Archive for the ‘Client management’ Category

7 terrible secrets revealed by your email address (and how to fix them)

When it comes to your personal and business brand, your professional email address may be undoing all your hard work. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of email addresses – and I’ve had a chance to make observations through the eyes of hiring manager, consultant, client, volunteer and colleague.

Your email address brands you, even when you’re not working

If you want to be professional, you have to think about how your email address represents you. Even if you’re merely using your email address for personal reasons, it’s likely that many members of your business network see your personal address. That’s because everyone you contact becomes a member of your network:
  • Store owner who runs the mailing list for specials
  • Yoga instructor who sends you a mailer on upcoming classes
  • Meetup group you joined and never managed to attend
  • Parent class rep at your kids’ school – and  everyone on the shared contact sheet
  • Dating site people you saw once
  • Parent you met at the park and decided to join for coffee, since you both work in the same industry
  • Friend you met at fitness class, who knows about how to set up that thing on the computer
  • Guy you met at the charity event, who mentioned he could send you a discount code for an event at the art gallery
Most of those people may not profile as “business” or “professional” contacts, per se, but they’re part of your network and thus your professional life. In fact, even if you’re on mat leave, still in college, backpacking, vacationing, parenting, socializing or otherwise wearing your “non-career” hat, the contact you make may influence your future career and business. It’s all marketing and networking.

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7 terrible secrets revealed by common email address mistakes

These common email address mistakes can mar your reputation:
  1. Too flirty. You’ve got some flirty, cutesy or otherwise goofy email address, leftover from college, your Internet dating days or a drunken moment at Gmail - hotsexythang@domainname.com and coolseattleguy@madeupdomain.com.
  2. Shared with your life partner, meaning you have no separate identity, control issues, a domineering partner, computer skills too weak to manage your own account or some other “issue” people dream up – robandjulie@mytownslocalISP.com.
  3. Too generic. You put a date in your address to set you apart – jane2007@gmail.com.
  4. Make you look less than brilliant. Unless you’re flickr, a modified spelling looks like you either created your address in desperation or that you can’t spell – consltnt@gmail.com or propaytner@hotmail.com.
  5. Nonsensical. youcanseetheanswer@gmail.com or rotememoryrobots@yahoo.com.
  6. Unbranded. If you have a business or a professional career, it’s a mistake to use a generic email account, such as Hotmail or Yahoo – newyorkfloriststore@yahoo.com or rsmith.consultant@hotmail.com.
  7. Spam filter nightmare. Many email filters are set up to look for numbers, underscores, and superlative adjectives. Even if you can handle the branding issues, your email may end up in the junk mail bin – angela_coopersmith1980@gmail.com.  

5 remedies for common email address mistakes

Relax – there are several solutions for typical email address mistakes:

  1. Get your own email account, if you’re sharing one. Your ISP and gmail offer a variety of options. Click here for my preferred provider – I’m an affiliate
  2. Change the name of your existing email account. Your ISP may help you. Or you can easily set up a new Gmail account.
  3. Set up additional profiles if you use Microsoft Outlook.
  4. Forward all your email to the account you check most, if you don’t know how to set up more than one profile on Outlook or your smartphone.
  5. Purchase a domain name and set up an email address to match. You can do this even if you do not run your own business. Consider jane@realestatemagic.com or dsmith@atlantabanker.com, for example. Click here for my preferred provider – I’m an affiliate.

It gets even worse

I wrote this article on common email address mistakes because of a random discovery on LinkedIn. For years, I’ve recoiled in mock horror upon seeing women sharing their husband’s email addresses. But then I saw something that shocked me even more. For whatever reason, it seemed even worse than the usual email address mistakes. I saw a husband and wife sharing a single LinkedIn account. It made no sense to me. Why would you share a career profile on a virtual resume site? It boggles my mind. But more on LinkedIn (and Twitter) later.
What deadly email address mistakes have you spotted? What tips do you have?
 Note: all email address given are fictitious and were generated for the purposes of this article. No connection to a real living or dead person or existing or closed business is made or implied. Any connection is purely coincidental.

 

Turning around toxic client situations

Turning around toxic client situations is sometimes necessary. Turning around toxic client situations for the better may be your only option, especially if your client isn’t quite toxic enough to be fired completely. Turning around toxic client situations may seem difficult–and sometimes even impossible. But your success depends heavily on your attitude, which you can control.

Turning around toxic client situations requires a mind shift. It can be helpful to tell yourself that it’s a game. Your client may be toxic, but your challenge is to detoxify the situation–without compromising your values. So how do you get started turning around toxic client situations?

Most negative situations between yourself and your client can be pinpointed to miscommunication and differing expectations. Quite frequently a basic reset can be helpful. Touch base with your client regarding where you are in the project cycle and what your client’s expectations are from this point on. Ask your client how he or she would like to communicate and what format he or she wishes to receive updates from you.

If possible, go a little deeper and mention that you’re reevaluating some of your business procedures and solicit feedback on what would make the client’s experience better . Again, your attitude is key here. If you can park your feelings toward the client and focus on being open to receiving feedback, you may be surprised at what you’ll learn.

Turning around toxic client situations can be difficult, but it can also be illuminating and rewarding. Every toxic client situation that you can resolve increases your client management and interpersonal skills.

Of course, turning around toxic client situations may not be an option if your client is rude, demeaning, or otherwise behaving unacceptably. If this is the case, consider terminating the relationship immediately regardless of project completion. You may have to take a financial hit, but your values will be intact.

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Identifying toxic clients

Identifying toxic clients is a valuable skill. Toxic clients are rarely worth the money because they can sap your energy, time and patience. Frequently, it’s possible to identify early warning signs, but we don’t act on them and tend to continue working with the client anyway. But over the long-term most of us wish we’d trusted our initial instincts and avoided working with the toxic client in the first place.

So how do you know when you are faced with a toxic client? Here are top warning signs that can help you start identifying toxic clients:

  • Unreasonable expectations - Crazy deadlines? Out of touch with own business model? Terrible product/offer and expecting high returns?
  • How you feel when you’re together - Does your client make you feel devalued, disrespected, expendable?
  • Your client’s industry – Does your client’s industry contradict your value system?
  • Something doesn’t add up - Something doesn’t feel right? Got a bad feeling? Trust your instincts.

The best thing to do when faced with warning signs that you’ve got a toxic client on your hands is to trust your intuition and sever the relationship as soon as possible–preferably before any work has been done or any contracts have been signed. Listen to your gut feeling, especially during the first contact between you and your client.

However, if you’re already committed to a project, you’ve got an obligation to deliver. That being said, sometimes enough is enough, especially if the client is truly toxic (as compared to simply being annoying). Stay true to your values. Remain professional at all times and never sink down to a toxic level yourself–otherwise your toxic client may be thinking of you as a toxic consultant!

Identifying toxic clients is key, and turning down work from toxic clients is a good idea.

However, it’s also important to take some personal responsibility if and when client relationships go sour. Yes, toxic clients do exist. But quite often there are mistakes made on both sides. Many problems between consultants and clients can be boiled down to communication and expectations. So trust your instincts when something doesn’t add up, but do your best to set clear expectations and provide clear communication to avoid as many problems as possible.

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Who cares what they say anyway?

Are you paralyzed by what other people think? Are you afraid of being seen as a failure? Are you unable to live your dreams because of fear of criticism or because you’re afraid of what other people might think? We might not like to admit it, but we’ve all got fears.

Fear is one of the primary reasons that people keep on doing what they’ve always done. Change is difficult. Change is scary. But change is also what is going to move you into new areas of your life. Without change, you won’t climb higher than you already are.

Don’t wait for opportunities to fall into your lap, because they rarely do. Rather, you’ve got to make your own opportunities and design your own future – regardless of what other people think.

If you’ve got a desire to give power to the entrepreneur within but are worried about what other people will think, stop worrying right now. Who cares what "they’ say? Whether you’re concerned about what your parents, coworkers or friends might think, the most important opinion that you should be giving credence to is your own.

Of course, we all want support from those closest to us, like our spouses. But if there are relatively insignificant people in your life who don’t support your efforts, ask yourself how much value you should put on the opinions of people who may not have your best interest in mind.

Seek support from those closest to you and gain confidence in your own goals by arming yourself with valid information and by connecting to others who are already achieving success in similar areas.

And after all, who cares what "they" say anyway? At the end of the day it’s what you really think about your own life that matters.

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Should you take every job?

Should you take every job? It’s a question that most new consultants are faced with at some point in their consulting career.

Determining whether you should take every job is not an easy task, especially when you’re new and you’d like to beef up your portfolio–and your bank account. But, trust me, you should not take every job that comes your way.

As a consultant, you’re a specialist. You could specialize in almost any niche: environmental consulting, grant writing or pre-natal fitness. Indeed, your specialization is the key to being viewed as an expert in your industry. If you take every job that comes your way, you’ll be undermining your reputation as an expert.

So when you’re wondering whether you should take every job, the answer is generally no. Consider whether the project will increase your expertise and take you into the direction you want to go. If not, don’t take the job. In addition, if you get a bad feeling about your client and the project, trust your instinct. Clients that seem demanding or unreasonable from the get go generally are.

Instead of making some quick cash on a project that’s not suited to you, use that time to build your expert status and promote yourself to your target clients in your niche. If you’re finding that you need the extra work because of your finances, consider increasing your rates instead. Don’t take every job that lands at your feet. Remember, you’re a specialist!

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Sample consulting estimate

Sample consulting estimates are hard to come by. New consultants often have little experience with setting consulting fee rates or they aren’t sure what to include in a project estimate. Setting your rate and accurately estimating what is involved in a project are crucial to consultant success. As a result, I’ve decided to include this sample consulting estimate to help new consultants.

Let’s start with the easy part. Similar to my sample consulting invoice, include the basics:

ESTIMATE
Name / Company Name
Address
Phone
Fax
Email
Web
US Federal Tax Payer ID (Business Number in Canada)

Date
Estimate number

CLIENT’S DETAILS
Contact
Company Name
Phone
Email

Next comes the most important part: what to include and exclude from your project estimate.

Billing by the hour

Billing by the hour is relatively straightforward once you understand how much to charge. For example, in your estimate you could state that Project XYZ may take approximately 100 hours and you’ll be billing hourly for your work.

If billing by the hour, most clients would like to see a maximum number of hours outlined in the estimate. For example, " Project XYZ will be billed hourly at a rate of $80 per hour up to a maximum of 200 hours."

Per project estimates

Many experienced consultants bill by the project, and, for the most part, I do too. Most clients prefer per-project rates because they know what to expect.

For example, in your estimate you could state that Project XYZ will cost $3100, plus applicable taxes. If it’s a large project, it may be helpful to both you and the client to break down the project cost into sub-sections so that the client can see how you’ve arrived at the total cost.

When billing per project, it is crucial that you outline what is and what is not included in the project. When possible, be sure to outline the project parameters in the estimate or in the contract (yes, you need a contract!).

If, as an IT consultant, your estimate and contract simply state, "I will fix your computer for $1000," this project is open to interpretation, which can lead to problems.

To you, the consultant,  "fixing" the computer may mean diagnosing a problem and recommending a solution. However, to the client "fixing" the computer may mean diagnosing the problem, recommending a solution and providing all of the required hardware or software required to implement the solution. This dispute over who is paying for the hardware or software could have been avoided by a clear estimate and contract.

Detailed estimates and contracts are one of the simplest ways to avoid miscommunication about what is and is not included in the project. Take the time to write detailed estimates and contracts. Not only will they increase your perceived professionalism, but they will protect you and your consulting business.

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The core of relationships

There’s no denying that businesses are built on relationships. And the core of relationships is trust. In essence, trust is an understanding that both parties can rely on one another to achieve a shared goal. There is no relationship without trust, and successful business can’t exist without relationships.

How to establish credibility in the business world

Trust isn’t built between you and your client overnight, but you can take steps to get a jumpstart on credibility. Make it easier for your client to trust in you and your business:

How to build trust in the business world

Once a prospect becomes your client, it’s integral to continue building trust. Here are some key ways to continue building trust in business relationships:

  • Always make business decisions with trust in mind.
  • Never make promises that you can’t keep.
  • Understand your client’s objectives and recommend the best options (even if the options aren’t in your company’s best interest).
  • Stand by your promises.
  • Communicate openly.
  • Admit your mistakes.
  • Share information about yourself and your company.
  • Listen.
  • Be consistent.

When working with clients, always remember that relationships are key and that trust is the the core of relationships. If you do this, you’ll be sure to keep your clients happy, which will lead to word of mouth referrals. This is the business relationship circle of trust.

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Business relationships are still relationships

Business relationships are still relationships, no matter which way you look at them. In order to be successful in business you’ll need to foster strong relationships with clients, vendors, buyers, staff, or distributors. It’s not surprising, then, that business relationships require much consideration, including client generation and customer relationship management  strategies.

But many business owners make the mistake of treating business relationships markedly different than personal relationships. Are business relationships really that different from friendships? No, they’re not.

Most consultants strive toward turning one-off clients into lasting client relationships. When this happens, you’ll get to know more and more about your client’s business and personal life, and vice versa. This can strengthen the bond between you and your client, increase customer loyalty and it can make for a more satisfying, efficient and productive business relationship.

Trust is integral to business relationships. Without trust, there is no relationship. Respect for the nature of the relationship is equally important. Over time the lines between business and personal relationships can become blurry as your relationship develops. If both parties trust one another and respect the nature of the relationship, the relationship can blossom into a productive, profitable and pleasurable business experience.

Some new entrepreneurs wonder where to draw the line with how much information to share with their clients. As with friendships, every relationship is different and only you can make that determination. As long as the relationship is based on trust, respect and a mutual understanding about the nature of the relationship, the relationship may take on a life of its one. After all, business relationships are still relationships, no matter which way you look at them.

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Can you befriend competitors?

When you hear the word "competitor", do you get all warm and fuzzy inside? I didn’t think so. In business and in life, our competitors are the people who contest with us for resources. Most of us have been taught to see competitors as "bad guys".

You don’t have to see all your competitors as bad guys, though. Over the years, my "competitors" have been a help to me:

  • They have graciously accepted my overflow
  • They have taken on clients who were not a fit for me
  • They have hired me to do work for them
  • They have invited me to take part in joint ventures
  • They have collabored with me on projects
  • They have accepted leads from my business when my personal circumstances (such as a whiplash injury) otherwise left my leads flapping in the wind
  • They have mentioned my company — and linked to my website — on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites

Really, though, I don’t think of most of those "competitors" as "competitors". I think of them as "peers". They’re my company’s professional rivals — heck, they’re my professional rivals. They’re the businesses that push my company to work harder, faster, smarter, better. They’re the people and businesses who make my industry great.

The bad guys? Those are the people who try to cheat customers. But even those companies aren’t my competitors — because I’m not competing on offer with the kinds of companies that are set up to rip people off.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I ignore my competitors or that I tell them my business secrets. I’m a professional rival, but I’m not stupid!

How do you feel about your competitors?

How to turn one-off jobs into lasting client relationships

How to turn one-off jobs into lasting client relationships is easier than you think. Turning one-off jobs into lasting relationships is, well, all about relationships.

You’ve probably heard that it’s easier to turn an existing customer into a repeat customer than it is to convert someone who has never bought from you before. Although true, many consultants focus their marketing and networking efforts on new contacts and they forget about their best source of new work–their previous clients.

Turning a one-off job into a lasting client relationship should be your goal from the get-go. Always approach your work with this in mind and you’re off to a great start. This also assumes that, when possible, you’re working with clients that are a good fit.

Of course, on occasion some business relationships are not meant to turn into lasting relationships and that’s okay. But if you’ve been pleased with the way a project went and you’d look forward to working with that client again, then it makes sense to invest time and attention into fostering the relationship.

A few tips:

  • Send thank you or holiday cards;
  • Touch base via email every so often;
  • Let them know that you value their business and that you’d like to work together again;
  • Express a genuine interest in their life and successes;
  • Listen to what they have to say;
  • Focus on the relationship, not on selling.

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