Can you network when you are shy?

To move ourselves on

To move ourselves on

I am a shy guy. It is just how I am. In those psychological tests they had in the Eighties and Nineties, and even into the Noughties, I ended up on the quiet introvert spectrum. I would have been too shy to volunteer for these tests, but large firms I worked for made everyone take them, and I even had one sprung on me as an “entertainment” after dinner at a tax conference. I preferred the roulette and blackjack games to that test.

You will gather that I was not confident to speak in public. As it happens, I had done a course on public speaking at my old firm’s training centre. This was not because I wanted to, but because I had done all the other courses at one time or another, but was short of training hours that year. I still have the VHS video of my last performance (presentation) on the course. I was terrible, jumping about, wringing my hands, and looking like a startled rabbit as I was trying to look around the room to meet the eyes of different members of the audience.

As an independent business person, I learned early on that I would have to network. I started with the breakfast meetings, and was pretty scared when I found that I would have to stand up and tell everyone about my business, even if I was only on my feet for one minute. Still, I had to do it.

You know what? I got used to it. It was good training. I learned that I had the support of those listening. They did not want me to fail, any more than I wanted them to when it was their turn. They were on my side and we were in it together.

Later, I was asked to do my “ten minutes”. That was not a problem. I started to enjoy it. I learned to talk without a set script, though we all need something to remind us to cover all the points we want to make.

After a while, I was comfortable visiting business groups to do longer presentations. It is really quite fun, as is meeting new people.

That is the point. Once I had “broken the ice” in terms of getting out there, I became used to mixing with my fellow business people and enjoying their company.

I am not a different person, though. Most would still consider me an introvert, and that is fair. Learning to network and to speak in public are like learning to ride a bike. We all had to get on our bikes, didn’t we?

Cheapskate prospects

Photoxpress_10909891 calculatorWell, a cheapskate is not really a prospect, as why would you take on a client who was not prepared to pay you a proper fee or have any respect for what you can do for them?

The other day I had a call from a guy who asked if my business was something I ran “on the side”. He meant, “Do you have a “real” job working for someone else, and are you just making extra pennies on your evenings and weekends?” In other words, was I going to be cheap?

I told him my business provided my living and my fees reflected the benefit he would get from my services. I did not bother with the list of costs we have such as insurance, software and training, and the value my expertise would bring him, because clearly that would have been a waste of time.

I wished him luck finding someone who would do the job at a very low cost, and bid him good day.

What would you have done?

How to lose a customer in one easy lesson

Vostro 1000 with Windows 8A couple of weeks ago I needed to buy some software and found a company that seemed to offer what I wanted: a single license for a one-off project. I chose them because although I am very happy with my current supplier (this is for tax compliance) I needed a program for a back year which they could not supply to me.

I downloaded the program, found the license key, emailed for an activation key, and waited… several hours when I wanted to get the job done.

Eventually I had the email in reply, copied and pasted the key, and Hey Presto, the program worked.

I duly entered the required information, sent off to my client the work I had done, and everything was fine. When the client said he was happy, I went to start the program again, but was told my activation key had expired. I had paid my money. What was the matter?

I sent an email to the software company and asked for help, since they did not answer the telephone. Hours later I had an emailed reply, disbelieving my story. I sent a screenshot of my error message.

More hours passed. I was sent another email with a new activation key. I tried to copy and paste this, but a new error message said this was incorrect. I emailed back.

The next day (yes a whole day without resolving the problem) I had another reply suggesting I did not know how to copy and paste properly (yes, really). I tried to telephone again, but there was still no reply, only a recorded message stating their office was closed and their hours were 9 to 5 (but it was 11 in the morning).

I sent another email. I received another activation key after an hour or so. I copied and pasted, and worked this time it worked and the program ran. At least I had got the work finished!

At no time did I have any proper responsive or helpful contact with anyone in the company. The dialogue was from their side pre-programmed and unimaginative. I still do not know whether they ever answer the telephone, but it does not matter now because i will not be calling them.

Oh, and I will not be buying any more of their products.

The most important part of our relationships with our clients and customers is communication. We must keep them in the loop concerning the work we are doing for them, and we must be accessible at reasonable times if they need us or have questions. It is obvious.

I learned from this company how to lose a new customer, but I will not be putting it into practice.  Nor should anyone.

Are your prospects in harmony with your business?

I guess we can all make a splash once to get noticed, and a joke might be the way to do it. Will prospects really remember a business for the one joke, repeated over and over again, or will they get bored?

Here is eHarmony’s current ad in the UK:

 

 

 

 

I would rather that my potential clients felt they could relate to my business and feel comfortable that I could give them what they wanted.

Here is a confession. I have played the dating agency game, and did computer-dating back in the Seventies and Eighties (yes, they had computers then). I would far rather have thought that I did not need to have film-star looks, and did not need to be perfect. I was looking for a normal sort of girl, not some glamour model who would not give me a second look.

The old eHarmony ad featured real people who seemed normal to me; not ordinary, but with their own individual characteristics. Had I still been in the game, I know that this next ad would be much more attractive because I would be comfortable with it until I bought.

 

Don’t you prefer this to the joke ad? Well, I certainly do, but does the advertising agency know better?

Isn’t your prospect more likely to buy when they feel familiar and comfortable with your business and you?

Unreliability, sickies and trust

Rayleigh Market Photo credit: Jon Stow

Rayleigh Market – Photo credit: Jon Stow

A long time ago, when I worked in London, I had a female colleague who called in sick on a Thursday every four weeks. No one thought too much of it and if we are honest, we supposed there might be a biological reason for her absence and she had our sympathy. At least she had our sympathy until one day one of my work-mates who lived in the same town saw her on a “sickie Thursday” selling on a market stall. Obviously she was rostered by the family to work the stall every four weeks on market day.

I am not sure who actually “grassed up” my fellow worker, but she was called in by the boss and her monthly absences on a Thursday stopped. She had been rather dishonest since she was paid when on sick leave as well as presumably being paid for working on the stall. She definitely suffered a loss of trust.

Strangely, some self-employed people seem to have the habit of taking dishonest sickies even though they won’t be paid. Having had to put up with this, I find it harder to trust people who do not turn up and email or text at the last moment to say they are cancelling. Once upon a time they would have had to telephone and tell the lie, but now electronic media mean they only have to type their apology with their thumbs. That makes it all the easier.

I am sure we have all had days when we did not feel like working. However, really it is no excuse not to get out of bed if someone is relying on us, and a hangover is not an excuse in my book. Take the painkiller pills and turn up.

Being unreliable as some of the no-shows are means they are seen as untrustworthy by their customers. They are damaging themselves by losing earnings when they do not turn up, and more money when they are dropped by the customers they let down.

Why do they do it and ruin their reputations, when we all know that being there for our customers is the most important part of maintaining a relationship?

Gym crackers

Young adults doing exercises at the fitness clubOur local leisure centre has had a change of provider. One well-known company has taken over the running of it from another. However, they do seem to have management problems under the new regime.

In recent weeks, my wife and her friends have been messed around with their exercise class in the swimming pool. One week they were telephoned at home to be advised that the class had been cancelled because there was no instructor to run it. Later, it transpired that the instructor was actually unavailable for the following week. She had turned up to find there was no one there for her class, so it was cancelled anyway, and also obviously for the following week when she really wasn’t there. That seems like poor management and a lack of communication.

Now I hear that several ladies who have a studio class found their latest instructor poor, and apparently she is not qualified. They asked to see the manager, who had recently been promoted from swimming pool duties as a number of staff had left with the old management company.

The ladies expressed their concern about the quality of their exercise class. I do not know how strongly they made their point, but apparently this manager said “I am not talking to a lynch mob” and walked away. The problem was not resolved.

Of course this guy has possibly been promoted beyond his ability (the Peter Principle), and certainly lacks training which he should have been given. What has resulted is a very poor example of customer relations, and of customer service since he should have been offering compensation, even if it had been vouchers for free coffee in the café.

Word gets around. Reputations are damaged. If you asked me privately which leisure centre we are talking about, I would probably tell you.

Of course we can have difficult customers. Sometimes, if things have gone wrong, we must take responsibility. What we must not do is alienate those who provide our livelihoods.

How simple it is to ask “how can I make it up to you?”

If you are not special, you are not trying

Guarding the beach hut, Thorpe Bay

Be different (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

I have had my run-ins with telecoms companies in the past, and very frustrating it has been.

For the third month in a row, my business broadband provider, which is one of the smaller ones, failed to process my monthly payment and for the third month in a row I had a somewhat threatening email from their Credit Control Department. On each occasion I have logged into their website and paid on-line from the same account using the same method as they would had they succeeded in collecting my money. It is quite clear that the problem must be with them, so it is especially galling when all they can do is send me rude emails.

Following the last rude note from them and having paid the bill again, I telephoned to speak to the Credit Control people, and told them what I thought, but in very polite terms. I was advised that they could not check individual accounts. But, I said, one of the benefits of dealing with a smaller company was that I had in previous years received what seemed like a personal service. They had no response to that.

So it seems I am no longer getting the value out of dealing with a smaller, more caring company, in which case why should I pay more than I would dealing with cheaper but larger competitors? I will pay for value, but not if I don’t get it.

I asked to be transferred to Customer Services with a view to discussing my account. I expressed my unhappiness with the treatment over payment and asked why, with no better service than from a telecoms giant, I was paying more each month and with a lower download limit than I could have elsewhere. The response was “we cannot compete on price with the others”.

I have “voted with my feet”. I have taken my account to a cheaper provider. Value of service is important to me, but I am not paying for what I don’t get.

My soon-to-be-former telecoms provider is going to struggle. If they cannot compete on price and they no longer compete on value they will go out of business.

Our small businesses need to be special and different and offer that extra attention to our clients and customers, otherwise we cannot compete with the Big Girls and Boys. We need to offer value and if our customers feel special, then we have established great relationships with them leading to ongoing business.

Don’t you like to feel special? I do.

Admitting our mistakes

Sheepish?

Sheepish? (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

We all make mistakes in our businesses. Usually they are not serious, and should normally mean an apology to our customers or clients. Recently I forgot a client had given me a document and I asked for it again. When she put me right, I apologised, and I am sure that our business relationship has not been harmed. It is best to own up straight away.

The other day, I went to collect an order from a local shop. The business owner, who is someone I like and respect, denied he had received the order, even though it had been ordered in person. I suppose he simply forgot to write it down, or mislaid his note.

He has fulfilled the order now, but has been a little “off” with both my wife and me when we have seen him since the incident. As there was no real harm done, I am not sure why he would not have apologised, even if he genuinely thought we were mistaken rather than him. It would have smoothed the waters after all.

It is a terrible cliché to say that the customer is always right, and sometimes customers are wrong even if we don’t say so. However, if we want to continue doing business together, quiet diplomacy is the way forward even if our feathers are ruffled.

What do you think?

Telling your clients they are wasting their money

Aug 16 2011 028A lot of my work with clients is helping them get out of a mess. Usually that is because they have made mistakes in dealing with their taxes or have “forgotten” to declare certain income or gains.

Sometimes there is a question of the law and whether we can debate with HMRC, with a prospect of getting a good result for the client; in other words, proving that they have a lower liability to tax, or perhaps none.

At other times it is a question of negotiating lower penalties for the client, and making the case that a client’s guilt is less than HMRC contends. Perhaps the client has been involved in a tax “scheme”, and it is my job to decide whether it is worth resisting HMRC’s attack. Frankly it is often not worth resisting, especially if HMRC is not pressing for serious penalties or claiming negligence or carelessness on behalf of my client.

Sometimes clients feel very strongly that they are being targeted unfairly. They will want me to resist at all costs whatever attack is launched by the tax man or woman.

“At all costs” is all very well, but sometimes it is my duty to advise my clients that they really have nowhere to go, and that they have no chance of success, or very little, however much they spend on my fees or those of someone else. Quite apart from raising false hopes, I think it is quite wrong to take people’s money while believing that they are wasting it. That would be quite dishonest.

We all have our particular areas of expertise. We should all know when our customers or clients are wasting their time. If we “sell” our services knowing that they will be of little use, it is no different from the DIY store selling you a lawnmower they know will not do the job for you. It would be mis-selling.

Don’t you agree that to preserve our integrity, sometimes we have to advise our clients to save their money because they are “on a loser”?

 

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?