Posts filed under ‘Client Relations’

Ask For It

I’ve never read any of the Chicken Soup for the… series nor have I explored the world of professional business coaches, so the name Jack Canfield didn’t really mean much to be when I started following a string of links and references on a range of other websites until I finally arrived at a newsletter post from him titled “The Power of Asking: Seven Ways to Boost Your Business”. It’s a great reminder to all of us, especially all the solo-preneurs that comprise the design industry, that “Ask and you shall receive” is a famous old adage for a reason! So here, with permission from Jack Canfield, are seven strategies for asking that work for your business and your daily life.

  1. Ask for Information
    To win potential new clients, you first need to know what their current challenges are, what they want to accomplish and how they plan to do it. Only then can you proceed to demonstrate the advantages of your unique product or service. 

    Ask questions starting with the words who, why, what, where, when and how to obtain the information you need. Only when you truly understand and appreciate a prospect’s needs can you offer a solution. Once you know what’s important to them, stay on this topic and find solutions for them.

  2. Ask for Business
    Here’s an amazing statistic: after giving a complete presentation about the benefits of their product or service, more than 60 percent of the time salespeople never ask for the order!That’s a bad habit, and one that could ultimately put you out of business. 

    Always ask a closing question to secure the business. Don’t waffle or talk around it—or worse, wait for your prospect to ask you. No doubt you have heard of many good ways to ask the question, “Would you like to give it a try?” The point is, ask.
     

  3.  Ask for Written Endorsements
    Well-written, results-oriented testimonials from highly respected people are powerful for future sales. They solidify the quality of your product or service and leverage you as a person who has integrity, is trustworthy and gets the job done on time. 

    When is the best time to ask? Right after you have provided excellent service, gone the extra mile to help out, or in any other way made your customer really happy.

    Simply ask if your customer would be willing to give you a testimonial about the value of your product or service, plus any other helpful comments.
     

  4. Ask for Top-Quality Referrals
    Just about everyone in business knows the importance of referrals. It’s the easiest, least expensive way of ensuring your growth and success in the marketplace. 

    Your core clients will gladly give you referrals because you treat them so well. So why not ask all of them for referrals? It’s a habit that will dramatically increase your income. Like any other habit, the more you do it the easier it becomes.
     

  5. Ask for More Business
    Look for other products or services you can provide your customers. Devise a system that tells you when your clients will require more of your products. The simplest way is to ask your customers when you should contact them to reorder. It’s often easier to sell your existing clients more than to go looking for new ones.
     
  6. Ask to Renegotiate
    Regular business activities include negotiation. Many businesses get stuck because they lack skills in negotiation, yet this is simply another form of asking that can save a lot of time and money. Look at your vendors and suppliers and see if there are areas where you can be saving money. Just ask. 

    All sorts of contracts can be renegotiated in your personal life, too, such as changing your mortgage terms and rate, reviewing your cell phone plan and requesting a policy review with your insurance agent. As long as you negotiate ethically and in the spirit of win-win, you can enjoy a lot of flexibility. Nothing is ever cast in stone.
     

  7.  Ask for Feedback
    This is a powerful way to fine-tune your business that is often overlooked. How do you really know if your product or service is meeting your customers’ needs? Ask them, “How are we doing? What can we do to improve our service to you? Please share what you like or don’t like about our products.” Set up regular customer surveys that ask good questions and tough questions.
Jack Canfield, America’s #1 Success Coach, is the founder and co-creator of the billion-dollar book brand Chicken Soup for the Soul and a leading authority on Peak Performance and Life Success. If you’re ready to jump-start your life, make more money, and have more fun and joy in all that you do, get your FREE success tips from Jack Canfield now at: www.FreeSuccessStrategies.com
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30 July 2008 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

Commitment Pricing, Part 2

I was speaking to someone about yesterday’s commitment pricing post and he made me realize I left out  some important information. So here’s a follow-up.

First, I don’t want it to appear that I was advocating raising your prices with no consideration for any of the other components that go into setting your prices.

To be successful with commitment pricing you need your clients to invest more than just money with you. They need to invest their time, attention and emotions in order to realize the full value of what they’re purchasing. Now custom design is already a time-intensive and emotionally fraught process, but it’s important to remember that you’re not in the business of selling products, but of an improved, enhanced, more beautiful life. If that’s not worth an investment in time, attention and emotion, I don’t know what is!

I mentioned “full value” in the previous paragraph. Commitment pricing needs to match or exceed the value your client’s get from the service or products you’re offering. What do I mean by this? Just think about how interested or dedicated you would be to selling or promoting something that isn’t worth what you charge for it. What’s the point, for you and for your clients?

And finally, everyone is familiar with the concept that a happy client is easier to build additional business from, in terms of both future projects and referrals, than having to cold-call or market to unknown prospects. So think of your commitment pricing as a means of establishing a support system, for your clients and for your business. Staying in touch, following up, servicing them three-months, six-months or one year down the road, is definitely good for business, but it costs something to do that. This is one aspect where commitment pricing is very aptly named!

So make a commitment–to your clients, yourself and your business–and I think you’ll see the difference almost immediately.

16 July 2008 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

Commitment Pricing

We’ve all been there…trying to determine how to price your services often seems to be the biggest struggle i our business. Charge too much and you’re afraid you’ll lose clients. Charge too little and you can’t earn a living.

But take another look at those statements. Charging “enough” to make a living doesn’t really seem like very satisfying goal. Instead of just looking at your costs, your competition, etc. why not look at your clients. How much should you be charging to get committed, sing-your-praises clients AND to deliver the level of service, training and expertise they deserve?

Being in business costs money, and the costs keep going up every day. When you charge less than you need in order for your business to thrive; you’re not just short-changing yourself financially, you’re depriving your clients of the full experience, benefit and range of services they should be getting from you. You’re not committing fully to them, in terms of what you’re willing to offer, because you can’t afford to do what you’d really like to do for your clients. 

Commitment Pricing is especially important for designers because this business is not based on need or necessity. It’s not commodity selling, because commodities—something that is widely available and has little or no distinguishing characteristics—is what design is emphatically NOT!

Any consumer, when willing to invest in something customized, something unique and distinctive, usually recognizes that the higher price for such products and services carries with it a commitment on both sides. For the seller to deliver, service and respect the investment of the buyer; and for the buyer to appreciate, value and respect the seller.

Think about some of your recent purchasing decisions: Are there any examples of commitment pricing you can identify and apply to your own business?

14 July 2008 at 4:44 pm Leave a comment

The Money Mirror

Take a moment to think about our ingrained training regarding money. People are “filthy rich” or loaded with “dirty money.” Those who don’t get business degrees are doomed to become “starving arists”, but everybody better get to work anyway because “time is money.” Money is unnatural because “it doesn’t grow on trees” and it’s alright to struggle financially because, after all, money can’t you love or happiness. Besides, everyone knows, “money is the root of all evil.”

These issues are rarely directly addresses when designers discuss pricing, but our ambiguous emotions regarding money certainly play a part. As an industry we frequently undercharge because:

  1. We based our prices on our perceived competitive set…and they’re already undercharging
  2. We are fearful that a lack of credentials mean we can’t charge as much as some one who has [check any that apply] ___ been in business longer  ___ more training  ___ an office/studio/retail location ___ other
  3. We’re afraid of looking greedy/aggressive/“snooty”/“out-of-touch”/etc. 

Our attitude toward making money from our skills, talents and abilities is a reflection of ourselves. It’s a mirror of our self-worth; and as solo or small practitioners our inability to look into that mirror and see the results accurately often sabotages our best efforts to grow our business.

What does your money mirror say to you?

10 July 2008 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

Designer Definitions

One of the most frequent topics of discussion to come up whenever Deb and I run a seminar or presentation regards identity and definitions.

In some states, of course, the phrase interior designer can only be used by a licensed professional, so many believe, by default, that interior decorator is a “lesser” choice. I’d like to point out, however, that many of our best known, most praised design talents in the U.S. were (and are) proud to be know as decorators… reaching back to Dorothy Draper, Billy Baldwin, Sister Parish, Mario Buatta, Charlotte Moss, etc. 

But this concern over “what to call myself” is usually a cover debate for “how can I charge”, meaning does a designer have a greater perceived value to the client than a decorator? If you’ve ever found yourself having this discussion with yourself, your staff, etc. you’ve allowed yourself to become distracted from the key issue by semantics. 

And what is the key issue? You need to ask how you perceive yourself. Are you a color specialist? Are you a fantastic resource? Are you a good listener? Are you a problem-solver? Are you a space strategist? It all goes back to how you present yourself to your clients and what value you bring to them.

So our response to the designer/decorator debate? It doesn’t really matter that much. Get yourself out of the design-world bubble and start thinking bigger. Who gets called in when there’s an issue that can’t be solved  internally? Who gets paid the big bucks to advise, research, strategize and plan? Consultants!

You don’t have to call yourself a design consultant, but you do need to think of yourself that way. Why? Well, how about this really, really brief summary of Alan Weiss’ book Million Dollar Consulting.

* Focus on the value you deliver.
* Never count hours or charge by the hour.
* Make a case for what you can deliver. Once you’ve got your client on board, present your “fee” as an given.

According to Weiss, the client will almost always bite.

As always, we welcome your thoughts on this!

 

9 July 2008 at 5:45 pm 1 comment

Must-Dos (and Don’ts) for E-Mail Marketing

A couple of my clients have been going through some tough times with their e-mail promotions and their trials and tribulations highlight some of the big dos and don’ts in the e-mail age.

DO:

  1. Use a professional e-mail marketing service
     I can’t stress enough the importance of using an “e-mail house” for your promotions. These services provide easy-to-use templates for announcements, newsletters,  invitations, etc. where you can add your own logo, graphics, and more to create a customized look. But most importantly these companies have “white list” agreements with most of the major internet service providers so that your e-mail is less likely to get bounced as spam or shunted to the recipient’s junk folder. 
     
  2. Pay attention to the subject line
    Oh, you’ve worked hard on your list and you have a great offer, but you send it out with a lame subject line like “Spring Into Savings–All April Long” or “We Have Your Decorating Answers”. What’s wrong with these? They’re written like advertising copy, where the rest of info to support the claim is usually able to be quickly scanned for confirmation. But with an e-mail you only have your subject line to capture attention. When it comes to e-mail marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside; they don’t sell what’s inside.
     
  3.  Keep your lists updated
     First, you should have multiple lists. One for vendors, one for previous customers, one for leads, one for press, etc. Then you should also be able to overlap and sort them past on the purpose of the e-mail. Perhaps everyone gets your e-mail newsletter, but only certain customers are notified of a special offer and so on. If an e-mail is returned as undeliverable, you will be notified, but it’s still up to you to check on the reason why. Perhaps it’s a simple typo, or perhaps the company changed it’s e-mail protocol. Don’t assume every undeliverable is no longer any good, a minute of research could save you a valuable contact. On the other hand, be sure to purge your list of addresses you can confirm are no longer valid.
     
  4. Check your stats
     E-mail marketing services allow users to track the performance of an e-mail, showing open rates (25% should be what you’re aiming for) and click-throughs to any web address embedded in the e-mail. Once you’re confident in the quality of your list, it’s not a bad idea to run a few experiments… try different subject lines to different portions of your list on a newsletter to see which pulls the higher returns or try two different versions of a similar sales offer, etc. This way you’ll get a better feel of what your base responds to. 

DON’TS

  1. Get labeled as a spammer
    Most e-mail marketing services require that you have a relationship with a contact prior to adding the name to your list. This is commonly known as permission-based marketing. Obviously the e-mail marketer cannot verify that relationship prior to sending the e-mail, but anyone who receives your e-mail will have the automatic option of reporting it as span and will be immediately unsubscribed from your list. You will not be able to add them to your list again. And is your e-mail receives over a certain percentage of unsubscribe requests, the e-mail marketing service may ban you from the system.
     
  2. Abuse/Overuse your list
    The relatively low cost of e-mail promotions makes it tempting to send a flurry of news, updates, promotions and more to your list. After all, there’s a lot going on in your business they should be aware of, right?  But I’m sure we’ve all been on the other end of endless e-mail campaigns from the catalog we bought from once, or the charity you sponsored your sister’s walkathon team, or whatever. Don’t go from being a must-read to an automatic delete.
     
  3. Forget to make an offer 
    Even a news announcement or a general newsletter should include some type of offer to continue the relationship…“Click here for the rest of the story…” “Check out more photos on our website” etc. Because getting them to open your e-mail is only one part of the process.

Your website hosting agreement may include an e-mail promotional opportunity, or it may be available through them for an upcharge, but my preference here is to go with a specialist. Here’s a list of some of the leaders in this field.

Constant Contact
Topica
Rapid Reach
Bronto
Murgent
Icontact
and newcomer Emma.

7 July 2008 at 5:17 pm Leave a comment

Tips From the Grocery Store

In this weekend’s Sunday business section of the NYTimes there was an interesting article on Heinen’s Fine Foods, a 17-store grocery chain in the Cleveland area. While Tom Heinen, who runs the business with his twin brother Jeff was certainly hearing complaints from customers on rising prices, so far most of his clients are sticking with him. The article goes on to note:

“Their loyalty suggests a couple of things about the kind of middle-and upper-class shoppers Heinen’s tends to attract. While they are concerned about price, they’re increasingly thinking about their foods’ origins and quality. So they would just as soon not trade down from a store like Heinen’s that offers handsome local radishes and an excellent stir-fry station.

And they almost certainly don’t want to drive around to six different stores cherry-picking deals. “With two adults working and the kids going to soccer, I defy you to show me how they can do it,” Mr. Heinen said.”

Heinen’s is facing competition for those customers, Whole Foods entered the Cleveland market last year, and of course, there’s price competition from other regional grocery chains. Even at the best of times, running a grocery store sounds like a tough way to make a living. Margins are incredibly low, the stores are both labor- and logistic-intensive and just think about how gets tossed out from every store, every day. 

Heinen offered a couple of suggestion for savings, some of the same ideas he’s been mentioning to his customers. Not all of them are applicable to the design business, (but they’re certainly good for your grocery bill, so check them out here) however a couple can immediately be put to use. 

  1. Offer Artisan-Quality Deals
    Heinen’s had won Cleveland Magazine’s “best cheese selection” award
    for several years running as was determined to keep the honor. But
    with diary prices up 14% and the drop of the dollar against the Euro,
    they knew they needed to make bigger changes. So they went to their
    vendors and asked for help in finding artisan-quality products at
    reasonable prices. The result has been a new in-store focus on
    “Heinen’s Great Value Cheeses”. 
    Lesson: Ask your vendors for assistance in finding unique resources
    that fit the needs of your clientele. And then make sure to package,
    brand and promote those unique resources.
     
  2.  Is It Local
    Deb and I have spoken for several years on the need to develop a
    network of local resources that can provide unique products and
    services to the design trade. It started out as a way to move yourself
    out of the head-to-head price comparisons with big-box stores and
    direct competition. But with increased fuel costs, which means increased
    shipping fees, plus the spillover of the “locavore” movement, people are
    more than interested in this kind of shopping experience.
    Lesson: Become the “resident expert” for all types of artists and crafts-
    people in your area. Remember 10-years ago when every designer needed
    to have a least one faux-finisher in the rolodex? Well it’s time to expand
    your resource list once again!

The article wraps up with a series of questions that are great to have in your arsenal for your next price shopper

“So this is what you have to ask yourself: If you are patronizing a grocer
that doubles your coupons, discounts your gasoline or runs other expensive
promotions, how exactly are they staying in business? Are they gouging you
on the second most popular brand when the most popular one goes on sale?
Do prices bounce around so frequently that it’s impossible to keep the baseline
in your head?

Shoppers can play the discount game and win by shopping six different stores,
buying only the sale items and products they have coupons for, buying in bulk
and then cooking from the pantry and freezer. But is that really the live most
of them want to live?”

Switch a few words and you’ve got a great defense for why you’re not the cheapest, why you don’t need to discount and what the real value of working with a design professional is.

As always, let us know what happens when you put any of these ideas into practice in your business.

30 June 2008 at 6:08 pm Leave a comment

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