Bootstrap Business Development

Taking steps to build your business


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Saying Good-Bye to a Client or Customer

Ending a relationship with a client is never an easy thing to do – no matter what the circumstances might be. 

Tomorrow I need to let a client go.

In my case this will be a “no fault” severance; but it’s still not something I’m looking forward to.

Now, some of you might belong to the “business is business” camp; however, relationships with customers and clients are just that – relationships.  And relationships involve complex human emotions.  When it comes to letting a client go those emotions can be all over the map – even conflict with each other.  In my view, that’s because ending a relationship with a client in many ways is the end of a living thing.  If you don’t end the relationship, it continues and therefore “stays alive” – if you end a relationship, even a business relationship, it “dies.”

No matter what the cause  – the emotional turmoil when considering ending any relationship, including a business relationship, often mirror stages similar to those Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified as the “Five Stages of Grief.”

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Yes, you’re likely to grieve ending relationships with clients – even those who turned out to be real trouble makers.  You’ve invested a lot of emotion and energy into the relationship.  You’ve likely integrated the relationship into the image you have or yourself and your business.

Being aware of the stages of grief can help you to end relationships are no longer working in ways that protect the integrity of the way you do business.

Denial – Not Just a River in Egypt

We’re all familiar with denial.  This is the refusal to accept facts as they are.  We humans have a tendency to use denial as a defense mechanism to try to reduce stress.  In the case of letting a client go, if we deny any cause or reason to do so exists, we don’t have to deal with it.  How long we stay in denial varies; however, taking too long to recognize a problem exists allows more time for the problem (and our stress) to get worse.

There are times when it is all too apparent we need to end a relationship with client (i.e. they don’t honor the contract, you find out they engage in unethical business practices) which will hopefully shorten the length of time you remain in the limbo of denial.  Other times, you may just keep denying feelings that “things aren’t right” which means you are in the danger zone of letting things get worse before taking steps to make them better.  Trust me, if you feel something isn’t right, there’s a good chance you are experiencing denial about the true nature of the relationship.

Anger – I Can’t Believe You (or I) Did That!

Anger shows up in one of two ways – either you’re angry with someone else, or you’re angry with yourself.  For instance a client’s expectation that you have a responsibility to deliver more service without being paid than described in the scope of the contract makes you angry.  Or, you’re angry at yourself because you lost new business because you’d committed to providing more service without pay to an existing client.

Anger is a powerful emotion, but it is also an emotion that can get in the way of making reasonable assessments and rational decisions.  If you’re feeling anger associated with or directed towards a client, take a deep breath and a few steps back.  Instead of letting your anger dictate your response, use an objective tool (for instance a mini SWOT analysis of the situation.)  Doing so will not only assist in making a rational decision, but also behave in a professional manner.

Bargaining – Let’s Make a Deal

When facing death it is common for people to attempt to bargain with the God they believe in.  “If you let me (or someone else) live, I promise I’ll do (fill in the blank.)”  When contending with the end of a relationship, people are often so uncomfortable with the idea of ending the relationship that they first attempt to bargain compromises that can allow the relationship to continue, bargains that, while made with the intention of making things “better”, don’t always serve the best interest of either party.  Those “bargains” can be between you and the other person, or they can be bargains you make with yourself.

Bargaining can certainly make good business sense in situations where you’re contemplating ending a relationship with a client.  However, as with anger, using objective tools such as SWOT or discussing the situation with a knowledgeable, yet neutral, third-party is a good idea.  If you don’t you can end up making compromises that aren’t true solutions; compromises can also just extend the period of time you spend in denial.  Compromises that aren’t true solutions can also serve to make you angry.

Depression – This is Happening Now

Being depressed at the idea of having to go through the process of letting a client go may not seem to be a positive thing, but it can be.  Allowing yourself to feel emotions that range from a sense of sadness, loss of energy, as well as a sense of “loss” means you’re actually in a space preparing yourself for the inevitable.   Denial, anger, and bargaining are all focused on putting the notion of ending the relationship off thereby keeping it in the realm of a “future event” that is not happening now.

Strange as it may sound, when you get a bit depressed over an existing situation, this can be the first step to making decisions that lead to positive solutions.  However, feelings of depression must be handled carefully as depression can motivate – but it can also paralyze.  If you aren’t careful, depression can develop into feelings of hopelessness and bleed into your “world view” of your business.  If you find yourself “stuck” in depressive mode, make it your business to get feedback from a mentor.

Acceptance – It is What it Is

Acceptance is one of the most powerful emotions when it comes to getting things done.  That notion can appear rather counterintuitive.  Acknowledging “It is what it is” seems to negate any idea of doing anything to make the situation different.  However, it’s pretty difficult to do anything that produces positive change in situations we either deny exist, are too angry to think rationally about, engage in continuous yet fruitless bargaining, or are stuck in paralyzing depression.

Accepting “It is what it is” means one of two things:  acknowledging that we have the power to change a situation or acknowledging that we don’t.  Either way, acceptance allows us to move on, to progress, to take action.

In the case of the client I’m letting go it is due to a change in focus of my practice.  There’s no longer a contract in place, so it is an “at will” situation – meaning I needed to decide whether or not create a new contract.  I began by denying that there would be an issue providing service outside my focus to this client (this was motivated by the fact that I liked the client and didn’t want to “let them down”), then I got angry at myself for continuing to work for the client (yes, without a contract in place) even though that meant robbing myself of other opportunities that fit my now evolved business model because I felt “obligated” to help them, then I made a bargain with myself that I’d just complete this one last project, and then I got depressed as I realized that I was only putting off the inevitable by continuing to work with the client.

FINALLY I accepted that continuing the relationship wasn’t fair to myself or the client because I wasn’t passionate about the relationship and passion is the fuel that makes what I provide my clients unique.  Passion is what drives me to meet my client’s needs and solve their problems in meaningful, effective ways.   Passion is what creates the exceptional quality I deliver my clients.

Fortunately, I came to accept that by not ending the relationship I wasn’t doing anyone any “favors” – instead I was acting out of ego (they need me) and without integrity.  Acting with integrity is a value that drives everything I do in my business and in my life.  Integrity guides my behavior and lets me know when I get off track.

Fortunately, I did no harm to myself or my client as I didn’t linger in any stage for too long a period of time.  But only because I had an idea of what was happening.

Hopefully, reading this will allow you to quickly recognize, allow yourself to grieve, and then end relationships with clients when necessary in a professional manner that serves the best interests of your client and your business.

What’s really great about online social media is that we can learn from each other.  Take a minute to make a comment to pass your wisdom along – or maybe you’re stuck in one of the above stages and looking for feedback.

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Market Data: The Short Story

Maybe you’re a small business owner who happens to be sweating out putting your business plan together.  Maybe you’re a small business owner and thinking of capturing a new market. Maybe you’re a small business owner who just wants to gain greater insight into the demographics or consumer trends in your existing market.

On the other hand, you may be a small business owner who thinks (hopes) their so small that any sort of market research outside of the occasional customer survey is over kill, simply a waste of time.  But that would be wrong.  Market research allows you to create effective business strategies.  “I think it might work” isn’t an effective success strategy. You can have the greatest idea in the world – but until you marry that idea with market data you don’t have a complete picture.   Market data helps you get from “I think it might work” to “This is the best strategy for success.”

However, when it comes to market research, many small business owners don’t pursue it as they think of it as an “all or nothing” process.  Either you’ve got to be in a place to spend a ton on expensive consultants, or don’t do it all.

But you’re not just any small business owner, you’re a bootstrapper – and I’m here to help.  Here’s the short story on how to conduct market research:

1.  Put together the objectives you want your research to meet.  You can do that by asking three simple questions:

  • What the purpose of doing the research? (i.e. I want to introduce a new product/service)
  • How will the information be used? (i.e. see if there is a need, figure out how to price, determine if there is a local market for my product/service)
  • What kind of information do I need? (i.e. check out the competition, demographics of prospective customers/clients)

2.  Research and collect information that already exists.
3.  Collect information that doesn’t exist (i.e. surveys, focus groups.)
4.  Review and analyze the information you’ve collected.  (This is a fancy way of saying:  Look at what you found out; assess how it impacts your objectives; use that    assessment to create and then implement success strategies.)

The place where many small business owners get stuck is #2.  Here are some online resources to help you locate existing information:

http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/conducting-market-research-here-are-5-official-sources-free-data-can-help

http://www.library.wisc.edu/guides/govdocs/census/econ.htm#countbus  (Great for local business – You can check out business patterns in your county on this one.)


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Taking Your Small Biz Agile (Harnessing the Power of Moving Quickly and Easily)

I recently posted a little diddy entitled  “Project Management Just Like Grandma Used to Make” – which generated a bit of a buzz.

Seems project management – a.k.a.  figuring out how to get everything done – is definitely an issue for small business owners.  No surprise there.

What was really cool is that questions came from people whose businesses were growing.  But then that can be good news and that can be bad  news – it all depends on your ability to handle that growth.  Many a small business has run itself out of business by growing too fast because they don’t have the resources to support that growth.   Time is definitely a resource – so being able to manage (spend) time is important.

And money is certainly a resource small biz owners are often short on.  Another problem small business owners have – especially those of us who provide services – is being able to cost out projects accurately.  Believe me, I’ve worked on many a project that, when the day was done, I sure didn’t want to “do the math” and figure out what I’d actually made per hour.

When I came across this post on Agile Project Management from MarketingProfs.com I just knew I had to share it with everybody.  I’d heard of Agile PM, but it seemed too complicated and I thought there might be too long of a ramp up.  But this article has convinced me to take another look because it clearly describes the process in ways that I can immediately adapt to my business – and I’m thinking there is a good chance you’ll be able to do the same.  It’s written from a marketing perspective, but in a way you can easily transfer to other types of projects within your small business.

So, if you’re having a “I don’t know where to start” day – you might want to start by clicking the link and reading the Marketing Prof post.  I’m glad I did.


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Project Management “Just Like Grandma Used to Make”

Last post I talked about the importance of getting organized, the most motivating reason being that it’s more profitable for your small business to be an organized small business. Today when I sat down to get things done, as always, it seemed that I had too much to do.

I know that a lot of you use Outlook and a plethora (love that word, a fancy way of saying “a lot”) of other technological devices and/or software as your drug of choice for staying on track. I myself have the Outlook thing going on and use other project management tools as well. All those high tech type scheduling and project management tools are not just “cool” – they work. However, if you’re a small business person, it’s doubtful that you’ve got big gun tools – most usually because we don’t know how to use them or have the time to learn (we probably do, but taking time to ramp up on new things will just have to wait for another post.)

But, even if you are using a modicum (there’s another really great word, fancy way of saying “a few”) of those tools, I think we all have times when we throw up our hands thinking “We’re do I even start?”

You know what I mean. You open Outlook, take a look at your taskbar and discover that every task is flagged “Today” and coded orange (which means “Do this NOW to avoid an asteroid hitting the earth.”) On top of that the phone keeps ringing, emails keep pouring in faster than you can say “You’ve got mail”, along with a zillion other bright shiny objects vying for your attention. You could sit there all day jumping from one thing to the next, never finishing anything – or at least not really sure if you’ve actually finished anything. Not to mention that tomorrow morning you’ll find yourself in the same “Don’t know where to start” frame of mind.

What worked for Grandma Can Work for You

Simple solutions are usually best – and I’ve got one for you. It’s called a pencil and a pad of paper. What worked for your grandmother when she had too much to do and wasn’t sure where to start was to make a list.

Don’t stop reading – go get a pencil (a pen will do, and don’t forget a pad.)

Now pull out your pad, and write down the first five thingsthat come to mind that should have been done yesterday (or last week.) Do this fast, and don’t cheat by going back to your task bar, list the very first five things that come into your head.

Now, draw a little check box in front of each item on your list.

Now you’re going to rate them by giving them a grade:

  • “A” means do it or lose the business
  • “B” means it would be a good idea to get this done today
  • “C” means do it after you get those A’s and B’s finished
  • “D” maybe it isn’t as important as I thought it was

I know, any of these five things you’ve most likely already flagged and prioritized. But things have changed since you did that. The secret here is writing down the first five things that come to mind – believe me, it’s been my experience that those are going to be priorities because those are the things that have been keeping you up at night. Once you get those five things done, write down the next five things, and so on.

Anything you don’t finish today – simply carry them over to tomorrow’s list.  This doesn’t mean you no longer use Outlook or those other task management tools. Using these tools provides the most important project management tool you’ve got (otherwise known as your brain) with the data it needs to come up with just the right five things to put on your list.

OK, so this system sounds really similar to a task bar. I think it’s because they stole the idea from my Grandma.

P.S. I confess that I kind of stole this from a time management expert who was a member at our chamber of commerce – but the “first five” thing is all mine.

Enjoy this post?  Please forward it to like thinkers.  Thanks!


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Getting Organized: Key Piece of the Small Business Puzzle

The other day as I sat down to go to work I took a quick look at my work area.  Like many small business owners and freelancers I work from home.  So, how organized (or not) my work area happens to be isn’t dictated by my “Boss.”

Which is kind of a perk I guess – until I have trouble finding something.

Years ago I worked for a property management company where we weren’t allowed to have anything on our desk except for the file we were working on at the time.  Even then you were to have only the document out directly related to what you were doing at any given moment – other docs were to be in the folder, and the folder was to be closed.

Sounds Draconian, but there was a reason for Management’s Madness – an organized, uncluttered desk would be translated by resident’s and prospective residents to mean our company, and the property they called home, was organized and well-run.

Being organized and working in an organized environment also leaves an impression on the person working in that environment as well.  As small business owners a self-image that includes the confidence that comes with being well-organized as well as how being organized helps us to better serve our customers and clients is central to growing a successful business.

Being organized is more profitable than being disorganized.

When our offices and work stations are organized we are more efficient and productive and time is an important resource.  Wasting time scrambling to find something isn’t good for business.

Thanks to working with a professional organizer years ago I’m happy to say that my act has remained relatively together to this day.  Being organized doesn’t mean “being perfect.”  I follow techniques my organizer taught me to this day – which make it SO much easier to stay organized.  Thanks to her, within 15 minutes I had everything in its place.

Which got me to thinking about sharing how working with a professional organizer helped me get it together – and then, as so often happens, I happened to hook up via LinkedIn with professional organizer Kathleen Green.  I contacted Kathleen and asked her if she’d be willing to share her expertise on my blog – and she kindly accepted.

Kathleen formerly worked for a number of years as a commercial lender – definitely a position that required organizational skills!  She’s taken those skills and translated them into a successful career helping business and homeowners get – and stay – organized.  Her skills are sought after and she’s written widely on the subject, including a great article on examiner.com.

One of Kathleen’s articles speaks to something that had held me back when it came to “getting organized” – letting go of my “stuff.”

But Kathleen’s got a pretty creative perspective on things:

“Whether it is your home, your office or even your lifestyle, think of it as a giant jigsaw puzzle. The more pieces that there are, then the harder it is to put it together and keep it together. By getting rid of all of those extra pieces, you can simplify the day-to-day management of all aspects of your life and find more time for the important things … like growing your business.”

Check out Kathleen’s complete article here.


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Fuzzy Thinking

OK people, time to harness “The Power of Good Enough”.  (If you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about take a couple minutes and read my previous post aptly entitled “The Power of Good Enough.”)

Last time I talked a bit about “either/or” thinking.  “Either I do this or I do that.”

Believe it or not, what’s holding you back is you’re thinking too clearly.  You’re thinking in black and white while living in color.  Think of it this way: when you learned to add, it went something like this:  1+1=2.  And that’s certainly true, one plus one DOES equal 2.

But that’s only because you’re only dealing with “two things” – “This Thing” and “That Thing”.

But running a business means you’re dealing with all sorts of “This Things” and “That Things.” What you’re really doing is dealing with “sets” of things and these sets of things are related to each other.  Confused?  Good, because in order to move forward, you have to stop thinking clearly and start thinking fuzzy.

Give me a break!  Is this woman crazy?  What does “thinking fuzzy” have to do with growing my business?

Only everything.

Turns out there are two ways of figuring things out.  Linear logic and multivalue logic. 

It’s mulitvalue logic – or “fuzzy” logic – that let’s your computer get zillions of things done at once.  Your computer thinks in terms of just two things, 0 and 1.  Turns out, there’s a giant space between 0 and 1 (“this” and “that”) which computer science type people weren’t using.  Using the set of “things” between 0 and 1 in all sorts of computer science ways is why we can now get angry when it takes more than a nano second for our computers to do whatever we want.

Fuzzy thinking helped speed up our computers – but what can it do for small business owners?

Here’s an example.  Let’s say you’re a start up business without a written strategic plan, or you’ve been around awhile and your plan has lost its relevance or things are getting out of control and you know you’ve got to bite the bullet and put a plan in place.

But you can’t seem to get your plan in order because you need to be out there running your business.

Seems pretty “either/or” at first glance.  But when you apply a dash of fuzzy thinking and a good dose of The Power of Good Enough guess what happens?  We see the relationship between all the sets of things you’ve got to do.

In other words, there’s a whole lot of networking and prospecting and all those other best practices we’re going to be talking more about in this blog that can get done in the process of putting your strategic plan together — AND — the information you get from prospecting and networking is necessary in order for you to write your strategic plan.

For example, putting your plan together means understanding what your customer (or clients) want.  Hmmm…getting out in front of customers and potential customers to find out what they want sounds like an opportunity to both attract new customers as well as retain current customers.  Getting your customers what they want requires networking with vendors and associated businesses who share a similar client base.  Guess what?  Networking with vendors and associated businesses brings to light both challenges and opportunities that help you identify strategies, set goals, and meet objectives – which are all components of effective planning.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Don’t have a comment, but want to get in touch?

Email me at:   bootstrap.business.development@gmail.com