3 Common Misconceptions About Small Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur working from the beach

I love being a small business owner and entrepreneur.

It allows me the opportunity to control (somewhat) my own destiny, engage with clients I love, do the work I’ve always wanted to do, and spend more time with my family.

That being said, it’s tough work.  I talk with fellow consultants all the time who love what they do, but half-jokingly lament the fact that many of their (our) clients really don’t appreciate the challenges that face us, due some common misconceptions.

Here are three such misconceptions:

1) Every Day is a Vacation.

Have I taken conference calls from the beach on more than one occasion? Absolutely. Have I written memos from just off a Las Vegas casino floor? Definitely.

The fact that I don’t work from an office, however, doesn’t take away from the fact that many small business owners, like me, don’t actually get true vacations where we can tune out work and the “real world” for days (or even hours, sometimes) at a time.

Most of my clients are able to take week (sometimes two week) vacations where they tell their staffs and consultants that they will be unreachable for a week. But good luck getting them to accept that type of behavior from me.

The very fact that I am taking a call from the beach shows that even my beach vacation time is disrupted by work. Heck, I even had to run to my local FedEx location on the afternoon of my son’s birth.

As a business owner, I know that if I’m not “on call” — the business doesn’t run.  I love my work. I love my job. I love my clients.  But every day certainly isn’t a vacation, and most vacations aren’t actually, well, vacations.

2) We’re Raking in the Cash.

I make a good living from my work, and I’ve been fortunate that my businesses have done very well during the past seven years. But that could all change tomorrow; or next month; or next year.  Many of my fellow consultants have had killer decades, followed by some very lean years.

As small business owners, we shoulder the risks. We carry the stress of knowing that if we don’t “kill”, we don’t eat. We pay for our own health insurance.

Running a business is hard work, and it comes with many risks.  Some of us make it work and do well — but there is always uncertainty lurking around the corner.

3) Size Matters.

The world is full of corporations and organizations who hire big name consulting/advertising/PR firms simply because of that firm’s “name.” That’s also why the world is full of consultants (like me) who make a living off of replacing big name consulting firms who fail to deliver value after cashing way too many of their clients’ checks.

Let me put it this way: I’ve worked for large PR firms. I’ve worked for small PR firms.  I’ve had to hire small PR firms.  I’ve had to hire large PR firms.

I’ve had to (or wanted to) fire many more large firms than small firms. Why? They’re typically unresponsive, bloated, bureaucratic, and slow to act.

I work with small businesses every day who, due to their expertise, small size and strategic partnerships, provide exponential value at a fraction of the cost to each of their clients.

Yes, I’m a small firm and writing this post is somewhat selfish. But I also hate seeing organizations (especially in this economy) throw their money away.

What do you think? Are you a small business owner or entrepreneur who has some additional common misconceptions to share?  Let us know in the comments!

3 Key Characteristics of a Successful Consultant

Consultant

I’ve had my own consulting business for seven years, and over that time I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to be successful. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with and learn from other consultants, and pick up on some key characteristics that help differentiate the successful consultants, from the not-so-successful consultants.

Obviously, characteristics will vary based on the type of field in which the consultant works.  These might include creativity, work ethic, etc.

For the purposes of this post, however, I’d like to share three key characteristics that I think all consultants — regardless of field or industry — should possess:

1) Patience.

Consultants are, by our very nature, entrepreneurial. We are go-getters. We are hired for our expertise and, in some cases, our ability to work independently from the bureaucratic chains that bind our clients. As such, it’s easy for us to get impatient and frustrated when our clients seem to move at a much slower speed than we would like — or than we are used to.  We produce memos outlining strategy with three key tactics that we’d like to act on immediately.  Sometimes, though, our clients just aren’t ready — or, as is often the case — have a long approval process to deal with before giving the green light.

I know a consultant who regularly gets so impatient with his clients that he’ll hang up the phone on them or make comments such as, “You get back to me when you guys have your act together.”

Good consultants are patient and realize that good things will come to those who wait.

2) A Good Sense of How to Pick His/Her Battles.

Let’s face it, we consultants have a lot of good ideas (sic). But our clients simply aren’t going to like every one of them — or aren’t going to be able to act on every one of them.  A good consultant knows which ideas to fight for, and which to let whither on the vine.  I’ve seen many a consultant where out his welcome by regularly trotting out “favorite” ideas that had already been rejected by the clients. Know when to fight for your ideas, and know when to give up.

3) Thick Skin.

As I mentioned in point #2, clients aren’t going to like every one of our ideas. In fact, they may downright hate some of our ideas. Some clients are also less subtle than others in telling us what they think of our ideas.  One consultant with whom I’ve recently worked takes criticism extremely hard. After one project in which the client rejected one of his proposed logo designs, this particular consultant sat in shock in his car in the client’s parking lot for an hour after the meeting. You’re not going to hit a home run every time. Heck, you’re going to strike out every now and then. A good consultant rolls with the punches, shakes off the criticism, and gets back in the game to continue providing value to the client.

What do you think of these characteristics? Agree? Disagree? Any others you’d suggest?  Please let us know in the comments!

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Check Email on Weekends

Here's why you shouldn't check email on the weekends

I made a big mistake this morning. I checked my email. On a Sunday morning.

It was somewhat accidental. I was searching for a document in an old email attachment, and happened to see an email that had come in regarding an important client project.

It was one of those emails that shared some frustrating news — about which I can’t act until Monday morning. The only thing I can do is be upset and frustrated for the rest of my Sunday.

And that really sucks.

That’s a big reason I have a self-imposed rule not to check email between 5 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Monday. If I can’t deal with something until Monday morning anyway, what’s the point of ruining my weekend by worrying about it until then?

I imposed this rule after reading Tim Ferris’ Four Hour Workweek. He explains the rationale in more detail in this blog post:

“Don’t scan the inbox on Friday evening or over the weekend if you might encounter work problems that can’t be addressed until Monday. This is the perfect way to ruin a weekend with preoccupation. Remember that just as income has no value without time, time has no value without attention.”

This is also a great example of why Getting Things Done guru David Allen talks about the importance of “appropriate engagement.” If I can’t appropriately engage with the issue or email until Monday morning, why worry (inappropriate engagement) about it all weekend?

I was having a really nice Sunday, until I checked my email.

You can rest assured I won’t be breaking my no-email-on-weekends rule anytime soon.

You should start such a self-imposed rule, as well.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!

 

My 3 Most Memorable Customer Service Experiences

Customer Service

Over the years, I’ve had my share of bad customer service.  I’ve also had my share of good customer service.

But the difference between good customer service and memorable customer service is all about businesses going the extra mile.

Earlier this week, we had one such memorable experience (see below) and it got me thinking about other similar experiences I’ve had that really stood out as exceptional.  Hence, this post about the three most memorable customer service experiences I’ve ever had:

1) Southwest Airlines (2 Examples)

As a frequent traveler, there are several things that bring a smile to face while on the road:  Free First Class upgrades, light traffic on the way to the airport, short lines at the TSA checkpoint, and … in-flight WiFi. Check that: Good inflight WiFi.

I’ve had really good inflight WiFi (usually on American Airlines) and I’ve really poor inflight WiFi (usually on Southwest Airlines). To be sure, I love flying on Southwest.  Their customer service has always been top-notch, I love their boarding/seating policy, prefer their cheerful flight crews, and I’m hooked on their Rapid Rewards program.  But the WiFi?  Not so much. Well, on a flight from Chicago to Charleston, SC earlier this week, WiFi Fail turned into a Customer Service Win for Southwest Airlines.  The WiFi was weak (that’s an understatement) and so I tweeted about it after my flight.  Sure enough, Southwest tweeted back to me, asked for my confirmation number, and credited me back the fee I had paid for WiFi.

They turned a bad experience into a customer service win. They have a history of doing this (at least with me).

A few years ago, while my wife and I were traveling to New Orleans, a flight delay left us stuck on our plane on the tarmac for almost three hours. Sure enough, a few days later I received this email from Southwest:

Thank you for your patience while you waited for your May 21 flight from Chicago Midway to be “cleared” for departure.  Though we may not be able to control springtime weather or the rate in which Air Traffic Control releases flights, we do have some say in the way we show our appreciation of your valued patronage.  In this regard, I am sending a LUV Voucher that we invite you to apply toward your next Southwest reservation—I hope this gesture will be accepted as our acknowledgement of the overall frustrations created by this situation.

Wow. They didn’t pass the buck.  They turned a challenge into an opportunity.  That’s how it’s supposed to be done.

Southwest Airlines, FTW.

2) Hall’s Chophouse

My wife and I love Hall’s Chophouse in Charleston, SC.  In fact, we’ve dined there for our past two wedding anniversaries.  Both times, during conversation with our hostess, it was discovered that we were celebrating our anniversary.  Boom — champagne (free) was waiting for us at our dinner table.

That’s just a small example of the great way they treat their customers.

This past May, a few days after dining at Hall’s for our anniversary, we received a card in the mail. The card was a “thank you” card from our waitress at Hall’s, wishing us a Happy Anniversary and thanking us for choosing to dine at Hall’s on our special day.

Needless to say, I’ve never gotten a follow-up card like that from a restaurant before. It really made us feel special and certainly strengthened our loyalty and love of Hall’s.

3) Our Local Animal Hospital

This past week was a sad one, as our precious pug of 12 years, Reagan, passed away. He was a special, lovable part of our family, and we miss him so much. It’s a jarring experience, and one that left us with sadness for the rest of the week.

But one of the bright spots of the week was getting a sympathy card from the Animal Hospital — signed by all the veterinarians, technicians, and other staff who had cared for Reagan for the past seven years. In the middle of the sympathy card was a paw print — taken of Reagan after he had passed away.

Of course, the first sight of the card was a bit shocking and brought us to tears. But it was also special, and we’re so grateful for the great staff for caring so much and doing what they can to provide comfort during a difficult time.

I’ll certainly never forget it.

Do you have some memorable customer service experience that you’d like to share?  Please let us know in the comments!