The quickest way to destroy your marketing effort and trash your reputation is with bad business practices. If you see yourself in the following examples, I urge you to change your behavior.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #1: Surprising your client by adding unexpected expenses or fees to his bill. Personally, few things raise my blood pressure more quickly than unexpected charges — or charges that exceed the estimate. Money is a hot button for lots of people — and one that many lawyers (and other business people, too) don’t feel comfortable discussing. As a result, when you mail the bill to your client, the subject that was not well discussed in advance is now very well documented, often down to the last photocopy. The client thinks, “Obviously, the lawyer knew in advance how he or she would charge. I certainly would have appreciated an explanation out front, before I incurred the obligation.”
BETTER: Never surprise anyone with issues relating to money. Discuss everything clearly and in advance. If the legal situation changes, discuss immediately how that will change the financial picture between you and your client. Don’t elect to sort it out later. When later gets here, you can bet that one of you will not be happy with the outcome. You prevent problems when you and your client have a clear understanding about money — up front!
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #2: Don’t pay bills until they are at least 90 days old. You probably know lawyers who pride themselves in how slowly they pay their bills. They are the same lawyers who enjoy the least loyalty and respect from vendors.
BETTER: Pay bills within 48 hours of when you receive them. Your accountant may tell you I’m crazy, but few things improve your reputation and gain as much positive publicity as paying your bills right away.
When you don’t pay your bills on time, vendors start grumbling around the community. They discuss clients who make them wait for payment in the same way lawyers often talk about their delinquent clients. Sooner or later, this information gets around the community. The reason for your delay is irrelevant. When word hits the street that you are slow to pay, your reputation suffers. This is aggravated by the fact that people think all lawyers are rich and can write a check any time they want. Vendors often conclude that if you haven’t paid their bill, it’s only because you don’t want to. If you really want to generate the “Wow!” response — and improve your reputation in your city — pay invoices as soon as you receive them. As word gets out, you might find that more vendors want your business — and that some vendors may give you a discount because you don’t make them wait for their money.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #3: Keep employees in fear of losing their jobs. Do you like to crack the whip to “keep ’em in line”? Do you tell employees their year-end holiday bonus is that you won’t fire them, at least for now?
BETTER: Keep employees happy and treat them with respect. Good employees are wonderful goodwill ambassadors. Plus, they stay at their jobs so you avoid recurring training costs. On the other hand, disgruntled employees undermine your marketing program and complain to everyone they see, spreading their poison all over town. If you cannot correct the underlying problem and turn grumbling employees into positive, enthusiastic employees, then replace them.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #4: Don’t worry about keeping your commitments. You may know a lawyer who makes promises and then doesn’t think anything about breaking them. Bad news.
BETTER: Keep your promises. Unreliable people aren’t good friends — and they don’t make good lawyers. If you are not responsible, people will call you a flake. And if clients cannot depend on you to keep small commitments, do you really think they’ll trust you when the stakes are high? Stay true to your commitments and everybody wins.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #5: Arrive late for appointments because it makes you look important. Lateness grates on people and undermines your credibility. When you keep the other person waiting, he concludes that you found something more important to do. He grows frustrated and loses respect for you because you’re wasting his time. Then when you do arrive and try to explain yourself, you sound as if you’re making excuses to a person who is not in the mood to forgive your lateness.
BETTER: Arrive early or on time for appointments. This shows your respect for the other person. If you can’t arrive on time, call as soon as you discover you’ll be late. Tell the person when you expect to arrive — and offer him the option to reschedule. When you keep the other person informed, you show your respect for the person’s time. And by learning of your tardiness in advance, the other person will likely receive the information in a positive way.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #6: Return phone calls when you get around to it. If you are slow to return phone calls, you could easily irritate the person who left the message. One reason is because the caller might be waiting for the return call, which might not come for several hours or even days.
BETTER: Return phone calls promptly. The first and best response is the quick response. Still, since you won’t always be able to return calls quickly, explain to your clients how you handle return calls in your office. Train your receptionist to take messages in ways that reduce callers’ frustration. This includes asking if the call is urgent, so he or she can give it a high priority, and asking if someone else can respond to the caller’s request in your absence.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #7: Respond to requests for materials when you have time. When prospects ask to receive your materials, the moment they hang up the phone, their inner clock starts ticking. After two or three days, their interest wanes. At this point, they often conclude that their business is not important to you — or that you forgot to send the materials.
And after five or six days, your prospect has all but forgotten that he called your office — except for the negative things he says about you to his friends and associates.
BETTER: Respond to requests quickly because speed is critical to making a positive impression. At the very least, mail materials the same day you receive the inquiry. In this way, your prospects will receive your materials within two or three days, with luck. Even better, because everybody today wants an immediate response, you can help satisfy prospects — and beat competitors to the punch — by putting your marketing information on your web site where prospects can read it 24 hours a day. Or, you could offer your information using an autoresponder, which sends the e-mail immediately.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #8: Don’t agree to buy anything until you beat up the other person on price. When you try to get the lowest price through haggling, you immediately earn a bad reputation. And while you may enjoy negotiating, vendors usually don’t. A few years ago, I called graphic artists for a quote on preparing a new client’s newsletter. The first graphics shop declined to bid, saying my client tightened the screws on price to the point where the jobs were no longer profitable.
BETTER: Don’t haggle over price. Instead, when you call a vendor, explain that you do not have the time or desire to haggle. (Vendors like to hear this.) Then explain that even though you won’t haggle, price remains an important consideration. Tell the vendor that you are requesting prices from several suppliers and that you will base your decision on the first quote from each. (This emphasizes the need for the vendor to give you the lowest price, and makes him aware that you will not accept a revised quote.) I use this method all the time. Sales reps appreciate that I won’t haggle and they give me the lowest price on the first quote, which saves them and me a great deal of time.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #9: Make the other person sign his life away for a $25 deal. Several years ago, I hired an out-of-state lawyer for a simple matter. One of the lawyers I interviewed sent me an agreement that was 12 pages double spaced. My immediate conclusion was that this lawyer was more of an adversary than an ally.
BETTER: When possible, avoid complex agreements for simple matters. Another lawyer I spoke with — and the one I hired — drafted a brief letter of understanding. In two paragraphs, he said everything he needed to say. I signed and returned the letter with my check — and he did an excellent job.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #10: Talk about your problems so people conclude you’re a victim. It seems as though a few people have more problems than the rest of us put together. The more they invite problems — and the more they talk about problems — the more prospects and clients perceive them as the source of the problem.
BETTER: Keep your problems to yourself. Your problems have no place in a business discussion. Prospects and clients want to have confidence in your abilities. The more you discuss your challenges, the more prospects lose confidence in your ability to solve problems. You may remember the old adage: Keep your problems to yourself. 80% of people don’t want to hear about them. And the other 20% are glad you’ve got ’em.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #11: Demand perfection and don’t stop until you get it. It’s easy to find fault — and even easier to criticize. For many people, complaining is their national pastime. But constantly complaining and criticizing does little more than gain you a bad reputation.
BETTER: Show your appreciation at every opportunity. Tell people how grateful you are for their help. And for maximum impact, tell them in writing. I started sending thank-you letters eight years ago. They don’t take long to write. And the act of sending a letter is so far beyond what most people would even consider that the recipient and his employer are really grateful for the gesture.
I send letters for several reasons: First, it makes the person who receives it feel good. Second, the person who receives it remembers me. And third, in an effort to live up to the letter’s high praise, the vendor gives me excellent service in the future.
So take a few minutes to reward good service with a letter. You’ll really help the people who receive them, as noted in this adage:
“Expect people to be better than they are; it helps them become better. But don’t be disappointed when they are not; it helps them keep trying.”
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #12: Turn your mistakes into your client’s problem. I don’t have many dining options in Payson. In fact, some days I’m lucky when I get a restaurant to serve a good meal. Still, even an average meal beats cooking at home, so I keep trying. A few weeks ago, I went into a restaurant where my food was so bad the waiter took the charge off the bill. This was how the waiter solved his problem, serving bad food. But it didn’t solve my problem because I was still hungry.
BETTER: Correct your mistakes immediately and overwhelmingly in your client’s favor. Recently, four of us went into the restaurant mentioned above. Nothing was bad, but several little things went wrong. Our server, a young lady, corrected everything quickly and courteously. Even so, she remained irritated at the cooks.
When we finished, she came to the table and made this announcement: “Your meals are free and here’s a $20 gift certificate so you’ll come in again.” We were speechless.
Because of her generosity, we asked her to start another ticket and ordered dessert. Later she returned and announced that dessert was free as well. Again we were dumbfounded. We gave her a generous tip.
You will make mistakes. Everyone does. What matters is how quickly and completely you correct them. When you make a mistake, correct it immediately and overwhelmingly in your client’s favor. Your client will be so surprised that he will tell his family, friends, colleagues — almost everyone he knows. As a result, you will recoup the money you lose from the mistake at least tenfold through positive publicity and client loyalty.
When you improve your business practices, you erase negatives that undermine your marketing efforts. And if you fail to get rid of these arrows, someday you’ll find them in your chest.