James called me right after he returned from a three-day weekend seminar. He’d spent three thousand dollars, plus transportation and lodging.
“Terrific!” I said. “I’m impressed. You invested in yourself.”
“Well,” James said, “I had to max out my Visa to pay for the seminar and the air fare — don’t ask. Based on what I learned, I need a whole new website. Do you know any web designers who might be willing to barter with me?”
Before this conversation, I was prepared to recommend James as a successful professional. But James just re-branded himself as Scrambling and Scared. When I’m asked or a referral to someone with James’s expertise, I will hesitate. My clients prefer to deal with confident business owners.
Earlier in my career, I was setting up a joint venture with Henrietta. We talked about a resource she needed to keep up her end of the detail.
“Just use your credit card,” I said.
“I don’t have credit cards,” Henrietta admitted. “I am digging myself out of a financial hole.”
That’s way too much information. Henrietta needs to develop boundaries. If she’s got financial problems, she needs a money coach and maybe a more stable source of income.
When you talk to anyone who’s a potential client or referral source, you’re “on.” And when you talk about yourself, even casually, you have the opportunity to enhance or to damage the brand you’ve cultivated so carefully.
A lot of seemingly innocent actions can trap you. Early in my business life, I’d ask questions in an open business forum.
I’ve always believed, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.”
I still believe that. But not everyone does…and sometimes it’s best to save those questions for a private setting with people you won’t be doing business with.
We never talk about this much. The truth is, business friends aren’t the same as personal friends. They can build you up or cost you business. Here are some guidelines.
(1) Go for the gold.
James didn’t have to share his source of funds — and he shouldn’t. Inevitably, someone will say, “If he’s so successful, why did he need a big loan?” He may have good reasons but only his advisors need to know.
A life coach once wrote in her ezine, “I’m going to a conference and yes, it’s a big expense. But it’s important.”
Frankly, the expense didn’t seem so great to me, and probably most of her readers felt the same way. You could just feel her credibility evaporating into the ozone.
(2) Investments rarely involve a single, one-time payment.
When I first bought a house, I was warned, “Save money after the closing costs. You’ll need small repairs, security services, and more.”
This wise advice applies to entrepreneurial investments too. Just as a bigger house can transform your lifestyle, a high-end coach, networking event or conference can transform your business.
But these opportunities also come with costs. You may have to upgrade your wardrobe (although nowadays that’s less of a concern). You might need to spend resources on design and copywriting.
Louisa told me about a mistake she made early in her career. She started working with a high-end coach. The payments were a stretch. Even worse, the coach (wisely) encouraged Louisa to revise her website.
“I didn’t want to spend the money for a new website,” Louisa remembers now. “So I’d pay the coach for advice I couldn’t implement. Now I see I would have done better to go directly to designers and copywriters, just as I’m doing now. I get lots of good advice that I can actually put into practice! I see results.”
If you can’t afford the follow-up, skip the big-time consultations. Work on the smaller chunks. Learn the basics of copywriting, web development and blogging.
(3) Avoid barter and discounts.
James works as a business coach for medium-sized and large companies. So web designers and copywriters probably won’t need his services. Barter doesn’t make sense for him.
I’ve been invited to barter writing for personal training, massage or even oils. Those services are very personal. There’s no reason to believe I’d want a random massage therapist or personal trainer. No way would I barter!
Anyway, barter and discounts almost always lead to hurt feelings, bitter breakups, and poor quality work. I no longer offer these options to my own clients and I don’t ask for discounts for myself, even from friends.
The boundaries are far more blurred today than they were 20 years ago, which means it’s much easier to be relaxed…and a whole lot easier to get your brand in trouble.
It’s not personal…it’s business.
If you want to learn more about your clients – and how they really think – you can download my free guide here.