In view of recent inquiries from colleagues, today I’d like to point you to one of my classic posts that relates to setting and managing client expectations through the policies and procedures you institute in your practice, and working with clients in a way that honors your standards and boundaries around self-care, effective business management, and quality of work and client-care.
Archive for the ‘Trials and Tribulations’ Category
Someone asked a great question today on our ACA LinkedIn group:
Q. I am curious to know how you handle naysayers. When I tell people that I am starting a business I get all sorts of reactions, but when people tell me that it can be “daunting” or “difficult” I start to doubt my own intentions. I know I am on the younger side with less than 10 years experience and a newlywed looking to start a family in the next two years. But I do have a lot of experience if not in years but in quality. I also feel that this is something I really want to do. Please let me know how you hand this, I’m interested in your feedback. Thank you again. —MA
I don’t know if there is any solution to this, really. If there is, I sure never found it, lol.
To this day and in the face of all that I’ve achieved including the money and the lifestyle, I STILL get no respect from my dad.
His generation seems to think anyone “working from home” is just playing around on the computer or that they’re running some kind of Internet scam.
He literally never asks about my business. I take him to the nicest places and he never has to pay a dime. You’d think he’d be at least somewhat interested in and happy about the success of his daughter. In nearly 20 years, I’ve gotten exactly ONE attagirl from him. ONE!
And my significant other who had the patience of a saint would also go back and forth between being very supportive (as long as things seemed to be moving along) to “maybe it’s time to give up on this and get a real job” (when it was tough-going).
He met me right when I was getting really serious about my business and there was no way in hell I was walking away from it. I was prepared to lose the relationship rather than do that and told him as much. I HAD to make it happen.
So, what I learned is to just not talk about business with family. They just don’t get it and they are the WORST with the naysaying.
I’ve found friends to be much more supportive. Heck, they wish THEY could do what I do and live the way I live.
But even they don’t really get it.
Although I do have an extremely flexibile and freedom-filled lifestyle (because I worked my ass off for many years engineering my business to have it like that), you still always have family and friends who think just because you’re home, they can pop in and interrupt any ol’ time they please to gab. They just don’t see it as a “real” business in many ways.
And there are some family and friends who are going to be jealous (consciously or subconsciously) and will want to pee in your cornflakes at every turn. Who are you to better your life and take chances when they are stuck toiling a 9-5 every day, is how they think.
What I can tell you is that starting this business was the best thing I ever did, despite all the hard work, the time, the set-backs and all the rest.
This journey of self-actualization, self-determination and personal growth and discovery never stops. It’s rewarding and exhilarating every day, and now in the years when I am really reaping the fruits of my labor, I am so proud of myself and pinch myself every day in gratitude at how lucky I am to have this life and lifestyle.
When it comes down to it, you have to believe in yourself, and have the determination to stick with it and the ability to tune out and ignore the Debbie Downers. Don’t ask them for their opinions and don’t talk about your business with them if you know they’re just going to try to discourage you.
So how about you? What kind of naysayers do you have in your life and how do you handle it? Does it daunt you or make you more determined than ever? What advice do you have to share about dealing with the naysayers?
I’ve done teleseminars up the ying-yang and know how to run those like the back of my hand. Got it down to a fine science.
I also recently held my first training webinar, and it was quite the learning experience.
Here are a few odds and ends things I learned (in no particular order) that you’re sure to find helpful, too.
- Use a timer. It’s easy to get distracted and lose track of time, especially when you get caught up in the moment with the energy and enthusiasm of your attendees. In my first class, we went way over the planned time I told people to schedule, and I felt really bad about that. In the future, I plan to keep a clock right in front of my eyeballs and also turn on a timer to help keep me on track. This will help gauge when it’s time to speed things up and move along to keep everything on schedule.
- Map it out, then stick with the script. I find reading from a script difficult. It seem unnatural or inauthentic. I like the dynamic of a real conversation and interaction, which feels more genuine and in-the-moment. There’s so much I want to share with folks that often I don’t remember something until it comes up organically. But there’s a reason why the experts tell you to script things out. You end up with a more polished production, and it helps keep things focused and on track. Plus, if you suffer from “um” and “ya know” syndrome (like me), a script does wonders in curing the problem. If it feels a bit fake, remind yourself that ultimately, this is about providing a better experience for your participants and it’s their benefit and comfort you’re doing this for.
- Leave your notes unstapled. I know. This sounds like such an inane, irrelevant thing, but it really does take more effort and fumbling around to flip stapled pages than it does unstapled ones. Trust me. Things will flow much better if you leave them unstapled.
- Keep the trickiness to a minimum. I wanted to do something a little more original than anything I’d seen in webinars I’ve attended. One of my ideas was to do on-screen drawing, where I was engaging with participants, asking them questions and then writing down points to help crystallize concepts I was trying to convey. I wanted it to be like they were at an actual, in-person class. In theory, that sounds awesome. In practice, not so much. Trying to do this really slowed things down. It was too difficult switching between all the mental gears it takes to man the control panel, turn pages, keep the conversation on track and flip between the drawing tools all at the same time. While most webinar platforms offer drawing tools, there’s still a lot that needs to be perfected in the technology and controls before they’ll be at a level where this is more feasible. Sometimes, the best solution is the simplest, tried-and-true method.
- Have a co-pilot. Initially, I weighed the option of having one of my colleagues help me. But then I thought that would just make me more nervous and there wasn’t much she could take off my hands anyway. Well, after doing Part 1 of my first webinar, I realized that was a mistake. With everything else I had to do myself, no matter what, it was absolutely impossible for me to also pay attention to those who were having audio difficulties, typing in the text chat area or raising their virtual hands with questions. So in Part 2, I definitely had my administrator help me. She monitored the audio and let me know when someone had a question or issue. It really did help.
- Have everyone mute themselves. Here again, I really wanted a more interactive, dynamic conversation. I didn’t want to be talking at people. The problem with that, however, is no matter how large or small the group, no matter how many times you convey your webinar guidelines and ask folks to observe good netiquette, there is always going to be someone whose audio problems and noisy background will disrupt the class. Dealing with those issues slows things down and only serves to frustrate everyone. So here’s the thing to keep in mind if you feel uncomfortable doing most of the talking: people are there to hear you talk at them, so to speak. They paid for your class because they want to learn from you. They aren’t the ones with the knowledge, you are. So you have to be talking to them to a large extent in order to give them what they came to get. Having everyone mute themselves (and then instructing them to unmute themselves one at a time when you get to the Q&A portions of the class) helps you deliver a better experience for everyone. (PS: As the moderator, you don’t want to mute folks yourself as they won’t be able to unmute themselves when Q &A rolls around. Yup, this happened to us.)
- Establish the Q & A rules. Schedule question-and-answer spots into the sequence of your presentation. You can save them for the end of the class or intersperse them at specific intervals. Just don’t allow questions willy nilly. This will really slow things down and lead you off-track. Set expectations before the class by letting participants know how and when Q&A will be handled. Ask them to save their questions for those times (suggest they write them down along the way or submit them in advance) and to keep their questions on-topic.
- Keep class size small. If you were only doing a teleseminar, I would say it really doesn’t matter how large the attendance is (other than your bridgeline’s limitations). However, conducting training, particularly on a webinar platform, is a bit more involved, more interactive, more intimate. They really do work best and are easier to manage when the class size is limited. Plus, depending on the webinar platform you’re using, you can often keep costs down, if that’s a concern, by limiting the number of participants. I think a group of around 20 to 25 is perfect.
- Spread it out. Break classes down into one or two hour sessions. Beyond that, people get tired. Their mind wanders. They have other things to do. Too much information all at once can be overwhelming and hard to digest. Plus, for practical purposes, smaller recordings are easier to edit and manage. You can always combine separate recordings into one video later.
- Don’t be afraid to boot bad attitudes. I had the most delightful bunch of participants in my first class. I couldn’t have asked for a better group. However, there was one person in part 1 of my training who rudely made it clear she was impatient with what she perceived to be entry-level when she felt she was more advanced. However, this was not her personal coaching session where everything was going to be geared specifically for her. There were others for whom the knowledge and understanding was new — and appreciated. All the parts were important to the whole because they’re all pieces of one puzzle that would not be complete without that information. So, know going in that a) there are going to be people who end up not being a fit, whatever the reason, and b) you don’t have to suffer the company of anyone who is ill-mannered and brings negative energy to you and the rest of your class. If they can’t be courteous and polite and save their complaints for later, you have no obligation to allow them to put your off your game and make you uncomfortable.
RESOURCE: GoToTraining is the platform I used this time around to conduct my first training. All the Citrix products are very good and reliable. There are a few things I would really love to see them continue to improve, and they do seem to really listen and heed user feedback. Initially, they were offering their platform at $350/mo. I told them there was no way the small business owner would ever pay that, particularly when their class sizes were smaller and they might only use the platform a few times a year. The very next day, they introduced a new, lower-priced payment level geared especially for more sporadic use and smaller class sizes. Their customer support is also phenomenal, which, on a side note, is a trend I have been noticing lately. I’m seeing more and more companies put a new, all-out focus on providing outstanding customer support. It would seem that they are FINALLY hearing what the market has been saying for years now: “Your crappy and/or offshored customer service is creating ill-will and costing you our business!” Only good can come of that. But you, Mr. and Ms. Marketplace, need to stop expecting everything for free if you want to continue to benefit from this new wonderful service trend. It goes both ways. For myself, I am oh-so-happy to pay well for that kind of experience.
Ran into this issue and thought I would share what I learned in case it’s helpful to anyone else…
In offering my first training classes, I’ve been getting an education by fire of all the ins and outs of doing webinar recording.
I used GoToTraining for my first class.
It’s a nice interface, the customer support is awesome and they really do seem to listen and heed user feedback, but there are still enough drawbacks that my hunt continues for a more ideal platform in the future.
One thing that turned into quite the fiasco was dealing with the recording.
All the Citrix products come with the ability to do the onscreen capture and audio recording of your online meetings for you and they provide a built-in bridgeline as well.
On the surface, this sounded mighty easy and convenient, so I naturally opted to do that. And it would have been, if I had no need to do anything to the recording.
The problem was that in wanting to clean up the audio/video afterwards and also convert it to a more universal format, I discovered it wasn’t really compatible with Camtasia.
This really turned into a nightmare and caused a lot a disruption in the high quality service delivery I naturally wanted those who attended to get from me.
Ah, well, live and learn.
We ended up having to separate the audio from the recording, editing it separately in Audacity, and then re-recording the whole 2-hour presentation and synching up the edited audio back up with it.
Yeah, not fun.
And maybe there’s another, better, way to do it, but I’m still new to using Camtasia and everything the support people told me to try was not working.
Everyone pretty much threw up their hands and could only surmise that the recording I was provided with must have been corrupted in some way (which, I learned later is indeed a known problem).
At any rate, this all led to me determining that while I might use a platform like GoToTraining or WebEx to conduct future webinars, I want to do the recording myself using Camtasia and our own bridgeline.
What was stumping me, though, was how would Camtasia record the conference call?
The answer, apparently, is purchasing a devise called a “recording adapter” or “conference recording adapter.”
I was told I could purchase one of these from Radio Shack for $19.99. On their website, it’s called a “mini recorder control.”
However, in consulting with folks more knowledgeable than I about all the ins and outs of this subject, I was told that it’s not very high quality and also doesn’t work with cordless/wireless phones (which is what I have).
These folks suggested the better option is to go with one of the recording adapters offered by DynaMetric.com. They have two products for this, depending on what kind of phone you have.
a). If you have a corded phone, you want the TMP636 Webinar Recorder which sells for $85.95.
b). If you have a cordless/wireless phone, you want the TLP124HS Cordless Phone Adapter which sells for $84.95. The problem this one solves is the issue of your phone handset not having enough ports (particularly if you use a headset so you can speak hands-free). With this model, one end of the adapter cable plugs into your computer mic port, the other end plugs into your phone handset, and then your hands-free headset plug into a port built into the adapter device itself. Perfect!
These cost more than $20, but they are much better products for higher quality results and more sturdy, long-lasting life.
When you go to record your webinar using Camtasia, after hooking up the adapter, you would then select that option from your “Audio” mic list.
My main issue around retainers is that toward the end of some months, I’m less than half way through some of my retainers (meaning, clients still have about half their hours unused). Then I get worried that the last week of the month is going to be a flurry of activity trying to get all the hours in. My clients know where they stand with my hours, and they also know that unused hours don’t roll over. However, I let this issue bother me and take up space in my head. How can I handle last minute requests on the very last days of the months from clients who haven’t utilized their retainers? –DB
This retainer issue is really all about standards, policies and procedures (and establishing sustainable business practices and workflows), and setting and managing client expectations around those things.
Here’s what I do in my practice…
- First, I set a standard in my business around how I work. I did not go into business to run around at non-stop hectic pace like a chicken with its head cut off. Okay, that was maybe a bit graphic, but you get my drift, lol. That kind of work pace also doesn’t serve clients well because that’s the kind of environment where you miss details and make dumb mistakes. And an overworked, stressed-out you is no good to anyone. So, my standard around the work I do for clients is that “I will create an work environment that gives me plenty of breathing room and allows me to do my best work for clients, consistently, reliably and at a humanly-sustainable, even-measured pace so that ALL my clients and their interests are given fair and equal importance.”
- Next, I translate that standard into the policies, procedures and protocols that enable me to work to that standard. For example, one policy is that I do not do same-day work requests. That’s because it creates the wrong kind expectation in clients that the minute they send you something, you’re going to drop everything you’re already doing to get it done. You can’t run and manage a business that way! And trying to do so will keep you from earning well. Likewise, when all your clients expect you to jump at the drop of a hat, you will very quickly end up disappointing them because there will be a day (sooner than you realize) when you won’t be able to deliver on that kind of promise because everyone wants their thing done NOW. This is what we call an unrealistic expectation. If you expect to work with more than one client, that’s simply not a standard or expectation that you will be able to maintain. So my procedure for that policy is that work requests must be given with a 3-day lead time. That means, clients need to plan ahead and give me at least that much time to get things done. Period.
- At the start of our business relationship, I given all clients my Client Guide which is simply a document that communicates all this information in positive, client-centric language so they see that they are dealing with a smart, professional, well-run business (which inspires their confidence in you) and that ultimately your policies, procedures and protocols are what allow you to take exceptional care of them. For clients, it’s a guide that tells them everything they need to know about how to get the most from your relationship: how things work in your business, how you will work together, what info they need to know and procedures to follow, how work requests are to be submitted, how those requests are managed and handled, and what to expect. For you, it’s a way to educate clients upfront and thereby set and manage their expectations the way you need them to be.
- I also hold a new client orientation with new clients to go over this guide, explain anything that needs elaboration, and answer further questions. These upfront steps go a long way toward a smoother and happier relationship moving forward and make working together much easier.
With regard to your specific situation, here’s how that would work if you also had a policy like mine where all work requests need to be submitted with 3-days advance notice.
- You add language to your retainer contract that specifies that with regard to end-of-month requests, they must be submitted at least three days prior to the last day of the month (our retainer contract comes with this language). The idea is to make sure clients understand that they can’t submit something on the last day, for instance, and expect that it is going to be covered under that month’s retainer, much less get done that same day. You need to have three days heads-up so as to fit things into already scheduled work and not be forced into last-minute, rush requests. If they don’t provide the proper notice, then it goes onto next month’s work and counted against those hours.
- Create a Client Guide (get my Client Guide template from the ACA Success Store) for all this information, and then distribute it to all your clients (new and current) from this point forward.
- You could stop selling hours entirely and instead use the value-based pricing methodology for administrative support that I teach. This way, you aren’t selling hours-based retainers so no one is scrambling at the end of the month to get all their hours worth. Instead, it focuses both you and the client on accomplishing goals and objectives (not using up hours), which is infinitely more productive and results-oriented.
- Of course, if you are still using hours-based retainers with clients, it the client’s responsibility to use them and plan accordingly. Just because they wait until the last second to drop the ball on you doesn’t mean you have to jump. The trick, however, is to communicate this standard/policy/protocol with them upfront, have it in your contract and Client Guide, and go over it with new clients in your orientation with them (as well as educate current clients).
You have to be able to manage the work that comes in and have time and breathing room to do it well, on your terms, at a humanly sustain pace.
When we’re rushed, we become sloppy and make mistakes, which is bad for your business reputation. It cheats your other clients out of your un-harried time and attention. It can also very quickly lead to resentment, which isn’t good for any relationship. It creates poor operating conditions which in turn negatively impact the quality of your work and service all the way around.
You’re not an indentured servant. You have a right — an obligation even — as a business owner and human being to care about doing good work and about how the work affects your morale, business image and operations.
Make sure you are instituting the protocols and procedures that allow you to create those conditions that lead to great service – for all your clients – and which take care of you as well.
If there is a pattern of clients not utilizing hours and/or waiting until the last second every month to scramble, that is something that could benefit from some deeper examination.
- Are these ideal clients? Are you taking on any ol’ client just for the money? Consider that un-ideal clients also prevent you from getting better clients. If this is a pattern in your business, it could be that there is room for improvement in prequalifying clients, being pickier about the clients you choose, clearly identifying exactly who you like working with, who you work with best, and the kind of person who benefits most from working with you, and/or better educating clients about your policies and procedures, how those things work and (just as important) why they’re in place.
- What are you doing to help clients utilize your support? Sure, it’s their responsibility to use their hours, but if you’re passively waiting to be told what to do, you’re not truly being an administrative partner. This is where my Client Consultation guide can help you. It’s incumbent upon you to be proactive, take charge of the process and figure out how to help client make use of your service as well as identify what areas of support you’ll help them with. One way to do that is by taking what you gleaned from your consultation conversation and regular meetings and coming up with a plan of support for them. This provides both of you with clearer direction and helps clients more easily give things over to you.
Beyond that, it’s up to clients, which leads to another side of the coin to consider:
If you end up with a client who has a pattern of not being able to follow your protocols, who consistently is not utilizing the service they have paid for, you may need to evaluate the fit of the relationship.
Someone not in business or solo practice might think, So what? It’s business, it’s money. But they don’t realize how awful it is to work with someone who simply isn’t using the service.
I don’t know of a single colleague who enjoys taking money from someone who isn’t utilizing their support. It’s completely de-energizing and unsatisfying.
We want to make money, yes, but we truly want to be of help and service at the same time. We want our gifts and talents to be needed, valued and used.
So if you find yourself with a client who isn’t using your support, and you feel you’ve done everything you can to help them give stuff over to you and they still can’t get with the program, it might be time to consider letting them go because it’s not doing either of you any good.
Are last-minute work requests at the end of the month something you’ve experienced with your own retainer clients? Does any of this help give you some direction on how to remedy that? Be sure to check out the comments as there is some excellent continued dialogue on this topic (and leave your own comments and questions, too).
What do you do in those situations when a client wants to jump ahead or step over your processes in a consultation? –MO
Ideally, in a perfect world, your pre-qualifying processes and marketing to your ideal clients and target market would attract just those who are the right fit.
Your ideal clients are going to be serious about getting your help, committed to doing whatever it takes to get there, and trust that you as the business owner and administrative expert have a reason for doing things the way you do.
When that is the case, they aren’t as likely to try and take short-cuts with your steps and processes.
But nothing is foolproof.
We can only do the best we can to make sure our time is reserved for the most qualified client candidates, but there will always be one or two who slip through and put a wrench in the works, despite our best efforts.
They aren’t bad people or anything. They might simply have priorities that aren’t going to work well with how you do things. Or, they might not understand the value of going through the process.
Whatever the reason, it is what it is. Nothing is going to follow your script exactly like you want or intend 100% of the time.
However, it’s always our job to help clients better understand.
We have to be able to think on our feet and do our best to rein the conversation back into the order of our processes and standards.
This is so that you and your client can make the best decision possible for both of you.
When that’s not possible, you have to just chalk it up to not being right for each other at that place in time.
My best advice is to help these clients better understand the reasons for your process.
Ask them to trust in it and explain that you will fully and openly talk about what it is they want to jump ahead to when you get to that part.
If they are impatient with that, it can mean that they will be difficult to work with anyway and doesn’t bode well for a happy relationship.
It can be hard to resist the urge to cave-in here, but I’ve found this to be a really important standard to uphold — for yourself and your client (even if/when they don’t understand that it’s in their best interests).
The good news is that most of the time, a client just needs a little reassurance that you recognize the importance or relevance of the thing they want to get to, and that you will definitely get to that part of the conversation and pay special attention to it in its due course.
Let them know you have an intentional process, ask them to trust the process, and guide the conversation back on track.
In our group last week, I shared a fun story from the blog of one of my favorite marketing guys — Mark Merenda — about the cost that do-it-yourselfers and micromanagers incur in their businesses.
A sign his auto mechanic keeps in his shop illustrates the light-hearted point perfectly:
Labor — $95 per hour
If you watch — $125
If you offer advice — $150
If you worked on it already — $175
How many clients have we all known who need a little sign like this from us?
I took this idea a step further and added my own twist:
If you want me to show you how to do it yourself — $5,000 tuition and $500/hr after that.
This is sort of related to my post last Friday (That Is Not Your Client’s Burden) where I was talking about the real reasons your fee is your fee and why what it costs you to be in business shouldn’t be part of your conversation with clients.
You can’t put a price tag on all your years of unique talent, experience, training, continuing education, etc., that went into (and continues to go into) you being great and smart and expert at what you do.
And, for me at least, I’m not in the business of training.
If that’s what I wanted to be doing, that’s what I’d be offering in the first place.
When you go to the store, do you blow in like a hurricane and start barking out orders to every person who crosses your path?
Why not? You’re the customer aren’t you? They are in business to serve your needs, aren’t they?
You are the very reason for their existence. What does it matter that there are other customers there before you? Shouldn’t they be doing everything you want, exactly how you want it, when you want it?
The customer is ALWAYS right!
What would happen if your business worked that way?
What kind of resources would you need in order to deliver service like that?
I imagine you’d need an awful lot of staff, for one thing, in order to cater to those kind of expectations.
Which, of course, would cost a pretty penny.
And then you’d need people to manage that staff, which increases your overhead and administration even more.
You’d also have to stay open 24 hours a day. If a client has a whim at 2 in the morning, you’ve got to be prepared at a second’s notice to take care of them!
Next, you’ve got to have another group of people to oversee things so nothing falls through the cracks.
You’ll probably also need someone in HR to deal with staff turn-over and burn-out issues (it’s not an easy job catering to client needs and whims round the clock day after day).
You’ll also want someone who can be documenting all the attendant workflows and training materials because they’ll be changing from one minute to the next as you bend over backward to meet each and every customer’s unique demands and terms.
To coordinate and brainstorm and stay in sync with all these people and departments, you’ll have to have meetings, lots and lots of meetings.
And then you’ll want a dedicated customer service team to smooth over ruffled feathers and unhappy customers when you fall down and can’t deliver.
Because that’s exactly what will eventually happen when the customer is always right and you can’t and don’t say no to anyone or anything.
If you’re a solopreneur, you can’t run your business like that. You simply don’t have the means and resources.
What’s more — you can’t afford to run your business like that. Not only for the sake of your own health and sanity, but also for the sake of your clients.
What I want you to know is that you are not a conveyor belt or drive-thru window.
You do NOT have to take everything that is dished out (and particularly not from crappy clients) in order to be of service and value.
You’re not their servant, you’re their administrative partner.
Let’s be honest, most people in our industry are women, and women are natural born nurturers and helpers.
However, women in our society have been conditioned to put their needs last, to placate instead of assert, to bow down instead of stand up.
They too often think that helping and being of service means not having any standards, requirements or expectations of their own for clients.
I really, really want you to hear me on this:
If your practice isn’t capable of delivering on the expectations you allow clients to form, consistently and reliably 99.9% of the time, you’ve got to establish different expectations.
One of the ways you do that is by creating systems and setting policies in your business.
For example, you can’t work 24 hours a day, and I’m sure you don’t want clients calling any ol’ time they please at all hours of the night.
So what you do is formalize some office hours that you advertise to clients and develop a communications policy.
That doesn’t mean you can’t work when you want, regardless of the day or hour.
Rather, it helps you preserve your sanity and manage your business effectively by establishing healthy boundaries and client expectations so that you are able to provide fabulous, wonderful, capable support to your clients.
Here’s the truth of the matter:
You can’t be on your best game and truly help and support clients if you are constantly pulled in conflicting directions trying to please everybody at the same time and your life is a free-for-all with everyone else making up their own rules, doing things their own way, in YOUR business.
The BEST way to help your clients is to help yourself first by creating the optimal conditions that allow you to deliver that wonderful support you want to give.
Policies and procedures and systems are what allow you to HELP clients, all of them, equally and consistently and reliably.
Most people are reasonable and will understand this.
They can certainly relate to why you must have some structure and protocols in your business.
They understand that even more when you show them how that foundation ultimately helps you help them better.
Business ebbs and flows for all kinds of reasons: seasonal fluctuations, industry shifts, client departures, to name a few.
If you’re currently experiencing a business slow-down, don’t panic. It’s the normal cycle of things. A slow-down can actually be a great opportunity to improve your business and make it stronger and more purposeful moving forward.
Here are some of the actions you can take to leverage the gift of extra time:
Processes & Policies
- Systemize your processes. For each process in your business, map out the details step-by-step. Besides being a great start on that SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) manual you’ve been meaning to get done forever, the act of diagramming your operations and workflow helps ferret out gaps and inefficiencies you can then fix.
- Automate repetitive steps. What actions or steps are always the same in a process or workflow? What questions do you answer over and over? What software or online service can be used to manage and deliver certain functions? The idea is to formalize in writing and consolidate with tools so you aren’t starting from scratch or reinventing the wheel every time. Creating an FAQ (frequently asked questions) that you can email to clients in PDF format or direct them to on your website is an example of automation. Using an autoresponder service to grow your mailing list and deliver scheduled follow-up messages automatically is another example.
- Switch to upfront payments. You don’t do yourself or your clients any favors allowing them to get into debit with you. By moving to advance fees, your cashflow is immediately improved, administration goes down (because you aren’t dealing with payment terms, collection hassles and chasing down monies due), and clients know what to expect and when and can budget accordingly. (Better yet, get them on auto-pay!)
- Stop billing by the hour. You limit your earning potential when you base your fees on time. Focus on value and results instead (how you improve your clients’ circumstances and what they gain from working with you). Update your support around packages of bundled value, not hours. This way, you won’t be cheating yourself out of being paid for the results and expertise you deliver just because it doesn’t take you as long to get things done.
- Clean house by showing bad clients the door. Constant complainers, nit-pickers, late-payers, non-payers, clients who just don’t get it, anyone you dread hearing from or working with… These kinds of clients are unprofitable and cost your business far more than you realize. You have to let go of poor-fitting clients in order to make room and have more time and energy for your ideal, right-fitting ones.
- Get feedback from your clients. Make a point of soliciting feedback from all your clients on their opinions and experiences working with you. Use a tool to collect client feedback (they’re more likely to be candid). Besides being a great way to capture testimonials and case study details, you’ll also glean invaluable insight into what clients value most and where you can adjust and improve. Be sure to incorporate regular feedback into your client relations as an automatic part of your process.
- Get to know your target market better. Invite someone to lunch (you pay) and pick their brain about their field/industry/profession and the business they’re in. Find some folks in your target market to interview over the phone. Put an online survey on your website. The point is to always be learning about your target market, what they want, and what their common interests, goals and challenges are so you can craft your solutions to better fit their needs and speak their language.
- Explore a new target market. If your current target market isn’t floating your boat or is otherwise not turning out to be a profitable path, it’s time to find one more suitable. Just remember that a viable target market must have a need for what you’re in business to do, able to afford you, and be easily found (online and off) so there’s enough of them to find easily (online and off) and work with.
Offerings & Marketing
- Innovate for your best/current clients. It’s been said that catering to existing clients costs 11 times less than it does to drum up new ones. So ask yourself… are your current clients aware of all the skills, support areas and services they could be taking advantage of that you offer? Do you see a consistent need within your current client-base and market that you can create new offerings around? How can you hone your current offerings to create even more value?
- Write at least one awesome freebie white paper/report/guide/tool. Create something that addresses a specific problem or question your target market has and allow it to be disseminated freely around the internet. It’s called viral-marketing and it’s a fabulous way to get the word out and demonstrate your expertise, understanding and know-how.
- Create new and/or passive income streams. You know your target market. What information can you bundle up for them? What simple, stand-alone services can you offer them separately? What DIY instructions or training can you create for those you can’t work with directly or who otherwise aren’t ready to commit to your premium one-on-one retained support?
- Devise a simple marketing plan. Consistency is key. Focus on just two or three activities and then commit to taking action, following up and tracking results.
Invest in Yourself
- Brush up or learn something new. Now is a great time to take that class you’ve been putting off. Increasing your knowledge, updating your skills and learning new ones is always smart business.
- It’s a no brainer — hire your own Administrative Consultant! An Administrative Consultant can take on much of your back-end administrative work and help you implement all of the ideas on this list. You’ll then have more time to do more marketing and networking, strategizing, working with clients and enjoying life.
Any of these ideas get you fired up? Have some to add? Do share!