While talking with my good friend Michael Ashby during lunch today, we came upon the topic of being a good business person. What was interesting about our chat was, how basic and simple those activities and habits seem to be.
What brought this to mind?
Well, I've entered a logo design contest recently, being voted upon by registered members of a community. As it turns out, the leading logo candidate may have been done with the use of a cookie-cutter logo from a logo-off-the-shelf website. I was amazed that someone would copy a logomark, verbatim, and try to pass it off as a unique submission!
This of course bodes well for my own, original submission (currently in 2nd position). But more importantly, it reminded me what some seem willing to do to win contests or projects — and conversely, what being a good, decent business person means.
From the chat Mike and I had, here are some of the things we see as just basic common sense ideas for good business:
Be human. I think this is really at the heart of the Cluetrain Manifesto. People are social creatures and want to connect to others, personally and professionally. Not everything need be about business 24/7. Besides, opening yourself as a human being provides a window into yourself that can encourage clients to relate to you and remain loyal.
Communicate. Do it often. Do it when things are going well and especially when things not going well. I follow the rule "contact the client before they contact you" in daily business life. That means being the first one to share good news or problems — especially problems. I'm the first to admit I fail sometimes, but I try to improve each day. It's a process that takes effort.
Be honest. Rather than trying to make yourself look good, be honest with those you are dealing with. I've found that telling things as they are has a credibility that can't be matched in any other way. It's also good for your soul and conscience. :-)
Share. If you see something your client might be interested in, let them know about it and why. If you think background on a decision you've made will give insight to the decision, share it. I like to offer detailed notes about every design I offer, because I can share the 'whys' with clients. I've found my notes not only defend my ideas, but often will resolve questions and issues which would have arisen had I not clarified my thinking. Sharing details also shows you are thinking and reasoning through your client's problem toward a solution.
Be generous. If you can give a little more than you've promised, it generates good vibes right from the start. It's been described as 'under-promise and over-deliver', but I like the term generosity better. Being generous might mean a little less short-term profit, but in the long term, it shows you have the client's interests at heart as well as your own, and breeds loyalty and appreciation. I love the story at Diva Marketing about Corner Grocery Store Relationships, which describes this as adding something special.
Deliver. If you say you'll do something, do it. If delivery is impossible, notify the client before the delivery date with an explanation and a new delivery date. I have a tendency to want to please clients, and tend to leave less time than I ought to. So I've been trying to set more realistic goals with a little margin allowing life to intervene. I'm still working on this aspect of my professional life — I suspect it will be another area I'll need to constantly strive to improve.
Be Nice. In this high-tech world of electronic communications, it's very easy to leave niceness out of our discussions. Why not be that person who adds a level of niceness to your communications? It could be the only sunshine in someone's lousy day. Be creative too! There's nothing like a thank you phone call or hand-written thank you to improve someone's attitude.
Listen to your gut. I've been much more aware of what my gut says in situations and have found it to be right more often than not. In fact, when I've made a mistake, I'll look back to key decisions and it often was the opposite or slightly off what my gut said I should do. Part of this approach is putting yourself in your client's place, to help determine what you'd like to have happen. The hard part is getting in the habit of asking yourself, "what does my gut say", then acting on it.
Be thankful. I can tell you that kind words really do make my day. I love receiving comments form people thankful for something I've done, because they remind me of the reasons why I do what I do. Therefore, by being the thankful one who shares thanks with a client, colleagues or even a competitor, I'm becoming the encourager. More than scoring points with someone, this is just the way I want to act, whether it gains me business leads or not. Thankfulness breeds thankfulness.
Now, I will claim no authority as a business guru. I'm just a regular guy who's trying to constantly learn from my experiences, to the benefit of my clients and my business sense. I'm certainly not perfect — I make mistakes all the time. But I think the real key is learning from mistakes, with a focus on improvement.
If you have ideas on what makes good business practice, please take a moment to add your voice in the comments. I'd truly love to learn more good ideas from others on this topic. If I like them, I'll add them to the list with a link to your site.