Honesty is the best policy, Transparency is the key

Honesty is the best policy, Transparency is the key

Yesterday I was lucky enough to watch a presentation from a client and friend of Optix who has taken his business from a couple of million turnover to 30+ in just 6-7 years. Oh and the best bit – he only has around 40 staff. He talked about his meteoric growth and the lessons they learnt along the way. Some of the stories were gob smacking to say the least.

I live to learn from people like this. I think anyone who can’t sit and soak in that kind of information is missing such a trick. If you get the chance to talk to people who’ve ‘been there, done that’ take it with open arms, you’ll learn so much.

One thing that shone through from his presentation was the need to be transparent and honest in business. He particularly referenced his relationship with his bank manager which I thought was interesting. If anything goes financially wrong in his business he explains it straight away to their bank and similarly, he shares good news too. He feels strongly that this honest and transparent relationship means that when it comes to needing help then everyone knows the score and he’s more likely to get it. I can see his logic and while I have a great relationship with my bank manager, its probably not as solid as his is – something I’ve taken away to work on.
If you make a mistake, own up. Face it down and deal with it. Sticking your head in the sand or trying to hide something or worse hoping no one finds out will lead you down a dark path, one where you’re bound to be found out and everything will look worse on you if you choose that route.

If you’re starting in business make it your mantra, if you’ve been going a while, perhaps you need to revisit your thoughts on this and make sure your team(s) sing from the same sheet. My team at Optix know my feelings on being transparent and see-through. I believe in this digitally connected world, there is no place for business with dirty laundry.

photo courtesy of Urbanshoregirl

Now Your Thoughts

  • I’m very interested to hear if you have stories where you’ve owned up to a mistake and it’s paid off hugely.

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

A week or so ago Scott Stratten (unmarketing) posted the following on Twitter:

“If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business”

BAM – How to sum up everything I think about business in one 140 char sentence – Thanks Scott :)

This was also timely as I’ve recently been reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (aff link) and one of the habits has really struck a cord with me – Habit 5. ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’. I want to break down Stephen’s points and tell you why this is so important in business. In fact, it’s not important, it’s essential and when you understand this concept you’ll notice this trait in all the most successful people, even the hardest nosed business women and men.

Why should this be so important to you? Because most people do completely the opposite. Ask yourself now, honestly, what you do when talking to a colleague, or client, or someone at a networking event? Do you listen with the intent to reply or the intent to understand? Do you wait for others to finish speaking, just so you can get your point in, or do you listen to and try to understand the other person, from their point of view?

Most people live in their own world, they don’t want to understand other people’s world.

How does this relate back to Scott’s point at the beginning of this article? Well if relationships are the key then this skill is key to building them. If you barge in thinking you know best, without giving thought to the other person, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll need to brush up on your relationship building skills. Perhaps you should question this now?

Just remember as Covey says, that when you seek to understand other people first, you show them that you care. Everyone wants to be loved right? Everyone wants to be understood. If you don’t develop this skill guess what happens – the person you’re conversing with will always be thinking, ‘nothing else matters as this person talking to me doesn’t understand me’ – they will never take your point on board.

I’ll leave you with one more thought from the same chapter in Covey’s book. The key to influence is to be influenced by others (i.e. being open to others influencing you) – for some people I’d expect this to be difficult concept to deal with. The truth is that you need to be totally comfortable with yourself in order to adopt and hone this skill.

Carl Rogers a famous psychologist said this:
“Lay aside your own views to enter another’s world without prejudice – this is only possible by people who are  so secure in themselves that they will not get lost in the other persons world”

Remember that understanding someone else doesn’t mean you agree with them but that you accept they are people of worth, you value them or you wouldn’t have spent time listening to them. You accept that they see their world differently and that their world has legitimacy. You’re saying; I accept you, I understand you – you matter to me

If relationship building is important to you and your business how do you take to this concept? Do you evaluate things from the other person’s context or do you always look from your own frame of reference? Something perhaps to ponder on over the coming festive season. Oh and go and buy 7 Habit’s (aff link) – It’s really changed my life this year.

Now Your Thoughts

  • Is this skill of listening with the intent to understand something you do yourself? Does it work for you if so?
  • Can you think of times where people have not listened to you – just talked at you or even worse, pretended to listen only to steam roller in afterwards – how did that make you feel?

My philosophy of how I treat my clients

My philosophy of how I treat my clients

We’re all in business because of our clients – if it wasn’t for them we’d have no orders and therefore no business.

Client interaction has always fascinated me, its something I’ve studied since I started my web design & online marketing business over 10 years ago.

Originally there were three directors at Optix. We formed quite a nice triangle of skills – James had the design ability, Dave had the development background and I was ‘the mouth’ that went out shouting about how great ‘I thought’ we were :). So I have spent the majority of my career since then interacting and engaging with thousands of people, hundreds of which have become clients (and I thank them for that)

So how do you treat your clients? Here’s what I do:

1). I try my utmost to understand what their needs and challenges are from the beginning – thats far more important than telling them what we do.

2). I learn about their business. I want to understand where they’ve come from and where they are trying to get to.

3). I learn about them as a person. Where possible I try and find out about their family/friends and interests. This gives us more to talk about and more to build a relationship on.

4). I work out which of our services would help them get to where they are aiming to go (remember point 1? :)).

5). I never sell something I don’t truly believe will help them on their journey.

6). I’m always looking out for opportunities to refer in other people I know to them where I see that value can be added.

7). I’m also looking for opportunities for the client to connect with other people I know.

8). I see every client relationship as a long term partnership. I know that if they are successful then I will be successful – this drives everything I do.

9). I care deeply about every client – if they are unhappy, I am unhappy and will go to every length to make sure balance is restored.

10). I don’t do 9-5 – If someone needs me, they will get me.

11). If we mess up, I own up.

Oh and here’s one from Chris Brogan (A legend in the Social Media world):

Make your customers feel special – treat them with the ‘guest experience’ – I love this and am working hard on this in 2010

Without clients (partners), my business doesn’t exist and nor does yours. So how do you treat yours?

5 traits successful business people have – do you have these?

5 traits successful business people have – do you have these?

Missed a week due to travel folks so firstly apologies for that – clearly my first trait should be the inability to keep an appointment with ones blog :)

OK so there are probably hundreds of things you need to be successful in business but I’ve been day dreaming this last week and working out my top 5 – I love a top 5 as you know :)

So here they are in no particular order

1). Passion – In bucketfuls. I spend an awful lot of my time with other businessmen and women. In my working life, networking constitutes at least half my time. It’s one of the key ways we build our brand and get our company noticed. From there, when people want a job done, we’re at least in with a chance. One trait of seriously successful businessmen and women I’ve met over the years is passion for what they do. Passion is catching; you know when you’ve met someone who is passionate about their business – you come away feeling good about yourself. Without this trait you’re going to start off on the back foot. If can’t get passionate about your business is it the right business for you? Think on that for a while.

2). Sales skills – Every start-up business needs to bring in sales. If you’re on your own then that’s you pal :) If you’re not and you don’t like selling you better hope you’re in partnership with someone that does. You could have the best product or service in the country but if no-one knows about it then you may as well give up now. Sale’s doesn’t need to be cheesy, it doesn’t need to be immoral, it doesn’t need to feel dirty! Much of good quality sales is about building relationships and making the customer want to buy (not be sold). I strongly suggest reading the book below (affiliate link) which will, without a doubt, help with your sales process. In fact, even if you’re not in sales or running a business, read it anyway because its awesome.

The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness – You can buy it from Amazon here.

3). A good product or service – Not technically a trait, but the ability to either come up with or be involved in selling a good product or service is a trait that I see all the time in successful people. You make your own luck, you earn it. These people have a sixth sense for getting involved with projects that do well. They fail a lot as well but the difference is the ones that work, really work. I know there are an awful lot of people out there selling sub standard products and services in their business – forget that – it’s a short-term attitude if you ask me. It won’t be long before you’re found out and the churn rate on customers will be huge meaning you never build relationships with people, you continually need new prospects poured in the top of your sales funnel. If you ask me, without a good product or service that you truly believe in, just don’t bother. You need to believe that your customer is truly better off by choosing you over your competitors.

4). A head for numbers and in particular cashflow – Since I started this blog almost exactly a year ago I know for a fact the most blogged about topic has been cashflow. There is a good reason for this – because it’s so damn important :) Without cashflow you have no business. I’m not going to go over old ground again on this. I wrote quite a lengthy post about cashflow here and even gave a step by step guide on how to write a cash flow forecast – you have no excuse :)

5). The ability to accept help and support – Business is a lonely place sometimes, help and support is essential but how often have I seen business owners that think they know it all and therefore are not prepared to accept it fail – Too many is the answer!!! Friends and family without their own business may not understand quite what it takes to run a business and unless they ever do it themselves they may never understand. This doesn’t mean you don’t listen to these people or dismiss their input – it can be just as valuable. It’s important to build a network of support around you that you can bounce ideas off. I’m lucky to have a great business partner at Optix Solutions who I bounce ideas off and chat with about strategy regularly. We also have a couple of mentor figures who consult us on the business regularly and keep us on track. We also have supportive families and friends – all of which make the days when it’s not so fun, easier to deal with. The successful businessman or woman doesn’t know it all and is willing to listen to others…do you?

So what are your top 5? Maybe you just want to add in a couple? I’m keen to hear from you

Time for Reflection

Time for Reflection

As a small business owner it’s all to easy to get completely consumed by your business. I didn’t take a single holiday for at least the first five years, I worked through weekends and spent every hour I could in the office during the week just to keep things going. It’s what you do when you’re a start-up. If you’re about to start your own company and don’t like the sound of that, forget it – you’re not right for this – go and get a nice 9-5 somewhere.

There is, however, a problem with this strategy when in start-up mode – it gives you no time for reflection, and reflection is essential. This is the time you need to step back from the business and take stock of everything. You’re too close to things on a daily basis to reflect and plan properly.

So this weekend, while you have some time off here is my suggestion:

Reflect on your overall business

Reflect on your sales and sales processes

Reflect on your company’s relationships with customers

Reflect on your brand

Reflect on your staff & what they do for you

Reflect on your finances and how you can improve them

Reflect on your internal processes for getting work done / products delivered

Reflect on yourself – are you working efficiently? What could you do differently?

I find it useful when doing this kind of exercise to write things down. The danger, if you don’t, is that the ideas you have get lost again as you get busy. Mind mapping is a very useful technique to learn for visualising this kind of information.

Now here’s the thing – When you’ve done all this and you go back to work on Tuesday – action some of the things you’ve reflected on. Don’t let this list form part of your ‘never read’ pile. Make sure it’s somewhere you can see regularly and ask yourself whether you’re making the changes and trying the new things at least once a week.

Good luck and have a great Easter

Who do you surround yourself with? Oh and p.s. Happy New Year!

Who do you surround yourself with? Oh and p.s. Happy New Year!

Who do you surround yourself with? Have a think about it for a while – in business and your personal life…never underestimate the power of the connections you have both in and out of work and how these have a huge impact on your own life.

The people you interact with on a daily basis will change your perspective on the world, if they are negative people they could bring you down with them, if they are positive they will no doubt bring you up. Think of someone you know who is really positive and the feeling you get when around them – pretty good hey?

How are your relationships with others – what impact do you have on the people around you? Do you leave them with a happy feeling?

I’ll give you a secret, if you want to succeed or at the very least have a good life then surround yourself with successful and fun people and don’t spend your time with negative people who constantly try and bring you down. Now obviously this is not the easiest thing to do when so many of our relationships are carved out for us through work and life. For example, you probably can’t just get rid of that tricky client who always seems to be moaning, whatever you do or move away from the person you’re sat next to in the office because you don’t get on with them. However, there are some things you can do to help these situations, because ultimately, if you let them get you down then it will affect your work and life outlook and that’s not a good a thing.

Here are a few quick suggestions for how you can move towards a more fulfilling and successful career/life by surrounding yourself with positive people.

1). At Networking events don’t get stuck with people who simply spend their time selling ‘at you’. Politely move on and find people who are interested in your business and who have interesting businesses themselves. Spend your time cultivating these relationships.

2). I mentioned tricky clients and co-workers earlier in this post. Now some people just can’t be changed but quite often it’s simply a clash of personalities that drives a divide between people. Just for once, put pride aside and carry out a random act of kindness for the ‘tricky’ person in your life – buy them something – a good book or something else they’ve perhaps shown an interest in before. They won’t be expecting this and if this doesn’t change the relationship to a more positive one, maybe its time to consider leaving them be.

3). Pin point successful people as connections you want to make and work out how you can do so. Spending time with people that have already made it in business is one of the very best ways of learning – act like a sponge when you get these opportunities, soak in everything they tell you and try and use the time with them to learn as much as possible. I may well have built a couple of businesses from nothing in the last 10 years and be writing this blog from my experiences but when I recognise someone I could learn from, I’m quite literally, all ears.

4). Start a Master Mind group – I’m part of a couple of business groups which are essentially mastermind groups. The idea of these groups is different to networking – they work on the premise that more heads are better than one – if you sit down with other successful people and talk about your businesses you will learn more from what other people think about your business than you realise – It’s amazing what fresh set of eyes will see. I strongly recommend getting involved in a group like this and if you don’t know where to find one, start one (I did!).

5). Start a lunch/diner club with your best friends. The feeling you have when you’re out with your best friends is one of the best you can get so why not do it more often. As I’ve got older, my friends have all grown up, moved in with spouses/had kids and moved away. We have a group which meets up every quarter (generally in London) for a lunch/dinner at one of the best restaurants in town. It might not sound like anything special but its all in the setup – everyone has to pay in a set amount of money each month on DD and if they miss the event, the money stays in the fund. This eradicates most excuses believe me. We have one that flies back from Malta and one will soon be coming back from New York for this amazing day out. I hope that at least one person reading this blog sets a similar thing up – I promise you its worth it.

That’s just a few suggestions for living a more positive life through better connections and relationships. If you have some suggestions yourself that I’ve not listed then please do let me have them as I’m always keen to learn :)

Social Media in Business

Even by the internet’s rapid standards, the rise of Social Media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Stumbeupon has been nothing short of meteoric.

With hundreds of millions of people worldwide using social networks regularly (Facebook now has 200 million active users) and their popularity continuing to grow on a daily basis, they represent a massive marketing opportunity to switched-on business.

In Exeter, Social Media is taking off with a large group of users networking regularly together. Next month sees the first social media conference in Devon organised by my friend @scottgould. Optix Solutions are amongst the sponsors and are very excited about hearing and meeting @treypennington and @thebrandbuilder who are both flying over from America especially for the event. Tickets by the way can be bought here: http://alikeminds.org/

The big question for me, is still whether or not a brand can embrace Social Media as well as a person can. I believe there is room for both and there is no question that many high profile businesses have done extremely well from Social Media. Dell, Starbucks and Google all use Twitter well but is there a case for smaller SME’s to make it work for them?

My Opinion: YES! MOST DEFINATELY and I’ve experienced this with my own business. However, whether you run a business or a personal account there are certain ways to go about things and certain etiquette you need to get used to. Within Optix, we encourage our staff to have their own blogs/twitter accounts/social media pages and without a question of doubt this has lead to stronger relationships with our clients who are also using social media and to new work and relationships with people we would almost certainly never have come across without it.

Here are the twitter feeds of some of the guys in Optix (oh and Optix own one is @optixsolutions – we use this for info on our business, special offers, news and site launches):

My Own Twitter Account: @banksy6
Al Gleave (Bus Dev): @alpenwest
Kris Sousa (Sales/Support): @kristensousa
Nick Watson: (Developer) @nickizzle

There is so much I could say about Social Media and Twitter in particular but I’m aiming this at new business owners and entrepreneurs so lets just set you along the right path with some good solid advice on why you need to start thinking about Social Media in your business.

Here are Banksy’s top 5 tips for making social media work for you.

1). Allow people to share your business successes and stories with others – FOR FREE! You can do this by adding a tool to pages on your website that allow anyone surfing, to very quickly share your content with others. Popular tools include Share This and Add This both of which do the job more than adequately. If you’re not sure what I mean by this then take a look at the Devon Air Ambulance website that my company Optix Solutions have just launched and scroll right down to the bottom of the page. You will see a green icon with ‘share this’ written next to it. Click it and see how easy it is to share that website on Facebook/Twitter and many, many other websites out there. Think now of the power of just one or two users sharing that website with potentially hundreds or maybe even thousands of trusted contacts and friends that they have on their own networks. Its almost a no-brainer to have this added to your website these days. If you don’t know how to add it or need help then drop me a line :)

2). Build contacts, relationships and networks online – I’m sure if you’re starting a business, in your early years as a business or an entrepreneur of any kind, you are probably networking offline? Am I right? Well Twitter and other social networks allow you to find people with similar interests and values and then connect with them. The rest is up to you as it would be offline. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a short-term gain, its not. Invest in social media and you’ll reap the rewards later.

3). Leverage social media for your other forms of marketing – Social Media is a great way of generating traffic for your blog or website. Users may then go on and look around other services you have to offer on these websites. In fact, although this blog is starting to get a good reputation with the search engines, the largest referrer of traffic to it each time I post is Twitter. This is because I put the word out to my network each time I post and people visit….which is great:)!

4). Become known as a ‘thought leader’ – This is really about building authenticity in your brand – be it personal or business. It’s a brave/stupid person that tries to sell directly from social media – it just doesn’t work. You need to show others that your posts/tweets/content can be thought provoking and hopefully interesting  so they will engage with you if they feel it’s right to do so. Don’t push marketing material out to them too much or you’ll simply lose followers and contacts.

5). Even if you don’t believe in social media yourself, others do and they could be talking about you or asking for help. There are a myriad of tools out there which allow you to monitor mentions of phrases, including your own brand. I for example, have tools set up to monitor mentions of my company name as well as my own name. Our company monitors local tweets, and anything to do with people looking for web design work.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this is not meant to be, in anyway a full break down of social media and what it can do for you, its merely a teaser. I do hope in the future to focus on the individual networks and go into a bit more depth for you on how to get the best from each of these, however in the mean time I recommend reading the Chris Brogan’s blog post on social media here for some great tips:

http://www.chrisbrogan.com/50-ways-marketers-can-use-social-media-to-improve-their-marketing/

Consider today what you want to achieve from social media, consider your audience and which sites they might be using and then put together a plan for yourself and of course, if you need help – drop us a line. Good luck.

Interview with Banksy and James

This post was done last year for our ninth birthday at Optix. As we turn ten next Monday I thought I’d revisit the interview for those that missed it.

Interview with James Dawkins and Alastair Banks of Optix Solutions:
It’s hard to believe that Alastair and James were merely 20 years old when they joined forces to start Optix Solutions in 1999. Since then, their strong business acumen and un-reserved commitment to exceeding customer expectations has helped develop Optix Solutions into a professional Web Design and Internet Services Company with a dedicated team of Business Development Managers, Web Designers, Web Developers and Search Engine Optimisation Consultants – working with some of the UK’s leading organisations!

In this interview we look back at how together, Alastair and James, have achieved their success.

Q. What inspired you to start Optix Solutions?

James: Quite simply – not wanting to work for someone else!

Alastair: I’d agree with James here – we felt there was a gap in the market and didn’t want to work for anyone else after finishing University.

Q. What’s the most rewarding part of running Optix?

Alastair: There are so many! I still get a massive buzz from developing relationships and helping clients – but seeing a team develop around James and me is also very rewarding.

James: Seeing all of the hard work we devote to our clients pay off! Like winning the award for Best Franchise Website Design with Urban Planters last year was fantastic, and being nominated for the Business Enterprise Award by the Federation of Small Business this year demonstrates recognition for our continuous progression as a company.

Q. What has been the most significant change on the web since Optix was founded in 1999?

Alastair: Firstly we went through the ‘Dot Com Bubble’ in 1999/2000; we saw e-Commerce start to take off through the early noughties and now Social Media is off the scale… It’s quite amazing! Have I mentioned TravellersConnected.com? (TravellersConnected.com is a Social Networking site dedicated to helping Travellers find a Travel Companion and all other Travel related advice and information. Both Alastair and James are founding members of the site which was established in 2004 and is today recognised as one of the 100 Best Travel Sites by the Times Online!)

Q. How have you been able to succeed in such a competitive market?

James: Selecting a hard-working team, trying to stay ahead of the game and looking after our clients as best as possible!

Alastair: As James said, developing a great team, looking after our clients and regularly consulting with an experienced Business Adviser have definitely helped us succeed.

Q. How do you hope Optix will develop over the next 9 years?

Alastair: We’d both like to see another office and perhaps more spin-offs like TravellersConnected.com to get our teeth into. I think when you’re entrepreneurial you’re always looking for the next opportunity.

James: An Optix sponsored race car!

Q. What do you look forward to most at the start of a work day?

James: The truth is no day is ever the same, but it’s always great hearing from our clients – so I guess we look forward to embracing the unknown and pushing the boundaries.

Alastair: Definitely, couldn’t have said it better myself James.  I knew there was a reason I went into business with you.

Q. Any last words?

Both: Watch this space!

Start by Selling Yourself

Well once again I find myself apologising for the time taken to write this post – At least I’m now settled in my new pad and have a computer at home so no excuses anymore :)

If you’re starting a business then I’m sure that like me, you’ll probably be selling something – either a product or a service. The majority of start-up owners have to be sales people (whether they like it or not) purely because they are often the only people in the business.

Now let’s put aside this theory that you are selling a product or a service – you’re not, you’re selling yourself!!! *Queue dramatic music*

‘People buy People’ – It maybe an over-used saying but it’s very true. So my advice is this, think about who you are and how you present yourself both physically and through your personality. You may need to do some soul searching for this. Consider how people perceive you, maybe even ask for feedback from clients and be ready to take the constructive criticism. If you’re willing to invest in this process selling will become easier.

There are many types of sales people – from those who are in more direct hard sales, to the other end of the scale who are slightly more fluffy – Some organisations may class these as ‘Hunters and Farmers’. A hunter typically drives for sale after sale, moving on after each one while a farmer, ‘farms’ their relationship with people for long term gain. My own personality is quite fluffy and I’m definitely a farmer (I even have a flat cap now but that’s another story!) but I do try where possible to match my personality to whomever I’m speaking to.

So, if people buy people then what does this mean to you? What can you do to give yourself a better chance of making a sale and more importantly getting repeat business? Here are Banksy’s top 5 tips:

1). Emanate positivity- Lets be honest things are not always great in business. There will be days when you feel like you should of just stayed in bed. When starting up, its even harder because you have all the pressures of money as well; ‘where will the next lot of money come from to pay that bill’ etc… Unless you get really lucky, this is something we all go through. My point here, is that HOWEVER you feel, you need to emanate positivity when out and about, talking to someone on the phone, networking and at meetings etc…basically anywhere you’re interacting with people not directly involved in your business. If you turn up to a networking meeting and I come to speak to you and the you start telling me that business is slow and you’re not very happy and blah blah blah, two things are going to happen – 1). You’re going to depress me and probably everyone else you talk to that day and 2). This is highly unlikely to make me want to give you my business. If you take one thing from this post please let it be this: BE POSITIVE in public. There is one guy, who I see around Exeter regularly and every time I ask him how he is, his standard response (and its been the same for about 8 years now) is “Fantastic” – said with a huge smile. I’m certain that in those 8 years there must have been a few times when it wasn’t fantastic but he certainly knows the benefits of acting positively in public. On the same note there are people who moan about everything each time I see them out. These people don’t tend to stay in business very long or certainly don’t do very well from it.

2). Dress like the person you’re meeting/doing business with. This sounds strange and possibly a bit obvious but you’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes. If you’re meeting with an Accountant/Solicitor then make sure you’re wearing a suit and look smart and clean. If you’re meeting a plumber then a suit is probably a little OTT, maybe smart jeans and shirt are more sensible. Clearly if your business means you must wear certain threads (like a uniform) then this may not be applicable.

3). Mimic Body Language – One of the most interesting things I’ve learnt in my time in business is the importance of body language in sales. If you mimic the person you’re talking too (and I don’t mean repeat what they say or anything silly) then you’ll be surprised how much easier a meeting will run. I’m not a body language expert but I can tell you this puts people at ease and will help the sales process. I quite often find myself mirroring the person I’m talking to at business meetings instinctively, especially if  I’m getting on well with them.

4). Consider your audience – This goes for all types of sales but when selling yourself, you need to consider the person you’re selling to and adapt your persona to theirs. This might mean trying to pick up on elements of their personality, language or dress as mentioned above. To give you a really obvious example, would you act the same around a workman on a building site as you would with a solicitor or accountant? I consider it a real skill to morph yourself so that whomever approaches you, you can very quickly determine what type of person you’re dealing with and then change various aspects of yourself to suit them.

5). Build a relationship (will deal with more in future posts). A relationship will yield far better results in the long run. People will warm to you more if you spend time getting to know them and their business before telling them what you can do for them. I mentioned this in my networking post as well as I truly believe it to differentiate good sales people from poor ones. Concentrate on building relationships with everyone you know and mark my words (oh dear I sound like an old teacher), it will help you sell yourself.

I really hope this has been helpful – much of it is common sense but if you’re new to business then next time you’re due to go out to a networking event or meeting, just skim over this post first and try and implement some of it and see what results you get – I’d be keen to hear your feedback :)

Building Relationships with Suppliers

Howdy folks, another post and this time I want to deal with suppliers.

Much is written about building relationships with clients and customers but in my opinion not enough is said about the importance of relationships with suppliers. This surprises me because more often than not, your suppliers are propping up your business with their services and products. In many cases, businesses are selling on those services to others. If your relationship with a supplier breaks down it can lead to all sorts of problems.

I class suppliers into two categories – ‘essentials’ and ‘nice to haves’. An example of an ‘essential’ supplier for my business (web design) might be my Internet service provider or perhaps the company we use to run our customers online payment solutions. A ‘nice to have’ could be the water cooler company or coffee supplier. I focus primarily on essential suppliers in this post because they have the biggest effect on your business.

Some people try and drive cost down at every opportunity. In my opinion it’s important to pay the right price for goods and services. If you drive down a supplier to the point where there is no margin in a job for them they are less likely to provide as good a service to you as others might. Although you might get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve got their lowest cost, the knock on implications later may come back to haunt you. When you’re talking about a physical product, clearly it’s important to make sure you aren’t paying over the odds for it – if someone else provides the same product then shop around but be very careful to make sure you are getting like for like. This is even more true when it’s a service you’re buying – something intangible is far harder to judge on a like for like basis (this is a problem we suffer with in the web industry a lot). I have made a conscious decision as a business to make sure suppliers are paid on or as near to their terms as possible. If a supplier is in your ‘network sphere’, ie. they mix in the same business circles as you then be careful as word travels fast and you don’t want others not wishing to supply you due to your late payments or treatment of other suppliers.

If I can sum up my view on relationships with essential suppliers in one sentence it would be: “look after those that look after you”. I make it my business in these relationships to build up a rapport with as many members of staff through all areas of these supplier’s businesses. Make it your goal to know everyone from the person on first line support (these guys could become your most important friends in business) through to the management, through to accounts department. Let’s break that down a bit more:

Support Department - If you need help with the service or product you’re being supplied then you are probably going to talk to someone in the support department on the phone/email as the first port of call. Make it your business to show an interest in these people, find out about their personal lives/their interests etc…These are the guys that if something goes wrong, you want on your side. If this happens, then you want to know that these folk are going to look after you and prioritise you over perhaps other people suffering from the same issues. I want to know that if i need help I’m going to get it. Another thing I truly believe and recommend to any business owners out there is to reward these people when a good job is done and at certain times of the year (Christmas etc..). If they go out of their way to help you then make sure you thank them, even if it’s just a card or box of chocolates. We always send our main suppliers drinks and chocolates at Christmas and if they do a good job for us. Do you thank your suppliers enough?

Management - Sometimes you don’t get to meet your supplier’s management teams but where possible make it your business to do so. If you need something done at a high level then these are the people who will hopefully be able to make it happen for you. They are generally the guys that will be setting prices and deciding who to deal with and where their business is going – as a main supplier this all has a knock on effect on you and your business.

Accounts - The person that raises invoices to your company is well worth spending some time on. If you need a few extra days to pay you need to have a good relationship with this person/team. If you get on well with them they are more likely to be good to your business and let you have some leniency on payments. In my start-up days this was especially important.

OK, for fear of boring you too much, I’m keeping my ‘Banksy’s top tips’ short and sweet on this one:

1). Find out the first names of your suppliers and use them where possible in conversation (works well on the phone)
2). People will move jobs so make sure you try and get to know as many people doing the same job as possible
3). Don’t drive price down so much your suppliers can’t give you their complete attention
4). Pay your suppliers regularly and preferably before they have to chase you for payment
5). Send suppliers gifts at key times of the year and when they go beyond the call of duty for you

As a small business owner, think carefully about how you treat your suppliers because you never know when you’ll need them…oh and if I ever become a supplier to you then please treat me well too :)