Archive for being authentic
The other day I was talking to a potential new client who was really keen to work with us. But then they sent me an email outlining why our project would have to wait.
I was miffed right?
Actually nothing could be further from the truth. In fact I was rather honoured.
She bared her soul in that email, telling me what had really gone on for her in the last few months and that now she desperately needed a holiday. In a nutshell, her business and our project would have to wait.
I called her as soon as I read the email to let her know not only was it fine and we could wait to do her project, but that I was really touched that she’d shared so openly about what was going on for her.
She said she felt unsure of telling anyone that she wasn’t quite on her business game – that it wasn’t really the kind of thing that you should ‘admit’ to. And that’s where she was wrong.
Humans can smell a lie a mile off. We all like to think we’re skilled at fudging things but really we’re not. We’ve all had that feeling that something’s just not right when someone’s said something and it puts us off for the next time we deal with them.
If my client had made something up, it would have come off as insincere and I would have taken it as a ‘brush off’ when nothing could have been further from her mind. And that would potentially have affected how we’d relate to each other in the future. Instead, she had enough respect for me, and more importantly herself to tell it like it really was.
And that’s something you just don’t see a lot of in business.
Better still, it brought us closer in a way we might never have been otherwise. We found commonality in her moment of truth. What she saw as a her ‘failing’, I assured her was kind of ‘normal’ and something we all shared.
For the record, I don’t think there is a business owner out there, that hasn’t experienced a day, week or month of their business life where they’ve felt off their game, or like crying with tiredness, overwork, client issues, financial issues, etc – me included. Okay maybe not actual tears, especially for the blokes, just the despair that comes with exhaustion and overwhelm that comes with handling a million things at once.
But, just like every other business owner on the planet, I’m just getting on with it, making do with what I’ve got to work with. Am I ever off my game. Some days, yes.
And guess what? Everyone has those days, it’s just that somewhere along the way, we as business owners seem to have forgotten that. As business owners, somewhere along the way, we learned to turn on the ‘bluster and bravado’ show – everything’s fine, going well, business is booming, couldn’t be better, etc. And in so doing, we’ve duped ourselves into thinking that we’re the only one that has bad days.
I for one, think it’s time we were all a little more honest with how things really are. Then maybe we’ll free ourselves up from the need to keep up appearances.
So the next time you’re about to ‘fudge’ your way into, out of or around something, stop and ask if you could build a better relationship by telling the unvarnished truth.
I’m just over halfway through a business coaching program designed to push my business to greater heights.
First came the initial period of challenge to my business development, where my somewhat haphazard book-keeping got seriously pulled into line – that was painful – in fact, dare I admit this, there were almost tears. BUT OMG, did it feel better when it was done. I could finally look at my numbers and know what on a daily basis was happening in my business. I could see what my turnover and my profit was, who owed money, who were slow payers and whether or not I was in growth or decline. Best of all, I could plan properly for the future. (thank you Tracey.)
I was challenged to grow my business too. We looked at my client base, the segments of my client population where the real revenue came from and the clients where I was spending 80% of my time for just 20% of my revenue – and that’s what often kills a business.
Then my coaching team and I set some tough numbers. But given I’m a type-A personality, if you set me a number I will kill myself trying to achieve it – but you’ve gotta love a good challenge. And I’m just a little proud to say I’ve achieve that number most months. I’ve even won (back from my old corporate days) some of my dream clients. And some months I’ve done almost double the usual number. I will most probably end this year having at least doubled (almost tripled) my turnover. Thank you to my gorgeous clients.
I’ve moved from working from home, to renting a desk in a small agency to renting my own own office and taking on team members (some in the office, some telecommute). I’ve got the beginnings of a profile on the speaker circuit. And I’ve even returned teaching at uni (my great love) one morning a week. And I get to read widely (another great love) for clients and on my own industry (making sure I stay up-to-date on an industry that moves at the speed of light).
Gosh – when I read that back – that all seems like you could say I was successful.
BUT…don’t be misled. All of this has come at considerable cost.
- Most weeks, I work 60-80hrs a week. I leave home around 6am and I get back often between8- 10pm (or later). And I usually work a 1/2 day in the office (7am-2pm – yes, that’s 7 hrs – but it’s only 1/2 of one of my days) each weekend. Just in case you’re wondering – my office is only 5 minutes from home – so travel time really doesn’t factor in.
- I haven’t had a proper week-off holiday in I can’t remember how long (it didn’t help that I’d scheduled 10 days off at Christmas and in those 10 days my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Stage4 breast cancer, had surgery, moved in with us (read: total house overhaul to make a comfy private room for her) to recover and then given a terminal diagnosis that knocked us all for a six – oh and we needed to find respite care for her lovely 89 yr old husband with dementia two days before Christmas – which is damned near impossible to find in Sydney – thank you Whitdon Group for finding us the only place available on Christmas Eve).
- Haven’t taken a ‘sick’ day in forever – except the time I ended up in hospital after ‘treating’ myself with some old antibiotics in drawer because I didn’t have time to go to the Dr. Yep – discovered the hard way that I’d suddenly become allergic to penicillin. Now I live in fear of being ill and swallow vitamins like a mad-woman. I simply don’t have time to get sick and the drugs to help are now distinctly limited.
- I don’t spend nearly enough time with my kids (whatever ‘enough time’ actually is). At the moment I’m trying to be home in time to spend 15 minutes each night reading with my six year old at 8pm (thank god she’s a bit of a night owl). And my dogs miss me – they’ve taken to loving my husband more
- I can’t remember the last time I went for a walk (aside from the doorstep to the car, the car to office and back again – oh and the weekly trip around woolworths – does that count?). I’ve regained the 7kgs I tried so hard to lose previously and my body feels really sluggish. Should I admit that I’ve learned to embrace the ‘kaftan’?
- Oh and the piece d’resistance? Despite a goodly turnover, after-tax take home (when you consider all the expenses of running a business) is still not what I was earning as the VP/managing director of a global agency. And I don’t get the holidays or long service accruals that went along with that either.
Why am I sharing this with you?
Because not enough business owners do. Ask any business owner how they’re doing and they’ll usually tell you things are going really well (regardless of what reality is like for them).
So many people (including our ill-informed senior politicians of any flavour) have this idea that people who run their own businesses are ‘lucky’, ‘can work whenever they want to’, make ‘shedloads’ of money, pay no tax and somehow don’t really deserve the success they get. Maybe I’m doing it all wrong, but if I am, so’s everyone else.
Don’t be fooled – almost every business owner – especially in their first ‘real’ years (so, I’m not talking after merging established businesses like you see on some of those ‘fast-starters’ lists) struggles, works their asses off and wonders if it’s worth it. The women in my mentoring group – who all run considerably successful businesses, wonder if they’re the only one that is struggling with whatever the current challenge is – cash flow, work-life balance, family, staff stuff, growth, client issues, total overwhelm, etc.
When you run your own business, everything is personal. Every new business win, every staff issue is personal (you’ve taken them on and you have a responsibility for them – at least that’s how I see it). And every piece of work is personal – at least it is for me. I love what I do and I want what I do to contribute meaningfully to my clients’ business.
Yes, my business gives me the freedom to pick and choose the clients I want to work with. But it wasn’t always this way – but I’ve made it so because working with the wrong clients is devastating to your time, your productivity and your soul.
Yes, I get to take a day here and there to see my children swim or perform at school concerts – because I’ve promised myself, I will not miss their important days (and to date in 7 years of school – I’ve only missed 1 – and I’ve forgiven myself for that).
Yes, I’m teaching my girls that you don’t get paid simply for showing up, that a good work ethic never goes astray and that you never have rely on a man to provide for you or stay in a hideously abusive marriage because you’ve no place else to go – like my mother did.
And yes, most days, I dream of taking a month off to lie on a beach, with a cocktail in hand, a fiction book to read and Sven the massage therapist at the end of the deck chair poking at my feet.
But truth be told, I’d be bored after about 5 days and itching to get back to work. And that’s why I run a business.
Feel free to share why you run yours and the lessons you’ve learned below.
I love my clients – said it before and I’ll say it again. I love my clients – each and every one of them. They’re all quite different as people and sure each of them has their quirks (I love that by the way), but they’re all people I would choose to have a drink and chat with out of hours. All of them make me laugh – not at them, but with them. Some of them, I swear should be in the comedy business – they’re that cool.
The weird thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say that ever before in my 20-ish years of consulting. Oh, sure – I’ve adored some of my clients along the way, but others – well, let’s just say there were pre-set budgets and targets to be met all in the name of being part of someone else’s business and keeping a job. I couldn’t say “actually this client is wrong for the business.” I think I tried that once and got told to “suck it up”. Every time I had that beacon go off – there was pain. It usually involved being beaten up by the client for work would never live up to the expectations of the client no matter how good it was, getting stuck in someone’s internal political mess, not being paid or just work that felt like trying to swim through a vat of molasses. In short – not fun experiences.
Truth be told every business owner, particularly those in service businesses, will face the prospect of being hired by the ‘wrong’ client. Now my wrong client might be your dream client – it’s a completely personal decision. And when you’re just starting out, sometimes you might be more about the revenue through the door than whether it’s right for you or not – and that’s understandable. But once you’ve got some revenue flowing through the business, getting the right customer fit is important.
Hire the right customers and going to work each day will still be a joy – even if the work itself is challenging. However, hire the wrong customer and they can destroy you, your sanity and your business.
So how do you build a business of totally awesome clients? Here are 6 tips;
1. Only take on clients (or work) you really like/respect and work you believe in – the client and the work will inspire you to bring your A game and you’ll have a great time along the way
2. If you can, only take work that’s referred to you. That tends to weed out the total nutters and those that won’t pay. Don’t forget to thank the person who referred you!
3. If people call you on the phone, haven’t done any due diligence and talk about price on that call – that’s a fairly good indication that they’re not after you per se, they’re after anyone who’ll do the work for as little as possible. And they’ll continue to screw you for more along the way. If this happens – suggest they’d be better suited being serviced by someone else.
4. Be vigilant about staying true to your rules. I had a narrow escape the other day because the work was fabulous, gritty and challenging, but the client was known for being abrasive. So when it went another way due to budget constraints, I thanked my lucky stars and got annoyed at myself for wasting their and my own time – and yes, this prospect, despite being referred, hadn’t done due diligence and asked about price on that first call. Worse still, I got sucked into that conversation. Note to self: Don’t do that again!!!!
5. Before you meet with the client or even phone them back to talk turkey or set up meeting, do your due diligence – check them out on LinkedIn, Facebook, call someone who knows them and see what they’re like, check their website and Google them. See what comes up. After all, do you really want to work with an axe murderer that got off on a technicality?
6. Finally, ask yourself if you really like what you see. Could you make a difference in their business (or life) doing whatever it is you do. Is their work in a part of your business you’d like to do more of? Will you be happy and comfortable talking to them every other day? Is their business interesting, challenging, lovely or whatever it is that makes you jump out of bed in the mornings? If the answer’s yes, accept that client with open arms. If it’s a no – politely decline and help them in the direction of someone else for whom they might be a better fit.
When I mentor junior industry folk, I’ve been known to say to them when they’re considering changes of job (especially the ones where they’ve got nagging concerns but the money is fabulous), “never sell your soul – they can never pay you enough”. The same is true of business. We’ve all heard stories about or experienced ‘those’ bosses/employers (and in some cases that’s why we started a business). But guess what, those people also employ other businesses.
If, after everything suggested above, if you’re still in doubt, go with your gut – it never lies. Best of luck with it. Feel free to connect via social media, leave a comment about your experiences or drop me a note.
1. Be different – but in a good way. You may have heard the saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Yes, there is – just ask Rupert Murdoch. Make sure that you stand out for the right reasons. Keep the WIIFM principle, otherwise known as what’s in it for me (from your customers’ perspective) at the centre of anything you do.
2. Do something great – either for a client, for your staff or for the world in general and let people know about it. Everyone likes to think that business decisions are based on rationale and logic. They’re not. Everyone – yes everyone, buys on emotion and then backs it up with logic. So do something authentic for you and your organisation that makes someone somewhere feel better about their day – again keeping the WIIFM principle top of mind. You might also want to have some logical reasons for doing business with you handy too. Customers like logic to back up their emotional purchase decision (yep – even the business to business buyers).
3. Keep it consistent - Make sure that every part of your business (and yes, that’s more than just your marketing materials) says the same thing. If you pride yourself on service, but it takes your receptionist 10 rings to answer, there’s an incongruity there. That incongruity makes people feel uncomfortable. If it happens enough, your customers will have a level of discomfort that turns them and their business away.
4. Do what you say you’ll do – so many people don’t. When something goes wrong (maybe it’s outside your control) that’s when keeping on keeping on really counts. After you finish swearing, downing a scotch, panicking, etc – sort the problem and get on with it. There’s no need to share the drama with your client – you’ll know you’ve gone above and beyond – bask in the inner glow of a job well done – problems and all.
5. Give good love – client love that is. Send thank you notes – yes lots of people say it and still so very few do it. Send something nice with your bills to your favourite clients. Send things for Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays, big wins, etc that you know they’ll like. I gave a client of mine who was very into beer, a beer tasting box – he loved it. Sure I could have got him a bottle of wine, but it would have gone either in the office kitchen or to his home relatively unappreciated. The trick to this is to pay attention when they speak.
If you have a tale about what you do to stand out, please feel free to share below.