Category Archives: Communication

ASAP = Mutually Assured Dissatisfaction

ASAP = Mutually Assured Dissatisfaction
By Talmar Anderson

Say no to ASAP projects.  Ohhh…I know they can be seductive.  Fast cash. Quick turnaround.  But the ASSUMPTIONS and EXPECTATIONS hang in the air ready to cut quickly at every chance of success that would have been hoped for….This is me giving you permission to say no.  No to ASAP.

I am not saying you should never take the last minute call from a prospect.  Nor am I suggesting that you would not be able to quickly resolve or improve the client’s situation.  I believe in you and you company’s value and ability to deliver.  But there is a saying.  You can be Quick & Good or Quick & Cheap but ASAP will only bring tears and frustrations. That may not be the expression but that is a TRUTH!  ASAP means the project is already unsatisfactory.

As soon as possible, too often means:

  • Yesterday
  • Faster than is reasonable
  • Faster than I could do if I was willing to take the time to do it now

Taking on these projects, The KEY is to use dates and times.  None of that “as soon as I can get it to you!” allowed. I PROMISE that they started watching the clock the minute you both hung up the phone in this scenario.

You thought you had time to go take a shower and a grab cup of coffee before sitting down at your desk.  By 10 am, the client was already grumbling to anyone that would listen that they didn’t think it would “take this long”.  You are operating on an assumption that you will deliver tomorrow AM by around this time.  The client is staring at the email folder waiting for the notification starting at noon.  They go to lunch where they are in a bad mood and mention to their lunch party that they are anxious about a deliverable that your company should be delivering any minute.  Client continues to check their phone every 5 minutes.  At 3:00pm you receive a tense message that the client is “wondering when” they will see something from you.  Surprised and now a little ruffled you have to stifle your natural instinct to say “WHEN I AM G** D*** Done!” and offer a response of “working on it now’. The project ends with you skipping dinner and working until 10:00pm.

Dis-sat-isfaction!  You are pissed and worried you forgot to spell check before you sent over the project because you were tired.  The client has the project finished but remembers more easily the waiting than the resolution of the urgent need. Bad situation.

When you get that call from an excited client it is easy to be sucked into the hopefulness of the call. Their sense of urgency leads you to believe your company has a chance to be the hero.  The client usually pumps you up by acknowledging working with your firm is the best option, perhaps even where they should have started, to get the result they originally wanted from their project needs.

Before agreeing you MUST get detailed clarification on the result requested. In ASAP situations there are two possibilities. First, the ideal result they usually would hire your company to perform however, now in an accelerated timeframe.  Second, a minimum requirement result delivered in the accelerated timeframe.

This is important to note because in these projects, clients are no longer buying your services or products.  They are buying time.   ASAP is driven by a deadline need.  ASAP requests are presented after the ideal, (and sometimes) reasonable start time.

It is YOUR job to protect your company by only agreeing to projects that can be delivered upon within YOUR company’s schedule.  So before you agree, consider:

  • What do they want completed?
  • When do they need it for review/possible changes (always pick a deadline that is before their drop dead time)?
  • Within your company’s regular processes, is the time a possibility/realistic?
  • How does that fit into your company’s current workflow calendar?
  • Lastly, in your expert opinion, will your company be able to deliver in such a way as to not only meet the deadline but enhance your company’s reputation?

Once you have all of those answers, you can sit down to decide your proposed fee and YOUR delivery deadlines- dates AND times.  At this point, you should only proceed if the client can accept and work with your carefully considered and communicated delivery timeframes.  Only you know what it will really take with your current company’s project load to deliver on this urgent request.

Lastly, I highly recommend that you NOT be swayed by a counter request for more acceleration of the schedule.  Assure the client that you were careful to consider that they called in a panic instead of the usual two week (or 3 month, etc. norm) and want them to receive the right answer to the problem instead of hurrying through and complicating their project needs with incomplete or unsatisfactory work.

Communicated delivery deadlines that include dates and times allow your business the space to work and possibly excel on a client expectation.  That is a WIN for everyone!

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Why your marketing isn’t working the way you want! And what your marketing consultants are trying to tell you.

By Talmar Anderson
Originally published Jun. 11, 2014

Marketing is the most frustrating and overwhelming part of running a business. It is not as black and white as addition. While I am prone to think I am the only one that struggles with the mythical “marketing strategy” I find that many of my clients have the similar issues. Primarily, I start by ensuring my clients understand that marketing and sales are 2 different areas of your business and you should be expecting 2 different results.

Sales efforts need to result in clients and products sold. Marketing efforts need to result in brand awareness and prospect generation. But just understanding those differences are still NOT ENOUGH to help you gain better results from your marketing.  NO… don’t blame the website.  It’s not your logo.  It’s probably not even your elevator pitch.

I am going to ask you a question….ready?  What happens that moves your prospect over the line to client by creating the buying decision?  What is the catalyst that has leads a client to finally click the button or pick up the phone to call?  Is it an emotional decision?  Is it a definitive need?  Is it a point in their life cycle or business cycle?

I know this is a very specific question but it really goes back to that first question all marketing consultants will ask you “who is your target market?”  If you are unable to answer that question as specifically as the triggers for that markets buying decisions, it is going to be very difficult for any marketing company to deliver on your goals.

This leads to the other reason that your marketing is not performing for you. It is wrapped around my favorite topic…metrics!! For successful evaluation, we must measure.  To measure, we must define a result (Are you following??)

If we want to measure whether a marketing effort has been beneficial, we will need to define what result we expect.  Clearly and specifically define who we want to do what exactly. We must do this for each and every marketing effort we make for our company.  “MORE CLIENTS!”….I can hear you all now.  “More clients” may be the reason why you have decided to invest in your marketing efforts and growth structures.  However, let’s get specific.

Are you planning a new marketing campaign to grow your contact list? Are you developing and delivering speaking engagements to broaden your credibility? Are you creating a promotional effort to grow the sales pipeline of a specific income stream?  What is the result you want from this effort?  Pick one.

It is possible your business will receive two benefits but pick one primary reason and communicate that with your marketing team (whether internal or external).  Then create a metric that will allow evaluation before, during and after the effort for that singular result.  Now we can measure success.

Clever phrases and neato slogans only help if they help brand identity which should lead to prospect generation which should lead to the company sales pipeline which should lead to more clients.  Each of these items requires a separate process and metric for performance evaluation and continual progress.  Tracking these items will allow us to better focus on what is and what is NOT working.  It is seldom as easy as changing marketing teams or consultants

We need to REALLY understand our target market and all that includes so that we can communicate effectively with our marketing teams to measure our results and drive prospects to sales.

Are you really surprised my answer is more clarity through process and metrics??? (Imagine my wickedly twinkling eyes!)

Hiring for the New Year? You get what your write!

By Talmar Anderson

Originally published Dec. 31, 2012

If expansion is on the goals for 2013 then hiring will be a big part of the growth process.  Make sure that you set time to really decide what to delegate.  Think through what results the new position will be responsible for performing, the actions you want them to take to get the results, and how you will manage and communicate your expectations.  But it all starts with the employment ad and how you communicate the new position to the world.  Remember to be careful what you ask for….you may get it!

An employment ad needs to be composed off of the job description (which you have written out, right?).  You know the job description that you created when designing the position as mentioned earlier.  However, this is also the first opportunity to convey the tone and culture of the company and the personalities that will work best with your team.

Are you a small firm that wears jeans and takes personal responsibility for every detail?  Or do you value consistent process and collaboration to achieve your results?  Neither is wrong but they are VERY different.  So you need a sales person- do you need a self- starter that can get themselves motivated because you will not be requiring in office hours?  You want them out, selling and getting the job done.  Or do you have daily meetings where client contact lists are carefully organized and analyzed to create team presentations and proposals? These are two very different jobs with likely two different people obtaining success. Yet they both are sales.

A lot of employment ads are written (and re—written) with an owner’s experience providing the lead in – “Must be organized” (missed a lot of deadlines) “Must be punctual” (decided when to show up without consistency) “Prior experience a must” (did not understand industry lingo or business formats). If you invest the time to write an ad that both lays out the responsibilities as well as a general understanding of the culture you are far more likely to get the right person from the get go and not have to re-write and place another ad…which can be nearly as painful as starting over on the training…But that’s another post.

Ahhhh…ice cream.

By Talmar Anderson

Originally posted Nov. 1, 2012

Stress. It is a killer.  It kills projects, relationships and people.  As a business owner you need to know who you will call and what you are going to do to deal with it.  It cannot be your employees.  Yes, yes, some of you have that great Number Two that hears all and knows all and is a great sounding board.  You need to make them a partner in your venture if you truly believe this, but I digress.  Remember, Number Two is still looking at YOU to set the tone on how to handle their stress. You are the company and the culture.  Not to mention that your stress may be coming from all the facets of your life at once….professional, health, family, money.  As a business owner at least 3 of these 4 are probably heavily dependent on your business.  So take a minute and really try to plan for it.  Who will it be? You need at least one or two good people that can walk you back from the edge. This person needs to be someone who will bring action items to the table.  Someone who will question how you will next progress.  Because proceed you will, and you must. You may feel stuck right this exact second.  Unmotivated or paralyzed. Or just tired. But they will question what tomorrow holds.  What steps can be addressed right now?  They will ask who else you can enlist. They may come bearing a great glass of wine, offer a one on one basketball game or my personal preference, Baskin Robbins Chocolate Chip ice cream. Take a deep breath and talk it out.  Then get back to it. Your soul and energy will be fed and you’ll be ready.

Be wrong..It’s good leadership

By Talmar Anderson
Originally published Jan. 8, 2014

WOW, was I wrong!  It happens. When I first started my company in Virginia I had a VERY different vision than is unfolding.  As I started down that original industry and service development path I had to deal with failure.  I had to admit I was not correct. It was a little less painful because the business model and services definitely were marketable…it just so happened, I didn’t love it.  The more I did it, the more I realized that I was not cut out for the type of work that would be required for the success I was looking for within my company. I was wrong. Others could do this but not me. By admitting the bad decision, I was able to take action toward building a business that supported my good decisions. I was able to build credibility, relationships and a growing company.

You have heard it before.  Failure is good.  It means that you are one step closer to success.  What I like MOST about failure is the fact that ACTION was taken.  It is required to fail.  Just as making a bad decision required that a decision WAS made at all.  The intent in both of these cases is progress…moving towards an end game.

Once I learned from the bad decision, clients and business partners all needed to be reeducated and reintroduced to the “new” business.  I was pleasantly surprised by how even MOREopen and invested my relationships became through my “confession” of pivoting in my business.  Truly, trust was built even stronger.  I admitted where I had failed to them as well as why it was not working. Letting them know that I could recognize what was ‘wrong” further solidified their belief that I knew what was RIGHT!  A lot of people eagerly shared their “bad decisions” and business pivots as a way to comfort me and encourage me.  And it worked.  I ran forward and continued down the road of understanding and developing my good decisions while admitting and learning from my wrong decisions.

It is the lack of decision and actions that can significantly impact your company’s growth. In my opinion, more fundamentally and damaging, is how it can damage your employee morale and retention.  While ruling your universe is a 12 step process that all business owners must eventually rid themselves of to truly grow, letting your staff be wrong too can really allow for a commitment and autonomy that can translate into amazing customer service and revenue.

We must instruct on how we want our deliverables performed but a growing company has to allow for AT LEAST the consideration of original thought.  First, you DON’T know everything.  You don’t even ALWAYS know the best way to do everything. Yes, yes…even when it comes to your “baby”.  Start by allowing for some rapid response problem solving, it will USUALLY result in a win-win situation.  The client will appreciate the effort to respond quickly if it is accompanied with open communication on the experimental nature of the solution.  The post mortem on the solution during your staff meeting allows for development of a process to be used during similar problems in the future.  The PROCESS may be as simple as DON’T do THIS when we have the problem in the future.

Ruling out solutions without dire circumstances allows for stronger processes communicated to the whole team, confidence built within the team to offer out of the box customer service or solutions AND communication between you and your staff.  If they see and hear that employees are given opportunities to try and talk about suggestions, they will bring ideas to you! You don’t have to say yes to everything. Let them know that “no” means “no, this time but I want to hear your future ideas because I value you, your experience and your time in my company”. By allowing for communication and valuing the input of others your company will be better served.  You will have an amazing team working toward building you the company of your dreams. Imagine…as an HP employee Steve Wozniak BEGGED Hewlett Packard to build the Apple I….several times….don’t be the guy that said no to The Woz.

Profitability is spelled C O N S I S T E N C Y

By Talmar Anderson
Originally published Aug. 22, 2013

When looking at your company from the higher macro level – there is a simple step that can bring profitability and help build that path to success.  Have you ever worked with someone who had an “Open Door” policy? Some can do it and some cannot.   Have you worked with the person that touted that little gem but truthfully was neither in their office often enough or shut down ideas as quickly as you could ask “got a minute?”?  Maybe you have been fortunate enough to work with the person who actually had an open door to go along with the “Open Door” policy.  THAT manager was open to new ideas.  They were quick to address concerns and even followed up on any unanswered questions.  By applying consistency throughout your company you will be taking control of a major requirement for that success – trust.  What your company actually does is just the beginning.

Start just by consistently communicating your vision! Understanding not just what your company does but where your company is going allows you to take advantage of opportunities that are correct for your company.  Making sure that your business partners, staff and clients know what you offer and what you are planning for the future allows for them to become part of your expanded team.  They will better be able to send you information or people who can help progress you towards that vision. Clarity of your vision for the business helps allow you to be consistent about what you need.

Consistency in management equals a successful team.  When hiring, training and managing employees it is imperative to build realistic expectations.  Consistency in communicating to staff their responsibilities for delivering, interacting with co-workers and clients, or communicating their own progress and needs will help to build loyal employees. And it lies squarely on you and the management team. If you say you have an open door policy, you have to actually make yourself available to your staff on a consistent basis! If you are requiring time sheets by noon on Friday then do not follow-up on Wednesday the following week.  Upholding your policies and procedures allows staff to trust that those rules really do apply all of the time and can create a strong working environment.

If you have any clients at all and you plan for retention of those clients, delivering on your product or service is a must!  You need to have a process, ideally documented, that is adhered to for each contract. Another expectation can be set, and therefore further promote trust, by also communicating the general process to the client. Setting and meeting expectations allows for success to be recognized.  Your engagement communication needs to discuss how changes to pricing and deadline or any other possible influencers would be addressed.  Consistent process and communication on these points will create another opportunity to build the company’s reputation.

The saying, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck well….you certainly aren’t going to be looking for a fuzzy bear at the end of that sentence. By reacting, delivering, communicating and attending events in a consistent manner you allow for employees, vendors, clients and the public to understand and develop expectations.  Consistently delivering on those expectations allows for trust to grow and your business to thrive.

To Partner or Not to Partner

By Talmar Anderson
Originally published on August 8, 2013

Partners can be a REAL good thing.  Not doing “IT” all alone is very nice. Perhaps you have different personality types and you are Ying to the other’s Yang.  Or maybe one is the vision and creativity while the other is the detail-oriented make-it come to fruition person. You and your best friend have been glued together since elementary school and you just have not gotten around to writing it down.

Or does the idea of sitting down to count pennies and talk about your disagreements seem unsettling and nerve-racking? Think of it as good practice for ACTUALLY working together!!

It is more than a marriage.  I still have some things I don’t share with my husband (Don’t worry he knows about them – but sweating , huffing and grunting through sit ups in front of him is not for me!).  A business partner has to know all the sweaty, gory details AND you will have to practice working it out.  So setting the ground rules as early as possible can save hurt feelings, set realistic expectations and save a full-out brawl that can include the expense of litigation fees or the ruin of your company! So let’s talk partnership agreements.

Sure it can be uncomfortable but it needs to be done sooner rather than later.  Do you really want to wait until you disagree on a client project?  Or even whether or not to offer additional services per a client request?  At the end of the first year, what if one of you wants to reinvest the profits to grow the company and the other wants to buy a fun trip for their family?  What if something horrible happens?  Aren’t you building your business to contribute to your way of life?  What if you have a family that relies on your income?  What will they be left with when your business partner is busy trying to keep the company afloat and ends up doing all the work?  Will your partner expect full ownership at that point?

I am NOT suggesting that you arm wrestle over each and every contingency. However there is one item you MUST decide right now.  How will decisions get made? Equality of votes means that disagreements are not going to be resolved.  Certainly there are ways around this.  Perhaps you divide departments with each of you getting the deciding vote in that particular area.  Will that deciding vote change if there are more dollars or employees affected?

Sometimes an advisor to the business could be considered as an informal mediator in real standoffs. You could also consider an agreement to have disputed decisions reviewed after an appropriate (and agreed upon) time period. You each need to imagine that there could be something that you each fundamentally disagree on and cannot sway the other to come around.  What decision process can you live with?

Once that is decided then you can go down a general, or specific, list of how the business will work.  Strategic planning – how often? Operational consideration – who does what? Sales – Who is in charge of closing?  Finance and accounting – who sets the budget? HR – who will supervise? Hire? Fire? Exiting – how and when can a partner exit? And finally there is the prize-fight-potential subject of compensation – who gets what money and when? Writing down what you discuss allows for a reference point when the emotions get high and the personal side of the discussions get muddled.

Tasks, roles, “decider”, money – You and your partner may never disagree and you may be wildly successful with each individual choice combining into one business. Deciding the name of the business , the vision and the process for the deliverable may SEEM like the hard part.  Far too often, and usually crisis driven, you and your partner will have much harder choices.  That piece of paper can save the relationship AND the business.