In the pursuit of great customer service, strong differentiation or an overzealous work ethic, overstepping the bounds of delivery – giving more than we’re able to, whether it’s in terms of time, energy, products or service – can be all too easy.
The consequences can range from feeling a little on the back foot, to absolute overwhelm as you realise you’ve set a standard that’s impossible to maintain. Before long, that business you dreamed of having, the idea of being master of your own destiny and making more time to enjoy your life vanishes, taking your enthusiasm and willpower with it.
That said, the value we add through being passionate about delivering incredible service or wowing our customers to become the raving fans that generate throngs of repeat business and quality referrals can set us head and shoulders above the competition. So, how do you know when too much becomes too much?
This way ruin lies…
One of the greatest adjustments we make as business owners is finding the balance between investment and gain – financially, energetically and emotionally. When we over-invest, we risk tipping the scales and rather than being genuinely interested in our business or our clients, we begin feeling reluctant or resentful. Luckily, running your own business, means you can choose how much you give, when you give it and where the boundaries ultimately lie.
One of the very first things we should all do as we launch into our new businesses is to spend a little time thinking about our rules of engagement.
- Set a benchmark: What does ‘good’ look like? What does ‘great’ look like? What is the ‘extra mile’ that will blow someone’s socks off?
- Determine what you can give before you risk feeling compromised: Ask yourself; What hours will I work? What is my time/expertise/product worth? How much ‘wiggle room’ do I need to establish in my timelines so I can always deliver calmly, on time and within budget? In what circumstances will I promote? What kinds of promotions fit the brand, the value proposition I’m establishing and the promise I’m making to my clients?
- Decide what it will take for this business to be viable: Another mistake is in considering the financial viability of our business but overlooking how viable it needs to be energetically, physically and emotionally. What will you need to ‘get’ for this to work? If you’re going to invest your time and energy in this business it needs to be not just worthwhile – and sustainable – financially, time wise, energetically and emotionally. ‘Getting’ might mean decent fees, enough time to do your work well, referrals, respect, or services in kind. You decide.
It’s simple, right? Well yes, but it’s amazing how quickly these simple things can fall by the wayside in the desire to deliver exceptional value, to bring a new client on board, to deliver a project on time (despite numerous additions or amendments) or to simply help a client get out of a tricky spot. And when that happens, suddenly they don’t seem so silly after all.
The lesson: Find the balance between getting and giving to find the sweet spot of engagement with your clients and customers. Decide what signs will alert you to giving too much and then listen to them!
Healthy relationships rely on mutual respect – business is no different
All relationships have a dynamic; a natural rhythm that we either fall into or consciously create.
When we’re in sync we often create relationships that feel enjoyable and effective and sometimes those relationships stand the test of time. Often though, when we fall back on our instincts we miss out on consciously creating a strong peer-to-peer dynamic that can withstand differences of opinion, tough conversations, and – sometimes – the threat of competition.
If you’re already feeling a little resentful or reluctant in your client relationships, now’s the time to shift the dynamic. Begin resetting the boundaries (the rules of engagement you worked on above) – and be firm with yourself and your clients while everyone adjusts to the new way of working.
Clients often appreciate your time more, value your expertise and treat you with greater respect when you set – and stick to – boundaries. Better yet, over-delivery stops being the norm they expect and goes back to being the extra mile you offer. When you choose to of course!
The lesson: You can create unhealthy relationship dynamics by giving too much and allowing boundaries to be stretched. People value (and respect!) give and take.
Free stops here
One of the stumbling blocks I’ve seen business owners grappling with (myself included!) when we start out is offering ‘free’ work as we build our client base, our testimonials and our profile. Here’s the problem with ‘free’. It makes it hard for others to value our expertise and even harder for us to begin to appreciate the value we’re adding. If anything, it can weaken our confidence, making the move from ‘free’ to ‘fee’ feel too big a gap to close which simply means we start smaller and build slower. Not a recipe for success and certainly not a lesson I’d want to repeat!
Alternatives are varied, so choose something that feels right for you. Opt for a ‘pay what you can’ an introductory offer or a value exchange instead. If you use a value exchange option, think about the ways a client could help you that would make trading your time feel like a genuine investment. In my case, I’m happy to charge a lower (even nominal) fee for introductions to decision makers in line management or HR, because I know an internal introduction gives me credibility by association and a vote of confidence from the person introducing us. Without that support, making those connections is exponentially harder.
The lesson: Inspire others to value your time by valuing it yourself. You don’t have to be free or ‘low fee’ to be flexible.
Whether you find yourself beset by client demands, a never-ending workload or your own rigid work ethic, the reality is you can change it. Remember, you can (largely!) choose how, when and with whom to work, so don’t squander your opportunity to create the environment that allows you to deliver your best work and keep your business sustainable.
And you know what? You may even find you begin to enjoy your business more…
Let me know what you think in the comments below! And… you can listen to Julie and I hanging out about ‘the 5 biggest things that get in our way en route to success’ here!