Excerpted from the book on mindful business management, Business Black Belt
What have you done for your customers lately?
As your business picks up momentum, it also picks up problems and you get further away from your customers. If sales drop, you’re in trouble.
We always see a fall-off in sales and cash flow when we focus internally—only on ourselves—and neglect what we are supposed to be doing for our customers. This is easy to do when you are growing rapidly, developing a unique business, and inventing your structure as you go. If you keep your attention on internal details for too long, you risk going out of business. Unfortunately, you may think you need to focus even more on internal details as your business continues to falter, which tends to increase your attention internally. That makes matters even worse.
An unattended airplane will start a slight turn and eventually continue into a spiral dive. The most important component of getting out of this death spiral is to recognize your situation (head in the cockpit) and regain your focus on your core business (look outside).
Similarly, in Tae Kwon Do, when I think about what I’ll do next or what I look like, my opponent clobbers me. When I focus on my opponent, I stand a far better chance of winning. By the way, this internal/external focus has dramatic effects on us personally. Do you notice that you have the most problems when you are thinking about them? This happens only in your mind.
Try this on for size: Consider your personal problems. Dwell on them for a moment and swirl them around in your mind like you would swirl a fine wine in your mouth. Now, look up and focus your attention on something outside of you. A painting on the wall, someone walking by, things in the room—do you see that your problems vanish when you focus outside of yourself? Out here is where you can solve your problems, take real action, and make a real difference. My business really took off when I exchanged the energy (and anger) spent grinding on internal thoughts for that of constructive external action. You can look outside yourself at any time, first to ease your mind, then to do something about it.
Your business will not carry itself
The biggest lesson I learned from my college do-it-yourself used car lot business was that I had to promote it all the time. Many days I didn’t feel like it or I complained about the work I had to do. I would drive by a car with a ‘For Sale’ sign in its window and not make the effort to stop and attach my flier inviting the owner to bring the car to my lot. I figured I was spending a fortune on advertising and that should cover me. Since then I’ve discovered that for a business to really succeed, every moment of every day counts. Every single customer counts—you need all the business you can get. “God helps those who help themselves.” Besides, you never know who will turn into your biggest, most vocal success story. You never know who will be standing around at a party telling a dozen others about his or her experience with you.
We fired our ad agency
We were paying $5,500 per month for an advertising (“marketing communications!”) firm to help us with our marketing. The problem with paying a retainer is that now it is up to you to manage their activities to assure that you are getting your money’s worth. I recommend avoiding retainers for this very reason and letting vendors work for you on a project-by-project basis. This burdens them with hustling their next project in order to be paid.
For the amount of money we were paying the marketing firm, they should have personally reminded me of all the work they had done for us. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, but I wouldn’t bet my business on that. How often do you communicate with your clients, remind them that you are working for them, update them on your progress as slow it sometimes may be? All I want to know is that progress on my behalf is being made. Send news clippings and other things in the mail, fax notes, ideas, loose thoughts for consideration, call from your car and leave messages after hours on the voice-mail system. All these things accumulate in your client’s mind and add up to an impression that you are on the job. Because if you’re not, a zillion (at least probably three) competitors are trying to get your account. Who can you call right now?
Even your invoices should sell
Even though your customer has already bought your product or service, they must be reminded to pay you. What you give them to remind them to pay you should remind them of what you did that was so wonderful to deserve immediate payment. You never know what mood a person may be in when they open your invoice. They usually get the invoice some time after the job was done and have mentally moved on to another problem. Now, your invoice shows up and can either remind them of what great things you did that were worth the money, or your invoice may start them wondering if you were worth it. (Goddamn! A thousand bucks?! For what?) You also want to get paid as soon as possible.
You can offer special terms like a 2% discount if they pay within 10 days, but I rarely see anyone take it. I’m ecstatic to get paid between 45 and 60 days. If the time goes longer, I think maybe the customer lost sight of the value I provided. And, if you are in a service business, you’ll want them to pay you as well as call you back to do more work.
The deal is done when their check clears your bank.
Itemize everything your customer got
Maybe you don’t want to itemize everything you did with the price for each because it may look like you are nickel-and-diming them to death, so list everything anyway, but put just one number with it. I explain what usually unseen items mean. Itemize the items or activities you threw in for free. Remind your customer that a lot went into the work you did for them. For example:
For salespeople to use at ABC tradeshow and for responses to inquiries.
- Concept Development $1,500
- Copywriting (cover letter, brochure & envelope) 2,500
- Illustrations (used my computer) NC
- Layout/Design & Desktop Publishing 1,200
- Order Form (I modified one I had on file) NC
- Photography (Image: Disk drive on granite slab) 800
- Model (my assistant) NC
- Mechanical Art 1,150
- Total $7,150
The same ad agency above, who we fired, would send invoices that simply stated a number:
A customer sent us a copy of an invoice he received from his lawyers for preparing his living trust. It looked something like this:
- Attorney A confer with Attorney B 1.5
- Meet with client 2.5
- Research .5
- Attorney A confer with Attorney B 1.1
- Attorney B confer with Attorney A 2.2
- Sub-Total $2,500.00
- Postage 5.65
- Copies 9.20
- Total $2,514.85
Miraculously, after about 30 to 40 line items of meetings, phone calls and conferences, the total legal fees worked out to exactly $2,500. And then there were extras like postage and copies! Why do you think the client went ballistic? In this case, itemizing backfires because it itemized in painful detail what the lawyers did, not what their client got. It would have been better if they had listed the various documents that were included and what the documents meant to their client. All of this could have been created from a boilerplate template usable over and over again with very little effort.
Don’t let yourself be written off
It’s very easy for a company (perhaps a client or customer of yours) to need to find ways to save money and go on a witch hunt looking for expenses to cut. In our case, our CFO, who got the marketing firm’s invoices, but was not involved in marketing, singled the above invoice out as a possibility for elimination in order to save money. Combine our lack of memory for what was done with the neglect mentioned above and you can probably see why we felt we could live without them. Don’t let this happen to you.
Business Black Belt Notes
- Remember to run your business while you work on it. (Fly the airplane.)
- Look outside.
- Focus on what you are doing for your customers more than on what you are doing for yourself.
- EVERY customer and potential customer counts.
- Check on your customers regularly—let them know you’re working for them.