And All I Had To Do Was Ask
I've long known that I have valuable information and expertise that people want, yet for a long time I couldn't work out a way of consistently getting paid to deliver it.
When I first started in business, eager and energetic, I needed to grow and so I pitched for whatever work I could get. I accepted requests for help; I answered questions in detail and provided my expertise without question, all in the name of trying to generate some business. All this, I did with nothing more than an implied or an assumed reciprocation for me to benefit by delivering as asked.
Working for Free Was Futile
The thing was though, nearly all of that work was completely futile. Very few of those conversations converted into actual paying business, and those that did tended to be relatively low value and on unfavourable terms.
I'm not proud to admit that I blamed my despair on the people that were approaching me. It wasn't unusual for me to swear after hanging up the phone, or to rant and rave after receiving a particularly audacious email. Nor was it unusual for me to lapse into open conflict with particularly challenging "customers" that wanted my services for free.
My approach not only impacted my business success, but it also damaged my reputation (several Google reviews exist for posterity) and left me with a sullen and resentful demeanor that has impacted my relationships with my family and friends.
I'm Stubborn and Unfortunately Don't Yield Easily
A wiser or more mature person than me could have seen instantly that this approach was ineffective and unfair. Unfortunately for me, I'm stubborn and don't yield easily.
Studying transactional competence in November 2017 started me on the path to improving my conversion rate, it has helped me deliver real value to the people I do business with and has (gradually!) lightened my overall mood.
I started to appreciate that a business transaction does not have to be a quid pro quo trade, but a *series* of reciprocal exchanges that lead to a positive outcome for all involved. With this in mind, I began experimenting with different written and verbal exchanges that guide my conversations with potential vendors to a point where we could see if we wanted to move forward in a way we were both happy with.
The thing about my business is that people visit our office at any time during normal business hours; the phone rings throughout the working day and we get emails 24/7.
Step 1 - Actually Assess the Situation
In each of these situations, I began to operate on the assumption that the first stage of the transaction I needed to work through was assessment - do I have an accurate understanding of this potential customer's situation? Do I have an accurate understanding of what they believe is the solution to the problem they're facing?
One example might be when someone comes into my office and declares "I have some rare coins I'd like you to look at - where can we do this?"
Rather than simply accede to the request or bristle at it, the way I'd actually assess their situation might be to verbally recount my understanding of their situation and what I believe they want me to do - a very simple statement like: "It sounds like you've inherited a coin collection and you'd like to get a rough idea of what it might be worth."
Making a simple statement like this before I do anything else has proven to be useful many, many times for recalibrating a conversation from having one set direction and uncertain value to me to one that stands a good chance of working out for all involved.
Make no mistake, my initial assessment is not always accurate, so there can be some back and forth before a potential vendor lets me know we're on the same page.
Step 2 - Make an Invitation
Once we have a shared understanding of the situation, I've learned that my next task is to assure them I'm exactly the right person for the job and to plant a seed for real reciprocity in anything we might do together, through an invitation.
Once I know someone can benefit from my services, I often say something like: "I have the expertise and resources to identify and appraise any coin you might have, and I'm prepared to do that to a standard an independent expert would be satisfied with. I should say though, that I don't provide that service at the drop of a hat. Would you like to hear how I'm prepared to help you?"
Even with this water-buffaloesque approach, the rate at which I move an incoming lead to a scheduled appointment is incredibly high, it still amazes me that all I have to do to get the ball rolling is to be responsible for understanding the situation and ask if they'd like to hear how I can help.
There are times my understanding of their situation is not quite correct; there are times when I'm not the best person to help them and there are times when some leads aren't prepared to meet my terms, but thankfully for those around me, crafting a simple invitation has resolved a cloud of despair and resentment that had settled on me for so long.
Working with my counterparty's drive for a solution rather than being at the effect of it or trying to work around it has been fundamental to improving my business.
Potential vendors now often see me as a fundamental aspect of the solution they conceived, rather than a separate and threatening entity that has to be contended with.
An invitation is all good and well, but it requires a defined offer that can be presented. This next stage of a transaction has taken more practice and experimentation and has been just as important to what is now a productive and satisfying professional life.