Human's are social creatures.....
It’s therefore not in our nature to self-distance nor self-isolate for one day let alone for weeks on end. For me, a very important aspect of my interaction with clients is face to face contact. Not just for the first ‘get to know you’ meeting, but for every meeting after that. I genuinely believe there is huge value in seeing the clients face and general reaction when I ask a question about their business or of them. I not only like to hear the answer, but I like to ‘see’ it also.
However, on Tuesday (17th March 2020) that all changed.
As Covid-19 takes hold, and the announcement by the Government advising the ceasing of all large (ish) social gatherings, it became apparent to me that it wouldn’t be much longer before all social, one-to-one and one-to-many contact may have to stop. This for me is a blow as I cherish the interaction I have with my networks, clients, colleagues and friends. Coming together to discuss anything and everything, even the weather, is an important part of my daily and weekly life, almost my routine. Meeting with and helping my clients in their businesses was and still is a huge part of what I do and therefore very important to me. Call me old fashioned if you want, but I’ve always enjoyed human and social interaction on an in-person basis. Virtual meetings just don’t do it for me like a face to face one does.
Learn to adapt
Fortunately, a trait us humans are particularly good at is adapting to the situation we find ourselves in.
It was therefore obvious I had to adapt in order to continue to offer assistance to my clients and the other organisations I am involved in. And adapt I did. Those who provide business mentoring, coaching and business advice are extremely fortunate in that we have the ability to carry on providing our service virtually. Whether by video or tele conferencing or just an old-fashioned telephone call, we can and as long as we have clients will continue to do so, for as long as our clients need us. There are a number of excellent FREE tools available, as I have recently found out, that can help us carry on our day to day business. Check them out if you haven’t already done so.
In adapting, that is converting from face to face meetings to virtual, it occurred to me that my style of work may have to change also. When I meet a potentially stressed out business owner in person, I am able to very easily help them relax and think about their business more strategically, taking time out to ask them about themselves and then flow into the business discussion. I have a fluid agenda in my head of what we could achieve in each session and collaborate with the client to ensure it is also what they want to gain. The conversation and interaction over coffee, or any other drink, sufficiently relaxes the meeting structure. When you meet virtually, I found that that perhaps doesn’t happen as readily. There’s a degree of stiffness about the meeting and conversation, interruptions are not as easily understood as it is over a gadget or through a medium, you aren’t as easily able to anticipate that an interruption is about to happen and when it does, you miss the opening few words as the gadget facilitating the meeting drops signal or there is a lag in the microphone picking up the words.
I’ve also found that it is a good idea to have an outline agenda written and shared before the meeting. This enables the minds to focus before the meeting and potentially shortens the virtual call/meeting as no one wants to be on the phone/camera for two hours. It’s important that you have the client’s undivided attention. It’s very easy to ebb and flow in to and out of the conversation while they have emails and notifications popping up on their screen. We’ve all done it, sneaking a look at our phone, messages and or emails as we’re talking virtually. All this has to be accounted for when working virtually.
As with all sessions, it’s important to feedback to the client the overview of the discussion and any agreed action points, this serves well for the purpose of clarity.
Be there for your clients
In these challenging times I am impressing upon my clients that I am increasing my availability to them should they need it. For them, knowing they have a business mentor or coach ‘on-tap’ is important for their mental wellbeing and peace of mind. After all, we know how lonely it can be running a business, and no more than now so given the ‘crisis’ we now find ourselves in.
During a conversation with a client yesterday when he suggested a quietening of workload, I suggested now would be a great opportunity to do those things he’s been delaying due to pressure of work. Today he phoned me and told me how he’d managed to achieve something he’s been putting off for weeks, thanking me. Helping your clients see the positives during this time is an important aspect of what we do. If they wish to restrict or stop using your services, due to financial pressures, politely explain that now is probably the time they need you most. If your current clients are struggling financially, offer to help by staging or deferring payments for them. There is always a way.
Look after yourself!
If you are working from home, make sure you take regular exercise, consider your diet and drink plenty of liquids, and not the alcoholic variety! Have fun too! Take this time as an opportunity for yourself to do the stuff you’ve been putting off, just like you may suggest and recommend to your clients.
Market what you do
And don’t stop marketing, your messaging still needs to happen. Remember you’re not going to be a bad person for continuing to try to gain clients in difficult circumstances, it just means your messaging may have to adapt and be appropriate.
Reach out to all your clients, existing, recent and old. Tell them you are there for them, tell them you are able to listen, advise and help.
Be the sound board that you can be.
And be the great professional business mentor I know you are.
Simon Fordham (ABM Chairman)