Nothing Personal

Building a bigger and better business.
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6 min read

This story appears in the January 1999 issue of Subscribe »

In today's business world, the line between professional and personal is often fuzzy--sometimes nonexistent. Even so, there may be times when a client either wants to know too much about your private life or tells you more than you want to know about theirs. The best way to deal with this situation is to carefully redirect the conversation, says Jan Gullette, a psychiatric nurse practitioner in private practice in Seattle.

It also helps to figure out what the motivation behind someone's too-personal comment might be. Often, Gullette says, people ask questions to avoid disclosing information about themselves. Or it may be just the opposite--they're asking a question as a way to introduce the topic. "If something comes up out of the blue, stop and consider there might be something they want to tell you," she says.

"People [sometimes] ask you things about yourself that they want to discuss about themselves," Gullette says. "Direct it back to them in a soft way so they don't feel on the spot." For example, she says, if someone asks you how you'd handle a specific situation with your children and you don't want to answer, turn it around by saying, "Oh, do you have children? Tell me about them."

When clients spill too much, Gullette suggests saying something like, "I don't think you want to be telling me this--it might make you uncomfortable later on. I'm sorry you're having to experience it, but I wonder if there's somebody better for you to talk to about it, perhaps a close friend or someone in your family." This lets you show some compassion while turning the discussion back to business.

"Most people act out of their own insecurities, so if you make them feel more uncomfortable and insecure, you're not going to be making the conversation productive," Gullette says. Whether they're telling you too much or asking you personal questions, you need to focus what you say on the inappropriateness of the topic, not the other person or your own feelings. Rather than saying, "That question makes me feel uncomfortable," it's better to say, "I really don't want to talk about this," and then redirect the conversation. When you talk about your feelings or about what the other person is doing, you make the situation more personal, Gullette explains. Keeping client discussions limited to business-related matters is more professional, as is changing the subject without casting blame.

Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 12 years ago and has been writing about business and management issues from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.

No Charge

Have you ever not charged a client for something you did, then wondered if he or she truly appreciated the value of your time? One way to make sure your clients understand what your time is worth is by issuing a no-charge invoice. "From a business standpoint, it builds goodwill to let clients know what you're not billing them for," says Charles Heid, a senior manager with Ernst & Young LLP.

Heid says you have several ways to approach no-charge invoices. You can issue a standard invoice, describing the service provided and showing its cost, then discounting the charge by 100 percent. Or you can mark the invoice "Do not pay" and charge the amount to marketing expenses. Another option is to simply describe the work done and print "No charge" in the price column, which would not affect your income and expense records. Or send your client a letter describing the work you did and what its value was.

Check with your accountant or tax advisor to make sure you handle the paperwork properly to avoid creating an additional and unnecessary tax liability.

Whatever format you choose, a no-charge invoice or statement can be a powerful marketing tool that strengthens your client relationships.

Send In The Clones

Does the concept of doing less while you accomplish and earn more seem like a fantasy? It's not, insists Jennifer White, president of The JWC Group, a success coaching firm in Cincinnati, and author of Work Less, Make More (Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.). The key, she says, is in duplication, which she defines as "finding others who have your strengths, personality and brilliance, and who do parts of your job as well or better than you." Those "others" can be either human beings or technological tools.

"The big mistake people make is believing that delegating and duplicating are the same," says White. "Delegating is about taking your weaknesses--or things you don't want to do--and giving them to someone else. Duplication is about finding someone or something to do the exact thing you're good at--what I call your brilliance--to duplicate your efforts."

Document the various processes you go through to accomplish your objectives, such as how you bring a new customer on board or how you deliver a particular product or service. Then fine-tune each process by repeating it in the exact same way, over and over. "Once you understand the process and exactly what happens at each step, you can teach someone else to do it or you can automate it," White says. "Duplication works if you think not just [about duplicating] people, but the process you go through to get things done as well."

Technology often helps entrepreneurs achieve duplication, White says. Look for ways to automate portions of what you're currently doing. Consider hiring a technology consultant to observe how you work and help you develop methods to duplicate yourself with computers and other equipment.

White says duplication is especially useful to homebased business owners. "You can actually go on vacation and trust that everything is being taken care of because someone or something as good as you is doing the work," White says. "You can get rid of the guilt you feel when you leave the office, because you know things are being done the right way."

Contact Sources

Jan Gullette, 4033 E. Madison St., Seattle, WA 98112

The JWC Group, (800) 853-6218,

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