|This post was originally published on OPEN Forum.|
When you’re running a small business—especially in the early stages—it’s easy to simply focus on how to stay afloat. The problem is, that mindset will keep your company mediocre at best and fighting for survival at worst.
In the first months of launching their real estate company Those Callaways, Joseph and JoAnn Callaway learned just how much real growth starts with client relationships. In that situation, they decided to forfeit a deal because it was the best choice for their client. Since then, their business brings in around $100 million in sales annually and reached $1 billion worth of resale in the first 10 years of business.
In their book Clients First: The Two Word Miracle, the Callaways discuss where most business owners go wrong when developing relationships—and how to fix the problems. Most employers are guilty of these bad habits without even being aware of it, and these habits can not only ruin relationships, but they can negatively affect business too.
1. Being too sure of yourself.
The Callaways say that when you have a healthy perspective of who you are, it will help you stand apart from your competitors, but when you’re too focused on recognition, you may veer off “onto a destructive path.”
“No client likes working with someone who has a patronizing attitude or constantly sings his own praises,” Joseph says. “Your job is not to be the most important person in the room or to put others down. Believe me, when you take care of your clients first and foremost, they will take care of you through their loyalty and appreciation.”
Instead, Joseph advises that you should always focus on your client. Don’t try to find a common interest just so you can bring the conversation back to yourself.
2. Thinking it’s just a job.
The only way you can honestly put a client first—time after time—is if you actually really do care about your job and what it means to society. If you have to, try to make a connection between what you do and how that affects the bigger picture.
“Whether you are a CEO or installing brake pads, you can learn to love what you do in that you feel pride in your work and strive to be better,” Joseph says. “Having any other attitude will only make you miserable and drive clients away.”
To fix a negative pattern of thinking, the Callaways say you should think of specific things you can do to ensure you’re always growing professionally. For example, look into seminars related to your field and continually network so you can meet and learn from people in your industry.
3. Telling “white lies,” which includes exaggerating.
If you’ve ever told your client you’re sick just so you can have a few more days to work on a project, then you’re guilty of not being entirely honest with someone who is paying you to be honest.
“When you cultivate a reputation for rock-solid honesty—for laying out all your cards even when it doesn’t benefit you, for telling the whole truth, for never holding back or sugarcoating—you’ll gain customer loyalty that money can’t buy,” Joseph says. “Clients will trust, respect and refer you, and your own life will become easier."
4. Being too professional.
Do you see your clients as business opportunities and sources of income, or do you see them as actual human beings with likes, preferences, quirks and stories? If you want to truly put your clients first, you need to think of them as more than sources of income. You should treat clients—and potential clients—as if they’re different from any other.
5. Thinking you’re always right.
The Callaways say that it’s easy to think you’re always right, especially if you’re the expert and the most qualified to make decisions. Although this may be true, it doesn’t mean that other opinions don’t matter.
“No matter what industry you’re in, you need to turn your viewpoint around and make a sincere effort to see yourself and your business as your client does,” Joseph says.
You can always ask the client what they think about your business, especially if the deal fell apart and they no longer conduct business with you. If you’re willing to accept this feedback and change your business model based on it, you can stop yourself from making the same mistake with the next client.
6. Being stingy with time and money.
Yes, your time is valuable, but the first sign that you’re trying to wrap up with a client quickly so you can get to the next one will probably be the last time you get that client’s business.
“I remember being very apprehensive about donating a large sum of money to build a Habitat for Humanity house as a Christmas gift for our clients,” Joseph says. “I thought I’d never see that money again. But in the years since, I’ve learned that new clients chose us—and even that a bank gave us all of their foreclosures to sell—because they had learned of that donation.”
That might not be the scenario for every case, but Joseph says it shows the time and money you use for something will eventually “come back to you with interest.”
7. Failing to express genuine gratitude.
If people don’t feel valued, they’ll likely take their business elsewhere, so it’s risky to take people for granted.
“JoAnn and I have realized that there are many ways to say ‘thank you’ to clients, and not all of them are verbal … you can show clients just how much you appreciate them by getting to know them personally, forgiving occasional bad behavior, and staying up-to-date in your field so you can give them the highest level of service,” Joseph says.
8. Doing everything yourself.
When you truly care about the success of your business—and about the well-being of your clients—it can be hard to let go of any aspect of your work. The thought of allowing someone else to take over any area of responsibility is extremely difficult, but necessary. In actuality, one of the most important aspects of running a successful business is understanding how to delegate responsibilities to others. Otherwise, what ends up happening is that “you become stretched too thin, feel overwhelmed and actually become less effective,” Joseph says.
Although it may be common to think about your business on a short-term basis, such as making enough money this month to pay the bills, the Callaways say that building the long-term relationship with clients is what will keep you in business and set you apart from your competitors.
“Most business owners are so concerned with paying the bills that we instinctively put ourselves first,” he explains. “It’s a behavior fueled by fear. But when you really put the customer first, and put your own needs second, a whole lot of other things naturally fall into place. Decisions will become easier, your business will flourish, and your relationships will be based on true transparency.”
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