"It's impossible to run a business in this economy!" "The big names/WASP crowd/tech degrees get all the breaks!" "There's just no market for website development/graphic art/[fill in industry of your choosing] these days!" Do any of those plaints sound like you, as you review your paltry statistics on both new clients and repeat business, and grope for an explanation of why people and their money aren't flocking to someone with your talent? Do the above "reasons" really explain why your business is struggling? Andrew Carnegie started work life as a dirt-poor immigrant. Steve Jobs lasted less than a year in college. J. K. Rowling was told a dozen times that "no one buys fantasy anymore." If low influence, type of industry, or the "wrong" background are such insurmountable obstacles, why don't they stop everyone? Is it possible that the real reason for your difficulties is something you're doing--something that discourages clients from coming to you, or back to you? (If you have a staff, evaluate them on the following points as well.) _ Are you waiting for "good luck" to find you? _ Every Chamber of Commerce and business organization has people who pay their membership dues, become names in the directory for a year, and decline to renew the following year because "this didn't grow my business any." Sorry, but it takes more than a membership, certification, and/or website to ensure clients find you. You have to give your time as well: meet people, volunteer, answer inquiries personally, keep that blog updated. Customers don't judge a book by its cover (or a business by its name)--they want a good look inside before buying. _ Are you the master of excuses? _ Not just the "it's not my fault, it's the system" excuses at the beginning of this article, but excuses as to why you can't deliver what you promised, why you're not available when needed, why your product is inferior. People will forgive a few mistakes--but only if they receive the one acceptable response, a quick apology and remedy. Are you constantly on the defensive? The only thing worse than an entrepreneur who makes constant excuses is one who throws blame back at the complainer: their expectations are unreasonable, they didn't handle the product correctly, they should watch their temper and their manners. Even with justifiable cause for annoyance, you rarely gain anything by winning an argument and losing a customer (plus everyone he subsequently vents to). _ Have you forgotten that "the customer is always right"? _ And even if the customer is obviously wrong in the immediate argument, she's right to expect that you will be polite, patient, and a good listener. _ Can you think of no one but yourself? _ If your blog is all about your accomplishments, or if you talk endlessly about your product's features without mentioning what customers will get out of them--you are boring people out the door and straight toward your competitors. _ Are you doing as little as you can get away with? _ The businesses that build loyal customers are those that deliver more than they promise. Have you pleasantly surprised anyone this week? _ Are you desperate to please? _ Being respectful of customers and delivering beyond what you promised is one thing; it's another thing to kill yourself trying to fulfill every demand, however unreasonable, to the letter. If you "can't afford" to disappoint anyone in any way or to pass up a single prospect, you are inviting people to suck you dry and to go elsewhere as soon as they've taken all the advantage they can, leaving you with inadequate energy to fulfill reasonable requests in reasonable time. Every business attracts a few prospects that don't really fit; better to lose them early than to suffer through a long-term toxic relationship. _ Are you paranoid? _ The dangers of publicly sharing trade secrets, or information that could embarrass you or a customer, _are _real (especially in the social-media age). But if fear of it keeps you from even opening a social-media account, or if you clam up at every question, you'll lose far more than you save. Risks with discretion are an inevitable part of business; being human and open is an important part of successful business. _ Are you easy to mistake for a robot? _ Speaking of being human, the last thing you want is to recite information by rote; constantly use the word "policy"; or show a face and voice that lack all expression. People want to feel they're dealing with other--real--people. _ Do you make yourself invisible? _ Even worse is the entrepreneur who hides behind phone menus and fill-in-the-data-field forms; puts not a single human photo online; and lets subordinates handle the few inevitable direct phone calls, brick-and-mortar sales, and media inquiries. You can't build relationships with customers who are half inclined to believe rumors that you don't even exist. If you practice any of the above habits regularly, you can, of course, refuse to give them up because it's "too hard" or because you blame others for being "unreasonable." But if you prefer that approach, you might as well sell your business now and find a grunt job, because you've condemned yourself to going nowhere fast as an entrepreneur. Like it or not, you are as "only human" as your prospects, and are not made of superior (or pitiable) material with inherent entitlement to an easy time. Besides, wouldn't you really prefer the glow of hard-won success to the sorry comfort of self-pity?
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