Client wanting extras? Then mirror, signal, manoeuvre…

Client wanting extras? Then mirror, signal, manoeuvre…

It happens to tradespeople all the time. You’re on site, doing what you’ve been asked to do… and suddenly your client says ‘Could you just…?’ Yes, we’re talking about chargeable extras – and how you deal with them.

Let’s say you’re a naturally helpful person. (Of course you are, because you care about your clients and your reputation.) So you say ‘Yes, no problem!’ and put it on your ‘to do’ list.

So far, so good.

You’ve done the extras. It’s taken you additional time (and may have landed you with additional costs). Naturally you put it on your invoice.

Which the client then disputes. ‘This isn’t the price we agreed!’

That’s exactly what happened to one of my clients – so I suggested a small process improvement.

‘Next time,’ I said, ‘by all means say “yes”. But then say “Do you need a quote for that, or shall I just add it to the final bill?”‘

The other day I was chatting about this to Michael Collett of Collett Creative. As a website designer this is a problem he often faces himself – so he told me how he deals with it. I was so impressed that I asked if I could share his approach here. And being someone who cares about his clients and his reputation, he happily said ‘Yes’…

So – do you remember what you learned from your driving instructor…?

Mirror

So – your client has asked you to make a change. Or to do something that is outside their original brief. Before you say ‘Yes’, take a quick look in the virtual mirror and check. Make sure it’s safe to proceed – and don’t rush. Take all the time you need to be sure you understand what they are asking for, and precisely how much extra work, and extra cost, that will require.

Signal

So – you’ve done your checks, and you’ve decided you are happy to go ahead with the additional work. Time to talk to the client. Tell them you’re OK with it – and, at the same time, tell them about any additional costs these extras will involve. Signal, very clearly, what those costs will be, and that you need their approval before you go ahead. Don’t even think about starting the extra work until you’ve had their clear agreement. Because you need to be 100% sure they’ve formally accepted your terms.

Manoeuvre

Once you’ve had formal confirmation, you can safely manoeuvre. Add the cost of the extras to the project total. Complete the task in full. And don’t forget to add it to the invoice…!

And if your business could benefit from a small refresher course (or possibly a new version of its very own Highway Code) then I’d be happy to have a chat over coffee. To discuss what I can do and how I can help. Just call 01359 240717 or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk

Noises from the plumbing…

Noises from the plumbing…

Say you have a team that doesn’t gel, or a person who won’t cooperate with everyone else. What do you do? I find it helpful to regard any shouting matches, or a high volume of complaints, as noises from the plumbing. This immediately stops me regarding it as a people issue, and starts me thinking, instead, of the system (the plumbing) that is causing it.

People are part of the system, of course, but there are other factors too. Let me tell you some stories to illustrate.

Sweet talk

Back in the Jurassic, I worked for an organisation that made children’s sweets. The success of the Manufacturing department was measured in “tons per direct employee”. They hit their production targets by making large numbers of large jars of sweets. Manufacturing didn’t want to make small packets of sweets, which took too much time, and messed up their performance figures.

However, at this same company, the Sales team could only make their sales targets by selling things people wanted to buy. And shops wanted sweets in sealed packets. They did not want large jars from which they would have to pour out 100g at a time into little paper bags!

So of course, Manufacturing and Sales were always fighting. And each blamed the other when they missed their targets. An issue with the people involved? No, a management issue. They should never have had conflicting targets.

Human error? Or faulty plumbing…?

Some time ago I worked with a Housing Association. Both tenants and Housing staff used to complain that the Repair service (a different organisation) did not phone ahead when they turned up to do a repair.

Then I discovered the Repair staff complaining that the Housing staff never advised the tenant’s telephone number when booking a repair! Except they did, always.

Apparently, the computer programme only transmitted the first part of the notes field (details of the problem) from Housing to Repair, and not the second part, which included the phone number and information about when the tenant would be in!  An issue with the people involved? No, an issue with the original design of the computer system, which could only be fixed by IT.

Somebody else’s problem?

More recently I worked with a small family firm which was having frequent unpleasant internal squabbles. It was clear that the way they worked had just “evolved”, so the business was not working effectively. Everyone agreed that getting more organised would be good.

It soon became clear that some tasks had never been allocated to anyone. Everyone thought it was someone else’s job! (And said so. At the top of their lungs.) Once we sorted out what needed doing, by whom, and in what order, the shouting matches went away. An issue with the people involved? No, a process problem (they didn’t have any).

In each case it would have been easy to jump to the conclusion that people were being difficult, or were not really team players. But in each case that would have been wrong – there was another cause, and once that was sorted, the noise went away.

Of course, sometimes it is a problem with the people involved. But if you start by eliminating the plumbing issues, it’s easier to avoid the accusation that you are “picking on” someone.

Struggling to see the plumbing issues? Give me a call 01359 240717 – I’ll be happy to talk it through with you!  Or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk

Venues – a recipe for success?

Venues – a recipe for success?

I do a lot of networking, at many different venues– in fact I get all my business by word of mouth. And the key to successful networking, like so many other things, is consistency.  So while I am happy to visit new networks from time to time, my focus is on a few strategic networks that I attend every time they run.

But this post is about venues. Because I visit them all the time. And for venues, as for networking, the key to success lies in consistency.

Why consistency is vital

Every meeting needs a venue – and most of the meetings I attend use the same format, set up in the same way, at the same venue. Every time.

So the requirements for that meeting will also be the same. Every time.

You’d think that any venue lucky enough to have this kind of regular booking would also have processes in place to deal with them. After all, how hard could it be?

Well, for some of them it clearly isn’t hard at all.

Take the White Hart in Godmanchester, where I attend a Women in Business Network lunch once a month. The tables are arranged just as we like them, the napkins and cutlery are properly laid out, there are jugs of water on the table, the teas and coffees are ready on the side… well, you get the picture.

Then there’s the Community Centre in Needham Market, where Stowmarket Chamber run their monthly drop-in coffee and cake networking. The room is ready, the urn is full of hot water, there’s a cloth on the table, the mugs are laid out, and the teaspoons are in place.

Then there are… other places.

The monthly lunch venue where the organiser has to turn up early to re-set the room, and chase up the missing items.  Every time.

And the weekly breakfast venue which never remembers teaspoons. So, yes, the organisers finally bought their own!

Not to mention the fortnightly breakfast venue where the meeting tables randomly cycle between boardroom square, U-shape, and medieval baronial.  Which has now become a standing joke among attendees.

There are many more “war stories”.  You may have some of your own (please share!)

Does it matter?  Yes, for a number of reasons.

Venues need to make a profit…

Now I’m only guessing, of course, but I would have thought most venues were looking for more, and more profitable, business. And there is an oft-quoted saying that to make more profit there are only three things you can increase:

  • orders per customer
  • your customer list
  • or your prices

So – how could those aims be achieved…?

Orders per customer

Rule one to get more orders from your existing customers must, surely, be to get it right. First time. Every time.

In fact every time a venue sets up a room for a business meeting, you could say it’s creating a business opportunity. A chance to demonstrate its professionalism. To show potential clients why they can – and should – book it for their next training course. Their next product launch. Or their next celebration dinner.

It’s a perfect opportunity to win new orders. An opportunity that is all too often missed.

Customer list

Every meeting, by definition, involves more than one person. With a good chance that one or more of them are coming for the first time.

So it wouldn’t hurt to impress them.

And even if it’s the same people every time, every meeting makes an impression. Good – or bad. And each of those visitors will have their own network of business and social contacts. People they talk to about – among other things – the best local venues. More potential customers – who will take the recommendations (or warnings) they receive at face value.

Meaning that every networking session is an advertisement for the venue. Just as much as (if not more than) an ad in the local paper, on local radio, or on social media.

With the added benefit that someone else is paying you for the privilege…

Price – and the buying decision

So – if a venue can’t cope with our requirements, why are we still using it?

Well, at least one of the places I mentioned earlier has lost the business. With the others, it’s a matter of balancing the pros and the cons. This venue is better organised, but parking is tricky. That venue is better organised, but they can’t offer the dates this year. And so on.  It’s a balancing act between costs and benefits.  But price is an item that weighs pretty heavily in that balance.

So if your offer isn’t delivering on the benefits, you’ll need to redress the balance by – yes – reducing your prices.

Every decision is based on a cost-benefit judgement, even if that is done informally.  And if your offering scores weakly on the benefits side, you can – and must – redress the balance by reducing prices.

Some suppliers make the mistake of assuming they must be doing OK. After all the customer is still buying, aren’t they?  And there is a certain amount of buying inertia / better the devil you know etc.

But sometimes while all looks serene on the surface, the customer is actually working quite hard to find an alternative supplier.

It makes far better business sense to offer a decent product and service; and charge a decent price.

So why are venues getting it wrong?

My belief is that the problem is twofold:  firstly, these venues simply have no idea what is important to their customers.

Sounds crazy, maybe, but many of the business lunch venues produce excellent food, and seem to think that that is enough.  And for many of the delegates it may well be.

But the meeting organisers need to know that everything will be well when they turn up.  They need to know that they do not need to turn up early every time to sort out venue problems.  They need to know that if they are held up e.g. by roadworks, the meeting room will be ready on time.

And the choice of venue is down to the organiser.

So even if the niggles seem trivial to the venue, there will come a day when the hassle becomes the last straw. And from there on it is just a matter of time before the meeting moves somewhere else.

But I believe there is a second issue, too, a surprising one.  There is no recipe!

Food (from recipes)…

I am sure that in all these venues, there are clear and documented recipes for food production in the kitchen.  There have to be.

The recipe will set out the list of ingredients required, which will inform the buying side, so they can keep the stock cupboard replenished.

The recipe will set out the actions to be taken by the chef and the kitchen team, and in what order, and when, so that the slow cook items are started in time, and the stir-fry vegetables are prepared and ready for when they are needed.

There will also be recipes for the preparation which detail the equipment to be used – colour-coded preparation-boards, for example, keeping meat and vegetables apart.

In many establishments there are also pictures of the finished serving, to keep the offering consistent . Whoever is on duty.

…and ‘other stuff’ (that needs a recipe)…

There will be “recipes” for the cleaning too!

Lists of items that need cleaning and the frequency required: some every day, some items every week, others every month.  And details of the cleaning processes involved, and the cleaning agents.  And the cleaning equipment to be used – with colour-coded cloths for different areas.

Why do they do this?  To ensure a consistent high-quality result.  And to pass inspection by the Food Standards Agency.

A recipe for successful venues

Just imagine how easy it would be for everyone if the venue had a recipe for setting out the room!

A list of ingredients/equipment, so the person setting the room out has everything they need to do the job. No running backwards and forwards looking for odd items, with the risk they will get distracted and forget something important (like teaspoons…)

The timeline, ensuring that jugs of water and pots of coffee are on the table when delegates start to arrive, but not set out so far ahead that the water is unpleasantly warm, the coffee is unpleasantly tepid, and the milk has curdled (yes, that has happened!)

A picture of the room set out the way the customer wants it, so each individual customer gets the layout they’ve asked for, every time.

Why do might the venue do this?

  • To ensure a consistent high-quality result.  And to pass inspection by the customer.
  • To perform well in the eyes of attendees, ensuring that those attendees will consider the venue for their own requirements. And recommend the venue to their contacts.
  • To provide a decent service – ensuring they can charge a decent price, and make a decent profit.

Help is available

Success – for your venue – will have many ingredients. So if you need help in finding them (and then creating the perfect recipe) the Business Plumber will be delighted to help. For an initial one-hour consultation just call 01359 240717. And the price? Just one cup of (good) coffee…

Afraid to take a holiday? Here’s what to do…

Afraid to take a holiday? Here’s what to do…

Are you afraid to take a holiday?

No, I’m not joking. This is a particular problem for small business owners. One actually told me that he never took a holiday himself because, in his words, ‘I was worried that I wouldn’t have a business by the time I got back’.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. At least, not if you plan things properly beforehand…

But I am the business!

If you’re a sole trader, that may well be what you think. It may even be true. But it doesn’t mean you can’t take a break. And if you’re planning on having a life – as well as a business – then you actually need the occasional holiday. (Quite aside from the needs of others around you, who might quite reasonably like to see more of you than your back, hunched in front of the computer while you catch up with your accounts…)

Look at it another way. If you are your business, then your health and welfare are important to that business. Driving yourself into the ground will benefit no one, least of all the business. (You can’t do anything for your clients if you’re flat on your back in hospital.)

Luckily, there is another way…

Planning your holiday

As an organised person, one of the first things you’ll do when going on holiday is to make an itinerary – where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and where you’re staying when you do. And the second thing you’ll do is to make a list of what you’re taking.

(If that doesn’t sound like you, then now might be a great time to start…)

But before you do any of that, use the same process to plan your holiday. Make a list of your current projects – and any (predictable) future ones. An organised list of your current clients (that someone else can understand). And a planned schedule with a good, solid, two-week gap in it. That’s your holiday, and you do NOT accept any appointments or bookings that will interfere with it. (Go on. You can do it.)

Now share all those lists with a reliable, professional, virtual assistance service. (If you don’t know of one already, I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.) They’re the ones who will be taking your calls while you’re away. Who will be checking your emails – and sending you ONLY those that require your personal attention. Who will be setting up appointments for you on your return. And who will be fielding routine enquiries from current and potential clients on your behalf. So they will need proper instruction – hence those lists.

And if you have a business process they need to know about, write it down and share it with them. You’ll soon find you can do a lot less – and achieve a lot more. In fact you may well want to carry on using them when you get back.

Ready? Good. Now sort out that holiday (and I can point you in the right direction there, as well)…!

And if you’d like a little more guidance on outsourcing and delegation, do check out our blogs. Or give me a call on 01359 240717 and we can get together over a cup of coffee.