My business recently sent off a tax payment to local authorities and it reminded me of an incident not long ago that I think contains a valuable lesson for all entrepreneurs.
For years, I did my personal and corporate taxes on my own. This was mainly because I thought that my legal background afforded me the knowledge to do so. And for a long time I was right… until I wasn’t.
It was April 14th a few years ago, and I was struggling with my tax return when I finally concluded that I needed expert assistance. So I filed for an extension, put out some feelers, and interviewed a few accountants. The first two were competent, but nothing special. Then I met David, the guy I hired.
I hired him for a few reasons. Yes, he was every bit as smart and experienced as the other two people I had spoken with, but the difference was two-fold:
- First, he had a way of explaining things that was neither jargon-y nor condescending. Indeed, his delivery was friendly and understandable.
- Second, he made me feel comfortable.
That second fact is not unimportant. I was hiring a professional because I needed professional help. There was money at stake, I was unsure of the outcome, and the IRS was involved – all of which are reasons to feel a little uncomfortable.
But David’s easy-going manner evoked confidence in me right from the start. He cracked jokes and laughed easily. He was sharp. I liked him and believed that he could help me. And I was right. Not only did he do his job superbly, but even when delivering what could have been uncomfortable news (“You owe such and such”), he did so in a way that made it easy to digest.
Certainly my experience could have been different. Another CPA, one less emotionally intelligent, might have done the same competent job, but I probably wouldn’t have left the experience wanting to refer them business as I wanted to with David. Indeed, I have since recommended David to several friends and colleagues.
That’s the lesson. There are all sorts of professions that require the professional to have a good bedside manner. Healing entrepreneurs come readily to mind – therapists and nutritionists and acupuncturists, for instance. These folks definitely need to have a calm, confident, easy way about them given the job they do. If they do, they will get more business than if they don’t.
But the list of businesspeople that need to have a good ‘bedside manner’ does not stop there, in fact, it only just starts there. Let me suggest that almost every entrepreneur needs to have their own version of ‘bedside manner.’
For instance, an interior designer has to let potential clients understand that she knows something about color, design and furnishings that the client does not. She has to share this knowledge in a way that is inspiring, not sales-y, and makes the client to want to hire her, not be intimidated by her keen eye.
Or take a successful salesperson – he has to have a relaxed presentation style that lets customers know that he is as interested in helping them solve their problem as he is in making the sale, even though we all know he wants to make the sale. The best salespeople usually have a friendly, comfortable, positive manner that is more about getting to know the person than diving into the product or service at stake. They are the opposite of pushy.
What new customers want from you when they come into your business is something similar. They want to know that you are there to help them, not sell to them. The harder you try to sell them, the less they will want to buy.
Of course you want to acquire new customers, that is a given, but what I learned from David is that you only land that larger volume customer when you don’t scare them away.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.