Common Business Mistakes to Avoid

I deal with a lot of people who are starting fresh in a brand new business, and I see some of the same business mistakes over and over. I myself am guilty of having committed all of these at one time or another, and this article is dedicated to keeping you free of my — and others’— mistakes.

Don’t poormouth

Myth: If I tell my clients how poorly business is going, they are sure to send me more business.

Busted. The truth is our attitude affects other people. If we are sullen, sad, angry, or complaining about how crappy the economy is and how poor we are it will cause people to avoid you.

  • People want to do business with other people that make them feel good. When you talk about how crummy your business is at length it isn’t going to make anyone feel good.
  • People want to do business with people who are successful. Spending time looking for a service provider can be a long process. When you find someone you like, chances are you’ll want to stick with them. If they don’t come across as having a thriving business you might move to the next provider that doesn’t show signs of going out of business.
  • Desperation makes you go in the opposite direction. Have you ever experienced someone drowning? If you get too close they will climb on top of your head and take you both down. This is why lifeguards are trained to never get in the water when they can throw a life preserver. When you sound desperate to your clients, it gives off a bad vibe.
  • When trying to negotiate a better price with a vendor, poormouthing is more likely to get you put on the “cash-only” list than it is to lower your bottom line. Many vendors have been burned by businesses that have gone under with an open line of credit, and they’re on the watch. It’s all too easy to give the wrong impression, and doubly difficult to take it back.

I also believe that what you put out to the world comes back to you. If you are angry and complain, you will attract the same kind of behavior. If you are happy and joyful people will return in kind. People want to give money to businesses that make them feel good.

  • BAD: “My business is really suffering due to the economy. We are just barely keeping our doors open”
  • BETTER: “The economy has really affected us”
  • BEST: “I have seen the economy affect many of my customers. We feel very fortunate.”

Don’t talk bad about your competitors

Myth: If I tell everyone how bad my competitor is, they will like me more by comparison.

Busted. They will assume the only way you can be top of your industry is to step on other people, and that you are not confident in your own abilities/products… otherwise you’d be talking about them. It’s not a pretty quality. You should be confident in your own abilities within your industry, if you aren’t – get more training! Many people are qualified to give the same exact services that you are. What makes you stand out are probably the things that have nothing to do with your specific service skills (friendly attitude, returning phone calls, good customer service, organization, etc.).

My grandfather who was a Master Plumber used to say “There are a lot of plumbers here in town, but I’m the only one who is a business man.”

  • BAD: “ABC Widgets sells a terrible product”
  • BETTER: “Some of our competitors sell a product that isn’t the same quality as we sell”
  • BEST: “Let me explain some differences between widgets so you can understand what you are looking for”

Spend your energy to keep your existing clients happy and build up your own client base. Stop focusing energy on “stealing” your competitors’ clients.

Return phone calls in a timely manner

Myth: I don’t have time to return phone calls quickly.

Busted. You don’t have time NOT to return phone calls in a timely manner. We are all busy, and phone calls can take time, but they are a necessity for most of us. Making a client wait for several days tells them three things. One; you don’t care about them, two; you probably won’t do the work in a timely fashion, and three; you aren’t organized and the upcoming project is likely to be a real trial if they stick with you.

  • Answer the phone when it rings whenever you can.
  • Set expectations within your answering machine message on when they can expect a return call.
  • Provide information on your answering machine such as a web site address or alternate person to contact.

Encourage Complaints

Myth: A complaining customer is bad.

Busted. A complaint is an opportunity to have a more loyal customer. Studies show that if you satisfy an unhappy customer they will become ten times as loyal to you as they were before they had the complaint. After all we all make mistakes… what is important is how we handle the problem. I have seen this happen from both sides.

Example 1: I have a client who sends me frequent web updates by email. The changes are often complex and sometimes I misunderstood what needed to be done. This would result in more emails back and forth. Eventually, the client called me to complain. I learned that she disliked email and much preferred talking over the phone. She told me that she felt that I wasn’t available to talk to by telephone and she was being forced to communicate by email. I felt terrible. I admit that I do prefer email when I can, but sometimes a phone call makes more sense. I had inadvertently let her think I didn’t want to use the phone! I apologized and we came up with a system for changes we could do over the telephone. She was thrilled, I was happy. Our relationship has never been better.

Example 2: Recently, I returned to my favorite tech store website to purchase more RAM for my computer. The type I needed was out of stock. The site told me to come back in a couple of days to see if it was in stock, so I did. Over and over. Finally, I started an online chat with a rep who told me the RAM was due to be in in a few more days. Three weeks later they were finally restocked and I purchased my RAM. At the end of the purchase, there was a survey. I wrote a very nice message telling them of my experience, I wasn’t upset, but I could have purchased the RAM anywhere and chose to use them because I had some loyalty. I just thought they would want to know that a little more information of when to expect the RAM to be in-stock would have been nice. The order form put my RAM to arrive within 5 days with standard shipping. I was happily shocked to have it arrive the next day. They had expedited my shipping for my trouble. I was thrilled. And, whereas I was loyal before, I am MUCH more loyal now.

So, be happy when a client complains. It is giving you an opportunity to fix something. Something that is probably happening more often than you realize. Most people just silently move to another company and leave you none the wiser.

When you get a complaint:

  • Don’t get defensive.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Ask them what they want. Some people just want to be heard. Others want something fixed.
  • Ask questions until you understand.
  • Let them know you understand.
  • Tell them thank you for giving you the opportunity to help them and improving your business.
  • Do your best to fix the issue with a new product, repair, credit, and add an apology.

Remember, you are your business. Others’ impressions of you are their impressions of your business, and inform their willingness to put money in your pocket and keep a roof over your head.

Lena Shore

Lena is a full-time freelancer and nerd that specializes in web development, graphic design, and illustration. She enjoys building things, learning new things, pursuing creative endeavors, and giving free advice.

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