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!

Lasting Teams That Are In It To Win It

“Juliana, how do I hire the right team members, the ones that are going to stick around and do a great job?”

Almost 35% of people quit a job within the first six months of being hired.

That’s a pretty big turnover rate when you stop to consider the time and resources devoted to recruiting, especially when you take lost revenue for business both large and small into consideration. No matter the size of your business, your goal is to keep profits — and your employee retention rates high – but, you may need to change your tactics in order to succeed.

With just a few simple changes to your hiring process, you will find yourself ahead of the game with a dedicated team behind you.

But first, let’s examine the numbers: Did you know that US companies spent a staggering $124 billion on recruiting efforts in 2012 alone? When it comes to hiring the right people, large firms lose when their dedicated HR departments waste resources hiring the wrong people. Small business owners lose even bigger with the time and effort the recruiting process takes from day to day operations. Sure, you played the game, asked the right questions, and are confident you hired the right people. And maybe you did hire the right people for the positions advertised. The question to ask yourself, however, is if you hired the right people for your team.

Did you know that most people leave because there are different expectations in the recruiting cycle, from the job posting to the interviewing process, which did not match the reality of the actual gig?

Perhaps they were holding out for another position with a different company and your offer was simply a waiting post. The “Maybes” behind why employee retention is such a gamble are numerous and can range from your business’ relaxed work environment and dog-friendly office not being the right fit to them taking a look at your five-year vision and deciding they might fit better elsewhere.

These are the very uncertainties you, or your HR team, should be addressing while actively recruiting new team members. It is during this crucial time for discovery that you should be making sure you are seeking out the people that are not only going to stick, but also help your business grow in the process. Your goal is to ultimately extend offers of employment to individuals with whom you will enjoy working and with whom you’ll probably be spending more time than you are willing to admit. So how do you do that?

For starters, realize that a perfectly written resume is only a part of employee retention and the big picture.

By paying attention life patterns or circumstances, you can predict a lot about your new team member’s longevity with your business. For example: A person who moves every two years, will probably move again. It’s possible their spouse is in the military. But if you do not do your due diligence, you shouldn’t be surprised when they do move again. What about the college student working for you part-time? They have graduation date that you must prepare for. Be ready to absorb them or replace them.

Now that you are thinking not only outside of the box, but beyond the resume, as well, it’s time to consider your options as a business owner. Start by putting yourself in a new employee’s shoes:

In order to make the transition from the newbie to a seasoned and valued member of your team, they need:

  • Solid infrastructure already in place; one which will allow access to systems, technology, and communication
  • Time to read your business literature
  • Business cards
  • Time to learn — and become acquainted to — their contacts

Without at least these building blocks already firmly established for your new team member to gather their bearings during the critical first five months, which, coincidentally, is the average time it takes for a new hire to fully acclimate to their work environment, the transition period will only be made all the rougher for them. Whether you are operating out of a corner office or half of a full tech garage, those operating manuals and trainings will increase the chance of getting your new hire up to speed and optimized.

Okay, so you’ve done your due diligence and are comfortable that your new hire isn’t moving overseas in seven months, checked their college diploma yourself to make sure the ink is dry, and their skill-set matches your needs for the open position perfectly. Even the office dog loves them because they’ve been bringing in dog biscuits and know how to give a good belly rub.

What if they still aren’t a good fit? What did you miss?

Through no fault of their own, your new hire may just not gel with the culture you have or are trying to create. Your best-case scenario is they are great, but the rest of your team doesn’t enjoy working with him or her. This is where you have to step back, reassess, and put the needs of the many before the needs of the one. In other words: don’t let the entire ship sink because one crew member isn’t working out or you end up with communication lapses and inefficiencies in cooperation. How do you do that?

TIP – By creating a personalized work culture test that applies specifically to your business’ personality and applying it during each and every recruiting and discovery period.

A friend asks people when referring potential hires to his team if they would introduce this person to their own mom. His clients are family units, thereby making it essential that each team member present themselves in a certain manner. I ask my own team to imagine a flight delay en route to a business trip mean three hours in the airport bar — which happens quite often. If they give the green light for inviting the potential newbie along for a cocktail, it’s a pretty clear and cut decision from there.

We can’t cage the superstars to stay forever, but we can try to figure out how who’s in for the long haul as we build our teams and continue moving forward.

The key factor, of course, is foreseeing who’s going to stick around.

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.