After thirty-five years of running my company, Mid-Hudson Marketing, I’ve come to realize a few truths about what brings success in business. Regardless of what business you are in, if you give the clients what they want, the clients will be happy. And happy clients come back. They also refer other clients to you.
Now, you would think that in a marketing business, a client would come to me in order to bring him business. But, ironically, when a client comes to me for marketing services, there is a lot more to what the client wants than is obvious on the surface. Clients need confidantes. Clients need friends. Clients need reliable helpers to do the things they themselves cannot do, and to do them well. Clients need dependable business partners they can lean on in times of need to provide them with guidance and advice. Clients need all of this but do not want to be overcharged for it. And clients need these things exactly when they need them, at the precise moment they ask for them, without having to wait their turn. After all, clients are busy people with many important tasks at hand including making a success of their own businesses. It is a rare client that recognizes that you and he or she have that in common.
No, clients by definition are usually quite selfish with only their own concerns in mind. When they call you, they need you. Otherwise, they don’t call. Of course, in the present state of the economy, getting a call from a client in need should be regarded as a blessing if you are running a business. This is your bread and butter. And furthermore, the reason they can be excused from their myopic vision is that they are paying you to help them. Not the other way around.
Never mind that they may be interrupting you from serving the needs of other important clients whose calls may have come in first. It is an exercise in tact and diplomacy that provides you with the right things to say to satisfy the demands of all clients within the time constraints given. No single client wants to be told that he must wait, and all deserve your very best efforts to perform whatever it is they expect of you.
Luckily, the laws of probability usually dole out these calls in a rather random fashion so you are not overwhelmed with immediate urgency that is impossible to deliver on. And in a business like marketing, there are a multitude of different tasks clients may need, all requiring different skills, allotments of time, and expectations for completion.
And of course, not all projects come in as phone calls. Many come in as emails in today’s world. But in either case, an immediate reply is the most important course of action for you as business owner, to provide the solution each is looking for. I find that most clients just want to know that they are important to you and that you are grateful for their call, and that you intend to address their requests right away. This is usually accomplished by a prompt call back or email reply confirming receipt of their message and how you intend to fulfill what they need. I also always promise to confirm when the job is completed. Having done this, my stress level for the moment is reduced because the immediacy of the demand has been taken care of. However, as anyone running a business knows, chronic stress is part of being successful, since it drives us to do the work the clients ask for, as quickly and expertly as possible!
Next step for the business owner is the prioritization of tasks at hand. I approach this by figuring out how many steps there are in the process, how long each will take and how soon I can get them done while working on a multitude of jobs simultaneously. For the small business owner, or people who run their businesses single-handedly (like me), this usually means being a workaholic and working morning, noon and night, 24/7. That is not an exaggeration. I work every moment I can, subtracting out time for personal hygiene, eating, sleeping, and an hour of daily exercise every day, without fail! Of course, I admit I am very robotic about everything in my life which serves me well in business. The reason is that I can multi-task easily without breaking my concentration from the most important application of my attention.
An example would be answering the phone with my standard greeting without missing a beat, while using any one of my many software programs to design, write, produce, enhance or convert any number of the many jobs I juggle on a daily basis. People often comment that I sound like a recording. We laugh about that and move on. Not only is my predictability beneficial for my business, it is appreciated by my clients who are able to reach me on one or two rings without having to wade through the muck and mire of phone prompts or receptionists to try to speak to me directly. Sure, they sometimes get my voice mail but I always call right back and never keep them waiting.
I must reveal, though, that prior to a couple of years ago, when I maintained a formal business suite of offices in the largest city nearby, my working hours were quite different. Time to commute even on the worst days in winter ate up a good chunk of my availability to keep plowing through my workload. I used to believe that such time was well spent… as a “creative pause,” as one German professor of music I had at Bard College used to say. Time to reflect, plan strategy, get an overview of business as a whole. Now, however, since I was prescient enough to realize that closing that overhead-heavy office I had taken pride in for a 35-year career was an unaffordable luxury in today’s economy and moving home was the best alternative for many reasons, my time is much better appropriated.
First of all, I now have a life! How, you may ask, can I possibly have a life if I work 24/7?!! Well, since I love what I do for a living, I definitely enjoy working from home. Here are the major differences:
- Instead of getting up at 4 a.m. to get dressed to the business hilt, reading several newspapers while eating breakfast and driving an hour to work, I now get up at 8:15 a.m. and run up and down my staircase for exercise for 20 minutes (2500 steps in all!) and make a small breakfast I eat as I check my email in my comfy office off my dining room wearing my shorts, a t-shirt and socks. My work day usually begins about 9 a.m. which is the norm for the majority of office workers.
- Instead of having to wear high heels while driving to and from occasional client meetings which also killed a good portion of the day (not to mention my feet!), I now stay at home and avoid meeting anyone altogether. I am totally accessible by email and phone and seeing me in person is unnecessary in this day and age of Internet access and video-conferencing.
- Instead of leaving the office late in a rat-race-paced drive home to cook supper after having stopped at the grocery store, a gas station and navigated through the occasional traffic jam and subsequent longer-than-usual detour, I now take a twenty-minute walk with my husband around 4:30 every day and after continuing to work until 6:30, begin making supper after a productive 9-hour day. I am lucky to have a retired husband/life partner who now does all the shopping.
- Instead of ending my day at 9:30 p.m. so I can try to get enough sleep to wake up at 4 and start all over again, I now get to watch the end of the Yankee game most nights if they’re still playing around 10 p.m. which is when I stop working after dinner to enjoy a little TV exposure and eat an apple. Bedtime for the robot is now about midnight, giving me about 8 hours of sleep each night vs. my previous 5.5 hour average. That in itself has given me back my life!
But lots of things have changed in business since the economic downturn. It is not a surprise to hear of people working from home. Having an office was wonderful for many years when people would come in for frequent conferences or to check proofs. There was a time when I spent entire days doing high quality on-site photography, sometimes from helicopters, using gyroscopes and expensive rented long lenses while flying through now forbidden air space over Manhattan! Times have changed and my industry with it. We’ve become an online culture with everything accessible through affordable high quality digital photography and emailed PDF proofs. People are more conservative about business expenses than they ever were and the cost of gasoline and of everything has curtailed how we all do business. And, as a result, how much we charge has become an issue of sensitivity as well.
Having arrived at a place in my life where money is no longer a matter of life or death, sink or swim, I am fortunate to have the freedom to negotiate agreeable rates with long-term clients I respect who have expressed anxiety over loss of revenue due to the business reduction everyone has felt. Once you hit a certain age, you realize that life does not go on forever and it is more important to live life for the pleasure it can bring than for some arbitrary dollar figure to which you once may have aspired. Since my house and cars are all paid for and I have the security of some relatively satisfactory investments, it is more important to me to have clients who seek my intelligence and skills, and keep me busy with interesting work, than to try to amass a fortune doing it. I am also lucky (and have been for the bulk of my career) that I don’t ever have to look for work. It just comes in as it always has from clients with whom I’ve been working for most of my life. Those clients refer others. And, there are always new clients who find me through my website. Yes, my office was a beautiful representation of my polished business image, my brand…but I have achieved the same thing through my website, at a greatly reduced cost!
I have written this article, which is really more of a glimpse into my life, for the purpose of sharing the kinds of things that bring success. Not so much for the specific information, but for the attitudinal and philosophical truths that shape a person’s life. Always putting the client first; doing the best work you possibly can; respect for the client’s needs and timeframe; being frugal with spending; and above all, being fair in every way; these are the ways I’ve found success in my life. It doesn’t take a lot to make me happy, thank goodness. Not being destitute, having a perfectly ripe avocado available, a good apple, my favorite balsamic vinegar, skim milk, oats, walnuts, my Taster’s Choice decaf. These are things that make me happy. And, a kind word from a happy client now and then! Do I mind working entire holiday weekends keeping up with client deadlines and work goals? Not at all. I thrive on it. And this I would define as success in business.