So, you’re building a small business with only the proverbial wing and prayer to keep you aloft.
What are you most intensely focused on?
If your response is “stretching my shoestring budget,” “establishing processes that work,” or (the biggie) “making money,” you’re not alone.
But according to Joseph Callaway, all of those answers are wrong.
Anything that takes your focus off the customer, he says, puts your fledgling business in harm’s way.
“Whatever industry you’re in, success boils down to this: attracting enough customers and keeping them coming back — with interest!” says Callaway, who, along with his wife, JoAnn, is the author of the new book Clients First: The Two Word Miracle.
“When you’re growing a small business, you can’t afford to disappoint customers, or even offer them a good-enough experience. You have to ‘wow’ them every time, which means giving them the first fruits of your time, energy, creativity and focus."
“And here’s the payoff,” he adds. “When you succeed in putting your clients first, you will find that everything else — growth, a positive reputation and financial security — all fall into place.”
The Callaways' book describes how they had their “Clients First” revelation, and how it has impacted their professional and personal lives.
It also gives readers step-by-step advice on how to put their own customers first, as well as why each one works.
“Living and working this way is not easy,” Callaway admits. “Putting your customers’ interests ahead of your own — every time — will seem counterintuitive, risky and sometimes even frightening, especially at first. Eventually, though, keeping your commitment to Clients First will start to feel more natural. And by that point, the benefits, rewards, satisfaction and success will be rolling in — and you’ll be proud of the person and professional you’ve become.”
Callaway shares a “dirty dozen” tips that might not be obvious … but that will help you to put clients (and competitors and employees) first so that your small business can grow and prosper:
Change your thinking about why you exist.
If you go into work thinking, "How do I make money?" you’re already off on the wrong foot.
As Callaway has pointed out, what you need to be thinking is, "How do I serve others?"
Callaway admits that taking your focus away from the bottom line may feel uncomfortable at first.
Yet, ironically, it changes everything for the better.
“Consciously putting your own best interests in second place goes against the grain of human nature,” admits Callaway. “But you will find that when you focus on how best to serve clients, tough decisions make themselves. If it serves the client, you do it. If it doesn’t, you don’t. This neutralizes moral dilemmas and really simplifies your life. And it almost always has a miracle effect on your growth and success.”
Take your business personally.
Never let the words “it’s just business” cross your mind — and certainly not your lips.
This old standby phrase is simply not true, especially to a client who feels as though he has been belittled, treated coldly, pushed away or used.
Remember, to truly serve, you have to care.
When you keep yourself at arm’s length, you can’t give your clients 100 percent … and you give them an incentive to take their business elsewhere.
“Do you see your clients as sources of income, or do you see them as actual human beings with likes, preferences, quirks and stories?” Callaway asks. “People want to do business with individuals they like — and they like people who like them! Make a deeper connection with your clients by asking about their kids, their pets, their hobbies and their jobs or businesses. You’ll find that most of them are just like you: filled with worries, hopes and dreams. Once you get familiar with and invested in these things, you’ll work that much harder on each client’s behalf, and you’ll earn their loyalty in the process.”
Little things matter more than you think.
Especially when you’re trying to get a small business off the ground, it’s easy to get caught up in pursuing the “big” goals: growing your company, expanding your client base, hiring more employees and making a profit, for example.
But don’t become so fixated on the forest that you fail to see the trees.
In other words, stop being so distracted by the “big grand ideas” and start getting the small details right.
Promises kept, deadlines met, little extra flourishes and small acts of kindness add up to happy clients.
“This principle definitely includes the simple act of communication,” Callaway comments. “One of the things we do with clients in escrow is to call or email them every day, even if nothing is happening. This simple message of ‘nothing happening, wanted you to know,’ is a huge stress reliever and an even bigger business builder.”
Hard times don’t justify stinginess.
We’ve all heard the expression, “The more you give, the more you get.”
And you may be willing to put it into practice when it comes to giving your clients things like honesty, competence and care.
But if you give away your expertise, time, energy and (gasp!) money, won’t you just go broke?
Not necessarily, says Callaway.
It may take time, but whatever you give will usually come back to you with interest.
“I remember being very apprehensive about donating a large sum of money to build a Habitat for Humanity house as a Christmas gift for our clients. I thought I’d never see that money again. But in the years since, I’ve learned that new clients chose us — and even that a bank gave us all of their foreclosures to sell — because they had learned of that donation. Now, you might not always give and get on such a large scale. But the principle works for all amounts of money, and it also works when you’re giving over-and-beyond service.”
Don’t lie — even if it makes you look better, makes you rich or keeps a client from walking.
Sometimes, it’s tempting to tell white lies, exaggerate, misdirect, omit and cut corners to make life easier.
Generally, it’s also easy to justify these things to yourself.
But when it comes to putting clients first, Callaway says, these “little” lies are just as bad as the whoppers.
Yes, honesty can be tough in the moment, but in the long run you’ll gain a reputation for trustworthiness that will change your life.
“Trust the truth,” Callaway instructs. “When you cultivate a reputation for rock-solid honesty — for laying out all your cards even when it doesn’t benefit you, for telling the whole truth, for never holding back or sugarcoating — you’ll gain customer loyalty that money can’t buy. Clients will trust, respect and refer you, and your own life will become easier. When you have only the truth, you wave goodbye to moral dilemmas and sleepless nights. You don’t have to worry about getting the story straight or remembering what you have and haven’t shared. You know you’re doing the right thing.”
Be honest with yourself, too.
As Callaway has already established, you should never lie to a client, or to anyone else.
But honesty shouldn’t stop there.
Ask yourself, "Am I lying to myself about where my priorities lie and how others perceive me?"
Try to see your business as your clients and customers see you.
Are you putting them first — or putting yourself first?
“Small businesses start off with the best intentions and with a clear picture of what the customer wants,” Callaway acknowledges. “But soon, most of them drift off the path. Little by little, they start making it all about them and their growth, and poof! No more ‘Clients First’ … and no more of the benefits living by this philosophy brings.”
Continued in part 2.