Before I even get to that, what was 2017 the year of for you?
Me, I blog about the things I see and the conversations I have with entrepreneurs and business owners, and when I look back at some of the themes I covered in 2017… well… there’s an undeniable vibe - with Resilience, Deception, Rejection, Limbo, Self-doubt, Fatigue, our very popular 2-parter on VUCA … oh my gosh the list goes on and on!
Certainly I think much of this general malaise, this shared feeling of ‘meh’, has originated from outside factors. Between all the political squabbling, EU wrangling, and economic underperformance, we’ve had no shortage of reasons to be nervous and to defer our decision-making. But there is an internal/mindset issue too. After all, what are we meant to do? Just hang in limbo indefinitely waiting for factors outside our control to resolve themselves? Will they ever?
For many decision makers, conditions have been imperfect for so long, it’s coming full circle, creating an air of impatience and pent up momentum. A recognition that it may never be the perfect time (it might only rarely even be an okay time). There will always be external or personal factors that create instability or uncertainty. Abnormal is the new normal. As the other Agent K (Men In Black 1997), puts it, “There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet.”
So, perhaps, there is a time when despite the lousy external conditions, negative headlines and ‘weak business confidence’ surveys spouted by the popular media, you instead draw on your internal strength and resolve, and say “It is time”. You accept the fluid nature of things and learn to ride the waves. You back yourself, make a judgement call and make your decisions the right decisions and make now the right time.
How do you do this?
What we do – what all of us entrepreneurs do – is ultimately about action. Without action, we’re no different from anyone anywhere who’s had an idea to escape the rat race but done nothing about it.
So perversely, while it may be that it’s never a perfect time, I wonder if perhaps it’s also always a good time?
If 2017 was the year of ‘meh’, can you make 2018 the year of decision, the year of mobilisation, the year of progress and the year of results?
What do you think? What will 2018 be ‘the year of’ for you? Let me know in the comments below.
“The test is a mirror” - I stumbled across this enigmatic expression the other day, and it got me thinking. Sometimes the way we answer a question is more telling than the answer itself.
After all, we can all come up with answers and rationales for our actions (or lack of actions). Sometimes it’s better to look at how we answer, or how the question makes us feel.
Our brains are incredible, but they can also be deceptive. They can trick us into thinking we are on top of all sorts of situations even when we’re not. Our instincts on the other hand, never lie. We have a visceral reaction to particular thoughts and situations that no amount of puff and bluster can mask.
Take these five questions for example. You probably have easy access stock answers to all of these. But try reading them slowly, let them sink in, and observe how they really make you feel…
Question 1: How much effort am I really prepared to put into the business to make it work?
This was meant to be about improving your quality of life and being your own boss, wasn’t it? But the reality is a far cry from the idealistic dream of being beholden to no one.
Yes, you may be master of your schedule now, but don’t be fooled. Your business has an insatiable appetite for time and energy. Unchecked, it will become your boss and mercilessly devour not just your weekdays, but evenings, weekends, and every waking thought.
Don’t get me wrong; there are many rewards. But are you ready to sacrifice your personal time and put in all your effort for as long as it takes, to build momentum and reach your performance goals?
Question 2: Do I have the support I need?
This is a big deal. Moving to entrepreneur-land is not like trying a different hairstyle. You are unilaterally unplugging from The Matrix, with all its safety and comfort. You are making a fundamental change in your life, and it will change you and those you love, and it will create ripples that touch everyone around you.
So what about your partner, your children, your wider family and your friends? How will the path you have chosen to take, affect them? Do they really ‘get’ and stand behind what you are doing and the implications of your choices?
How about wider support? Do you know where to find help from people who do understand what you’re doing? A strong network is vital for you to succeed, you need to make connections with other business owners, entrepreneurs and anyone else who gets (and ideally, has experienced) the journey you have ahead.
Question 3: How much compromise: What am I prepared to let go and what is non-negotiable?
Entrepreneurship requires commitment and sacrifice. Very quickly your time and money will be in shorter supply, and so it’s important to consider what you can and can’t live without. Would you be okay for instance, missing your children’s school plays, sports days or parents’ evenings? Or how about forgoing your special treat weekend breaks or evenings out? What would you be happy to cut back to save money?
Whatever you decide, you should hold yourself to it. So, if you find your once-a-day gym visit slips to once-a-month or family mealtimes go awry because you’re stuck at your laptop, this should be an alarm. Either your expectations were unrealistic (in which case be honest with yourself and those affected), or you’ve fallen off course, and you need to adjust.
Question 4: Am I willing to take on the level of financial risk required to achieve my goal?
For some people, the mere mention of debt is enough to send a shudder down their spine. But for many entrepreneurs, financial exposure comes with the territory, especially in the early days.
So, how much cash are you prepared to burn? How much debt are you prepared to accumulate while you wait for your enterprise to take off? Pretty much every up-and-running business I have worked with, only ever came about as a result of an initial investment of personal funds and unpaid time.
How much are you prepared to put behind your belief in the success of the venture? How do you plan to bridge any shortfall? Can you/would you borrow money or exchange shares in the business for outside investment?
How much runway does all this buy you and is it enough?
Question 5: How much of my life will I devote to this?
Getting a business off the ground can be all-consuming. It typically takes far longer than you think before you can switch to cruise control and enjoy the spoils of your hard work. How long are you prepared to put your life on hold for while you do this? What ‘significant life moments’ do you have on the horizon that may throw a spanner in the works and create extra pressure when you’re already feeling overloaded with the business?
Even regular time off can be difficult for the first few years as the business will be heavily reliant on your input. And all of this will come at a time when your self-care and mental wellbeing is critical. How then, will you balance this tension (without it creating more tension in and of itself)?
How did you do?
So, what do these questions tell you about your business and how you feel about it? Are you cautiously working your way through, eyes open and prepared, or are there areas where you may be sticking your head in the sand?
And what about the way you answered? Did you just make a superficial or dismissive pass? Or did the exercise draw you in, maybe pull on a few threads and make you want to explore further?
Perhaps, it illuminated some self-doubt that until now had been hidden? In contrast, have your answers given you a boost and helped cement some firm foundations for your venture?
We may be in the midst of the carefree party season, but as we start the countdown to the end of 2017, there is no better time to consider big questions like these that can touch the very core of your entrepreneurial capability and resilience.
This may not sound like a very cheery exercise, but as you lay your plans for the new year ahead, this self-awareness will help you finally crack the issues you’ve been missing or avoiding, so you can take control and own them. And that’s an incredibly positive way to end your year!
And if your regular sources of business guidance are shying away from asking these sorts of tough questions, then maybe 2018 is the year to seek out new challenge and inspiration.
You know where to find us.
The test is a mirror.
In part one, we covered empowerment by technology and what can be achieved using off-the-shelf tools and applications to Do It Yourself. Indeed, with the right device or software, we can now do almost anything and produce some pretty decent results too.
But with this technology and a new approach to entrepreneurship, comes fresh challenges.
If you’re the owner of a service-based business, this is particularly true because the DIY mindset is fast becoming a significant competitor.
So if you find yourself up against it, how then do you compete?
Just because someone can, doesn’t mean they should…
Technology may give people the means to do a task themselves, but it consumes rather than preserves one of the most valuable resources they have: time. This is your silver bullet.
Yes, they may save a little money with a good DIY option, but you can free up their schedule so they can focus on the things that really matter like the tasks that require their expertise and increase their earning potential – the primary objective of any business!
But that’s not all you have to offer
An amateur with the latest iPhone can use filters and editing tools to create something beautiful. But does that make them a photographer?
Likewise, any novice with a computer can set up shop on a freelance platform like Fiverr or People Per Hour as ‘professional for-hire’. But, it’s highly unlikely that they could genuinely produce something as substantial and useful as you can. If they could, you’d be in trouble, but I don’t believe this is the case.
You see, for every true expert, artist, specialist… I know, their expertise and contribution extends far beyond the dumbed-down production of the asset itself.
For instance, good accountants can use cloud software to do the menial number crunching. But rather than hide behind statutory reporting, they leverage the accessibility of this technology and use it as a platform for more meaningful discussions about business performance and forecasting.
Similarly, the smart photographers I’ve come across want to understand the story behind the pictures; the purpose and meaning the imagery should convey. So whether it’s stock photos, headshots or styled brochure images, the client can be sure about expressing the right message, telling a story or communicating brand values.
And the same goes for the best web designers. They start every client engagement by getting to know and understand their client’s business and the role that their online presence plays in both the overall business model and their growth strategy. This is a far contrast from merely opening a laptop and asking which template the client likes the look of.
So if you’re feeling threatened by the prevalence of this new DIY mindset, don’t be.
Think of it like paint by numbers. The method may allow someone to produce their very own Mondrian replica, but it would never have the same brush strokes, layering, and texture as the original. It would never feel completely ‘right’. At most, it can only ever be a simple imitation of the real thing. And without someone like you - a trained, practised, expert - at the helm that’s all a client can expect from technology and tools alone.
Rather than competition then, the DIY mindset is a hidden opportunity. Use it as a reminder not to allow the mechanics of what you do become what you do. Instead, use the tool as a platform to highlight your expertise and express your creativity.
And that’s what separates the professionals from the DIY have-a-goers.
Do you feel like you’re competing against the DIY mindset? How have you overcome it in your own business? Let me know in the comments below.
Everyone thinks they’re a … photographer, graphic designer, recruiter, marketer … and to a certain extent, this is true.
Gone are the days when we worked only within our given area of expertise, skill or talent. Now the lines are blurred; we’re all keen to dabble, to experiment and try our hand at different things in our business. And thanks to digital advances, we have the means.
Those of you that know me will already be aware; I’m a huge fan of tools – devices, programmes, applications – all the things that help to get the job done quicker, better, easier or cheaper.
In fact, whenever it is feasible I’ll opt for a tech-based method, rather than undertake a task manually, with a makeshift solution or by bringing in an outside resource.
I think this, 'empowerment by technology' is one of the key enablers for the entrepreneur revolution we’re experiencing in our time.
Off-the-shelf tools with easy-to-use interfaces offer even novice users, professional-grade capabilities to automate social media activity, create amazing documents and presentations, design and enhance graphics, take artistic-looking photos, build websites and much more.
And all this is great, isn’t it?
Well… up to a point.
Yes, these tools are neat and efficient, and they’re more than effective when it comes to planning and running a lean business model.
But it can become a problem when you syphon off so much of your time to work as your company’s untrained, unofficial graphic designer, web developer, bookkeeper, photographer … that you neglect the things that move your business forward and allow it to grow.
So what is the tipping point?
In the beginning, these tech-orientated, DIY options provide a cost-effective way to fulfil many vital auxiliary tasks, personally. But as the business evolves and your role shifts within it from facilitator to manager, you reach a critical point at which it becomes less beneficial (and often more detrimental) to carry on like this.
Rather than continue and risk overstretching yourself, you could delegate and train up a member of your team to use these tools. Or, you could upgrade and outsource the job entirely so you can direct your energy and expertise to where it is needed most.
When then, should you make this strategic transition? There is no hard and fast rule, but these questions can help you to decide:
Do I have the skills? In the early days, spreadsheets, simple systems and apps may be enough to track invoices, record receipts and manage cash flow. But as the business grows and becomes more complex, do you still feel confident handling the books yourself? This is one example of many where it pays to assess both your skills and knowledge of the tools you are using and the area itself, and weigh it against the risk of making a mistake – and the consequences of doing so.
Can I maintain a sustainable level of quality? Few things are more off-putting than a slip in brand standards, be that sloppy copy on your website, shoddy design elements or a slump in social media posting. Your clients want to see a consistent level of quality; it speaks volumes about your reliability and the pride you take in your business. So if any area falls below par, it could be time to set aside the tools you are using and enlist the assistance of a professional. It need not cost the earth; a freelancer is an affordable option you can up or downgrade as necessary.
Does the task impact mission-critical areas? To gauge the effect these activities have on your business, take a look at the metrics you monitor. If off-topic tasks are impeding KPIs and the pursuit of your overarching goals, then you should make some changes.
Ultimately though, the key test is this: consider how much you stand to save doing the tasks yourself compared to the money you could earn in that time if you outsourced these tasks and switched your focus to the activities that generate big bucks. Is saving money still the right thing for your business?
Otherwise, we’d all be better off giving up what we’re doing to become discount graphic designers or web developers instead.
Do you DIY or have you made the switch to outsource some of your business related activities? Let me know in the comments.
The first thing he said. The very first words that came out of his mouth were an out-and-out, deliberate lie…
It’s a regular Tuesday afternoon. The phone rings. Unknown number. I answer.
“Hi Kevin, I was just speaking with one of your colleagues, and they said you’d be the best person to speak with.”
Which was interesting - I was the only one there.
I think: “Why are you lying to me?”. I say: “How exciting, go on.”
Cue sales pitch...
I guess his logic isn’t entirely warped. It’s always preferable to have some kind of warm introduction to a new prospect. And if there isn’t one, perhaps it is tempting to fabricate one?
But as a ruse, it’s hardly robust is it? “So which colleague did you speak to?” - “Erm…” “Which number did you catch them on?” – “Ah, well..”
And it’s a shame. I’d formerly had some knowledge, even respect, for the company. They have a smart product. One day, I may even have become a customer. Not now though. Hell no!
Any organisation that regards its customers, and its own integrity, with such disdain, is not one with whom you want a relationship.
Whether through explicit direction, or insufficient controls (for which read ‘lack of interest’), their willingness to let their frontline staff lie and trick customers says all you need to know about how any future relationship would work out.
And it’s all so unnecessary. In fact, it’s lazy. And reckless.
It would be no trouble at all to have sent a warm-up email in advance, to have asked if I minded them calling. I may have declined, but it wouldn’t have yielded any worse results than the lazy lie.
Besides the rant (thank you, I feel much better now) there’s an inevitable moral to this tale. Beyond the obvious ‘first impressions count’ and ‘10 ways to warm up a cold lead’ clickbait, the subtler message is about the risks and responsibilities of scale and outsourcing.
You can’t make every call yourself. You can’t sit in on every conversation. So, assuming that, unlike our case study here, you do have values and a moral code, then make sure these aspects are as much a part of your employee and contractor onboarding, as everything else. You’d never dream of leaving a new sales person to their own instincts about the benefits or technical capabilities of your products, so why on earth would you skip the core part of every sales dialogue – building rapport and trust?!
Some of the fundamentals to consider:
Delegation is an essential part of growing, but…
Define clear parameters
Build a cohesive team
While some of this may seem intuitive, it is easy to let things slip, especially when attention is diverted away from micro-level events like everyday operations, to macro issues like the scaling of your budding enterprise.
Finally remember that however fantastic your product or service is, it cannot make up for underhand and short-sighted sales practices. Irrespective of whether you operate in the B2B or B2C marketplace, people buy from those they trust. When you become complacent and reckless with people’s trust, it’s near-impossible to win them over again.
Have you been on the receiving end of similarly dubious sales tactics? How do you ensure your own team remain true to your original vision and values? Share your own experiences in the comments below.
The other day, I heard someone described as a “proper, old-school salesman”. It made me smile; I like the idea of being a ‘proper’ something.
It sparked a bit of nostalgia too. I grew up with ‘proper, old-school’ salesmen and women for whom selling was an art, a craft that used a neat and tested methodology to get results.
There’s some kind of implied weight to being proper. For instance, what mental image is brought to mind if someone is referred to as a ‘proper’ decorator or a ‘proper’ chef? It’s something that puts you at ease; it’s reassuring, positive – after all, if someone is ‘proper’ it is a given that they are trustworthy and competent, right?
Or how about a ‘proper’ graphic designer, a ‘proper’ marketer, a ‘proper’ accountant or a ‘proper’ consultant? I’d say it is of someone knowledgeable, confident and reliable. A person that gives sound advice, has proper controls and methods, takes their time and delivers quality work – The kind of person I want to work with!
So why do we make these associations? Well, it’s simple. To be ‘proper’ implies you know how things should be done, there’s mastery to what you do and an inference of:
When taken together, these qualities distinguish you as the real deal and signals to peers, partners, clients and prospects alike, ultimately that you’re not playing at it.
So, should we all be striving to be more proper?
Surely, the answer is yes? After all, the natural trajectory for anyone that wishes to be an authority and a go-to resource for information is the level of mastery one achieves by being ‘proper’.
Well… hold on...
There is a counter-argument, that ‘proper’ can be self-limiting, something that stifles innovation, a synonym for the traditional and even the outdated. Those who embody it are stuck in their ways, reluctant to diversify and flex in response to change. Woolworths was a proper shop, HMV was a proper music retailer, Kodak was your proper photography brand.
What’s my point? – Be careful how you interpret and implement your own proper. Even market disruptors like Uber, Amazon and Airbnb, who have consciously shunned the ‘proper’ business model for their industries, still operate their own version of proper. They’re not unplanned, or reckless. In fact, a common theme amongst pretty much all the sustainable, successful innovators that I have met is that they run perhaps the leanest and most disciplined businesses I have ever encountered. They have to be, or their scale would just create chaos!
Conclusion: As your marketplace becomes ever more competitive, fluid and complex, the kind of mastery and confidence that proper proper represents, will be the very thing that sets the professionals apart from the imitators.
Let’s face it, social media and easy PR allow anyone with a computer and access to the internet to create a profile and generate exposure and noise. There has to be some other way to differentiate yourself.
And, unlike many other credentials, this kind of mastery has tenure and weight and it cannot be faked.
What do you think about ‘being proper’? How do you strike a balance between ‘tried and tested’, and ‘innovative and flexible’? Let me know in the comments below.
What’s the best client rejection you’ve ever had?
I bet it was something honest, positive and unambiguous: “Thanks, I can see the value of what you do, but it’s just not for us.”
And what’s been your worst rejection?
Probably something like: “Oh yes, this is great, we’re definitely very interested. Please send a proposal, and we’ll look to start next month … or the month after… or perhaps after Christmas…”
This is often followed by a merry-go-round of calls and emails with them asking for more information or you sending polite chasers. Or worse still, silence.
While this sort of rejection is not intentionally unkind or impolite, it can be very frustrating and a gross waste of time for both sides. Without a clear “No”, without a firm close, there is confusion, and you could easily find yourself caught in a vortex of ambiguity. Do you chase them? Maybe it’s just fallen down their priorities, and they would value a reminder? Or should you hold back? After all, you don’t want to seem pushy (but you also want them to know you’re keen and proactive about their business…).
And yet, not only will you have received this sort of rejection before; but you’ve also likely given it too – we all have!
So why do we do it?
Usually, it comes down to this: We naturally opt for the soft kill as a gentler, more thoughtful, and let’s face it, easier way for us to ‘let someone down’. After all, rejection is tough, for both sides. As business owners ourselves, we know the disappointment our decline is about to inflict on the other party. Not to mention our having to endure push-back or escalation in the sales pitch if the other party isn't yet ready to accept defeat.
But… wouldn’t life be more straightforward for all concerned if we could just be candid, and direct?
How To Say “No”
First of all, it’s important to recognise the difference between a decision and the exchanges leading up to a decision. The former is closed and done. It ‘merely’ needs the closure to be communicated. How to do this in the most effective way is the subject of this blog.
Not to be confused with the others, which may take the form of challenges, or questions, inclinations, instincts, doubts (etc.), all of which are part of a process where the final outcome is not necessarily certain. These situations are about clarification, fact-checking and due diligence, so all require further work, not closure.
If you’re sure that it is indeed a decision that you are communicating, the best (/least worst) rejection should be:
Finally, ‘Be careful what you wish for’
So, we’ve discussed rejection, and how best to communicate it to others, and generally our recommendations above are founded on principles of ‘firm but fair’. It may feel tougher to deliver (and receive) at first, but is better for all sides in the long run.
Ultimately you want to leave anyone you deal with feeling as though you’ve treated them honestly and with respect.
The responsibility that comes with this argument is that we also have to take it on the chin when being presented with a firm but fair rejection ourselves.
If you’re seeing a pattern where people seem to find it easier to give you a fake yes instead of a straight no, perhaps it’s a sign of something else. Maybe you’re not listening, or not picking up the signals early enough? Or possibly you are too defensive or taking business too personally?
If this could be the case, step back and check yourself. - It’s up to each of us to be open-minded and resilient enough to take honest feedback and rejection when it comes. Otherwise we simply perpetuate the cycle.
What are your thoughts? Be honest; I can handle it! Let me know in the comments below.
Guest blog from Colin Bielckus, the Outsourced Finance Director and Avenue Business Services
Chambers Dictionary – the borderland of Hell, reserved for the unbaptised; any unsatisfactory place of consignment or oblivion; an uncertain or intermediate state; prison.
How do you plan, let alone execute, in times of uncertainty?
Let’s face facts – even in this post-truth world there are still some – whatever your viewpoint on the EU, many businesses are finding themselves unable to plan properly due to uncertain markets, uncertain access to employees and uncertainty over whether costs of imported items will materially alter.
The correct thing to do is ignore the distractions and make an educated guess (or two) and make a killing while everyone else dithers but, in the real world, you’re going to be the one doing the dithering while someone (braver?) steals a march on you.
It’s just life.
The old fight or flight response (technically the hyperarousal or acute stress response) has been revisited and is now the fight, flight or freeze response.
And all too often the answer is freeze.
It can be that it’s not your “fault” – just take me as a for instance – a couple of presentations that I know have gone really well have not (yet) led to new assignments. They will – of that I am certain – but the other parties are suffering from said freeze.
So it’s not MY freeze, is it?
Or is it? Am I not just as guilty as my prospective clients?
I’ve a number of possible responses to this but they can realistically be summarised as:
In much of what I do there is a coaching element rather than a mentoring viewpoint (ten points for those who can tell me the difference in a sentence) so, while there is the perpetual temptation to cajole, one must ask if that is the right thing to do at that time with that person. Sometimes it is, sometimes it really isn’t. Learn to be honest with yourself.
But do be wary of the snake oil salesmen – everything is wonderful if you buy my A or B or C – it’s the wonder cure for all ailments, personal as well as business. The new wonder cure – won’t take any hard work, preparation or staying power – just give me your money and all will be well.
Of course, I’m going to say that. Aren’t I?
It’s not in my best interest to give you a simple cure and go – one off payment and that’s all you’ll ever need – when I can sell you something that you will need to come back again and again. That’s what people like me do, isn’t it… Better the single payment for the panacea and, if it doesn’t work, try again. The grass is always greener.
But deep inside we know that life is really not like that, although we all know those people in business who act as if it is.
And we’ve got (a minimum of) two more years of this.
My confidence levels in our negotiators are not very high… I suspect the best we can hope for is that the economy acts as it does when coming out of a recession – eventually enough people get fed up with being miserable that things start to pick up because of a collective desire for life to improve.
Of course, the vote of last year demonstrated a deep division in our populace – as near as damn 50:50 – which suggests, whatever happens, half the country is going to be disappointed. But we are where we are, whether we want to be or not.
Certain sectors of the economy may well be more resilient than others. If you are selling UK purchased goods to UK consumers the likelihood is that, increases in bank base rate permitting, your audience is unlikely to disappear overnight. That doesn’t mean that, if you are selling snow to Eskimos, your market will disappear but you might find you have to be more flexible in your trading terms.
Do remember too that business is not a zero-sum game. Too many people treat it as such. If I make a profit it doesn’t mean that you don’t. One thing I am certain of is that SOMEBODY will be making money out of these conditions, be it a “disrupter” or not.
Just have the attitude that says that somebody is me.
Colin Bielckus is The Outsourced Finance Director, delivering a bespoke service for aspiring SMEs, and MD owner of Avenue Business Services, Chartered Accountants based in South Hampshire.
Also check out Colin's brilliant tongue-in-cheek blog Re: Accountancy.
In Part 1, we looked at the inward impact of VUCA and how we can make our own business resilient to external factors. But we also need to think of our customers and key connections in terms of the VUCA factor, particularly those VUCA ripples that we inadvertently create for them.
How many times have you had someone:
It doesn't feel good does it?
You'll recognise these examples and you'll have your own. We all inevitably have to endure elements of this (although do also read my Golden Goose and How to Sack a Client posts!), but they are apposite examples of others creating VUCA splashes in our ponds.
Actions like these create ripples. Cause enough of them and the ripples become a pattern of behaviour, that creates a reputation, and a source of problems, that can be traced back to you. Which would you rather be known as, the source of problems, or solutions?
So by inference, while it’s tempting to see VUCA purely in terms of the difficulties it presents, it also provides the opportunity to demonstrate your appreciation and respect for the time and value of those you come into contact with.
With this in mind, take these four steps to flip the dynamics of Volatility (to Stability), Uncertainty (to Certainty), Complexity (to Simplicity), and Ambiguity (to Clarity) to minimise the VUCA vibe you create for others:
In an ever changing and shifting environment, you need to be seen as totally dependable and consistent, so avoid 'dipping in and out' of your activities, especially your marketing and other highly visible/client-facing initiatives.
As it’s easy to let these activities slip during busy periods – the “monthly” newsletter that became bimonthly and the once active social media accounts that now gather dust – look at outsourcing or automating them instead. Email lists, web sign ups, content scheduling and many other tasks can all be managed and maintained this way. Take a look at the Making Time post for tips.
If you handle your marketing outreach activities well, not only will it promote trust in your brand, but it will also help customers form a more enduring relationship with your business.
Your clients are relying on you to get the job done. Promises and assurances, mean little unless they’re backed by action. Delivery is key.
If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of booking a taxi that's failed to show, or a scheduled delivery that doesn't arrive, you will understand. Let a customer down, even once, and it can plant a seed doubt that undermines your integrity and the relationship you have established. As a result your hard-fought client advocate may decide to take their business elsewhere or share their experience with others.
For this reason, your customers’ trust should never be taken for granted. Instead, show you value it, prove your reliability, and follow through on any undertaking.
Do this, and your clients will see you as an easy choice rather than a risky one.
Your customers, like you, have multiple demands to juggle and much to think about already, so respect their time and avoid complicating things.
Review the experience you provide from their perspective. More likely than not, it could benefit from a little streamlining.
Examine your processes, weed out those that are long-winded – do you really need that many questions on the client take-on form? Also, consider your offering. Is it overwhelming or difficult to understand – is it totally necessary to have all those product variations and pricing options?
While it’s good to give customers options, too much choice can hamper decision-making and stall your client take-ons.
Instead, opt for a clear and manageable set of choices, and a simple logical (obvious) sequence of next steps to follow. This will make life far easier for your clients, and ensure you stand out as a more confident and favourable option compared to your competitors.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you how essential transparency and understanding are. Make sure these elements are a core part of your 'corporate values' and that your team get this too – the “computer says no” parody may be relatable, but it’s not an association you want.
In the eyes of your clients, your website, marketing collateral, and customer-facing team members and processes are your business. They’re responsible for helping clients on their journey, and explaining the critical details of what’s going to happen and when. To communicate all this effectively, your team need clarity and understanding themselves. Don't just tell them what to do, tell them why.
Nail this, and your customers will feel like you are on their side, acting in their best interest and helping them through their journey (as opposed to putting up barriers and bureaucratic processes for your own mysterious purposes).
Final word… the idea that 'change is the only constant' is hardly new, but it does sometimes feel like it's stepped up a gear of late. Regardless, if VUCA is the new normal, it doesn’t mean we have to just accept it.
Rise to the challenge. Prime your business for resilience (VUCA Part 1) and make things as un-VUCA as possible for those you come into contact with.
Master this and you will not only navigate your own VUCA seas with confidence, you will also enhance your reputation, earn respect, and achieve deeper relationships, while others around you flounder in reactive disarray!
What VUCA waves have you had to battle? How do you make things stable, certain, simple and clear for your customers? Let me know in the comments below.
Guest blog from Trisha Lewis, Professional Communicator
Let’s dig deeper - what are the ingredients of this ‘doubt’ that you are ‘doing’ to yourself?
Try these questions out for size:
Do you ever:
Would it help if there was a technical term to sum all this up?
Well the words won’t help as such - but it is good to know that these feelings are not unique to
you! When something has been through the process of rigorous research it tends to suggest
that it is real and worth investigating.
The research I refer to was done in the 1970’s by Clance & Imes - and the name they used for
these ways of thinking was ‘Impostor Phenomenon’ (and yes I did just use spell check).
Fortunately this ‘condition’ is now more commonly referred to as ‘Impostor Syndrome’ - easier to
say and spell, whilst not so technically accurate.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
It’s what I have right now as I scour my overflowing bookshelves for yet another reference for
this blog. It’s what I had an hour ago when I came across yet another person on google who
does something similar to me and seems to be having massive success and they look different
and talk different and have a good ‘ebook’ and ….. nobody will ever take me seriously.
It’s what I did at the last networking event I attended - looked around the table and associated
‘credibility’ to every person other than myself.
It’s spending 10 times as much time as needed to ‘perfect’ a presentation, piece of work,
business card, website…..
It’s completely ignoring every achievement and qualification you have already and considering
taking an open university degree to make sure people believe that you ‘know your stuff’.
It’s NOT GOOD! It can hold you back if you let it - and it’s exhausting.
Checklist of symptoms
Effects on your business
There is a concept in marketing known as AIDA - how to lead a person to buy basically:
That makes perfect sense for persuasive communication - I certainly explore this sequence
when coaching clients and indeed use this AIDA approach frequently in verbal and written
However - let’s chuck all the above ‘impostor syndrome’ ingredients into the mix - and do so
even before you start this sequence. How does this influence the ‘action’ part? You want to get
the ‘prospect’s’ attention, interest, desire - but there is a voice in your head saying : ‘I’m a fraud
and they will catch me out any minute’. You therefore ‘pull back’ at every stage. You underplay
the benefits of what you do and more than likely you fail to get them to take action.
A quick look at the above checklist of symptoms will allow you to imagine many more ‘negative’
consequences of Impostor Syndrome thinking - the very worst being ‘giving up’ and reverting to
comfort zones to hide away where nobody will question you - where nobody will notice you -
where no mistakes will be made. You might even spend all your energy seeking ‘validation’ from
others rather than getting on with the job and seeing the results which lead you to give yourself
Is there a cure?
Firstly - you have to want a cure. It is very possible to get into a love-hate relationship with the
Impostor Syndrome - and fighting it might feel like you are fighting your very identity - which
after all you are already a bit ‘wobbly’ about.
In the words of Diana Ross:
If there's a cure for this
I don't want it
I don't want it
If there's a remedy
I'll run from it
So - having decided that you DO want a cure - the bad news is there isn’t one! Sorry.
However - having decided that you are up for doing something to change the thinking pattern -
there is a way forward. This way forward is simple to say and less simple to do. Don’t be too
hard on yourself while you are trying - keep at it and the patterns will start to change as our
brains have an amazing capacity for re-wiring connections.
The way to make this change?
You have already done step one. Remember - you are totally the boss of all this - it is only you
creating it in the first place.
Final point to consider
The Impostor Syndrome is not confined to a group of people - it can be found in well over 70%
of the population - both genders, all ages, all backgrounds, all personalities ….. It is wildly
rampant amongst the highly skilled and outwardly confident - it lurks amongst academics and
Can you imagine winning 3 Oscar’s and still saying this:
‘You think, “Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act
anyway, so why am I doing this?”‘
These exact words were spoken by the actor Meryl Streep.
I frequently explore this topic in coaching sessions - and I am so pleased to have delivered talks
to students on this prevalent mindset barrier - the discussion needs to happen.
Brilliant short animation from The School of Life
Trisha Lewis - Professional Communicator
Helping individuals and organisations remove the barriers to effective communication
How do you recognise Imposter Syndrome in yourself and your work life? Let me know in the comments below.
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