Common Mistakes

Below are a few of the most common and costly mistakes I've come across in 3 decades working with professionals and small service businesses. I've paired each with GoodLittleBiz worksheets that will greatly reduce your chances of stepping into them. (Access the worksheets anytime after registering - it's free.)

Neglecting to clarify exactly what is expected, by when, and what will be delivered, by when and by whom
Perhaps the most common of all, this mistake is often an oversight. It will serve you well to go out of your way to pause and find out what customers hope for and expect, and to clarify what part they play in achieving the same. Pause again to clarify your own promises, and by when you can fulfill them. Happy customers take you a long way toward a thriving business. Worksheet #7

Confusing Enthusiasm and Capacity
Most free lancers greatly overestimate their capacity and underestimate the time they will need to work ON their business (keeping the biz itself strong), rather than IN their business (delivering benefit to customers.)Worksheet #5

Figuring you can do 'billable' work 40 hrs/week, 52 weeks a year
Overlooking time you need to:

  • Build skills
  • Rejuvenate
  • Get help
  • Sell and negotiate
  • Gather Customer Feedback
  • Address customer concerns

Worksheet #3 and Worksheet #5

The Trap of the Loss Leader
Many freelancers believe it’s best to jump in, start getting customers for a low and attractive price, and then worry about raising it later. This is often disastrous – customers become angry. They would much rather know up front what your prices will be. Even if you want to offer a substantial discount for early adapters, letting people know what the full price will be will build trust. Worksheet #7

Assuming that your clients are just like you
I guarantee that they’re not: they don’t spend much time thinking about the area of your biz – therein lies the potential benefit you have to offer. Worksheet #4

This is one of the key lessons of marketing: know your audience. Keep up with their shifting concerns. Do not assume that they are responding to their challenges the same way you would.

Make sure that all of your communications are designed to:
- Start where they are (not where you would like them to be)
- Find out what’s new with them
Worksheet #6

Overlooking the time and money you’ll need to invest getting the right help
This is a very common planning error among eager service providers - focused on the benefits they're keen to deliver.

Pay your respects to Worksheet #3. Just as your strengths enable you to serve others, so others' strengths can make your business strong - minimizing costly oversights and shortcuts.

Charging the same way colleagues do
Marketing pros know the importance of differentiating. Take a lesson from them, and avoid the common mistake of pricing and packaging your services just like you've seen others'. Worksheet #5

Bundle your services to fit your best customers, the experience you want them to enjoy, and the benefits that highlight your brand promise and your best work. That practice will lead you to naturally-differentiating service packages. Worksheet #6

From there you'll easily find your way to a pricing structure that further differentiates you: pretty much the opposite of charging the same way colleagues do.

Caring about the client's outcome more than the client does
This one is a killer for many service providers. Your standards are likely going to be higher than your clients’ – that’s what makes you a professional.

Before you jump in, do yourself a big favor. Find out what results each client is truly committed to. Make it clear what they have to do to complement your efforts to fulfill their objectives.

And make sure you write the objectives down, so that the client can look at them with you, and you can both be responsible for amending them. Worksheet #7

Charging by the Hour
First of all, no one can sell time. If you figure out how to sell it, please email me immediately. I’ll buy it all.

More importantly, customers know that. They don’t pay for time, they pay for value.

You’ll have to do some work to figure out how to charge for value – much of it is covered in Worksheet #5. Charging for value greatly increases the chance that both you and your customers will be delighted with your exchanges. It helps avoid misunderstanding by constructing a clear deal, based on explicit promises from both sides. Charging for value sets you up to clarify not only what you will deliver and by when, but also what the customer will do to enjoy the full desired benefits. Often the customer’s part of the deal goes beyond a payment schedule.

Charging for value also sets you up to keep current with each client, and to explore whether and when additional value may be desired – before you begin to deliver it. Worksheet #5

If you build it, they won’t necessarily come
It might have been nice to live in the days when hanging out a shingle was a good way to build a clientele. That was Grandma’s day (though great signage can still be a good idea…)

Building a website isn’t enough either.

A website is important; people need a way to check you out, get a feel for you, learn more about you. You do want a website that gives people the kind of customer experience you promise. (If you haven’t built one before, get experienced help – and make sure that you check out their work before you choose your web helper.)

But even a really good website can’t
- Target your Best Customers
- Build a referral base – what I call your Stokers
- Make the right deal for your services.

If your business is primarily products, your website may be a primary delivery vehicle, but it won’t be a marketing vehicle. You still have to figure out how to drive people there. And the current trend is for buying locally – involving personal relationships - so think about how you will use that trend, or compete with it.

Your will thrive based on how YOU CONVERSE WITH PEOPLE:
- Learning about their concerns and how they view their own vulnerabilities (including asking provocative questions)
- Showing them your passion – the fire in your belly – to deliver the benefits you promise
- Extending specific offers re what you want to do for each person
- Eliciting feedback about every aspect of your business
- Asking for their business, and for their referrals.

Sales and referrals are the backbone of a service business. Looking into peoples eyes is still the best way to do that. If you hate that thought, you may want to invest the time to get good at it, or design another way to make a living. Worksheet #5 and A sustainable model.

Jumping in [to deliver benefits] without a Clear Deal
Many of us who provide services are passionate about the difference we make in peoples’ lives. What we love is to make that happen, and so we sometimes neglect some very important pieces in our rush to get to [what we believe is] the Real Work. This mistake will make your business unsustainable – you can’t afford it. Working ON your business , and not just in it, is crucial. Worksheet #7 will guide you, whether you haven’t yet begun, or are already committing this very common mistake.

- Avoiding talking about fees
Another common disability among service providers. Some of us believe that our service is God’s work – and it is sacred to be of service. But the habit of avoiding talking about fees ends up making everybody unhappy. Your Customer wants a fair deal, and wants to know how much s/he’ll need to pay you. You want to be able to continue providing service, and that won’t happen if your Customer feels you’re not being straight about money. So suck it up and use worksheet #___. You’re not ready to start delivering your wonderful benefits until you’ve got a clear deal about money. Worksheet #7

- Overlooking payment schedules
is just another form of the above mistake. Make sure that payment schedules are clear and agreed upon, and enforce them, A slipping payment schedule is a sign of a breakdown of some kind – even if it’s only a mail delivery problem. Worksheet #7

Staying up to date with clients on every subject, including payment. will serve you well. A sustainable model.

Dreaming that sales will happen automatically
This really is a dream, and an understandable one. It’s natural to want our products and services to be so good that they sell themselves.

Be that as it may, they won’t sell themselves. If you don’t have a strong sales strategy, you’re in jeopardy.

If you need help, get it. If you hate sales, and don't want to learn, think seriously about not having your own biz. A sustainable model.

Assuming that any customer is a good customer
Another very common mistake among eager small business people - perhaps the 2nd most common. Veterans will tell you that engaging with the right customers is half the battle for a Good Little Biz. Do your homework. Target them, listen to them, get them what they want and a little bit more.

Best customers are a gold mine for a small business. They're the most profitable: easiest to acquire and to satisfy - they'll enjoy optimal benefit from your efforts and talk you up to more good prospects.Worksheet #4

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