Archive for July, 2012
You want your freelance or small business to grow, right? You want an easy life, and happy customers or staff, yes? And you don’t want people complaining to or about you, do you?
If so, then can I recommend the following five rules of business communication (which were handed down to me by one of my old business mentors)? He taught me that if you follow these rules in all communication (with prospects, staff, customers and even in personal matters), it will make things run a lot easier and will head off a lot of problems before they occur.
I have these rules on a small card pinned next to my computer screen – just so I don’t forget them, and I try to follow them in all my communication.
Anyway – on with the rules…
Rule 1 – Keep people up-to-speed
One of the worst things in business is not knowing what is going on. It’s an easy situation for people to find themselves in. They ask you to do something, and the response is silence – they can only guess whether you are working on their request, they are number 100 in your queue of actions, or if you are ignoring them. So remember to communicate whenever anything significant changes, or just send them a regular status email to keep them informed.
Rule 2 – Be explicit in what you are saying and asking
Miss-communication is bad. But what is worse, is expecting somebody else to read your mind, or in-between the lines. If you want something, say exactly what it is you want. As an example, don’t say fuzzy things such as “well, your support ends next month, so what do you want to do about it?” – Say what you want – “your support ends next month, so I need you to raise a new purchase order for £5,000 which needs to be with me by Friday because without this….”.
Rule 3 – Make it easy, simple and obvious
Keep the communication short, use simple words, and keep it obvious in terms of subject and content. Think of each communication as costing you money – every word you can cut out saves you a pound, and every word that isn’t used on a day to day basis (the extra long padding words such as ‘conceptualize’, ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘leverage’) costs you £2.
Rule 4 – If in doubt, pick up the phone
Some things are better said than typed. If emails or letters have turned into a multi-bouncing discussion or too many people have been copied in, pick up the phone and have the discussion. If its bad news, pick up the phone and take the heat rather than taking the cowards way out with a text or email.
Rule 5 – Automate the communication
Where possible – automate the communication. This doesn’t mean adopting a spam generating system which will churn out useless sales rubbish, but use a system that either allows people to find the information themselves (such as using a really good online project portal allowing customers to keep track of their projects when they want), or create manual processes where you keep people up to date with the current situation.
A quick one from me on a internet service I have just discovered – Meetup.com
If you have an interest (be it a hobby, interest, desire, need or even a business aspiration), there will be a group of people out there in your local area who meet on a regular basis to explore and share that interest.
Meetup.com is a free service which allows you to connect to these groups, and attend the meet-ups for a nominal administration charge (typically £1 to £2 per event).
For personal activities, I attend interesting photography events (I have a passion for photography, and the meetups are always at great locations with great subjects) and personal growth events. But I also attend London based business mentoring meet ups as well, where small business owners give each over advice, review each others plans, and allow people to sanity check their ideas.
If you are into business networking, there will also be multiple networking groups in your local area as well.
Meetup allows you to search in your area (or any other specific areas) and you can set a geographical range for meet-ups.
Once you have identified interesting groups, you can join groups to take part in on-line discussions and to be notified of new face to face meet-ups. If a meetup strikes your interest, just RSVP and you will be sent details of the event by email.
As I say, a very useful resource for finding other business (or personal interest) groups for…. as the name suggests…. meeting up.
We put a lot of effort into starting projects; from nurturing prospects through to agreeing terms and requirements. But what about when projects are completed – how do you wrap up and complete projects?
In order to keep a good relationship and possibly win future business with the customer, doing a project hand over is just as important as the project start.
What to include in the hand over
Depending on the type of work that you do and the size of the project, a face to face hand over meeting may be required. If this is the case, it should normally be agreed from the start and factored in your initial work assessment and quotations.
Regardless of whether the project hand over is a face to face meeting, or is performed by email, some of the hand over aspects which you may want to factor in include:
- Training – Depending on the skill level of your customer, some degree of hand over training may be required. This of course could be factored into the initial quotation, or could be offered as an after-service when the project is completed (with an additional fee). Just remember that if you train them *too well*, they may not need your services in the future.
- Support and Maintenance – The flip side of training is support and maintenance (for me, the icing on the freelance cake). If you can charge your customer a regular yearly amount in advance for fixing problems and answer questions, well, that’s how companies grow and big profits are made. If support and maintenance is a consideration, you will need to think about what form the support will take and what the limits are.
- Problem Resolution and Warranty – As part of a hand over, your customer will want to know what to do if they hit a problem. Let them know how long you will support them for (if at all), what to do if they need changes, and how to contact you (you may want them to use a separate support email address for instance). This then ties them in to the support and maintenance agreements. Be clear about what will be free corrections, and what will be chargeable.
- Suggested Next Steps – Without being too pushy, it is worth providing them with a suggested set of next steps (how their product, web site, documents, etc could be expanded for more value). This is one of my key ways of generating future business.
- Passwords and source code – If you have provided them with a product (software product, documents, art work or web site), they will most likely expect to receive the source code. If there are associated web domains, passwords, or accounts, don’t forget to document these. It will save a lot of problems in the future.
- Time Periods – For most projects, you will have copies of their designs/source/art work on your computers and their projects on your project management systems (you do use a project management system to save time and money, right?). It is well worth stating clearly how long you will retain these copies for before you delete them. This is important as you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where they delete their copy by mistake, and expect to come back to you in 5 years time for another copy (which you no longer can provide).
Thank you – Don’t forget to say a big thank you for their business. You don’t need to go over the top, but in today’s climate, a simple thank you will go a long way.
- Survey and Referral – The end of the project is a perfect time to arrange an end of contract customer survey which covers all your dealings with the customer (from quotation to invoice), and also to ask if they would be happy to provide either a reference or a referral.
- Contact Branding – And don’t forget to brand everything with your company. It should be clearly stamped with your company logo, name, address, web site URL, phone number and email address. It may be that your main customer contact may leave in the future, but your documentation will remain on file for others to get in contact for future work.
Get it right, repeat and evolve
This may all seem like a lot of effort, but the secret is to create a generic project hand-over document (or set of documents), which can be used and tweaked for each project. Once you have a template, the updating of a hand over document becomes part of the project closure, and takes a lot less effort in the future.
As with all other documents your company produces (such as the quotation templates, questions list, etc), this can be a living document, that evolves (and improves) over time.
Preparation and submission of the handover document soon becomes a natural part of your project delivery structure.
Maybe now is not the right time to sell
One thing to bear in mind is that the project handover process and documents are there to present subtle messages of next actions, professionalism, and to keep your company name in front of your customer. However, I have found in the past that coming out and asking for more work directly as part of the project handover very rarely works.
The customer will be too wrapped up in getting to grips with the product or service you have just delivered.
It is far better to present the hand over, and at the end, agree a scheduled call or meeting as a ‘follow up’ (to check everything is still ok) in a month or so’s time. That is then the perfect time to raise the ‘next steps’ you have suggested and to look at fishing for the next project.
So you have a web site, and the web site has a nice Contact Us page, and maybe you have even done some extensive A/B version testing to see what layout will get the most enquiries. That’s all great, but….
Maybe you have a contact form, and you clearly display your contact details. Of course, this includes your contact phone number. All these are the right things to do, but….
And your contact form, you have it going to an email address you monitor, right? When an email comes in, it will go to your in tray on your PC/Mac, your phone and maybe even your dog gets a copy. You’re ready to respond.
What happens if something has gone wrong?
What happens if the script that runs your contact form is now incompatible with the software your hosting provider runs? What happens if the email address you send enquiry emails to has become lost via an ISP tweak? What happens if the emails are now caught in your anti-spam filter because of new rules?
In short, how do you know your contact form and email address is not dumping precious enquiries into the recycle bin of another parallel-dimension (or wherever bounced enquiries go to die)?
Why not put a reoccurring task in your calendar or To Do list to send yourself an enquiry once a week, or an enquiry email, and check it gets through?
Better safe than sorry-about-the-lost-enquiries.
I am sure that in the last 12 months, you will have received many emails offering web design or SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) services. I am sure that like me, you deleted the majority of them as soon as you spotted the term SEO in the header or text. But did you ever see one or two that made you stop and think if you should be doing more on with your web site?
I don’t want to take about SEO companies today. But I am using them as an example of companies that don’t eat their own cat food – a term given to companies that are ridiculously bad at the services they are trying to offer to you.
Take these SEO specialist companies. If they are so great at getting web sites to the top of Google or Bing, why do they have to spam you? If you Google “SEO companies” – why are they not on the number 1 spot of Google?
What about accountants? Would you trust an accountant who has final demand letters on their door mat when you visit? Or what about marketing companies that are trying and failing to gain customers? What about cleaning companies which are based in the dirtiest office imaginable?
A copywriter to improve my own site
The reason I talk about this, is that I have started looking for copywriters to improve the content of my own company web site. I was recommended and visited a couple of sites of copywriters, who talked a good talk.
But their web sites were shocking. Some examples of problems I spotted when visiting including:
- Missing any calls to action on their site (where are the “call or email me” buttons?)
- Very basic Typos (and if I can spot them, they must be bad)
- Mixed quality of graphics all over their site (some photos, some graphics, some line art, some appear to be scanned)
- Examples of text inviting me that if I am “Interested? Sign up on the right.” – When there is nothing on the right.
- Spaces missing in their text, so words merge together (and become a jumble)
- Lots of uses of “We”, “Us” and “I” when they all say a web site should use “You” or “Your” (the very things I am trying to correct)
I could go on. But the point is, they are advertising a service to improve web sites and web site copy (words), but their own sites are in a terrible state.
In most situations, web sites are the initial introduction to the world – if a copywriter can’t get that write, why would I even think about paying them to change mine?
So I ask again, are you eating your own cat food for the service you provide?