Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

Painful Lessons

Posted by debrahelwig on May 2, 2013

pain“Where does it hurt?”

When there’s pain, that’s always the first question, isn’t it?  It’s what I’m asked by my doctor when I present myself with weird Lupus symptom of the week; it’s what I ask my Pre-K child when she falls down and starts crying.  It’s what my boss asks when something goes wrong in the office.  Where is the pain?

And then, we treat the place where it hurts.

It’s a normal response to a very basic cry: “HELP me. Fix what’s wrong. Make the pain stop.” After all, it’s human nature to want things to be better – and as quickly as possible, thankyouverymuch. It’s awful to be in pain, to see someone in pain, to be part of an organization in pain. So we cut to the chase.  We deal with what hurts, RIGHT NOW. The doctor prescribes a medicine. I spray my daughter’s knee with Numbz-it. My boss throws out the software (or the person, or the process) that was causing the trouble. We treat what’s wrong, and it gets better.

Only, sometimes, it doesn’t.

I ran squarely into this problem just a couple of weeks ago, when I began a macabre dance with a series of raging, screaming, agonizing headaches. I’d wake up feeling bad and go to bed feeling worse. Just taking a deep breath sent my left temple into a series of angry neural expletives. My reaction? “Where does it hurt?  My head!”  So treat the headache and it will go away! But 10 days of ibuprophen, yoga, massage, hydration….none of it helped.  I was desperately sick with the pain. I thought about seeing a neurologist – maybe it’s Lupus related? I mused about brain tumors and all sorts of wacky stuff.

Then I got a happenstance call from my brilliant friend Brantley Moate. Brantley is a certified massage therapist, trained in Asia. He understands pain better than just about anybody I know. And he was just, by chance, calling to tell me about a fascinating book he’d been reading by a neuroscientist called Lorimer Moseley called Painful Yarns.  You can get the gist of Moseley’s ideas in this fabulous TEDx talk:

I listened, and I watched. What Moseley said hit my already aching head like a bomb blast:

Pain is an indicator that something is wrong. But pain in a particular part of the body doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong where it hurts; nor does intensity of pain necessarily equate with level of injury. Treating “where it hurts” and “how it hurts” may not fix the problem. You may need to look elsewhere to fix what’s really wrong.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  So I might need to look at something besides my head and its supporting muscles to fix my headache? YES. Yes, indeed.

Turns out, the reason my head was hurting had absolutely nothing to do with muscle fatigue or sitting at the computer too long, or brain tumors, or Lupus, or any of the stuff that had been racing through my head – or any of the stuff I’d been treating. My problem was I NEEDED SLEEP.

For a couple of weeks I’d been working late and getting up early, doing projects for the office and the kids – and as a woman of 44 with Lupus, my body evidently can’t take the “four hours a night and fake it til ya make it” I’ve been putting it through for most of my life.  When I started really thinking about what might have changed in the weeks leading up to the headaches, what might have impacted me and caused my body to say “something is wrong here!” it occurred to me I might need a little more rest.  So I did something very uncharacteristic for me: I changed one of my regular patterns. Instead of throwing medicine at my problem, I changed part of my normal routine.

And it worked. Three days of 8+ hours per night and BAM. Headaches gone. Completely gone like they’d never existed.

Wow.

My now-not-hurting brain started to really spin on this idea. Where else are people I know – especially me – mistreating pain? And the obvious answer came back: AT WORK.

We’ve just spun through another absolutely insane busy season, full of chances for things to go wrong. And, now we’re a couple of weeks past April 15 and done with the “thank God we made it” party, we’re about to sit down in our teams and dissect what went wrong. We’re about to identify our pain. To say “where did it hurt?”

That’s good. Whatever we find, that pain is real. No doubt. And treating it is necessary. Absolutely.

But Lorimer Moseley shows – heck, my headache shows! – that identifying pain is just a starting point, nothing more than an indicator that something is wrong. It doesn’t say what. Or where the problem actually started. Or how many “normal patterns” or people or projects may actually be involved.

Treating the precise pain points we identify will feel productive, because we’re doing something, by cracky!  But unless we’re all very, very careful, dealing with those pain points may actually fix nothing at all. And when the problem (and the pain) crops up again – and again, and again – then we’ll be 1. back where we started (or worse) and 2. demoralized and really in a mess.

So let’s take a vow this year to stop before we start. Take a breath. Recognize pain for what it is – for all it is – a warning to look deeper.

Photo by random_dave: film for sale. License.
Advertisements

Posted in Attitudes, Busy Season, Professional Services, Strategic Planning | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Run a Good Race

Posted by debrahelwig on April 4, 2013

runner downSpring has sprung!  Easter is past, warm weather is on its way, the flowers are beautiful…

…and for my friends in public accounting, the April 15 deadline is looming like a BIG LOOMING THING.

Every industry has something like this – the project deadline that can’t be moved, that comes with a workload so crushing it hurts just to breathe. Everyone is focused on URGENT and MOVE IT THROUGH and GET ‘ER DONE.

When the churn comes around, you’ll run into people who get hyperfocused on the work on their desks – and ignore everything (and everyone) else around them. If it doesn’t directly affect their projects, they don’t care. They can’t. They’re too busy. And God help you if you have a situation that affects your handoff to them! Watch them go from pleasant to surly to snarly in about 2 seconds flat.

It’s a constant litany of MY work. MY deadline. MY performance review. ME oh MY oh ME ME ME ME ME…it’s all about MEEEEE!

(Sounds pretty awful when you read it that way, doesn’t it?)

But it’s just that tendency which makes stories like these resonate so strongly when we read them:

Ivan Fernandez Anaya, Spanish Runner, Intentionally Loses Race So Opponent Can Win – a true story! Kenyan athlete Abel Mutai thought the finish line of a race was sooner than it actually was, so he stopped running. Anaya, who was a clear 2nd place, chose not to sprint to the finish and instead slowed down so Mutai could win.

Contestants in a Special Olympics Race Link Arms and Finish Together – a strong exaggeration of a true story, this tale of 9 Special Olympics race contestants who stop to help up a fallen companion and finish the race together is powerful, even if it’s not especially accurate.

‘Cause here’s the truth: as deadlines approach, work is like a race. Getting to the end as efficiently and effectively as possible is important. But paying attention to the people we’re running with, and helping where we can, has a much greater positive impact than just getting to deadline day with finished stacks of work on our desks.

I experienced this truth first-hand last Fall. And it changed my life.

Last September, we were in the critical stages of launching one of our association’s most important meetings, and I dropped the ball. Big time. Just as I should have been building and launching a complex marketing campaign, my father became critically ill.

I didn’t do the campaign. I couldn’t do it. My father died. I planned a funeral.

And my fabulous, awesome, amazing colleagues? They did my work for me and never said a cross word. They put in extra hours. They did things that aren’t in their comfort zone. In that race, they picked me up and carried me across the finish line.

And I will be grateful and loyal to them, and to my company, forever after.

Offices are full of people. Folks with lives that have nothing to do with work – folks with sick kids and sick parents and broken down cars and bills and snow to shovel and God knows what else. Sometimes those non-work commitments mess with deadlines. Sometimes they destroy those deadlines.

It’s up to us to pay attention. To see when our colleagues are struggling and help them across the finish line.

In my Twitter feed yesterday, leadership guru Ken Blanchard said “Life, leadership, and business are all about giving people opportunities to be the best they can be.” Sometimes that means stepping outside of ourselves to carry our friends and colleagues when they can’t manage on their own.

Especially when the deadlines are looming.

Photo by chucka_nc. License.

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Busy Season, Leadership, Professional Services | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Beat Perfection Paralysis – Take it to the Happy Line

Posted by debrahelwig on July 26, 2010

To quote the immortal Hannibal Smith from A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

All right, I can’t believe I’m quoting the A-Team. But it’s true. Don’t you love it when your projects are spinning along just right? When your writing zen is on and you author the blog post of your life? When the marketing campaign you dreamed up lands ten times its projected leads? When your well-placed phone call makes the difference between keeping and losing the biggest client on your balance sheet?

Of course you do.  I do too.

When you’re aiming at perfection and actually hitting the mark, work is bliss. As the poem says, God’s in his Heaven and all’s right with the world.

But there’s a problem in this land of sunshine and glory, and I’m sure you already know what it is.

People. And circumstances. And you. Yes, you, on the days you have a cold, or didn’t get enough sleep, or had way too many jalapeno poppers at dinner the night before, or whatever other circumstance you can imagine. Stuff you can’t predict will always get in the way, darn it. And things get messed up.

Note, mind you, by “messed up” I don’t mean that your project is a train wreck, or even a moderate failure. By messed up, I mean that it doesn’t match up to what your inner perfectionist says it should be.

I’ve lived in this place. It’s not fun.

For the longest time, when things at work didn’t go exactly the way I thought they should (nevermind what anyone else thought), I would feel like a huge loser, because I knew I could do better. I had a vision of the perfect result I should have achieved, and my evil inner perfectionist would whisper, “What makes you think you know anything?” or, “If you keep this up you’re gonna get fired.” Then, I would react in one of two ways:

1. Overwork it. If the project didn’t feel perfect the first time, I’d keep at it. Rewrite for the thirtieth time. Take it back to design again – and again. Set up another focus group. Hold another group of employee meetings. Better to deliver the best possible job than let go something that’s less than perfect.

2. Avoid it. If I was afraid I couldn’t do a perfect job, then I’d push the project down to the bottom of the to-do list until I had the experience/skills/talent/contacts to do better. Or I’d ignore it until the need for it went away and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Bad, baaad.  The perfection paralysis became a never-ending, vicious cycle, with my self-esteem as the target.  It took a very wise boss to jerk me out of it.

One afternoon a number of years ago, this boss called me into his office and asked to see the status of a marketing campaign I was working on. I told him I wasn’t happy with it, that there was still work to be done, that I wanted to tweak it for a couple more days.

He looked at my work, tossed it on his desk, and said, “Send it.”

“But wait,” I protested, “It’s not ready.”

“Oh yes it is,” he replied. “You’re at the Happy Line. Get it out the door.”

As I was leaving, he called after me, “Quit trying to make everything so perfect. Get to 80% of perfect and 99% of people will be happy with it. And you’ll get a heck of a lot more done. Take it to the Happy Line.

His advice rocked my world.  And I still live by it today.  Because he’s right.

Sure, there are some professions (tax accounting is one of them) where 100% accuracy is required.  But in marketing and customer service, the truth is that 80% of perfect is always, always better than 100% of unfinished.

By applying the Happy Line principle in my job, I’ve discovered:

1. I get more done – and more quickly – than I ever did before.
2. My creativity opens up and I have fresher ideas.
3. I stop playing it safe and try new things – and those things sometimes turn out to be my most innovative and groundbreaking work.

If you try this, what you do won’t be perfect.  But your work will be finished (on time!) – and maybe even great. Probably even great.

Aim for the Happy Line and see how far it can take you.

At minimum, you won’t be driving yourself crazy anymore.

Photo by • • • annajarske.com (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Business Development, Leadership, Marketing, Professional Services, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Be Who You Are – Out Loud: Why Authenticity + Consistency Are Critical to Wooing and Keeping Clients

Posted by debrahelwig on February 25, 2010

I have a new crush.

A few weeks back, a friend of mine turned me on to a great company called Better World Books. This bunch sings to me on a lot of levels – I’m an avid reader, a bargain junkie, a believer in literacy programs, and “green” enough to be a good recycler. Win + win + win.

But the other thing I love about Better World Books is their style. Check out this follow up email:

If your order hasn’t blessed your mailbox just yet, heads are gonna roll in the Better World Books warehouse! Seriously though, if you haven’t received your order or are less than 108.8% satisfied, please reply to this message. Let us know what we can do to flabbergast you with service.

Fun, simple and service oriented, just like their site and blog. These guys will get my money, because from site to blog to email, they present a consistent voice that I relate to.

But there’s another part to this story.

You might not like Better World Books’ message, and that’s cool too. If you’d rather have a cup of Starbucks at Barnes & Noble and finger the pages of every book before you buy, go with their blessing. There are plenty of other people in the world, like me, who belong with them. It’s a matchmaker’s tale. Find a person / client / business that resonates with your needs and values, you’ll wind up together.

With all that in mind, here’s the lesson for our industry – and the $64K question for you:

Are you gutsy enough to take the Better World Books approach? To unapologetically be who you are, with an eye toward working only with clients who are a great fit for your firm?

In a down economy, it’s such a temptation to say that any work is good work. Believe me, it’s not.

Doing work you don’t like for clients whose worldview is a bad match to yours sucks the energy out of your culture. Over time, your office will become a giant revolving door – for work, for clients, for staff. Because the synergy, the passion, the “why we belong together” isn’t there.

Do you know your firm’s culture inside and out? If not, then get to know it now. This minute. Be able to put images and words around it. Show other people what you’re good at, what you like to do, and how you get it done. Then be authentic and consistent in sharing that special culture of yours everywhere you do business, online and off.

Because if your communications don’t reflect the culture of your firm, the disconnect is costing you business – both by saddling you with clients who are a bad fit based on misperception, and by missing clients who would be perfect but who don’t understand why you’re great for them.

It’s not about fitting into what “society” says is hip and cool, either. It’s 100% OK to be a buttoned-up, marble-column, three-piece-suit firm in today’s world. But clients who want a firm like that won’t find you if your Web site is full of edgy Madison Avenue imagery and your firm partners network at trendy cocktail parties.

On the other hand, if your firm is hip, fun, and youth-oriented, having a Web site with a five-year-out-of-date board room photo of the partners on the main page, a blue and grey color scheme, and a nonexistent social media presence won’t do a thing to win the clients you want.

The path to success lies in fluently expressing your firm’s culture in communications designed to reach your “right people” (as Havi Brooks would say), and not being concerned about clients who aren’t a good fit. If you stay consistent, the right people will find you. And because they are your right people, the likelihood that they’ll stick around for the long haul is a lot higher.

Be who you are – out loud. Because authenticity + consistency = clients that stay. Clients you like, because at least to some degree they think like you.

Getting there is worth the effort.

Photo by Roland (license).

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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 »

A Rock Star Ain’t a Rock Star if the Backup Band Stinks

Posted by debrahelwig on August 20, 2009

rockstarLately, I’ve been having some medical issues. Never fun. Ick, in fact.

So you can imagine how tickled I was when I got a referral to one of the top doctors in the US in my needed specialty. Less than an hour’s drive from home, no less! I thought all my problems were solved. Great care from a brilliant physician, conveniently located. All would be well.

Unfortunately, no.

It’s true, Doctor X is fabulous. She’s brilliant. Top of her game. Amazing diagnostic skills, and even more, a compassionate beside manner. I love her, absolutely I do.

When I can get to her, that is. And there’s the problem.

Surrounding Doctor X is a vortex of apathy and bureaucratic red tape masquerading as an office staff.

It’s simple stuff, too. Things that just don’t happen in a well managed office. Things like:

When I go for an appointment, I sit in an exam room for three to four hours after my scheduled time, waiting to be seen. Inquiries are met with the response, “She’s worth the wait.”

An urgent call to request records is met with a flippant, “We don’t fax records. You have to wait until next Friday and we’ll mail them.” When I ask for other options, the clerk tells me, “I’m sorry, there are no other options.”

Emails sent to the doctor’s listed email address are not acknowledged nor is any response given.

Calls to speak with the nurse often result in a hold time of 30 to 45 minutes – before being put into voice mail. With no apology from the receptionist.

So far, I’ve put up with this insanity because the doctor IS a rock star. Genius in heels and a lab coat, with answers to a lot of my issues. But after my most recent (frustrating) visit, I’ve had just about enough and am starting to look for a new provider.

Because a rock star ain’t a rock star if the backup band stinks.

And there’s the lesson for all of us in professional services. Just like my medical practice has its rock star doctor, you’ve got rock stars in your firm. Truly brilliant minds with real answers for client questions and a passion for helping people.

But if your gatekeepers aren’t doing their jobs, you’re headed for trouble. Not as quickly as you would if your brilliant partners and staff weren’t so incredibly good at what they do. But eventually there will be a breaking point, where the pain of getting to the great provider is greater than the benefit derived from their counsel.

The brilliance of a few great minds simply isn’t enough to keep clients for the long haul.

The true differentiator of a great firm – the thing that keeps clients coming back again and again and referring over and over – is the honest care and sweat equity of a brilliant support staff for your geniuses. A great backup band for your rock stars, helping your clients get the information they need day after day.

With that in mind, how long has it been since you did a top-to-bottom diagnostic on your firm’s client support?

If it’s been a while, I strongly recommend you make a thorough evaluation of all the entry points into your firm. See how easy it is (or isn’t) for your clients to access the people they want to reach. Learn firsthand how happy, genuine, and willing your gatekeepers are to open the way for clients to get what they need.

If everyone in the firm performs brilliantly, from top to bottom, the firm can’t help but succeed.

But it’s up to you to make sure. BEFORE you lose clients who love your work, but hate getting the runaround.

Photo by Dude Crush (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Leadership, Professional Services, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Power of Space (or, Time to Stop Playing Whac-a-Mole)

Posted by debrahelwig on July 28, 2009

Wack a Mole photoThis past weekend, I got a great lesson in the power of space. And how space can affect your career (and sanity).

Last weekend was my husband’s 30th highschool reunion. And, since he had the civility to graduate in Daytona Beach, Florida, that meant a weekend at the beach. Without the kids. No pressure. No priorities.

Hooray, right? Sign me up!

Or so you’d think.

Instead, I started finding every excuse in the world not to go. The babysitter can’t handle the kids. The dog threw up. I have too much to do at the office. There are dishes and laundry and emails and OH MY GOD I haven’t blogged in 10 days and what about the Web site project and…

I was too overwhelmed to even consider time away.

I’m not unusual, either. Professional services folks everywhere are overburdened. A survey this summer by the Institute of Management Accountants found that “When asked what they need most to be effective leaders, most accountants [29%] said more time.”

I feel your pain. But here’s a truth for you: busy-ness begets busy-ness. And not all busy-ness is good.

Today, it’s easy for professional services work to become what I call a Cosmic Game of Whac-a-Mole. Remember the 1980s arcade game? You had a big mallet and a board full of holes in front of you. As the moles popped out of the holes, you hit them back down. And the faster you were, the faster they got. Never stopping, just hitting and hitting until the game was over.

Does your project list operate that way? How often do you get to work, sit down at your desk, and immediately get buried in mountains of email? Start with meetings at 8 a.m. and never make it to your desk? Take one client file off the pile only to have 10 more added to it? Is the pressure driving you crazy?

That was me. And if it’s you… survey responses aside, you don’t need more time. Or more staff.

You need space. A reflection zone.

I was lucky. When I started down my list of all the reasons I couldn’t take a weekend away, my husband told me to shut up, turned off my PC, and stuffed me in the car. And guess what? I came back energized – with thoughts about how to handle a crisis at the office, blog post ideas, and plans to kill a few projects, start a new one, and move others down the priority list.

Busy-ness begets busy-ness. Space begets sanity.

Even if you can’t find an entire weekend like I had, taking a few minutes daily to reflect can make a difference in your outlook.

Try this: schedule 10 minutes a day on your calendar as a “meeting”. Shut your door, or if you’re in a cubicle, find a private space. Turn off the PC, the iPhone, the BlackBerry, the cell phone. This is think time. Use these moments to ask yourself basic questions about your work, like:

• What are my most important projects right now? Why are they important? Do I really need to be doing all of them, or can I delegate or reprioritize some of them?
• What am I doing that is urgent but not important? How can I reduce or eliminate that kind of work?
• What are the top three things I want to accomplish today? This week? This month?
• What am I doing to engage other people right now, both for business and personal development? Do I like what I’m doing? Could I try something else?
• What meetings do I have this week? How can I reduce the meeting time? If I am meeting too much, is it my colleagues or is it me? And if it’s me, what am I avoiding?

You may not find answers, at least not at first. But making space to ask the questions every day can be transformative all on its own.

If you stop playing Whac-a-Mole – if you give yourself permission not to be busy every moment of the day – you’ll get more done. And you’ll be a lot saner, more effective, and just plain happier in the process.

Where can you create some space in your day?

Photo by jrubinic (license).

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Leadership, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Strategic Planning | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Appearances: What Professional Services Can Learn from Susan Boyle

Posted by debrahelwig on April 16, 2009

susan-boylePretty much every media outlet I can think of, from mainstream news to Twitter and back again, is buzzing with the story of Susan Boyle. And rightfully so.

When Susan walked onto the set of Britain’s Got Talent this past Saturday, no one took her seriously. Not because she couldn’t sing – no one had even heard her yet. It was because she didn’t look like our modern concept of a singing sensation. She was silly and unlovely, and no one like that could possibly have talent, could they?

Then Susan opened her mouth and nailed I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables.

The audience went wild. Judge Piers Morgan called his “Yes” vote for her “The BIGGEST YES I have ever given anybody.” The overall sense from the audience was a giant “Where did THAT come from?”

The facts of the story – the intensity of the reaction – the viral-ness of Susan’s success – all these things should be doing more than putting a smile on your face. It should be giving you a wake-up call for your professional services career.

Really? Professional services? Me?

Oh, yes.

Because Susan Boyle is a fantastic example of the huge dichotomy between what we SAY and what we DO. Of the enormous contradictions when it comes to our gut reactions about looks and style and all sorts of other things that shouldn’t be important, but that matter – very much – in the day-to-day of our careers.

There are two lessons from Susan’s journey that you can apply immediately – and if you do, you have a huge opportunity to reach a very hungry potential client base and do truly great things.

Here’s lesson number one:

Your clients’ potential value cannot be measured solely by their appearance.

“Appearance” can mean a lot of things. On one level, I do mean personal appearance – how many tales have you heard over the years about the salesperson who turned away a customer because “he didn’t look like he could afford it,” only to have the guy whip out a roll of $100 bills and buy from someone else?

But personal appearance is only the first and most obvious point to consider. Your valuable potential client might have a tiny, unlovely office. Or a less-than-perfect Web site (or no Web site at all). Or a unappealing, “dirty job”-style line of business.

If you react from your gut instead of thinking it through, these kinds of “turn offs” can shut down a valuable relationship before it ever gets a chance to start.

Taking a moment to evaluate the possibilities behind the “appearances” could literally change everything. Intentionally turn off your preconceived ideas to clearly evaluate what their potential might be, and you might find a diamond in the rough who others have dismissed as not worth their time or effort.

Here’s the other half of the lesson – the contradiction – and it’s critical:

Like it or not, your appearance matters. In every situation, and in every medium where you connect with others on behalf of your firm.

I know I just said that you can’t allow appearances to muddy up your evaluation of a client’s worth. And the fact is, they shouldn’t be doing it to you either. But they are. Susan proves it. It’s a double standard, and it’s basic to human nature. So you have to make the first impression count.

A physical presentation that matches the tone of your firm is just part of the equation. You also need to consider the client you’re meeting, and what they might expect of you. A marketing director recently told me, “The client told me we got the work because we were the only firm who bothered to put on a tie for the meeting. We don’t wear ties at our office, but this was a buttoned up, old school company, so how hard was it to figure out that we should be a little more formal? No one else paid attention, and we got the work.”

There’s the key: pay attention.

Think about your Web site. Your proposal package. Your business cards and brochures and letterhead. Are they all in sync with one another and the best possible representation of your firm’s values and spirit?

Do they sing?

For better or worse, too many of us judge based on appearances. When we’re proved wrong, it is often an occasion for surprise and delight – but unlike Susan Boyle, lots of wonderful people and companies are never given the chance to get past an unfortunate first impression.

You can be the person who chooses to do things differently – and in so doing, you may change the trajectory of your business forever.

All you have to do is make your appearance count – and never put too much stock in anyone else’s.

Photo by Bert Kommerij (license)

Posted in Attitudes, Business Development, Leadership, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Positive Thinking

Posted by debrahelwig on February 25, 2009

Saw a great tweet today from @Lifeblazing – “Just when the caterpillar thought its world was over, it changed into a butterfly. Hold on! WINGS are coming!”

I could point you to dozens of posts by ZenHabits, Escape from Cubicle Nation, The Fluent SelfThom Singer, HelloMyNameisScott, and lots of other very smart people about how your thought life affects your ability to function – at work, at home, in networking, in creativity.

I’m not saying it’s all sunlight and roses in the workplace right now. But I *am* saying that how you choose to interpret the actions and activities in the world around you directly affects how comfortable you’re going to be during what appears to be a mighty difficult “holding on” phase.

Attitudes are contagious, too. If you make an effort to “get your smile on”, you might be surprised how your colleagues – and your customers – respond.

WINGS are coming. But don’t mope til they arrive. See if changing your thought patterns can’t help you make a tiny bit of magic for yourself – and those who work around you – in the meantime.

Posted in Attitudes, Leadership | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: