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So I was trying to think of what my article would be on this month. I usually have a message that I want to communicate to the business community and I use this opportunity to do so. But this month, I’ve not had any one subject jump out at me. So I started thinking, what are some of the questions I’ve been faced with or asked recently by clients and/or prospects that I might be able to expand on here.

Well, I’ve been answering a lot of questions about money, budget, how much companies should invest in their business communications, and how long it usually takes to see growth from those investments. But money is not a very interesting subject for me. It’s more like a necessary evil when it comes to business. You have to spend money to make money. You have to water your plant in order to watch it grow. You have to market your business to others if you want to become successful. These are just facts. I try to stay out of the money and payment conversations at the agency as much as I can because I have accounting people to do that. It interrupts my customer service, creativity, and strategic thinking to be worrying about client payments and the like. So I try only to think of staying within the financial parameters that we are provided by our clients and making sure they get the most that they can for their investment.

That being said, I do have to have certain money conversations from time to time, particularly at the beginning of a new relationship. And I’ve noticed money talk makes people uncomfortable. It’s scary for a lot of business owners. And because of that, there are a lot of misconceptions and “stinking thinking” when it comes to business finances. I can understand where some of that comes from, but it’s a cancer when it comes to building a successful company. Let me expand on this:

The Fear of Spending Money

When I was working with larger corporations, you know the mega-successful, established giants on the Fortune 500 list, I was working with companies that had plenty of money to invest in their businesses, understood a lot of the principles that I’m going to talk about here, and held a healthier attitude and disposition when it came to money. Then, when I left the corporate arena to work with smaller businesses, I noticed a big difference in this area. And I believe a lot of it stems from the fact that at these larger corporations, the people weren’t spending their own money…they were simply utilizing numbers from a spreadsheet, coming to them via their accounting department or budgeting managers. With smaller businesses, however, it is often the owners’ own money…and therefore, a lot more personal to them. This means there’s a lot more fear involved. It’s still just as important for them to manage the numbers of their budgetary spreadsheets, it’s simply more intimate to them…and there is more emotion involved in doing so. 

So, after recognizing this, I asked myself, “Why is this? Why does this happen? Where does this come from?” And I’ve decided it’s actually quite natural. There have been years and years of salespeople and charlatan businesses taking advantage of business owners. It has caused them to be quite protective of the money that they spend…again and particularly considering that it is their own money, as opposed to that of a big corporation. No one likes to be taken advantage of and there’s been a history of this in business, with some people simply being out there to make a buck and ignoring any sense of duty in trying to take care of their customers. This is a shame, but it is also a reality…a reality that we must recognize.

I spend a lot of time trying to protect the small business community from false teachings and charlatans—wolves dressed in buzzwords that are out there trying to take advantage of any business owners’ naïveté. It’s one of the reasons I spend so much time on education within the small business community. There are a lot of people out there that will use buzzwords to make a sale. These people will say things that they do not mean, in order to make a sale. Particularly if that sale has commissions built into it for the salesperson. I think this is wrong. It is a lot better to take care of your customer than to simply milk them as if they were a cow.

So, I guess it would be fair to say there are attitude and understanding issues on both sides of the aisle. Let’s address them:

Dear Salesperson

Dear Salesperson, you need to understand that it is in your best interest to establish a longer, fruitful relationship with your customers where they feel protected, looked out for, and taken care of rather than simply going out into the community looking for a sheep to devour for your daily meal. Understand that financial gain is a byproduct of good service and quality work. If financial gain is your focus, your relationships are in trouble. Your job should be finding the someones that can benefit from the products or services you provide, not finding people that you can force your products or services on. It’s a mindset that will affect how you go about doing business.

Storytime: Omission 

I had a client that came to me with a personal horror story (as a consultant, I often hear many stories of how clients had been taken advantage of before meeting with me). The client told me of how she was looking to grow her business and met a newspaper salesman at a networking group. He had convinced her to run a series of ads in his paper saying he was the #1 newspaper in Atlanta – which he was, this was not a lie. So she jumped at it and spent thousands of dollars on a media buy. And when the ads ran, her phone started ringing off the hook! So many responses! She was so excited! Then the realization sank in that 85% of all the responses were from outside of her service area. This means that she wasted 85% of that media buy budget to get leads that she now has to turn away. You see, Atlanta is a big market and the newspaper covered all of it. Now the sales rep knew this, but he wasn’t going to risk his commission by telling her to use another method or to make a smaller buy.

One more story: Branding in Bad Lighting (this one I did an entire Straight Shot Marketing Podcast episode around)

When UPS first started opening their local stores, they ran a series of ads promising business owners that they could help ‘brand’ their business, which would help them to thrive in the marketplace. Now, let me ask you, what does UPS do for a living? They are a parcel service. Says it in the name: “United Parcel Service”. They deliver packages. They know nothing about branding nor do they offer any brand development services. So they absolutely cannot fulfill their promise of this campaign. So why did they put it out there?

Well, because every business needs branding…every business, bar none. And because of this need, branding has become a buzzword. So their marketing agency used this buzzword to grab the attention of business owners to bring them into the new UPS stores. Once you get there, you will hear, “Hey, a P. O. Box for your business is a good idea! Being able to drop off delivery packages conveniently is a good idea!” And so you would buy these services from them and the UPS stores would be successful and support the main service of delivering packages…because all of these services do indeed relate to parcel service, which is their expertise. But none of them are branding (the buzzword they needed to attract the small business community). So they added “printing services” which they could guise as branding in bad lighting and then justify the use of the buzzword to lure in new customers. (By the way, printing isn’t branding either, nor is putting your logo on a pen or a T-shirt…these are ways of communicating a brand…not building a brand). This would also help them compete with Fed-Ex (the Pepsi to their Coke) that had just bought Kinko’s (a small business printing service.)

These are the stories that yield fear. And I get it. People fear and mistrust what they don’t understand. That’s why society, on the whole, have a “distaste” for lawyers and auto mechanics. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Business owners, seek understanding. You don’t have to know everything of course, that’s what experts are for, but you do need a basic understanding. I believe an informed business owner is a better business owner. It’s one of the reasons I wrote Married to Marketing—to help the business community understand the world of marketing and business communications through a comparison that I thought would be fun, relatable, and easy to understand. Knowledge is power. Being informed leads to better decision-making. It’s why I spend much of my time delivering keynotes around the business community, have the podcast, author articles and books, etc.

Dear Business Owner

Dear Business Owner, understand that not all B2B partners are out there to take advantage of you. But acknowledge that some of them are. So be careful, protect yourself, look for and invest in a relationship partner you can trust. Then relax and understand that you have to spend money to grow. As long as you are in a trusted partnership, you should be able to focus on the more important aspects of growing your business rather than being consumed by the fear of being taken advantage of.

Being Cheap Is Most Often Bad Business

Another similar factor in this is the fact that people are naturally frugal and want the most they can get for their money. Now on the whole this is a good thing, but charlatan businesses have found a way to exploit it as well. I’m talking about offering “too good to be true” or “cheap” products or services to get someone in the door only to pull a switch-a-roo after they commit to working with you. The charlatans have gotten very crafty at this. They say, “Hey, I can make you a website for $1,500,” and you think “That’s great! This other company wanted $15,000,” so you sign up.

Then they reveal the elements that they’ve omitted about their service—you now have to provide all the content for the site: the copy, the edited photos in the correct sizes, the finalized videos, the thinking behind these elements, etc. and because you just agreed to work with them, you feel trapped or foolish if you try to back out now. And worse yet, if your site isn’t effective, if it doesn’t convert to customers, well that’s going to be considered your fault based on the content you provided because they only put together what you gave them and that’s all you paid for. So now you have spent less money, more of your own time than expected, and you have an inferior website that doesn’t work appropriately for your business…Now you’ll have to pay someone like Reformation Productions to fix it for you or completely rebuild it correctly from scratch. So you’ve just wasted that $1,500 that you thought was for a smart buy because of ignorance…My biggest issue is with the business that sold it to you. They knew what they were doing, but they weren’t going to tell you and risk the sale…They then justify it all by saying “buyer beware” when it can really be considered a bait and switch of sorts.

Now, with that being said, understand that to work with a B2B partner, you are going to have to spend money by investing in your business through them. In the above example, the charlatans used your natural desire to be frugal to trap you. But, on the other side of the table, as a business owner or executive, you shouldn’t want to take advantage of the partner anymore than you would want them to take advantage of you. That will also negatively impact the service and/or products received from the partner. This balance is just one of the reasons owning a business isn’t for everyone.

To help with this righteous frugality issue, try to understand what you are paying for in the relationship. If you don’t recognize it, then you can’t value it. Often overlooked areas of value include:

  • being able to trust that they are looking out for your best interest,
  • saving you time (normally by taking things off your plate that you shouldn’t be taking the time to do on your own ),
  • expertise that comes from study and experience,
  • skills and talents that don’t come equally to everyone,
  • relationships with others (who they know can benefit you as well),
  • fresh ideas and perspectives,
  • reputation and prestige (I would be remiss if I didn’t add this to the list…though it’s not as high on my list as these other elements, it is still a factor and a reality that needs to be observed),
  • and then there’s the law of supply and demand—if you want to work with the best partner, you best believe that others do too, etc.

These elements and differentiators can be much more important than the actual product or service that you are buying in some cases. And these other elements hold value and should serve as reasons and factors as to why you would partner with one company over another. So think on these aspects when you evaluate your relationships…existing or future business relationships.

Relationships Go Both Ways

Understand that it’s always a two-sided relationship. That business partner does not have to work with you. There have been times where I have fired a client because they were too difficult for me to work with and therefore not worth my time. So understand that respect has to be mutual on both sides. If you are too difficult to work with as a customer or if they feel like they are constantly being taken advantage of or if they feel that you are undervaluing them…they may not want to work with you either.

Speaking of relationships going both ways, I hope this article brings you value and helps you in your journey towards success as a business. If you want to read more about any specific topic or have any questions you’d like for me to address, please let me know by emailing or by finding me on social media. Lastly, I’d like to note that the article title and illustrations were inspired by Ralph Steadman. While I could never draw like you, your contributions to art and style inspired me for this “fear and loathing” article. In a way, this too is “gonzo journalism.”

This article originally published on GREY Journal.