Dec 182012
 
A businesswoman shouting at the world through a megaphone

I’m late. It’s mid-December and tax “busy season” is dawning. To get my rear in gear, I started my day by doing a little research.

I was performing a competitor analysis and I noted that a nearby accounting firm had a poor review online. Now, I am naturally curious, and I am all for freedom of information (clearly!). However, I would like to take a moment to discuss a few of the ways reviews impact small businesses. This comes from me not just as a small business owner, but as a neighboring community member, and as an understanding, benefit-of-the-doubt-giving human being.

The Particulars

After reading this review, I concluded that it was not due to lousy service or negligence or an unfriendly reception, etc. The reviewer was clearly not an accountant, as most people aren’t, but the low review questioned a rumor the person had heard about particular price paid by a particular client. Specifically, it was a division of the town government that willingly chose to contract with this firm and pay a set price for payroll for only one person, and the reviewer did not like the price. Again, this was a rumor that got the only accounting firm in my area a review, and it was a low one from a non-client.  Now in my professional opinion, the actual client got quite a deal! I was shocked to read that someone else thought it was a poor deal, poor enough to take the time to look up the firm and write a review, especially as they seemed unaffiliated with either party.

In Defense of Payroll

Payroll is a very touchy subject. Not only is it is huge, throbbing pain in the ass, but the laws are always changing, and it is risky to start up an in-house payroll. You need someone, or a team or people who are very experienced and know what to look for and how to correct mistakes timely, people who are beyond dedicated and reliable and unfortunately, put their jobs first. Unfortunately in the sense that, if a check got cut for the wrong amount, they are willing to cease sleeping or nursing their baby or what have you to run to the office at 4am to re-cut that check and redo multiple journal entries and possibly have to be on the phone with the bank or banks for goodness knows how long to correct it. Otherwise, the company will suffer. Law suits can arise from employees whose withholdings were incorrect, company morale will be low if payroll can’t even figure out how much to pay them, reputation will be ruined, and this is before all the fines, audits, and scrutiny from the government agencies. Payroll can get very bad, quickly.

It is worlds cheaper and much, much less risky to outsource payroll to a competent accountant. Accountants have annual, required professional education. Not all accountants will offer payroll services. I definitely don’t. You would have to pay me a pretty penny to convince me to take on that kind of monster. I’ve done it before, so now: no thank you. Chances are, if the accountant does in fact perform payroll services, they have many payroll clients, enough to make the trouble worth it. If they still have clients, they must be successful, otherwise their clients would quickly go elsewhere in a matter of two weeks. Since payroll is chosen specialty in the accounting profession, these accountants are current on all the laws and related breaking news briefings, since accountants get this information in multiple ways: in industry newsletters, immediate email notifications, educational seminars, reference websites they review daily, and through networking with other accountants.

Most firms have  tiered payroll fees. Between 1-5 employees is $X, 6-25 is $XX, 25-100 is $XXX, and so on. Some firms have minimums (must have 100 employees on payroll or you still must pay $XXX), and maximums, too. A one-person firm probably won’t be doing payroll for a company of 2,500 people.

Lack of knowledge led this person to publicly draw conclusions that I feel, are quite unfounded. If this citizen had such a pounding question about fees willingly paid by one party to another rendering a typically torturous professional service, why couldn’t they just call the firm and ask what their prices were?

five Yellowish-orange stars in a line from small to large signifying rating optionsIn Defense of Competitors

If you haven’t read my article about competitors, in short, I believe that competitors should be thought of as your brothers and sisters. They are in many ways like you. Think of them as being on your team.

When thinking of competitors, I imagine running track and field in the Olympics, lined up with two or three other American women who are on my team. On one level, we all want to win first place, but on another level, we don’t care as long as we win together. Yes, we all work hard individually, but we also should work hard together, to cast an honorable light on our team and our profession, to garner sponsors, to attract new talent, and to increase interest in the Olympics and our chosen sport.

Other local people who share your line of work? These are community member and neighbors of yours.  They could help you someday. They can refer extra business to you. You will see them at the grocery store, at the traffic light, at a work seminar. You will hear good things and maybe not so good things about them. There is enough work to go around. If you work together and make it attractive for outsiders or first timers to try out dance lessons or chiropractic treatment or Zumba or an accountant or teeth whitening, believe me, there will be more than enough customers for all of you. It’s not about you and your business. It’s about attracting people to need you or want you as an industry professional.

People like choices, they like what is in vogue, what is popular. If you are the only clock and watch shop for miles, well great, I guess you’ll get all the local business as long as Walmart doesn’t undercut your prices (because that will never happen, right?!?). But if there are three or four or five clock and watch shops, all downtown, holy shit, your town becomes the mecca for time-telling fanciers. Clock lovers will vacation from overseas to your town to browse and buy from your store, from the grandfather and antique clock store next door, from the cuckoo clock store across the street, and from the wholesale clock parts store around the corner. Locals will get interested in clocks, your chamber of commerce and town counsel will advertise your area as the Clock Capital of wherever, and money will trickle in to your local economy. One business is good, but many are better.

So really, where is the camaraderie? Where is the brotherly and sisterly love we show to others who work hard in our community toward similar goals?

Sticks and Stones

Now, I will be the first to admit I am the queen of Class versus Sass. We can keep it classy, or things can get really, really sassy. Just like the United States: in my book, you are innocent until proven guilty. In my mind, every person I meet starts out as innocent as a newborn. And I will be patient with you and nurture you and listen to you and put myself in your shoes and try to understand your points of view. But when you are guilty, once you have done me wrong,  may your God try and help you.

I am a consumer. Just like the rest of us, I am a patron of businesses. Many times I have walked out fuming and furious. Many more times I have walked out thrilled with the product or service I received.

During my angry times, and boy those can get angry, I may stop around with smoke coming out of my ears for a few minutes. I will be the first to tell you I can be nothing short of a tyrant. Really! But in minutes, it subsides. I don’t think I have ever written a poor review of a business. I am pretty positive I never have. If I have years and years ago and don’t remember, strike me down, because I didn’t and don’t mean it! I don’t have enough hate in my heart to forcibly and viciously attack another person’s livelihood because I wasn’t happy with their business that day.

When I am annoyed, the first person I tell is the one who is making me annoyed. “You are taking too long.” “You need to keep my water-glass full.” “I can’t taste the vodka.” “You forgot my change.” If that persists, or more commonly, if I am getting patronized by an employee, I use the old “I need to speak with your manager.” This is usually where everything smooths out. Typically, the employees you deal with first, face to face, purposely don’t have certain authorities, like taking that fee off your account, or comp-ing the wrong sushi order.  The employees know this, the managers know this, and they know they got you stressed and under their thumb; this is how the game works and this is how the conversation is going to go. This is OK.

Now when I have a favorable experience, Oh, will I write a review! Even for people I don’t know, like what happened today, I will stick up for you, I will always ferret out something good to say. This makes me feel good about myself, and even more about the cool places I have been, businesses I have experienced, and good will I have bestowed.It makes me feel good that someone else will feel good about their business, and a person looking for that type of business will feel confident and helped in choosing one.

I have found only one problem with writing outstanding reviews for businesses, and this information is from 2009, so I am not sure if it is still pertinent. As of 2009 or so, some online business listing and review sites like Yelp! have a formula for how much weight each registered reviewer’s reviews carry. So if you are like me and watched Bambi as a kid and “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all,” and give only five star reviews, Yelp! and similar sites will discount you, and your ratings won’t factor in to that business’s score. I guess they want each registered reviewer to submit both good and bad reviews. But if you don’t have any bad reviews to give, should you write an exaggeratedly bad one on a business that was mediocre, so your good reviews can help your favorite businesses?  That seems a little cynical, don’t you think? What do you do to get your positive voice heard?

Take it or leave it, come on people: stress is a killer. If you go home holding a snooty attitude and write some nasty catty review because your waitress “Wendy” swore at your kids and charged you double for your drinks, can you just think before you type, for once?

“Wendy” dug her own grave. Screw her, karma is a bitch, and I’m sure her manager is already well aware of “Wendy’s” inappropriate behavior and she is on her way out as soon as the weekend rush subsides. But when you stamp home in your little tiff and write a bad review online, even if it specifically mentions “Wendy” and all the horrifying details, you are not giving “Wendy” a bad review and only one star, you are giving it to, let’s say, “Janice and Dave’s Restaurant”. The restaurant you loved for so many years (because you apparently go there, or at least it looked attractive enough for you to try it). The restaurant that they worked hard to build and the business they rely on to feed and house their family. “Janice and Dave” are real people who probably love each other, who have feelings including the feelings of hurt and worthlessness and sadness when they read your bitchy online review, and “Janice and Dave” are doing their best, because that is what you do when you own a business.

Just think, for a minute, about how you would go about opening a business. You. From scratch. Your new baby that consumes money you don’t have, energy you didn’t know you have, and nothing short of your heart and soul. It’s a huge, scary plunge to take. Can’t we all just stand up and slow-clap for our friends who grew the balls to actually give their dream a chance? Whether if succeeds or not? Can’t we acknowledge that there are people out there who are doing their  best, their best towards something productive and helpful and of value?

I remember working as an employee. Yeah, I did my best: my best to make sure my boss didn’t catch me on Facebook half the day (shamefully and blatantly via a proxy server, no less) and did my best to remember what department had a birthday that day so I could go bottom-feed off the leftover cupcakes. So yeah, if you don’t own a business, I know exactly what your best is. Granted, yes, am being playfully facetious to make a point, and anyone who has actually worked with me knows I’ve always done my work with quality, triple checked, finished early before deadlines, helped others who were still working til they were done, with no problems (which was the problem because my speed and accuracy left me all this time to dick around unproductively, but I’ll save that for another story).

Before you rant and rave publicly, especially if it wasn’t even you with the issue, especially if you didn’t bring up your grievance privately with no one short of the direct service provider/employee you dealt with, and their manager and the business owner, and issues still weren’t resolved, who the hell do you think you are to be such a troll and trash someone’s small business online? Really! Don’t even say you believe in God, and you better not be vegetarian or anything else high and mighty if you have done such a thing, because what a load of crap your righteous little “label” you’ve given yourself is: “Loving Vegetarian Christian mom of Four! ; D” writes evil things and destroys lives online )8-) har har har!

Are you with me on how absolutely silly this is? This is the legacy you want to leave behind? Because even if you write something anonymously, and tell no one, and go as far as to condemn such behavior publicly, you are going to die with that poison in your blood. You are going to die with that on your conscience. How shitty.

To quote the book and movie The Secret, “Thoughts Become Things.” If you want to live a happy, positive life, you have to stop the negative thoughts. All together. Does that seem ludicrous or impossible? It’s not. You think it will be too hard to control all your thoughts? Like working a muscle, yes, it takes a little practice most days, then more practice every day, and so on. What? If you never speak another bad word you won’t have anything to gossip and complain to your friends about, so you’ll grow apart or not be on the same level? Hmm…did you really just think that? Hmm…

Do I never have a cynical thought? Do I never say anything snarky? Of course I do. Rarely, but when I do, usually it’s about a general idea and not a person, place, animal, creation, or specific thing made, owned, desired or loved by anyone. I have worked on myself over the past few years, and it really does take effort, but I have put so much thought into thinking positive, that before I speak something less than, spinning red lights go off in my brain and that little voice in my head starts talking. For real.

The little voice goes, “Hey. Lady. Do you really want to make that comment to your girlfriends about the way that guy’s house smells like cat pee even though he doesn’t own a cat? What can be gained from this? A laugh? A feeling of mutual agreement? Increased camaraderie? A way to fill the silence? Is that really the type of condescending comment and judgmental-ness you want people to remember when they think of you? How many other questionable things have you said today in front of this audience? One? Well, you’re allowed one  every other time you see them, so keep your trap shut on the cat pee. Next time…next time you can be witty, but try to turn on the rainbows and unicorns for a while!”

six caucasians hands that are plain clean hands from the forearm up giving thumbs up

Blurting out words is bad. My mom calls it “Diarrhea of the Mouth”. The movie Mean Girls describes it as “Word Vomit”. Mental health professionals call it “Impulsive Speech” (yes, this is an actual symptom of poor mental health, aka mental illness, if you didn’t catch it the first time). But what is it when called when you brew and stew on it, and plot it out before eloquently writing your nasty review online? If it was murder, the cops would call it “Premeditated”. And this is the worst type of murder.

What would our world be like if just one in ten people participated in the positive philosophies I described above? Would we have a raised level of consciousness for each other? Would the economy turn around because more people are getting stellar reviews online and citizens are inspired and enthusiastic about trickling down their dollars to local business owners? Would business owners take greater pride in their service and strive even harder to give consumers a better value? Would we all live happier lives? Could we love each other more?

Could we all just love each other more.

Dec 102012
 
beautiful woman silhouette dancing on beach sunset

Feeling good is all about enlightenment. Whether you seek perfection, or just a positive change to your life, the progression “upwards” is more of a life-long meditation than a journey to a final goal. There are many ways to feel good about yourself and the actions you take. Here are 10 of my favorites:

1. Remember your re-useable shopping bags when you go into a store. Grab more re-useable bags than you think you need. If you have two or less, make the investment and buy a few more. Some places even offer them for free as a promotion.  Alternately, if you are only buying a few items, just carry them out (make sure you get your receipt so it doesn’t look like you are walking out without paying!) Or put them in your pockets, purse, or backpack.

2. Be nice to a creature you don’t especially care for. Whether this means picking a worm off the sidewalk and putting him on the grass or smiling at OPC (Other People’s Children), it will make you feel like a better human being.

3. Use washable food and beverage containers. Invest in some glass or BPA- free plastic  Tupperware and water bottles. Don’t use paper plates, paper cups, or plastic utensils. For storing food, baggies are a no-no (unless you are really earthy and wash them, although I don’t know how sanitary that is in the long run), as is aluminum foil and plastic wrap. Likewise, don’t grab a fistful of napkins every time you go to Panera. Just take what you need, even if  you have messy kids, because you know 90% of those napkins are going to be stashed, crumpled, and unused until you deem them old and ratty enough to throw out so you can get cleaner, newer, nicely folded napkins.

man hand holding saved baby bird

4. Take the time to find out what items your waste management company recycles. This goes for home and work. Look it up online, see if it is printed on the recycling container, or make a quick call. Separate trash that is recyclable from that which is not. You’ll probably be surprised how much is recyclable!

If your area offers a refund on glass, plastic, and aluminum beverage containers, separate these out too. If you don’t care to cash them in yourself, give them to an avid recycler, a homeless person, or you could offer them to a local nonprofit.

5. Turn off lights/unnecessary appliances when you leave a room, and if you live with other people, encourage them to do the same. Nothing is worse than coming into a house with every light and TV on, when no one is even home.

Better yet, switch all your incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. This can be an investment, and while it’s not as pricey as you may think, figure out how many bulbs and of what kind you need and make a budget and execute it, if you need to do this over time. Make a list. Include chandeliers, bulbs in the attic and basement, bulbs on appliances, and outdoor lighting. You will be astounded how much your electricity consumption goes down!

Earth Mother: Circular psychedelic image of a Woman breathing out sky, laying in the sea, with rainbow sun rays and land in the background

6. Support a local business owner. Whether it’s a quaint gift shop, a farmer’s market, or a sandwich stand that makes artisan breads, give your money to your local economy and keep it close.

7. Insist on a “TV turnoff week”. Don’t try it, do it. It’s not that hard, and if you feel like it’s hard, I pity you. What an empty life you have and you don’t even know it! Whether you live alone or with others, this is a great way to have a lot more fun connecting with other people. That may mean playing battleship one night, socializing with friends another, completing a project, or finally reading that book you’ve been thinking about.

8. Look a stranger in the eyes and smile. Say hello if the opportunity presents its self. Try this with a neighbor who is out walking, someone at a traffic light, or someone in line next to you at the market. You never know how someone’s day is going or how many unfriendly, blank stares they got. Just be nice! It’s free.

9. The next time you go to make a negative judgement on someone, whether to yourself or a friend, don’t. I don’t care if you see a 14 year-old with a baby or a lady that weighs 700 pounds and her butt crack is exposed or a guy with the most epic uni-brow you have ever seen. Think of something nice you notice about them. It doesn’t matter if you say it in your head, to your friend, or even to that person. Stop the negative, defensive, judgmental thinking. This habit will make you much more satisfied with your own life.

10. Go for a walk outside. Not a run, not a bike ride, not to the gym, and not a lap around the mall. Only about 20% of this one has to do with exercise. It’s more about observation, and awareness of your community and surroundings. Notice that your neighbors painted their shutters, or the new boat in the harbor, or all the cardinals that come out in December to look for berries. Get connected and make it a habit to actually live life in real-time, rather than through MSNBC or People Magazine or Facebook. Be that person doing things, seeing things, and experiencing life.

black and white photo of a man's hand holding out a daisy

If you try some of these, and I sincerely hope you do, think about getting in the habit of channel Benjamin Franklin, and every morning, ask yourself, “What good can I do today?”

 

Dec 012012
 
Animation of Tetsuo, the antagonist from the Akira movie whose arm is turning into a mutant monster from taking pills

I suppose this article could be titled, “How to Deal with Difficult People,” but I wanted to focus on situations where money is involved.

Some people love the way they make income, some don’t really care for their jobs. Either way, for most people, producing income means time away from your family or recreational activities. This means, it would be really nice if we could enjoy our time away from the things we love. One of the huge factors of loving or hating your job is the quality of the human relationships involved in it.

Our jobs could all be a little more pleasant if we set standards for who we will and will not deal with, and what kind of behavior we will and won’t accept from our clients.

Now, when I say clients, this usually means exterior clients like people for whom you provide a good or service in exchange for money, but it can also mean “interior clients”. These are your employees (bosses, underlings, peers) or a third-party you deal with, like the collection agency the company you work for uses, or private tutors coming in to teach at your public school, or any kind of contractor your company has a symbiotic relationship with. These are all people with whom it would be nice to share the same page.

There are three kinds of difficult clients: Complainers, Takers, and Devil-clients.

Complainers

This first type of client is mildly difficult. When you see a Complainer coming, you see a dark rain cloud headed your way. Their lives are filled with drama. Whether it’s the fact that their husband forgot to TiVo “Desperate Housewives” last night, or the Colts lost, or their dog got bit by a fire ant last week, you are going to hear all the details. These are your people who may be reasonably likeable: maybe they bring you cookies or send you a card on your birthday, but when they talk, it is always about something negative, and it is always about them. They are always having problems.

Constantly complaining clients are people who are their own worst enemies. You may feel compelled to be their sounding board, or shoulder to cry on. You listen and are so patient. Then, you give them advice, which they don’t follow.  They get looped back in the same lousy situations, history repeats itself, then here they are again, whining and asking you for advice. This might be cute the first few times around, but pretty soon you are going to get sick of wasting your breath. You might even have a number of clients like this! Guess why? Because you have trained yourself how to expertly give these people exactly what they want, what people in your shoes of higher standards won’t give them. You are training yourself to accept this kind of treatment. Unless you are getting paid a respectable rate to be a psychiatrist, dealing with complainers is not your job. It is a waste of your income-producing time, and a mental energy drain. It’s not fair to yourself, your sanity, your company, or your family.

To deal with complainers, you must determine just how tolerable they are, and if continuing to have them in your professional life is worth it. Sure, for $1000 an hour you can complain all day to me. But for $40 an hour? Eh, probably not. It depends how much business you are bringing me. If you’re self-employed, hopefully this gives you food for thought. This is a determination you must make by outlining how much negativity is too much, based on what you are getting paid.

What makes complainers dangerous, is when they complain about you, or about something they perceive you did. Look up victim in the dictionary and this person’s picture will be there. Often, they are jealous when they see other people happy. They may not show it directly, but somewhere, someone is hearing a backhanded comment about it. “Isn’t it great that Mary is pregnant? Though I’m sure it was an accident. She was drinking a lot of wine at the Christmas party. Doesn’t she still smoke, too? I hope the baby is OK. Ah, I can’t wait until it’s my turn.” Listening to a complainer is a whole different animal than being targeting by a complainer.

As for a worst-case scenario about a seemingly nice client turned horrid whiner, I’ve got a story. I love to use my equine business in my examples because its my favorite industry to talk about, and I’ve touched the most people with it. In my limited professional career as a trainer, as of November 2012, I have taught horseback riding to roughly 750 different people. I am excellent at record keeping. Out of those 750, I have only had issues with two. One was a Complainer, and one was a taker. No potential Devil-clients have made it so far, though I’ve certainly turned people down for business because I knew we weren’t a match.

The first person who I had difficulty with is Complainer Corey Sherrell of Santa Barbara and Clearlake, California. She contacted me for riding lessons and came to her first lesson without incident. She seemed like a lovely, nice person, and I enjoyed teaching her and talking with her. A month or so later, I got a nasty personal attack via a review on a business listing site. You would have though I stole her boyfriend, gutted her cat, and slapped her mama. She chided me for my tattoos. Anyone who has met me or talked to me or read anything I’ve written can tell that I try my darnedest to be person of excellent character, and that I am also a person with a unique visual appearance and will tell it like it is, and I don’t sugar-coat my words whatsoever. I partake in honorable activities such as volunteer work with people with special needs. I go to civic functions like Young Professionals and Toastmasters and business seminars. I never, ever swear or use questionable language around people under 18. I don’t talk about religion or politics, I eat a mainly vegetarian diet, I read the classics, and I don’t wear belly shirts to church (not that I go, but still).

I am sorry, Corey Sherrell, so very sorry, that when I rolled up my sleeves because I was sweatin’ from teaching you so enthusiastically, that you find my tattoos visually abrasive, and that they somehow disqualify me from teaching both children and the elite art of horseback riding, as you so stated in your “review”. Additionally, I apologize for inspiring you to look into me further, via Twitter, and decide that you don’t like my modeling picture. There is nothing nude or shameful (not that nude is shameful, because it isn’t, but I know some people will disagree) in my work. Twitter doesn’t allow it. I am sorry that your boyfriend probably commented on how good I look, provocatively pouting on my dirt bike, or something that turned you against me, and that pissed you off. Pissed you off enough to try to sabotage my livelihood. If it makes you feel better, trust me, 99.9% of the time I don’t look that good. I admit, none of my work is photoshopped, a testament to which I am proud, but I don’t always look like that. I normally look like a goofy goon in sweatpants, mismatching socks, with dark roots growing out of my head. It takes a ridiculous amount of hard work, days of planning, and hundreds of shots and adjustments to get a respectable photo for a modeling portfolio, and obviously, I chose the best of what I had to present to my Twitter followers at the time. So sorry, I never meant to offend you with my appearance, and thank you for teaching me a lesson. Sadness remains in my heart for you, that you, Corey, judging from my personal encounter with you and your nice Facebook picture, seem like such a beautiful young lady with a bright future and a good life yet you hold so much fear in your heart. I hope things get better for you.

I hope that for all Complainers, because that is really where this attibute stems from: fear. Fear not of failure, but fear of success. But, I’ll save that for another article.

If you work for a company and have interior clients that are complainers, it gets a little trickier. First, acknowledge that they seem really distraught, and you’ve notice a pattern. If appropriate, bring up a few examples. If you can’t think of any, just wait, and take notes on their future woes, and then bring it up. The best thing to do is not to get wrapped up in their drama, and not to become the sympathetic ear they run to every times they need to vent. Be courteous but too busy. You  need to take a stand and let them know it sounds like they have a lot of complaints, and you really don’t feel you can deal with all that conversation during your work day. After all, you are at work, right? Don’t you have a meeting soon? Or a deadline? Or a Dr’s appointment? Or are waiting for an important phone call and need you head and ears to be free? Or have an online webinar you’re about to miss? There are plenty of other things you should be tied up in, pick one, and excuse yourself emotionally and/or physically from the situation.

I’m an animal trainer. If you stop giving attention to a certain behavior, whether it’s a positive or negative behavior, and positive or negative attention, the behavior will diminish. By finding compassionate yet immediate ways to halt and ignore complaining, you can make it go away.

Takers

This kind of client is moderately awful. But you need them. Or you think you do. Takers always want a deal. They could be smooth talkers or the could be in your face aggressive, but either way their manipulative ways make you feel uncomfortable. They are movers and shakers and you might feel in over your head when these people are around, because they seem so successful. These people leave no doubt in your mind they will throw you under the bus if it means an advancement for them. Takers can be shysty, overbearing, pushy, and intimidating. They may have a sense of entitlement, and may ask you to do things that are unethical if not illegal.

It’s easy for this type of client to play off the Benjamin-Franklin Theory. When someone asks you to do him/her a favor, it makes you more likely to do him/her another favor rather than that person taking a turn and doing you a favor. Got that? You are more likely to bend over backwards for that person again. He/she is not more likely to return the favor.

This brings me to my second problem-client. Taker Maribel Martinez of Riverside, California bought a two-for-one Groupon Deal I was running when I had a stable in Santa Barbara. She must have been excited, because there are a million stables in her area and yet she picked me! She was one of the first to call me to schedule. Because she lived nearly two and a half hours away and had a hectic work schedule, I agreed to let her just come once and split her coupon with a friend, rather than her coming for two separate lessons, as was required in the details of the deal. Additionally, I had not received my check from Groupon. Although I was privy to wait until I had the money before letting people come and cash in their coupons, due to Maribel’s work commitments, I invited her to come early. I tried to be nice. I tried to make her happy. I let her break the rules so she’d have a good time. All I want is for people to have a super positive experience at my business.

Well, Maribel and her friend got horribly lost in the mountains on her way to my stable, and called me. At first she was exasperated but friendly, as I gave her the address again, gave her verbal directions, gave her the website so her friend could use her smartphone as navigation, and agreed to stay with her on the phone until she arrived. In the mountains, however, cell service is spotty. I left the barn in my truck to go look for them based on landmarks they had given me. I even paid an employee to stay there in case they showed up. After getting disconnected and receiving calls from both Maribel and her companion, I could tell over the phone it was getting past their nap time. Apparently, while I canvassing the mountain roads looking for them, they found the way to my barn. They were really, really pissed. I like to think not at me, but at themselves for being so deficient in getting from point A to point B. From what my assistant trainer told me, they showed up in a huff, screamed at her, didn’t like the parking situation, didn’t like the horses, didn’t like the arena, and so on. I tried to call her back to rectify the situation. I tried to call her friend back. They ignored my calls. At the end of the day I tried  to call one more time, and Maribel’s phone was disconnected, ie. her number cancelled. I wanted to make right whatever they thought was wrong, and now, I couldn’t. I was not thrilled at how she treated me on the phone, but absolutely fuming that she treated an employee of mine poorly.  Whew! Just when I thought that was over, it came to my attention in the next few days that Maribel had dishonestly cancelled her payment to Groupon. Later that week, I got my Groupon check and Maribel’s money, for all that trouble, was not on it. Now, it really was a small amount, but it wasn’t about the money. I had to do something out of principle. I contacted Groupon and it was revealed that there are actually people who run this scam – they buy a deal, swindle their way in to convincing the merchant to accept their coupon, then act like the food’s not good enough, their child accidentally bought the deal without their permission, or they never received the good or services, etc. Whether or not that was the case, or if Maribel was just having an awful time, didn’t matter. Groupon’s fraud prevention team stayed in good contact with me and ended up sending me an additional check for Maribel’s lessons. I never could find anything online about her or under the name she gave me for her friend, which leaves me knowing she’s a taker, but wondering exactly what kind.

Depending on how assertive you are as a person determines the best way to handle Takers.

Identify this type of client. Determine if the chance of them getting you a big break is worth the inevitable fact they are going to screw you over in some way. They want to make a dime off you, and the person ahead of you too. How does this make you feel? If you have low self-esteem, you’ll probably accept it. That’s not good! Work on that. If you are confident, then you can probably recognize what’s going on here and can fade out a relationship with them, or push back.

Some people put up a tough image, but once you push back, they’ll roll over and want to be your best friend. Being a Taker in business, while that is a derogatory way to be thought of, probably is the end result of people taking advantage of them. Whether they’ve been pushed by a boss or “brainwashed” in training on meeting quotas and making sales, or grew up as the middle child, they’ve been funneled into a role of demanding what they want or else getting trampled on. Pretty soon that sense of power grows to no end, full steam ahead, out of control, like Tetsuo in Akira.

If you have it in you to push back and give them a taste of their own medicine by negotiating, talking big, and being too cool for school, you’ll probably be able to handle these clients. If you are feeling unsure, you’re new in the game, or are in any way lacking in experience or skill, I’d say put off these people and find ways to get that experience and confidence. You will inevitably find takers where you find money, so this is the one type of difficult client you’re going to need to handle repeatedly.

In the case of “it’s too late now” and they’ve got your money or your product or your pride and have disappeared into the night, learn from this experience. It may or may not be worth pursuing, but goodness help you, don’t let it happen again,

Devil Clients & the Blacklist

Normally, I aim to be Little Miss Zen, with wise and thoughtful words to share, one who keeps the peace, has the patience of the Dalai Lama, and is surrounded by serenity and joy with my golden flowing hair back-lit by the sun as Enya plays. Even I have my breaking point, too.

From this, I developed the Blacklist. Yes, I actually have a Google Doc named “Blacklist”, and if someone fucks up real bad, repeatedly, I have his or her name and notes recorded to remind me why I will never deal with that person again ever, no matter what. It’s not a long list, but it contains people who are so horrendous, they are not worth dealing with for any amount of money, not even a billion dollars. I would rather go to jail for a year than deal with them again. Yes, I have really met people I feel that strongly about.

Who would be on your Blacklist?

Devil-clients are your nightmare. You can’t even believe people this rude, fucked up, and awful exist. If you really decide you hate them and they make it onto your Blacklist, simply cut ties. It’s that easy. Don’t answer their phone calls, don’t send them a Christmas card, just end it. If you have something that belongs to them, give it back. If they try to contact you or maintain a relationship, ignore them. Block their number on your phone, tell your friends/coworkers you new stance, ban them from your Facebook, whatever. Move on. If you are dealing with someone who is truly that bad, no amount of money is worth keeping them around, trust me. You are probably not the only one who hates their guts, and very well may be one of the few people who will put up with them. But why? Why are you doing this to yourself? If you let them go, free up your time and space and mind, and surround yourself with positive, easy-going clients, huge new opportunities will come your way.

Difficult Clients in your Social Circle

Whether you’re having difficulties with a Complainer,  Taker, or Devil-client, all of this gets more complicated for clients who become your friends or are part of your social circle.

If they are a complainer, don’t let them complain to you. Tell them straight up how their choice of topics are negative and they are earning a questionable reputation. If they don’t get it, avoid them. Fight or flight. Don’t let them complain to you. A dog can’t piss on your tulips if you put up a fence.

Ah, takers. Tread carefully

If they are on your Blacklist, then you need to get really good at ignoring them. Just be polite and abbreviated in your encounters, and use your coping skills to move past them so you can have a good time and advance yourself.

I can remember when I was invited to a grand opening with a “casino night” theme. After socializing and networking over a few glasses of wine with people, I decided to sit down at the blackjack table. Who comes up and unknowingly joins the table? Someone who did me real dirty in a professional social setting. A Blacklister. I considered giving him a real piece of my mind, and boy did I want to punch him in the nose, but I remember the words my mother gave me, “kill ’em with kindness.” I wasn’t exactly kind, but I gave him a slow, close-lipped smile and focused on my game, the witty dealer, and conversing with the other players. And laughing. Not loudly, not obviously, but genuinely enjoying myself just as I would have had he not been there.  Note that I did not excuse myself as fast as possible, I waited him out and kept playing. I finished with the upper hand.

If you must be in the presence of a Devil-client, whether it’s before or after you cut ties with them, stand your ground! Be courteous, but not so courteous the devil-person thinks they are on good terms with you. You want your this person to walk away without anything bad to say about you. “Wow, I’m pretty sure thinks I’m scum, and boy, I really regret treating her the way I did. That was a mistake. She could have really given me a tongue lashing and made a scene, but she didn’t. She’s not a bad person, I guess we just didn’t jive. We’ve gone our separate ways, and shit, this whole thing did not make me look good. Lesson learned.”

Summary

De-shit your life. Decide at what price it’s worth keeping someone around who rubs you the wrong way. Meditate on your priorities. Act accordingly.

 Posted by on December 1, 2012 at 8:26 pm Entrepreneurship, Inner Happiness, Making Money Tagged with: , , , , ,
Nov 302012
 
Action shot of silver haired man in business suit and tie stomping on cell phone

Whether you are a parent, business owner, or social butterfly, for many people, voicemail is on the A-team of players when it comes to communication.

For me however, voicemail has long gone the way of the telegram. And gosh, do I love it.

As a high-energy entrepreneur, you may expect me to settle down at my desk after dinner with my phone, a pen and a notepad, to patiently listen to and record details of each of the 30 voice messages I got that day. And then take the time to respond in a timely manner to each one before 9pm. You might think I look something like this:

In reality, I’m all over the place. I sometimes eat dinner at home, but not usually. Sometimes I go out for sushi, sometimes I eat at my boyfriend’s, sometimes I eat in bed, sometimes I drink happy hour wine at the local dive bar for dinner,  and sometimes I don’t eat dinner at “dinnertime” at all. But usually, no matter where I am, by the end of the day, I look something like this:

Now, I will tell you that these photos are not of me. A picture of me resembling the first woman doesn’t exist, and the actual picture of me resembling the second woman I have deemed too disturbing for my readers.

Thus, I have absolutely no time or patience for voicemail. Years ago, I had it. Voicemail, that is, not time nor patience.

When I was a student, almost no one left me voicemails, and if they did, I listened to them hours if not days after I had already called the person back. So I heard the information twice, only the second time it was not nearly as interesting.

Then, as an employee of a corporation, a voicemail meant bad news. Either it was going to be a request to come in on the weekend, or it was a notification that someone was sick and I was expected to pick up the slack tomorrow, or  a call to let me know (after hours, mind you) that I screwed something up. It was rarely good news.

The real fun began when I became a small business owner. People would call and leave ridiculously long messages about their life story, or talk so fast or so quietly or so incoherently that you can’t hear what they’re saying, or call to ask if I can perform a service that is not even vaguely related to my business. When I return the voicemail, I am still met with surprise, “Oh, you’re a horseback riding stable? Do you groom dogs? Could you pet sit my Bichon? I’ll pay you extra to clip his nails.” Sure, I’ll take your money, and watch your mop-dog, but really?!?! Ah, then there is my mom. On some days, she would leave seven messages telling me to watch Bill Maher that night, and subsequently call and leave messages asking if I heard her last message. Are there really some people who still don’t understand how this works?

Oh! And goodness forbid you miss a day of checking voicemails. Now, I had it back in the day when your voice mailbox topped out at 30 messages. I’m sure the sky is the limit as of now. People get really agitated if they can’t get through, and hear that your voice mailbox is full. They start thinking either you’re a slacker or that you’re dead, and tell you so when they actually do talk with you. They call their friends who they also know are your clients to see if they can get through to you. Then everyone is wondering where you are, and why you haven’t responded to their voicemail, or why your voice mailbox is full. Then, next week, you get to hear it five different times from five different clients, their story about trying to leave a voicemail.

I love when you get your first business cell phone and make the effort to have a professional, clear, enunciated voice mailbox greeting: “You have reached the voice mailbox of Melissa Miko of HorsePlay Santa Barbara. Please leave me your name and number, and I will return your call as soon as possible.” and you get all these messages for the person who used to have your phone! Now I love all people and international callers, but twice I have gotten phone numbers where the old owner of my phone spoke a language other than English. How are you supposed to tell them they’ve got the wrong number? Apparently the fact that my voicemail message is in English and states my name isn’t enough, because they keep calling.

On my old phone, I got calls from both English and Chinese speaking friends of the woman who previously had my number. Over the next two and a half years (yes, two and a half, because they kept calling for that long), I learned that this woman had developed a disease of the throat and could no longer speak on the phone, and had fallen into a depression and deleted her Facebook account and was ignoring friends and relatives. Poor woman! But geez, delegate someone to let your people know what is up.

Currently its been seven months since I got my new Connecticut phone number, and all I get are a ton of collect calls from Mexico and have not found one person that speaks English except for a debt collector. Fabulous. But, there are no voicemails, because I don’t have voicemail! I only get calls I choose to answer and correct, or to reject, from that same stinkin’ collect call number.

For me, it got to the point where I was avoiding business because I hated doing this stupid voicemail dance. It caused me anxiety, heartache, and feelings of malice. Someone recommended a voicemail-to-text application; I tried it, but it was annoying and glitchy and still took too long. I actually took my phone number off my website for a while, leaving only my email contact information. It’s perfectly appropriate to email someone at 4:00 in the morning and that not be bothersome or weird.

However, then it dawned on me. I called Verizon, and asked them to disable my voicemail. They did. That was singularly the best decision I ever did for my sanity and my business.

If you choose to do this too, check and see if your phone will give the caller the message, “The user of this number has not set up a voice mailbox account.” or if the phone will just ring and ring and ring. See if you can choose, and determine if you are OK with the result. I feel the former seems a little unprofessional and unpolished, and the latter leaves the caller with a dazzling sense of mystery. Like in Boiler Room.

On my website, I generously place my email link in strategic locations, as well as have a Contact Form that shoots your message right to my email. On my site and business cards I put “Please Text (860) XXX-XXXX”. That way, this “unusual language” makes it crystal clear that I greatly prefer a text.

So, three reasons why you should cancel your voicemail:

1. Lack of efficiency. It is a waste of effort on both ends. The caller wastes their breath talking one-sidedly to a machine/data inscribing robot who may or may not deliver the message to the receiver. OK, in 99% of cases, voicemail works, but what if you are out of range? What if your phone dies and doesn’t alert you that you have a new voicemail, what if the system is glitchy? Plus, voicemail opens up an excuse for shady people, “Oh, I left you a voicemail. You didn’t get it? Well maybe you phone’s broken.” (I love hearing this excuse, and confirming that a person definitely, without a doubt left me, on my voicemail, a message, then revealing I don’t have voicemail. Boo-yah, mofo!)

Next, it’s called caller-ID. The first thing I see when you call is your number, and if I know you, I see your personal contact information, like your name. I see that it is you who has called, plus your phone number that will presumably still be working by the time I get to you. I will call you back long before I would ever listen to your voicemail.

And if you have a restricted number? I don’t want to talk to you anyways because you’re either an individual with way too much drama in your life or you’re a marking salesperson who wants my money.

I don’t want to forego a free moment in my day when I can actually call you back to see what you need, and instead wait until the end of the day to listen to your schpiel along with all the others and call you back when I’m worn out and tired and just trying to get through my list. The whole production seems like a huge inefficiency: You call, you wait, I wait, I listen to a recording of you, I transcribe it, I read it, you still wait, I finally call you back, hopefully you answer; if not, the cycle perpetuates.

Voicemail perpetuates a cumbersome service that delivers little value. why not take advantage of a free service? Because it stinks!

2. Stress. People have different thresholds of pain. People have different thresholds of stress. For me, stress is very stressful! The “notification ringtone” of a voicemail curdles my blood, and the anticipatory cold sweat that breaks out leaves me shakey until I can find a moment alone, where I am sitting down, pen and paper in hand, to check my voicemails and see what is so wrong and urgent that the caller had to leave me a message in his or her own voice? If it was a casual question, you’d just text me. If it wasn’t urgent, you’d email me. Voicemail is such a tease, as if our lives are so chaotic that we must strain and stretch and just can’t wait to hear every last second of your message before gulping a breath in time to listen to the next one.

For those of you who say I should just accept life as it is, and have a nice voicemail because it seems professional, and it’s what everyone normal and successful does, I am here to shake things up for you. Submitting to a product I hate is submission of power, and this I do not like! I have been successful without voicemail. I promise you, it has and can be done!

And I know, voice-to-text software has improved greatly since I last tried it. However, I just don’t want voicemail because I don’t want it. I don’t want to be like everyone else. Even if I fiddle with voice-to-text for a fraction of a second, I’m going to be complaining. My eyes are on those programs, just waiting for them to screw up. I’m stubborn. I want to be the successful business owner who is successful despite not even having voicemail! Let’s call it my cause.

I’m sure in this article you can find endless sub-reasons to eschew voicemail, and probably think of some of your own. Whether you decide to banish voicemail from your life here and now, or mildly consider it, or even decide life can’t go on without it, consider not only the output of effort it requires, but also the potential for it to be a stressor in your life. We should aspire to live a life that flows as smoothly as possible.