Hobby to business – what do clients want?
When you consider the question of what clients want, you are likely to jump to a conclusion, like “cheap prices”. That might be true in certain markets, but for finer woodcrafts the market is more influenced by “good value”. Value is made up of many components aside from price. In my view, a professional craftsman must cater to the needs of his or her clients, both on the practical level, and on the emotional/psychological level. Clients who pay a high dollar for finer work want value and an experience that is generally pleasing.
Here are some pointers on how you can give your clients more value for their dollar.
How often have you left a message on a business voice mail or answering machine and did not receive a response for several days or even longer? How did it make you feel? In my view, answering phone calls and emails promptly is one of the most important things you can do to come across as professional. Try to respond to enquiries within 24 hours or less whenever possible, or 48 hours at the most. An exception might be when a client leaves you a message late on a Friday afternoon. Generally, they are not expecting a response until Monday.
If you won’t be available for a longer period of time, change the answering machine message or use an email auto responder to explain when you will be available. Customers appreciate being kept up to date as opposed to feeling ignored.
I can’t emphasize enough how many times I have acquired a contract simply because I responded quickly and professionally, even if my price was not the lowest one on the table. In certain markets, people would rather pay a high price but know that the job will get done properly, than pay a low price for a job that barely meets their expectations. Remember that wealthier clientele believe that time is money. Time spent waiting for a woodworker who doesn’t show up or respond in a timely fashion, is wasted time and money.
Be Polite and Friendly
This may seem obvious, but letting your exasperation with your personal life leak out into your business life will not be appreciated. Don’t answer the phone if you’re in a grouchy mood or if you just had an argument with someone. People are sensitive to the moods of others and might misinterpret your verbal cues to mean that you’re not interested in the job.
Remember to say please and thank you, and to thank clients for their business. Thank them for any referrals too, as word-of-mouth is your strongest marketing tool. Maintain a good sense of humour, but don’t tell questionable jokes or use profanities in their presence, even if they do.
This is part of being prompt, but clients don’t want to be left guessing as to what your next move will be. When you tell a client that you’re going to call tomorrow, do it! Even if you didn’t get a chance to put together the information in time, just tell the client so, and promise to call again shortly.
In general, I find that being honest about problems is the easiest way out. If you give a client a firm delivery date, stick to it as far as possible. But if you have no choice but to extend the delivery date, don’t call the client the night before to tell them about it. Give them a call to discuss the problem as soon as you know it exists. Explain the circumstances and offer reasonable compensation or an alternative plan that will make the client respect you. Nipping the problem in the bud is always best; you will be respected for confronting the problem head-on.
Deliver the level of quality that you promised. If you are selling inexpensive items of a lower quality, there is nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong if you market the product as being top-of-the-line and then deliver an inferior product. You must follow through on your promises.
Remember to deal with any minor problems or complaints promptly. It’s better to deal with a problem and correct it than to ignore it for weeks and then make only a half-hearted attempt at a solution.
Provide Excellent Service
Everything mentioned above pertains to good service. It’s too easy to think that a superior product makes up for poor service. The client is buying not just a product, but an experience in dealing with your business. Make sure that it is a pleasurable one.
If you can, think of a few nice touches that will make a difference to your clients. For example, take a pair of clean shoes for carrying furniture through a client’s home. Or you might offer to take your shoes off, although a pair of clean slip-on shoes might be safer for you if you’re carrying heavy items. Sleep Country has it right with the plastic booties they wear when carrying in your new mattress. I like to take a small cordless vacuum cleaner with me when I know I will be drilling holes in walls to install anything. There is something distasteful about a tradesperson who does the job well but then walks out and leaves a mess behind. It’s like cooking a great meal for your spouse’s birthday but then leaving the mess for him or her to clean up! The job isn’t done until the job site is clean and organized. If you don’t like the idea, then offer to give your client a small savings if they are willing to clean up the mess on their own, but be explicit about it.
Again, the previous points all relate to “being professional”. Remember that you are presenting your business image to each person you meet, and first impressions are very critical.
For example, don’t show up at a client’s home in ripped jeans and a baseball cap. There is nothing wrong with wearing jeans; let’s face it, you’re a woodworker, not an office worker. But wear clothing that is clean and presentable whenever you are meeting with the public. Don’t show up unshaven, chewing gum, and coughing up a storm, sheepishly explaining to your client that you are recovering from the flu!
Being professional also means not answering the phone in an abrupt, rude manner. You would be well advised not to answer the phone from bed, when you are barely awake.
Telephones are often the first means of contact by a client, so you need to maintain a professional tone at all times. If you’re a home based business without a separate business line, it is better to let the answering machine answer the call than to pick up the phone with two screaming kids in the background. Better yet, get a separate business line and ensure that you or another professional-sounding adult are the only people who ever answer it.
As some of you read these tips, you’re going to think that they are all common sense and need no explanation. But it is amazing how often you’ll meet business people who simply don’t know how to act professionally. You will always get paid more and be treated more seriously if you behave in a professional manner with your clients.
In Hendrik’s next and final article in this series, he will give you his thoughts on making money in the woodworking business, and tell you how to grow your business in the long term.