November 27, 2012


Imagine going to a retailer’s website and not seeing prices. Would you bother to get an estimate or would you opt for a site that tells you?

You’re used to finding prices and details online. Your customers are too.

“Wait,” you say. You're selling a service. Each case is unique. You can’t simply show prices online. That’s the common thinking among accountants, lawyers, fee-only financial planners, web designers and many others. Here are three reasons given for withholding prices.
  1. too complicated
  2. hiding from competitors
  3. prices change
Put your calculator away. Let’s examine each point.

Too Complicated

Your pricing may vary with
  • the type of work: routine vs. customized
  • the hours: actual vs. estimated
  • the client: e.g., family vs. corporate, remarried vs. married
  • the scale: discounts for bigger projects
  • the urgency: ASAP vs. soon
  • the number of revisions: normal vs. excessive
You must have a formula of sorts, probably based on an underlying hourly rate. You could describe your process and give examples of typical cases. Yes, you can reserve the option to revise prices for unusual situations (ideally before the work starts).

If you develop standard packages for common situations, you clarify what you do, eliminate pricing surprises and help others refer you.

Hiding From Competitors

If you're competing on price, you may not want your competitors to know what you charge. That's also an excuse for refusing to put your process or samples of your work online. You may think that what you’re doing is special and prone to copying. Potential buyers may see what your industry does as generic and interchangeable — unless you help them understand and value the differences you bring.

Clear and meaningful positioning reduces your competition. Back in 2007, Hyundai was comparing the Sonata with the BMW 5-series. Really? The comparisons could become valid in the future, especially if BMW partners with Hyundai on new engine development (Digital Trends, May 2012).

When you hide from your competitors, you also hide from your market. Adding details like pricing helps your real audience choose you — your clients, prospects and collaborators.

Maybe you worry about being seen as pricey. You may have reasons for premium pricing, such as extra expertise or more quality assurance. Show why you provide better value.

Prices Change

In a service business, the cost of materials is often negligible. You have flexibility in setting prices.

Maybe you maximize profits by charging prospects different rates based on what you think they’ll pay. Personalized pricing (Six Pixels, Nov 23, 2012) is contentious, especially when we’re the buyers. Publishing prices would get in the way.

You might build more trust and earn more business by having uniform prices. Not everyone wants the lowest price. You might increase your revenue by having extra (published) charges for more scenarios/prototypes or faster results.

Think Like A Customer

Would your clients prefer clear pricing? Give it to them. You give them peace of mind. You differentiate yourself. You help them refer others to you. You put pressure on your competitors to follow your lead. You might get media attention and attract like-minded collaborators.

With fixed pricing, your profits on each client vary. You now have incentives to improve your efficiency to improve your margins. You might even charge a premium for a fixed prices with pay-as-you-go pricing as the other option.

If you don't show your prices, you raise doubts. Build trust and you build business.


PS It's November. If you start now, in a couple of months you can say "since last year" :)

November 20, 2012


safety deposit boxesIf you're in business, you need a proper Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. When you’re starting, you may be tempted to use paper, your email contact system or a simple spreadsheet. As your business grows, you need better. It's best to have a system from the outset but you can add one now. The ideal solution is
  • easy to use
  • scalable
  • web-based

Easy To Use

Using a CRM system takes discipline. Some corporate systems are onerous and get underused even if mandated. You don't want a solution like that. Many systems offer free trials. Be sure to try before you buy even if reviews say a system is excellent. You may not like it. A system which doesn't get used is a waste.


Your business may start with a single person: you. Using a system still has merit. Your contacts are probably your most valuable assets. A CRM helps your organize them and track activity.

As you add more users, the pricing varies. Take a look now to see if you like the structure as you grow.


A web-based CRM system saves you the hassle of installation and ongoing maintenance. Some systems integrate social media to give you a current snapshot of contacts and their activity on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn.

If you use Google Apps, look for a CRM solution that integrates well. For instance, Insightly is reasonable but tied to one domain (as far as I can tell). If you get email at more than one web domain, that's a limitation. For example, I have email accounts at,, and personal Gmail. However, I want to use a single CRM system since a contact is a contact.


Batchbook CRMI've been using Batchbook since January 2010. It meets the requirements above. The problem has been integration with my Google Calendar. I'd like to input events in either my Batchbook calendar or my Google calendar and have them appear in the other place.

Batchbook is currently relaunching with all plans offering unlimited users, which is bizarre for small business. The pricing is
  • $20/month: 2,000 contacts, unlimited users
  • $50/month: 10,000 contacts, unlimited users
I’m currently on the old pricing which allows unlimited contacts: one user for $15/month and five users for $30/month. This structure makes much more sense even though I’ve got no plans to add 10,000,000 contacts.

Batchbook lets you synchronize contacts with different Gmail and Google App accounts. If I get a business email at my personal account, I can easily add it to that client's record on Batchbook. You may find that fits well with the way you work.


Insightly CRMIf you're using Google Apps, try Insightly. The pricing is compelling
  • free: 3 users, 2,500 contacts
  • $29: 6 users, 10,000 contacts
Insightly works reasonably well. The free plan may be all you need if you don't mind being tied to one web domain.


There are lots of other solutions. I explored some recently but didn't find they fit my requirements well.  You may feel differently.


Will your CRM provider stay in business? There are no guarantees. If your business is successful, you'll have money to pay for a migration. When you're test-driving a solution, try the process of exporting the data.

If you’re in business, you’re big enough for CRM.


PS How do you keep track of your clients?

November 13, 2012


the water's fine
Putting yourself on display helps you overcome the #2 fear which Napoleon Hill identified: the fear of criticism.

During the year, you'll have opportunities to earn recognition for your business and yourself.

There are business excellence awards and speaking opportunities. Even TEDx events may require you to apply.

At the Toronto Small Business Summit,  The Globe and Mail is offering the opportunity to get featured on the Report on Small Business website. Here’s how.

Waiting To Get Chosen

It's nice if someone else nominates you (accept the gesture). Nominating yourself may look a tad underhanded. However, if you don't tell your story, you may find that you get ignored. That's worse.
If you tell your story, you get to use your words.

Good Odds

Entering a competition takes more effort than clicking a Like button. This small effort is big enough to deter entrants. You put the odds on your side just by entering. Answer the qualifying questions well and you're among the elite. You may only face a handful of opponents.

Better Odds

When applying, read the questions carefully and think about your answers before replying. Perhaps draft your replies in a word processor and review them.

The questions are often simple but deep. The Globe and Mail is asking why your business deserves coverage. In particular,
  1. What makes your business unique?
  2. What challenges does it face, and which ones has it overcome?
  3. What can other small businesses take away from your experiences?
Developing answers is a worthwhile exercise for any business and for you personally.


We're always judged but not always fairly. When we evaluate ourselves, we can convince ourselves of greatness that others don’t see.

In a competition, the evaluation is objective. The judges are trained. Attempts are made to reduce biases. The resulting feedback is very valuable.

Improving Your Skills

During the process, you use different communication skills.
  • written: to qualify
  • verbal: if interviewed (at the Small Business Summit, the five finalists pitch to the panel of judges in front of a live audience)
Maybe you feel you're worthy of winning but don't feel you have the skills to express yourself. A free private mentor or paid coach can help. You would likely benefit from Toastmasters if you find the right club. That’s also an ideal place to get lots of feedback and learn by watching other members.

Marketing Strategy

If the award warrants, develop a strategy to market your nomination. The stages might be nominee, finalist and winner. Even if you don't win, you're still among illustrious company. As a minimum, show your placement on LinkedIn.


Regardless of what happens, you're getting known by a larger group, including the judges. You may make valuable connections (though I'd wait until afterwards before connecting on LinkedIn and/or meeting again).

After you go through the process, you'll get a better understanding of how you differ from the winner. Make changes and get ready for the next competition.


PS When did you compete last? When will you compete next?

November 6, 2012


transparent worldHave you noticed how the world has become transparent? We have instant access to information wherever our smartphones have a signal (and reasonable roaming charges). We no longer have to guess. We can find out when we have a doubt.

As a result, we find example after example of how our trust has been violated. Here are assorted examples from @trustandyou:
Each person, company, or sector looked worthy of trust but betrayed us. In this environment, who do you trust? Who trusts your business? Who trusts you?

Get Started

Building trust was never easy. Building trust in a transparent world is tougher. The process starts with you.

You need to be worthy of trust in the eyes of others. That requires chemistry (people like you), credentials (you can do the work) and congruence (you keep promises).

Your ongoing generosity is a powerful tool to build trust when visible online. Here's why:
  • chemistry: strangers get to know you, which helps them like you and choose you
  • credentials: you demonstrate your up-to-date abilities
  • congruence: you show that the interests of your clients come first (e.g., you advocate for them)

Be Visible

To stand out in a transparent world, you must be visible. Yes, that’s scary but if you hide, you are invisible. You disappear as an easy-to-examine option.

Think of billboards. Companies spend plenty to be visible but they start fading once the ads disappear. Which provider has the great Internet experience? What was that television show with that tough looking guy? Which yogurt has a special ingredient? We forget.

You control how visible you are. You know the basics. Have destinations like your LinkedIn profile or website. Have invitations and reminders to visit your destinations by posting regular updates where your target market can see them (e.g., places like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+).

Your Ingredients

33 universities have partnered with CourseraSince expertise goes stale, you need ways to show that your learning is current and relevant. How are keeping fresh?
You can take free courses from universities like Stanford through Show what you complete on your LinkedIn profile.

What books have you read and which ones are you reading? Show them on LinkedIn via the Reading List by Amazon plugin. Write about the book to verify that you did read it. Perhaps contrast/compare with other books to show deeper mastery. Your entire network gets informed when you update your list.

Reading List by AmazonYou can also learn for free online by doing a Google search. Show what you're finding that's valuable by posting links. I mainly share by LinkedIn and Twitter.

You have other options such as paid courses or personalized coaching. How you learn isn’t as important as showing that you’ve learned.

The best way to show mastery is by applying the lessons. You can create free instantly-accessible samples in the form of text, audio or video. Live presentations also help but reach a much smaller audience unless you also record and post them.


Building trust in a transparent world takes continual effort. The rewards grow as you continue and others quit. What you do adds to what you’ve done. Your digital tapestry makes ever stronger impressions on each new visitor.

You're easier to find than ever before. You're also easier to dismiss.


PS Would you rather go back to the opaque world?