“Beware of these business mistakes”
I was walking down Powell Street in San Francisco with my long-time client, John, on a regularly scheduled shopping trip. He’s an attorney. We needed to replace some shirts, buy some new casual business clothes and handle some alterations. Before we got to the store, he turned to me and said, “Brenda, do you have any clients longer than you’ve had me?” “Well, John, you actually might have some competition,” I said. John and I were trying to remember the first time we met (turns out it was 19 years ago) and started to reminisce about “the early years” of our careers. “Boy did I make mistakes back then,” John offered. “Really?” I said. I was excited to hear all about it because I’d just finished teaching Style Squared where we talk about common mistakes image consultants make and how to avoid them so you end up with great long-time clients, like John.
“What were the three biggest mistakes you made?” I asked him. Although it wasn’t a linear conversation (we had shopping to do!) we managed to pick up the conversation in full after we accomplished our goals. By the time I’d dropped him off with his packages, I’d asked him if it was okay to share his mistakes with all of you. The similarities in our businesses matched as easily as his new ties to his suit jackets. Here’s John’s list:
Mistake #1 “Being desperate to work with anybody and in the course of doing that, not charging enough.”
Desperation is never pretty. In fact, if your marketing techniques hinge on acts of desperation, you’re using the #1 technique that repels potential clients. What’s the opposite of desperation? Attraction. Be the consultant that does everything to attract the right clients to her—through the tone of her newsletters, her appearances at speaking engagements, her interaction and willingness to listen to potential clients.
Not charging enough
It’s really hard to resist undercharging for your services, especially in the early years of your career. But the thing is, if you price your services so low because you want business, any kind of business, than you’re likely to get clients that will cost you even more in extra time spent trying to please them. This is a human nature thing and not rocket science. As John explained to me, the clients he got by dropping his prices were exactly the clients he didn’t want to have. They ended up not appreciating the work he did, were never satisfied, complained and were just plain difficult. But the clients that paid his regular rate treated him with the professional respect.
“I would bounce off the wall with a client, letting them be in charge instead of me. You have to own your authority. If you own your authority, you don’t need everyone to be your client and you charge enough.”
Have you ever been in a situation like that? You’re working with a client and you turn into a pretzel for them, agreeing to work on days you’d promised to be with your family, or in hours of the day that aren’t your personal best. Or, a client insists she doesn’t need you to visit her closet or do a style interview when you know that success comes from you taking the time to get to know her and what she already has in her closet.
The art of being in control without being controlling
There is an art of listening and interacting with a client so he or she feels heard, objectives are clear, and you, the consultant, is free to lead the way to those solutions. You become a hero and everyone’s happy. If you, as John says, let the client have all the control based on her best guess of image consulting, you won’t be able to do your best work.
“When I got out of law school, I thought that all I had to do was show up, have a suit and tie on and I’d be all set. A big mistake! Looking good helps a lot. You have to look the part but it’s not enough. You have to have substance.”
And where does substance come from? I think it comes from practice, experience, getting in there and making mistakes and learning from them. You don’t grow a business without making mistakes. So look at yours as part of your success. Now you know what not to do, right?