When you first started your company, you wanted all the business you could get-from anyone, at any price. Now, you're going crazy trying to serve all your customers-and manage all other aspects of your venture! You've taken on so much that you're struggling to deliver on promises. With your rep at stake, how do you get back on track? Here are five tips.
1. Take responsibility. Perhaps you've arrived 15 minutes late to a client meeting. How do you rectify the situation? Resist the urge to make excuses like "I can't believe the traffic today!" When you make excuses, you convey that you have no control over your schedule.
Instead, take responsibility-no matter who or what is to blame. If you're late, don't fret about the traffic or how hectic your schedule is. Say "Please forgive me for not honoring your time today; I will take steps to ensure that I don't keep you waiting again." When you take responsibility, you'll begin to rebuild credibility with that person.
2. Stay focused. "New entrepreneurs are like puppies in the park," says Michael Kogon, 30, founder of WebSiteforFREE.com, an Atlanta-based firm that helps start-ups build an initial Web storefront. "They start out intent on fetching the ball, then they get distracted by the sprinkler, a stick, a butterfly, a whistle, a squirrel, other puppies and so forth. Although you may look cute and energetic, you don't become the 'big dog' that way."
Resist the urge to take on big projects or sell products outside your core talent or offering. Unless you and the client have the extra time and money to experiment, focus your efforts on what you do best.
3. Set realistic expectations. Before you take on more customers, make sure that you have the staff, inventory and infrastructure to handle the increased sales volume. Otherwise, you set yourself up for failure. Says Kogon, "Many [entrepreneurs] think they can administrate their businesses and deliver their services. What they need to realize is that, as your company grows, running your business has to be your full-time job. The sure way to fail is to try to deliver a service and run a company at the same time."
4. Recondition your mind. If you find yourself failing to deliver on promises, it might be that you've conditioned yourself to do so. For example, you're frustrated because you're behind schedule. You think: "I always get myself into this mess! What's wrong with me?" Break the cycle by repeating statements like:
- I follow through on all
commitments; I live by my priorities.
- I am known as someone who keeps
- Customers enjoy working with me because I am trustworthy.
5. Create lasting change. Once you've resolved to change your habits, the following exercise will help you make those changes permanent. On a sheet of paper or in your journal, answer these questions:
- What's the real problem? What is it that I am not following through on? Is it meeting project deadlines, making phone calls or paying vendors on time?
- Why am I not following through? Is it procrastination, over-commitment or unrealistic scheduling? Be honest with your true self. Identify the underlying causes of your problem, and you can address them directly and effectively.
- What can I do about it? If the underlying cause to missing project deadlines, for example, is "over-commitment," reevaluate your priorities. What tasks should you cut out? What can you delegate? Or, if the cause is procrastination, perhaps you should set your own deadlines for earlier than when your clients expect them. Whatever the case, when you brainstorm action steps, with corresponding deadlines for achievement, you keep yourself from falling into the same traps.
And the benefit to you is, as always, peace of mind. You'll enjoy your job and clients much more this way. As Kogon puts it, "The worst feeling is the fear of answering calls [from angry clients], and that's what happens when entrepreneurs don't follow through on commitments."
Sean M. Lyden is co-founder and CEO of PRessCafe.com Inc., an Atlanta-based business-to-business portal that connects small businesses to the right journalists-for free. The site is expected to launch this fall.