Archive for January, 2008

Dear Danielle: Prospective Client Disappearing Act

Dear Danielle:

Last month I received an email from a business owner. She asked if we could schedule a consultation sometime during the second week of this month to talk. I gave her a few dates and times to choose from, and she emailed me back right away with the date she preferred, but didn’t pick out a time. I emailed her back confirming the date, told her the time zone I was in and asked for the time she would prefer. I sent her another email the following week, asking if we could confirm a time. I also sent her my preliminary questionnaire to fill out prior to the consultation and asked that it be returned at least one day prior to our consultation. It’s now one day before our consultation, and I still have not heard back from her. Should I try contacting her one more time or do I just let it go and wait to see how it plays out? –AV

If you want the business, then by all means contact her again so that you can pin down a specific time, and also get your preliminary questionnaire completed and returned to you in plenty of time.

However, there are a few things I would advise being mindful of that will help you build your business successfully and ideally. Because we want to grow a business we love, too, right? It’s not just about the money. And no amount of money will make up for the unhappiness caused by working with un-ideal clients.

First, I would reschedule the consultation for a new date and time entirely that allows for the client to return the completed preliminary questionnaire 24 hours before the consult so you have plenty of time to review it beforehand.

Clients who don’t follow-through and then contact you at the ninth hour tend to put one in a “scrambling” mode instead of a calm and professionally prepared mode. Working that way also sets a bad precedent for the relationship right from the beginning.

Doesn’t mean you have to write those folks off as a poor fit (yet, at least). People do get busy, especially those who need your help.

But it’s also important in this situation to honor your standards and processes; don’t let them be sidestepped. You have them so that you can run your business and serve clients as skillfully and professionally as possible.

This is also a test, so to speak… a way of prequalifying clients and learning which ones are going to be appreciative and respectful of you and which are not going to be a good fit.

For example, when you go to the doctor’s office and they give you a form to complete, you don’t say to them, meh, I think I’ll pass, do you?

Of course not; you wouldn’t get seen.

They aren’t handing out forms for their health, and neither are you.

Your questionnaire and other forms and systems are systems and tools you use in your business to get the information you need to best serve clients while running as smoothly as possible.

Insist that they be followed and completed. If they aren’t, simply don’t schedule anything with that prospect until they are.

Pay attention to cues that tell you whether a client is a fit or not. You can’t bend over backwards for people who demonstrate they aren’t a fit.

It’s a matter of profitability. No solo business can survive if all its time and resources are wasted catering to those who can’t work within the most basic of professional frameworks.

If there are signals that this might be the case, you need to ask yourself whether the potential client fits the profile of someone who is really ready to be served, and is going to be able to extend mutual courtesy and respect.

As you grow in your business, your sense about who falls into what category will get keener and keener as well. Be sure you pay attention to your red flags. Your gut instincts will never let you down.

One of my #1 rules for profitability: Don’t let clients rush your process or step over your standards.

They are the chief things that will allow you to build a profitable practice, which in turns allows you to provide superior service to your ideal clients. That’s a recipe for success AND living the life of your dreams.

Invest in the Tools You Need for Business

Don’t be afraid to get the tools you need in your business.

They are an investment, not an expense, and will help you grow your business faster while building in efficiency and automation right from the get-go.

And before I start hearing from the folks who somehow think going into business shouldn’t cost them anything, let me say that I understand not everyone opens their business adequately funded.

When that is the case, my advice is to take that same drive and determination that set you to open your business in the first place, and use it to get the things you NEED in your business for it to succeed, come hell or high water.

Now, when it comes to subscription-based tools, those things that are billed on a monthly basis, I highly recommend opting to pay annually instead.

There is usually a great savings when you go this route, and if you are on a tight budget and often don’t know when your next dollar is coming in, you won’t have to worry about having enough money in your account each month to cover the installment.

The problem that many poorly-funded new business owners have is that this can mean a significant initial outlay of funds that they often just don’t have all at once.

But here’s a little trick you can do to make it easier and spread the cost out over a period of time:  Stagger your annual subscription purchases over several months.

In the first month, pay the annual subscription cost for one, maybe two, services.

Pay for another annual subscription the following month.

And so on each subsequent month until all your annual business tools and subscriptions are paid for.

The cool thing about doing this is not only will you be saving a ton of money while alleviating your monthly budgeting woes, but then when those bills come around again the following year, they won’t all be due at the same time.

If you’re wondering what month is best to start doing this, I recommend May because it’s after the first of the year reporting crunches of January and April.

December is also a good month to stuff in as many last-minute business expenses as you can before the new year so you can get even more tax write-offs.

Demonstrate Your Competence

Actions speak louder than words.

You can say you are the smartest, most competent, most wonderful administrative expert in the world, but if those statements aren’t backed up–evidenced–in all that you do in the most visible, tangible ways, your message will fall on deaf ears.

Everything you do is a demonstration of your professional competence. Every action, communication, effort and follow-up is an example of the level of skill, awareness, intelligence, professionalism and critical thinking ability you possess.

Even the visual presentation you provide, be it in your personal appearance or the design of your website, is communicating certain messages, either positive or negative, about you as a professional.

When someone doesn’t know a thing about you, they are unconsciously looking at any and all evidence of what you’re about. And they make assessments (yup, you can call ‘em judgments) about you instantly, without even thinking, based on what you show them.

Think about it.

A prospective client doesn’t know anything about you, even less if they aren’t coming to you on referral. If your website is sloppy, they will assume your work is sloppy, too.

If there are misspellings, punctuation errors and poor grammar used, they are going to wonder whether you have the most basic of skills to provide professional services to them.

If you don’t take care in the messages you write or can’t seem to follow the simplest of directions, they are immediately going to correlate that with what it will be like to work with you–and probably pass.

Understand the dynamics involved in the prospect-provider relationship. It’s not the prospective client’s job to waste their time (and they won’t) trying to figure out if someone really is competent if all other indications tell them that’s not the case. Nor will they second-guess the poor image or example you present. Trust me, they are going to take you at face value and assume that your services are amateur, sub-par and not at a professional level.

That’s why it’s really important to pay attention to the details. You have to show up, in everything you do, in a way that clearly demonstrates your professional competence and the kind of experience they will have if they choose to work with you.