I spoke to many people on the various stands and gave my business card to some. Both at the exhibition and since, over the telephone, I have been subjected to sales talk re various products. No one has asked how their product might suit my business. All have been eager to state what discount I would be getting and giving me the whole script. I appreciate they have to make a living, but they won’t if they do not think about the customer.

Why not study the potential customer and think how they might meet the customer’s requirements?

You and I know that we need to give our customers what they want, and that involves listening, not broadcasting a message. It is no good setting up a Twitter page and misusing it, or not using it. It is no good spouting a sales pitch to a business owner you don’t know and have not bothered to find out about.

These poor people are wasting their time. The trouble is they waste ours too, don’t they?

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It’s not politics, it’s about reputation management

Stuck

Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) accuses political opponents of ‘scrutinising each and every one of our 1,732 candidates, monitoring every social media output over the last few years’ to look for comments embarrassing to UKIP.

If there are ill-chosen words in the Tweets and Facebook comments of UKIP’s candidates he cannot blame UKIP’s foes for finding them. They are stuck with their injudicious comments. We all have our reputations made or potentially destroyed by our on-line presence.  Our stuff is out there and it would be hard to delete all traces.

Our comments are our responsibility as are our reputations. If we have no self-control how can people trust us any more than the political candidates who shoot their mouths off on-line?

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Broken tools, new toys and business

Where have I got to?

Where have I got to?

Sometimes tried and trusted methods stop working, and we hardly notice because we carry on out of habit. That is what happened with me and breakfast networking.  It took a while for it to dawn on me that I was not getting business any more. Perhaps I was in denial because I always enjoyed meeting people and even running a group. However it is jolly hard work and very time consuming to run a group if you make no money in doing it.

Fortunately, my on-line social media activity and my websites do get in business. It is still all about talking and especially listening to what people need, and of course not selling. I enjoy the on-line stuff too, so it isn’t as though I have no fun marketing.

Recently it dawned on me that Google Alerts wasn’t (or weren’t) working. I have for several years used the service to spot when my name was mentioned somewhere on the web, or when my business names were mentioned and to find key special words which interest me. I find I am not the only one to have noticed and although there are reports it has been fixed, I still have not had an Alerts email for weeks even though I try to pop up all over the place. How much am I missing?

TalkWalker has been suggested as a substitute but I am not convinced so far.

Have you found trusted tools and practices can start letting you down? I would love to know.

 

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The Smart Aleck networker

iStock_000007991360XSmall cross businesswomanDo you know that person at your networking meeting? The one with the loud voice, saying “Hey, look at me”? The one who is always telling everyone how great their business is as opposed to the competition? In fact, the person who always disses everyone else as being inferior?

We try to avoid those “networkers”, don’t we? We try to get as far as possible from them as we can. We can do without those boorish opinions, and we know they will never connect us or refer us because they are too busy thinking about themselves.

It is the same in the world of social media. There are people who claim superior knowledge not just in their line of business but in every aspect of of the world. They rubbish other users of Twitter, they give their opinion of those who hold a different view within their expertise, they show their political prejudices by rubbishing certain politicians, and they have those Smart Aleck comments about any and everyone who doesn’t agree with their bigoted views.

We avoid that sort of person when eating our bacon roll at the local breakfast meet, and thank goodness we can un-follow them on Twitter and un-friend them on Facebook once we see the cut of their jib.

I don’t reckon the Alecks and Alecksandras get much business from their networking, but they are too arrogant to understand why.

Don’t you avoid them like the plague?

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Minding your own business content

WordPress logo blue

WordPress logo blue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As our small businesses are so personal to us it makes sense to keep control of what we put out in the big wide world.

You may have seen recently that Posterous is being closed down by Twitter, who acquired the platform in March 2012. I rather enjoyed using Posterous. I posted quite a few of my photos there, mainly from my walks around the countryside locally. I was disappointed that my content was under threat.

However, Posterous has offered us a back-up solution which I have taken up, and in fact I have transferred everything from my Posterous site to a WordPress.com blog, which is here. It needs work, but everything is there.

Now people might say that as another “easy” blog platform which I don’t own, that WordPress.com blog is still subject to the whims of the business which owns it. Well, firstly, I trust them to act in the best interests of their customers, and secondly, I have bought the domain through the owners, Automattic and if something terrible happened to their company, which I am sure it won’t, I can take my domain elsewhere as I did with onourbikes.com. It is still a WordPress site of course, albeit WordPress.org one, but the domain is mine and the site is backed up.

My ex-Posterous WordPress site is not a business one, but it does illustrate that we need to own all our material and content. My own opinion is that we need to own the domains of all our websites and blogs. If we use a platform such as WordPress.com, then it gives security to own the domain for $18 a year or so.

It is true that I have a blog on Blogger.com because it is convenient to post my opinion about tax issues there rather than on my main business website, which is all about content to help clients and to attract prospects.. However, from experience I know it would be easy to extract all the content via a back-up or directly onto a WordPress.org site because I have done it already.

Just do not take it for granted that everything you think you own will be preserved in aspic forever unless you really do own and back up the domain where it sits. Keep your ear to the ground for what could happen to all your other stuff, because you are just paying the rent if it is on someone else’s platform. Just because I pay the rent on Flickr doesn’t mean all my photos are not saved and backed up securely.

I think we need to keep our business stuff and all our original material in places we own. If we really cannot own them we must pay the rent for a space we can have backed up properly. Don’t lose it.

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How to make your business personal

TweetdeckThe uninitiated

I am active in social media as you know, and you probably would not have found this blog if you were not also active.

The other day I was explaining to some fellow tax practitioners how useful I find social media, and particularly in the course of business. I told them that on Twitter in particular the interaction with other businesses helps me build relationships and I have a bigger pool of people to whom I might refer work for my clients or for myself. I feel I know many of my Twitter contacts because I see them talking, or talk to them on a regular basis.

Twitter feeding

So Twitter is part of my referral networking strategy and so are Facebook and LinkedIn as are various other social sites. However Twitter is also one of my means of keeping up with the latest news in my business niche, good and bad. Many of my contacts (I follow them and they follow me) have their ears to the ground for the latest breaking stories via the newspapers, websites and professional magazines. Some of them are writers and journalists in the business. They know what is going on, and therefore I know what is going on. Sometimes I can even add to what they know, and so it all goes around.

Interacting with my on-line friends is therefore part of my marketing strategy, and also part of my professional development, because it helps me know what is going on in a business environment which is forever changing. Talking with these friends allows them to form their opinions of me as well as my having impressions of what they are like.

Making it personal

In the end it comes down to building and imprinting a personal brand on my business. People buy me, or choose not to sometimes, based on what they already know of me.

The tax people to whom I was trying to explain all this did not understand what I was saying. They all work for larger firms than mine. I guess none of them is responsible for marketing. They do what they do within their firms. They think that they don’t have the time to use social media because they believe it is a waste of time.

Maybe it is a waste of time for some, but more people know who you are and I am than know any of these partners and managers in bigger businesses. We also know more people who are valuable to us in our work, and we know all the latest news in our industry as it happens. We are less likely to be caught out by a customer, a client or a prospect.

People know us professionally; who we are, what we do and what we are like in business. That is personal branding, isn’t it? Doesn’t it make us so much more approachable?

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Social media gaming and business reputation

iStock_000005618867XSmallI care about my business reputation. Of course it is up to you what you think about my tweets and my Facebook posts, but I can assure you they are all authentic and deliberate. Everything everywhere which is under my name, out on the web, is something I have thought about, even if not much. 🙂 There is no automation other than the odd feed from my blog posts, but they are of my original content.

I see other people who automate their tweets, presumably to help their Klout scores and to boost their SEO or whatever. I have no idea if it works, but if you are like me you unfollow people who just put out automated tweets of quotations from famous people. It really is lazy to tweet second-hand material nobody cares about.

What is even worse is those who tweet or post automated feeds for which they are not responsible at all. Some attach their feeds to news stations or business sites, but many of the stories they appear responsible for are inappropriate for their business, with more raunchy celebrity news or reports of kayaking or something. That’s fine if you are in show biz reporting or sports, but not if you are in invoice discounting or factoring. It makes you look ridiculous.

You have to be careful tweeting feeds from specialist forums too, especially if you don’t monitor your output. Public forums are going to be spammed, and I saw a tax practice tweet spam about Viagra as a result. No doubt the forum moderator deleted the post, but our Twitter friend still had a dodgy web-link out in the ether.

Not everything I tweet is about my business. I post what I find interesting. I have conversations. So do you, I expect.

None of us uses social media perfectly and certainly not I, but we all do have to be sensible and be able to stand by our posts. Don’t we?

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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?

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Names you shouldn’t call yourself

It is no secret that I don’t like the term “social media expert“. You can’t be an expert on a vast subject and know everything that is going on. You have to be a specialist in some areas, know how to find out things you don’t know when asked to, and have credibility as a capable person in a capable business. “Expert” doesn’t mean much.

Fortunately most people don’t call themselves experts. The very term is usually shorthand used in newspaper headlines  when a more descriptive term would be too long. It is a bit lazy. Another meaningless headline alternative word is “boffins”. Who would say “boffin” in normal speech?

Some terms people use about themselves which actually make me giggle are “visionary” and “entrepreneur”. While these words have some meaning, they are subjective and a matter of opinion, which is why they should only be used about an admirable someone other than oneself.

There is an individual I have come across who calls himself a “visionary entrepreneur”. ROFL. It is hard to take seriously.

When describing ourselves we have to be careful to define our USP and skills without comedy, unless of course we are comedians. Most of us don’t want to be the laughing stock, do we?

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