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|Who's wanted to chuck it all?|
While sitting here at the end of yet another work weekend, where I had to miss yet another event that I wanted to go to... while all my friends went and had a good time... I sometimes wonder how the heck I ended up here. If I could go back and do it over, I think I would have put all the effort into a content site or two. Making/selling products has now become one big giant ball and chain in my life. I see some people running businesses from a Blackberry and I look on with great envy. The amount of labor I have to do compared to many people, is insane.
Anybody ever think of chucking the whole sales thing, and try to switch towards content only? I know I sure have. Unfortunately my two content sites don't make jack. If only I had that magic idea.
Manage customer expectations. If you do not want to work on weekends, tell your customers who order on Fridays that their order will be processed asap on Monday.
The world won't end if you take a day off.
I've thought of it. I make things too and they do take a lot of time. I'm working on content sites, but I have a long way to go.
I second what caribguy says. One of the best things I did for myself was to close on the weekends. I don't take calls and I try not to make anything or fill any orders. I will do research type work or making prototypes, because for me, that's fun. I also close early on Fridays.
The other thing is that sometimes I just go somewhere. As far as I am concerned, it is one of the perks of having a small biz.
I don't know... I've tried it, but seems like it just always makes it worse in the end. At least 50% of what I sell is customized in some way. So very little ever gets stockpiled. Anything I don't do today is just going to be twice as much the next day. The rare times I tried to take off in the recent past, just turned into an absolute nightmare when I came back. Right now I'm sitting on over 10 orders that are over a week old already. If I had taken time off, it would have been 20. And whoever it was that said biz would go up if I raised prices, was right. That's exactly what happened.
But I know there's people starving, so I'll try not to whine.
I'm 60 years old and have been doing web sites since 1995-96 (that's not to mention BBSes back in the early 1980's up until 1990). I think about quitting or selling out every day. It used to be fun. Now it's serious work. But then again, I make a fair amount of money so I'm available by telephone and email 24/7/365. I'm always available if someone needs something.
I know, right? I remember the days when I actually enjoyed trying all the new utility widgets and stuff. Online games. Trying new software. Learning HTML. Back when women still actually talked to guys online. LOL Just doesn't seem as fun anymore. Too commercial now... All the link farms and advertising gimmicks... It's totally out of control.
2 things come to mind:
1). you need help with making your widgets, if you can't afford to pay someone then you are not charging enough.
2). if for whatever reason you don't want help (eg. you don't what to teach anyone how to do it) then raise your prices, you might lose sales, but those you get will be more profitable.
Work is what we do so we can enjoy the rest of the time. When work BECOMES "the rest of the time", it's time to re-evaluate your plan.
The most important thing you can do is set regular hours. Time to raise prices again - enough so you can hire someone else to do the work.
I started out selling product. The last 10 years or so I've been selling service/content type of stuff. It's not easier than selling product, in fact it's quite possibly more difficult. I've said to my spouse in the past that when we retire it'll be nice to go back to selling product, something we have control over and can physically ship.
So, grass/greener, etc.
|But I know there's people starving, so I'll try not to whine. |
Yeah, business is booming. You could have the opposite problem :).
I used to work 24/7. Then one day I took a day trip with my family, first real day off in 2 years. I check voice mail at 9, then again at 3. At 3 there's someone complaining that they emailed me something, and it wasnt' done yet (it was done by 5 when I got back to the office). This was something I'd been waiting 2-3 months for from them, then they are upset because it didn't happen not just the same day, but immediately.
I emailed them a 'I'm cancelling your service, I believe you'll find yourself better served with one of the fine products offered by our competitors'. And since then I've never looked back on taking time off. And you know what? Clients don't have a problem. that's because it's about setting expectations, not service. If they expect you 24.7, you'd better be there. If they expect you 9-5 and not on weekends, then it isnt' a problem if you're not there on the weekends.
Funny thing, when I leave for a 3 day weekend camping/fishing in the deep bush with my son, when I get back, work is still there. But I'm relaxed, and had 3 days with my son. I use this line of work now to allow me to live my life, not the other way around.
Keep raising your prices until you can hire staff to do the most time consuming things, or you can outsource it to a sub-contractor. Think about automating your processes. You have said several times on WebmasterWorld that your products are often custom, that buyers have specific requests. Even with the specific requests, it is still possible to automate many things. Maybe there are some sub-assemblies that are common to each widget that can be contracted out, and then you hire a person to do the custom work. If you need more sales volume of standardized products to justify the hired help, then find a few distributors around the country/world. Sure you will lose margin to them, but you should be able to greatly increase efficiency and this can more than offset the increase in overhead (for the help) and the decrease in margin (selling through distribution). I have personally done this in a manufacturing company I owned. It was scary but ultimately successful.
|I used to work 24/7. Then one day I took a day trip with my family, first real day off in 2 years. I check voice mail at 9, then again at 3. At 3 there's someone complaining that they emailed me something, and it wasnt' done yet (it was done by 5 when I got back to the office). This was something I'd been waiting 2-3 months for from them, then they are upset because it didn't happen not just the same day, but immediately. |
Funny, it was a similar thing recently that touched off me thinking about this. A guy waffled for three weeks going back and forth, asking me questions the whole time. Which included the weekend. That Sunday he finally orders. Only reason why he could was because I took the time to deal with it over the weekend. Monday I check in and first thing in the morning there's an email with him asking how long it's going to take and where's the tracking #. I'm like... OK, you can screw around for three weeks, but you order the thing and I have to have it shipped already at opening on Monday morning?
So yeah, you guys are right... I gotta find a way to change things.
At least one person I know who creates their product decided not to do any custom orders on account of the nagging, dithering customer problem. I am experiencing this right now with a custom order--and in fact it was also someone who took a long time to decide and wanted all kinds of extras, etc.--but such time-sucking has not been the norm for me. Thing is, I used to be a teacher, and I know my inner Snape comes out in my voice when I am speaking to a customer who is turning into a vampire. I also use caller ID. If a customer gets to be a black hole of time, I am often out when they call. Usually I don't have time to return their calls either.
You have to do what you need to do to stay in business, but you also have to stay sane while you're doing it.
Ever notice it's the customers you actually dislike who call on Sunday? It's never the nice, interesting ones. Always the blowhards and whiners.
Yes, the ones with unrealistic expectations. Send them down the road.
I don't want to suggest you shouldn't provide excellent customer service to difficult customers. I do, and win them over. They're money is as good as the next customers. I don't know how to define how I tell the difference between a customer that I have to win over that will become loyal, with one that's a PITA and I'll blow off (and I do blow them off). But there is a difference. They'll both make demands, the second one will call on the weekend though. The first one is busy with their family on the weekends, too busy to call me.
Remember the 20/80 rule- 20% of your customers take up 80% of your time. Fire that 20% of your customer base and you can use the 80% of your time regained to:
- provide better service to your remaining customers (who most likely won't mind a slight increase in prices to make up for the lost customers)
- find new customers that (hopefully) won't fit into the 20% mold
- enjoy life
- post your results to WebmasterWorld! :)
Basically the way I got successful in this field, is to do online/through the mail, what you would normally have to hire somebody to come and do, and they'd probably charge you a min of $100 just for showing up. That's assuming you could even find somebody locally. The good news is that it worked... The bad news is, that it worked. lol I made the mistake of thinking that anything that didn't actually cost me something monetarily, I would just absorb. But you can't absorb the time... Not that much of it. And you are right, it's always the people that buy the least that want the most. I've had a guy buy a huge amount of stuff already this year, and he hasn't asked for a single thing. It actually made me feel guilty... I sent him a gift. lol
I agree with the raising prices and hiring someone, else you are heading for burnout.
One of the major concerns, is how customer service has grown.
10-15 years ago, customer service was a lot less.
Today, customers can't read the FAQ, and continue to tie up the phone with silly questions, which are already answered on the website.
Customers are always demanding tracking numbers; 10 nanoseconds after they place their order. In the old days, tracking numbers were use to track the parcel when it is lost; not to track your order from depot to depot; and they dont realize it takes 24-48 for tracking numbers to show up in FEDEX. If they are that damm impatience, they should have drove to the mall, to get the item.
Then you get people who want to change their order three seconds after placing it. You would not do this between the store and the car at the mall; why is it considered ok online.
We finally decided, that we were not going to answer the phone live. They get a long voicemail explaining some of the common concerns, and go visit the website. They can leave a message after, if they want; but we only check the phones twice a day.
Sure we may lose a few customers; but those are the stupid whining immature obsessive compulsive customers you don't want in the first place.
LifeinAsia if right, get rid of the 10-20% of the customers that can't function in a modern society, then you will be better off. They will probably return half the goods anyways.
You guys are forgetting one very important thing here.
Sure, 20% of your customers create 80% of your problems. However, you can't just "dump" those 20% of your customers and free up 80% of your problem.
Here's the reason - we're online! The moment I lose my cool with a customer, and politely tell him/her the order is being cancelled, you can buy some place else, what do they say?
"I'm going to bash you online".
"I'm going to post on every forum".
I had a customer who bought an item and even before he contacted me, he already contacted the BBB and posted on his forum how upset he was over a product he purchased from me. This isn't a product I made, but rather resold. Instead of contacting the manufacture, or contacting me, he made it his mission to make sure no one ever purchased that product again because he didn't like the product.
Not very fair. Plus, the only thing missing from his package to make him happy was a 45 cent bracket that the manufacture forgot to include.
How can you reason with people like this?
People like this ruin my whole day.
This is why you need time off ;)
|Here's the reason - we're online! The moment I lose my cool with a customer, and politely tell him/her the order is being cancelled, you can buy some place else, what do they say? |
"I'm going to bash you online".
"I'm going to post on every forum".
Yeah, I have to agree... That's the major problem. I am not shy about telling people to take a hike. The problem is, what is it going to cost me in the end. That person might disappear, or they might be some lunatic that decides to make it their life goal to ruin you. Anybody who works in a niche that is very close-nit, is most susceptible to this.
I told the story before about a guy who was handicapped and I gave him an accessory for free, only to have him turn around and accuse me of sending him something that doesn't work. That started an exchange that lasted through 50 emails and counting. And yes, he is still emailing me... A year later. The guy is a nut that sits at home all day and is on every single forum there is for the niche. Some guy complained on a forum related to my niche the other day, about another biz that didn't send him his stuff. My personal nut popped up on the forum and posted the seller's whois info, including his home address. The guy has absolutely nothing to do with the deal... That's how insane he is. He just emailed me yet again a few days ago. I just try to give him curt answers, just to get him to leave me alone. I'm ashamed to admit, I'm afraid to find out what would happen if I stopped. It's like being held hostage.
Unless he's buying something, ignore the emails. You're getting reaction from him because you continue to respond. Quit responding and they'll go away - and what are they going to say? That you wouldn't respond to them anymore? Someone like that posts that online and all anyone is going to say is "I'm not surprised".
I had a guy email me a few months ago questioning some stats on my page and the resulting conclusion. Seems he'd done some internet reading and come to a common (but mistaken conclusion). His email accuses me of contributing to misleading information and he wants a detailed response as to why "I'm one of those businesses that perpetuate the myth". Except what he was assuming was the actual myth. My stats and conclusions were created with the help of a credentialled statistician (the complainer funnily enough was a gov't scientist). As much as I would have liked to have responded, I dragged his email to my 'go away' folder and never responded. If I'd have emailed him back, we'd still be picking apart stupidity today.
When dealing with a nut job, we just refund the product and the shipping. Fortunately we don't get very many, and taking the loss, saves us in customer service in the long run. Fortunately only about 10% of customers are minor problems that can be settled with a phone call. About 1% are major problems and require free shipping or something to make happy. About 1 in 500, we just refund everthing including shipping just to get rid of the person.
The problem with ecommerce, is that mistakes do happen, even when you have a qood quality managment system. What I find interesting, is that the mistakes always happen with the most unstable people.
The customer is always right, even when they are not taking their medication :)
""I'm going to bash you online".
"I'm going to post on every forum"."
I used to worry about this a lot. Then I noticed that some of the worst businesses I had ever run across with hundreds of negative reviews--and nothing BUT negative reviews--were doing just fine. And I mean these are business that sell absolute trash and that lie and cheat customers. So I quit worrying about it.
... fine, do you really want customers that believe these things without looking further? I'd hope not.
And the people who do look further may well realize the negative review was just a pile of whiney trash and buy from you anyhow. Not a bad out.
"The guy is a nut that sits at home all day and is on every single forum there is for the niche."
if your products are cheap enough, buy the worst products you can find in your niche and ship them to him, gift wrapped.
|The guy is a nut that sits at home all day and is on every single forum there is for the niche. |
Even people with content sites like me get emails from people like that. I just block their email addresses and it works out great. I can see where that would be a more difficult decision if you need to be concerned about customer service.
My humble opinion: Find great partners to take care of important aspects of your business. Sometimes that's hard, but ask around to your closest eCommerce friends and see what they say. Ask them for honest opinions, not dry referrals.
Delegate as much as you can. Sometimes your partners can do what you're doing better, and free up your time to concentrate on more important things in your business, and family, etc.
Teach a high school student looking for work a specialized section of your business. Kids are surprisingly tech savvy these days, and cheap :-).
The 24/7 work day is exactly why I moved out of a business that sold lots of customized products and involved lots of personalized service. I eventually want to retire and that means having a business that doesn't require specialized knowledge that isn't easily taught to someone without the same experience or education. As of now, my orders are handled by a fulfillment center, my phone is answered by an answering service, and I spend a few hours each day taking care of everything else. Nothing I do is horribly complicated so I'll eventually be able to turn the majority of the work over to the employees while I semi-retire. I'm building a business that doesn't need "me" to be successful.
Just wanted to share something that worked for me.
I took off all contact information on my website. Granted, the items I sell are only $20-$30 each and my products are very self explanatory, if you have questions about them, you are probably a high maintenance customer.
This might not work for everyone, but I eliminated people who have a lot of questions. If they are concerned that there is no contact info, they just won't buy from me. Customers will get my email once they have placed an order.
This is my way of eliminating the 20% of the customers that give me 80% of the work. Last thing I want are customers that think they got scammed after placing an order and email you 5 times while expecting you to reply within a couple minutes. Then of course, filing a a dispute with PayPal right after the order is placed. (btw, I still get those, just a lot less)
I know this sounds extreme and some might call me crazy, but my business keeps growing and my work load remains very low. I have a life and hang out at the beach in the summer while my business runs itself because product fulfillment is outsourced.
Also, use a very generic name for your business if you are afraid of bad feedback and don't care about branding your site. If you sell widgets and call your site Widget with widget.biz as a domain, none of the customer complaints will show up when they search for your business name. Again, won't work for everyone.
Half you affiliates are running around in my niche with websites that carefully don't show contact information. So I've got not just my contact info, but my name and picture on my site. Right alongside my credentials and licensing and media mentions. For me, it's good for searchers to land on my site and realize they can call and speak to an expert, a real person. In my niche, that's really what they're buying.
When I was selling books, I wouldn't have put myself on the site.
|The 24/7 work day is exactly why I moved out of a business that sold lots of customized products and involved lots of personalized service. I eventually want to retire and that means having a business that doesn't require specialized knowledge that isn't easily taught to someone without the same experience or education. As of now, my orders are handled by a fulfillment center, my phone is answered by an answering service, and I spend a few hours each day taking care of everything else. Nothing I do is horribly complicated so I'll eventually be able to turn the majority of the work over to the employees while I semi-retire. I'm building a business that doesn't need "me" to be successful. |
Yeah, that's the position I'm in. There's an endless amount of things dependent on me, that nobody else knows. When I talk to average people about the biz, they just usually give me a blank stare... They have no idea what I'm talking about. I wouldn't even know where to start in teaching this stuff to somebody else. Basically, without me, there would be no business.
I think I might use some of your tactics starting today DirectWheels, because some guy just emailed me a book, where he's asking me to call him, and "start dialog" on a purchase... Then asks if he can return stuff (which means he will), then asks if his technician can call me... on and on. This is all over a $129 product. You would think he was buying a fleet a AirBus 380s the way he's talking. lol
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