Here’s how to find success in business no matter what business you are in

After running my company, Mid-Hudson Marketing, for 35 years, I’ve come to realize some truths about what drives business success. No matter what business you are in, if you give customers what they want, customers will be happy. And satisfied customers come back. They also refer other customers to you.

Well, you would think that in a marketing business, a client would come to me to do business with them. But ironically, when a client comes to me for marketing services, there’s a lot more to what the client wants than meets the eye. Customers need people they trust. Customers need friends. Clients need reliable helpers to do things they cannot do themselves and to do them well. Customers need reliable business partners that they can rely on for help and advice in times of need. Customers need all of this, but don’t want to be overwhelmed. And customers need those things exactly when they need them, right at the moment they ask for them, without having to wait their turn. After all, customers are busy people who have many important jobs to do, including the success of their own business. It’s a rare client who realizes that you and he or she have this in common.

No, by definition, customers are usually quite selfish and only have their own interests in mind. When they call you, they need you. Otherwise don’t call. Of course, in the current economic climate, getting a call from a customer in need should be considered a blessing if you’re running a business. This is your bread and butter. And besides, they can be excused from their myopic point of view because they pay you to help them. Not the other way around.

Don’t worry that they may be preventing you from meeting the needs of other important customers whose calls may have come first. It’s an exercise in tact and diplomacy, providing you with the right words to meet the demands of all customers within the allotted time. No single customer wants to be told that they have to wait and all deserve your best efforts to deliver what they expect of you.

Luckily, the laws of probability scatter these calls rather randomly, so you’re not overwhelmed by immediate urgency that’s impossible to meet. And in a business like marketing, there are a variety of different tasks that clients may need, all of which require different skills, time allocations, and expectations of completion.

And of course, not all projects come in as phone calls. Many come in today’s world as email. But in any case, an immediate response is the number one measure for you as a business owner to provide the solution everyone is looking for. I find that most customers just want to know that you care about them and that you are grateful for their call and that you intend to address their inquiries immediately. This is usually accomplished through an immediate callback or email response acknowledging receipt of the message and how you intend to meet the requirements. I also always promise to confirm when the job is complete. This reduces my stress level for the time being because the immediacy of the demand is ensured. But as every business owner knows, chronic stress is part of being successful because it drives us to get the job our clients ask for done as quickly and expertly as possible!

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The next step for the business owner is prioritizing the tasks at hand. I approach this by figuring out how many steps the process involves, how long each will take, and how quickly I can complete them while working on a variety of jobs at the same time. For the small business owner or people who run their businesses solo (like me), this usually means being a workaholic and working 24/7, morning, noon, and night. That’s no exaggeration. I work every moment I can, subtracting time from each day for grooming, eating, sleeping, and an hour of daily exercise, absolutely! Of course, I will admit that I am very robotic in everything in my life that serves me well in business. The reason for this is that I can easily complete multiple tasks without breaking my concentration from the most important application of my attention.

An example would be answering the phone with my standard greeting without missing a beat while using one of my many software programs to design, write, produce, enhance, or convert any number of the many jobs I work with juggle daily. People often comment that I sound like a recording. We laugh about it and move on. My predictability is not only beneficial to my business, but is also appreciated by my clients, who can reach me with a ring or two, without having to wade through the mud and swamp of prompts or receptionists to try and get in touch directly to speak to me. Sure, they get my voicemail sometimes, but I always call them back right away and never keep them waiting.

However, I have to say that my work schedule was very different a few years ago when I maintained a formal business suite with offices in the largest city nearby. Commuting time on even the worst of winter days sapped a good chunk of my availability to keep up with my workload. I used to think this time was well spent… as a “creative break,” as a German music professor I had at Bard College used to say. Time to think, plan strategy, get an overview of the business as a whole. However, now that I was farsighted enough to realize that closing down this bureaucratic office of which I had been proud throughout a 35 year career was an unaffordable luxury in today’s economy and moving home for many reasons the best alternative, my time is much more appropriate.

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First, I have a life now! How, you might be wondering, can I possibly have a life working 24/7?!! Now that I love what I do for a living, I definitely enjoy working from home. Here are the main differences:

  • Instead of getting up at 4 a.m. to get dressed for work, reading several newspapers at breakfast, and driving an hour to work, I now get up at 8:15 a.m. and walk up and down my stairs for 20 minutes to get exercise ( 2500 steps total!) and make a small breakfast, which I eat while checking my email in my comfy office next to my dining room, wearing my shorts, a t-shirt, and socks. My workday usually starts around 9am, which is the norm for most office workers.

  • Instead of having to wear high heels while driving to and from the occasional client appointment, which also killed much of the day (not to mention my feet!), I now stay home and avoid meeting anyone. I am 100% accessible via email and phone, and meeting me in person is unnecessary in today’s age of internet access and video conferencing.

  • Instead of leaving the office late in a frantic drive home to cook dinner after stopping at the grocery store, a gas station, and navigating the occasional traffic jam and subsequent lengthy detour, I now take a 20-minute walk with my husband every day around 4:30 am and after continuing to work until 6:30 am I start with dinner after a productive 9 hour day. I am fortunate to have a retired husband/partner who now does all the shopping.

  • Instead of ending my day at 9:30 p.m. so I can try to get enough sleep to wake up at 4 a.m. and start over, I can now watch the end of the Yankee game most nights if they’re still there play around 10 pm, that’s when i stop work after dinner to enjoy a little tv and eat an apple. Bedtime for the robot is now around midnight, which gives me about 8 hours of sleep every night, compared to my previous 5.5 hour average. That alone gave me my life back!

But a lot has changed in business life since the economic crisis. It’s no surprise to hear from people working from home. Having an office was wonderful for many years when people came in for frequent conferences or proofreading. There was a time when I would spend entire days taking quality photos on location, sometimes from helicopters, with gyroscopes and expensive rented long lenses, while flying through the now banned airspace over Manhattan! Times have changed and so has my industry. We have become an online culture where everything is accessible through affordable, high-quality digital photography and emailed PDF proofs. People are more conservative about business spending than ever before, and the cost of gas and everything else has constrained the way we all do business. And as a result, the question of how much we charge has also become a question of sensitivity.

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At a point in my life where money is no longer a matter of life or death, doom or gloom, I have been fortunate to have the freedom to work with long-time clients who I respect and have expressed fear of losing sales have to negotiate reasonable rates because of the downsizing, everyone felt it. Once you reach a certain age, you realize that life doesn’t go on forever and it’s more important to live life for the pleasure it can bring than for an arbitrary dollar amount that you might have once aspired to. With my house and cars all paid off and the security of some relatively satisfying investments, having clients who seek my intelligence and skills and engaging me in interesting work is more important to me than trying to amass a fortune for luck . I’m also fortunate (and have been for most of my career) that I never have to look for work. It just comes in as always from clients I’ve worked with most of my life. These customers recommend others. And there are always new customers who find me through my website. Yes, my office was a beautiful representation of my polished business image, my brand… but I achieved the same through my website, at a greatly reduced cost!

I wrote this article, which is actually more of a glimpse into my life, to share the kind of things that bring success. Not so much for the specific information, but for the attitudes and philosophical truths that shape a person’s life. Always putting the customer first; do the best possible work; Respect for the client’s needs and timeframe; to be frugal with expenses; and above all, to be fair in all respects; These are the ways I have found success in my life. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, thank god. Don’t be penniless, have a perfectly ripe avocado available, a good apple, my favorite balsamic vinegar, skim milk, oatmeal, walnuts, my decaffeinated Taster’s Choice. These are things that make me happy. And every now and then a nice word from a satisfied customer! Do I mind working full holiday weekends to keep up with client deadlines and work goals? Not at all. I bloom And I would call that a business success.

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