Posts Tagged ‘service’
As a freelancer, contractor or small business owner, you have a product or service you sell – right? So how much will it cost me for you to provide the product or service????? No, really – think about it – how much will it cost me?!?
I imagine if you did stop to think about the question, the answer is ‘well depends what you need, how big the job is, what you want?’. Is this the case?!? But, you must have provided this product or service several times (or more) over the past few years – so what is the average cost? Or what about the minimum? The maximum?
The reason I ask about this is that we all suffer from the Tire Kicker enquiries. People who contact you, ask about your product or services, have no budget, no idea of what they want, and are there just to gather information for something which may never happen. These people are all fine and good if they eventually turn into customers, but they can be a great drain on resource and can distract from other enquiries that really have a need you can meet.
Which is where quoting a ballpark figure comes in. From the outset, don’t be scared to give a ballpark… “yes, typically for the creation of a website my customers pay on average around £2000”…. “well, depending on the scope of the project, data projects in the past have ranged between £5,000 and £30,000 – but let’s talk about your requirements and see what we can do….”
Giving a ballpark figure up front sets expectations. People looking for a cheap and cheerful quick fix will quickly go elsewhere (saving you the effort of producing quotations way out of their price league), whereas those with a real need have an idea of the size of typical projects, and can start working on their own finances to see if the project is worth progressing.
One of my pet peeves (when I am a customer) is getting to a price. If I am shopping for a service, it is so rare to see typical prices on web sites. Even when you say your requirements, getting that ballpark figure is like pulling teeth – which is why being happy to provide the ballpark figure early works so well for all concerned.
Regardless of the size of your business, as either an owner or a manager, you need to have a plan and a goal for your business. Initially, this goal may just have been to start or manage a business (and get you out of the rat race), but once your business is up and running, you need something else to keep you motivated and moving forward.
When I meet other owners of businesses, most have business goals that they have set themselves. Clearly, with the economic environment being what it is at the moment, a lot simply have the goal of staying afloat, but many want more than just survival. From experience, business goals tend to run in phases….
Phase1 – The creation. Creation of a business is the biggest leap, either by setting up your own business or joining a small existing company, this phase is leaving the standard ‘working for somebody’ job and going it alone. Most small business owners and managers complete this phase normally not by small steps, but by a push or a big jump. Redundancy seems to be the biggest push owner/managers get.
Phase2 – Survival. Once a business is up and running, for the first year or so, the game is survival – to get enough customers and money in to keep afloat. It’s as simple as that.
Phase3 – The Money. Once a business has been running for a few months through to a couple of years, then it becomes about the money – making as much as possible. A lot of companies wind up stuck in this phase, including a lot of multinationals. If money is what drives you, then maybe this phase is the natural place for you.
Phase4 – The Goal. And this is the hardest phase – deciding what you need, what you really want, and what you want your company to become. Some people I have met have wanted to just run a business and end up not doing any actual work, some want to have a business that only takes 2 days a week of their time, some people want their business to be the best in a market, or supply the best quality product or service. Money clearly helps to allow your business to reach the goal you set, but in order to have a really successful business (from your point of view), you need to define the goal and work out what you need to reach that goal.
For me, my business goal is for my company to supply the best products and services it can, to assist other companies in reaching their goals, to provide honesty and integrity where others fail to deliver, and to eventually allow the company to feed into my own personal retirement goals.
Now and again, you need to step away from working in your business, and spend a few hours or a few days working on your business – working out what phase you are in, what you need to do to reach the next phase, and make your business what you want it to be. Doesn’t matter if you run a one man consultancy company, a partnership, or like me, a small business which employees a handful of staff – you need to take the time.
So why not schedule a few hours in your diary to work on your business today.
Normally, I enjoy posting tips on small business techniques and tools which have worked for me in the hope of helping others. Generally, if something does not work, well I just let it go and move on, or don’t mention the resource. But today, I thought I would share a project I outsourced recently which went very wrong, in a hope that other small companies and freelancers avoid the same mistake.
The failed project was all to do with a new web site I launched. When you are looking to drive web traffic to a web site, it’s all about links. The more inbound quality links you have, the more Google rates your web pages, and higher up you appear in search results, which then of course leads to more traffic. Having done some research, I had seen that there was a lot of discussion about positive links which could be obtained through links in articles published in web based article repositories.
Having a full schedule, I decided to outsource the creation of the articles and the linkage to an SEO company. So using Freelancer.com, I created a project for 50 high quality permanent links into my web site, and as you would expect, received a lot of interest and a wide range of bids. Whilst I didn’t specifically mention link through articles in my project scope, all the responses I received indicated that this is the way that the freelancers would generate the links.
After careful consideration of the reviews the freelancers had received for previous projects, I made a selection – a mid price response with good feedback. In fact, the selected freelancer promised more than my requested 50 links – they promised me 200 links.
The freelancer started work, and 1 month later, the work was complete. I received a nice report of all the sites the articles were published on, and a promise that in 2-3 months Google would have finished the indexing and the links round be in place. But 4 months after project completion, the number of links generated equalled…. just six. Six, out of a promised 200.
After speaking to some SEO consultants, it now becomes clear that the problem is not down to lack of work by the selected freelancer, but by the technique used. The concept of links through articles is being done to death, with new articles being published so frequently that by the time Google revisits the article directories, the new articles are on pages 10 and beyond, so Google does not reach them, hence they are not added.
I have learnt my lesson, and I am moving on ($200 lighter in pocket), and creating links to my project myself, using the best method that never fails – manual hard work.
Have you ever noticed that when it comes to mobile (cell) phone numbers, that there is no set rules on how you say the number? With land lines numbers, everybody generally uses the format of 5-3-3 when saying a phone number – so “01256 123456” is said as “01256-123-456”. Its short, punchy, and it works for everybody (for London, the leading 5 gets replaced with 3 or 4 leading).
But with mobiles, after the leading “07” bit, there is no rules for the grouping – it all depends on the number you have. But if you group your number one way, and somebody repeats it with different groupings, it’s easy not to recognise your own number. If my number is “07780123456”, I might say “077-80-12-34-56”. Someone repeating it back to me might say my number is “07-780-123-456” – it sounds completely different and makes me double check and think about what is being said.
This mixed-format confusion can be used to great advantage when replaying requirements back to customers. After they are done stating all of their requirements, by repeating their requirements back to them in a different order (either by voice or in an email), the changed and mixed context forces them to think about what they have said, what you have noted, and also if it is really what they want. I also like to throw in the word “only” (or just) as well here and there, just for good measure.
A requirement of “We want a web application that allows UK students to enter their accommodation details on a form, and this gets saved onto a SQL Server database which we can produce ad-hoc reports from”, when mixed and repeated back, might become…
“So let me check I have this right. You want to produce some ad-hoc reports from a SQL Server database. This database will only be populated from a web-based data entry form that we would develop, and would be made available only to UK based students who would use the form to enter just the details of their accommodation”.
I have used it a number of times where the customer has then commented with something like “well, it sounds like something is missing..” or “yes, but we also need…” after they have specified all their requirements.
Using this technique I have saved myself a lot of headaches during project delivery by making sure the customer has detailed everything that is required by double checking what they really want, which has led to more of the work being detailed up front (with a higher price tag) and saves the last minute “oh, I forgot I needed…” conversations on delivery day.
When I want to buy media items such as DVDs or BluRay films, I will head on over to either Amazon or Play.com. In terms of price, stock availability and delivery, there is not much difference between the two sites. However, one major advantage which Amazon has that Play (and others) has yet to take advantage of is the “Wish List”.
Wish lists are great for storing future shopping items. When you find something but can’t quite afford to purchase it right now, putting it in your wish list means its there for the future. You wont forget about it, you don’t need to search for it again, and you can share your wish list with friends come Christmas or your birthday.
As a small business owner, I don’t really sell anything on the web other than my services (and membership to a couple of sites). If I did sell anything physical, I would definitely be adding a “Wish list” section on my web site. But even though I dont sell any physical goods, I can still take advantage of the Wish List with my customers.
Sometimes, customers will ask for a quotation for work with options – such as how much to create a new report, and how much to make the report available in a stand alone web app, and how much to include graphs in the report? I will produce a quotation which details the different options – one with the report, one with the report AND making it in a stand alone web app, and finally the cost to include graphs.
When customers accept the quotation, clearly they have a choice of which option to take, and sometimes, they will take the cheaper option without the add-ons. And this is where the service wish list comes in. They may not have taken the add-on options because of timing, or price, or a whole host of other factors, but they have already told you that the need is there.
So in these situations, I crack on and do the development, make the delivery and raise the invoice. But then, I will raise a new quotation which I send them for the options not selected, so when they do have the time, the money, or a stronger desire, the price to fulfil their wish list is at hand and ready to be ordered.
When you see ducks in a pond, they glide across the water, calm, collected, efficient, with barely a wake left behind them. They look perfect. But under the water – they are paddling like mad – their feet kicking away for all they are worth, hard and fast. But you don’t see that – you see the calm, the elegance – and that’s how I like my customers to see me – the calm in the storm.
If there are problems, or issues, or panic, I do my very best to be the duck – I don’t rush in front of the customers, I don’t panic, I take it away out of sight, and that’s when I start doing the mad quick paddling. I actually try to picture the duck whenever the panic sets in at customer sites.
I also find it makes a refreshing change to what people have to deal with when dealing with big companies – who I imagine to be more like oil tankers – setting a course, going forward and pushing aside anything which gets in their way, including the customer feelings and wants.
Be the duck.
One of the various techniques for web site promotion that people talk about in blogs and podcasts is self promotion through content. This includes blog posts, forum discussions, and electronic value add documents. Documents can be cut down specifications, guides (Top 50 reasons why….), reviews, and other type of document which promotes you as a subject matter expert. And lets not forget, a document can act as a bait to prospect customers, providing enough information to gain their interest or start them on a path, but not enough to complete the journey – if you details are then at hand when they reach their limit, that’s where you step in.
But presenting the information and documents can be a tricky business. Some people say that you should provide a download link (after prompting the user for their contact details), and some say you should email them out again after capturing contact details.
However, I have found in the past that capturing contact details via web forms and pop-ups can be very hit or miss – with lots of gmail and hotmail email addresses registered, and names such as “kdsh” (random swipe of the keyboard). I prefer to just make the information generally available, in a somewhat protected form, but with my contact information included as the last page – this seems to build more trust, and for me, generates more interest than email addresses which are from throw away email services.
For presenting documents to a user, I would like to suggest the use of a new web presentation service – Issuu. Issuu is a free service, and allows you to present your documents in a nice page turn style as shown below (note the left and right arrows on the edges of the page to turn the pages). The example below is one of my HL7 health integration ADT specifications – but note the last page with my contact details.
Issuu allows you to do the small page turn view as shown below, or you can click on the document to zoom in, and change the way that the pages are displayed. It supports most file formats including PDF, word, graphic files etc. It also has a professional version (paid) which allows for more options for display, and integration.
I had the opportunity to sit in a sales presentation earlier in this week, but this time I was working as a consultant and was sitting at the table, having the presentation given to me (and a few other people). The presentation consisted of the usual powerpoint show, a brief demo and then a Question and Answer session.
At the end of the presentation, one of the senior managers sitting at the table asked the question “What are the benefits of your system?” The salesman giving the presentation paused, thought about the question, and then gave a 5 minute reply – which completely failed to answer the question.
What he said was “Oh, the system is written in the latest technology, it provides a full user guide, we provide full training as part of installation, etc etc etc blah blah blah”.
To be honest, it was a fairly impressive list. But it wasn’t a list of benefits – it was a list of features. Every product and service has features – but its hard for these to make a sale – it’s the benefits that make the sale.
Benefits should/would include: “The user guide means that the answers are always at hand and therefore will save you time, the latest technology is used so that the software will have a longer shelf life and thus will reduce your support costs, etc etc. “ Benefits answers the big question – what’s in it for me?!?
The salesman’s list of features, didn’t list a single benefit, and the team decided not to recommend purchasing the product.
It’s a lesson well learnt, and I will be sure to include the benefits of my services and products in my future pitches.
So what are the benefits of your products and services?
Whenever you approach the end of a large freelance project or the last couple of weeks of a contract, what do you do? Clear your desk? Make sure to get the invoice out? Organise the wrap up drinks? There is a trick you can use to generate more work (sometimes) from the customer. The trick is to generate a report.
When I come to the end of a project or a contract, I spend half a day creating a ‘wrap up’ report for the customer – a nice light report (typically 4 to 10 pages) which covers three areas:
- A summary of the work I have done for them in the project or contract – this reconfirms to them what great value I have been, reconfirms that they made the right choice to select me, and tells them how busy I have been
- A notes section – here I detail anything I have spotted which is not as good as it should be.
- A recommendation section – considerations for future improvements
Now the trick is to make the notes and recommendations section not too scathing. You don’t want to point out to the person who has hired you how bad their processes are or why their department sucks. However, what you do want to do is bring to their attention areas which they may not be aware of, and (this is the most important part) recommendations for improvement on some (not all) of the areas noted and how you would deal with the issues.
A lot of managers live by the principle “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”, and that is what the report is for – to say in a gentle way “oh, I noticed that your process for xxxxxxxxxxxx is causing problems, if you yyyyyyyyyyyyyy this will stop this problems occurring”. Of course, by branding the report with your personal or company details, who will be the first person they ask when they want to action on some or all of the areas documented?
The best bit is that if you cost this report into the project costs (hidden of course) or produce the report on their contract time, they are paying you to perform the analysis and advertise your follow up services.
As an example, of this, one of the gentle ways I documented and recommended a solution which I was then asked to develop is as follows (note, this intended to be fluffy, and not too critical but highlight an area of concern):
As part of the day to day standing data reference, it was noted that the operators need to adjust data into the SQL Server database using SQL Enterprise Manager. Whilst this is an effective and efficient method of amending the reference data, it may be worth considering that this also could lead to accidental deletion of data, tables or amendment to table structures. I would suggest a better method would be to develop a browser based data correction routine, which would allow the same functions to add and amend data onto the SQL database, but would provide audit and change control, whilst at the same time restricting access to the database to ensure that mistakes are minimised. This would also have the advantage of….
Over the last year, I have worked at a number of different customer locations, and I have seen them all having a moan about contractors, freelancers, and companies that provide them services. All of the complaints have been about one thing – communication.
Some have been complaining about too much communication of the wrong type – status reports that come in every day and reflect an incorrect view, too many sales messages (spam), and other junk communication.
But at the same time, I have seen complaints about too little communication regarding status of projects, developments and areas that the customers are concerned with.
From my personal point of view, communication (of the right type) is the most important part of any project – communication gives reassurance that things are going well, stops problems or issues vanishing into a black hole (which all customers hate) and gives feedback if there are any bumps that are in the future. Communication stops surprises, and makes sure that everybody has the information they need in order to complete the project.
As a side note, communication is the foundation of all good and strong personal relationships.
So how good is your communication skills, and what do you need in order to improve things?