Archive for November, 2007

Dear Danielle: Should I Offer a Guarantee?

Dear Danielle:

It seems like all the internet marketers tell business owners they should offer a money-back guarantee, and I’ve seen lots of colleagues offer guarantees on their websites. I’m toying with the idea, but I don’t know how it works. What do you think? —MJ

I think it’s a ridiculous idea, to be frank.

Guarantees are for commoditized products, not professional services. And think about it: how would you offer a guarantee?

First of all, there are theories of law in play.

If someone engages you to perform a service, you are legally entitled to be paid for the expenditure of your time and labor as long as you fulfilled your contractual obligations and regardless of whether the client later decides they want their money back or not.

Second of all, what if you did have a money-back guarantee and a client actually took you up on it.

Would you have enough money set aside to do that? How much money would you have to always keep set aside that you couldn’t spend or use yourself just in case someone asked for their money back? That’s valuable cashflow you’d be depriving yourself and your business of.

Here’s the deal: The folks telling you to offer a money-back guarantee don’t know our business, and it’s certainly not good advice for any professional services firm.

Plus, typically the businesses who deal with “seductive” advertising are those in low-credibility, high volume markets (people like internet marketers). That is NOT you.

Our profession is based on personal relationships.

Being genuine, authentic, principled and ethical is the very best sales tool you have at your disposal.

When your business is based on that platform, you aren’t going to attract people will be prone to thinking of you as a commodity, and you certainly won’t need any tricks or gimmicks to bribe people into working with you.

If an occasion does arise in your business where a client isn’t happy, talk it out and do what you think is fair.

If you’ve really dropped the ball, take responsibility and do everything you can to make that client happy and whole.

That may mean going above and beyond the scope of the work and what you’ve been paid because you want to avoid any harm to your business reputation, warranted or not, fair or not.

If push comes to shove and there is just no pleasing that client — and as long as you aren’t allowing yourself to be held hostage by a bully who is only looking to get a free ride — maybe you do consider giving money back to a client in a worst case scenario.

But do it on a case-by-case basis, not a blanket policy that demeans and devalues you and the work.

Grateful Mondays: Thankful for an Early Start

This Monday, I’m grateful for getting an early start on my Christmas shopping.

I know, I know… I feel the same way about all the icky holiday commercialism that seems to start earlier and earlier in the year. And I don’t participate in all that.

I’m a conscious consumer. I don’t buy stuff just to be buying it, and I’m not manipulated by advertising and marketing. We live a very simple, non materialistic lifestyle by choice.

But for the people I care about in my life, I absolutely love to shop!

And the realm of those folks who have a special place in my heart has grown so much that I just knew I had to get an early start so that I could still enjoy the true wonder and delight of the season without all the hurry and stress.

I started my holiday cards and gift shopping back in October. By November, I had all my Christmas cards signed, sealed, stamped and addressed. And in November, I’ve been able to get pretty much all of my gift shopping done, with a few exceptions (darn if you don’t get an idea in your head for something, and the minute you start looking for it, all of a sudden it’s nowhere to be found, LOL).

So with most of the practical “work” done, I’ve been able to enjoy some more casual, leisurely searching for those special gifts. My daugher and I have had some really fun shopping days in downtown Seattle, and at the independent markets in Freemont and Olympia.

Next on our agenda is shopping some of the fabulous artists markets in the Pacific Northwest, and a trip to Portland. We’re also planning to make it to San Francisco for a weekend if time and my daughter’s work schedule permits.

It’s been a wonderful, delicious holiday season so far, and there’s still the whole month of December’s holiday experiences to look forward to!

So how’s your holiday season going so far?

Dear Danielle: I’m Stuck On a Business Name

Dear Danielle:

I have just made the decision to start my own Administrative Consultant business. I’ve been researching lots of sites for helpful info. I’ve started a business plan. I’ve researched software and equipment upgrades I need to make. Right now, I’m really stuck on finding a name for my business. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing but I can’t seem to come up with something catchy. Any tips? MG

Naming a business is an important decision, so I’m glad you’re taking the time to think it through. You’re not making a big deal out of it at all–it IS a big deal. Good for you. 🙂

There are a few things to think about in naming your business.

First, you do want something unique. You want to differentiate your business and stand out from the crowd. And you definitely don’t want to be confused with any other existing business in our industry.

Which bring us to the second point–steer clear from infringing on the rights of another Administrative Consultant’s existing business name use. That will get you into hot water with your colleagues–not a great way to introduce yourself to the community (and trust me, you will need them).

There are no geographical boundaries in our industry due to the nature of our business model and how we deliver our service. We all operate in the same online marketplace so it doesn’t matter if Superlative Administrative Consulting is in another state. If you use that person’s existing business name or something derivative of it, she’s not gonna be very happy with you, and may seek legal recourse. That could be very costly to you, and she’ll probably tell all her buddies in the industry about your infringement while she’s at it.

So once you start to come up with some names, due your due diligence: make several Internet searches, look through all the various industry directories, and double check with folks in your professional communities.

In naming your business, it really requires you to go back a few steps and think about your target market. You need get clear about what you do, who you do it for and what results you achieve for them. Formalizing that thought process is going to help you establish your branding.

Once you know those things, you then have a better idea of who your business name is really for. What do most of their websites look like? Are they a serious or fun-loving group? Do they sell products or services? Are they in an industry or a skilled/degreed profession? Are they going to appreciate cleverness or inventiveness, or is traditional formality going to better appeal to their sensibilities? What kind of name will inspire their trust and confidence in your business? What brand aspects can your name convey to them?

These are the kinds of questions that should come to mind once you decide who your business is speaking to, and will help you decide what sort of business name will best suit their tastes while conveying your brand position.

Be an UN-Cola

As an organization founder, I’m in a position to view lots of new colleague websites.

In the last year, I’ve been noticing website after website using the new, and apparently free, Microsoft Live templates.

Granted, having a website is better than having no website at all, but in this case, not by much.

Folks, I gotta tell ya, this is not the way to go.

If you want to do yourself and your business a favor, at your very first opportunity, hire a professional to design a proper business website for you, one that conveys some uniqueness, personality and professional gravitas.

A custom-designed website (read non-template that is quickly recognized as such and makes you look like everybody else) is one of the easiest ways to position your business apart from the crowd and give clients a reason to choose you.

Clients also correlate the presentation of your business website with your business, skills, competence and what it will be like working with you. Presenting a lazy, template-based website makes them think your work will be like that as well.

If you are serious about your business and getting clients, it’s one of the smartest investments you can make.

And since we’re on the topic, stop plagiarizing each other, for gosh sakes!

Not only will you find yourself in hot water with your colleagues, but I can’t tell you how many clients have complained to me that “all their websites look the same and same the exact same thing!”

Blending into the crowd and conforming to the pack is NOT what is needed in business.

You give no reason for client’s to choose you when you are parroting the same message over and over. They are looking for your unique value proposition. When all you do is say the same thing as everyone else, you become invisible to them, just more noise.

To stand out, you’ve got to start thinking for yourself, creating your own brand and putting your own unique personality and voice to what you do.

Stop looking at everyone else’s website for words to copy. Be an un-cola!

How NOT to Promote Your Services by Cold-Call Emails

I received an email from someone today wanting to sell me on her transcription services. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself. However, this person’s delivery was such a turn-off and showed such a lack of business polish that it got immediately deleted. There are some excellent business and marketing lessons I thought I would share with you, though…

Mistake #1 – Nonprofessional Email Address:  The first mistake is that she emailed me from an AOL address. I don’t know you from Adam, (therefore, the trust factor will be zero) and you expect me to think you are a competent, reputable, trustworthy professional when you don’t use a professional email address from your own business domain?

Mistake #2 – No Signature Line or Other Identifying Information:  There was no signature line or any other kind of identifying information anywhere in her email. No business name. No contact info. No website address. No tagline. Nothing! How on earth is anyone supposed to determine this person’s credibility and legitimacy? And I’m supposed to want to do business with you?

Mistake #3 – Trying to Negotiate the Whole Deal Right Then and There: To her credit, this person did relate some important facts and information about her services and qualifications. Good, this is stuff I would be interested in. But, instead of leaving things there–giving just enough to pique my interest–she goes on to tell me her rates and terms, what file formats she will and won’t accept, yada yada yada. Talk about a turn-off.

Your first contact, especially a cold one, should never include discussion of costs and terms and all the other minute business details. It’s not appropriate at that stage (some would even say it’s vulgar and unpolished), and you kill any possibility of a relationship.

People don’t want to be “sold” to. Everyone likes to learn of a new resource, but don’t be presumptuous, and don’t club them over the head with something they never asked for or you will be viewed as an intrusion. The goal is to invite further conversation. Give folks just enough (not everything) that they may be intrigued enough to contact you, or at least save your message for future reference.

Mistake #4 – No Website:  There just is no excuse in this day and age for any business not to have a website. This just cannot be stressed enough. And if you want to argue or debate that, well, all I can say is, good luck to you. It’s gonna be a long, hard haul.

Mistake #5 – Desperation:  Neediness is so unattractive. This person gave a whole paragraph about how she would do a trial run (the way it was worded, that sounded to me like “free”), and would go to great lengths to keep an accurate record of every minute of her time on tasks.

Ew. When I hire someone, I want a confident, competent professional, not an obsequious lapdog. Geez, you might as well stick a sign on your back that says, “use me and abuse me.”

Have some dignity. Respect your work and your business, and others will, too. If you’re as great as you say you are, your skills will stand on their own merits. Show some class and business polish, and you will engender trust and rapport in those you wish to work with. You don’t have to beg and bribe people to work with you.