Client management

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The Corona Virus for Small Businesses

Corona Virus

How should small business owners manage the corona virus, aka COVID-19? It’s a question on the minds of many entrepreneurs, as Fortune 500 companies announce new protocols for travel, meetings and even use of coffee cups. At Consultant Journal, we know many entrepreneurs, small business owners and consultants wonder about the business impact.

Refer to the CDC, WHO, your local health authority or another reliable, science-based source for health information. Their recommendations should inform your decisions. Keep in mind that recommendations may change. In the meantime, based on current information, you can take the following steps:

Managing Employees

  • If you have employees, you’ll want to review the steps you take to make sure they are safe from illness.
  • Wipe down and clean surfaces frequently
  • Encourage workers to stay home or leave work if they have symptoms noted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Instruct workers to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues, elbows or shoulders, not their hands
  • Encourage frequently soap and water handwashing for 20 seconds or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Make sure staff have access to well-stocked washing facilities
  • Encourage waving or nodding for greetings
  • Consider whether racism or profiling may be affecting your employees and review HR protocols to help provide emotional and work support

Client Engagement

If your business meets with clients in person, you may want to look at your policies and processes to help keep clients and yourself healthy. Think about what’s actually needed for your sales and marketing:

  • Wave or nod instead of shaking hands
  • Keep washrooms well-stocked with paper towels and soap
  • Bring along hand-sanitizing hand wipes or cleanser, if access to washing facilities is difficult
  • Consider which appointments must be made in person, whether trips are necessary and how you can make better use of teleconferencing and web meetings
  • Offer flexibility for cancellations related to health, review your fees and pricing around cancellations for illness and suggest tech tools for managing communication as needed
  • As with employees, check that racism and profiling are not affecting your work and look for opportunities to improve engagement, diversity and human rights
  • Update your website, social or client communication to let people know how you’re managing health and what options you are offering
  • Make sure you have two-way communication options for clients.

Business Process Review

From a business point of view, you may also need to take precautions:

  • Look through your HR policies, including paid time-off, sick leave, caregiver, short-term disability benefits and policies. Look for opportunities to offer work from home, make-up shifts, sick days, leave or other flexible conditions that promote health and wellness
  • Review internal and external communication policies and protocols. If there is a shut down, how will you inform staff and stakeholders, for example?
  • Do trial runs and document practices for using telemeetings, including teleconferences and web meetings. You may be already doing these, but sometimes employees, contractors and clients may be new to the experience.

Business continuity

  • Prepare your company for the possibility of a shut-down. Review what you would need to do to maintain inventory, reserves and contract fulfillment.
  • Take some time to review your childcare and family caregiver situation; encourage employees to look into options too, including working from home
  • Take a look at your cash flow and what a change to sales or staffing could do. Consider arranging financing ahead of time, as part of business continuity preparations
  • If you haven’t already, you may want to look into business continuity plans and insurance
  • Look for opportunities to automate business processes to minimize disruptions and make sure any credit cards, lines of credit and other investment tools are up to date. Some tools you may find helpful include Zoom, Slack, Google Docs, Trello
  • As with employees and clients, review whether racism and profiling may affect your business or those around you. Look for ways to address issues, provide better support and be a better member of the business community
  • You’ll also want to stay up to date on news around the virus. Be reasonable and make sure you’re using reliable news sources. The CDC and your local health authority are likely good options.

While COVID-19 may impact your business or your personal life, this situation also presents a good opportunity to modernize and automate your business and determine where you can create the most success with personal contact. You may actually find some of the steps improve your workflow, customer engagement, employee retention and other important performance indicators.

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Are you friends with your clients and vendors?

I’m a people person. I like people. And I like talking. I don’t like being fake, though, so I tend to be straight up with people. As a result, I find that I connect with a lot of people. Because I run a business, this means that some of my clients and vendors have become close friends over the years. In turn, many of my friends seek me out as a supplier.

I grew up in a small town and so it seems completely normal to have such blurry boundaries in my life. In a community, people do business with people they trust. If you trust someone, it makes sense that you might sometimes see a friendship emerge. And, if you have friends who need business services, you may sometimes find yourself in a business relationship with those friends. Sure, it makes for some complicated dealings, but it means that there’s some authenticity to the business relationships you have. Why would you treat your clients and vendors any differently than the other people in your life? Trust is at the core of any relationship, whether it’s business or personal.

That being said, boundaries are important. If you do find yourself socializing with clients, service providers, suppliers or others, you may want to think about ways to keep the relationship feeling safe and sustainable. Often, working with written agreements for business can help keep things clear.

Are you friends with your clients or vendors?

Authentic ways to reduce client churn

Looking for authentic, meaningful ways to reduce client churn? Keeping existing clients from walking out the door should be top priority for any company. After all, you’ve worked hard to saw these clients to your vision and you’ve already invested in getting to know them. As long as there’s a fit, continuing to work with and grow existing clients should be a key focus. Unfortunately, clients something leave and managing client churn needs to be part of your overall strategy.

Credibility matters for client churn

Say you’ve got a big contract to fulfill and you can’t deliver on the promised date because something major has come up. If you already have trust and rapport with your client, they’ll be more likely to understand and work with you to solve problems.

That’s because your existing credibility actively works as “social currency”. That currency, combined with other business strategies and tools, can help you grow and sustain your business.

Reduce client churn by becoming the provider of choice

Be authentic from Day One

Deliver what you promise. If you want to build trust and credibility with clients, do what you say, when you say, and deliver what you say. You need to work to the contract terms and beyond and live up to your word. Embellisment, lies and half truths will catch up to you and do more damage than losing the client. A happy client may tell a few friends, but an angry client tells everyone.

Strive for transparency in working with everyone, no matter whether it’s a prospective client or a long-time friend. Be straightforward. Look for opportunities to genuinely help clients and seek to make meaningful connections with them.

Sweat the small stuff

Pay attention to little things that can throw a client relationship off track. Small irritations can grow into big ones as things pile up. Don’t let minor grievances accumulate. Let clients know they’re welcome to talk to you and ask for help, even if it seems like a minor detail to you.

Demonstrate that you work hard to deliver on your promises. While few people have the ability to see every detail, working to consistently improve and make good will count in the long run. As you work to improve all your work, it will eventually become part of the good work you do.

Keep learning

Continue to learn and improve. Take online continuing professional development courses, attend workshops, network with clients, contribute to social media discussions and look for opportunities to engage in your field. Your fluency in your core work will be evident in your interactions with clients, stakeholders and others and help to put their minds at ease, so that they can choose you over and over.

Study the art of business

Instead of simply getting mired in the details of individual tasks, think critically and strategically. Look for opportunities to develop client-focused strategies that help remind clients of your good work and reputation. Avoid bragging or over doing it, while showcasing your success stories and news. Take pride in your company, colleagues and stakeholders. Talk about them and put their achievemenets forward for others to enjoy. By helping others shine, you’ll come to be seen as someone worth knowing. Just be sure to be genuine in your efforts – people will see through braggarts and frauds and overdoing it will hurt your brand.

Strive for resourcefulness

Throughout your entrepreneurial journey, you’ll find new problems – and sometimes run into the same ones over and over. By being resourceful, you can navigate those obstacles. Work on quickly and creatively handling and solving problems.

Build a business that does more than find clients and deliver great proposals. Actively work to retain, engage and grow them. Your business will be more sound and, with any luck, you’ll find your way to more meaningful and validating work relationships too.

5 ways to reduce client churn and turnover

Looking for a way to boost your bottom line? Taking steps to reduce client churn – account turnover – can help. Maintaining a strong relationship with existing clients and past clients offers an opportunity to improve efficiency and revenues.

Client churn or loss of customers can be a critical situation for any business. When you face turnover from even a small percentage of clients, it can reduce your revenue and tie up valuable resources as you try to recover. It can also affect your reputation.

Fortunately, by taking time to understand causes of client churn, you can figure out what causes clients to turnover – and what you can do about it.

Build credibility

Trust forms the base of customer relationships. Focus on clients most likely to be a good fit. If your client feels that you are not being honest in your dealings, they may stop engaging or returning and may even start telling others to do the same. Strive to build a culture of trust with clients. Be honest, predictable and reliable.

Set client expectations

Every client has individual needs, wants and expectations. By working with the client to understand their unique situation, you can help them build a vision to overcoming problems and finding solutions. As part of that, you need to position your services and products as key, without pushing anything on the client. If a client feels that there’s a lack of fit and that you’re not meeting their expectations, they won’t want to come back.

By taking the time to build relationships, you can better set client expectations. Let them know when you can and can’t help – and work with them to find solutions, even if you need to refer them to others to create a complete solution. Focus on delivering high quality services and products that align with your client’s needs and expectations. Wherever possible, under promise and over deliver.

Leverage champions

Your current clients can amplify your brand. They not only may continue to buy – they can influence others to buy from you. Create a marketing campaign focused on your current clients. Since you’ve already done the hard work of winning them over, it should be less work to convince them to buy again than to find new clients. Remind them why they sought you out, what successes they have and how they can continue working with you. You can also create a referral program to encourage them to use word-of-mouth to market your business.

Deliver outstanding customer experiences

In the age of globalization and online services, clients can easily move to new providers. But, by building a relationship that delivers a superior customer experience, you can help retain them – and make changing providers feel like a bigger risk. Listen to each clients’ needs and encourage them to give you feedback. Rather than getting caught up in conflict, look for opportunities to meet complaints, better explain options and even cross-sell your products and services. Clients prefer to work with providers who value their input and their experiences – so set up a feedback system and a way for responding. Look for opportunities to communicate how you’re responding to feedback and continuing to innovate.

Reward loyal clients

Create loyalty programs for clients to reduce churn and turnover. While that might make you think of a little card that your local coffee shop stamps each time you buy a coffee, this concept can scale up to even Fortune 500 firms. You can offer discounts, rewards and incentives for frequency of purchase, length of relationship, referrals, variety of services and products used and more. Sometimes, even a card or email that thanks a client for their ongoing business can make a difference, without requiring you to cut your fees.

While any business will face some client churn, successful businesses look at client turnover and make plans for addressing it. What steps do you take?

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 – and
  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 –
  3. Too generic. You put a date in your address to set you apart –
  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 – or
  5. Nonsensical. or
  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 – or
  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 –  

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 or, 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.

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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:

Name / Company Name
US Federal Tax Payer ID (Business Number in Canada)

Estimate number

Company Name

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 $180 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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