Should I be retired?

Being of “a certain age”, which means no longer young, a lot of people I meet socially and even some who have known me a while think I must be retired. Well, I suppose I could have retired, but since I am in business on my own account rather than being an employee, the question of retirement has not come up.

Even if I were employed by someone else, there is no longer an effective retirement age which is more or less compulsory.

I believe that I will know when to retire, and that will be when my work is no longer interesting, or it gets in the way of leisure activities to which I want to give higher priority.

Those who think I should be retired and who are a similar sort of age perhaps did not enjoy their work so much when they had it. I choose my work carefully now. I do not take on clients unless I like them and am happy to take them on. It means that my business feels like a hobby even though it makes money as it always has.

So why retire while work is still fun?

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.

Schedules? Boring but important

26 Feb 12 upload 024 (2)“I don’t want to be hemmed in by my diary”

I am not a business coach, and have no ambition to be one. I do know a lot of business people and one who is in complementary therapy claims she has not enough work. Now I know she is good, because she has laid hands on a lot of people including me. Why does she not have enough work?

In her case, it is because she is not available consistently. She has been unlucky with premises issues, but she could get around these if she had fixed days for her therapy.

The trouble is she is too easily distracted. Therapy clients like to come once a week or once a fortnight, perhaps. They think of, say, Tuesday morning as their chill-out hour or so with their therapist. They don’t like to be messed around.  They do not like to come on different days of the week at different times. They have schedules too. They have people and events in their own diaries.

All of us who provide a service need to be there for our clients when needed. If it is a hands-on service, we need to be there at appointed hours, not Wednesday afternoon one week, and Thursday morning the next week, and Monday evening the week after. Our lives should have a pattern our clients can fit around.

Being there is what matters, and that means being there when needed.

Are you in a hurry?

iStock_000007991360XSmall cross businesswomanIt is easy to spot when someone else is in a hurry. We notice the window cleaner misses a bit or leaves a smear, or a cleaner misses a cobweb or so, or the vegetables in the restaurant are not cooked, or are cooked too much. That all indicates a lack of attention.

It is easy for us to judge, but we have to keep an eye on ourselves too. Have we rushed that report? Is it up to our usual standard? Have we made sure our client understood it? Have we remembered to follow up and speak to our customer to make sure they are happy?

Sometimes a dissatisfied customer will find a new window cleaner and complain to their neighbours and friends about the one who left the smears. We could be replaced as easily. Perhaps we need to slow down and think what we are doing, otherwise we will be in the same boat as the window cleaner.

Making a meal of it

And so to last Sunday’s lunch… Booked for 1:30 we had ordered within ten minutes. So far so good. From there we waited half an hour for our “starters”. Three fine. Mine not so good.

An hour later our main course had not shown up. We were told our food was just being plated up. Another ten minutes and it arrived. Mine had actually been plated within the last couple of minutes, because my fish was just out of the pan, perfectly cooked and absolutely lovely. But it was so late.

We never had dessert because the two hours we had allowed for lunch were up and one of our party needed to be home.

I really enjoyed my fish, but clearly the kitchen cannot cope. I do not like to rush when eating out but we cannot risk having lunch at this restaurant again unless we are prepared to spend pretty much the rest of the day there.

The lesson? It is no good having a great product if you cannot deliver on time. People remember.

Call me old-fashioned?

Well, you can call me old-fashioned, but I do not spend all day and all night fiddling with my smartphone. I have a business to run.

OK, a phone is invaluable for keeping up with what is going on. I can access my email and message people if I want to. What I cannot do with is being interrupted constantly.

My work is technical. I need to concentrate. I can set aside times to look at my email whether I am out or in front of my computer. If I am with a client I cannot answer my mobile / cell, and even if I did, I could not answer a question from a client purely from memory. I would need to have their virtual or physical file in front of me. I might be able to look at a file in the Cloud, but not easily when I am out.

I do not really use my smartphone for business at all because of the way I work, so I do not even claim the cost of my contract as a business expense.

People who know me will say I am quite a techie. I am. I love gadgets, but I do not let them get in the way of my work and my business. How about you?

Twitter? How do you find the time?

I was asked the above question over lunch at a meeting of tax practitioners. I was a bit surprised, but on reflection the guy asking is an employee. He is engaged to work on particular clients and tasks which are assigned to him. He does not understand what it is like to run a business. He keeps working at the coal face.

For those of us who work for ourselves, we not only work at the coal face and engage others to do so, but we have to sell the coal. Otherwise there is not much point in digging it out. We need customers.

I do not claim to be the greatest user of Twitter for business purposes. It is an important part of my marketing – not advertising because we do not use Twitter for that, do we? Interacting with my Twitter contacts means I can give business to others in order to receive. I can point people towards useful information. They might remember that information later, and remember me.

Marketing is one of the issues we manage in running a business, so we have to make time and also bill our customers enough to give them good value and make a profit.

Put like that, I think we all should be finding time to make a profit. Twitter is part of that, but try explaining that to an employee.

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?

Rushing around achieving nothing

Make some family time

Make some family time

We all want to make money and have a better life. What we really need is one good business.

Now I know the old adage about not putting all our eggs in one basket, but it is very difficult to run two or three businesses efficiently on our own, or with just one or two other people. We would end up time-poor. That means that not only would we not have time for family life, we would not have time to plan how to run our businesses efficiently. We would probably make less money out of the two or three businesses than the one, unless we recognise our inadequacies in time and invest in good managers.

Life can be very chaotic if we have to be in several places working on separate businesses on the same day. We would need to keep one central diary (easy these days with on-line technology) so as not to miss appointments, as I know some of these over-busy people do. In any business that is one of the worst crimes. Of course we can organise our time, but there are only so many hours in a day.

Then again, if we make ourselves time-poor we will neglect our family and our relationships. We will be unhappy as well as permanently exhausted.

Do not over-stretch yourself. Don’t run too fast.

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?