Posts Tagged ‘advice’
Today’s final post is a letter which I dearly wish I could send back in time to myself in the past; a younger me from ten years ago when I first made the leap from permanent employment status to Freelancer. I think it will be useful to other freelancers who are either just starting out, or are struggling.
Without any further delay or waffle…
Dear younger and more inexperienced me,
As you read this, you will be just starting out freelancing. It’s a scary experience. There is nobody to hold your hand, or guide you, or give you advice. At least, I know it seems this way. But I wanted to drop you a quick line to reassure you about a few things. Plus I wanted to include some really good advice, which will stop you making some silly and expensive mistakes.
It may seem that you are own your own, but there are a lot of great resources out there. The web is full of freelancers who have gone through what you are going through, and some people have been kind enough to write those experiences down in books or web blogs (such as this one) – all it takes is for you to take the effort to read them, understand them, and follow the advice. But remember, if you don’t bother looking, or take that advice, and you make the mistakes other are trying to help you avoid – then there is nobody to blame than yourself.
I am sorry to say that there will be hard times, and tough times, times full of worry when you wont be able to sleep at night, times of self doubt, and times where things seem very unfair. All freelancers and small business owners go through this, but at the end of the day, you will do OK. Anybody who makes the effort to rise above the average, who has put in the hard work, and uses the resources that are out there will do OK – better than OK in fact. In the end, choosing a freelance life will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.
But there are things that will help you on your way. Dear younger me, please listen to these, because these are nuggets of wisdom from years of experience. These tips will save you time, money, effort, and will make the whole thing so much more enjoyable. They will also allow you to rise above the troubling times.
My advice to you as you start out freelancing is:
- When times seem tough, don’t sweat the small stuff. If things seem unfair – that’s because they are – nobody ever said life was going to be a fair game. Either accept those things as unfair and move on, or change them. But don’t lose sleep about the small or unfair things
- Build up your list of supporters from the start. Have a good bank manager who you can contact whenever you want, an accountant who will explain things to you in detail, and make sure your partner (wife/husband) is included in everything you do
- Do not let the accountant run your finances. Keep everything close. Don’t let the accountant charge you too much or have your accounts vanish in to a black hole. Instead, use online accounting from day one (the accountant should be there to sign off the accounts and save your money). Having a clear picture of your accounts and cash flow every moment is key not only in making decisions, but allowing you to sleep at night.
- Know what you are doing it all for. Have a set of goals, and review them regularly. Get hold of a copy of the success principles, and read it – twice a year. It’s the best book on the planet! Trust me on that
- Do not waste effort trying to keep everybody up to date on project progress – you will end up stressing about projects and being overworked. Instead, invest in a cloud based project management system – the moment you do, your business world will change in leaps and bounds. You will never look back
- Don’t chase the money. Customers will try to take you in directions you are not prepared to go. It’s ok to say no if the work does not interest you, is not inline with what you want to do, or how you picture your small company. Be strong with customers.
- Don’t be scared to take on work involving skills you don’t have. Whilst you will be reluctant to do this initially, eventually you will come to realise that this will lead to you growing in skills and confidence, which will make your time more valuable.
- Invest in time management tools. Your time is money, so use tools like Evernote to keep track of everything you do and create, and re-use it over and over again. When you start doing this, you will see your worth grow.
- Get everything down on paper – simple terms, agreements and contracts – and get them signed. This will get you out of more problems than you could possibly imagine.
- And get a mentor. Approach your old bosses, or a local mentoring group, and become accountable. It’s also a great way to make new friends and stay in touch with what is happening ion the business world.
Younger me, its important to remember to enjoy the ride. Yes, times will be tough, customers nasty, and sometimes money will be tight – but nether the less, enjoy the ride. Getting where ever you are going is half the fun.
A more experienced Me
And that’s It!!
At the start of 2012, I said that this blog would finished at the end of 2012 – and as I type this, it’s December 2012. So that’s it – the blog is done. There is no more.
Dear reader, whoever you are, I really hope that you have found this blog useful. I have found it fun to create, and get my thoughts, systems, and processes down on (electronic) paper. I hope that you have gained something from reading my advice.
My advice does work. I am not perfect, I do not run the perfect company, I make as many mistakes as any other person out there, but my company has grown year in and year out using the tips I have written down. Most of my advice comes from people who are far more experienced and successful than me – so if any of my advice, or systems I describe feel right to you – give them a try – see if they will help you grow your own company.
As I sign off from my blog, I wish you dear reader well. I hope your company grows as you want it to, and I hope to meet you in the real world at some point.
As for me, I will continue on with growing my business, heading towards my goals, but now without the need to document it here. This blog will remain on the net until the end of 2013, at which time it will then be consigned to the great internet dustbin.
Goodbye and good luck.
Author of this Web site , Freelancer, Small Business Owner and passionate goal setter/achiever
December 20th, 2012.
The history and popularity of every company can be traced on the curve of a hill. At the start, nobody knows who the company is, they have very few customers and they struggle. Then the hill grows as the customer base grows, and soon they are at the top of the hill, looking at all their competition below them. They are popular, their products sell well, they are at the top of their game.
Sometimes the downward trend is brief, the company can turn things around and it turns into a bump in the hill rather than a descend onto the other side. But sooner or later, ALL companies will find themselves on the downward path.
For some companies, especially the smaller, newer, or one man bands, the hill can be very small indeed with almost no growth before they die. For some companies, the hill can be fairly flat, yet it can be years before they start to go downhill and die.
In the UK, we have seen many household names recently reach the other side of the hill; Jessops and HMV being headline news. But we have also had other companies vanishing without too much of a fanfare despite being big names – examples include companies such as Phillips (who no longer produces consumer electronics) and Kodak.
So let me give you a prediction for the demise of a MASSIVE company which is on the other side of the hill and is sliding down fast….
Microsoft have made massive announcements in the last 12 months of new products. We have Windows 8, Office 13 (or Office 365 if you prefer) and of course the Surface tablets.
Now putting the Surface aside (which I personally think is too expensive, too heavy and has a confusing OS), let us look at the business model of Microsoft in terms of Windows 8 and Office 2013.
I am going to suggest to you that in terms of functionality, reliability, cost, and ease of use – Windows XP and Office 2003 was as good as it needed to get. Windows 7 looks nicer, and Office 2007/2010 has some nice features – but in terms of actually doing anything you need to do, they really do not offer anything above and beyond XP and office 2003. I would agree that Windows 7 provides new features like widgets and taskbars, and office 2010 offers mini graphs in excel and online presentations – but are these worth the upgrade?
But now we have reached the crux of the matter. Windows 8 and Office 2013 are not upgrades – they are replacements. If you have office 2003, for the 20 or so new features in office 2013, you have to throw away your original investment and repurchase a completely brand new licence. Windows 8 did give a discounted upgrade path, but even now – that option is gone.
Or put it in money terms, if you are using Office 2003, 2007 or 2010, are you really going to spend another £700/$900 for a handful of new features which you may not ever use?
I would so dearly love to be a fly on the wall at an Office development team meeting and in the CEO offices – Microsoft must realise that the world has reached a point of ‘it’s good enough’ and despite all the glamour of the trade shows and press announcements, there must be panic in them there offices.
In a nutshell, asking people to pay the same again for something they already can do – is just not a sustainable business model.
What does this mean for your company?
So why am I talking about Microsoft and their inevitable doom? Well, first let me say I am not bashing Microsoft out of hate. I make my bread and butter using Microsoft products including office, SQL Server and the like – but I also recognise they are on the crest of the hill and are heading downwards. The same will be true of Apple in a few years – after all, how much of a higher resolution does anyone need before they say ‘that’s enough’ (unless Apple come along with a totally new product!)
The reason I wanted to talk about this today in relation to your own company was three fold:
- When working ON your business (rather than for your business), whatever technology you use, it is worth giving due thought to the fact that one day, that technology will no longer be around. When this happens, what will be your backup plan?
- Everybody demands value for money. If you are the size of Microsoft, you can get away with selling the same stuff over and over – but only for so long. What you need is innovation. And I am not talking about taking what somebody else has done and adding an extra widget or a bigger screen or a go-faster stripe – I am talking about something new.
- Nothing lasts forever – and all companies will eventually fit into the hill curve of growth and decline (including mine). Be smart enough to recognise where you are on the curve, wise enough to do something about it if you are on the wrong side, and brave enough to walk away and try something new if you have reached the bottom of the hill.
Continuing on with my passive income Buy To Let project, I wanted to touch on some of the problems I encountered on the first part of the project – which were all around finding and buying a property to let.
On Wednesday 17th July 2012, the exchange and completion on the property took place. Because we were keen to get cracking on finding tenants (and start earning money), we made sure that we exchanged and completed on the same day.
We also did this as we had a schedule of work to do to make the property letable. Keeping the fact that empty (or void) days means a loss whilst a filled (or let) day means a profit, we scheduled everything around this day. We had arranged a week before the exchange/completion so that the moment we completed, our work force went in with a list of items to do.
The Work to Make Good
For our first buy to let property, we wanted a mix of the easy things that we could do ourselves (and so save time and money) and those that we would just pay for and get the professionals to do. Our list consisted of:
- Paint all the walls and repair ceiling cracks (professionals)
- Service the central heating and report (professionals – British Gas – on a landlords service/maintenance/certificate deal)
- Put up window curtain poles and curtains (us)
- Replace worn out taps, a new radiator and other plumbing jobs (professionals)
- Purchase and install new dishwasher, washer/dryer and fridge freezer (us)
- Fit coat hooks and shower screen (us)
- Clean the carpets and oven (professionals)
- General clean (Windows, sinks, etc) (us)
We timed all of this so that the moment we got the keys – the various people would arrive and start work. It was an interesting week of project management to make sure everybody could do their part over the next few days without stepping on each other or getting in each others way.
We created a mini project plan for all the teaks, including the purchasing of the required items (from white goods, to a kitchen sink, to radiators and even paint) so that everything should (and did) fall into place.
The Problems and Advice
Of course, up to the exchange and completion, things did not always run to plan. We hit no end of problems in the purchase which included:
- Having to change lenders 3 times – each lender had strange made up rules on what they would lend to (for instance, the original Bank Of China would not lend on any property within 5 miles of a train station – which of course ruled out almost all towns and cities in the UK)
- Delays in funding meant delays in purchase, which meant somebody else came sniffing and we got ourselves into a mini bidding war (which increased our costs slightly)
- Delays in funding also meant that more work was needed by the legal bods, which added some more cost onto the purchase
And of course the delays also added to a little bit of stress to our own activities
Bending and Flipping Back
In the end, we completed on the purchase (and I had a cup cake to celebrate). And the work kicked off on the rapid refurbishment project.
Whilst a lot of people go through a property purchase, its better with a Buy TO Let, as we wont be living there so there is no emotion involved. If the numbers still made sense and worked – the answer was always going to be yes – if not, then we would have canned the project.
So it was a question of just rolling with any setbacks, and snapping back (like grass) once they had passed. Oh, and remembering to get on with the day job whilst all of this was going on.
In a previous post, I talked about how I occasionally like to mix up my freelance working practices by working as an IT contractor on a customer site. The reason for doing this (if you don’t want to read the original entry) is to keep up to date with what is happening in the real world in terms of customer expectations, technologies and environments.
Now whilst selling freelance and small business services means putting on a sales hat and talking benefits and features, landing a contract is all down to the interview.
Throughout my freelancing career, I have done four contracts, and attended around twenty two contract role interviews. In all of those interviews, there has only ever been one occurrence where I was not offered the role. In most cases, I have 3 or 4 offers on the table, and it comes down to selecting the role I prefer.
I believe the reason why I was offered so many roles comes down to one important interview tip:
Give a Killer Answer to the Trick Question
I am sure that the people who have hired me have other candidates with similar or better technical skills, similar or better experience, and similar office/interpersonal skills. If they are any thing like me when I am interviewing for candidates (which I am often asked to do when freelancing for companies) the stream of people I am interviewing soon becomes a blur.
So I make sure I stand out with my Killer Answer to their Trick Question.
All interviewers at some point will ask what they think is a trick question. It may be in the form of “Whats your biggest weakness” or “Whats the number one thing you would bring to this role” or even “Why should we give the contract to you?”. I have found generally, all interviews will consist of such a question in different forms.
And my killer answer to any such question is always “Oh, Its because I am lazy!!”.
Yep – I know. It sounds mad. Why would I say such a thing? Why would I say I am lazy?
Simple – its an answer they wont expect. It’s a surprise. It will shock them awake. They will take notice. I will be remembered.
But clearly, if that was my whole answer, then its unlikely I would land any contracts. So I continue after a brief pause to let the answer soak in and have an impact!
“Oh, its because I am lazy!!!!” Pause (count to three)….”Sorry – that’s not quite right. Lazy is the wrong word. What I mean is that I avoid doing more work than is required. If a task needs something put together, I will look at what I have done in the past, or what is already in place, to reuse it as much as possible, which of course will save time and effort and build on what already works. Yes, sorry, lazy is the wrong word. Efficient – that’s a better word.”
That is a great answer as it shocks them to take notice, gets them thinking, then reassures them that they are going to get the biggest bang for their buck by hiring you.
Again, I know it sounds mad, but I make a point of using this killer answer to their tricky questions, and only once has it ever let me down.
And I have been interviewing people myself for over 20 years – I know what interviewers are expecting and what they want to hear in an answer.
Give it a try yourself.
Now and again I like to talk about systems that work for me. I am not talking about Cloud or Computer based systems, but work productivity techniques which allow me to stay productive and on the ball.
A year ago, I talked about my Bath Time technique for getting ideas and inspiration. Today is another one of those ‘out there’ ideas – about a technique I use when I am just too busy.
Working on One Project or Task
For the vast majority of my time, I am working on one major task. For Business, it may be one major customer project, or at home, it may be one major home project like a home repair or maintenance project.
In these situations – it’s easy just to get your head down and get on with it. Just cut out the distractions, come up now and again for a break (air and tea), start in the morning, finish in the evening – get the job done. Easy stuff.
But, then there are times when I am forced to juggle more than one ball. Sometimes I will have multiple projects which I’m working on, with some sales thrown into the mix, responding to urgent mails, doing customer support. Very soon, I can have five or six task balls in the air.
In this situation, spending all your time on just the one task will work for that specific project, but everything else gets no attention, so problems start to stack up. Soon, panic can set in, or problems can occur as tasks fall off the radar.
If you spend all of your time just working on customer work, when the project is over, you may find your accounts have gotten into a mess or your lack of sales activity means you have no future work.
My System for Juggling too many tasks
So the moment I see I have too many projects on the go, I resort to my paper based system. It’s a system I have used for many many years.
I take a piece of A4 paper, and fold it in half, then half again (so it becomes an A6 size of paper, or the size of a filing card). Then I create a grid with a wide column on the left. In this wide column, I write all my ‘needs attention’ projects – all the things I need to be doing.
What we have running down the side are my juggled projects:
- DWH & Paxar – Two customer projects I am working on
- TSL Market – Time I need to allocate to my own company marketing
- ToDo – Time allocated to my never ending general task to do list
- Emails – Responding and keeping up to date with emails
- Money – Doing money management – both personal and business – cash flow, reducing expenses, and other frugal activities
- MP3s – Another customer project I am working on
- Blog – Time allocated to this blog (trying to get ahead of myself with future posts, ready for my next big holiday in a few weeks)
So what I do is this; I work through the list, doing either one major task per item (such as knocking an item off of my do list, or clearing one email from my inbox) or working 40 minutes on that project. For customer projects, I generally do the 40 minutes stretch of work, and set an alarm to tell me when 35 minutes are up. When the alarm goes off, I then have 5 minutes to wrap up what I am doing – and then it’s onto the next task down the list. When I get to the bottom, I go back to the top, and start from the beginning.
I put a cross to mark when I have gotten up to in my list – if you look carefully, you will see the next box to be crossed off (going down in rows, then across in columns) is for the blog, hence my typing this now. You will also notice that some of the boxes have a small hand written note in them – this was my ‘next action’ on these particular projects – when I get back to the task set, I know what I should be doing.
When the tasks completed are big, or I have worked 40 minutes on a customer project (and the alarm has gone off), I then force myself to take a break, get another cup of tea, and have 5 minutes away from a computer screen.
This system allows me to rotate my work, and make sure everything gets attention, nothing falls of the radar, and everything moves along. When the urgency of particular items falls away (such as all my urgent emails are answered or top priority ToDo items are done) I can cross off the entire project row and I can start to relax. Once the number of projects falls below a panic level, I then switch back to my concentrated project work (one project at a time).
Combining proven techniques
This system may not be for everybody. Some people will find the constant switching between work types a distraction, but for me, the switching actually means I have time to think about what I am doing, and come back to projects with a clearer mind.
After having used this system for a few years, I came across a system that other people use called the Pomodoro technique – which is very similar in terms of having a timer to chunk up the day and taking breaks in-between time slots – although I think my system came along first
However, I have to say that where possible – running multiple projects should be avoided. Other people have reported switching between tasks and projects like this can result in either a 40% reduction in productivity, or you going mad. I have to say, I somewhat agree with both suggestions – which is why I only use this system when I have too many projects to juggle and I only use if for a day or so to get me over the too much work craziness.
Once the calm has returned, I can then get back to my concentrated method of working.
If you find yourself drowning in different work, give this system a try and chunk up your day. Let me know if it works out for you.
I have just decided to treat my wife to a quick weekend break in the spring of next year. I am taking her for a ‘city break’ to Venice, Italy. Its just a short stay – 4 days visiting this wonderful (I hope) floating city of canals, bridges and great Italian food. The picture below is Venice from the air (I didn’t know its an island, did you?).
But, I am not here to gloat about going away next year. No, if I am going to gloat about anything, it’s the cost of the trip. From England to Venice, 5 star hotel in the center of the city, flights and transfers is costing me just £22.
Ok – honesty time. So it didn’t really cost me £22 – it actually cost me £590 – but… in terms of budgeting it only cost me £22, because I saved £570 though other savings.
I have talked before about cutting personal and business costs. Well in October, I really pulled out all the stops.
For a lot of suppliers, I used the ‘I’m cancelling my account with you (now show me your best deal)’ trick with almost all my personal and business suppliers.
For instance, I struck a deal with Sky (my satellite TV provider) for a 50% discount for 12 months, which saves me £150 a year. And British Telecom (phone for home and business) gave me a 60% discount for 12 months – so that’s another £90. And so it goes on – totaling £570 of savings. Some were instant money back or savings, and some were discounts over time. So the savings were invested in a short break.
And the point is, anybody can do the same – all that is needed is advice about money.
I am not talking about specialist ‘Financial Adviser’ type of advice, its just a question of staying up to date with current advice, warnings of changes which may effect you (such as utility price rises), and taking advantage of the advice which is out there.
So if you are interested in saving/making money (both for yourself and your business), can I introduce to you, my definitive list of great money information (all the changes I made this month which saved me that money came from these sources).
There are a lot of resources out and I could list them all for you, but these are the cream of the crop:
BBC Money Box – For UK freelancers, this weekly show brings you all the latest personal finance news
BBC Money Box Live – Again for the UK, a weekly phone in show covering a different topic each week
Which Money Podcast – Another UK weekly podcast, with advice from the Which team
Radio 5 Wake up to money – Final UK podcast – a daily update on all things changing in personal and business money.
Planet Money – Three times a weekly, American based finance news
CNBC Fast Money – Daily updates on US Finance from the CNBC team
MoneySavingExpert – For the UK, signing up to this weekly email feed is a must, with alerts on finance changes, utility rises, discounts and ways of saving money. Sadly, there does not seem to be a US version of this site.
GetRichSlowly – A collection of articles about both reducing debt and growing wealth.
I will teach you to be rich – This site is run by Ramit Sethi. It is less about saving money, and more about growing wealth.
@prairieecothrif -If you want to be inspired to live the life you have always wanted in a sustainable way, check out the connected blog.
@retirebyforty – He quit his corporate job! Now you can follow and see if he can stay out of the corporations for the next 40 years, whilst he shares money advice!
@TalkMoneyBlog – They talk about personal money issues and give free information, help and advice about the mortgage market, debt problems, credit cards and money saving tips.
@thisismoney – This is Money: news, conversation, top articles, tips, advice and opinion from the team at the UK’s best financial website.
@lovemoney_com – Lots of useful information to help you have a better relationship with your money.
If you have any other suggestions of blogs, podcasts or tweeters to follow, I would really love to hear about them. Please, leave a comment below.
Do you think it’s the end users of your service – the staff within the company who will use the products, services, management or consultation you are providing?
Do you think it is the top level boss of the company – the MD, FD or CEO?
Do you think its that person who insists you help them – the one who always goes whining to everybody when they are not happy?
Do you think it’s the person who pays the bills – the head of the finance department?
I am going to suggest the most important person is…. the person who originally agreed for you to start work on the contract. Simply because – it is they who will make the decision whether to keep you on when it comes to contract renewal time.
You may have done a lot of great work for the MD, helped out one thousand end users, and assisted all your new friends in the desks around you with their technical work, but if that person who employed you is not aware of all your activity, then your perceived value is greatly reduced, and this will impact you when they are weighing up whether to renew you or just let your existing contract end and let you leave.
So whatever you do, make sure that person who controls your contract is your VIP.
Give them a special “I always pick up for you” ring tone on your phone, make sure your client email system highlights all their emails, and make sure their work is always a high propriety in your do list (dropping other work when they give you a new action).
That is, assuming you want to be renewed in your contract.
But when things go bad, how honest should you be with customers or financial backers?
Let me give you an example (from the real word)….
This last month was a rough one for us. We had a former disgruntled partner that was unhappy about where we were going with Trigger Happy. Taking matters into his own hands, this employee physically wounded other employees and threatened to sell out our intellectual property. It’s a sore subject for us, so we won’t elaborate, but this former partner left us in a disastrous mess. He obscured all our shipping records so we had to rebuild our shipping lists one customer at a time. As you can guess, we have been very preoccupied rebuilding our records. The effect has caused a delay in application development and product delivery. Luckily, the storm has calmed, and everybody at Trigger Happy is smiling again. We’re back on track. We are shocked and saddened for what has happened, but we are more motivated than ever!
The above update was a long overdue update from the founder of a recent Kickstarter company/project called Trigger Happy (a way of controlling DSLR cameras from mobile phones). I am one of the backers.
After a month of people screaming on the kick-starter forum asking why the project was so overdue (3 months and counting) and with the few items that were shipped not working, the above project update was posted by the project founder.
I have a couple of problems with the above update (which can be read in full here):
- Its way too honest and gives too much information. Look, companies have problems, but no customer or backer wants to be told the details because….. they don’t care. What they care about is how it affects them. Where is the service they ordered, their product, the refund? Does the situation cause them any risk or pain?? If you are in a restaurant and you have been waiting an hour for your food to arrive, you don’t want to know there is a delay because water has flooded the kitchen or they have run out of chicken or the chief has sliced his or her finger off – they want to know if they should be leaving to get food elsewhere – i.e., just give me an ETA for my steak. In the above communication, I would have just said “We had technical issues with our customer database, but the issue is now resolved, and we apologise for the delay”.
- In this situation, after around 100 or so complaint posts on the forum (“where is my TriggerHappy?”, “I want a refund!”, “Why are you not keeping us informed?”), it took a month to post the update. When there are problems, constant communication is a MUST. It only takes 5 minutes to send an update.
I have said it before, and I will say it again – communication is King!!!! You can never communicate too much – keep everybody informed and they wont start guessing what is (or is not) going on and imagining the worst.
But as I say, you can be too honest (as in this example). Yes, tell them there was a problem (and it has been resolved), but really, people don’t care about the details – they just care what the effect will be for them, and that everything is back on track.
I’m a freelancer, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so buy from me maybe.
~ Altered version of Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
I have wanted to write about this subject for a while – and could not work out the way to phrase it. Then, whilst on holiday, I watched a poor lad propose to a girl in front of everybody in a bar, and she said a massive big fat NO!!!
He was devastated. But at least it gave me my hook into this subject.
Entering marriage is very much like the relationship between a freelancer and their prospective customer. It’s true that some customers may just want to grab an item, pay for it and be done with the transaction (such as when using Amazon), but for most time, customers want to be romanced.
Freelancers are brought into companies to carry out important work. But before they will raise an order for the work, the prospect needs to feel special, they need to feel a bond is there, they need to feel important, and they need to feel respected. Above all, they need to feel they can trust you.
Responding to an initial enquiry with a proposal and price is like walking up to a girl in the street and saying “Hi, we have only just met, but will you marry me??”. Good luck with that approach.
Seasoned salesmen always sales say that people don’t buy products, they buy people and relationships.
Also, they need to feel like they are the ones making the decision. Yes, you can persuade them, talk them round, and generally ‘sell’ to them, but if you put them into a corner to force their decision, more likely than not their answer will be NO. That girl in the bar may have said yes if he had asked her on a beach, with just the two of them (its how I asked my wife with no pressure of other people watching.
And just like getting a partner to say yes to marriage, there has to be a demand and desire; a sense of ‘everybody else wants it’. If the poor chap in the bar had proposed marriage when no other woman had shown interest in years, there may be a feeling of desperation – such as “he is asking me because nobody else will have him” – which is never a strong sales position.
But, if other girls were always hitting on him (and of course he was politely turning them down), then he would be in demand which raises interest and he may have had more luck. Put it another way, nobody wants to commit to rejections or the out of date products on the shelf.
It’s why we have panic buying at Christmas time for the latest children’s toy. Everybody wants it because… everybody wants it. Even if they are not sure why.
Of course, being a small freelancer or small business, it’s almost impossible to create this demand (where everybody wants you and everybody knows it). But it is possible to create a cloud of pseudo demand by:
- Not being too demanding or pestering for the work (but that does not mean don’t chase, just do it in a casual way)
- Never say you can start immediately (or at least say you will have to reorganise other projects if the customer prospect demands a quick start)
- You can even use reverse demand by saying “of course, we are selective on the companies we work with, so just need to make sure you meet that criteria” (which puts them into a pseudo exclusive club)
So when you bring it all together, don’t be the chap in the bar. Get to know your prospect, take your time, make the setting right, and then create the demand so that when you propose doing business, they will be happy to say yes.
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.