Making your workflow more efficient

Whether your organisation consists of a team of people or just you alone, you have a workflow — the series of connected steps your business activities pass through in sequence everyday.

You might dislike the idea that you follow set patterns, but if you’re running a business, you need to understand these processes in order to keep things running smoothly.


Earning trust in business

There are no short cuts to making people trust you for your words or your deeds, and even less so in the business world. And on the web, trust is a hard-earned currency.

I single out the web because unless you’ve got a video connection, no one can see your expressions, hear the tone of your voice, see your gestures or the movement of your eyes — all of which are strong indicators of sincerity. Without those face-to-face guides, trust takes that much longer to earn.

In a recent article exploring a Google Labs experiment, I had this to say about the value of trust on the web:

“It is inevitable that trust will be the number one currency on the web. Trust is more easily given than it is bought. The more people who trust something or someone, the more value is given, which will therefore (most likely) attract more trust and amass more value.”

And trust as a currency — while being free from exchange rates — is often difficult to sell but earns some excellent interest.

Ways to earn trust in business

As a business owner, certain things have become clearer to me over the years. One of them is that people buy into people long before they buy into your products or services.

That’s why I enjoy meeting people face-to-face. This is my chance to make the most of my personal brand, that ‘brand’ being me!

I use my enthusiasm as a conduit for my business knowledge to show people that I care about what they do and how I might be able to make things better for them and their business.

For the impartial yet interested visitor coming to your website or ‘blog, they want to feel that you’re a person they can trust. They want to be able to use you and your services, while at the same time be confident that you’ll still be around the day after they’ve paid you.

They don’t want hidden costs, dodgy business practices or shoddy workmanship. They want demonstrable evidence of you being good enough for them to spend good money with, and that you’ll be around to support their present and future needs.

In short, they want to feel that they can trust you. But how do you convey all of your worthy and commendable values via the web, or from within a social network?

Testimonials

There’s just no substitute for a good referral, so word-of-mouth recommendations are still the top means of getting yourself known.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are by far the most cost-effective means of marketing, and only works because you were good enough to be recommended in the first place. And if you’re within a close-knit social network, there’s every chance this vocal referral will have an echo effect — being heard by many more businesses along the way.

If you have very satisfied customers and you’re sure they would have no problem singing your praises, then ask them for a testimonial. Ideally, this testimonial would come on company letterhead, written in hand, and signed personally — but that’s just an ideal!

Extending this ideal scenario further, maybe adding in a photograph of the aforementioned very satisfied customer along with their testimonial on your website will add that essential sense of trust. Additionally, getting your client to link to your website or ‘blog is even better.

Placement is also key. Some people might want to place all of their testimonials on one page, but I try to encourage my clients to place their testimonials within the web pages of a product or service that the testimonial relates to, assuming that’s the case.

Case Studies

So your customer is happy with their little lot. You’ve got paid, so you’re happy with your little lot, too. You look back on the job and realize that as well as learning some new things, you also managed to improve on many fronts — you hit the budget, breezed the deadline and managed to give your customer that little bit more than they’d asked for. I’d say that’s got the makings of a Case Study!

Put simply, a Case Study is a working, living documentary, evidencing your good work and the satisfaction of your customer. Ideally, a Case Study should be no more than a thousand words and should consist of four parts:

  1. A summary of what was achieved, typically entitled as benefits in the form of bullet points. They should match the prior objectives of the company, and be implied in numerical form (ex. increased 20%)
  2. A description of the project, the aims, the stakeholders and the particulars of the project.
  3. A summary of what was achieved, typically entitled as benefits in the form of bullet points.
  4. A conclusion, with supplementary links to the customers website and other related resources.

Why not add in a testimonial, right in the conclusion? Also, add in some photography, or maybe a picture of the client logo, their premises — something that’s going to add some visual interest. Also, if appropriate, link to the page on your website that relates to the products or services you supplied to the client.

Case Studies can be quite authoritative content for your website. So by adding in some strong words and phrases that relate very specifically to you, your customer and both your businesses, the search engines will make the most of that authority.

Standards, professional memberships and associations

Next time you’re given a business card from someone, look at the end of their name. Chances are, you’ll spot a bunch of letters.

If I wanted to, I could write my name as: Wayne Smallman ND, HND, Ba(hons). But for the most part, Wayne Smallman gets me by just fine!

When you see stuff like this, you’re given some vital information — that this individual had a formal education that resulted in a recognized qualification. So that’s years of studious education put to good use. If they providing a service to you, you’re probably going to benefit from their knowledge in some way.

If your business is ISO rated for example, or if you’re a British-based business and you’re an Investor in People, then your business has a valued, recognized accreditation that will open doors. In the case of the ISO 9001 rating, this means you have formal procedures in place that govern certain aspects of your business practices.

As for Investors in People: “Developed in 1990 by a partnership of leading businesses and national organisations, the Standard helps organisations to improve performance and realise objectives through the management and development of their people.”

In both instances, you have a wealth of trust that ought to be made a key feature of the benefits of using your business. Be sure to get the proper permission to make these associations and memberships known. Get the proper logos and add them into the relevant web pages and printed stationary.

It is easy to forget or underestimate the value of your “organic knowledge”, and your qualifications and accreditations are an integral part of that invaluable, ever-growing resource.

Trust as a value-added part of your business

By making the most of your qualifications, your accreditations, your more-than-happy client base, your professional associations, memberships and your processes & procedures, you have all of the ingredients to build a formidable series of Unique Selling Propositions, all of which will mature into a valuable and transferable store of trust.

So make the most of the respect your clients give to you every time they come back for more. Trust me — you’ll do just fine.

This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “Earning trust in business


Trust in a little business education

“I’d like a car!” The woman announces confidently to the young salesman. He raises a quizzical brow as he nervously scans around the vast showroom of motor cars all around, in gleaming neat lines, not quite sure how to reply to such a broad and breathtakingly naive question.

You wouldn’t, would you? Yet I still get people asking me questions like: “I’d like a website that lets me advertise jobs. How much would that cost?” The feint of heart would feel that thump in the pit of their stomach, like the sales man, not sure what to say, or even how.

“I want my company website to be number one on Google” Oh yes! Less of pit-of-stomach moment and more of an angry-fist-in-the-air episode.

“We want to tell everyone about our new product. How much will that cost?” You want to tell everyone? Assuming you can really afford that, could your sales team even cope with the response? And do you even have a sales team?

But the fact of the matter is, we cannot in all fairness expect the average business person to know what we know. They have needs and expectations — sometimes naive, sometimes unrealistic — and it’s our job to meet them.

Of course, there are those amongst us who will happily say “Yes!” to all of the aforementioned, much to the detriment of our industry, and to the dismay of the client when in time, they realize they’ve been sold a lemon.

So what’s the solution? We educate. But that takes time, surely? Yes, but it’s all part of the added-value service and controlled experience we all really should be offering.

When a prospective client comes along, we inevitably invest an element of our time. How long is up to you and how much value you place in the potential for a lucrative contract. But if you’re able to demonstrate the value of your knowledge, that time can become an investment, because through education comes insight and understanding, out of which trust often emerges.

And before people buy from you, they must first buy into you. And trust is the one thing you can’t buy.


The value of business knowledge

Adults don’t just pop into existence, fully educated and well-heeled. And the same applies to businesses — things need to be learned along the way. However, the expectations of our clients can be that the knowledge we apply to their projects is established, tried and fully tested. But it’s sometimes borrowed, or even totally new.

Sometimes, as designers and web developers, we’re learning on our client’s time. But that’s not a bad thing, nor is it unusual or wrong — we can’t know everything there is to know in our chosen field.

Client expectations of our business knowledge

Problem is, the expectations of our clients are such that 1. they sometimes fear the discovery process, as if we should already know these things, and 2. fail to see that the discovery process aspect of a project is not just essential but billable, too.

But let’s just look at things through the eyes of the client for a second, shall we? First of all, setting aside issues of copyright, IPR’s (Intellectual Property Rights) contracts and such, most clients would feel that whatever we learn on their time and their money should only be used on their projects and nowhere else.

After all, they can’t be expected to be the unofficial R&D lab’ for our other clients, some of which possibly being their competitors.

As much as anything else, the client wants and perhaps needs to trust our judgement. And if they then see that we’re researching or experimenting with new ideas, concepts and methods, they may interpret those activities very differently to how you might imagine. You could be sending out mixed signals.

But the thing is — and I know this is going to sound cliché and trite — we’re students of life and we’re also apprentices of our chosen professions, too.

I for one don’t always invoice for time spent researching a new way of doing something, if I feel there are likely to be real, material benefits for my other clients. That would be unethical.

So it’s as well be up-front and honest about your processes and explain the originality of what you’re doing. I’d even go as far as recommending you appraise the client as to which 3rd parties you choose to involve, should that be the case.

There have been many occasions when I’ve taken on a project whose constituent parts exist only as outlines in my mind, right up until the point where I begin to do the preparatory planning work, whereupon I’m able to demonstrate my understanding of their needs, which the client and myself can then build upon.

This might sound weird to some people, but if it’s a programming or a creative design issue, I’m rarely vexed, it’s more a question of time and the amount thereof — few of my clients have posed questions that I’m unable to resolve.

The value of our time to our clients

But then the client’s expectations can be quite different, too. Sometimes their opinion of what we’re doing for them is that our job is easy — it’s just computer stuff!

We might make this computer stuff look easy simply because we’re sat down much of the time, but the mental manual labour and the heavy lifting is very much underway in our heads. After all, don’t pilots stay seated why flying an aircraft? And it’s not everyone who can fly.

It’s during these times that the perception of our success can be skewed somewhat. So some education is in order, and here’s your chance to bring your clients up to speed with what your job entails by inviting them to the office — Let them sit with you and learn first hand the time it takes to turn Widget A from blue to red.

My feeling is that most of the perceived “us & them” client versus supplier arguments that emerge are almost entirely borne out of not knowing or understanding what we’re doing.

Talk to your clients and ask them what they think, and what they feel. Allay their fears with a little light education and you too could prevent Project X taking on a life of its very own, devouring your time, consuming all of the good-will currency you’ve banked with your clients in the process.

This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “The value of business knowledge


10 personal branding habits of the professionals

One of the many keys to success is habitual professionalism. So I’m going to explore ten personal branding and brand management habits of the professionals.

As I see it, the number one goal of personal branding, brand identity building and brand management on the web is to make your name synonymous with a certain phrase, or a collection of phrases which you feel best represent you and what you do — which I alluded to in my previous article on brand building.

Personal Branding and Brand Management

If you’re serious about personal branding and brand management, here’s ten things you’ll see the professionals doing:

  1. Comments are your calling cards. Be sure to use these as an opportunity to draw the focus of the ‘blog post towards your comments. Make sure you drop in a relevant link to an article of yours in the URL field. That way, you’re not just making a statement, you’re opening the door for bringing the dialogue to your own ‘blog article. A word of caution here: misuse of this idea is essentially comment spam. If you’re going to comment, then make sure you’re adding value to the article you’re commenting on, or don’t do it at all, OK?
  2. Think and act like a professional. Don’t get drawn into heated debates, unless you’re sure you can do so without just throwing away your dignity and losing some serious credibility into the bargain. As I’ve discovered — much to my amusement — I’m both a contrarian and a conflict writer. Don’t be afraid of contradicting or correcting someone, but be damn sure that you’re right and you’re not going to annoy and antagonize people in the process.
  3. Have a theme? Well stick to it! You don’t see too many truly successful general ‘blogs. Most might start that way, but as those few that stick around longer than twelve months will attest to, some trimming of the excess fat inevitably takes place. The web rewards those that carve out their own niche. Working within a niche and becoming an authority within that niche is better than being one voice amongst many in a crowded room.
  4. Be seen, be known. Remember what I said about your comments of other people’s ‘blogs? Right, well there’s other places you ought to be hangin’ out, too. There are some notable social web venues up and down the internet superhighway, and you need to make a few well-chosen stops along the way. But choose wisely; don’t just sign up for every social network there is. Doing so will be an over-commitment on your part and you’ll be spread too thinly. Begin small, but think big and long-term, then work outwards from there.
  5. Don’t be afraid to sing your own praise. To begin with, few people will know of you, who you are or what you do — so you need to be seen. If you’ve had some recent successes (strong linkage from a major website or ‘blog, high praise from a client or a notable mention in a publication) then talk about it. Better yet, create you own media page, like the one here on Octane. Use that one success as a driver to help you with the next one, wherever that may come from.
  6. Be consistent with your image. Every blog post, every comment, every instant message, every email. If you feel that you’ve got a ‘house style’ then apply that style wherever you go. Some may like your style, others may loathe it, but for me, that’s where you want to be. I’d rather have a load of people hating and praising me, than have just a few think that I’m all right.
  7. Be an opportunist. If news breaks on a story that’s very much local to your topic of choice, make a move and get your thoughts / opinions / ideas out there first. However, be sure to put the emphasis on quality and not speed. There’s no point being the first out there if all you’re doing is saying: “Hi!” Sometimes, it’s a well to be fashionably late. Over time, as your name spreads, those that know you will wait. Additionally, being bad-mouthed could be a chance to make friends and influence people. Charm the pants off them, schmooze, cajole and you might just win them over.
  8. Get a ‘blog and get ahead! ‘Blogs routinely outrank websites on the search engines for a number of key reasons. The main reasons are that a typical ‘blog has a constant stream of ever-changing content, there are a great number of out-bound links to other sources, and there’s usually a community of people commenting on your articles. In addition to this, make sure people can do things with your articles. By that I mean make sure you have some way of syndicating your articles, either by a newsletter or from an RSS feed, sharing with friends via email or sharing on a social network.
  9. Be seen, be known .. be available. So you’ve got your audience, you’ve got some notoriety, but you’re aloof! Someone might catch a quick comment exchange with you occasionally, but that’s usually it. Make sure people can contact you. What you’ll have noticed is that some of these suggestions are about being a shameless self-promotional whore. As bad as that might sound to you, you’re going to be competing with people who may have less moral and ethical restraints than yourself, so you need an edge.
  10. Be yourself. To make this kind of thing work, there are a few prerequisites, which I hope I’ve covered above. But there’s one prerequisite to rule them all. It’s there when you’re commenting on ‘blogs. It’s there when you’re talking to someone and explaining yourself to them for the first time. It’s even there when things go wrong and you make that graceful recovery. That quality, that essential personal ingredient is charisma.

Success rarely comes to you, and even trying to meet it half way often isn’t enough. As for me, well, I’m still fighting the good fight, and I know what I need to be doing. Hopefully, after reading this little lot, you do too.

This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “10 Personal Branding habits of the pros