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I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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Word Constructions slightly offline

For the next 10 days or so, we will be in Canberra meeting with clients. I have scheduled some blog posts for you to read while I am away, but please be patient as it may take me a while to reply to any comments or emails – I will be online at times, just not as regularly as usual.

I would love to know what you want to learn about (comms wise) so let me know in the comments below and I’ll get writing when I’m back!

Use your words wisely,

Tash

Coddling the right clients

If you’ve been in business a while, the chances are you’ve had at least one annoying, energy-sapping client. So, like me you will probably appreciate the following comments from Seth Godin:

The challenge of winning more than your fair share of the market is that the best available strategy–providing remarkable service and an honest human connection–will be abused by a few people you work with.

You have three choices: put up with the whiners, write off everyone, or, deliberately exclude the ungrateful curs.

Firing the customers you can’t possibly please gives you the bandwidth and resources to coddle the ones that truly deserve your attention and repay you with referrals, applause and loyalty.

Next time you are having trouble with the idea of sacking a client, or refusing to take on a particular client, remember that doing so gives you more energy to do a great job for those clients who will truly appreciate it.

On the positive side, the time consuming clients I have had in the past have helped me better value my time and espertise, and taught me what to look for in people I want to work with.

Who would you prefer to coddle?

Beyond the call…

I recently read a post by Melissa about being sick and running your business and it made me smile. I think I can safely say I went beyond the call of duty for one of my clients last month, on the day Melissa wrote that post…

I spent the morning in hospital in false labour and the afternoon doing errands. By late afternoon, I was in full labour with painful contractions and received a request for an urgent client newsletter mailing. So I spent the early evening preparing and sending out an email in between major contractions – and then went back to hospital for my son’s birth!

Aside from my dedication to client’s :), managing business during personal health issues is a serious topic for business owners. Do you struggle on and hope you’ll get better but risk making yourself worse? Do you tell clients you’re sick and delay their work? Do you get help from somewhere?

As professionals, we want to fulfill promises to clients and deliver on time and to a suitable standard. As people, we need time to recover from illness and time to rest and care for ourselves. It is when these needs clash that we struggle.

The ideal is to prepare for such issues, rather than find ourselves unable to deal with it (imagine being so sick you can’t even warn clients things are running behind…) What ways have you prepared your business for your unplanned (or planned) absences?

Disagreeing with clients – the nice way!

If you work for clients, you will not always agree with how they want things done. Sometimes, it will just be a matter of personal choice so you stay quiet and do things their way. Other times, your professional experience and knowledge leads you to believe the client would be better off following your way.

So how do you tell a valued client that you disagree with their request?

Let’s take a simplified situation – the client asks for bright red and you think pale blue is a better option.

The first response to come to mind may be “Bright red won’t work so I’m going to use pale blue for you.”

However, the client is likely to be annoyed at being told they’re wrong and you’re making the decision. Result? They will dig their heels in and insist you use bright red without further discussion – or just find another supplier.

Another response may be “Pale blue is best and applies in 90% of cases” and just going ahead with pale blue. Taking control of the project like that shows no respect for your client and may just end your relationship.

Here are some better ways to approach your client:

  • Bright red would certainly attract attention! However, did you know that colour experts consider red to mean…?
  • Is there a particular reason you want it bright red?
  • I will do it in bright red, but first I wanted to make sure you know you have a choice. The alternative is pale blue, which has the advantages of …
  • I have found an example of bright red for you, and a pale blue example as a comparison. I think the pale blue works better because… What do you think of them both?
  • That’s an interesting thought – I would never have considered bright red for this project. To me, bright red doesn’t always work because…
  • Based on my experience, bright red is less effective than pale blue because… Would you like me to try both colours so you can see the difference?

If you handle it politely and with respect, your client will appreciate you speaking up and sharing your expertise – after all, that’s why they are using your services! You may still have to complete the project in bright red, but at least the client has made an informed decision and you have respected your professional opinion.

Have you had a supplier respectfully disagree with you which has led to a better result? Share your story in the comments area below.

Supplier control

Sometimes suppliers and clients don’t agree on the  best way to do something – that is natural and understandable. But if the client is paying for the work, I believe that the client has the deciding vote.

I have had situations where a client has insisted I do something a particular way against my better judgment as a professional writer. A few times, I have done what the client asked for and an alternative version the way I think it should be done and given both versions to the client. In all these cases, once they have seen it in context, the client has agreed with my version. Other times I have just done what the client asked.

But what happens when a supplier decides their way is correct, or at least better, and just implements it without even telling the client they are making that decision?

For instance, if a client asks for certain paragraphs to be in italics in a brochure their designer may disagree and not use italics. The client, trusting the designer to do as asked, doesn’t notice this omission until after the brochures are printed and is rightly upset because those paragraphs were quotes and need to look different.

A much more professional approach from the designer would have been to say “I don’t think italics is a good idea as they are harder to read” and then discussed it with the client.

Clients do not appreciate loosing control of their own projects, nor the suppliers who take that control. And once you do something like that, the client is likely to double check everything you do for them which is a waste of their time and goodwill – and not likely to get you more work or any referrals.

As a supplier, you can disagree with a client but you should never presume to control the project contrary to your client’s request. Remember, if the final result is not up to your standard because the client insisted on doing things a certain way, it reflects more on the client than you – their name is on it, not yours. Just don’t add the project to your portfolio!

Boundaries between home & work

In a traditional job setting, the difference between work and home is fairly clear and easy to see – until you start bringing work home anyway! But when you run a business or have a remote job, it can be harder to spot the difference – and harder to manage things.

Of course, the big question is HOW to manage time! I think the simplistic answer is to set boundaries to maintain control.

From talking to various people, I see two main groups of at home workers – those who get distracted from work by the need to tidy the kitchen, hang out the washing, vacuum the floors and so on, and those who work a lot and find it hard to manage much of the house stuff at all. Which group do you fit into? I have no trouble (well, generally speaking!) getting on with work but end up working too hard and letting the housework slide…

Here are some of my ideas on creating boundaries between business and home, but I’d love to hear your suggestions, too…

  • physically separate your working space from your living space as much as possible – if you are sitting in your work space, don’t do home things and vice versa. My article, separating your home office, may give you some new ideas
  • separate phone lines if you can – then only answer the business phone during business hours, and the home phone during personal hours. Before you assume this is too expensive, consider a VOIP phone as this is much cheaper than renting a second landline
  •  tell clients your expectations/limitations – for example, “We work 10 to 4″ or “we don’t answer phone calls in busy periods”. Kylie of Tilda Virtual went further and actually sacked a client to gain back control of her business and family boundaries!
  • set clear business hours and stick to them most of the time – if clients see you work outside those hours, they will start expecting you to do so. If you do work out of your usual hours, make it clear it is unusual or mask the fact - sometimes I work late at night but program the email to go to my client the next morning so I am not advertising the fact of when I did the work.
  • if possible, use a different email address for friends and family than for business. Set up filters for incoming emails and just concentrate on business emails during business hours.
  • learn to say no to clients or extra work – or at least say it won’t be done straight away. Know how much work you can deal with in a day/week and refuse to overload yourself
  • if you have people visiting you during the day, try putting a sign on the door that says “Business in operation – please call back later for a personal visit” so people can see you are serious about your business hours. If you want, you could leave a pencil and notepad by the door so they can leave you a message

Sometimes it seems impossible to make those boundaries, but the reduced stress and lost time is well worth the effort. Good luck with it!

Use your words and time wisely!

Saying no…

Did you know that you are allowed to say no sometimes? Even to new clients or a long standing client, it is acceptable for you to say no – politely of course!

It is a little silly, but I was reminded of this through the Rat in the Hat! Melissa Khalinsky often uses children’s TV shows to point out business lessons, and in one of her blog posts, she shows how Rat is quite the entrreperuner.

Melissa wrote “Don’t overextend yourself – this is something Rat does often in his quest to meet the needs of everyone on Cuddles Ave. Unfortunately Rat doesn’t know how to say no ” and I had to nod in agreement, both for Rat in a Hat (yes, I’ve watched him, too!) and for many business owners I know.

As a small business owner, it is hard to turn down a client – there’s that little fear that maybe this was the last work request you’d get for 6 months so how can you afford to not do this project? Or maybe it is a fear that saying no will make that person hate you and bad mouth you to other potential clients?

But let’s look at it the other way:

  • if you take on too much work, you will end up doing inferior work for a number of clients, thereby damaging your good reputation
  • if you continue doing too much, you will burn out and really not be able to earn anything for 6 months
  • if one client has found you and asked for a quote, it is likely others can also find you next week and next month
  • a well managed ‘no’ will leave the client feeling positive about you even if you couldn’t do their work – they may try you again another time, or at least tell others you acted professionally
  • do you really think your clients have the time and inclination to bad mouth you just because you couldn’t work for them?

I will cover the various reasons for saying no, and how to say no nicely in the next few blog posts. But for now, just take on the belief that you can say no and the world (or your business!) won’t end!

Qualify your statements

In business, there is a hope that in some way we can be the biggest and best so that clients will come flocking to us. And some businesses give into that temptation and make claims that are not exactly accurate, or even true.

Too much hype just makes people switch off, and being caught out in a lie or false claim does not build am image of professionalism or integrity. In other, these behaviours do not build a strong business foundation.

So before you make any claims, be sure they are accurate and that you have checked them out.

Be very careful using terms such as ‘best’, ‘most popular’, ‘biggest seller’ and so on unless you have statistics and research to back up your claims.

If you say you are the first – don’t just check that no one else has done it before, check that your wording makes it clear what no one else has done before. For instance, saying I run the first business directory in Australia is not quite the same as saying I run the first online business directory in Australia. Likewise, there may be two interpretations of some words – online support could mean forums, a mail group, an information site, chat room discussions or some combination of the lot. So you may be the first online forum but not the first online support group.

And remember, it isn’t just to maintain your image and integrity – if you stray too far from the facts, you may face legal issues, too.

Business integrity

As a writer and professional service provider, I consider my job as helping my clients. I write webcopy or documents for their business, of course, but more than that I use my skills and knowledge to help them. I consider that my clients want my expertise, not just some words on a piece of paper.

So for example, if a client asks me to write a media release on something that I know is not news worthy and is extremely unlikely to get published, I tell them so and might suggest another way I could help them more effectively.

Whenever I approach suppliers, for myself or on behalf of a client, I always make my request along the lines of “Please do x, y and z  – unless you can suggest a better alternative”. I trust suppliers to know more than me and hope we can work together to get the best result.

I hate seeing suppliers that are more concerned with making money than doing what is best for their clients. And let’s face it, it isn’t good business practice either – clients are less likely to come back or recommend you if you don’t do the right thing by them.

One of my clients has been approached by a marketing company with a lot of suggestions. Now, this company does produce some nice work and they are very friendly and helpful.

However, it concerns me that they are more interested in taking over the product marketing than in what is best for the product. For instance, they are suggesting changes to the website to make it more like x and z sites. I did a quick Google search – my client’s site shows on page one of a search for the appropriate term, the x site shows on page 2 and z doesn’t show before page 5. My client’s site get new visitors to the site everyday now, which is pretty good for a site less than 6 months old. And being so young, a branding change now would have limited benefit in my opinion.

To me, they would be servicing my client better to agree the site is doing well and here are some ways to promote it further rather than match it to less popular sites.

Do you have examples of businesses using good integrity in their dealings with clients? I’d love to hear them :)