I went to a swanky optician in Bath. The price of the glasses was eye watering (sorry couldn’t resist it). The owner of the shop told me that he has a member of staff who helps customers choose glasses, and that she is legendary for her skills.
So – even though I am just taking his word for it, I am tempted to travel 30 miles to Bath, and spend twice what I would in my local shop (which I am very loyal to) to get the advice of someone I have never met.
What is it about what he said that was so compelling? The ambiance in the shop, his confidence, and the fact he was talking about his employee, not himself. Though in the end I didn’t go back, I believed him and still rather wish I had gone to see the legendary lady.
There are lessons here for any business. There is absolutely no point in having a fabulous service, and hoping people will learn about it by magic, or because they are so discerning they recognise quality when they see it, and will then tell all their friends.
My lovely apprentice Jess missed our Christmas pizza because of flooding. I said I would take her out to lunch. I decided we would go to a rather nice restaurant which I wanted to try.
I have been thinking of starting my own business networking group, as the ones I have been in have fallen by the wayside. So, I asked in the restaurant if they would be able to host a breakfast meeting, the chef told me such a meeting was already happening the following day. A phone call later and I was invited to attend. It’s a really nice group, and I know it will work well for me. And if I hadn’t decided to give Jess and me a treat lunch it would never have happened.
I can’t resist publishing this email I received; I promise it is verbatim, from a firm of solicitors:
“Thank you for your e-mail of the 7th of January 2014, the content whereof we note. We are referring the matter to our clients whereafter we will revert back to you herein.”
I remember the days when teachers were encouraged to retire with great pay offs at 50. Same went for my old firm. Now it has all changed and most of us are keeping working. It’s no joke for people stuck in horrible jobs but for those of us lucky enough to have some choice in the matter, it’s interesting that quite a few of us choose to carry on.
In an ideal world I would work 3 or 4 days a week, each day doing at least one thing I really enjoy, and be free to take plenty of holidays. In particular I would like to see more of my son, who currently lives in Beijing. I don’t need or want to go off for weeks at a time, which would be tricky whilst running a business, but it’s only by getting away that I get a break from the business.
The business does excite me: I meet new people, it challenges me, and keeps me busy. I know I would be bored if I filled my days with tennis games, shopping, and doing lunch so retirement really doesn’t appeal to me at this stage in my life. I think there are lots other people who feel like me.
I have joined a group of small business owners run by a business coach. We meet once a month, and he keeps us on track, tells us how to focus on the big picture, make plans, different techniques for selling and so on. I find it extremely helpful.
We had to set a goal for 2014 – for most businesses this would be some sort of financial measure. I chose the very un-SMART goal of enjoying the business.
The business must make money, of course, and it is starting to in a modest way. However that isn’t what gets me out of bed in the morning and I am immensely privileged that I have other sources of income. What is far more important to me is that I get a buzz from it, I meet interesting people who are grateful to me for what we are doing for them, and so on.
It is helpful to have this goal. If I’m having a miserable day, I remind myself that I want to enjoy myself, and somehow it takes the sting out. As most of my misery is self-imposed (eg working to stupid deadlines, feeling I have to get back to clients that day) it can just make me relax to remember my goal.
A teacher friend used this term the other day. I know I have it. I hate to make mistakes, even (or particularly) small ones. Where does this need to be perfect come from? It is extremely unhelpful, leads to anxiety and self-criticism where it really isn’t needed.
And why don’t guys suffer from it?
Actually I am getting a bit better at acknowledging my mistakes and not letting them get me down. Running a business you have to, because otherwise you would be constantly in a state of high anxiety. The more you do, the more likely there will be the odd unforced error.
We recently had such a cock up and I grasped the mettle, rang up the client, apologised, and offered to know the extra cost off the bill. It wasn’t so bad.
I do love them, and I have given a few in my time BUT in my middle years what I really want is:
- To meet interesting people who talk and listen and don’t assume that because I am over 50 I have nothing to say and do nothing interesting;
- Not be so noisy that you have to shout to be heard and miss every third word of the person you are talking to, leaving you to guess what they are talking about. Same goes for restaurants by the way;
- Where I can sit down if I’m there for more than an hour.
Is this a sign that I’m getting old and grumpy? Probably, but bring it on!
What have I learnt in 2013?
- There will always be difficult clients. The nature of our work (probate) is such that many of our clients have suffered a recent bereavement. This will impact them in different ways, and for some it makes them demanding and irritable. I need to learn better how to handle that and not take it personally;
- Occasionally we get truly difficult clients, and sometimes they are not even paying us. We subscribed to will aid week, which means that we do the wills for free, and the client makes a contribution to charity. Sadly we had a couple of seriously dysfunctional clients through the door, one of whom caused me great distress when she vented her anger at me. I’m just not used to being on the receiving end of such fury, though even at the time I realised it had nothing to do with me and fortunately my behaviour had been beyond reproach. There are some unhappy people out there, the lesson is to spot them early and set very clear boundaries;
- I am starting to appreciate what a great service we give our clients. I am proud of it and I don’t have to be embarrassed about charging properly for it;
- I’ve worked my socks off for nearly 3 years setting up and running this business, it is succeeding, thank goodness, and now I want to work less and not feel guilty if I leave my team slogging away while I am off enjoying myself.
This is an old cliché to anyone who has run a business for a while, but it is so true and so hard to do. There are always so many jobs that need doing.
So, for next year I must invest in an extra member of staff to take some of the dross away from me that can be done by someone else (I don’t think that will go in the job description) to give myself more space. It was never my intention to work full time in my business, but I seem to be working harder than I ever had. It’s great that it’s succeeding – and I feel incredibly sorry for people who work their socks off to get a new business off the ground and fail. However I really must give myself more space – for my sanity if nothing else.
Boy this is needed when you run a business. But is the right thing to throw myself into a skiing holiday where I am anxious and spend a lot of time being self-critical about my lousy skiing? Plus at the beginning and end of the holiday I have to get up at 4am to catch a horrible flight from Gatwick (miles from my home) plus a 3 ½ hour coach trip in France? Maybe not.
The plus is that I get excellent coaching via the ski club of Great Britain (a super organisation) and meet some great people. But I think next think I will just give myself an easy time, go with a group of friends who don’t want to go too fast, stick to those blues and reds (skiers will know what I mean) and major on lovely coffee and lunch stops. Any takers?
Quite often I get contacted via the internet by people wanting a quote. Naturally they are contacting several businesses, and in fact they may already have a lawyer and just be using the quotes they get as leverage.
I have been disappointed by the low take up of my quotes. Almost by definition, people sending these emails are looking to save money and get the work done as cheaply as possible. Whilst we charge reasonably we are far more focussed on excellent service than doing things cheaply.
So from now on I will never respond to an email with a quote. I will write back asking when it’s convenient to talk, to get more information. If they don’t respond I will know they are not seriously looking to instruct and I will have saved myself time.
So far I think it’s working, and I have had some interesting conversations, but time will tell.
We have all done it and it makes no sense. My latest example – my Blackberry died after getting very wet on a fungal foray and I rushed to buy a new mobile. It’s a Samsung Galaxy. Took ages to sort syncing emails and is small and fiddly for me to type on. But it only cost £65.
I am meaner about work purchases than home ones because it is all so visible, and pretty challenging to make a decent profit.
However the new offices are so splendid that I really shouldn’t continue the slightly hand to mouth way I’ve been running things. The copier that keeps breaking down, the cheap paper etc. I’m almost certainly wasting money.
As for the phone, my inability to waste means I will have to put up with it for at least 6 months before I will allow myself to ditch it and buy another.
Gosh how I waste my time doing things other people could do, and do better than me. Each day I swear I will focus on the bigger picture, or at least generating new business and I end up doing banking stuff and so on.
My latest thought is that we should make more of our speed. We do deal with probate and wills fast, but we don’t make a point in our marketing about it. So in order to do that I have to think about what we can guarantee we will deliver when so much is outside our control.
This is not an impossible task, but the lawyer in me sees endless “what ifs” and if I’m not careful my “speed guarantee” will sound like a self-protective legal document promising anything but speed, and have the opposite effect to what I want.
Lunch with the FT featured an interview with Greg Dyke. Clearly a very likeable guy who comes over as a regular bloke.
I am a sucker for the single paragraph that tells you what makes a leader, etc. This was promised by the title of the piece. In Greg’s case he says accountants make good managers not leaders, because the people who work for you need to know you care about what they do, not just the numbers.
I’m sure that’s true, but it’s not the whole story. Caring about what your team do isn’t quite enough on its own.
I am about to head for the slopes. I always approach skiing with a mixture of dread and – well – dread again. But when I get there I understand why I do it. At best it ticks all my boxes – being outside in beautiful places, doing something physically demanding, good company, and an excuse to eat lots of nice food in mountaintop cafes.
At worst you can’t see where you are going, you are cold, your skiing goes to pot and you fall over and injure yourself.
This is very early to go skiing. I have gone at this time for the last 2 years and the weather has been terrible. I swore I wouldn’t go again but here I am, off again. I am about to experience the joy of a flight from Gatwick at 6.40am on Sunday morning, and the long transfer from Grenoble to Tignes. BUT – the weather forecast is good, and there is lots of snow. And best of all it liberates me from working the whole time, and also getting ready for Christmas. I shall probably love it!