Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Archive for November, 2009

The Teaching Moment: Relationship Builder or Dealbreaker?

Posted by debrahelwig on November 9, 2009

peach jamOne of my guilty pleasures in life is making homemade jam.

Few things make me happier than spending hours chopping and dicing peaches or strawberries, then stirring and stirring that boiling pot of fruit and sugar until the smell fills the whole house. Oh, the simple beauty of those little gemlike jars of goodness lined up in perfect order on the countertop. Bliss. Unadulterated, yummy, creative bliss.

But teaching a group of my friends how to do it, one summer a while back? Um. Wow. Huge lack of bliss there.

Important point – it wasn’t their fault. All my friends are plenty smart. And they showed up on time that day, with the right equipment, ready to learn. But when I worked with them, my usual bliss experiment wasn’t so blissful. It was work. Hard work. None of us had any fun at all. I was so disappointed – but at that moment, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why things went wrong.

Then, just recently, I read these two beautiful little tweets from @carl_ingalls:

When you teach or advise, let people discover things. Don’t tell them all the answers.

and

When people discover an answer, the knowledge becomes theirs.

AHHHHHH.

Reading those tweets made me think about my jam problem on that afternoon so long ago. And I realized something pretty embarrassing.

That fateful day, from the minute my friends set their bags of peaches on the counter, I’d told every single one of them exactly what to do without telling them why. I’d said super lofty (and, dangit, super stupid) things like “No! What are you doing?,” usually followed by snatching the spoon out of someone’s hand and completing the task myself.

How utterly asenine of me.

So WHAT if there had been a lot of questions, a lot of false starts, a lot of mistakes? We could have laughed about them. It might have made us closer, a real “remember when” event. We might still have been laughing about it – over a jar of  THEIR homemade jam – 20 years from now.

But nooooo. I was a lot more worried about looking smart and being the expert than having fun and building on my relationships. And I lost an opportunity. A big one.  You can bet none of them wanted me to teach them anything for quite a while after that. Fortunately, they’ve forgiven me since. But they’re good friends and I’m a lucky gal.

Now, my question to you:

Are you making my “jam” mistake in your business relationships?

Are you more concerned with showing off your impressive credentials and sharing your hard-earned expertise than understanding what your clients and potential clients want to know?

Every time you come into contact with a client or potential client, you have the opportunity to help them grow. To build a relationship. To lead them to new knowledge without preaching at them. To be helpful without needing to look smart. Are you taking advantage of those opportunities? Or are you wasting your time just snatching the spoon away, so you can show them what an expert you are?

Your clients might not be as gracious as my friends are. There’s no promising they’ll give you a second chance.

These days, I’m a lot more mindful about how I share what I know. And the difference in all my relationships – both professional and personal – is astounding.

How can you use your knowledge to build and strengthen relationships with the people who need your advice?

Photo by Kfergos (license)

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Law, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Doing Great Work Should Not Equal “Be Boring”

Posted by debrahelwig on November 2, 2009

Different_pencilA few months back, I read a post by Michelle Golden about the fact that a creative and edgy approach to business attracts clients.

She is sooooo right.

With startling regularity, I meet people who do really interesting things for a living. People like my chiropractor, who studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (yeah, the Beatles guru guy, that guy), or my neighbor who owns a balloon delivery business and leaves for work in a gorilla suit almost every Saturday. Or the gal who’s making a killing running a full-service day spa for dogs.

No matter what their line of work, these quirky, interesting people have one big thing in common. When I ask them, “Why did you choose THIS job,” almost all of them say, “I just couldn’t imagine doing something boring – like being an accountant, you know, or a lawyer.”

As if a professional services job is the most dull, lifeless, autonomic career in the entire universe.

Huh. I want to shout, “Buddy, you don’t know the accountants and lawyers I know!”

But maybe that’s the point.

Somewhere back in the mists of time, someone decided that accountants and lawyers shouldn’t present themselves to the world as quirky and interesting. I’m not sure who started the conspiracy. But whatever the cause, far too many firms succumbed (and STILL succumb) to the “me too” boring-itis of navy blue logos, bland Web sites, and marketing copy full of generic speak about “quality service”. For now, the professional services firms who choose to take a more personal, more creative approach to business are still the exception rather than the norm.

That shouldn’t be true. It doesn’t have to be true.

Social media gives you a seriously easy path to show a new, more personal way of doing business – one that’s a heck of a lot more fun. If you want to see how it can work, check out the people Michelle mentioned in her post: Valorem Law Group, MoFo, and Choate. And if Michelle’s list wasn’t enough to convince you, try these on for size:

Kelly Phillips Erb (TaxGirl) – Arguably one of the funniest and best tweeters in the legal profession, TaxGirl’s blog is also full of great repartee. Her site says it all: “Why Taxgirl? Because paying taxes is painful… but reading about them shouldn’t be.”

Steven Zelin – Tax accountant Steven Zelin isn’t just your average tax guy – he’s also The Singing CPA.

Jay Shepherd – Author of the top-rated Gruntled Employees blog and a witty tweeter, Jay’s work shows you that his firm definitely isn’t your run of the mill employment law firm.

Scott Heintzelman* – Scott’s Exuberant Accountant blog and his tweets put a face on “Servant Leadership” and provide a great introduction to him and to the values of his firm. Scott’s not zany – just real – and that’s an edge a lot of firms could use.

Paul Neiffer – On his FarmCPAToday blog, Paul talks to his clients in a personal way, in a language they understand. You won’t find a better example of a niche blog anywhere.

Stephen L. Snyder – This guy is a high powered litigator with major wins under his belt – and a massive sense of humor, as evidenced by his “Snyderman” videos. (Hat tip to Legal Blog Watch for introducing me to Snyderman.)

Notice – these are all high-quality professionals doing high quality work. Just like you. But they’re getting loads of attention (and business, by the way) from their commitment to showing the world not just what their firms can do, but who they are, why they are, and why it matters.

Not one of them is doing something you and your firm can’t do.

All it takes is the decision that being a professional services person doesn’t have to be cookie cutter. Or boring. It’s not a sin to show a little personality in your work – even if it does involve spreadsheets or legal briefs.

How can you and your firm show more creative spark?

Photo by Mommyof4Ruggies (license).
*In the interest of disclosure, Scott Heintzelman’s firm, McKonly & Asbury, is a member firm of my employer, IGAF Worldwide.


Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Law, Leadership, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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