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.


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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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The beginner’s guide to beginning by a beginner

The beginner’s guide to beginning by a beginner by Danielle Geva

If you’re thinking of launching a new project, here’s how I got started with Mypodnotes.

 

The Idea

A few months ago a friend suggested I write summaries for podcasts. The idea sounded interesting since podcasting is on the rise, and there’s no way anyone could keep up with the constant stream of new episodes. The best part was that I could test the idea without dropping anything. I started Myponotes as a side project, but after deciding to think like an entrepreneur I realized that it had the potential to become a business.

How to find ideas

Side projects, businesses, and high growth startups all start with an idea and don’t go far without commitment to pursue them. Even though you need both to succeed, it doesn’t seem to matter which comes first. The idea for Mypodnotes found me, but if you’re itching to build something of your own stop thinking up solutions to problems that don’t exist, and answer the following questions:

  1. What’s a problem that many people have?
  2. What’s the solution?
  3. How can I help these people solve their problem?

Think of as many problems as you can from your own life, and then ask your friends about anything that bothers them or wait for them to complain about it on Twitter. In the beginning it might be difficult to come up with ideas, but after you train your mind to think in this framework you’ll spot new opportunities everywhere.

When to commit

The bar for side projects is much lower, since resources can be restricted and failure doesn’t dramatically impact your life. So if you find an idea that intrigues you, go for it. This is an opportunity to get those creative juices flowing and learn some new skills.

Starting with a side project is also a good way to validate an idea if you have grander plans. If you’re unhappy at your full-time job, you don’t have to quit to find out if you’d be happier having your customers be your boss. I’m not a lawyer, but you should probably check your contract first to make sure there’s no conflicts so that you’ll have full ownership if you decide to leave.

After chatting about Mypodnotes with friends to gauge demand and the work involved, I found many people who were interested in Cliff’s Notes for podcasts. There just isn’t enough time to listen to every single episode, and no one likes to miss out. I also relate to people who remember key insights better by reading text over listening to audio. This was enough to take the side project seriously, but I only decided to fully commit to Mypodnotes once I saw actual traction on the blog.

It will take much longer for me to figure out a business model that works, but I’m in it for the long haul. All you need for building a company is time and determination, because you only fail when you give up on your idea.

How to name your business

The name Mypodnotes came to me randomly, and is pretty straightforward because that’s what appeals to me. Ignore the pressure to spend time searching for the perfect name, because you can always change it later on. Finding a name that’s unique and playful isn’t as crucial as making sure people can pronounce properly so that it catches on. Once you come up with a name, don’t get too attached to the spelling before you secure a domain and a Twitter handle. Try adding words like “The” and “App”, switching up vowels, or experimenting with new top level domains.

The Website

If you’ve ever heard of Lean Startup Machine workshops, then you know a business can start with a single piece of paper. Remember that when it’s time to create a website for your new idea. Instead of spending the next few months learning how to code, or figuring out WordPress.org again, I decided to go with Tumblr so I could focus on growing an audience for Mypodnotes. Your site is just a means to end, and the functionality you need to test an idea is usually offered by a third party platform. You can always build a custom site later on, when it’s time to scale. As you probably figured out, this section isn’t about how to magically create something out of thin air or how to hire a web developer. I’m a bootstrapped non-technical founder, so it’s all about distribution.

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Think like an entrepreneur

danielle geva think like an entrepreneur

Life is a journey, but I’m impatient so I spend all lots of time reading career blogs trying to figure out what I should be doing next. Recently, I read that INTJs aren’t motivated by compensation which is why freelancing isn’t ideal. I gravitated to consulting because structure is boring to me, and clients in need of startup marketing always seem to find me. But in between clients it feels weird to spend any time thinking of how can I make money over actually helping as many companies grow.

Career advice starts by telling you to find the intersection between what you’re good at, what you like doing, and what people are willing to pay for. So I end up stuck wondering if I should hop on the learn to code train because I can’t seem to check off all three. The problem with this perspective is also that it’s all about the individual, especially talented ones and I already know I’m more of an agent type of person.

Then I look over at jobs, to see which companies actually need me and where can I make the most impact. There’s a huge demand for startup marketers, and even more applicants. Interviews aren’t my forte, and the process ends up being more about the resume and how many connections you have to the hiring manager.

I’m sure I’ll always spend time over-analyzing the meaning of life and my purpose, but I want to make sure that I keep moving forward. I want to spend the next 5 years working towards some crazy awesome idea and feel like I’ve achieved something great instead of being stuck in the same cycle. I’m starting to think the only way to do is this is by thinking like an entrepreneur.

Instead of obsessing over monetizing your skills, you uncover how to add value:

  1. What’s a problem that many people have?
  2. What’s the solution?
  3. How can I help those people solve their problem?

Once you have a solution, it becomes all about distribution. Which I love.

This how both mypodnotes.com and whistlenow.co were born. I’ll leave the details for another post, but I’m pretty excited to start working on these and learn from some new mistakes.

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Marketer Shaming

chicago skyline danielle geva

My cousin is only 10 years old and has already learnt the difference between B2B and B2C marketing. It helps that both of her parents are marketing executives, but she still understands the real world much better than I did at her age. So the other night when she asked me what I actually do for a living, I could’ve either dumbed it down or told her straight up. Instead, I avoided the question. Like I always do with family.

I’ve been doing the same thing for over 7 years now, and still haven’t really talked about the details with my family. At first it was because the concept of a startup marketing consultant was so foreign, that every time I tried to explain the appeal of it I was asked why I don’t just go to a headhunter and get a real job. Then as online community management became more of a thing, no one could get over how I got paid to tweet let alone that there was more to startup marketing than posting social media updates.

The biggest hang up of it all was admitting that I was a marketer. If you’re hiding something from the people who love you and know you best, then you should ask yourself why are you ashamed of it. I could’ve been patient and explained that I helped new companies build communities around a product that makes those people’s lives better. I could’ve chatted about companies that failed even though they were valuable just because no one has ever heard of them. But any way I’d spin it, the word marketing would have to be included. This was difficult because for years I thought marketing would be the last field I’d end up in.

Growing up I wanted to be a designer or an artist of some sort. I was very vocal about how marketing was evil and manipulative. Creating value was much more important to me than making people believe something that may or may not be true. Many people still think marketing and sales are evil, but that’s just a generalization that can be true within any field. Trying to help incredibly talented creators share their ideas with the world can be done ethically, and there are tons of non-spammy marketers out there committed to figuring out how to reach the right people with the right solution to their problem. It took me years to learn this, and even longer to publicly stand up for marketing.

The only way for me to confidently talk about my work is by swallowing my pride and admitting I was wrong. Out loud.

 

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