CWB May 2002

Playing Like a Pro

Take steps to ensure that your company is taken seriously.

By Anthony Noel

There are hundreds of thousands of weekend warriors out there - erstwhile woodworkers whose "real" jobs have afforded them home workshops and whose less-than-wholehearted forays into the technical study of woodworking have nonetheless convinced them they know all there is to know about the trade (or enough, anyway, to scoff at the prices "real" pros charge).

"After all," they reason, "if I can learn to do this in my spare time, why the heck should I pay those kinds of prices just because that poor slob chose woodworking as his career?"

It's a real quandary in our profession. Almost anybody can open a woodworking business, so the only guys who get respect are those whose names are widely known (we mentioned Norm Abrams last month), or woodworking businesses with hard-won reputations for excellence. Making matters worse are the "poor slobs" who never seem to learn that they could join the ranks of the respected if they would just stop doing business like "poor slobs" and start conducting themselves like professionals instead.

So, herewith, some thoughts, specific approaches and behaviors that will eventually lead you to a clientele which is more than happy to pay you what your work is worth - and then some. I can't pretend this is entirely new ground I'm covering; I have talked about the importance of taking a serious approach in the past. But inevitably, a few months or years later, I see something or hear a story that again reminds me of the importance of taking a professional approach, if we are to have any real hope that customers will take us seriously.

Punctuality

Let's start right at the beginning. If you have an appointment to meet with a customer, or they have one to meet with you, nothing gets the relationship off on the wrong foot as quickly as having to wait around for somebody to show up.

If we are talking about you showing up at the customer's home or business, five minutes late is pushing it. There is no "fashionably late" in business. Assign the same importance to punctuality for appointments as you would for a job interview, because that's exactly what it is, if you think about it. Do what you must to be early, and if you have to wait in the parking lot for five or 10 minutes, that's immeasurably better than running in flustered and hurried, neither of which are desirable tones for a business meeting, nor images for a professional to project.

If, on the other hand, it is the customer who shows up late at your office, you can grant a bit more leeway. But ONLY a bit. Nobody is advocating jumping down this potentially inconsiderate customer's throat for showing up, say, 15 minutes late. However, there are subtle ways to let the customer know that you know they are late. It can be as simple as saying, "I was getting a little concerned that my directions weren't clear," or "Did you have trouble finding the place?"

Lest you think I'm advocating guilt-tripping the customer right back out of your office, let me assure you I'm not. But a gentle indication that you are aware of their tardiness will often go a long way in reminding them to be more considerate in the future. Not only that; it affirms for the customer their importance to you - they were late, and you noticed.

Vocabulary

I think there are two basic kinds of words: Words that are appropriate for a given situation and words that are not. Let's face it, many of us use an entirely different vocabulary when we are talking with friends or coworkers than we do when talking with customers. At least, hopefully we do.

Our goal in talking with customers is to convey the benefits of working with us, whether we are talking in a general way or describing very specific details of a design or service or invoice. We don't need to use "twenty-dollar" words to do this. The simpler we keep our discourse, the easier it is to grasp. But we do need to edit out those, shall we say, "colorful" words which are more apt for the shop environment than an office or sales environment.

Remember, there's only one person who can expertly toss around that kind of language as part of his job and get away with it: George Carlin. And trust me, you're no George Carlin.

Presentation

There are many ways we present ourselves in business. Everything, from the cleanliness of our shop and office to our personal appearance and hygiene, plays a role in the image we project and how customers perceive our ability to get the job done.

Do you project an air of confidence and a strong knowledge of your trade? Do you look your prospect in the eye and answer his or her questions with candid, reasoned replies? Do you have a rehearsed, yet fresh-sounding, sales presentation that you can recite whenever the opportunity presents itself?

Are you proud to show off your shop or office, regardless of the age or quality of your equipment? (Remember: It is not the equipment that produces fine work; it is the ability of the operator to coax fine work from it.)

Are you proud of what you do? Is that pride reflected in the way you carry yourself? Do you sit slumped or reclined at a conference table, or does your posture, attentiveness, and willingness to discuss any and every aspect of a prospect's project come through?

You already know the correct answers to each of these questions. The bigger question is this: If you are not doing these things, are you willing to; and if not, do you really think you are in the right business?

Next month, we will look at accountability - yours as well as your customers'.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.