5 business lessons that I learned the hard way

5 stvari o biznisu koje sam naučio na teži način
7 minutes reading

Over the past few years of working as an entrepreneur, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Most of them were due to ignorance, as I had never encountered anything like them before. For this reason, in this article, I’m going to share with you 5 useful things that I learned the hard way.

This is not a motivational article like the ones that tell you to “wake up at 5am because you’ll have more time in the day, eat healthy…” and other nonsense. These are real solutions to challenges that we have faced in the course of our work. Each of them was a “duh!” moment.

1. Never send a proposal without an expiry date

I used to see this with travel agencies. At the end of their proposals, they would always add text like “This offer is valid for 24 hours”. Hotels and airlines won’t reserve places for you just based on an inquiry. This made sense to me, so I didn’t think about it.

However, if you’re in the business of selling services and you’re sending proposals, this is a very useful thing to do for several reasons:

  • It gives the client a sense of urgency – they know they have to make a decision sooner rather than later.
  • You can send a reminder that the proposal expires in x days.
  • It avoids the awkward situation where the client gets back to you later and you have to tell them that the offer is no longer valid.
  • It reduces your workload because you don’t have to remember everyone you’ve sent a proposal to and wonder whether or not to contact them, whether or not it’s time to do so, etc.

Of course, it’s important to give a reasonable expiry date so that the potential client has enough time to consider your proposal, but not too long.

2. Clients aren’t always right, but they always get to decide

We have a simple policy: the client isn’t always right because they can’t know our job better than us. Otherwise, they wouldn’t hire us.

We believe that our job is (among other things) to explain to the client what is and isn’t good for their particular project, regardless of what they initially want.

This doesn’t mean that we do everything our own way, but that we don’t blindly follow whatever the client says. We retroactively (and sometimes actively) participate in the project from start to finish.

It’s important to clearly explain why we disagree with them and present our arguments, but in the end, it’s always the client who decides. Either they’ll listen to our advice or they won’t, and we can’t make the decision for them.

For a while, it really annoyed me when a client would decide to go ahead with something that we had explained in detail was dysfunctional. However, if you make an agreement, you need to respect it for what it is. After all, you have it clearly documented that you explained the situation to them with all the positives and negatives.

If what the client has envisioned really isn’t good, they will eventually realize it and come back to have it done the right way. It’s better this way than to get into an unnecessary conflict.

3. It’s okay to say no

Just as much as your business depends on the client, their business depends on you. Mutual respect is the key to successful cooperation.

This sentence sounds wonderful, like something from Wikipedia. However, it’s not always like that in practice.

I don’t know if we’re lucky, but most of our clients are great to work with. Of course, sometimes we get clients who see cooperation as renting a personal servant: “I’m paying, so you do what I say, when I say it!” types.

It usually becomes clear very quickly what kind of person someone is, so it’s easy to see in time when someone is like this. However, every penny counts, especially at the beginning. When you’ve invested so much money and effort into your business, you don’t have many clients, and you really want things to get going, how can you not accept these people too?! Money is money after all. Everyone needs it to live.

“We’ve decided that we don’t want to work with you after all. Have a nice day.” – Here’s an example of how to say no.

It’s okay to say no, you won’t jeopardize your company by doing so, and you won’t go bankrupt either. Sometimes it’s even necessary to turn down these types of clients because it’s the only way you can protect the interests of your company.

If you’re frustrated, in a bad mood, and don’t feel like working because of this one person, it affects your environment and your other clients as well.

There will also be situations when you’re too busy and simply can’t get everything done. The best thing you can do in these situations is to turn down the request with a reason, and possibly refer the client to an acquaintance or competitor who you know does good work. They will be grateful and remember you, and that is more important than the immediate income. Trust me.

4. Nothing agreed is agreed unless it’s in writing

For every agreed-upon job (except for minor tasks and corrections), we sign a contract that defines the rights and obligations of both parties and what happens if either party does not comply. Of course, it wasn’t always this way, but we’ll talk about that another time.

In the contract, we define all the work that needs to be done and the deadlines for completion. Everything is transparent. This way, clients know exactly what to expect and what they will get in the end.

They can be sure that the work will be done, and we can be sure that they will pay for it.

Whether it’s movies or the nineties that are to blame for this, a good psychologist might be able to explain, but the fact is that as soon as we mention a contract, some people immediately become skeptical, and some run away without even looking back.

Instead of “What if they screw me over with the contract?”, the question should be “What if they screw me over without the contract?!”. Because the contract actually protects the interests of both parties, and if the company is doing everything by the book, they will agree to sign one.

5. Just because you know something doesn’t mean your customers do

You’ve probably been in the business for 5-10-15 years and you assume that people know what you know, or at least the basics. However, there’s a good chance that many of them have no idea what you’re talking about.

Given that it’s generally accepted that if you don’t know something then you’re stupid, and people don’t like to look stupid, they’re not going to tell you that they don’t understand you. This will only lead to misunderstandings and unpleasant situations.

On the other hand, you need to get to the point where you can talk about cooperation. However, if you assume from the very beginning that people know and don’t say clearly and concisely what you’re offering, they won’t even consider you.

How we learned that people don’t know what we’re thinking

I was talking to a prospective client and he asked if we would add code for Google Analytics and Facebook pixel for remarketing. I said, “Of course, that’s a given with us”. He asked about caching, and I gave the same answer, “That’s a given with us” and so on.

Suddenly he interrupted me and said, “Man, you haven’t written down anything that you’re offering, I was skeptical whether to even contact you”. And I was convinced that we had said everything. After the conversation, I opened the task manager and immediately wrote down “Add to the offer page everything that goes with the offer that is ‘assumed'”.

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