The measure of a good client

 

No nasty surprises

Accidents and reputation

We can send our breakdown recovery service to deal with business accidents. One of the ways of avoiding accidents is by being careful whom we take on as clients, particularly when we provide professional services of one sort or another.

I always think that the quality of relationship we have with a client is very important. I value being on first-name terms with all my clients save those of possibly more advanced years who like the dignity of being addressed more formally. Also I want my clients to speak well of me as I of them.

Establishing rapport

When I first meet a client, as in all first meetings I form an impression, but over the years I have fine-tuned my ability to make assessments of people because I have to deal with them on a professional basis. Not least because this involves money, I want to be able to feel I can trust them and I want them to be comfortable with me also.

If I am not comfortable about a new prospect because perhaps I am not happy they are being truthful in answering the questions I have to ask, I walk away. If I do not think we can have a good relationship and feel the fit between us is not right, I make my excuses and leave. If I think the prospect would make a bad client involving a lot of work for which they would not want to pay, again I will depart as politely and quietly as possible.

Vitriol

It is part of life that there are difficult people out there; people with impossible prejudices we find hard to deal with. Some of the extreme views might come out in an initial meeting, and if someone has other opinions not backed by hard evidence but on hearsay or ignorant belief, that is a bad sign for any hope of a business relationship.

If we want any evidence that there is ignorant prejudice out there we only have to look at the generally anonymous comments even on articles on broadsheet newspaper websites. We do not want that prejudice turned on our businesses and we do not want clients who are trolls and who will come back to haunt us.

Perfect harmony?

I want to be able to like all my clients. How do you vet yours? Do you do it by instinct or does it come with experience? Are you a less sensitive soul than I and do you not need to like your clients?

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Being aware of our surroundings

I always like to think I am a fairly tolerant kind of guy, but I guess we all have our Achilles Heels. Even on-line I am irritated by people who constantly sell rather than engage. Of course we all have the ability to un-follow or block or simply ignore, depending through which medium we encounter them.

It is not always quite so easy with face-to-face networking. There is this chap I bump into now and again who goes on his merry way leaving in his wake rather bruised networkers he has battered with his sales talk and confused by his various business offerings. He doesn’t listen for a moment to what others have to say, and he doesn’t seem interested in what they have to offer or whether he could help them.

In fact this “networker” seems oblivious to other people feelings and to his surroundings. If he read this piece he wouldn’t recognise himself because he doesn’t stop to think. Of course he won’t read it anyway because he wouldn’t think it was about him, which it is. Yes, he is his favourite subject.

This gentleman (a term used loosely) is not even stupid in intellectual terms. He purports to offer complex legal services. One of his websites is well up the rankings in keywords which interest me. He may have a clever SEO person but I expect he does it himself. But being clever doesn’t mean he is sensitive to other people’s feelings or that he even cares. He seems to have no empathy.

I guess this serial networker (or even “cereal networker” since he likes breakfast meetings) doesn’t actually get much business from networking. That will be because he puts himself ahead of others as well as in front of them when they would dearly like to escape.

Have you met someone like this? How do we get him to reform when he doesn’t listen, or is it a lost cause? Shouldn’t we all show our fellow networkers a fair degree of respect?

The blog post that never was

Since I started blogging in earnest (and do you realise that there are over 200 posts here at On Our Bikes?) I have found that in writing down my experiences I have helped my own business thinking. It has also often been good for me to let off a bit of steam. I was going to say it was therapeutic, but that is a bit of a grand word for a blog, isn’t it?

As I write this, over the last week certain on-line occurrences involving bloggers and social media people I like has got me going. I have seen spats and unpleasantness. I wrote a blog post about it because I was upset for certain parties and found myself believing other friends were wrong.

A sky to chill out under

The trouble was that after writing that post I realised that some who might read it would recognise themselves and would take offence. There has been quite enough pain already so I pulled the post before it was published. It has ended up “on the spike”.

Just the same, I do think that writing down my thoughts eased my stress and in rationalising the issues I have been able to put the upset behind me. I managed to chill out.

Do you write posts on your blog and then have second thoughts? Do you find that writing about an incident helps you, particularly when you have been upset? Have you ever published a post and then regretted it? What did you do?

Diseased and toxic workplace cultures

Disbelief

I understand the furore over the apparent disbelief, especially amongst politicians, when the management of the News of the World and the senior editorial staff say they didn’t know that telephone hacking was used to get stories about well known people. Yet I know from my experience as an employee that senior management can be completely oblivious of certain cultures that develop within the staff. Of course many politicians of all hues have never had proper jobs having fallen out of university into political “research”. They wouldn’t know about proper workplaces.

Causes

What causes poor workplace cultures to develop? Well, often it is peer pressure or just because people can. In my first job there was a lot of laxity in our office. Management was very strict that we had to be in the office on time. If we were not there to sign in by the appointed time the book was taken away and we had to go in and explain our lateness to the Chief Accountant. My train service was dreadful, and it was humiliating to have to do this. However once registered as at work we could do what we liked to do, go missing for hours or go home early or spend half the day in the pub. I was just out of education and inexperienced, so it was not for me to dissent.

Middle management was not only slack on keeping the staff on the straight and narrow; they positively led by example and peer pressure meant that if you demurred over some proposed misdemeanour you were the object of mirth.

There was a drinking culture too, and quite a heavy one. I couldn’t always keep up and didn’t want to. There were cocktail parties almost weekly for staff who were retiring. I didn’t actually know many of the retirees because they would often have been posted overseas and only just returned to Good Old Blighty at the ends of their careers. I remember saying to my immediate boss one afternoon that I would rather not attend the evening party. He said “but you have to come and drink as much as possible. It’s part of your salary.” No, he wasn’t joking.

Anyway, ultimately the management was so out of touch with the staff that many of us were treated badly in the career sense, so I left. In many ways it was a relief to get out. I had felt uncomfortable but not really able to avoid conforming with the rest.

Recklessness

Some years later I worked in an office where some staff were very careless in the way they worked. Accuracy mattered rather less then did getting clients’ work “done” through short cuts. By that time I ran my own group and certainly did not fall in with the others’ lower standards. I did things by the book, by which I mean with proper diligence, which I also expected of my immediate supporting staff. I had no say in the way others ran their groups. I was not is a position to tell anyone about the other lot of course because I would have not helped my popularity. Peer pressure is a powerful thing.

I rather think that it would be this sort of workplace culture that infected the News of the World. Many if not most employees would have kept their hands clean but there would be a few who would get their stories by whatever means. Management is often too engaged on the bigger commercial picture to wonder how the workers get their tasks done. It is no excuse of course; they should keep in touch, but it is probably a step too far to insinuate that those in charge at News of the World knew at the time about dirty practices.

Skills

Management is a skill. It doesn’t matter whether it is exercised in a newspaper or a restaurant.  Management is by definition about directing workers in the right direction and getting the best out of them. That involves neither just telling them what to do to get results, nor is it just about looking at the bottom line in terms of profit and assuming everything is in order. Management is about listening. It is about communication. It is about being respected in order for employees to want to give of their best for their managers. That means that managers and indeed business owners have to do their best for their employees by helping them with their difficult issues and leading by example to show them how things should be done. That way they get enough feedback to know what is going on.

That didn’t happen at the News of the World. Do you agree?

 

Having a negative influence online

Digging the dirt

Haven’t we talked about online reputations before? We certainly have! Just the same, I sometimes worry about apparently intelligent people who probably do their businesses no good with their unfettered pronouncements on anything we care to think about.

I am all in favour of being ourselves in our blogs and when commenting on others. I think Twitter is a great medium for conversation, making connections and learning. What I do not want to know from my business contacts is their opinion on politicians, on other countries, and on celebrities, and especially using intemperate language. “Warts and all” is not a good thing in a business context.

Some such opinionated characters have large followings on Twitter. You might ask why I or others follow them if they are that bad. Why don’t we just un-follow? The truth is that there is a fascination (cliché alert) in watching a train wreck. You don’t want to watch but you can’t help it.

Quite a number of these “offenders” have high Klout or PeerIndex scores. If these were a measure of influence, I don’t think it’s going to be good influence: the sort of influence that encourages people to buy from them. Most likely it will be a deterrent to having any business dealings with them.

I guess I am letting of steam. None of these opinionated bigots who might read this would recognise themselves. How do you react to such people?

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Come on, rabbit, don’t be shy!

Rabbit shape

Image via Wikipedia

Quite often when I am taking my evening walk, I pass a man of about my age scurrying back from the rail station. No doubt he is a City worker. He does not meet my eye and scoots past like a frightened rabbit. Generally when I pass someone out walking, I say hello, especially if I quite often see the person. None of my attempts at greeting this guy have elicited any response, so I have given up.

The ant hill

To a degree I understand the man’s attitude. It is a sort of defence mechanism some adopt when they work in a big city, especially a capital city. There are just so many people. I know what it is like to find my way through an enormous number of people especially at a mainline rail station. One is reduced to ant status, almost climbing through and round the crowd to get where we want to.

This defence mechanism often extends to the workplace too, particularly if people are unhappy and just turn up, keep their heads down and work just because it pays the bills. I used to do that too. I stopped doing it because if you keep your head down people really do crawl all over you, and at the time it was a conscious decision. I realised I was not getting anywhere at the place I was working and that I was badly undervalued. I left and got a much better job with more responsibility, which was much more rewarding and which gained me a lot more pay.

The warren

Once we have our own business, we can’t be frightened rabbits. After all, rabbits are social animals really. We have to be seen and noticed. We have to network and build relationships in person and online. You know that already.

As an employee I DID make a conscious decision to go for better things.

When I set up my own business it was still pretty tough for a natural introvert like me. I had done a course on public speaking as an employee, mainly because I had to do a course and I had done all the others. It didn’t train me to present myself properly, because you only learn by doing it in practice. I have to thank BNI for that because it is where I cut my networking teeth. Getting business there was not all that successful because I could not get my ideal business category, but I benefited a great deal from the training.

To see me online you might not think I am a shy person, but by nature I am. We need to be ourselves when we network, but for many of us we still have to overcome our inhibitions and not hide away even when we would like to. I have got used to being “out there”, and that’s what we all have to do, but at the start it’s not easy, is it?

 

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Are you a leader and giver or a follower and taker?

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 14:  Prime M...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Like many people who may read this, I am a great believer in face to face networking, by which I mean actually getting out to meet people. I run a business breakfast group, and I have been involved in running other groups too. It is great fun to be involved in organizing events, and in working with other people to do this. I have found that I learn a great deal about them, and no doubt they learn a lot about me. That is partly how to build trust in a network; by shouldering some of the responsibility for actually running it.

Not everybody is like that. There are people who turn up to the meetings but they don’t take an active role. They are followers. They do not volunteer for office. They do not speak up in discussions. We don’t know what they think. They don’t encourage others to come. We don’t get support from them and that makes it harder to give to them, because we don’t know what they want.

Many organizations run by members do at times have difficult choices to make, and sometimes that choice is whether or not there is still a need to exist. Without enthusiastic members with vision, many groups can wither and die. I have seen it with local business groups and even those related to old-established international ones who do charitable work. Without strong and vibrant support from a small number of people in running things, even very worthy associations will disappear as passive members take what there is, but don’t participate.

Recently I have witnessed someone perceiving a problem and seizing the initiative in just such a situation. Because he has stepped forward, others have taken up the cause and are putting forward not only their support, but their constructive ideas. The passive will remain passive and still take, but there should still be something they can take from.

Leadership is about doing and about encouraging (not telling) others to do. Giving time and knowledge is often more valuable than money, and most of us have some time to volunteer. It is about taking control of our own lives. I guess that is what David Cameron is talking about with his Big Society, derided by the passive moaners, of course. It is certainly true that the best gifts are of our time, because that is how we can most help others. That involves leading by example.

What do you think?

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Why we should avoid giving our clients and prospects the holiday blues

Holiday beach

We all need to have a holiday. Well, nearly all of us need one. If we have a small business it takes a certain amount of planning, just as it does to make sure we take leisure time during our working week.

Our clients do not take holidays at the same time as we do. That means that if they leave a message with our office or send us an email they expect some response within a reasonable time. I think a reasonable time is no more than a day for the client to know that you have got or will get the message.

If the client has sent an email, make sure that someone sends a real reply and not an “out of the office” standard response.

If the client has telephoned you know that I think they must have spoken to someone representing your business, if they called in “normal” office hours. That person should have told them that you will get the message when you get back from your holiday. The client will feel that something is going to happen.

If a prospect has called with a new enquiry and not had a timely response their business will go elsewhere.

I don’t think we need to be distracted in our planned leisure time by clients as everyone should understand we all need a holiday. At the same time, I don’t think they should be left hanging, waiting for something to happen, without knowing we are away.

We need to make sure our businesses appear professional and reliable. Most of us are not there 24/7 because we are not large corporations, but that is why we can be special and offer a more personal service. We can show our clients we care and still have a life outside. What do you think?

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How can we hang on to a dream?

How can we hang on to a dream
How can it be the way it seems
How can we hang on to a dream

Musical themes

Songs help me relax and think and sometimes a line or a couplet will set me thinking more as you may have noticed recently. To have dreams in the sense of hopes and plans is something we all have and especially in business. We have objectives and targets and aspirations as to where we want to be in a year’s time, or five years or ten years.

The fact is that none of these things will happen if we do not have a detailed road map as to how to achieve it. Just working hard doesn’t necessarily do it. In fact the harder we work with our heads down, the less we plan, because we don’t have time. We need to work hard with clear vision and to have people or systems working for us so that we have time to think. Those people and systems are part of how we get what we want.

Our people

Of course the people who do work for us, whether employees or subcontractors also have their aspirations so we need to help them with theirs and they will help us with ours too. The more they like us, the more they will want to help us. That is the easiest way of managing people, the most-laid back, and as I have always found, the most effective. We will have a united team without having thought in terms of assembling one.

Resolutions

A new year is when people traditionally think about turning over new leaves and having new plans. I think we should always be reviewing and adjusting our strategies to meet our objectives, and of course having fun so that we can hang onto our dreams.

Oh, yes, here’s the song which is actually about lost love.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyLNI6F8IAY&fs=1&hl=en_GB]

Guarding our precious reputations

I guess we can all think we know better than to say unwise things which can get us into trouble, but whether we are on-line or out in company, or even on the telephone we have to be so careful what we say.

Before Christmas we had the Vince Cable affair known on Twitter as #cablegate. Actually, without getting political, I quite like the man from the general impression he gives and his knowledge on a number of important issues, plus of course the way he is able to put his case. (For the sake of balance I could name a number of people from all three main political parties for whom I have respect).

Mr Cable made some very unguarded comments to some undercover reporters and whether you think he was duped by their pretending to be constituents of his, nevertheless, genuine constituents could have reported his remarks to the press. Had the Coalition not been so fragile I feel he would have had to resign rather than suffer the humiliation of having responsibilities taken from him. To suggest to the reporters that he had prejudged a matter on which he was the final arbiter without listening to recommendations gave an impression (no doubt a wrong one) of a distinct lack of integrity.

In the end when we speak in a public arena we must guard our words carefully. We must be careful what we say to our fellow networkers. We must be careful what we say to our colleagues. We must be careful what we say on-line. A careless word can give a totally wrong impression of what we are like, especially if it is just bravado and vanity, and few would realise it is not what we really believe. A clumsy retort can damage our businesses and our reputations very badly.

I feel sorry for Mr Cable. Do you? I think that there but for fortune go you or I. Which last sentence reminds me of a song…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tDxVRw6yec&fs=1&hl=en_GB]

Related posts:

Online reputations again

Do not speak ill of the dead or the living

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