As a business owner, we are taught that the customer is always right. If you clearly define the rules, that works. But if you muddy the water and are ambiguous about what you offer, how you provide it, and what the limits are, you leave the door wide open.
Suddenly it isn’t you owning your business anymore, it is your customer because you let him make the rules.
- Sometimes this happens when you are hungry for business. You bend a little just to land the customer. You think it won’t matter just this once.
- Sometimes this happens because you want to be seen as nice so you make promises but 5 minutes later you regret it.
- Sometimes this happens because you are afraid to put your foot down.
We see this a lot with very small businesses who are just feeling their way through online marketing or working virtually. Here’s some tips:
- You own the business. You can take as much work as you want to have. If you are on overload. Say no.
- The prospect copies you and three other similar providers in his initial e-mail. Oops, red flag. If he doesn’t have the common courtesy to send individual e-mails, just politely say no.
- If you start getting a funny feeling as you talk with someone or read their e-mail, go with your gut! Gini Diedrich covered that very well in the video in this post. You are almost always right and if you guess wrong once, you just will not have one client or customer but you will have time to work with others.
- The prospect tells you they worked with someone else and didn’t like their work. The bigger red flag comes when they tell you they asked for a refund and got it. Time to run away! The problem with many products or services delivered via the Internet is that you are not going to get a return. There is always the chance that someone is gaming the system.
- How do you get rid of the prospect without upsetting him? Be firm. Who owns the business, you do. No excuses necessary. You just tell him that you are unable to work with him (or her). Don’t justify or explain. We all want to do that. We feel it is necessary. But it is not. Just say no thank you.
- Don’t waffle on your financial terms. If you don’t offer payment plans, don’t waiver. There will be another customer. See number 4. If you deliver a virtual product or service, you cannot get it back if someone stops paying you.
Most of my background has been in the career marketing industry. It could be unique to the industry but I have found my colleagues who are often sole proprietors to be the most sharing cohesive group of independent business people I have found. Even though we could be defined as competition, we talk to each other on multiple platforms from e-lists to Twitter and sometimes chat on phone or Skype too. Very little happens that isn’t shared or discussed. Yet we find people who seem to think we never talk to each other.
If your industry doesn’t share as openly as mine does, perhaps it is time to start joining industry groups or forming your own or just getting to know people who deliver the same services. You might find new ways of doing what you do better. In a global marketplace, I think there is enough business for everyone.