How to respond to failure. Or, after the problem came the procedure.

Encountering problems and making mistakes is a consequence of life, business, and everything else — and unavoidable. But the value is in how you respond to them.

As I said on Twitter this past week:

I’ve found that the best lessons in life — by far — are those where you learn how NOT to do something.

But still, as good as vicarious experiences are, they only get you so far.

In the beginning, there was the mistake…

By gum, was it a doozy! I’ll spare you the gory details (because they are — for the most part — irrelevant) but it was less a bug and more an infestation in the code. In the grand scheme of things, it has caused problems for our schedule, but the Under Cloud remains on course.

Stripping the whole problem down and tracing it to its source, it was — as these things often are — a failure to communicate, which resulted in team members and myself labouring under the assumption that something was when it wasn’t.

And then came the procedure…

So how did I respond?

We’re using a number of things to manage what we do. As a team of 3, we don’t need a lot, but we find that Slack and Trello are enough to keep things together, although we often find things said and done become lost inside the whirring cogs of the communication machine!

I created a list in Trello and added a card entitled: “Deprecated”, within which I wrote the following description:

“Here are all of the parts, components, and libraries of the application that have been deprecated, and what they’ve been superseded with.

Please update this card as and when required, but also refer to it, too!”

Some might argue it’s just a patching of holes, while some might claim it’s only of any use if people follow the procedure, but I would counter by saying that’s life, business, and everything else…

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.

How saying “No thanks!” can be expensive, but not the way you think

We can’t always say “Yes!” to every offer of work. I know this only too well. And sometimes, saying “No thanks!” can be costly to you, but an educational process to someone else.

While this situation doesn’t occur that often, it’s certainly happened often enough for me to consider how expensive saying “No thanks!” can be.

Back in September, I talked about the power of saying “No” to clients, and how it’s not always automatically a bad thing. The thing is, saying “No thanks!” is slightly different and not always as straight forward as it appears to be.

I had an offer of work, all of which came in the form of a Microsoft Word file. The problem was, the file was in a terrible state and would require an inordinate amount of effort to fix the layout before it could be turned into something usable.

The ROI (Return on Investment) of giving away business knowledge

For me, at the the quoting stage, I was presented with a clear problem; how do I communicate to the prospective client the amount of work required to knock the Word file into shape?

The prospective client would want to know why it was going to be at least a day of my time just re-working the layout. So their question to me would then require at least some kind of explanation of layout and the design process. For me to say “No thanks!” could easily turn into an expensive educational process with a question return on my investment.

For a prospective client that I’m trying to say “No thanks!” to, I could easily spend an hour of my time, which isn’t going to be paid for. Now, you could argue that having explained this to the prospective client, they could make the decision to go with my advice. However, at the time, they’d made it clear the layout wasn’t a priority. But for me to even use the content of the Word file, the layout most definitely was a priority!

This is just one example, but when you sit down and think of all the times that prospective clients catch you on the phone and the conversation drifts into an exploratory, partially educational process, for them to just say “No thanks!” to you, that’s yet another avenue for lost, non-billable time.

Business education as an investment?

Now, the situation is totally different when it comes to existing clients. I think educating clients is part & parcel of what I do, since my role is more a consultancy and partner than being a mere supplier. I’m happy to invest my knowledge into my clients because I’m confident that the effort will result in additional work over the long-term, as well as increasing their value in me.

An existing client clearly has some trust in you, so they’re going to value your knowledge. And they’ll value your knowledge all the more once you’re able provide demonstrable evidence, with results.

As a legitimate business activity, earning trust should play a major role.

Of course, you need to keep things simple and not give too much away. Revealing too much about what you do can be as harmful as not saying enough. Ideally, you’re trying to minimize the amount of thinking your client needs to do.

The take-away advice here is to be aware of the time you’re spending saying “No thanks!” and how you choose to walk away from project estimates. But also be aware that giving your knowledge to existing clients could be a valuable investment.