Other people’s advice can be dangerous

Can you get advice from the internet? The internet is great. Need some information – the great Google is at hand to provide thousands of articles published by well meaning ‘experts’. But can you trust what you read?
Wikipedia is another great resource, but it’s not validated. It relies on the general reader to correct any mistakes. It’s edited by its own users. There is no wealth of background research to back up it’s articles. Many of the people that posted entries may have done that research but you can’t tell. You take it on trust.

Friends and family
So when you need advice about your business – about a tricky decision you have to make – where do you turn? Many business owners turn to family and friends – the people that know and love them best. But is that wise? How many of them run their own business? Have they ever faced a similar situation to you. Are they applying ‘big corporate’ logic to your problem because that’s where they work? Are they being well meaning without understanding? Can you trust other people’s advice?
Most advice is given from the perspective of the giver. If the giver has never run a business, their perspective may not be valid in your situation. My sister-in-law was talking about what my son should do in relation to a situation he found himself in at work. He works for a small IT support company. She was talking from the perspective of having worked in the NHS. The advice, though well intentioned, just wasn’t relevant.
Similarly advice from friends who work in large corporates should be taken with a health warning. I have certainly learned a lot from my large corporate roles and assignments that I have adapted and applied to running my own business. But the key was the adaption. The experience had to be adapted and applied in a relevant way. If you can do that adaption, the advice could be useful. But if you are in the midst of a crisis or critical decision, now might not be the time to try it.

Professional advisers
You’d think this would be a good place to go for advice. If you have chosen the advisors well, then you could well be right. But you often choose your professional adviser more like a supplier. Can they deliver the service I want at price I can afford. I need my accounts, tax and payroll sorted. So you select the accountant that offers the best value for money service. Few business owners chose their accountants on the wider advice and guidance they can offer. When starting out you want to be compliant as cheap as possible. The more enlightened accountants will be highlighting their value added services, but many start up business owners will feel they are being sold unnecessary services.
I know one property investor whose accountant discouraged him from the strategy he was proposing to follow because he thought it was too ambitious. The accountant was not a property investor and had no experience of managing the accounts of property investors. The investor wisely changed accountant.
Another accountant discouraged a client from signing up a coach because the effective hourly rate for the coach was more than his client earned per hour. He should have been looking at the benefits the coaching would deliver for his client which far exceeded the total cost of the coaching programme with a payback of less than six months and a guarantee of free ongoing coaching until full payback was achieved. What’s more, the coaching would enable the return to be repeated continuously at no extra cost making the return on investment ever increasing.
So taking advice from advisers can be good, but only if you have selected the adviser for that purpose and they have relevant experience.

Networking groups
Networking is an important part of developing and growing your business. It can help you find clients and suppliers and provide a reassuring environment. Many new and established business owners can find it a lonley occupation. Even if you employ staff, you are the business owner and it can feel like a lonely place. Networking can provide interaction with like-minded business owners facing similar situations.

But be wary of turning to a networking group for advice. If you know the members well and know they have faced similar situations and dealt with them successfully, you may get good advice. But many people attend networking events just to catch up with contacts or to try and find clients. The aim is not specifically to help each other grow and develop their businesses so you may not get the advice you need.

Who you hang around with matters…
…a lot. There is a train of thought that says you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. In business terms, that is why many successful business people join mastermind groups or business clubs with like-minded business owners and lead by experienced, knowledgeable and successful entrepreneurs. They surround themselves with successful people that want to become more successful. Such mastermind groups or larger business development groups or clubs are there to help people develop and grow their businesses. Yes, networking takes place, but that is very much the secondary objective.

So when they need advice, they have a ready made pool of people to turn to that have faced similar situations themselves, or know someone that has. Successful entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes. Really successful entrepreneurs learn from other people’s. Grow your network of successful business owners and with it your pool of helpful, useful advisers.

Coaching and mentoring
The other source of excellent advice is to find a coach or mentor. Someone who is focussed on supporting you in achieving your business goals and has the relevant background, experience and network of contacts to help you on your journey.

Who do you turn to for advice and guidance? What experiences have you had of good and bad advice. Leave a comment below and share your experiences.


Finding your ideal client with LinkedIn

Describing your ideal client can be really hard. But if you don’t know what you are looking for, it’s very hard to find it. Lots of marketing courses will take you through creating your customer avatar – a written description of your target client. They will encourage you to go into quite a bit of detail and in areas you might not immediately think of as relevant. For example, are they married, do they have kids, what car do they drive etc. The objective is to build a clear image of the target client so that when you write your marketing material, whether it’s a sales letter or an e-mail, you make it more personal. You appeal directly to them, identifying their problems or pain points before offering your solutions.

It’s a great approach and can really work well if you can get into that mindset. But many business people struggle with the avatar approach. It feels false and somewhat trite. So what else can you do?

Your best existing clients

If you already have clients, which ones do you like working with most. What is it about working with them that you enjoy. Are these traits you could look for and identify in other potential clients. For example, if you are selling a business coaching programme, your best and most engaged existing clients will be those that really want to improve their own business skills by learning and taking action. Those that constantly come up with excuses for not doing stuff will be ones to steer clear of.

Clients you don’t enjoy working with

It’s sometimes easier to identify who you don’t want as a client than those you do want to work with. If you have been in business any length of time you will have come across difficult or awkward clients. The ones that want to pay the least and ask more fussy and irritating little questions until you wonder if they are really worth doing business with. Likewise, some potential clients might be looking for things you don’t offer.

For example, in my project management training business I don’t want to attract prospective clients that are looking for a Prince 2 qualification. I don’t offer the qualification because the training for it is geared towards passing an exam, and not focused entirely on becoming a better project manager. So I don’t want to work with people that see that as their best route to being a project manager. If they want the Prince 2 badge to meet the requirements of a recruiter but want to learn the real business of project management with me, then they are in my ideal client domain and I’ll help them understand Prince 2 and recommend courses from someone else to get them through the exams.

So now that you have a good idea of who you want to work with (or not, as the case may be), how do you find them? This is where LinkedIn comes into its own for the business to business salesman or entrepreneur. There are two distinct strategies – finding people by where they hang out and finding people by how they describe themselves.

Where they hang out

Most industries, professions or interest groups will have a number of LinkedIn Groups active in their field. You need to find and join those groups. Look at the LinkedIn profiles of your existing clients and see what groups they belong to and join them. If they require invitations, ask your existing client if they would be prepared to help get you an invitation. Once in, what and listen first before then starting to comment and contribute. Always obey the group rules and never, ever, sell directly in to the group. If you give value to the group and demonstrate your worth, they will seek you out to buy from you.

Make sure you hand out in groups that your target clients use and not those of your own industry. For example, if you are selling accounting services don’t expect to find clients in accounting related groups. Join those to keep up to date with your profession. Instead join groups relevant to the client sectors you are targeting. So if you are looking to service IT Contractors, join those sorts of groups and post useful information about IR35, claiming business expenses etc. If they are useful, you’ll soon get enquiries about your services from the group members.

How clients describe themselves

LinkedIn has a very powerful search capability. Even for users of the basic free profile you can search for people using keywords and narrow down the search by location. The results can be astonishing. If you have one of LinkedIn’s premium accounts you get up to eight additional filters which you can use to narrow down your search criteria to pinpoint your ideal targets. If you are looking for an obscure role but have target companies where you know that sort of role exists, search for the company and scroll through the employees that are on LinkedIn. Even if you don’t find the right person, you might identify a connection who could find that person for you.

So with LinkedIn you can identify the right person. If they are in an active group you can use your contributions to provide a reason to connect directly. If they are not in a suitable active group my earlier posts describe how to get connected in the right way.

That’s client acquisition sorted then!