There was once a saying: my word is my bond. Both parties shook hands and the deal was done with trust that the contract would be fulfilled. Since this saying originated at the London Stock Exchange in 1801, you know it had to mean something. While we’ve come a long way since 1801 where now a virtual signature can seal a deal, the importance of your word with clients hasn’t changed in 214 years. Trust me.
What Builds Up Your Word
It’s really easy to build up the worth of your word and you’re probably already doing some of them already:
- Stick to agreements and deliver on promised outcomes.
- Keep your clients confidentiality.
- Keep your online profile professional. No beer bong photos!
- Be engaged with your client and listen to their concerns.
- Respond promptly (within 24 hours) to emails and phone messages.
Sounds silly right? Like these things should be obvious to any professional? You’d be surprised at the evolution of business practices and how it can vary from generation to generation. Sometimes the lessons are hard learned, such as when spilling your clients secrets leads you to losing that client, and sometimes you learn from others mistakes. I’m going to share a personal story that I hope will illustrate how breaking your word does more damage than you might think.
Breaking Your Word
I once was helping a friend out when she just got into the investing business. I thought ok: I will give her a try and help her out by letting her manage a small portion of my portfolio. Her family was successful and it seemed to be a natural fit. Add in that she was an old friend, and I thought it was failsafe. It certainly was not what I thought it would be. She would never got back to me when I wanted information about my finances. She would set up dates to meet and break them. I finally had to go to my long time investment guy to pull the money out. I did not tell her I’d been forced to do this because I wanted to see if she noticed. After she did, she asked to meet up and canceled 4 times.
Friend or not, are you going to refer this person to anyone of your colleagues or other friends? Probably not. But if that person had gone above and beyond or at least kept their professional obligation, you’d probably be singing their praises and giving them referrals. Breaking your word has more consequences than you might realize.
Mixing Business with Personal
A lot of people will say that mixing business relationships with personal relationships can work out. That you’ve both got a vested interest in making it work and doing your best for the other person. But the opposite can happen too. Because you’ve got that personal connection, you might be little slow in responding to emails. You might not put your absolute best work forward because you’re so busy and your friend will understand. If anything, in order to make sure your friendship survives your business relationship, you need to work harder and keep communication open. It is imperative that if going in to a business relationship with a friend feels wrong, that you listen to your gut. It’s always easier to decide up front not to begin than it is to make the decision not to continue. Any relationship that involves money management or divulging certain types of information might be something best left to a third party.
Have I got you thinking yet? Not only about how you currently treat clients, friends or otherwise, but what you could do to improve your word building skills? Here are 4 things that you should have in your client process that helps build the worth of your word and trust with your clients:
Make sure you have a system in place that will allow you to track the interactions with a client and put in reminders for follow ups. At your last meeting, did you generate actions items that you need to complete? Follow up with the client before or by the deadline with what you agreed to deliver. Did you finish a project six months ago? Check in with the client to see how things are continuing to work. It also might generate more work since you did such a great job!
24 hours and Check the Date
Make it a policy that you will return phone calls and emails within 24 hours. Why? What is more frustrating to a client than feeling as though the professional they’re paying isn’t taking their business seriously? Even if the response is, “I’m just in the middle of another project and will get back to you by XX”, take the time to do that. Have you decided you need a face to face with a client to go over the project? Don’t repeatedly cancel! It sends the message that you are disorganized and don’t value your clients’ business or time. Time is money for both client and you.
Send Out a Newsletter
A great way to stay connected is through a bi-weekly newsletter. While it might not directly relate to each client, it will resonate with some of them. It is also a way to show your clients that you value their business and want to provide them with valuable information that can help their business. This is not the time for the hard sell. It’s the time to share your expertise and remind your clients why they hired you in the first place.
Sometimes after a client has been a client for some time we get comfortable and sometimes could lose our professionalism. You might become a bit informal or your language might slip. While some clients might not mind, especially if you are delivering high quality work, don’t forget that all clients are not created equal. Gage each client individually. Likewise, if you’ve had a client who borders on annoying and you’ve managed to control your annoyance in the past, don’t let that slip. Unless the value of the client has dropped to the point where maintaining them no longer makes sense, any client has the possibility of referring you to others!
Life as an entrepreneur or employee has it’s ups and downs. Some days you feel like life is full of buttercups and daisies and other times you want to mow the field down. Take a breath. Remember that building relationships and your word takes time but both have immense value that are worth investing in.