Thursday, 19 May 2011

Lesson Four: Good admin is vital!

Picture the scene. You go out and sell up a storm today – every customer you see loves your product and the orders fly in. Next week you deliver 1000 units to 20 clients, and they all promise to pay you in 30 days. You go out with your friends to celebrate the success of your business and everyone is envious of you.

Thirty days later you’ve continued your hot selling streak and deliveries are flying, but no money is coming in. You call your first client to ask for payment, and he says he hasn’t received an invoice from you. By now you’ve forgotten how many units you sold him, so you invoice him for 800 when in fact you delivered 1000. You get paid 30 days later and think all is good when in fact you’ve actually lost money on the deal. The same happens with the rest of your clients except that you bill them for 800 units when you actually delivered 500. They get upset with you, and you’ve lost valuable clients.

This may seem far fetched, but you wouldn’t believe how many times this (or something similar) happens each day in South Africa. Believe me when I say that bad admin has ruined more businesses than you would believe.

When you deliver to a client, get him to sign a delivery note and make sure you have a copy. The delivery note should at the very least have the date, customer’s name, how many units you delivered, and the signature of the person who received the goods. Now when you invoice him you know exactly what you delivered and you have his signature should he ever dispute anything with you.

The opposite is also important. Check your supplier’s invoices to see that they reflect the right number of units and that you have been charged the agreed price. You don’t want to pay too much and waste your hard earned profit.

You might be busy, but don’t ever neglect your paperwork. Good admin is a vital part of any business, big or small.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Lesson Three: How to maximize conversations with clients!

Don’t swear!
You will never, ever score points with a prospective client by littering your speech with swear words. I’m certainly not a prude but I’m always amazed when people use foul language at a business meeting or appointment. At best the client won’t mind; at worst he or she will take offence. Either way you aren’t enhancing your prospects of making a sale or keeping a client.

Don’t say anything which might offend during conversations with clients – running down a religion, race or population group and swearing are two absolute no no’s.

Don’t badmouth your opposition
Nothing irritates me more than when a salesman runs down his opposition while trying to sell me something, and most people I speak to feel the same way. It’s rude, unprofessional, and will very rarely score points with your potential client.

If asked about opposition products rather acknowledge their good points, then explain why your product is superior. That way you give the impression of being up to speed with what’s happening in the market place; unbiased and professional; as well as displaying good knowledge about your own product.

Assess the situation
If your client is frantically juggling phone calls and issuing orders to staff, it probably isn’t the time to try to engage him in idle chit chat. In that situation your best bet is to ask if you can come back at a more convenient time. You won’t have his full attention so don’t even try to launch into a sales pitch because you’ll be wasting your time.

Accept a cup of tea or coffee if offered
Time spent with a client is never time wasted. The more you are able to talk and connect with your client the more chance you have making a sale (provided you adhere to the two points above of course!).

Accepting a cup or tea or coffee guarantees you time with your client – use that time well.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Lesson Two: Under promise and over deliver.

If you think a customer’s order will be ready within 5 days, tell them they can have it in 7 or 8 days. That way you give yourself breathing space in case something goes wrong (and believe me, they do!), or you look super efficient when you deliver earlier than expected. Never tell a customer he can have delivery in 5 days and then take 7 days to deliver – that’s an absolute no no.

Switch roles and see how you feel if you send your cellphone in for repairs and they tell you it will be ready in two days, but five days later you’re still waiting. You’ll be breathing fire and screaming at whoever you can get hold of. Some companies seem to think that if they tell you the truth about how long a job will actually take, then you’ll go to a competitor instead. In a minority of cases this is true, but most of the time it’s not. One thing is for certain though – that customer will never use you again if you take five days to deliver when you’ve promised to complete the job in two days. Given a choice, most people will continue to use your services if you do a good job and deliver on time, even if you are slightly more expensive than your competitors.

This week end we went to a restaurant with some friends, and after an hour the hostess came to our table and promised that our meals would be another three minutes. Twenty minutes later there were six hungry, very unhappy patrons still waiting for our meal! Even though we all enjoyed our food we all said that wouldn’t go back to that restaurant.

The restaurant could still have rescued the situation if the hostess had apologized for the delay and brought us two focaccia's with their compliments.

Mistakes happen – but you can still impress your client by accepting blame (don’t make excuses if it’s your fault) and giving him or her something extra to compensate for your mistake. 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Business Advice Part 1

I said I would be sharing some business advice with you over the next few weeks, and below is my first installment. My experience has been as a small business owner so these thoughts are largely directed at SME’s and entrepreneurs, but I’m sure anyone in business will be able to relate.

Please feel free to post your comments (good or bad) and let me know if any of this has been a help to you.

1. Look After Your Clients

No matter what business you’re in, you won’t survive (let alone thrive) without clients. They are the people who pay the money which allows you to put food on your table and pay your rent or bond. Without them you don’t have a business.

Stats show that it costs 8 to 10 times as much to get one new client as it does to keep a current client. That’s why you need to do everything possible to keep your current clients coming back to you.

We often hear that we give poor service in South Africa, and while in some cases that might be true, you can use it to your advantage. Assuming that your prices and the services you offer are the same as your competitors, you can keep customers coming back to you by giving them better service than anyone else.

Better service doesn’t mean constantly contacting your clients or bombarding them with emails of your latest offer, because that can drive people crazy. Rather concentrate on doing the basics right.

Always be friendly and courteous. You’ll be surprised how something so simple can result in repeat business. Everyone has a life outside of work, so find out what your clients’ passions are. You won’t believe what a difference it makes to your relationship if you can spend a bit of time discussing golf, fishing, fashion, cars etc before trying to secure an order. 

When you’re asked to quote do so as quickly and efficiently as possible, and make sure you include everything your client is asking for.

There’s an old saying which is very apt: “In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king”. In business this translates to meaning that if your competitors are giving terrible service and you’re giving good service, guess who the customers will end up using. Remember that the reverse is also true!

Give your customers better service than they expect and they will always be your customers.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Business Advice for Small Business Owners & Entrepreneurs

I don’t have an MBA from Harvard; I’m not a doctor of business; I’m not a billionaire and I’ve never written a best selling book on how to succeed in business.

Then why have I decided to give advice on how to conduct business? What qualifies me to dispense these pearls of wisdom?

The answer is simple. I’ve been in business for over 25 years. That means that I’ve had my share of successes and failures; I’ve enjoyed the rush of landing a huge order and the despair of losing one which I had banked everything on getting. I’ve dealt with bank managers who only want to loan you money if you can prove that you don’t need it; I’ve faced the reality of having to cut my losses and close a business which was sucking the life out of me.

In other words I’ve paid my school fees and lived to tell the tale. More importantly I’ve learned (usually the hard way) what works and what doesn’t work in business. If I can help only one person to avoid the pitfalls that I went through and to apply the lessons I’ve learned over the last 25 years, then I will have achieved what I set out to do.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing some things which some of you may already know, but will be a revelation for others. Please let me know if my articles are helpful and feel free to reply with any advice you may have on how to be successful in business.

- Tooky Johnson