Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Not To Do When Following Up With Clients

Once in a while, it’s really good to be on the other side of a business deal. It gives you a different perspective and a look at how you should, or should not, deal with your clients.

We had some work to do on our house. After years of contemplation, yes, years, we finally decided to get some estimates.

My husband went to a home show and met two potential contractors.

The first pulled out his appointment book and scheduled a date for an estimate. The second took our number and said he would call to schedule the estimate.

The day of the scheduled estimate, we had a family emergency. I called to cancel the estimate and told the contractor one of us would call to reschedule. The next week, my husband called and rescheduled. Unfortunately, without so much as a phone call, this contractor never showed up for the estimate. As my daughters said, we were stood up. We never heard from him.

The second contractor called and a date for an estimate was scheduled. He showed up at the appointed time. It took about a week but he called and then dropped off the estimate in person.

In the mean time, my husband met the friend of a contractor we had heard of before. We had his name tacked up on the bulletin board in the kitchen but didn’t have his phone number. Now, with the information we needed, we contacted him for an estimate. He, too, came at the appointed time. He said he would fax the estimate to us in a few days. After waiting a week and a half and not receiving the faxed estimate, we contacted the second contractor and awarded him the job.

Just this morning, over 2 weeks later, the third contractor called to ask if we had received the fax. I said no and asked him when he sent it. He told me it was sent almost two weeks ago. When he asked if he could have the number again, so he could send the estimate, I told him we had already awarded it to another contractor and were half way through the project.

It immediately struck me that, if he had called to make sure the fax went through, he may have gotten the job.

Follow up is so important.

In re-reading a section of The Wealthy Freelancer by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage and Ed Gandia, I found the suggestion to follow-up with a prospect the same day you send a proposal a bit brazen. However, after my experience with this home repair, I am rethinking this position.

Had I been the contractor who had not called to make sure the fax had been received, I would be kicking myself. He may have lost the job simply because he didn’t follow up!

Perhaps follow-up the-day-of is not such a bad idea. It just might net you a project otherwise lost.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Referrals from unlikely places

Every business needs referrals. They often come from satisfied customers raving to a colleague or friend about your service or product. The colleague may have a similar problem and they give you a call.

It's a great way to get new business.

Recently, I received a referral. It wasn't from a colleague. It wasn't from a friend. It was from my daughter. Wow!

Now, a referral coming from a family member isn't unique. What surprised me the most is, my daughter is 14 years old.

I work from home, so both my kids are aware of what I do. I just didn't know they were paying attention enough to spot a potential project and make a referral. But that's exactly what happened.

OK. As a mom, I sure am proud of her. But the point is, referrals can come from anywhere. Share what you do with others around you. You never know where your next referral will come from.

If you have had a referral source that surprised you, please share it below.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Preventative Website Testing

Back in my days as a programmer, our hardware techs used to use schedules for preventative maintenance on the computers. Each morning they would print out that day's list and proceed to test everything on it. As a programmer, we had similar routines that were performed regularly as a preventative measure.

When you are running a business, you have so many constraints on your time that you often put off tasks like this. But what did Grandma always say? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Even if you have a web person, it's always a good idea to have a good look at your own website. Doing so periodically will prevent many unnecessary problems and visitors will be assured a great experience.

So, here is a short checklist that I use to check my website, particularly after I have made changes to it.

1)  Be sure to test your website in as many browsers as possible. The main browsers of concern are Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Opera. Many come in versions for both PC and Mac. They can be downloaded for free.

Tip: Rely on friends, family and colleagues for a quick visual check of your website, particularly if they use a different platform or a browser version you don't have.

2)  Check all links. You certainly don't want a visitor to your site to find a broken link. Most times they will leave your site immediately.

Tip: If you have links to other websites, check them especially. The other site may change also, rendering your link to it broken.

3)  Thoroughly test your forms. Make sure required fields are noted.

Tip: Fill out your forms incorrectly or leave fields blank to see how the form breaks. Make note of what happens and what changes you will need to make.

4)  Test all navigation, including back links. Make sure every page has a link back to a main page on your site.

Tip: If you link to other websites, make sure the link opens in a new window. You want your visitors to always be able to get back to your site easily.

5)  Proof read. Check for typos, proper grammar, and proper word usage.

Tip: Consider having a colleague, friend or family member proof read your site. They are less familiar with the content and more likely to spot an error. If you can, find someone who has a skill for proof reading.

Yes, this will take some time to do. But it will be time well spent. Not only can your catch errors early but you will also familiarize yourself with your site. That will payoff when speaking with prospects.

For more web tips, download my article "Top 11 Web Layout Tips for an Effective Website". It's FREE.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Make Appointments with Yourself to Get More Done

In late May, I joined a Mastermind group with a few other designers. If you are unfamiliar, a Mastermind is a group of like-minded individuals that help each other move forward by holding each other accountable. The Mastermind itself is the invisible member that is created when the group brainstorms together - it is greater than the sum of it's parts.

To start off, we created our to-do lists and exchanged them with each other via email. We meet every other week on a conference call to discuss our successes, our roadblocks, and brainstorm areas of concern. All of us have seen an increased level of productivity since beginning our Mastermind.

Recently, one of the members shared an article with us that offered a simple yet extraordinary tip to increase productivity even more (John Forde - Copywriter's Roundtable #472). Take your to-do list to the next level by adding when and where you will do it.

For instance, I need to write blog posts more frequently. On my to-do list for September, I committed to writing two posts. This is definitely an improvement for me. It's a good goal. A better goal would be to write a blog post Wednesday, September 1st at 9:30 am at my desk in my office.

Can you see how this will be more productive? I may actually get the two blog posts written for September.

Perhaps I could set an appointment weekly and get four posts written. Hmmm. This could be a good thing!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bartering Revisited

Last year, I wrote a post about bartering (see Bartering Services, 8/24/09). At the time, I wondered if bartering was a viable option for my own business.

As I write this, I am negotiating just such an agreement with a client. We are, luckily, in a position to provide each other with services that our businesses need. Set up properly, this will be a win for both of us.

So, here are the items I am keeping in mind as we prepare the paperwork.

  • cost of services provided are the same for both of us - an equal trade
  • the services being provided benefit both of us
  • that we have consulted our respective accountants and lawyers to ensure proper documentation
I am excited by this new avenue for my business. While I can't do it frequently, as cash flow would suffer, I think bartering could have it's place.

How could bartering benefit your business?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Getting the Most Out of Your Business Card

Just the other day I had the opportunity to look at a large stack of business cards. They had been collected as entries for drawings at two events.

What people listed on their business cards varied greatly. Some had the absolute bare minimum such that I was unsure what they even did. Others used the back to list services or a host of social media urls.

These days it's tough finding room on a business card for all your contact information. I have been looking at my own business card and wondering where it will all fit.

I thought now was a good time to share with you what I am planning on adding and removing from my business card.

First, I plan on adding my blog, along with my Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter urls. I haven't used the back of my card so I have some prime real estate to make use of. I think I will add either my business pitch or a list of my services.

I am toying with the idea of removing my fax number from the front of my card. It seldom gets used and it would make more room for my social media urls.

So, what's on your business card?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tradition versus Designer Christmas Tree

Last night, I was sitting with the other moms in the warming room at the barn. Our daughters were either finishing or preparing for a horseback riding lesson.

Our conversation turned from riding to Christmas preparation. The decorations had just been put up around the barn, too. The stockings had been hung by the horses’ stalls and a tree was up and decorated in the warming room.

The tree had ornaments right down to the bottom branches. As one mom observed, you can always tell the homes that have children by how the Christmas tree is decorated. Homes with children have trees that have ornaments on the top half of the tree when the kids are little. As the kids get older, the tree becomes a clutter of home-made ornaments. However, trees in homes with no children are perfectly decorated. The ornaments match and are strategically placed, not clumped.

It reminded me of our tree growing up. Each year, my mother bought my brother and me each a new ornament. It was dated on the back in marker, so we could line them up chronologically and see Christmas through the years. Each one had a story to go along with it. When we moved out, we were given our box of ornaments, to decorate our own trees. I still have many of those ornaments.

I have kept the same tradition with my kids. I try to find ornaments that will remind them of places we have been or their current favorites, be it a movie, character, sport or pastime. This summer, we vacationed in the Adirondacks. So, this year’s ornaments were purchased at the Old Forge Hardware Store.

But I also remember the first time I saw a ‘perfect tree’. I was about ten years old. I had gone down the street to a friend’s house. Her parents entertained a lot and the house was decorated to appeal to guests, I suppose.

The tree had bows all over it. No ornaments. And the bows were blue! Yes, blue. I couldn’t get over it. It was so different than any tree I had ever seen. And yet … it was pretty. I was particularly drawn to its symmetry. All the bows were lined up perfectly. It was a work of art.

You may wonder why, after all these years, I still remember that tree. Well, I suppose it was a sneak peak of the designer in me.

You may also wonder how I can have one of those Christmas trees that so clearly defines a house with kids? Well, I do have kids. And it’s their time to decorate the tree. In fact, I let them do most of the decorating for Christmas. It may not be the way I’d do it but that’s just fine! Only too soon they will be off on their own, with their own trees and their box of ornaments.