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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Ask The Right Questions, Find The Right Clients

We put so much emphasis on finding clients.  And rightly so.  They are the bread and butter of our businesses.  Without them, we wouldn’t have a business  — we make our money  by selling products and services to our clients.   It’s as simple as that.  But not really.  Because although we may position ourselves to be of service to someone  for a fee, not everyone who needs what we have t is someone who should be our client.

Sounds a little conceited, I know, but there’s a reason to this rhyme.

Every so often I’m given a little wake up call — by my own doing or otherwise — of the certain elements I need to tweak here and there for Intel Boutique.   One of the things were brought to my attention by a colleague and long time friend of mine who asked  if I was still using my questionnaires.  I genuinely like to help people, especially when it comes to my area of expertise, which gets in me in more trouble than I like because there are instances where I’ll just drive right in.   But I needed to revisit this questionnaire to keep grounded and be more discerning.  So I ended up  re-writing it from a simpler but more direct questionnaire focusing on my needs and my prospect clients’ needs.  What is this questionnaire I’ve apparently been neglecting for too long?  It’s a client questionnaire.  It’s purpose is to help me gauge whether or not a client is worth taking on.

Yes, I said ‘worth’.  Because as blunt as it may sound, not everyone is worth the time and energy.

So, after I rewrote this questionnaire and gave it a few look-overs, I realized why I’ve been teetering with so many of my recent  clients is because  I never did a questionnaire on them to explore what they were looking for and what they really needed.  And of course, to see if the time I would put in would be worthwhile.  Needless to say, I’m glad I rewrote it.  And I rewrote with specific intentions:

  1. I need to know what the client is looking for — often people are so overwhelmed themselves, they want to unload everything onto you, making you their own little generalist.  That’s an immediate no-no.
  2. I want to find out they’re immediate pain points, what are they struggling with the most. I want to find out if it’s in my scope or not and how is it affecting their business and why.
  3. I need to know if they have a budget for outside help/vendors/services– whatever you want to call it.  I found that most people know they need someone else to help them, know they need to pay them for that help, but don’t know how much or can’t afford a lot.  And because I don’t believe in leaving  money on the table, I work within their means — but not outside my standard.  In other words —  I give them what they can afford and no more than that.  It’s not a selfish act, but a conscientious act.  I’m sure they don’t give out much for free and neither do I.  And the quality of my work doesn’t diminish, just the quantity.
  4. And of course, I want to know — how long will they need my services for.  Everyone likes long term clients, but in some cases, not so much.  Clients who start showing issues with making payments or become unbearable to work with, we want to make sure there’s an exit route for that client.

My questionnaire is about 10 questions long — not very intensive, but it asks all the right questions I need to know to make a decision whether you want to work with that person or not.  And the better prepared I am knowing what I client needs and if I’m willing to work with them, the better prepared I am in building that business relationship.

The Rejection Letter

Everyone gets rejected.  Everyone has been rejected.  If you haven’t been rejected just yet (wait for it) you are one lucky S.O.B. and the best way to win friends and influence others is to keep that little annoying tidbit to yourself.  For the rest of you out there, I know you all know rejection all too well.  Whether we experienced it in grade school as children getting picked last for dodge ball teams, getting that extremely thin letter from the university we were so sure we were going to get in, or having your best friend say they rather just stay friends. We’ve all been rejected at some point in our lives.  And getting rejected while building and soliciting business doesn’t get any easier.

Or maybe it can.

Rejection, if we know how to shift our attitudes accordingly, can change how we do business.  We’ll begin to look at rejection as an obstacle meant to be overcome (which it is) rather than a brick wall that cannot be penetrated.  With shaping how we think about rejection and how we plan to treat rejection as it comes at us, we first must be honest with ourselves.  We must acknowledge what our weaknesses are and where they lie.  And we all have weakness.  (Listen, I don’t care how perfect you think you are, you have a least one weakness — and probably very few friends).

By acknowledging your weaknesses, start by writing a rejection letter to yourself.  Write it as if you are the client who just received a proposal from your company or a sales pitch from yourself (the business you, not the client you) and you’ve decided that you’re not the best fit for your current needs.  And because the client you knows all about the business you, be brutally honest.  Tell the business you why you’re not going to go with your company.  Maybe the business you doesn’t have enough experience in the industry or field.  Maybe the business you doesn’t sound confident enough over the phone or in person.  Maybe the business you doesn’t have a solid track record.  Maybe the business you doesn’t have the resources to get the job done — whatever it is, let the client you just rip the business you a new one.  Some clients don’t hold back and you need to be brace yourself for their honesty.  You need to be able to tell yourself what clients maybe thinking if they decide “no”.

A brutally honest rejection letter prepares you for a counter argument; save a sale or hold onto a client.  The object of a rejection letter is to poke holes at your business.  And your job is to be able to spin it so that they client or customer no longer sees those holes as problems.  You want to acknowledge the holes they see but assure them you have plugs for those holes.  Think of the plugs as activities or practices you’ve incorporated into your business to provide them with peace of mind.

Because that’s what clients and customers really want.  They want to know if they give you their money, that they are going to get their expected value for it.  And by ensuring they get what they paid for and it’s actually what they want, they’re going to reject you.  Clients are going to try to find something wrong until you show them all that is right.  But you gotta beat them to the punch.  Know client’s possible rejections first by creating your own rejections.

Three-Legged Race

You’re standing at the edge of the make-shift start line.  The sun is beaming down on you, but it isn’t uncomfortably hot.  There’s a nice gust of wind providing a gentle breeze to accompany the sun.  And you’re feeling confident.  You’re ready for this race.  You’re excited, even.  But this isn’t a race for the fastest — to see who makes it to the finish line first.  This is a race of endurance.  A race to see if you last long enough to get to the end.  As you mentally prepare yourself to be the victor of this race, you look around taking one last observation of the environment and the other participants.  You nudge yourself a little more forward extending a few extra millimeters, looking for that competitive edge.  As you ready yourself to lunge ahead at the sound of “GO”, you feel a little tightness around your thigh and knee.  You’ve forgotten your partner.  After all, this is a three-legged race.

And it’s just dawned on you, how you decide to run, walk or generally move, you have to do with the person tied to your side.  Every move you make, that person will make and every move that person makes, you will have to make.  If they fall, you fall.  If you speed up, they’ll have to speed up.  At this moment, the two of you are one.  One unit, one entity, one body.  And although the two of may not share out loud every decision you plan on making during the course of this race, you’ll still have to support each other — where one goes, the other will have to follow.  You’ll each have to watch out for dips in the ground and hidden obstructions, both for yourselves and the other person.

Should one of you find yourself unable to continue — you lack the energy, you lack the will, all of a sudden someone has a pain or one of you just plain gives up, then you both forfeit, even if the other party wants to continue on.  That’s what a partnership is all about.  Mutually moving together as one.  One unit, one entity, one body.

Not everyone is suited for a three-legged race and that’s okay, because not everyone’s suited to race.  The goal is not to get to the end, but get to the goal.  And the next goal, and the next goal after that.  It’s not a race for the fastest, but a race to see who can hold out till the end.

 

Labor of Love

I hope everyone enjoyed their Labor Day weekend.  It’s nice to get some down time and do — nothing.  It’s even better that there’s a whole national holiday dedicated to NOT working.  But while you were putting up your feet, flipping through channels or chilling out in the backyard, I hope you also took some time this weekend to reflect on the labor of love you’ve been working on so hard.  Your business, dream, goal — call it what you want.    Did you give some real thought to where your business is going?  What you could be doing differently — better, even — to improve some of the inefficiencies that are creating obstacles?  By chance, did you take this Labor Day weekend to think about the labor you’ve been working on and building?

Much of the time, our down time is just that — down.  Productivity is down, effort is down, connecting is down.  Down on our list of priorities.  Every so often, we need a break and any time we get one, we take it.  But are we letting our down time drag us down?  Just because we get a break doesn’t mean we need to break the momentum.  Even when we’re taking it easy for a couple of days, there’s a lot we can still get done so that when we’re ready to pick things back up at our usual pace, we can do so effortlessly.

Plan – we should also be planning, creating outlines, mapping out timelines and working out budgets.  It doesn’t require a great deal of intensive energy but it can get much of out of the way.

Brainstorm – this is much like planning, except without the organization.  Brainstorming is the collection of ideas and thoughts before we’ve had a chance to comb through it and nit-pick over every detail.  Maybe there was something we wanted to introduce into our company but have been so busy to give it a second thought.   Now we can.

Read – we don’t always have time to stop and read the latest reports, findings or articles related to our industry.  Our down time is the perfect time to catch up on all this and see what the experts and other business owners are saying.

Wander – as in, let your mind wander.  Sometimes a little ol’ fashion daydreaming is just the right amount of inspiration we need to spike up our motivation and vision.   Daydreaming is a time killer when we’re busy.  But not when we’re doing nothing!  So let’s indulge ourselves.  What else can we create?

The next time you get some down time, use it wisely.  See if you can couple day dreaming with channel surfing or reading with sun-bathing.  You never know when inspiration will strike, so make a little time for it.  After all, it’s not work, it’s a labor of love

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}

How Does Your Business Grow?

Business Growth

With silver bells and cockle shells, and pretty maidens all in a row?  No, I think not.  But just like a garden, a business starts out as a seed, an idea in someone’s mind.  Then it is dug up with research and similar models that already exist.  It’s nurtured with sounding boards, moral support and feedback.  It’s watered with time, a business plan, capital , marketing and energy.  And when it’s ready to sprout, it’s launched.  But the growth process doesn’t stop there.  More time and planning and money and marketing continue to make the business grow.  And it grows roots before it grows branches.  It takes hold, it firmly digs in, and then it expands — from community to community, to region to coast.

What makes your business grow?  You.  And everything you put into it.  What you put into it is what you get out of — it’s not a cliché, but a fact.  You want to have a business that will stand the test of time?  Take time to build that business and think about the future as much as you think about the present.  You want to have a strong and loyal customer base?  Take interest in their needs and connect instead of transact.  Wanna make money with your business?  Remove your focus from money to the quality of your business.

How does your business grow?

How Does Your Business Grow 2