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Be Careful Who You Ask For Help With Your Business

help.jpgI can’t tell you how many calls and emails I get from small business owners who have had a bad experience with their web designer or their marketing coach. It seems so common. Maybe 1 in 3 of the people who contact me do so because they’ve not gotten what they’ve needed from the person they’re working with.

In the past ten years, I’ve seen everything: web designers who take the money and run, have ever-increasing project costs, outrageous pricing for simple projects, horrible design (and over design), and just plain rudeness.

With marketing coaches it’s a little better. At least they’re usually nice to their clients. But usually clients call me because they feel ‘boxed in’ by a marketing program. They don’t feel heard, they’re not really getting it, or their coach simply doesn’t get how to effectively translate a marketing message to the internet.

All-in-all, I end up bailing people out.

Now, I’m not complaining. I love the business. And I love helping people who really need my help in using their websites to grow their business. Yet, I’m not happy that they’ve gotten such poor service before they found me. And I’m definitely not pleased that sometimes they’ve been down right taken advantage of.

That’s why I think it’s important that you’re careful about who your hire to help you with your business. Remember, you’re entering into a relationship; one that should help you with your business needs. So to be sure the relationship has a foundation, here’s a few questions you can ask yourself in deciding whether a marketing coach or web designer is a good fit for you:

  • Do I like the person?
    Sure, we’re not always a good judge of character. But most of the time you’ll have a sense as to whether you’ll get along with someone. Even the best marketing coaches have personality ticks (as we all do). And sometimes those ticks don’t jive with our own. So don’t work with someone who you’re not sure you can get along with – regardless of how successful they are or what your friends say.
  • Can we communicate clearly with each other?
    Don’t overlook this one. Relationships are built on communication. If you and your web designer or marketing coach don’t communicate well, don’t even consider working together. The frustration and misunderstandings you’ll have will just cost you headache and time. You need to find someone who you understand…and who understands you.
  • Do they care about my business?
    Okay, seems trite. But there’s a difference between the web designer who’s just designing another website and the one who takes a real interest in what you do. The former is just doing their job to make a buck – which isn’t wrong by any means. The latter is certainly interested in making a buck. Yet they also take a sincere interest in your success. And you want to work with someone who wants you to succeed.
  • Do we share a common vision about how my business growth?
    You know your business. You may not have crystal clarity around it, but you do know what you do. Your coach needs to clearly understand your vision. They should listen and clearly understand what it is you do and then help you refine your branding, your approach, your message, etc. They need to add to your already developed vision, not take from it.
  • Am I just a number?
    There’s a lot of programs out there – both for web design and for marketing and business development – that sort of cookie cut the process. Often, these materials or courses can be highly helpful. But some miss the point of really helping your individual needs. Know yourself and what you need. If you thrive by reading a book or working in a group environment, buy the book or take the course. But if you’re someone that benefits most from one-on-one help, spend your time and money getting one-on-one help from a coach, consultant or web designer
  • Can I learn what they have to teach me?
    We all have things to teach each other. The question is whether we can learn from each other? Take the time to find out if you can learn what they have to teach. Your web designer may know code up the yin-yang. But do you really need to learn it? And your marketing coach may be an amazing copywriter. But can they teach what they know in a way you can learn? Whoever you work with, make sure you can learn what they have to teach in the way they teach it.
  • Can I afford to work with them?
    The old adage is true – you need to spend money to make money. I’ve found that to be true. So the question you want to ask yourself isn’t whether to spend money – if you’re building a business you need to spend money. Just be sure you have a budget. And also try to get clear what sort of return you can get on your investment. Spending money that doesn’t return is one thing. But your budget might be a little different if you consider that what you spend is an investment that can be returned on. Don’t be afraid to spend, just be sure not to overextend yourself.
  • Can they really help me?
    This is really the bottom-line question. You want to know inside yourself that the people you hire to help you with your business really can help you with your business. It doesn’t matter so much what they can do. What matters is can they do it for you? And can you mesh together to create a successful relationship that will help you solve your business needs.

Someone once told me that a teacher isn’t just someone who knows some things. A teacher, to deserve that title, needs to be able to teach you in a way that you can gain from their knowledge. Otherwise, they’re not a teacher at all; they’re just someone who knows some stuff.

I feel the same way about the people who you work with on your business. Be sure that you can really gain from your web designer or marketing coach. Ask questions and get to know the person, even if it requires a few conversations. If they’re not willing to meet your needs before you hire them, what makes you think that’s going to change once you do?

I’d love to hear about your experiences with a web designer or your coach. And if you have a good one, feel free to link to them in the comment box.

Are You An Expert If You Can't Share What You Know?

expert.jpgYou know what you know, right? You know something that other’s don’t. Or at least your perspective on a topic is unique.

But does any of that matter of you can’t communicate it?

From my post yesterday, How Not Knowing Something Makes You More Of An Expert, an interesting conversation emerged. I really enjoyed hearing your perspectives on whether an expert had to know everything or not.

What most of us agreed upon is that the term expert can apply to anyone who has a unique and valuable perspective on a topic. In other words, you don’t have to be at the top of the ladder to be considered an expert. Rather, you can be seen as an expert simply by knowing more than your audience.

The second, and I think more important, point that was made had to do with how you get the title of ‘expert’ in the first place. We almost unanimously agreed that it’s unfair to designate yourself as an expert in anything. That designation is reserved for other people to ‘judge you’ by.

The conversation on this topics was (still is – as it keeps going) great. But one comment stood out for me. It was from Michael Sass, who, unfortunately, didn’t leave a URL for us to follow. Check this out

Interesting topic that can trigger self-worth and self esteem issues. Here's my take…Clients work with us not because of what we know, but because of our ability to bridge the gap between what we know and what our clients know.We are experts and students of our given fields. We have gathered a great deal of information and experience, but remain open to learning. A master is an expert and a student at the same time. Standing on a mountain of information and experience, they remain open to the unknown, and are not fooled into believing they're finished learning.

When I read this, so many ideas popped off in my mind that I wasn’t sure exactly how to respond. Yet, I managed this:

Yes! Yes! Yes! Now you're sounding a bit more like Confucius than Seth (Godin).

What you describe is very close to what I think as well. Personally, I run a business that's about knowing, learning and synthesizing a number of components – marketing, business development, strategic planning, copy writing, website development, usability, graphic design, social media – to help people grow their businesses through the internet. So not only do I need to know what I know, I also need to keep up with areas that are quickly and constantly changing. And because I coach and consult with my clients, if I can't effectively communicate what I know, then what I know is virtually useless.

Notice I didn't say teach. I said communicate. Teachers often just spew out information (think of your TA's in college) without much concern whether they're doing so in the most effective way for people to learn. Communication, on the other hand, is about being understood. And the coaching is about helping people apply their new understandings.

Does all this make me an expert? I don't care, really or personally. All I care about is helping my clients ‘get it and use it.'

Again, I’m running through tons of thoughts right now. But the one that sticks out the most is about communicating. Are you really an expert if you can’t communicate – clearly share – what you know?

I wonder. I know plenty of people who have a lot to offer. I know far less who can really share what they know in a way that benefits others. So, I ask you, can we consider someone with knowledge an expert if they’re unable to communicate their knowledge in a way that helps others?

Can Your Audience Tell You What You Do?

huh.jpgHow well can your clients, customers and prospects explain what you do?

This is one of the questions that every business owner needs to be asking themselves all the time.

Too often, we focus so much on developing our business that we forget why we’re developing our business in first place. Sure, we want to make a profit – that goes without saying. Yet the most likely reason any of us got into business is because we believe we have a unique and better approach to solving a people’s problems.

Take a moment and think about all the products you see advertised in mass media. Each one tries to solve a problem. Think about Gatorade, IcyHot or Midol and I’m sure you can tell me what problems each can solve for me – even if you haven’t used the product yourself.

Sure, each of these products have massive marketing budgets, catchy slogans and world-wide mass appeal (what women doesn’t want relief from her symptoms around her period). Yet they’ve also clearly communicated the problems each can solve. And they do it so well that you’d have no problem explaining to someone else that IcyHot can relieve muscle pain.

But what would your clients and customers say about your business? Is it clear what problems you can help them solve? Not just clear to you, but clear to them. And clear enough so they’d have no problem explaining what you do to someone else?

If they don’t know, why would they work with you in the first place? And if your clients can’t explain how you’ve helped them, how can they tell their friends?

How Is Marketing About Relationships?

market.jpgIs marketing about transactions? Is it about communication? Is it about conversations? Or is it about relationships?

Of course, marketing isn’t about one thing in particular. Yet marketing tends to focus on one, specific outcome – often the transaction. But what happens if we only focus on marketing as, say, a transaction? Who benefits?

Here’s a great story a friend of mine shared with me. It’s a conversation between Doc Searls and a Nigerian Pastor named Sayo. It begins with Doc explaining the chapter he and David Weinberger wrote in the Cluetrain Manifesto called Markets are Conversations

…After hearing (about ‘markets are conversations’), he acknowledged that our observations were astute, but also incomplete. Something more was going on in markets than just transactions and conversations, he said. What was it?

I said I didn’t know. Here is the dialogue that followed, as close to verbatim as I can recall it…

“Pretend this is a garment”, Sayo said, picking up one of those blue airplane pillows. “Let’s say you see it for sale in a public market in my country, and you are interested in buying it. What is your first question to the seller?”

“What does it cost?” I said.

“Yes”, he answered. “You would ask that. Let’s say he says, ‘Fifty dollars’. What happens next?”

“If I want the garment, I bargain with him until we reach an agreeable price.”

“Good. Now let’s say you know something about textiles. And the two of you get into a long conversation where both of you learn much from each other. You learn about the origin of the garment, the yarn used, the dyes, the name of the artist, and so on. He learns about how fabric is made in your country, how distribution works, and so on. In the course of this you get to know each other. What happens to the price?”

“Maybe I want to pay him more and he wants to charge me less”.

“Yes. And why is that?”

“I’m not sure.”

“You now have a relationship”.

Their conversation goes on to talk about the importance of relationship in public markets. “Transaction still matters, of course. So does conversation. But the biggest wedge in the social pie of the public marketplace is relationship. Price is less set than found, and the context for finding prices is both conversation and relationship. In many cases, relationship is the primary concern, not price.”

What do you think? What’s the reason behind your marketing? Is it just to land business? Or is your marketing about something else? Or both? I’d love to talk about this…

What Problems Does Your Business Solve?

Yesterday I did one of my free 25-minute phone consultations with a prospective client. She is a communications expert who helps companies and organizations get the word out about what they do well. In some ways, she’s a marketing copy writer.

So we talked about her business and how she wants to use her website to take her business to the next level. Then I asked THE question…”What problems does your work solve for your clients.” Like many small business owners or service professionals, she told me about what she could DO for her clients, but nothing about the actual problems that she solved for them. I listened intently and said nothing more – coaching at that level is beyond our free consultation.
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