Time Wise Clients

One of the things I’m probably a little too uptight about is time. More specifically, my time! I hate wasting time or letting my time unnecessarily be eaten up for no apparent reason. And where I struggle a lot with this, is with clients.  Maybe it’s the fact that it’s always beautiful and sunny that makes people in Los Angeles want to linger longer, share more stories and squeeze in another joke.  I don’t know, but whatever it is, I have seen hours of my time slip away because of side conversations and random randomness.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that the best way to keep a client is to build a relationship with them .  And because I travel to my clients, this is is always done in person for me.  With that being said, so many of clients get a little too comfortable with me and our conversations will digress onto other topics unrelated to the business at hand.  And what happens?  2 hours just turned into 6.  Not very responsible, I’ll admit, but the reward — if we’re looking on the bright side of things — their business and referrals.  Some of you may say, well in that case, go ahead and give them 6 hours.  But the truth of the matter is, I may keep their business and earn someone else’s, but 6 hours (which is 25% of the day) doesn’t leave much time for other important things.  What else could be just as important as a client?  Uh, other clients?  Working on the business?  Tweaking my marketing efforts?  Sleeping?  Just to name a few.  And if I give a client 25% of my day, then I’m allowing that person to only monopolized my time, but also my business.  And one of  the first rules I learned about being in business was never let one client dominate your business to the point they are your business.  Because when they leave, so does your business.

But I’ve gotten better with managing my clients on my schedule.  Because I have to responsible for my time, even when they’re unaware of it.  And it’s made a huge improvement, because now I can better assess where and how to spend my time with them when I’m done meeting with them.

  • For starters, I tell them before we meet what time I have to leave.  That way they get an idea how much we’ll be spending together and better helps them organize their questions for that meeting.
  • I set my alarm.  Oh, hell yes, I do.  It’s rude. It’s loud. And disruptive.  And that’s the point.  When I say I need to leave by 3;00pm, I need to show them I mean it.  So the alarm goes off as an audio reminder.  They still have questions?  Email them to me.
  • And since I brought it up, I make email the first point of communication.  Let’s meet for the pertinent stuff, email all the other, please. That way I break the habit of having to meet for every little whim.
  • Keep in-person meetings down to once a month, if necessary.  I tried this with one client, and it went over superbly.   For the secondary meeting, we held a Google HangOut session which shaved off a total of an hour from our normal meetings and I loved that. Not too mention, gas is still over $4 for gallon here in L.A.  Let’s save the road trips for something more meaningful, right?

It was suggested to me to charge for in-person meetings to deter those clients who feel they need to meet all the time.  I’m not comfortable with that yet, but there may come a point sooner or later.  I figure if someone’s paying for my services, I’m not going to nickle and dime them along the way.  No one enjoys that and very few, if anybody, returns for that kind of abuse.  But I’ve found the strategies mentioned above very helpful thus far.  I get my time back.  And that’s what I really wanted.  Yes, I want to meet with my clients — work in the business — but, I also want to be able to work on the business.

 

 

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5 Outdated Beliefs That Are Hurting Your Business

Take your time.  Read through the list and see if you had or still have any of these beliefs.  No shame in being honest, all of us have probably had at least one one of the listed items pass through our minds as we begun to conduct and operate our business.   So much has changed over the course of a few years and over various industries that we cannot continue to hold onto outdated beliefs, especially as business owners.  Everything goes through cycles, phases and re-boots.  Holding onto what we think is right is because it’s what we’ve known all long is the equivalent to throwing money away.  And no one I know is in the business of doing that.

OutDated

  1. Your customers can and will find you — The Great Recession (I love still calling it that) turned many people into obligated self-employed persons.  People started their own businesses because they had to in order to continue to earn a living.  Skipping over the personal metrics of what that all means — you are not the only person doing what you’re doing or offering what you’re offering.  I don’t care how well your website was designed, how quick you launched the business or how much money you invested.  You don’t exist until you let people know you’re in business.  Which means, you have to find your customer, not the other way around.  Ideas: marketing — traditional and online, networking, community partnerships and word of mouth.
  2. There is no “free” money out there for small business owners  – It seems like it’s no money out there, but there is.  A lot of the times, it’ll be in the form of a contest, and other times it can be a private grant.  Either way, if you want to raise money that you’ll never have to pay back again, just be willing to put in the time.  I probably shouldn’t say this, but I suggest staying away from the SBA and Grants.gov.  Most business owners aren’t professional grant writers, cannot afford a grant writer, don’t have the time and energy to read through the mess they call eligibility requirements and will not meet the guidelines imposed to receive the government funding available.
  3. The customer is ALWAYS right — If the customer is always right, then why are they coming to you?  No, seriously, think about it.  If the customer had all the answers and knew where to find all the resources, why are they knocking on your door?  This is not said to inflate our own egos, but just to help put things into perspective when we’re questioned by a customer or client about our capability and knowledge.  We never want to approach them defensively, but with a bit of enlightenment.  A reminder, so to speak, that we can do what we do because of how long we’ve been doing it, how trained we are at doing what we do and what we know about what we’re doing.
  4. If it worked then, it will work now  — Nope, nope, never.  The problem with this belief should be obvious, but maybe it isn’t.  If you haven’t heard it before, let me share it with you now:  The only constant in business  is change.  Your customers will change, your prices will change, your hours of operation will change, your employees will change and yes, how you do and conduct business will change because the economy and market are always changing.  Don’t believe me?  Fine, don’t change.   Come find me in six months to a year’s time.
  5. Working smart outperforms working hard — Uh, no.  You can work smart, but you still have to work hard.  There’s no way around that.   And we’ve all heard it before: Work smart, not hard!  Let’s be honest, someone had to work hard to come up with that, so what does that tell you?  There really is no substitute for working hard and working smart just means you’ve taken all that hard work and created a system for it.   That’s truly what it is.  Yes, many of us have been working hard only to spin our wheels and get nowhere.  So how do we avoid that trap?  Direction.  Work hard towards something, not just for the sake of working hard.

It’s easy to hold onto what we know and what we believed was working for us when there’s so much new untested crap being thrown our way.  However, we have to be wise and responsive enough to separate what sticks and what sticks to the fan.  The times are always changing.  We need to make we adjust, set sail and flow with it.

Who Are You Trying To Kid?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have no clue what makes the Friday and Saturday operating hours so much different from the Monday through Thursday schedule.

Why do businesses do this?  Is this some sort of witty joke and the rest of us just missed it?  Are we supposed to just assume that Friday and Saturday are unique by definition, although they share the same hours?  Or are we just having our intelligence insulted here, as per usual?

Over Simplifying.fw

Is this something you do to your clients or customers?  In an attempt to oversimplify for their benefit, you’re just downright insulting their intelligence?  You know, there is a balance of keeping your clients informed and in tuned without dumbing it down or confusing the hell out them.  Just be straight-forward.  Simplify, but don’t over-simplify.   Make it clear without confusing.  Make it plain without the puzzles.  Don’t know how?  Ask the client.  They may not always know what they want, but they’re quick to share what they don’t want.  And they don’t want to be confuzzled.

Hit CTRL

I received a question from a prospect client through my website’s contact form in which the person asked me about what kind of services Intel Boutique offered.  I’ve never been bothered about going into great depth about explaining the services I provide through IB.  In fact, it’s an opportunity to shine.  This is the opening that allows me to showcase with more elaborate descriptives about what my business does, what it focuses on and who I’ve worked with in the past.  But this short note I received, maybe a day or two ago, struck me as odd.  In order for anyone to send a request to be contacted for further information, they would have to bypass all the other tabs that explains what those services are to ask me what services are offered.

Theoretically, regardless of how a question is posed or what is asked, once I’ve been contacted by someone interested in my services, I should just answer.  But in answering a question someone could have answered themselves, I feel as if I would be over-catering.

In the early, early days of business, I would  rush to answer every question a client had and try to appease all their concerns.  I was basically begging for their business.  But that feeling of being interrogated by people who weren’t even guaranteed to use my services started to turn into resentment.  I resented having to answer all these questions only to learn, I didn’t offer what they were looking for.  But the truth of the fact was, I really resented myself for not taking better control of the dialogue and not asking some (or not enough) questions of my own.  Just because I was the one being potentially paid didn’t mean I had to keep my trap shut.  I needed to do some probing too.  See what my clients were looking for, what were their needs were, and where they were coming from.  Given enough time and practice, I learned when to ask the right questions and when not to offer up so much unnecessary information until there’s a green light.

And I’ve think we’ve all done that before at some point. Either being too eager to please or too excited to win them over, that we’ve let the clients take the reins of the conversation, or of the negotiations –and God forbid — even the transactions.  It’s not about trying to dominate over your clients or impress them with the tricks of the trade you’ve learned over the years.  It’s about not being a passenger in your business; being in as much control as the situation requires. Put yourself in the client’s shoes — would you want to do business with a push-over?

You And Your Crew

I’ve had the pleasure — even displeasure, if we wanna keep it real — of working for a number of small companies; small business owners.  And I’ve taken every lesson I’ve learned from each employer into my own business.  I’ve watched them studiously as they conducted business, formed relationships and grew — and I’ve retained as much as could about all they were doing right and much of what they’re were doing wrong.   And it seems like whenever employees are introduced into a growing established company, problems arise.  In other words, people make things crazier —who knew!  But the important takeaways that I gathered about owners and their employees were:

  • Hire people who have the potential to grow as your company grows and not just someone looking to fill the position.  Hell, with the right training, anybody can do a job.  That’s how most people got to the jobs they have now — by being trained, or taught or schooled, or whatever you want to call it.  But ambition to grow — that’s not something you can teach, that’s inherently in select individuals.  Hire those folks.
  • Keep your word.  I remember a company I use to work for; we were a staff of 14 people including the owner of the company.  For some reason, we were  unable to have our annual holiday party in December, so the owner decided to move it to January and call it an “Employee Appreciation Dinner”.  The date was set for the middle of January.  Well, when  January came and gone, we started to passive-aggressively joke about how little we were appreciated because there was no mention of the dinner anymore.  Although it was just a dinner, people became a little resentful of the fact they were promised something and it wasn’t delivered. Deliver or don’t promise, but you can’t do both.
  •  Know what the gossip’s about.  I don’t care how small a company is, there’s always  gossip.  And 9 times out of 10, it’ll be about you, the owner.  So as they owner, know what’s floating around the office.  Check in with each employee on a regular basis.  Create an atmosphere in which your employees can feel comfortable with approaching you with what they need to make your business better.  You might even find that the open-door policy reduces the noise of gossip.
  • Say what you mean.  No one’s a mind reader. I don’t believe mind readers are mind readers.  And neither are your employees.  Don’t have them guess what you’re thinking or try to figure it out.  If you don’t know what you mean, they don’t know.  And don’t punish them for not knowing.  That’s so dumb.
  • Be the first with a greeting.  I know it sounds trivial, but you’ll be surprised how sensitive people are in the work place.  Not receiving a hello from their boss in the morning can start the day off all wrong.  Listen, I said nothing about being buddy-buddy.  I said say, ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, ‘good evening’ or whatever the time of day calls for.  This goes along with acknowledging your employees.  You may not be saying ‘job well done’, but a ‘hello’ can simply translate into ‘hi, thanks for coming in today and giving me your time today’.

Listen — the people that work for you are your crew.  They’re there building your dream.  They don’t have to be there.  They could be working for someone else who doesn’t mind showing them a little appreciation.  You have a relationship with your employees, no matter how badly you’ve neglected it.  And just like any relationship, it’s about the little things.

Profiling

Everyone knows not to add or follow the “egg” accounts on Twitter.  Those are the people –or things, who knows –who seem to spam others with links, dirty photos, fake notices and crap.   And we all know not to open emails from people and companies we’ve never heard of or didn’t sign up for.  Another “no-no” — creating empty or skeleton profiles to start off your social media and online presence for your company.

twitter-white-icon

Would you build a store — for profit — and never open the doors?  No?  Exactly!  What would be the point?  The same concept is applied to those who think that just creating an online social media account is good enough.  They say to themselves, they’ll come back to it later and update it.  But days turn into months and they still have that egg picture account on Twitter –wondering why no one’s following them.  In business, it’s said, if people don’t know you’re there, you don’t exist.  It doesn’t matter how evolutionary your products are or how ground-breaking your service is, if people don’t know it’s there, it doesn’t exist.  If you social profiles are empty — you’ve written or added nothing there — you don’t exist.

People like to Google — EVERYTHING.  If you’re networking and you happen to bring up you have your own little boutique business and you do this and that, people are going to search for you on the internet.  It doesn’t matter if you gave them a business card or not, people are going to want to find out as much about you as they can.  And the more they can learn, the better they feel about you and your company.  But, if in their search, they stumble upon half-filled and empty profiles you’ve set up but never completed, they’re going wonder.  Wonder about the legitimacy of your business (yes, for real! because every business should have a carefully placed social media presence) and about your work style.  If you can’t complete something for yourself, how are you going to complete something for a colleague or a client?

But people do this all the time.  The hear of a new social site, join it — reading very little about it — create a profile with a little information and that’s it.   Really.  They give 30 seconds because they think that’s all it takes rather than spend the seven minutes to make their profile something worth exploring.  Some may say, ‘who cares, it’s just a profile’Your company cares.  Your company needs to be found and do business and make money.  Every business, even non-profits and religious organizations — are businesses and their goals are to make money (that might sound sacrilegious to some, but it’s the truth.  Think of the collection plates and “building funds“).

It doesn’t take a whole lot to make a nice and searchable profile, but you gotta put more in it.  Company name, logo/ photo — give an image to the name, something about the company or yourself  — why did you start your business and what is it’s primary mission– it’s general  location, ways to contact the business.  Definitely include a website or blog site link.  Give people a reason to touch base with you.  Get out of the habit of half doing things, even social media accounts.  They matter because they reflect your image and brand.  And if you think that doesn’t matter — you’re not in business.

{photo credit: http://www.iconarchive.com}

Is Your Business A “Fixer-Upper”?

A lot of the time we blame our business failures on lack of time, money, resources and knowledge about the industry and market.   And it makes sense.  Maybe we started our business too early.  The customers were there yet, they didn’t see what we saw and weren’t ready to make shift.  Maybe we didn’t have enough money to get our business off the ground or sustain it in its first year.   Maybe we didn’t have the right suppliers or vendors to work with, or we were outsourcing too much of our tasks and not tackling what could be done in-house. We fail to understand, however,  that no matter how good the idea is, if we’re not flexible to make changes along the way, our businesses will never go anywhere.

Is Your Business in Need of Repair?

Is Your Business in Need of Repair?

Companies will always need some fixing up.  In the early stage, when things aren’t so pinned down and concrete, making changes is easy.  After all, we’re still bouncing around ideas and getting a feel for what to expect.  But what happens when we’ve launched our business, or it’s been in business for a few years, but we’re still struggling to see a return of our investment?  Despite what we’ve been told or heard, the majority of changes a company will need to make in its lifetime will be after it’s up and running.  How will we know which changes to make and when?  We can rely on trial and error, but that takes time and often, a lot money.  A better way –ask for feedback from our customers and staff members.  That seems to work the best.  Customers know what they want and what they’re willing to pay for it.  And more often than not, they’re willing to tell us in one fashion or another — angry/poor reviews, 1 or 2 star ratings, or dissing comments on social media platforms.

Is it all about ratings and reviews?  Is it all about customer service with a smile?  What signs do we look for to know it’s time for some changes to be made?:

  • Do we offer a way for customers/ clients to leave feedback with a call-to-action on our websites?
  • Do we take time to personalize service to each customer?  If not each customer, how about repeat or loyal customers?
  • Do we ever ask employees what they feel could improve their productivity?
  • Have we not change a single thing about your business — website, logo, philosophy, design, products, reception of customers —  since we’ve opened your doors?
  • Do we put off responding to any feedback till the following day only to forget?
  • How often do we say or show thanks to our customers?
  • How often do you reinvest money back into the company?
  • How high is our retention rate among our staff?   If  we’ve had about 5-6 employees leave in a 3 month period…NOT GOOD!
  • Do we ever do quarterly or monthly analysis on where our company is and where we’d like it to be by a deadline?

Stop and think about some of these questions.  If you answered ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ to 3 or more of these, then you are in need some fixing up, my friend.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but don’t go out of business because you refused to budge on what you think is right.   Turn off the TV and get out a note pad.  It’s time to see where the most work is needed in your company and begin brainstorming on how to get there.  Will you repair it or let it crumble to the ground?

{photo credit: Ladyheart via morguefile.com}