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 ________________________.

Talking about prices with clients

Red Cash TagI am a big proponent of pricing by the project rather than by the hour; to me, it’s a no-brainer that both my client and I are better off if we focus on outcome rather than the amount of activity required. But what do you do if a prospective client insists on talking about your hourly rate at the beginning of a conversation?

Here’s where I pause and take a deeeeep breath. I never want to talk about the price of anything until I have already demonstrated in my conversation that my goal is to enable my client to accomplish his/her goal. If I lead with a money discussion, I will always be thought of in terms of expense rather than value.If, instead, I guide the conversation back to what my client’s ultimate goals are, then I am seen as an ally who is focused on outcome.

When I get a persistent prospect who wants to talk about prices right away, my response directs the conversation back to the client: “My rule is to never talk about a budget until I understand what your end goal is. Can you tell me a little more about this project?” And if I’m really pushed, I will fall back on “My projects range in price from $500 to $50,000; where do most of your similar projects fall in that spectrum?”

Note that it’s very difficult to have this kind of conversation in email and I recommend against it, even if that means waking up at 3am to call a client half way around the world so that you can talk live. You cannot have a conversation that demonstrates your commitment to your client’s outcome if (1) you can’t make yourself available at your client’s convenience or (2) your client is not willing to engage you in a conversation.

When your clients see you as their partner rather than just an invoice waiting to happen, you are able to explore how you can solve your clients’ problems even more fully, creatively and effectively.