The Ultimate Hack for Improving Client Engagement

Luuuucy… You have some splainin’ to do!!! (Did I just age myself with this reference?)

I’m about to hop on a call with a client that may or may not have done their work for the meeting (ahem).

I ask myself: “Where are they in their business? And what’s on the schedule for today?”

But first, let’s rewind a few months.

I used to track my client engagement on a spreadsheet that I called Actions2Scale (fancy right?) in google drive. It had all the components I needed:

      • Meeting dates
      • What was accomplished during each meeting
      • What the deliverables were
      • Any notes my client or I had

The problem was that as a consultant, there are a lot of tangible worksheets and documents that my clients and I share, and since my average client is with me for about 7 months, this spreadsheet inevitably grew long, confusing and not easily searchable. Not only that, but with the mish-mosh of documents in google drive – we could never find anything quickly!

Since most of my clients are visual thinkers, I thought I would give Trello a shot. And boy am I happy I did! Here’s what it looks like:

ScaleTime Roadmap Trello

1. Creating a Visual Roadmap

The first thing I do with my clients now is create a roadmap with all the modules of our engagement on the first few lists.

Keep in mind that pre-Trello, there was no visual roadmap for the client to know where we were going. No matter how much I listed out the milestones and talked about the direction of the engagement and what we were going to do next, there was NO VISUAL REMINDER.

It was like being on a road trip with my client, who kept innocently asking “are we there yet?” every 5 minutes.

In their defense though, it wasn’t their fault!

The problem was they didn’t know what had already been done, and what was still left to do. For the productivity geeks out there – I implemented some kanban-esque methodology. Fortunately, in Trello when we are done with a topic I can change the color (nifty right?). Take a look:

ScaleTime Trello Program

2. Forget About Client Amnesia

Client amnesia is a common condition in which the client can’t seem to remember the amazing work we’ve done together.

Symptoms include saying things like “I love this system – it literally takes me 2 minutes to do a proposal. Oh, was it you that helped me implement this?”

This used to raise my blood pressure and frustrate me to no end. Now, I just point them to the Trello board as I gleefully put my feet on my desk. After all, it’s a great way to show a historical record of everything that was accomplished. All without saying a single word. Not bad if you ask me!

3. When Clients “Hijack”

This doesn’t happen as much in my practice anymore (thank the lord!), but in the past I had clients take over the session with “emergencies” or what they thought were urgent questions. In other words, “Drop everything and help me now!”

Ever since I started using Trello however, clients can see for themselves when a task moves from this month to next month for example. Suddenly the urge to hijack a session is trumped by the urge to complete what they started.

Tweet this: A client’s urge to hijack a session is trumped by the urge to complete what they started.

It’s a beautiful thing, really. The psychology of wanting to see the white cards turn blue ( labeled complete) and knowing that this particular urgency will be covered in a systematic way puts a cease and desist on wasting time. (Can I get an amen!?)

4. Say Goodbye to Inbox Flooding

With Trello, there is simply no flooding of inboxes with back and forth updates, deliverables, homework, pre-work, or any kind of work really. It’s all in a nice checklist where clients can reference their tasks whenever they want, from anywhere in the world.

I’ve actually had clients text me in their PJ’s just to tell me how much they enjoyed checking a few items from their list.

Do NOT underestimate the need to complete things!

5. Delegating Tasks Has Never Been Easier

My clients can now share their board with their staff to strategize or delegate the work, and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Nuff said.

6. Get Organized!

Out of all the benefits, one of my favorites is never hearing this question: “Where is that document again?”

Whether your documents are located in dropbox, a company server, or google docs, you can link to them inside the topics in Trello. Everything has context and searchability.

Yeah baby!

To sum up, here are all the benefits of using a project management tool to manage your client engagement:

      • Clients have a visual roadmap
      • Client Amnesia cured
      • No more session hijacking
      • Inbox flooding eliminated
      • Easy to delegate tasks to team members
      • Great way to organize documents

So let me ask you… How are YOU tracking your client engagement, and giving your clients direction in the process?

I recommend Trello (obviously), but I’m also open to learning about other options that would incorporate some or all of the concepts I discussed in this article.

I would love to hear from you either way!

Why Your Small Business Needs an Operations Manual

Look around your office. Your computer, printer, and copier—maybe even your adjustable chair—all came with operating manuals.

But do you have an operating manual for your business? If not, creating one can save you serious time and money.

Operating (or operations) manuals teach you, your employees, and future employees how to run your business successfully. When I suggest manuals to my startup and small business clients, I’m often greeted with skepticism. “I don’t have time to write anything,” they’ll say. “Besides, I already know what I’m supposed to do.”

Even if your business runs smoothly now, writing an operations manual today can help you identify tomorrow’s challenges.

After all, U.S. Census data shows us that only 69% of small businesses survive two years. Other studies suggest that 30-50% of small businesses fail due to operations and management deficiencies. An operations manual won’t solve your specific issues, but it will help you anticipate them much sooner.

An operations framework becomes especially crucial as your company expands.

Hiring new employees is an exciting step for the entrepreneur, but recruiting, training, and managing your team can take up a lot of time—precious time you’d rather spend generating new ideas. An operations manual will make this process faster and more cost effective.

As the economy improves and job opportunities increase, an operations manual will help you retain your top employees.

When people leave a job, it’s not usually due to salary. Rather, they leave because they don’t see a future for the company or don’t feel recognized for their individual efforts. An operations manual addresses both of these issues. Seeing your operations strategy in black and white will give your employees confidence in your management, organization, and stability. Plus, a manual gives you clear benchmarks for measuring and rewarding employee performance.

Since your manual will help you train and retain your best employees, you’ll see increased productivity and a reduced margin of error.

Avoiding errors matters even more to the small business than it does to a large organization. After all, you’re paying your employees for every moment they are with you, whether they’re doing a good, bad or mediocre job. Even small mistakes can lead to wasted time and lost clients, something fledgling businesses can ill afford.

A written operations handbook will also dramatically improve your customer satisfaction.

Your customers want consistency and reliability. Consider the successful businesses in your neighborhood. At a restaurant a dish is made exactly the same on a Saturday night as it is on a Tuesday, whether or not the executive chef is actually in the kitchen. Even small details matter. For example, a man who likes to pamper himself with a straight razor shave at the Art of Shaving will be disappointed if the treatment ritual changes by the day. Let your team (and yourself) get creative with new offerings and products, but not by changing the process from day to day, or between different employees. Consistency creates trust, and operations manuals ensure consistency.

What should actually be in your operations manual?

While larger organizations can have manuals as thick as the phone book, a good starter document could be less than 30 pages. Think of it as a “how-to” guide to your day-to-day operations and most repeated tasks. Include a business overview, office policies, emergency procedures, and contact lists for employees and vendors. Most importantly, draft a guide for each of your business systems: marketing, sales, order fulfillment, client management, recruitment, training, administrative, and so on. Each guide should include processes, checklists, and any templates or documents necessary to complete tasks.

I know what you might be thinking: “Employees do not want to read long and boring operating manuals.” I agree, and the solution is simple (if not easy): don’t make your manuals long and boring!

Try these tips to make your manuals useful and concise:

  • Include pictures, pictograms and colors. Think IKEA for your business processes. (Don’t forget the nuts and bolts!)
  • Require new team members to read only the most important sections.
  • Segment training into “bite-size” pieces.
  • Incorporate hands-on training and exercises. (For example, have team members work together on practice challenges.)
  • Explain why the rules matter. Show how your operations plans support your overall vision for the company.

You don’t have to write your operations manual by yourself.

In fact, it’s better not to. Make it a collaborative process with your startup team. You’ll get their buy-in and give them ownership of your key decisions. A joint effort yields more cohesive results and saves everyone time.

Does a formal operations manual hinder innovation? In my experience, it’s quite the opposite. When you and your team become consumed with everyday tasks, you simply cannot generate new ideas. Manufacturers have long known the value of automation. Automation may sound like a dirty word to a small business committed to unique, customized solutions and products. But by automating your routine tasks, you’ll actually be free to innovate and create new opportunities for your business—while saving money and improving customer service.

As seen on NYER

Bad Combo: Phone Calls and Coffee Shops

It’s common place to make the local Starbucks your “office” for many businesses that are starting out or when you need a surrogate office.

Coffee shops are great for catching up on paperwork, projects and basically anything that can be done on your laptop. What are coffee shops not good for? Making phone calls. Cell phones amplify background noise and this neat feature will magnify all the wonderful noises in the coffee shop you are visiting. It also annoys your fellow coffee drinking neighbors. The antidote: a noise canceling bluetooth device ( doesn’t help with the over caffeinated neighbors, though).

Remember to save your colleagues, clients, vendors employees etc., from the noises of:

  • sipping coffee
  • the steam machine
  • keyboard clicking
  • eating
  • chewing gum

All of these are guaranteed to annoy the person on the other line and damage communication. Plus, it’s just good phone etiquette.