Ask not what your customer can do for you, ask what you can do for your customer

Why do organisations take us for granted?

In the light of my recent experience with Sony, (including yet another highly unsatisfactory call during which it became abundantly clear that hell will freeze over before they will give me a refund) I have decided to write about the differences between good and bad customer service.

Does this customer expect me to assist her

  • 86% of customers will stop doing business with you after a bad customer service experience
  • it takes 12 positive customer service experiences to make up for one poor one

The irony is that the majority of companies say they pride themselves on good customer service. A Forrester report from 2010 identified that:

  • 90% of (North American) firms view customer service as important or critical and
  • 80% would like to use customer experience as a differentiator.

I would say that the reality is how they believe they treat their customers is not how their customers feel like they’ve been treated and that there is an essential mismatch between what they think they are delivering against what we think we’re getting.  Just because people aren’t complaining, it doesn’t mean they aren’t happy:

For every one customer that complains, there are 26 who don’t (Lee Resource Inc.).

That means there are 26 customers you don’t know about who will go elsewhere because they perceive they have had poor customer service. That’s quite scary isn’t it?

Convinced yet?

So, let’s look at bad vs good examples on the journey through customer service

1. Ease of contact

In another Forrester report – 79% of people would prefer to use the telephone as their communication method of talking to an organization. This is far and away, the most popular method of contact. So customer call centres are here to stay!

So why is it so hard to call these companies?
There are many culprits here. Some don’t even have a phone number for you to contact them:

Skype are one such organisation – you have to go and use their forums to find an issue. And then make it almost impossible to post a query.

Sony (who may appear a few times in my bad examples, being as they are the most recent organisation to upset me) make you wade through several pages of their website and want you to put things like your product serial code in before you eventually get to a page where there is a number. Even then it’s not terribly clear if it’s the right number.This organisation apparently has a high NPS – how did that happen?
Vodafone – a telecoms company right? I’ve just gone onto their website to try and call them. It’s six clicks to get to a phone number.

There are of course some good examples out there. Those websites where the telephone number is on every page of the website and easily found.

Having said that, I’m actually having a bit of difficulty trying to track any down – certainly not in the large corporations. Bear with as I try and find some…

If you google Sky customer service – You can get to a telephone number in two clicks once you get to their website.

EDF – offers a live chat from their Help Centre page (which is where you go to if you type in EDF customer service) and a telephone number after a couple more clicks. Interestingly enough though, the sales numbers are shown before the customer numbers which you have to scroll down to reach.

Barclaycard win!
If you put in Barclaycard customer service this comes up on Google even before you’ve had to go to their website.  I’m impressed with that.Barclaycard customer service number

Three top tips for ease of contact

  • Have an easily accessible customer service number – if it’s not going to be on your home page, make it easy to find from wherever your customer is on your website
  • Don’t make it an 0845 or other premium rate telephone number – why should we have to pay for the pleasure of having our queries dealt with?
  • Do not try and fob your customers off with an FAQ section. I’m not saying don’t have one – a good FAQ section is very useful – as long as it’s easy to search and get the answer you’re after. But there is nothing more frustrating than trying to find an answer before you’re allowed to contact an organisation. And worse still, after you’ve typed in that the FAQs haven’t answered your question, there’s a final double check from them ‘Are you sure you haven’t found the answer in our FAQs?’ before you’re allowed to submit.

2. Having found a number

We dial the number, only to be faced with a barrage of options. Very few will offer, at this stage, an option of speaking to a human being. What’s more frustrating is if you go down the wrong decision tree of options and end up in a cul de sac from which there is no return. They may want something from you which you don’t have and all you get is ‘That is not the correct response, please re-enter your customer number/Invoice id/starsign of the CEO/whatever else it is that you couldn’t possibly know the answer to’ with no other alternative. Then you are disconnected or you have to hang up and start again with a different route.

Three top tips for ease of contact

  • Depending on your business, do not have an automated system, allow your customers to go straight through to a person. Beauty clinics and hairdressers come firmly into this category for example
  • Always ensure there is an option to speak to someone at every stage of the options
  • If you need the customer to put in a code or reference and they don’t have it, or they do it wrong, the default should be they get put through to a person
    And a bonus fourth:
  • If you offer a call back service. Make sure you call back within the service level time you have told the customer you will call them. Sony never bothered to call me back.

3. On-line chats as an alternative
These can be very useful if you have a quick query, or you want a log of your interaction with an organisation. I have used them to great effect to cancel policies or to get a refund (big hand to Norton for dealing with me so well – no fuss, no bother, a straightforward refund with no quibble).
But these can be managed badly too.
– If the service is offered, but you can’t get anyone to reply to you.
I was working with one client and their customer support staff had to manage four chats at a time. Which caused all sorts of problems as the product they were supporting was very technical. They would leave customers waiting – I saw screens full of ‘hello, hello’ and ‘is anyone there?’ , or they may respond with an answer that was for a different customer or even simply hang up on them. It was pretty poor!

Three top tips for ease of contact

  • If you’re going to offer on-line chat, ensure there is someone to manage the chats for the hours you say you offer the service for. There is nothing more frustrating than being told there is no service currently available.
  • Ensure your staff only deal with an appropriate number of customers at the same time. If it’s a technical service or product, then giving them four to manage is probably excessive.
  • Ensure your staff have the authority and access to the right systems to carry out the kinds of transactions that your customers may want to do, such as getting a refund, or wanting to know when a particular product is going to be in stock.
  1. Yay – you’re finally through to a human being!

But are you through to the right person?  How many times do you get pushed from pillar to post with no-one taking responsibility for dealing with your issue or query whilst your blood pressure and irritation levels steadily rise?

Vodafone used to be very good at this. I got passed round four people to whom I had to explain the issue each time, only to be passed on and eventually got passed back to the first person I spoke to with the issue still unresolved. Repeat the process…

The four biggest complaints customers have about call centres are rudeness, buck passing, taking too long to resolve an issue and being shoved around from one rep to another (American Express Global Customer Service Barometer survey, 2012). And 93% of the 1000 customers they surveyed believed that companies fail to achieve their customer service expectations.

As I mentioned above, Norton were excellent when I contacted them (admittedly by on-line chat). The lady I ‘spoke’ with, grasped my issue quickly, dealt with me politely, was able to issue me a refund and the whole process was over and done within five minutes.  I was suspicious. Could I really have resolved a matter that I suspected was going to take a lot of effort to sort out in five minutes flat? Wonderfully, yes.  But isn’t it a sad indictment of customer service that I was wary of when it went well?

Sony could learn a lot from them.

Where most companies fail is in the lack of empowerment of their frontline staff. They are stuck in a process from which they cannot deviate, pass go or collect £200. So unless they have an answer that’s on their list of things they can do and say, you’re in trouble.  And then the most infuriating thing of all – they will not pass you on to their manager.  ‘It’s not possible’, or ‘the manager is busy now’, or ‘if I can take your details, I will get them to call you back’.  I think it’s appalling that management hide behind the frontline staff who have to bear the brunt of their customers’ ire and yet are not given the tools to deal effectively with their customers.

And more often than not, the manager doesn’t call back. And if they do call back, quite often, they too are unable to take any responsibility to deal with the issue.

Top tips for dealing with your customers

  • Employ people who like talking to people and who understand the issues your customers face (having empathy)
  • Train your staff so they are able to fully understand your products and services and what your policies and processes are.
  • Give your staff access to sufficient information that they don’t have to pass your customers on to other departments, or if they do need to get information from elsewhere, they continue to deal with the customer and don’t pass them on to some new person
  • Empower your staff. Give them discretionary powers to perform certain actions (within guidelines of course). Allow them to delight their customers from time to time – there is a wonderful example of someone ordering and paying for a taxi for a customer who was having a spectacularly awful morning and needed to be somewhere urgently
  • Have a proper escalation process which enables your customer to be passed up the line if they are unable to sort out an issue at a lower level. Have that process documented and listed on your website, so people know how to complain.

In summary – Good customer service is not rocket science.

The saying ‘treat others how you would wish to be treated’ sums up good customer service to me.

  • Help customers to contact you – put details clearly on your website or paperwork
  • If you need an automated system, make sure there is a way to speak to a human easily.
  • Be responsive
  • Be nice to your customers
  • If you say you’re going to call them back, do so.
  • If they send an email request in, don’t take five days to get back to them.
  • Help them out if it’s clear you have let them down in some way, or even if they have made a mistake. They’ll love you even more if you help them out of their own errors.
  • Encourage your staff to walk in your customers’ shoes – get a bit of empathy going
  • Empower your staff to be able to deal with the customers
  • Find small ways to delight your customers
  • If someone complains, help them, don’t obstruct them
  • Learn from your customers – ask if there’s anything you could do better

All of which will result in far happier customers, who are more likely to buy more from you and tell their friends how wonderful you are. And it will definitely differentiate you from your competitors.

And the downsides of not treating your customers well? Also not rocket science. You will lose them and they will tell lots of other people too.

Want help improving how you manage your customers/clients – email me:



How to sell the way your customers want to buy

One of the key questions we ask our clients when we work with them is ‘ What business are you in?’  Most people will tell us they are the thing they sell, so for example, this week, I had ‘a financial adviser’, ‘an events planner’, ‘an accountant’, and ‘a sales trainer’.

But is that really what the customer is buying? The customer using the financial adviser may be looking for help to ensure they can retire with no money worries, or the customer using the events planner may be trying to organise a surprise 50th birthday party so will be looking for a memorable experience.

When you buy a drill, you aren’t buying it because it’s a drill, you’re getting it to make holes in order to hang up pictures or put up shelves.

At The Chameleon Guide we work hard with our clients trying to get to what it is their customers are buying off them because this will affect the marketing messages they use.

But not only is it important to understand why they are buying off you, your other challenge is to find out how your customers like to be sold to, and where they can be found for you to get them to buy your product or service.

Percentage of customers who will buy from us

In order to find out these things – you need to talk to your customers (see my previous blog on the importance of communicating with and keeping your existing customers).

In my quest for understanding how best to communicate with customers, I came across a book by Kristin Zhivago called ‘Roadmap to Revenue – How to sell the way your customers want to buy’.

It’s split into three parts

– Discover – Finding out about your customers
– Debate – Analysing  and discussing what you’ve learned to come up with a list of priority activities that are most important to your customer
– Deploy – Work on the delivering the action plans you came up with in the Debate section

I’m going to briefly cover off the ‘Discover’ bit – the finding out about your customers.

Kristin recommends an in-depth interview process – here are the top tips summarised:

  1. Identify the customers you want to interview
    Your top customers are a clear option, but if you can do more, so much the better. If you have multiple channels or services, try and get a good range across all the different areas.
  2. Email requesting the interview
    The email needs to be either come from the top or be shown to be endorsed by the owner/CEO/MD i.e. this is an edict that has come from the top.
  3. Interview process
    a. Only do phone interviews – you will get much more information from people as they aren’t being put on the spot by you facing them
    b. Record the phone interviews – this allows you to concentrate on the call totally
    But still take notes
    c. Confidentiality – let the customer/client know it’s completely confidential. This must be followed through even after the process and someone internal thinks they know who an interview belongs to. Do not let on as to who it is.
    d. CEO/Owner led calls – It’s highly recommended that the owner/CEO does the first five interviews as this will really give you a feel for how your customers/clients are feeling. You may end up wanting to do them all! After that, it’s better, if possible, to get an external agency to do the calls, but you may not have that luxury.
  4. Handling customer/client complaints
    If the customer complains at all, do not try to tell him/her how things have improved. Acknowledge the issue and thank them for their honesty and that it’s really helpful information to know.
    Do not get defensive – this will put the customer off and make them less inclined to share honest information with you.

She suggests a structure for the questions which are deliberately written in such a way as to get the best from your customer/client. These questions are far more focussed on understanding how the experience was for the customer – you will get far more valuable information this way. And they will feel much more valued rather than you asking if they’d write a testimonial. Come back to that a later stage after you’ve interviewed them if they’ve been particularly glowing – but do not ask them in the interview because you’re back to ‘what’s in it for me’ rather than what’s in it for them..

If you have any key suppliers or partners, it may be worth interviewing them as well.

The information you get from the interviews will inform all aspects of your selling, from customer service, to the website to the information you give customers etc.

The questions are very customer-centric and you may well get resistance internally, particularly from sales people who always want to ask more direct questions about getting more business or shy away from asking the hard questions. Resist them! Her structure really works. One of my clients used the technique and got some tremendous feedback from his clients, including some more business.

Questions include:

  • What do you think of our service?
  • Have you had any interaction with our staff? How was it?
  • If you were John Bloggs (the CEO) tomorrow, what’s the first thing you would focus on?
  • What problem(s) were you trying to solve by using our service?
  • How did our service help you solve your problem?

There are a total of 12 and they are all based on open ended questions which may well result in sub questions being asked hence why the interview can take in excess of an hour to complete.

If you’d like a sample of the questions with tips and template emails to send out, let me know and I’ll email it to you (

Clearly, once you’ve done all the interviews, you need to do something with it!

This is the Debate phase of the book, where you analyse the information in-depth and report it back to the management team.  Essentially, you will be identifying and prioritising the results in terms of what you need to focus on. This could be very broad ranging, from your website, through to how you sell and to how you manage your customer service. The book covers off how to manage this process in great depth before going on to the final phase of Deployment (actually implementing the changes). It’s rather less easy to summarise here, so I recommend the book – ‘Roadmap to Revenue – How to sell the way your customers want to buy‘ * if you are keen to follow the process through as she describes it.

What she proposes, is not a quick solution unlike Net Promoter Score. It requires a lot more effort, planning and commitment of the organisation, but is very powerful and will help you map how to match your customers’ buying process so they buy more from you. Resulting in happy customers and happy you.

For more information on how to grow your business email me –

* I get no commission from book sales

One really simple way of knowing how loyal your customers are using Net Promoter Score

Do you know how loyal your customers are to you?

In my last blog , I talked about the importance of talking to your customers and how to implement an account management strategy for your top ten customers.

This week’s blog is going to look at another aspect of engaging with your customers through customer feedback, in particular using the Net Promoter Score to assess the loyalty of your customers.

There are three types of customer feedback you can actively use:

  1. Net Promoter Score
  2. In-depth interviewing of your key customers (different from the key account conversation you have with them)
  3. More general customer feedback that you can get from all your customers.

I will cover the latter two in future blogs.

You will also get passive customer feedback for example from your sales team or front-line customer service staff and you should encourage your staff to let you know about any issues, suggestions or complaints.

Customer feedback

When I was the marketing director of a software testing consultancy, I used to have a running battle with our sales people as I was very keen on getting feedback from our customers. Not only about what they thought we did well, but where they thought we could improve.  This horrified the sales team – why on earth would I want to go looking for bad news stories?

My argument was that surely you want to find out the bad stuff before it’s too late and whilst you can still do something about it?

‘Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning’ – Bill Gates

 Customer feedback cartoon 1

I am terribly unBritish and don’t hesitate to complain if I feel I have been let down by an organisation. How that company treats my complaint directly affects whether or not I will use them again.  The ones that hold their hands up immediately and admit they have failed me and do something positive to turn the situation around get my undying devotion, or at the very least, they get to keep me as a customer. A complaint can be turned to your advantage. As long as you deal with it promptly and correctly.

But I’d far rather not complain in the first place or to have the issue dealt with before it blew up leaving me exhausted and enraged with trying to get someone/anyone to listen to me.

Sometimes an apology is all it takes.

Getting new customers is expensive!

Last week I shared the fact that it costs six to seven times more to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.

The benefits of keeping a customer far outweigh trying to find new ones all the time;

  • They are less sensitive to price changes
  • They are less likely to move to a competitor
  • They are much more likely to continue spending with you
  • And of course they are more likely to refer you to others (thus reducing your marketing spend as this is a zero cost activity)

So we should be spending more effort on talking to our customers. Getting feedback from your customers is one way to help you achieve this.

Using the Net Promoter Score

This is the new buzz measure. It’s a way of measuring your customers’ loyalty. This is believed to be a more important measure than customer satisfaction as a way of establishing if a customer is likely to buy from you again.

Here are the four steps you need to take:

  1. You ask one simple question:

How likely is it that you will recommend us to a friend or colleague? 

  And asking them to give a score from 0 to 10 where 0 is extremely unlikely/never and 10 is extremely likely.

The scores are divided into three broad categories

Promoters – those who score 9 or 10. They are highly likely to be loyal customers who will continue using you and refer you to others

Passives – those who score 7 or 8. They are satisfied customers, but who are likely to shop around and can be switched to your competitors.

Detractors – those who score 0-6. These are your unhappy customers and who are likely to complain either to you or to their friends and have the potential to damage your brand resulting in a negative impact on your growth.

You collect the data over a month asking all customers that one question.

  1. Calculate your NPS

In order to calculate the score, you ignore the scores of the Passives and then simply take away the percentage of the Detractors from the percentage of the Promoters giving you’re your Net Promoter Score or NPS.

Example NPS

Promoter score – 25%

Detractor score – 5%

Net promoter score is 25-5 = 20

The average industry score is 15 so that would be  your benchmark and obviously you want it to be higher than that. Apple has a truly remarkable NPS of 72!

  1. Regularly collect the information

This not a one off exercise, this is an on-going activity to enable you to track the trends to see if you are improving or worsening month on month. Each month you gather the data and work out the NPS. If you can get this question on-line, then it should be a simple task of working it out with some technical wizardy.

  1. Track the score

It’s a very easy metric to track graphically and to share with your staff. And you can use it to assess any change in practice to see if it is having a positive impact on your customers. Here’s a hypothetical one:

NPS graph

And of course there is a step 5 – which is to take action if the trend starts a downward decline (and celebrate if it continues to increase month on month).

So, with this measure, you are looking for the trend (in hopefully an upward trajectory).

It’s a measure that is increasingly asked of businesses up for sale so it’s good to have built up some history to show.

It’s by no means a perfect measure and there are those who would argue it’s not the be all and end all measure that its proponents claim.

And you will use the feedback from the NPS in conjunction with other feedback you are getting so hopefully you will be getting a holistic view of how your customers perceive you.

Nonetheless, it is a simple to implement measure that certainly gives you a good idea as to a pattern of how you are perceived by your customers and one that can be used to good effect internally with your staff.

If you want to know more about how to build your relationships with your customers, please drop me an email –







Do you know how much more business you could get from your customers?

I’m sorry if that sounds quite a mercenary question, but it’s meant with the best intentions. Not only for you and your business, but also, and as importantly, for your customers.

The cost of getting new customers

In business, we spend a lot of effort and money trying to get new customers, sales people are rewarded for bringing new customers into the business and probably the largest proportion of our marketing spend goes on trying to acquire new business rather than keeping the customers we’ve got, let alone thinking about how to grow our business with these customers.

We’ve seen all the great introductory offers banks give. To new customers. How annoying is that? When we’ve been loyal to them, it feels like they think they’ve done their job getting us on board, complacency sets in and they’re off to find new shiny things.

But if we look at the statistics, maybe we should start taking a bit more notice of our customers.

It costs six to seven times as much to gain a new customer than it does to keep one.

And 68% of people will leave a supplier based on the treatment they receive compared with ‘only’ 14% who will leave due to dissatisfaction with the product or service.  How we treat our customers is nearly five times more important to them than the actual thing they came to us to buy in the first place.


Many a (un)happy hour can be spent regaling our friends with the horror stories of our customer care nightmares.  Over the years I have sent quite a few rather more than scathing letters to CEOs of various organisations in utter frustration with the, what feels like, obstructive inaction of their staff.  Who I assume are mostly bound by process and procedure resulting in the ‘computer says no’ response.

A classic this week ‘But Ms Espley, I don’t want to go the refund route because the process for refunding your item (a Sony Vaio laptop. Oh, I’ve finally gone public on them!) is very long winded, time consuming and complex’. Only because they make it so. This is after nine months of having a malfunctioning laptop that has had more factory resets than I’ve had hot breakfasts, a cursor that jumps erratically, and a range of other ‘features’ that renders it useless as a laptop. It’s been back to them once and returned in a worse state than when I sent it to them. And they still didn’t want to give me a refund.  As I tried to explain to the brick wall that was the customer relations manager (who called in response to one of my aforementioned scathing missives to the CEO), that if they’d just given me a refund, or a new laptop months ago when the issues arose, I’d be singing their praises from the rafters. As it is, a) I shall never use Sony again and b) you now all know about it!  *

The downside of poor customer service

And that is the other downside of poor customer service; we tell others and in this world of rampant social media, it’s a dangerous thing indeed to upset too many of your customers.

The plus side of this, is that if you keep your customers happy, then not only will they buy more from you, but they tell their friends too. And that suddenly wonderful social media plays a big part in that.

  • The statistics vary, but around 80% of people will read reviews which will affect their likelihood of using a particular supplier.  And it’s an inverse rule – you can read ten great reviews and then read one poor one, and you will seriously consider not using that supplier, unless that 11th review was obviously written by a fruit loop with a bee in his bonnet.  When I was on my midlife crisis walkabout in 2013, I religiously used Trip Advisor to help me work out which the best campsites were and what tourist attractions I should spend my precious money on.

I have digressed somewhat from the original purpose of the article, but I’m back on target now and which brings me back to my original question.

If it costs six times as much to acquire a new customer, why on earth are we not spending a lot more money on keeping and delighting our existing customers?   Particularly in the world of B2B where hopefully there is the potential for recurring revenue.

Be nice to your existing customers

At The Chameleon Guide, we are big on looking at existing customers. It can make a massive difference to your business.  One of our clients, the owner of a training company, went to talk to his top ten customers – not to ask for more business, but to ask them about their business and what their plans were. As a consequence of those conversations his customers realised he had a much larger range of training courses than they had thought and which business they had been giving to his competitors. They liked him and what his company did and gave him the additional work resulting in him doubling his revenue. And that was just from his top ten customers.

As Dale Carnegie so succinctly put it ‘the only way on earth to influence the other fellow is to talk about what he wants and then show him how to get it.’ Get your customers to do the talking.

How to engage your customers

There are a number of things you can do to make your customers feel loved.

  1. Talk to your customers as part of an annual review process/account management
  2. Getting customer feedback
  3. Have an on-going dialogue with them
  4. Loyalty schemes

As this blog is in danger of becoming a book, I’m going to cover the first one here and then write more on the other three areas in my next blog.

Talking to your customers

‘Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers’ ~Ross Perot

This is really aimed at the B2B market, though there may be some useful tips for those selling to consumers, particularly if what you sell is a high cost item, or it is a recurring sale e.g. printer cartridges and there is the opportunity to expand your product range with them.

How often do you talk to your customers?  Or once you’ve got a customer, do you too forget them in your hunt to get new customers?

How many businesses know in-depth what their customers need and want and who they use to satisfy those requirements?

Do you know who your top ten customers are?

Pareto’s principle states you will get 80% of your business from 20% of your customers. We recommend you look at your top ten customers as a starting point. The ones who generate you the most revenue and/or profit.  Focus your attention on them.

Implement a plan for meeting them. Be clear on your objectives when meeting them. Be clear to your customers when you contact them, why you are contacting them.  If it’s the first time you’ve done this, you could perhaps let them know that as a key customer, you are instigating an account management programme of regular meetings to ensure they are getting what they need from you.

The sorts of questions you may like to ask are:

  • What are their strategic goals and plans for the future?
  • What are market conditions like for them at the moment/the foreseeable future?
  • What opportunities and challenges do they have?
  • Are they using your competitors for anything?  And if so what do they supply or deliver that you can’t do (or they perceive you can’t do).
  • Is there anything you should be doing differently, or are there products or services they need that they haven’t found a supplier for yet, or that aren’t being delivered to their requirements?

If you identify any opportunities or challenges that you can support them with, summarise what you’ve identified and ask if you can share with them ways in which you may be able to help. Or if your competitors are supplying services that you too could provide (that maybe the customer doesn’t know you do), then you will hopefully be able to share that with them.   Or it may be that you have some information or other contacts that will be beneficial to your customer. This may not immediately impact on your business, but it’s all part of supporting your customer to be as successful as possible.

The benefits of talking to your customers are:

– Your customer will feel loved – who doesn’t like to be asked their opinion and it shows you are genuinely interested and want to help.
– You will get some valuable market information, be it about market conditions, new innovations or your competitors
– You are more likely to retain the customer
– You may get more business out of your customer
– They may start referring you to others
– They may be prepared to let you use them as a case study/write you a testimonial

If you offer to supply information or put them in contact with other people, then it’s really important that you do so as soon after the meeting as possible. It’s always a great idea to follow up your meeting with an email thanking them for their time and summarising the meeting along with any other follow up actions.

‘In the world of Internet Customer Service, it’s important to remember your competitor is only one mouse click away.’ ~ Doug Warner

 If you have any tips on how to engage with your customers, I’d love to hear from you.

* Re my laptop – I won the battle with the brick wall eventually – a refund should be winging its way to me in the next two weeks…

Five good reasons why self-employed business women shouldn’t undersell themselves

Did you know that from 4th November 2014, women were effectively working for free compared with their male counterparts?

It is 40 years since the Equal Pay Act and yet women working full-time in the UK are still paid on average 15.5% less per hour than men, according to a women’s rights campaign group, the Fawcett Society.

Actress Emma Arterton outside the Houses of Parliament with the original Made in Dagenham ladies whose strike action in 1968 forced the introduction of the Equal Pay Act (picture courtesy of Grazia Magazine)

Actress Emma Arterton outside the Houses of Parliament with the original Made in Dagenham ladies whose strike action in 1968 forced the introduction of the Equal Pay Act
(picture courtesy of Grazia Magazine)

But there has been some good news. Due to lobbying from the likes of Grazia magazine’s ‘Mind the Pay Gap’ campaign and Labour MP, Sarah Champion, proposing that section 78 of the Equal Pay act should be enforced requiring that companies with over 250 employees be forced to publish details of any gender pay gaps.  It won, passing by 258 votes to eight.  It still has to go through its second reading in Parliament in February, but hopefully there shouldn’t be anything standing in the way of it being ratified with such an overwhelming vote in favour.

Will anything change?

I find it somewhat depressing that there is still a gender gap in salaries and that government has to enforce transparency to try and put the spotlight on companies to change their pay policies.  Of course publishing the rates is not the same as then equalising them, but it’s a start. And at least it now gives women the option of voting with their feet and finding companies that do pay fairly.

Let’s hope that there is sufficient support put in place to either help women lobby for the same pay as their equivalent male counterparts without being deemed trouble makers. And I think that’s a big risk.  When I worked for a large insurance company in the 90s, I was the first female manager to be employed at that grade. Which was a shock in itself. I’ve never had the misfortune to work at such a sexist organisation and I could quite easily had a case against them. The sexism was endemic, from the staff who worked in the canteen through the board appointed directors.  One day I was talking to the HR lady who happened to have her screen facing me and I could see the salary figures for me and my fellow male managers. Astoundingly, I was paid over £4,000 less a year. I was staggered.  But I felt could do nothing about it. Neither that nor the terribly sexist way I was treated. Not without sounding like some hairy armpitted, rabidly left wing, soap box thumping lunatic.  I did try – I talked to my director (not about the money though) who blustered a lot, but nothing changed.  Thankfully, I was head hunted and moved on swiftly within a year.

So I fear that it will be difficult to make the changes without further struggle.  But struggle we must.  I firmly believe that you should be paid an equivalent and appropriate salary irrespective of your gender, religion, sexual orientation etc. if you are doing the same job as someone else.

Right, I am going to get off my soap box now!

What does this mean for self-employed business women?

As a self-employed person, running my own business, these rules don’t apply to me, but it got me to thinking about what women who run their own businesses charge for their services compared with men to see if there are any parallels.

And in my limited observation, it seems that there are a large number of women who undercharge for their services.  Here are some examples from my experience:

A website offering PR/Social media services. ‘A’ was offering an advertising slot, plus one hour meeting, regular shout outs on Facebook and Twitter, for £10 a year!!! At the time, other sites were charging £30 a month for a lesser service. Thankfully prices have now gone up to a more realistic level, but her basic package is still £150 a year, which is still quite frankly a bargain considering  how much work she does for them and how much traffic the site now gets.

A coaching company – ‘B’ is offering a monthly telemarketing workshop, monthly accountability emails, a one to one and access to information and other resources for £10 a month for six months. It then goes up to £27 a month. But still, that’s a lot of stuff for not very much money.

I had a paid meeting with ‘C’ with me that took over three hours and she’d also spent probably the best part of another three hours preparing for the meeting.  I knew, from a colleague, what she should have charged (£90), but at the end of the session when I said I need to pay her she suggested £45. That’s £7.50 per hour, barely above the minimum wage for skilled and expert advice. Cleaners charge £10-15 per hour! I insisted on paying her the full £90 and had stern words with her for undervaluing herself.

Whilst in all cases, the charges were almost secondary to a strong altruistic feeling of wanting to support others and this is to be applauded, I strongly believe this insistence on undercharging is bad for a number of reasons:

  1. Expertise
    It undermines your expertise and value and says, my skills are not worth more than this. Subtext could be read as – actually I’m not very good at this which is why I have to charge so little.
    You are good at what you do, so why not charge what your skills, experience and training are truly worth? If you don’t know, do some research or speak to someone who knows. If you are just starting out, it’s fine to undercut your competitors, a little, to counteract your lack of experience. But do not get into a price war, you’ll get business from people who are more interested in saving money/getting something for free or cheap rather than what you are actually selling them. And they are invariably very demanding and don’t believe they are getting value.
  2. Self respect
    It says I don’t really believe in or respect myself enough to charge properly. There’s far too much apologising for stating your charges. ‘I’m afraid it’s going to be £x’. Don’t be afraid – if you don’t believe in your rates, no-one else will. If you want to give your time away free – do it in a restricted manner. Set yourself a limit of either number of complimentary sessions you will do a month, or decide you will work pro bono for one organisation, but no more. Believe, L’Oreal style, that you’re worth it!
  3. Not a long term strategy
    It can’t work long term – you cannot make a living out of some of the rates I have seen women charge even if they are trial offerings. Which is fine if you have a partner and it’s a lifestyle type job, or you can rely on government support to top up the earnings. But if you are looking to grow your business, to get investment, take others on, or even franchise your business, it needs to make money to make it attractive to others. And even if it’s a social enterprise, then surely you want to make good money in order to be able to reinvest it back into the business to maximise the good you do? Remind yourself of why you got into the business in the first place. Even if you don’t have great expectations about what you may earn, I always feel a good rule of thumb is, what would someone being employed to do this work get paid and that should be your minimum standard.
  4. Market rates
    It makes it difficult for others to charge a proper market rate for their skills and forces prices down (not always a good thing!). And if you are grossly undercharging, then it says you’re not even in the same business. Unless you have a real market advantage of being able to sell large volumes at a very low price to make your margins. But unless you are someone like Asda, this is tricky to do and not sustainable. See point 1 above – do your research.
  5. It is counterproductive
    I’m always wary of ‘cheap’ deals. As Deborah Meaden once said on Dragons Den – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. So, the great offer may not generate the business you would hope for, because people don’t always trust cheap – unless you have a proven model.  Maybe as a loss leader, as an introduction to a service, like a trial period, possibly. But still, it should have an appropriate, close to market value.

I’m not suggesting you should price yourself at the top end of the market, or price yourself out of business, but I am asking you to honour yourselves and try to understand what your drivers are that make you feel you need to price your services as you do.

I’d love to hear your feedback – let me know what you think or any tips and hints to help develop a thriving business.

5 great on-line articles to help you get you started with social media for your business

I don’t know about you, but I find the whole world of social media a complex and confusing place. And therefore to be avoided at all costs.  Until recently, Facebook and LinkedIn have been the extent of my on-line presence. Yes, I know that makes me a troglodyte and I’ll be the first to hold my hands up and agree.

But that’s all had to change and I’ve had to dip my toes (actually, it was more a full body emersion) into this arcane and mysterious world.

These days, as a business, if you are looking for new clients, you have to extend your reach beyond good old fashioned marketing, networking and running free seminars.  And that means embracing social media in its various guises.

social media

Unfortunately this doesn’t mean writing one tweet a week, which I thought would be ample, or just posting the odd interesting article on LinkedIn. Oh no. A whole integrated approach is required that links a number of different on-line media together. In my case, I am starting the process using LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest and a blog. There will be video involved at some stage…
As I have my presence on the Business Doctors’ website, I have little influence over that, but for your own business, you will definitely need to include your website in the mix.

The idea being that information cross pollinates and you can use the same material in lots of different ways across each medium. It also means there are more ways to find you on t’internet.

What your mix will be will depend on your business – are you selling to consumers for example or to other businesses, and also what you are selling.

I was going to include some screen shots from the below presentation – in particular slides 9 and 11 which show respectively, the list of content marketing approaches used by organisations and the most popular social media sites used by marketeers – LinkedIn and Twitter being the most popular, but also includes Google +, Slideshare and Pinterest for example. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a decent resolution on them, so they were unreadable when I inserted them into the blog. It’s a very interesting presentation showing the trends in social media over the last 12 months. The full presentation can be seen here 

I have been very lucky and met the wonderful and inimitable Rob from Silverback Guerilla Productions .  He made me produce a social media strategy, which in itself was excellent as it made me clarify my target audience(s) and what messages I wanted to get out there.  His wizardry has included creating me an avatar and doing my tweets for me (four a day for four days of the week folks, not one a week as I so mistakenly thought). The consequence of his sorcery is that I now have in excess of 600 followers, in less than three weeks. This from a standing start of around 20 is incredible (have a look ). I can’t even begin to wonder at what spells he has woven to get that to happen. It is beyond my brain to comprehend. Not only does he do my tweets, but he monitors them to ensure I am following the influencers, amongst lots of other stuff he does for me.*

This is another key word; influencers! It’s all about trying to finding and connecting with the people who can help you promote your business.  Or getting involved in on-line groups (relevant to your business) and contributing to discussions or forums.

Very importantly it’s not about selling – it’s all about providing useful information for others so that they will promote you and broaden your reach and influence that way. It’s a slowly, slowly catchee monkey process and in the words of George Harrison – it’s going to take patience and time. I’m still in the early stages of building up my social media presence and I will be interested to see how it evolves over the next six months…I’ll keep you posted.

It really is very time consuming –I frequently get lost in cyber world rummaging around reading articles, commenting on forums, finding new infographics, looking at groups and so on. That’s where Rob is so helpful to me; he takes a lot of the slog out of it. He’d even write my blog if I asked him – he’s funnier than me, you may well prefer the idea!

And of course, you need to measure, measure, measure!  Make sure you analyse the success of the different channels. For example, which tweets are working and which aren’t and then tweaking what you do to encourage more of the good stuff.

Below are five links to content I’ve found useful. I’ve picked a couple of standard web articles, to a SharePoint presentation, video clip and infographic. I thought I’d better use a variety of different content types rather than just articles – I am, after all, trying to get with the programme:

  1. 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing:
  2. Winning On The Web: Seven small business social media success strategies:
  3. How Content Marketing Works:
  4. Infographic on social etiquette for the different sites –
  5. A fun video with some incredible facts about social media you ignore at your peril:

* No money has changed hands for this glowing testimonial!

I’d like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas and here’s to a successful 2015!

(Almost) Everything you need to know about business networking groups in Surrey

The thing with networking is you need to keep turning up, certainly if, like me, you are new to an area and wanting to get known.  Once you are established, you can cut back on spending your days driving to one networking group after another. The initial challenge is working out which ones to go to. If you’re like me networking is the lifeblood of your business and you may need to go to many.

I had great difficulty tracking down some groups when I first started looking in August (Google doesn’t throw them all up when you search for ‘networking in Surrey’) and only learned about some of them through talking to others at networking events (always a good icebreaker conversation asking about which networking groups people go to).

I thought it might be useful to share with you the business networking groups I have tried in the Surrey area (mostly Surrey Hills) – when they are, what happens at them and how much each one costs.

You could easily spend a fortune going to them all on a regular basis. And you’d never get anything done because you can networking from dawn (literally!) to dusk (and beyond).

When you first start, I would recommend trying out each group several times – most allow three visits before you have to commit to joining. Over time you will find the ones that work best for you and you can start to drop some of the others. I aim to go to between four and six a week, but I very much hope that within a year, I should be able to drop it down to two to three and then only go to the ones that really work for me or that I just like going to!

Below are the 12 groups I have been to over the last four months. I have decided not to critique them, as much as I would like to. This is because different people have very different opinions about the groups they go to and I don’t want to put people off/encourage people from certain groups. What works for me may not work for you.

There are plenty of other groups that I am still finding, but haven’t tried as yet. Please let me know if you’d like me to add any more to this table. If you let me have the information, I will happily include them in the table.

Have a marvelous weekend and see you next Friday.


Networking group Meeting frequency Structure of meeting Cost*
BoB (Business over Breakfast)National networking group

Fortnightly6.45am – 8.45 Freeform networking followed by breakfast, 60 second round, ten minute education section, referrals and thank-yous.Only one category of business per group Cost of breakfast – usually around £10Annual fees if you join –

Joining fee – £95

Annual fee – £295

BNINational networking group

WeeklyUsually morning slots – 6/6.30 am for two hours Freeform networking followed by breakfast, 60 second round, ten minute education section, referrals and thank-yousOnly one category of business per group.

You have to commit to going weekly. If you can’t make a meeting you have to send a sub in your place.  You are actively encouraged to refer business to other members of the chapter. You may only join one chapter, but can ‘sub’ at others.

Cost of breakfast – usually around £12Annual fees if you join

Joining fee – £125

Annual fee – £475

Get access to BNI Connect – international connection to all BNI members.

4NNational networking group

Fortnightly – vary from morning, lunch and evening groups.Breakfast 08:00 to 10:00
Lunch 12:00 to 14:00
Evening 18:00 to 20:00
Freeform networking, breakfast/lunch, 60 second round, choose three people to have a ten minute one to one with, 10 minute education slot.No restriction to types of business, so there could be more than one of your business there.

You can go to as many different meetings as you like, you aren’t restricted to one group.

Cost of meal – usually around £12-£15They operate a Passport scheme – so you pay £200 for 200 days.
You get extra days if you bring visitors or become involved in your group – there are many roles available.
Fabulous Women and Marvellous MenNational networking group

Surrey Groups are:







MonthlyMorning groups – start at a more reasonable time of 9.30 for two hours Free networking followed by breakfast, 60 second round, 10 minute education slot, get assigned another person to have a ten minute one to one with.No restriction to types of business, so there could be more than one of your business there.

You can go to as many different groups as you like.

Cost of meal£10 for members, £15 for non-members.

Annual membership – depends on type.

A full contributor membership costs £180 a year. You get access to the website to write blogs and post events and the opportunity to do a 10 minute talk at the groups. Standard membership giving you a mini profile on the site and member costs for each meeting at £100.

Prices are going up to

£250 contributor membership

£150 standard membership from January 2015

Women in BusinessNational networking group

Surrey Groups are:







Meet monthly – lunchtime groupWomen only group Free networking, lunch, 60 second slot, 10 minute education slot.Only one category of business per group Cost of lunch – £22 (but will vary depending on location)Annual membership cost – £220
Surrey Chamber of Commerce A whole variety of different events, from networking meetings through to workshops and lovely days out. Chamber meetings tend to be in the morning at 8-9.30am Freeform networking followed by breakfast, 60 second slot, 10 minute education slot.No restriction to types of business, so there could be more than one of your business there. Cost of breakfast – usually around £10Annual membership cost – depends on the number of employees.  Plan A for 0-6 employees costs £230 per annum

Get discounted rates for events and the ability to advertise your events on their site.

Leatherhead Chamber of Commerce A whole variety of different events, from networking meetings through to workshops and lovely days out. Chamber meetings tend to be in the morning at 8-9.30am Freeform networking, continental breakfast, followed by 60 second slot.No restriction to types of business, so there could be more than one of your business there. Cost of breakfast – usually around – £10Annual membership cost. Depends on number of employees you have. Starting price is £57 per annum.

Top tip!

If you join this Chamber you can get Surrey Chamber member prices for events.

Trusted Contacts – Dorking Weekly7am-9am Betchworth – Hartsfield Manor Hotel Freeform networking followed by, breakfast, 60 second slot, 10 minute education slot.Only one category of business per group Joining fee – £100Annual membership cost – £160

Monthly meal cost – £53

DRFC (Dorking Rugby Football Club) MonthlyWednesday evenings 6-8.30 Freeform networking followed by a talk from one of the attendees. Then you are given three table numbers and you move round each table every 10 minutes getting to talk to 3-4 other people. Cost – £15 per meetingIncludes one free drink and delicious canapes.
Breakfast Biscotti 

National network

Monthly – 9.30-11.30Hartsfield Manor Hotel, Betchworth Freeform networkingWith coffee, tea and biscuits Joining fee – £35 per annumOr £2.50 per meeting if you are not a member
Women in Business – SussexNot to be confused with WIBN – it’s a different group

A variety of meetings, from breakfasts and lunches through to evening events hosted by members Lunch networking meetings follow the usual form. It’s a sit down lunch with 60 second rounds and a ten minute talk from a member Joining fee – £80 per annum plus the cost of the events.
First Friday networkSouth East based network

Meet on the first Friday of the month!Also have a Second and Third Friday. Check out the website for dates and locations in your area. Free form networking. Free entry, no lock outs, no 60 seconds, no need to pre-book. Just turn up with your business cards Free, but you can pay £10 (plus VAT) to become a premier member on their website giving you more prominent positioning and the ability to post a blog.

* Joining fees exclude VAT