The absolutely best reason to call a client

Antique telephoneI was chatting with a colleague the other day, who was concerned that she had not heard from a client in a while and she was starting to imagine all the worst possible outcomes. “The client hates me. He’s found someone else with lower rates. I made a horrible mistake and he hasn’t told me.” Blah blah blah… I know; we have all been down that road.

She decided that she would focus her attention on updating her web site to reflect a new aspect of her business. I suggested she call a few clients and ask them to tell her how they describe her to their colleagues, on the assumption that those would be effective words and phrases to use in her web site.

Then the lightbulb went on — what a great reason to call the Silent Client! She called him and left a message that she was updating her web site and would like to chat for a few minutes to find out how he has described her to his business partners. He was happy to talk, and she got some compelling phrases she will work into her marketing material.

But the real payoff was that the client then mentioned the delay in sending her the expected project, explained that they were in the process of landing a big contract themselves  and would be back to needing her services by the end of the month. Now she knew she could expect more work from this client soon, and she had some new ideas on how to describe her value to prospective clients.

This Call Waitingis a great reason to reach out to a client you have not heard from in a while, a prospect you think could be ready to use your services, or a colleague with whom you expect to share referrals and subcontracting. And yes, it requires that you pick up the phone; email completely misses the point of the contact, which is to engage the person in a conversation and find out their current situation and concerns. You will probably get sent to voice mail, so write out a short, friendly message like this:

I’m reviewing my marketing material and reaching out to some of my clients/colleagues to find out how they describe me to a colleague. I would love to chat with you for a few minutes to get your thoughts. I’ll be around all day today; feel free to give me a call at …”

Every conversation you have will give you useful information, and you get a great reason to invite someone to think about when to call you. It also helps you self-correct if you hear people describing you in ways that do not highlight your value. If the feedback you hear does not reflect how you would like to be seen, this is a good opportunity to update (not correct or argue with!) your contact on the additional ways you have worked with similar clients. Be sure to remove descriptions from your marketing material and web content that downplay the value of what you do, based on the feedback you get.

You may also learn that your clients and colleagues see you more expansively than you do. If your stomach clenches when you realize how you are seen, you know you are on to something useful. Check out my thoughts on the Imposter Syndrome, extracted from The Reluctant Entrepreneur: Making a Living Doing What You Love.

How CEOs negotiate – with a hug

coupleToday’s Wall Street Journal had a thought-provoking article about “How Steve Ballmer Became a Rookie Basketball Mogul” in which we learn that even CEOs get nervous when they are preparing to meet NBA superstar players for dinner. (And they binge-watch to relieve stress just like the rest of us.)

More interesting is how he negotiated the purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers from Shelly Sterling after her odious estranged husband was forced to sell the team. Rather than have his people call her people, he arranged for mutual friend and former Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner to call Ms. Sterling to vouch for him. During their meeting a couple of days later, Ballmer dropped his prepared pitch and instead focused on reassuring Sterling that he wouldn’t move the team to Seattle and that he was committed to seeing the Clippers win a championship. Ballmer knew that this negotiation was between two people, not two faceless corporations. He was competing against Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen and Larry Ellison, so clearly Shelly Sterling’s decision would come down to more than just money.

And the best part of the story is how he handled Ms. Sterling’s counterproposal to his $1.75 billion offer for the team. She raised the price to $2 billion, and asked for courtside seats, parking spaces and the title of “owner emeritus.” Mr. Ballmer agreed and threw in the title of “Clippers #1 Fan.” This man is brilliant. He understood what the other party wanted and valued, and he knew how important it was to respect, address and meet the other party’s underlying concerns. And when they signed the deal, Steve Ballmer and Shelly Sterling hugged.

You may not actually hug the person you’re negotiating with, but can you find where you can add a “Clippers #1 Fan” title?

What does authentic marketing look like?

shoutingAsk 10 entrepreneurs for the least favorite aspect of their job, and 9.5 of them will say “marketing.” We’re one-person businesses, so it can feel like shameless self-promotion when we talk about who we are and what we offer. I recently ran across several items that discuss ways to show your stuff in ways that feel authentic.

First is a post in LinkedIn, How to Respond to a HARO Query (HARO = Help A Reporter Out, a tremendous, free online tool that enables reporters and media outlets to post requests for experts in anything from trends in the natural foods industry to advice for new parents of triplets) HARO is an effective way to pitch your unique story to a reporter, but remember that you’re probably one of many responses a reporter receives. This post, written by a reporter who uses HARO, has tips for ensuring that your pitch will be as reporter-friendly as possible. I love HARO because it’s really the antithesis of marketing–I am just helping a reporter gather information and insights.

Next is a post from the always-useful LifeHacker blog, Five Things I Learned About Self-Promotion (Without Being a Spambot). The author shares most reluctant entrepreneurs’ feeling about marketing–“it feels gross and shameful”. Her advice resonates with me, as her focus is on being authentic, sharing rather than selling, and facing the ever-present Imposter Syndrome.

Another LifeHacker blog post from 2012, How to Promote Yourself (Without Being Sleazy), describes the approach of developing relationships rather than just prospects, with tips that I don’t usually see, such as know when to give up and stop pestering a contact. None of the tips are rocket surgery, but the post is clear and concise, and focused on showing your passion and talent.

And finally, a recent blog post from LexisNexis’ Business of Law blog, Get New Clients Without Being Pushy. IMO, most lawyers are reluctant entrepreneurs, and the legal industry is just now acknowledging that law firms must market themselves and their value. This blog post offers a simple way of crafting your elevator pitch by focusing on your value rather than on what you do. (Hmmmm, that sounds familiar…)

 

How to be a better listener

listenToday’s Wall Street Journal has a great piece on how to be a better listener. While it’s useful in any conversational setting, it is particularly valuable when you are approaching a negotiation with a client.

Before a negotiation, for example, you should:

  • do a brain dump of pending work so you can pick it up later (so your mind is clear)
  • make a list of questions and topics you want to cover (This enables you to fully listen to the other person, rather than constantly thinking of what you want to say next.)
  • set an intention to talk 25% and listen 75% (yes, really!)
  • drop your assumptions of what the other person will say and just listen

 

Burn your business plan

Burning paperI’ve never been a big fan of formal business plans. Often, they don’t embed enough flexibility for the entrepreneur to pivot, based on new experience and a changing competitive environment. (Marketing plans, on the other hand, are essential tools in managing and prioritizing an entrepreneur’s valuable time.)

What I have found to be more useful for people who are just starting their business is to ask themselves the questions. Note that there are no right or wrong answers; what’s important is getting a clear picture of who your clients are and how you amaze and astound them.

* Why are you starting a business? What appeals to you the most about being an entrepreneur? What the least?

* Describe what gives you enormous satisfaction professionally. Is it passing along a great insight to a client? Writing a report that you’re really proud of? Having a client tell you how you saved their butt? Describe the most gratifying source of professional satisfaction for you.

* Describe how you picture an ideal day in your new business. What kind of work will you be doing? Imagine the ideal client to work with and describe that client.

* What 3 things scare you the most about starting and running a successful business?

* What 3 things do you dread the most about starting or running a business?

* How are you going to fund your first 6 months of business? (This includes your start-up expenses and overhead.) Are you planning to pay yourself a salary for your first 6 months in business? If so, how soon do you expect to be bringing in enough revenue to start paying yourself a salary?

* How do you plan on creating word of mouth marketing? How will you tangibly demonstrate to prospective clients that you are the person they desperately need?

* Describe one of your client groups.
o What are their job titles?
o How will they initially hear about you?
o What services or products will you provide to them?
o Why will they highly value these products or services, and be willing to pay your regular hourly rate?
o How often do you expect them to use your services?
o How much do you expect an average project to cost? [and how did you arrive at this number?]
o How much does this client group overlap with your other client groups?

* Describe another of your client groups.
o What are their job titles?
o How will they initially hear about you?
o What services or products will you provide to them?
o Why will they highly value these products or services, and be willing to pay your regular hourly rate?
o How often do you expect them to use your services?
o How much do you expect an average project to cost? [and how did you arrive at this number?]
o How much does this client group overlap with your other client groups?

* Describe one more of your client groups.
o What are their job titles?
o How will they initially hear about you?
o What services or products will you provide to them?
o Why will they highly value these products or services, and be willing to pay your regular hourly rate?
o How often do you expect them to use your services?
o How much do you expect an average project to cost? [and how did you arrive at this number?]
o How much does this client group overlap with your other client groups?

* What is your official launch date? This is when you officially consider yourself running a business. On this day, you will send out all your personal letters to your contacts, telling them about your new business. You will announce your business on social media. You will send out a press release. You will officially be In Business. What’s the date?

* How will you decide whether this is a going business or not? Fill in these blanks:

If, by {this date} I have not {started paying myself a salary/have X clients/whatever your criteria are}, then I will {close my business? conduct an all-day retreat to re-think all aspects of my business? revise my business and marketing plans and set a new course?}.

If, by _____________________ I have not _________________________, then I will ________________________.