Asking for feedback isn’t a sign of weakness

asking for feedback isn't a sign of weakness

The CEO of a multi-million dollar public company asked a new entrepreneur for feedback on their software. The entrepreneur was excited to share their honest thoughts and suggested a fix to one of the features. The fix was implemented that same week.

Meanwhile, a smaller competitor was hiring employees in an attempt to expand. They reached out to candidates with the promise of a job, only to redirect them to an impersonal screening call. The recruiter recorded answers to questions without actually listening to any of the responses. The candidate ended the call by asking for feedback to better prepare for the next interview. The recruiter then shamed the candidate for demonstrating weakness, and disappeared without replying to any of the follow ups. The company struggled and ended up laying off 50% of its employees before being acquired for parts.

After experiencing the culture of each of these companies first hand, their fate doesn’t surprise me. The CEO is a reflection of a company that is successful because it values feedback and continuous improvement. On the other hand, a company that considers asking for feedback to be a weakness is bound to end up failing. True weakness is being afraid of rejection and constructive criticism that might lead to you having to change.

Ask for, and listen to, feedback.


Do you have any feedback about Hōjicha Co.? Please share your thoughts with me here.

First 100

danielle geva toronto

Hey Danielle,

Could you help me out? I’m writing an article about starting blogging.

Let’s say you were to go back to when you first started blogging. How would you get your first 100 Facebook fans?

1. Write an article

2. Post a link to the article on your Facebook page

3. ???

What’s the next step? 

Go back to when I first started blogging? Well, that was around May of 2010. How would I get my first 100 Facebook fans? I’d have to create an account first.

After disagreeing with Zuck’s views on privacy, I deleted my personal account. But then in late 2010, I had to create another account for managing clients’ pages (which I also ended up deleting).

There are hundreds of reports, which are saved somewhere in the cloud, with details of my recommendations, methods, and results for growing an audience on social networks. Thing is, most of the specific advice is outdated.

Best practices are meant to be broken, and the people who push boundaries get the furthest.

You can google the latest tactics for inspiration, but successful marketers are the ones that devise their own experiments. If you’re starting a blog today, treat it like a business. Start with a marketing plan, and then use trial and error to figure out what work best for attracting your target audience. Oh and remember to avoid making the pinball machine mistake. Getting 100 fans might be a strategy you consider to increase readership, but it shouldn’t be your high level objective.

Warning Signs

Warning Signs

In this post, I look back on all the clients I said no to and those I should’ve said no to. The thing about bad clients is that sometimes things only take a turn for the worst once you start working together. Whether you notice the warning signs from the get go, or they reveal their true colours later on, all that matter is that as soon as you do it’s time to get out.

Bad Reputation

My favourite way to acquire new clients is through referrals. There’s an instant layer of added trust on both sides. Unless of course that introduction has a hidden message when you read between the lines. Even though they don’t mention anything negative outright, you can tell this potential client is bad. Maybe it’s an introduction from another client that thinks work is work, or maybe it’s from a friend that doesn’t recognize the warning signs. Whether they have have no standards or clue, you do. Explain to them who you’re interested in working with, or stop taking referrals from these people.

Then there’s the client that seems fine, but is complained about by others. Shared contacts start mentioning how the client doesn’t deliver on promises, and that they tend to disappear for weeks. They are hoping to bond over venting, but you just politely nod as you slowly realize how blinded you were. In hindsight, things weren’t going great and it was just a matter of time before you would have a horror story of your own. Now that you see the whole picture, it’s time to leave. Don’t endure a bad client just because others choose to.

The easiest way to avoid this type of client is with proper vetting. You’ll discover if the client has a bad reputation and confirm that it’s based on fact.

Back and Forth Scheduling

When you have trouble scheduling a meeting with a potential client, it’s an indicator of future problems. Does this sound familiar?

Monday – 10am

Client: Let’s meet to chat over the details.

You: How’s Tuesday at 9am over Google Hangouts? I’m also available Tuesday between 2pm – 4pm, Thursday between 9am-11am, and all day Friday.

Client: Let’s do Wednesday at 3pm.

You: Ok, see you then.

Client: Sounds good.  

 

Wednesday – 3:15pm

You: Hey, are we still meeting?

You: Hello?

 

These people are the reason there’s a new scheduling app every six months.

This seems insignificant, but if they can’t schedule a simple meeting, how can you expect them to communicate properly when you work together? It’s unbelievable how common this is. These clients also always seem to have tech problems. If the stars align, and somehow you finally meet, their mic will suddenly be broken. Or you’ll wish it was after 5 minutes of listening to: “Can you hear me now?”

Money Over Product

As startups became mainstream, I’ve noticed new grads are turning down jobs to build their own company. As an entrepreneurship major and career-long freelancer, I loved the trend. That is of course until I met with a few of these clients. It seems they didn’t have a burning passion to change the world, they just wanted a slice of the pie. They turned down valuable learning opportunities at other startups because they thought they could make a boat load of money being the boss.

When your client is motivated by money over product, they won’t invest the resources needed to build a sustainable business. They might disguise it as optimizing for profits, but their selfish desires keep them from creating a product that actually solves a problem or adds value. There’s no future working with them, so get out before they start making excuses why your payment is late.

Late Payments

Sometimes you realize payment is going to be an issue before you even start working with the client. Because I blog about consulting, potential clients often reach out with more specific questions. I love learning about their companies and chatting about possible solutions, but some clients take advantage. These clients are typically the ones that go out of their way to reassure you that they are definitely interested in hiring you. They make it seem like they are qualifying you, but in reality they are only interested in getting free advice. If you suspect this is the case, then it’s up to you to move the conversation forward. Let them know you’d be happy to work with them to address their latest batch of questions, and then clearly state the next steps.

Then there are clients that manipulate you into starting work without any intention to pay. In the beginning of the project, both sides agree to the terms. Once you’re done the work you send over the invoice. The payment is late, but you think it’s an honest mistake. After you send a reminder, the client proudly declares that they aren’t going to pay. Whichever loophole they use to justify their awful behaviour proves that they never intended to pay. They’ll try and convince you that it’s your fault, and even suggest you continue working together. If you believe that most people are good, know that this client isn’t. Walk away, and warn others.

Despite these experiences, I try not to be hard on clients that are late with invoices. It can happen unintentionally, and I plan accordingly. The trouble isn’t with consistently late payment, it’s with increasingly late payment. The first time a bad client is late, they may profusely apologize. The more it happens, the more outlandish the excuses become. If you don’t want to wake up one day and realize you haven’t been paid for 6 months, you need to address the situation as soon as it happens. When a client stops paying, you need to stop working. It sounds logical, but it can difficult to do when you care too much about a project. However, all of your hard work won’t be appreciated because when a client doesn’t pay you it means they don’t value you.

Poor Data Quality

When a client doesn’t share the data with you, they are setting you up for failure. Remember when they bragged about their 1 million app downloads? Well, the reality is that the number is irrelevant because they only have a handful of daily active users left. It’s impossible to develop an effective strategy when it’s based on incomplete or poor data. Avoid confusion by first finding out if they are being intentionally dishonest or have trust issues. This way you’ll know if it’s worth moving forward with the client.  

Some clients are legitimately unaware of the importance of key performance indicators. They can’t figure out how to set up Google Analytics, and instead rely on their gut instinct. Try to explain to them the value of accurately measuring your progress. If the client refuses to prioritize proper tracking, then don’t be surprised when they don’t appreciate your hard work. Not only will they dismiss your success, they might also hold you accountable for any of the company’s failures.

Lack of Dedication

There’s no shame in working a day job to support your own business, but beware of clients who struggle to balance the two. If the client is constantly distracted by their demanding day job, they will end up being too burnt out to manage their company. At first they’ll take longer to respond to you, but soon you’ll have to work overtime to correct their mistakes. If the overworked client then accepts a promotion, it’s a clue that they are just happier working for someone else. They might not admit it, but you’ll know it’s time to move on.

Then there’s clients that appear to care about work-life balance, but the truth is they don’t understand the hard work needed to run a business. After you’ve spent months planning and working towards a relaunch, the client casually mentions they won’t be around. No, this isn’t because of a family emergency, or a once in a lifetime opportunity. Instead of responding to customers, fixing bugs, and celebrating milestones together, the client made plans to hang out with friends. Either they don’t have strong work ethic or they don’t care. Don’t stick around to find out which one.

Downright Abusive

The abusive client is reminiscent of a bad ex boyfriend or relative, and once again you can’t help but focus on the good and make excuses for the bad. They only humiliated you in front of their friends because you made a mistake. They only lost their temper because they have been working overtime. This is obviously a deal breaker, yet it’s hard to recognize when it happens to you. Even if you’re convinced they have good intentions, you don’t deserve to be treated this way. If you’re unsure if you’re being abused, imagine how you would react if this happened to your friend. Better yet, share the incidents with a friend to get an objective opinion. Their support will help you banish this recurring character from your life.

 

You’ve got to surround yourself with good people to thrive, so avoid bad clients by paying attention to these warning signs.


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Why you won’t get paid

Danielle Geva - Why you won’t get paid

Freelancing lessons better learned shaving someone else’s beard.

The oral contract

On legal shows, an oral contract is enough to win a case. In real life, the client knows you’re not going to sue them. A conversation about consulting terms leaves plenty of room for loopholes. The client takes advantage of you, claims it was all a big misunderstanding, and then they do it again. You blame yourself, and plan to get it in writing next time.

The follow up email

As soon as you’re done talking with the client over the phone, you send them a follow up with a recap of the terms discussed. You even get a reply with a confirmation (Exhibit A for your imaginary court case). Only your follow up email didn’t clearly specify the payment schedule. You expect payment at the end of the month. They pretend it’s understood payment is due once they decide the project is done. You blame yourself, and plan to include payment terms next time.

The invoice payment terms

At the end of the month, you send an invoice with a note at the bottom that says “payable within 10 days”. They ignore the note. You wonder if they didn’t scroll all the way down. They didn’t even open the PDF. Net 30 becomes net 60, and soon 6 months pass (eventually the statute of limitations passes). You blame yourself, and plan to send an official contract next time.

The unsigned agreement

The client sends you their standard contract, and you read every paragraph. Twice. You amend the payment terms, and ask them to remove a non-compete clause. They make the changes. You sign the final version. They never do. You read about acceptance by conduct, and wonder if you should keep working. They stop paying. You blame yourself, and plan to get their signature next time.

The profit-sharing plan

You turn the wheel while the crowd cheers: “How won’t they pay?!” The answer: a profit-sharing plan. When it’s time for payment, the client suddenly has zero profit. Or so they claim. Their engineer never built the promised internal dashboards. You don’t understand why it couldn’t be done on a spreadsheet. They never share their financials. You stop blaming yourself.

The shady client

Even when you do everything right (and learn how to better communicate), some clients are from hell. Instead of only preparing for worse case scenario, you need to work on preventing it all together. The next step isn’t charging the client before you waste your time. The next step is weeding out bad clients (which I’ll be writing about next).


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Social Media Audit: FreshBooks’ Twitter Account

Company Overview

The following social media audit is based on FreshBooks’ Twitter account. FreshBooks offers a cloud accounting solution designed for small business owners.

You can learn more about FreshBooks here:
http://www.freshbooks.com/
https://twitter.com/freshbooks

Branding

FreshBooks’ bio features a succinct tagline, consistent with their other social media accounts. Seeing as many Twitter users reach out to brands for a quick answer, FreshBooks invite inquiries within their bio and assures users that they are available and ready to respond. FreshBooks also proudly displays their location and tracks clicks from the url. A shortened link tends to discourage clicks, but a referral link is a great way to measure how many signups are generated through Twitter.

FreshBooks Social Media Audit Danielle Geva

Twitter’s profile pictures are pretty small, and appear even smaller in the feed. Instead of the FreshBooks’ text logo, their profile picture is of the green leaf which also appears as the favicon on the FreshBooks website. The green leaf is quickly recognized, and the full logo appears on FreshBooks’ customized background image.

The custom background image includes additional information that could not fit within the bio. The information is presented in bullet-points, and doesn’t showcase a list of unclickable links. Twitter users viewing the account on the web might have different screen sizes, which often affect custom backgrounds negatively. However, FreshBooks took the time to match the background colour to their branding. Upon a closer look, their header and link colour are also the same blue.

FreshBooks Social Media Audit Danielle Geva

Content

In addition to tracking their website link in the bio, FreshBooks also uses Bit.ly to measure the performance of their individual tweets. Identifying the type of information that your followers prefer can help you plan an effective content strategy and in turn offer superior value to your audience. Bit.ly, Buffer, and similar third-party services, can also inform you of the best frequency and time for updates in order to maximize results.

FreshBooks Social Media Audit Danielle Geva

FreshBooks has a deep understanding of their audience and shares valuable updates, however, they all seems to be from the company blog. Twitter can be a great tool for driving traffic to your own site, but the focus should be on listening. Monitoring relevant keywords, and influential accounts, can serve as a source of quality content and better position FreshBooks as a leader within the space. Freelancers and small business owners are undeniably interested in FreshBooks’ advice, but they will benefit even more from a variety of expert sources.

Twitter is known for delivering real-time news to users, and often the first place customers visit when they encounter technical difficulties. FreshBooks alerts their followers of any downtime through updates marked with the hashtag #status. Assuring customers that the issue is being taken care of minimizes the pain of the outage as well as the volume of individual complaints.

FreshBooks Social Media Audit Danielle Geva

Engagement

In their bio, FreshBooks states that the team is available for assistance directly on Twitter. FreshBooks delivers on their promise and provides users with superior customer service. In addition to actually responding to inquires, and those @mentioning the brand, the team does so promptly. The one thing that can be done better is follow-ups. Once an issue has been resolved or passed on, be sure to check back with the individual to make sure everything worked out.

FreshBooks Social Media Audit Danielle Geva

FreshBooks taps into an existing community of small business owners and professionals by engaging with Twitter users through the hashtag #smallbiz. The use of hashtags can increase the reach of each tweet, resulting in additional RTs, favourites, and @mentions. Instead of only using the hashtag to push relevant content, another way to boost engagement would be to interact with top contributors.

FreshBooks has created several lists within Twitter to organize relevant accounts, which can help the brand better retweet and engage with others. Retweeting other Twitter users provides followers with a variety of information sources, leads to increased discussion, and may even result in people returning the favour. Twitter also allows for private lists that may be used to observe competitors’ best practices and reach out to their followers.

FreshBooks Social Media Audit Danielle Geva

While scrolling through FreshBooks’ tweets, it was apparent that they have not shared any images for the past couple of months. Multimedia is highly engaging, as seen by the response to a recent SlideShare update (below). Different forms of content can help brands better tell a story as well as enable your company account to better connect with followers on a personal level. In addition to positioning FreshBooks as approachable, visually appealing content is highly memorable and often leads to increased word-of-mouth.

FreshBooks Social Media Audit Danielle Geva

Conclusion

FreshBooks makes the most of their bio and highlights their commitment to customer service. Due to the past-paced nature of Twitter, be prepared to provide prompt support, as users will expect it regardless of your brand’s promise. This can be a blessing, as a simple reply recognizing the issue will delight your customers.

Be sure to create a profile picture, header, and background that are consistent with your site’s branding, but also be mindful of Twitter’s specific limitations. In addition, don’t expect links in your background image to have an impact as people will rarely take the time to type a url into their address bar.

FreshBooks has successfully grown their account over the past years; however, conversion can be improved by spending more time proactively interacting with others. Monitoring keywords and trends can help brands share timely content, and have memorable discussions that will result in higher customer satisfaction as well as customer acquisition.

If you’re interested in uncovering your company’s social media strengths and weaknesses, please contact me here.

 

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5 Ways to Leverage Your Existing Customers for Growth

Rising Bread

No matter how small your current user base is, these five simple tactics will help you acquire new customers by leveraging existing ones.

1. Video Testimonials

Creating video testimonials is a powerful way to convey customer satisfaction and convert prospects. You may have been avoiding video due to high production costs, but unlike your intro video an engaging testimonial can be as simple as a Skype screen capture. The lighting doesn’t matter as much as the sound; however, don’t forget to have the customer clearly state their name and company (if relevant). Upload the videos both to YouTube and your site, and consider using memorable quotes for written testimonials. Instead of constantly asking loyal customers for references, you can now simply direct an endless number of prospects to the videos at any time.

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Why do you want to work for us?

The Office

The make or break question. Interviewers often end interviews with this seemingly simple question in order to weed out those just looking for a paycheque. However, less than qualified candidates can fake interest with a shallow answer.

It seems as if some candidates prepare for interviews by only spending a couple of minutes on online research. They then mention a unique aspect of the company during the interview, which may fool some inexperienced interviewers. While information can be harder to find when applying to smaller businesses, I used to wonder why recently launched startups even asked interviewees “why do you want to work for our company?”.

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Your Company’s Five Customers

#beta #invite

Every business has to deal with these five types of customers. Below are some tips on how to treat each customer, once you’ve identified which category they fall into.

1. The Early Adopter

Characteristics
The Early Adopter signs up before you’ve even had a chance to read your own launch announcement. They are eager to try the latest products, and their Twitter feed is full of “I just signed up to x, join me now… #beta #invite”.

How To
Beware, it won’t be long before the Early Adopter gets distracted by the next shiny startup and forgets all about you. One way to keep these customers around is to make them feel like insiders and constantly update them on new features. Don’t worry if they do disappear, as they are often not your target audience. However, try to keep the Early Adopter engaged long enough for the word to reach prospects in her network.

2. The Groupie

Characteristics
The Groupie is an Early Adopter that felt so special she decided to stick around. These customers will bombard you with suggestions, and won’t hesitate to answer any requests for feedback.

How To
Accept their advice graciously, but don’t feel compelled to satisfy their every demand. You might find some gems, but as much as these customers love your product, you’ll notice the Groupie rarely converts into a paying customer.

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You’ve had a bad day

haters gonna hate

Once your company will be worth billions, one mean-spirited email won’t matter. In fact, it will most likely never even reach you.

The story is different when you’re a team of five. Every single email, good or bad, is forwarded to you. While feedback is always welcome, some people don’t realize that sending an email full of hate isn’t very helpful. These people might even be your biggest ‘fans’, but they fail to realize how badly their careless email hurts. Furthermore, they fail to realize how their follow up tweet will hurt your chances to close your upcoming funding round.

The best solution is to kill them with kindness, and hope they move on to their next rant.

Don’t worry about launching your MVP without an email sign-in if you’re targeting Facebook users. Don’t delay your weekly blog post because you haven’t found the perfect image. Don’t leave out a call-to-action until you’ve hired a copywriter.

These type of people are always going to find something to complain about, make a big deal out of it, and say that you’re the worse. Haters gonna hate. The next time someone has a bad day and takes it out on you, remember that the only reason you have a missing feature is because you actually had the courage to launch something in the first place.

 

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