Archives for July 2013

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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Giving the customers what they want


English: Logo of Marks & Spencer displayed on ...

Logo of Marks & Spencer displayed on products and in stores since 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taking a dip

The famous UK department store chain, Marks and Spencer, has reported falling sales in clothing and non-food items again.

It is sad to see a flagship high street name struggling. They always used to be so reliable for quality shirts and smart wear. I was never a big fan of their underwear though other people always swore by it.

Getting shirty

Someone (actually my Mum) was kind enough to give me some M & S gift vouchers and the other day I went to spend them in the store on (I hoped) a couple of smart cotton shirts. I browsed around the men’s department, and although I found a couple of shirts I quite liked, I thought they were expensive. To put it in context, these shirts were more expensive than I can get in the current sales of the “up-market” Jermyn Street shirt-makers. Of course they do not always have a sale, but my instinct is always to buy on value. I could not find it in M & S.

I was eager to buy. I had “free” money to spend in vouchers; yet I was not prepared to spend on what is not good value.

They can’t tell the bottom from the top

In the clothing market we have generally the “luxury” end and the cheap end. You can buy a poly-cotton shirt for £5.00 though its quality might not be great and it might not last so long or be so comfortable. However it will serve its purpose. You can buy Jermyn Street shirts in the sale or otherwise pay a lot but get quality. There does not seem to be a middle market, and M & S have not understood or adapted to that; certainly not enough for me to see value.

It is our client’s choice, but ours as well

In many businesses including mine, prospects are looking either for a cheap and reliable service, or they want to be cosseted. All too many accountants are simply too generic and undifferentiated. Clients do not feel they are getting much or any more than from the cheaper providers. Their clients want to pay less, because they do not perceive value, although perhaps some would pay a lot more to feel as though they were a firm’s only client and had their full attention at all times.

It is no good chugging along in business assuming that what you have always done will suffice for a client. The market is constantly changing. All of us have to keep selling our value to our clients according to what they actually want; otherwise they will kiss us goodbye, or leave us in a less polite fashion. And we have to choose which part of the market we want to be in, don’t we? That is not the boring middle bit, is it?

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The politics of networking or rubbing your contacts up the wrong way

iStock_000005618867XSmallI love networking. I have not been out and about for a few months for reasons beyond my control, but I do like to get out and meet people. It is not just because I like getting business, although it helps, and it is not about the joy of giving a referral. It is just great to talk to others in business and to learn from them and to hear their latest news.

However in a decade of networking meetings face-to-face I have never got involved in a discussion about politics. Politics is very divisive. People get heated. They say unkind things when they discuss an issue. There are ad hominem attacks on individuals whether in the room or otherwise. Networkers-in-person simply know better than to engage in any political discussion beyond the state of the economy, and that is usually talking about the present rather than who is responsible for it, good or bad.

So why do people in normally perfectly nice on-line forums sometimes start political arguments? It is very upsetting if one finds oneself involved, or even, as I read the other day, see one’s own views trashed by proxy. Of course I have political views. What reasonably intelligent person does not? I just do not mention them on-line except in pointing out when politicians are simply factually wrong on a subject where I have specialist knowledge.

Even reading someone else’s throwaway comment in a thread on Facebook can be very hurtful, and while it may not be intended, it can put one right off the person, even if socially you really like her / him.

It comes back to being really careful what we say on-line. As I have said before, when I got my amateur radio license or “ticket” a long time ago, we were bound by the ethical instruction not to engage in discussion of politics or religion. It was and is a good rule, and should be applied to business networking. Then we can get on with business without having our feathers ruffled by some unfortunate comment. Can’t we?

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The meaning of influence in networking

Photo by LordNikon

Photo by Lord Nikon

These days in business marketing, and especially on-line, we hear a huge amount about influence. How much influence does a marketer or networker have?

In social media, some measure influence in terms of their Klout or PeerIndex score. Actually they are very crude tools, especially Klout. What they really measure is how much we Tweet or post on Facebook. PeerIndex does index blogging, but all these tools really measure is how much noise we make on-line.

It is the same with off-line networking. We may put out our message to the room and we may do so in a very loud voice. We might go to every networking meeting there is in our area and eat breakfast out every day of the week. However it does not mean we will get loads of business.

The confusion is between, on the one hand, being seen everywhere trilling our message on Twitter or over our scrambled eggs, and on the other, our networks actually listening to us and taking notice because they believe we have something to offer. It is easy to shout the loudest and most often, but more difficult to get over our message that we are people to be trusted with business.

We do not want our Tweet or a fried breakfast message being taken with more than a pinch of salt. We need to be genuine, sincere and ourselves to get that trust, don’t we/

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Service continuity, customer expectation and being as comfortable as an old shoe


Think about the customer's needs!

Think about the customer’s needs!

Our regular clients expect from us an excellent service and it is up to us to live up to their expectation. That does not mean that we never change what we do for them. In the last decade, advances in technology have allowed us to make improvements. We can email documents (in my case accounts and Tax Returns) which means we can be even quicker, and to use nineties jargon, provide a smarter service.

Of course not all clients are computer literate, so we still provide them with paper copies of what they need, and even if they do like to communicate by email but want us to provide paper copies of everything, of course we oblige. We have to sacrifice the odd tree to keep the customer satisfied, but it is our business and therefore in our best interests to do so.

What clients do not like is change. I do not like it either when new Government impositions oblige us to involve our clients in red tape, but we have to live with it.

What the customer does not like to experience is a change of service where they do not get what they had before, but something different. It is rather like I feel in the supermarket when I enjoy a new range of tea they have or like their bran flakes, and then suddenly they no longer have those lines and I have to buy something else. There is a feeling of dissatisfaction, and I look in other supermarkets to get what I like. So clients might look to another provider to replace what we might have stopped giving them and which they really liked.

Clients do not like change. They like the comfort of being able to rely on a service like an old shoe.

We should not be resistant to advancing our business practice, but don’t you agree change should not be for the sake of change?

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Ethics, business and psychopathy

Is my prospect a psychopath?

Is my prospect a psychopath?

Professor Kevin Dutton has a book out called “The Wisdom of Psychopaths”.  I have not read it yet, but Professor Dutton has been promoting the book in the media, and has applied the psychopath test to various historical figures such as Henry VIII, Sir Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde by having historians or their biographers complete a questionnaire on behalf of these famous people.

In layman’s terms, a psychopath is characterised as an individual who is incapable of feeling guilt, remorse or empathy for their actions; they can be charming and charismatic, but they are ruthless in achieving their aims. Fortunately they are not all serial killers, which is just as well as apparently there are quite a few around. However the concept of ethics will be alien to them

In profiling towering personalities no longer with us, Professor Dutton finds an amusing way of promoting a book, and in his media material professor Dutton suggests that psychopaths may make very good surgeons, lawyers and soldiers.

I am quite sure psychopaths can be very successful business people, and will often rise to the top of multinational companies, some of which they will have created themselves. I am also quite sure that a client of mine in a past life is a psychopath. He is probably a billionaire now. He is brilliant with the media, but as someone who had to deal with him one-to-one on personal matters, I know that he is the most unpleasant, rude and ghastly person I have ever met in business. Quite apart from business confidentiality, I could not name this character because, unlike the historical figures, he is still alive to sue, and with his personality traits he certainly would.

Professor Dutton tells us that there is a spectrum of psychopathy which we are all on, but fortunately not all of us are on the high end, (any more than all those famous were, Henry VIII aside). I scored rather low, which means I will not be running a global empire by this time next week, but it led me to think that we need different attributes for different sorts of businesses.

Many of us have businesses where it is important to have a genuine relationship with our customers. We need an empathic understanding of their particular individual needs, and that understanding is also important in building trust in our network to gain business through our contacts, as well as giving referrals to them. Perhaps the people in our networks who are purely “takers” are higher on the psychopath scale, though I would expect clever psychopaths to do enough to gain a little trust from us until we know them well.

I would not want another client who was a ruthless psychopath. I have had one or two who were up the scale, took all I gave, tried to milk me for extras for which they were not prepared to pay, never referred me in all the years of exemplary service, and seemed surprised when I said I thought our relationship was at an end.

I need to like my clients and hope they like me too. Don’t you think it is great when your customers think of you first when asked to recommend someone who does what you do?

Insuring your business future

iStock_000020557146LargeSome businesses are unique to the individual. If you are a successful writer, then what the clients or readers are buying is you. There are other businesses which are all about the owner; for example, performers such as actors, artists, designers. If the work is so original and cannot be done by someone else, then the income is dependent on the business owner, and that might be you.

Suppose you cannot work for a while. You are ill, really sick. Will your income dry up? You can get insurance which will provide you with an income for a certain period while you get back on your feet. Why wouldn’t you do that, because it gives peace of mind?

Perhaps your business is not unique, but it is your business with a flavour of you? If you could not work, the business would still suffer, even if you have several employees or subcontract a certain amount of work. Of course you should also insure against your getting sick, but you can also get insurance to pay for someone to run your business while you are recuperating. If you never get well enough to work again (perish the thought) you will still have a business to sell.

You might have an employee who is vital to your business. Suppose she has a health problem and has to take months off work. Have you insured your business against losing her services for a while, so that you are able to bring in someone capable of filling her role temporarily?

If it is you who are ill, you need to get treated as soon as possible and get back to work. Do you have health insurance so that you can get treated quickly?

I am not an insurance salesman. I do know that having insurance is not only vital for peace of mind, but is an important lifeboat when the unexpected happens and you have to face a nasty health issue.

Are you insured?

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