27 Jun Communication Fails
I’m celebrating my twelfth year working for myself this month and as I pass this anniversary milestone, I can’t help but look back over the past twelve years and think of how the business has changed and progressed. There have been good years and bad years in terms of sales and profitability, there have been so many re-iterations of narrowing down the focus of our work and changes in go-to-market approach. The biggest thing I have faced over the years has been how to grow the business beyond myself, starting out as a solopreneur and scaling it into something that is more than just the body of work I produce, rather a living, breathing brand that provides support to our clients beyond my own ability and reach. If I look back over my errors and successes, they all center around a common issue-proper communication.
I know that folks love hearing about business oopsies and fails so I want to share how some of my past communication fails impacted my business. I would say that being able to provide excellent communication is likely the single biggest factor contributing to our success or failure. Thankfully, I have tried to surround myself with people who know more than me so that I can absorb some of their brilliance. One such person is my own accountant, Bob Signorella from Century Accounting. He gave me some sage advice early on in my business when I was starting to hire people. He said that majority of people who come to work for us have every intention of doing quality work and being the best version of themselves possible. However, when problems at work arise, it is usually because there was some lack of communication or miscommunication between parties. How very true this proved to be for me! In my early years of trying to hire employees, I did a poor job communicating my business values, the value proposition we were delivering to our clients, and how to get the work done not only to the client’s request, but additionally with flair and pizzazz. I struggled with my role as communicator of company vision because in small business, it is likely that the Visionary role is also the same person who acts as top sales producer AND project manager. I often made the mistake of talking to the client about the deliverables but not fully reporting the information back to the employee who was doing the work, or I would do a partial job. For example, I would give the employee the task that needed to be completed but not the back story of why the customer wanted it to be done this way. When I made that mistake, I was taking away the employee’s ability to be a best trusted advisor to our client. Since I completely believe that bookkeeping is so much more than just data entry and getting accounts reconciled, if I did not give the employee my client’s story and reasoning, I was robbing the employee of the chance to be consultative and diminishing their role at the same time. Oopsie!
Another communication fail that we have had to overcome is realizing that our clients get emotional when talking money (or lack thereof). We realized early on that some clients get upset when their financials are not what they had envisioned and the result is that communication from the client can slow or disappear all together. If we don’t hear from them, we don’t know how to complete the project. We overcame this issue by calling it out in the Letter of Engagement. Our Letter of Engagement has a Client Expectations section to it and we specifically call out and request a separate signature in this section. One of those Client Expectations is our Emotional Accountability expectation which states that if they become overwhelmed with emotion in the process of getting their finances in order, that they are responsible for communicating this to us and what they need to get over the hump. It is not acceptable for the client to go invisible because we are not able to finish the job for which we have been hired.
The Client Expectations section in our Letter of Engagement has some other powerful communication tools in it. One that we added recently is to communicate on the client’s responsibility as it relates to timeline and deliverables. Here is what we tell them: You will be 100% responsible for your deliverables and their timelines. We have a great collection of talented staff who are more than willing to dedicate themselves to your work. They are flexible in scheduling work but if your deadline of requested information is missed, we cannot hold your spot for completion of work. This has helped us tremendously in scalability because it allows us to set reasonable timelines for work plans and to execute without the employee or contractor feeling like they are responsible for missing a deadline due to the client not completing their homework. I am dealing with a client now who was told from a different company on May 19th that they had all the information needed to complete a tax return and that it would be reviewed and done within 48 hours. They just received a completed tax return on June 20th. Wow, that is an example of poor communication!
These are all mistakes that can easily be remedied. I guess I am a slow learner, because it has taken me 12 years to figure out these 3 golden rules of communication:
- Ask a lot of questions and repeat the answers back to be sure you understood right
- Listen more than you speak
- Be clear with people about what you plan to do, do it, then follow up with them about what has been done
I hope that my readers will be able to implement these communication rules faster than me, lights