This month’s guest blogger Sarah Matthews from SFM Consulting considers the business worries keeping you awake at night.
What keeps you awake?
What stops you sleeping? Other than your partner snoring, or car alarms going off in the night, we sometimes find ourselves lying awake and our thoughts keep coming back to business concerns such as cash flow, cost control, sales pipeline, winning new business, retaining existing business, managing clients, competitor activity, staff performance, being too busy and not having enough time for everything, work-life balance, etc. Every business is different, and so is our individual capacity for managing stress, so I’ve chosen just three worries which have given my clients, friends and me sleepless nights.
Start with the end in sight
I’ve been asked this same question by business owners who work for themselves and have a really unique set of skills and experiences, and others growing their business. The question they both want answered is whether, or when, they should take on staff. My answer to both is a question – ‘What is your exit plan?’ Do you want to turn the lights off, close the door and go home when it’s time to move on to the next thing, or do you want a business to sell? If you want the former then you’ll need to manage the business to maximise your revenue streams.
The latter is more complex because if you’ve been doing everything yourself, and your business is ‘your baby,’ you may have difficulty letting go. You may not be the best person to analyse your strengths, and the complementary skills required to share the load, so taking professional advice may save sleepless nights in the long term.
Taking your eye off the ball
If you’ve been in business a number of years, and you have a number of long standing clients, a good sales pipeline and you’re reasonably effective at winning new business you probably enjoy what you do and feel quite pleased with the way business is going. But, it’s easy to feel too comfortable and take your eye off the ball in such a subtle way that you don’t even notice you are doing it. Compared with the early days you deliver services to your clients more efficiently, you’re more familiar with your clients, your hunger is less pronounced and you’ve drifted out of the habit of challenging yourself to ensure you’re going the extra mile. Your clients seem happy. Nothing is broken so there’s nothing to fix. You’ve become complacent, you haven’t noticed and it’s a dangerous place to be.
Then disaster strikes. What seems like a insignificant oversight really damages a long standing client relationship and they either terminate the contract or ask you to re-tender. The mistake seems disproportionate to the client reaction. Either way, you feel devastated and you lie at wake feeling guilty and worrying about your other client relationships.
This isn’t an unusual situation and one I’ve experienced as an employee. The reality is that statistics show clients move on every 7 years. Your oversight just provided the trigger.
Don’t lose more sleep and examine what you do to avoid repeating the disaster:
• if you’ve had clients for 5 years or more, start succession planning – don’t wait until you lose a client
• business is dynamic. If you haven’t refreshed your offering for the last couple of years it’s time you did
• don’t put off a periodic review because business is going well and you think the relationship will stand it, and don’t make it a repeat of the last review
• keep watching your competitors and your clients’ competitors
• put yourself in your clients’ shoes. What would make them move to another supplier?
• remember that going the extra mile when the client relationship started is very different from what you need to do for a mature client business
• your priorities are not your clients’ priorities (see below)
• clients hire you because of your personality and the perceived added value you would bring. They probably selected two or three competitors for the original pitch but it was something about you that won the business. Over time this uniqueness can fade so it’s important not to get too comfortable in a relationship. Most relationships that fail – whether personal or business – do so because of poor communication.
The waiting game
Have you ever sent a proposal to a client and heard nothing for weeks, sent information a client needed urgently and heard nothing, found yourself waiting for a signed agreement or purchase order to progress a project you’ve agreed with the client? Most of us have been kept waiting, and probably lost sleep over it thinking the worst.
What we forget is that our priorities are not our client’s priorities, and most of our clients have many responsibilities and priorities we don’t even know about, so the trick is not to worry. In my experience if clients are unhappy they’ll waste no time telling you. If you have a deadline to meet – don’t rely on e-mail – pick up the phone. Leaving a message or speaking to a colleague conveys more urgency than an e-mail. If there’s no deadline then give the client a week then e-mail or call. I had a client whose capability intimidated me. I was approaching a deadline, had heard nothing so plucked up courage to pick up the phone. It was a great decision. The client was clearly much happier to discuss the issues on the phone than ping e-mails back and fore. And, guess what – I feel more in tune with my client and I’m no longer feeling intimidated.
If I request information from someone I always e-mail a thank you as I think it’s bad manners not to do so, however I’ve found that my standards are not always the same as those of my clients or suppliers. To help manage the situation I try to lead by example so always send a response when information or a proposal is sent to me, I write contact reports from client meetings and when meetings are arranged verbally I send an e-mail confirmation.
It’s important to find solutions to problems for your business to thrive and for your self-preservation. Sleep deprivation won’t help you perform your best and can hamper you finding a solution. Sometimes what seems like an insurmountable problem to you can be resolved by someone who is not involved in the day to day operations. If this sounds familiar contact Sarah Matthews, SFM Consulting E: email@example.com, T: 020 3286 7224 www.sfmconsulting.co.uk
SFM Consulting works with businesses and their senior teams to make strategy reality through effective resource management, brand alignment and strategic project execution.