Are Your Business Documents Scaring Away Potential Clients?


Are Your Business Documents Scaring Away Potential Clients?

I’m a firm believer and advocate that simple systems are the essential keys to business success, and I also don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel.  Which is why I take the opportunity, whenever I can, to adapt a template or procedure from my clients and business contacts to improve my own business systems (with their permission of course).

And this is what I did with my Privacy Agreement.  A colleague had developed a very legally worded document for their business.  I didn’t have such a document so they shared this with me and enabled me to adapt it for my business.

At the time, I was very grateful for this document as it saved me at least the 2 hours it would have taken me to develop my own.  I read through it, it all made sense so I quickly customised it with my business details including logo and I was set to go.

I’ve been using this document for over a year as part of my Client Engagement Process, and no client has questioned it …. until now.

A potential client wanted to engage me for one of my services so I sent through these documents for their signature which confirmed the arrangements.  The potential client emailed back the following response:

Please forgive my ignorance.  I wasn’t expecting such a formal series of agreements to sign in regards to our meeting. It all seems more litigious than I was expecting from what I thought would be a fairly relaxed meeting. If I’m triggering your alerts that I might not be an ideal client for you, just let me know, no offence taken. But if you could re-assure me about what I’m querying, that would be appreciated.

My initial reaction was ‘Crikey’ because I really want to work with this person to help their business so I quickly re-looked at the Privacy Agreement and concurred, “they’re right, it is too over the top”.  And as someone who brands themselves as The Simple Solutions Specialist, this wasn’t what I wanted to hear  – that my documents were anything but simple.

Not only was it a complicated document written in very legal and not so user-friendly language,  but I could now imagine how confronting this document might be to someone who didn’t know me very well and hadn’t worked with me before.

Now I could’ve taken the negative approach to this feedback and stated the commonly used ‘that’s my process’ party line.  But instead, I chose to view this as the wonderful gift it was because isn’t this the feedback we all want for our businesses?  Unless clients (potential or current) tells us what’s good and not so good in our businesses, how do we really know?

So I thanked them for their honest feedback, assured them they were my ideal client, explained the purpose of the document, and advised them I would be re-working it to address the issues they raised.

Based on my response, the client engaged me, and we had a very positive and productive session where they gained great value and insights for their business.

But imagine if the client hadn’t been brave enough to ask the questions and provide me with this awesome feedback?  Which then made me wonder – did my other clients also feel like this but signed the document simply because they wanted to work with me and it was part of my ‘process’?

Which led to my next thought, “Are we all hiding behind our systems and processes which we think are serving us well instead of actually thinking like a client to determine if we have developed the best approach for them?”

These are a few of my key earnings from this experience:

  1. Don’t adopt and adapt systems from others without first determining if they meet your purpose and suit the desired audience.Not every template or procedure will suit or be needed in your business so don’t rush in to adopt someone else’s great system, even as a stop-gap solution.
  2. Ensure documents including templates are written for the intended audience, be it your clients or your team.
  3. Ensure your systems accurately reflect your branding and messaging e.g., even a 4-page complicated legal document that may be viewed as gobbledegook probably won’t be seen by others as ‘simple’.
  4. Look at your business systems including your documents at least twice a year as time and space can provide you with fresh ideas and perspective.
  5. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality.Just because something appears to be working, doesn’t always mean it is true.
  6. We are too close to our own work which is why we always need someone else to point out the positives and flaws in what we do which help us improve ourselves and our business (if we’re willing to listen).

Here are three key questions for you to consider for your business:

  1. When did you last review your systems through the eyes of your client or your team?  If it’s more than six months, then I’d suggest you start taking another look to ensure their relevance and suitability.
  2. Are your business systems including documents written in simple and easy to understand language?  Are they written for THEM or is it all about YOU?
  3. Are your Client Engagement documents no more than four pages?  If not, can you streamline and simplify while maintaining the intent of the document, and meeting all legal, risk and privacy obligations for both parties?

By regularly reviewing your systems, you can be assured your processes meet your business needs and that of your clients, and they aren’t making people feel uncomfortable and scaring them away from your business.

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  • Bronwyn Reid

    This is so, so true Tamara. I couldn’t count the number of times I have seen entire “systems” purchased as templates and downloaded or printed. This ensures that the system will not be used because it bears absolutely no relation to what actually happens in the business. By all means get the templates – as you note they can save quite a lot of time and be an excellent guide – but they should always be personalised to your business.

  • Tamara Simon

    Thanks Bronwyn for the positive feedback and yes I’ve seen heaps too. Hopefully my learnings help others relook at their systems because as we know the devil is in the detail, and one thing which we believe is minor, can be huge to a potential client.

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