Few Little Things You Need To Know When You're Self-Employed
I started my first business I was pretty naive. I thought I could just
let people know about me and honest, sincere, intelligent people would
use my services. Okay, you can stop laughing now. There are a million
little things that you will learn as you progress with your business,
but let me bring you up to speed on a few important ones.
It's hard enough dealing with all the problems that will crop up, but
you also need to be careful of scams. Many scam artists prey on business's,
both large and small. If you receive a bill in the mail, check to be
sure you ordered, and received, the product before sending out a check.
If you didn't order the product, don't pay for it. Also, if someone
calls about renewing something, like a yellow page ad, be sure this
is the company you think it is, and that it's really time to renew.
The scam artists may threaten you by saying that they have a recording
of Mr. X (one of your employees) ordering the product and if you don't
pay they will take you to court. If this happens, keep a record of all
the contacts they make with you, and file a complaint with the Better
Business Bureau and contact your local police department.
This happened to my girlfriend, Linda-Ann. A company called and told
her secretary that they were associated with AT&T, which they weren't,
and wanted to know if she wanted to renew her Yellow Pages ad. The secretary
knew that Linda-Ann had an ad in the Yellow Pages, so she said yes.
However, when the bill arrived it was from a totally unknown phone book.
Linda-Ann called and told them to cancel it, and the battle began. They
said she had given them permission and they even had a tape recording
of her secretary agreeing to it. Linda-Ann contacted the police and
AT&T and found out that this company had been doing the same thing to
many local companies, including the Chamber Of Commerce. She lodged
a complaint with the police, the Better Business Bureau and even contacted
the local newspaper, which did a story about her experiences. She then
wrote this company and told them all that she had done. They eventually
sent Linda-Ann an invoice canceling what they said she owed. She never
heard from the company again.
Scam artists may also offer you a discount if you balk at paying for
the product. They will also try to get you to pay for return shipping
and a restocking fee. Just remember, if you're the victim of a scam,
pay them nothing.
Also, be very careful about anything that requires you to buy a starter
kit. This is often the mark of a scam.
Now that you're running your own business, take full advantage of the
freedom this gives you. Create, or have created for you, stationary,
envelopes and business cards that reflect your personality. Choose a
paper that you like for these and design products that have a "look"
so that clients will recognize your stationary at a glance. I use the
same font and grey paper for my letterhead, envelopes and business cards
(on cover stock). This shows my clients that I care enough about my
business to create a professional image, and it helps me to stand out
from the crowd.
Invariably you well get some complaints, but remember complaints are
good. Yes, we try to make all of our clients happy from the start, but
if someone has a complaint, listen. Don't become defensive. A complaint
can often point out a problem with your product or service that you
were unaware of. While I don't look forward to receiving complaints,
I scrutinize them carefully, learning what I can and doing whatever's
necessary to correct the problem. I also do what I can to make the client
happy. When I was a freelance photographer there were a couple of times
when I reshot an assignment for free to satisfy a client. Another time,
when I was doing some computer work, I redesigned some graphs for a
client. The graphs were exactly what they asked for, but when they saw
them it wasn't what they had "envisioned." Even if they will never use
me again, I don't want a client to be upset enough to tell everyone
they know not to use me. Give them a refund, let them keep the product
at no charge, send them a replacement.
To really succeed you need to strive to exceed expectations. If you
can make the client say, "Wow," then you will have a client for life.
Remember to always be honest. Never make false claims or stretch the
truth. It will always come back to haunt you.
As things get busier remember to delegate work or get outside help.
Need a part time secretary? Use a secretarial service. Are your promotional
mailings getting to be too much for you? Outsource them to a fulfillment
house or get family and friends to help. My girlfriend helps me attach
address labels and stamps when I have a mailing going out. It never
hurts to have others do these things so you can concentrate on running
your business and finding new clients. Just be sure you can afford to
do this so you don't go broke. You may be able to get free help by becoming
a mentor for a local college. They send out students who work for free
or very little in exchange for work experience. I also know a man who
hires ex-convicts because he gets a tax break for doing this. Check
with your tax preparer.
Every business needs to promote itself. You can do this with a lot of
flash, or with simplicity. The secret is to try several promotional
plans to see what works best. You could have themed parties, support
a local little league team or charity, offer your services free to some
local organizations or simply pass out pens with your company's name
and phone number on them. If you do pass out pens or other types of
products, be sure they are of excellent quality. A client will love
your pen if it works, and hate it if it skips and clogs. Be creative
and have fun with your promotions.
When I was a freelance photographer, I made monthly desktop calendars
on my computer. It was printed on a piece of paper with a 3x5-inch photograph
attached to one side. This was then mailed out to clients monthly with
a promotional cover letter. The client would fold the calendar so they
could see the photograph and month, then on the backside was a promotional
statement about my company, so that anyone sitting across from my client
would see an ad for my business.
Several years ago, I came across a wonderful promotional piece. While
walking in a mall, I spotted a folded $50 bill lying on the ground.
I couldn't believe my good fortune. I picked up the bill but when I
unfolded it I found myself looking at a business card. It was a simple
fold over card, but a section of a $50 bill had been printed on the
back. I'm assuming that the business owner simply dropped a few on the
ground wherever he went. Did he get any business from this? I have no
idea, but I'll wager that people scrambled to pick up his cards.
There are a million things you need to know to run a business, I just
hope this article will save you some of the wasted time, money and frustration
that I've encountered over the years.