Mentor Moments: Facing the Facts, your Fears, and your Clients
As a business owner, your deepest fears and insecurities are bound to be brought to the surface – like real quick. It's much more difficult to hide behind a veil of self-deception, ignorance, or naivety when each and every day you must commit yourself to self improvement.
I have a mentor for whom I am very grateful. In his 70s and as the former VP of Hugo Boss, he is snazzy, committed to helping entrepreneurs, and mega-intelligent. Just an hour or two of his time always makes such a massive difference in my business and in my life, so I've decided to start this series – Mentor Moments – to share with you the gems I receive from these meetings. I hope you enjoy!
Mentor Moment #1: Facing the Facts, Your Fears, and Your Clients
It was my first meeting with my mentor and I had no idea what to expect. My friend Marissa, the owner of Stil Classics, had been recommending him for months, but I wasn't sure he was the right fit. He came from a product business background, and I am a service business. It was the beginning of the year and I was about to hire my first employee. I had so many high hopes for the year ahead and the resolutions I had made, but I was terrified. And he knew it instantly.
Facing the facts
With a new expense – an employee salary – on the horizon, a lot of my questions for my mentor that day were financial. I wanted to know, based on the gross and net income of the year prior, whether I was even at the right place in my business to be adding on this new expense. I had no idea what the standard profit margins were. I had no idea how long I'd be able to maintain another salary or whether I'd be successful at training my first employee. And the looming thought that all my clients might just fire me in an instant (a thought that has always been at the back of my mind, by the way) was as strong as ever.
Facing the facts, I showed my mentor my profit and loss statement from the year prior. I pulled up my list of expenses and went through it with him, line by line. My stomach was in knots as I awaited his response, but I was pleasantly surprised when he pointed to the area on my screen showing my net profits and said "Look at that! You're profitable!"
Facing your fears
Next we got into discussions about my fears. I told him of a recent situation when my agency was brought on to manage the social media and content for a local business. After a few months of working really hard, producing awesome content every month, and growing their social media following rapidly, we were let go. The client had said the reasoning was that our efforts and the extra expense to their business hadn't resulted in a single online or in-store purchase.
I was mystified. I saw the number of clickthroughs we were producing and the many direct inquiries we were receiving on the accounts, and I just didn't understand how none of these were converting. This situation had led me to a dark place mentally and brought me face-to-face with one of my deepest fears, both personally and professionally: that what I'm doing isn't of value. That I'm not of value.
I explained this fear to my mentor. He accepted where I was coming from an argued well for the opposite. As one who can obviously read people well, and understands psychology and negotiations, he even suggested that perhaps I wasn't made aware of the situation in its honest entirety. Perhaps the efforts were converting, and the client instead wished to mimic what they'd learned through our months of effort. I now see that this was obviously the case.
Lesson learned: if it means saving money, clients may let you go and attempt to replicate your work themselves. They probably won't be honest about this, either, though you can't really blame them. If a business doesn't have the profits to invest in your services, then they should be doing it themselves... but they should have asked for educational services instead.
Facing your clients
My fear of being canned by clients is one of survival, since the client roster is the sole source of income, and has been for quite some time. Funnily enough, this sometimes overwhelming fear led me to a place of nervousness and avoidance. I'd become filled with anxiety and fear each time my client wanted to have a meeting, thinking that may be letting me go, although this was hardly ever the case.
I'm pretty proud to say that our client retention rate is really high. Our average client lifetime is 13 months, and we've been working with several of our clients for over 2 years. The vast majority of our clients are really happy with our work. And knowing that larger, more established agencies in the city can hardly hang onto a client for longer than 6 months, I feel pretty good about this. Especially since we're in such a fickle industry.
But, what my mentor made me realize – despite the above facts and my own fear – is that client retention should be a priority. It should be a main focus and function of my business. He drilled me on how often I was initiating meetings with clients and insisted that I sit down with each client at least once a month.
I left that day knowing that he was right, and I started implementing his suggestions immediately. In retrospect, I now see that my outreach and meetings with clients have enriched the relationships, fixed problems, and helped to lend to a healthier, more effective, and more long-term arrangement.
Being in business for yourself is far from easy, but if you face the facts, your fears, and your clients or customers, you'll realize that it's not as hard as it can be if you go about your days avoiding those things. Do what my mentor says, and take a long hard look in the mirror, and then take action!