The Business Pyramid

My first real online business focussed on web site design for other small businesses. I spent a great deal of time looking at what other design firms were offering before settling on my own four packages, with increasing price points depending on the number of pages the customer needed on their site. At that point, I had basically no income and like everyone I was hustling, scraping by to earn enough money to survive.

To make sure I did survive, I had to do whatever I could to bring in some regular money so I also offered 'add on' services. Anything related to web site design such as SEO, logo design, Adwords management, e-mail marketing, photography... anything and everything to keep things going.

It was hard work but it wasn't a bad strategy. I was able to develop skills in lots of different areas. For example, by offering a photography package, I worked with lots of hotel and B&B owners. They know the value of having great images on their web sites but aren't sure who to trust to take them. As they were already working with me, I was able to offer this service at a one-off cost to them. I would just head round, take lots of bright, clear, attractive pictures of their rooms and give them full ownership of the images so that they could be used not just on their site but also on any other advertising that they did. This was win-win - they suddenly had lots of high-quality images for all of their online listings (AirBnB, TripAdvisor, etc.) and I received a one-off payment to help keep me going. I was also able to learn more about the tourism sector which allowed me to set up a web site business tailored to the tourism sector.

More importantly, I was able to keep my customers locked into my eco-system.

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Be good, be fair, be honest

Let's be honest. Clients can be a real pain. If you own a service business, you'll probably find that 99% of your clients are perfect. They don't ask for too much. You do the work asked of you, they pay their invoices and everyone is happy. For those people running product-based businesses, who don't need to interact with your customers very much - they buy your product, you send it to them and that's it - may have moved into a product-based business because you were fed up dealing with customers in your original business.

I work with hundreds of customers across various industries and the vast majority are lovely people who I am happy to speak to and help out where I can. There are the odd few that are difficult and when they crop up, I really do try and ditch them as fast as I can. The time, mental energy and shear frustration of having to deal with these people isn't worth it. I am a good few years into my business now and the income is steady so I can afford to ditch customers however if you're in the first few years, this may not be an option at the moment - paying the bills and keeping the lights on is probably your first priority and I understand that. I was there too a few years ago, hustling to bring in enough money to keep things going and build the business to a stage where I was able to generate a steady income and then, only then, was I able to be a bit more selective with who I worked with.

Three recent incidents with 'difficult' customers have been on my mind and I thought I would share the three short stories.

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Price + Service + Confidence

I recently added a blog post called 'Stealth Marketing Gave me 10 New Customers in a Week' which described how I came across a web hosting company that had lost its way.

From all of the customers I had spoken to, they had each started hosting their web sites with them around 10 years ago when the service was fantastic. At some point in recent years, the company rebranded and it appears was bought by someone else. Since then, they have failed to maintain their servers and so things have slowly started to go wrong. This came to a head in recent months when their servers went down for over a week, leaving everyone without access to their own e-mail accounts and web sites.

After trying to contact the support team (via e-mail, they don't offer telephone support) a lot of customers got frustrated and found my hosting company. They got in touch and decided to move over to us. Why?

Service

When their hosting went down, they got in touch with me for help. I only offer a limited number of ways to get in contact - you can either e-mail in or call. Some people e-mailed and immediately received an auto-response message to say that their message had been received and someone would be in touch soon. This was then followed up by a full response, from me, explaining how I could help, how much it would cost and how quickly we could get things back up-and-running for them.

For those that called, I picked up the phone immediately. If I couldn't, because I was out, the call went through to a virtual receptionist who took the details and sent them to me so that I could get back to them as soon as I could. Either way, their phone call was picked up and so we were already 1-0 up on the previous host! The service I was offering was already better because whether they got in touch via phone or e-mail, they got a response. With the previous host, there was no response. E-mails just went unanswered, not even an auto-reply and they didn't have a number to call.

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Storms and Viruses

We are in the second day of storm Ciara, a storm that is battering the UK and other parts of Western Europe. There's flooding in some areas, power cuts and trees being blown over, causing traffic jams around the country.

On Saturday morning I spent some time preparing the house before the storm hit later in the day. I checked the outside of the house, located some candles in case of a power cut and tied anything in the garden that could get blown away, down.

Whilst doing all of these bits, my mind was also wandering, making sure that I was ready from a work point-of-view.

I do have an office and a desk at home which I work at most of the time but everything is stored in my backpack, like an emergency grab bag, ready to to go if I need to leave.

I did some checks to make sure all of my kit was ready just-in-case there was a power cut - I would still be able to work if needed. I made sure my laptop and two power banks were fully charged. This meant that I could work for at least eight hours before I would need to find another source of electricity.

I checked my backpack to make sure everything was there so that if I did need to go somewhere else, I had everything with me to keep my business running. An overreaction? Maybe but I would rather be sat in a blacked out office but able to work if needed rather than frantically driving around trying to find somewhere that still had power whilst all the time a customer is shouting down the phone to me because they need help 'now'!

All of this preparation reminded me of something which I set up when I ran a small I.T. department. During a training course it was suggested that each department like ours should have a manual. One that can be easily accessed by trusted staff which contained information about the computer network, how it was set up and passwords for all necessary systems. This was in the event of an accident or emergency where the normal I.T. staff could not get into work for whatever reason. This manual became christened the Red Bus Book, the morbid joke being that if all of the technical staff got mowed down by a big red bus, someone else would be able to pick up the manual and at least have half an idea of how things operated.

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