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After thirty-five years of running my company, Mid-Hudson Marketing, I have come to realize some truths about what makes business successful. Regardless of what business you’re in, if you give customers what they want, customers will be happy. And happy customers come back. They also refer you to other clients.

Now, you would think that in a marketing business, a client would come to me to bring them business. But ironically, when a client comes to me for marketing services, there is much more to what the client wants than is obvious on the surface. Clients need a confidant. Clients need friends. Customers need reliable helpers to do the things they can’t do themselves and to do them well. Clients need trusted business partners who they can lean on in times of need to provide guidance and advice. Customers need all of this, but they don’t want to be overcharged. And customers need these things exactly when they need them, at the precise moment they ask for them, without having to wait their turn. After all, customers are busy people with many important tasks, including the success of their own businesses. It’s rare for a client to recognize that you and he or she have that in common.

No, clients, by definition, tend to be quite selfish and only have their own concerns in mind. When they call you, they need you. Otherwise, they don’t call. Of course, in the current state of the economy, receiving a call from a client in need must be considered a blessing if he runs a business. This is his bread and butter. And besides, the reason they can be excused for their nearsightedness is that they’re paying you to help them. Not the other way.

It doesn’t matter that they may be preventing you from meeting the needs of other important customers whose calls may have come first. It’s an exercise in tact and diplomacy that provides you with the right things to say to satisfy the demands of all customers within the given time constraints. No client wants to be told what to expect, and everyone deserves your best efforts to fulfill whatever they expect of you.

Fortunately, the laws of probability generally dole out these calls fairly randomly so you’re not overwhelmed by immediate urgency that’s impossible to meet. And in a business like marketing, there are a multitude of different tasks that clients may need, all requiring different skills, time allocations, and completion expectations.

And of course, not all projects arrive as phone calls. Many come as emails in today’s world. But in any case, an immediate response is the most important course of action for you as a business owner to provide the solution that everyone is looking for. I find that most clients just want to know that they are important to you and that you are grateful for their call, and that you intend to attend to their requests immediately. This is usually accomplished by a quick callback or email response confirming receipt of their message and how you intend to fulfill what they need. I also always promise to confirm when the job is done. Once this is done, my stress level is reduced for the moment because the immediacy of the demand has been met. However, as anyone who owns a business knows, chronic stress is part of success, as it drives us to do the job clients ask for, as quickly and expertly as possible.

The next step for the business owner is the prioritization of the tasks at hand. I approach this by figuring out how many steps are in the process, how long each one will take, and how soon I can get it done while working on a multitude of jobs simultaneously. For a small business owner, or people running their businesses single-handedly (like me), this usually means being a workaholic and working morning, noon and night, 24/7. That is not an exaggeration. I work every moment I can, carving out time for grooming, eating, sleeping, and an hour of daily exercise every day, without fail! Of course, I admit that I am very robotic in everything that serves me in business in my life. The reason is that I can easily multitask without interrupting my concentration on the most important application of my attention.

An example would be answering the phone with my standard greeting without missing a beat, while using any of my many software programs to design, write, produce, enhance, or convert any number of the many jobs I juggle on a daily basis. People often comment that I sound like a recording. We laugh about it and move on. My predictability is not only beneficial to my business, but appreciated by my clients who can reach me in a ring or two without having to wade through the mire and mire of phone prompts or receptionists to try to speak to me directly. Sure, sometimes they get my voicemail, but I always call them back and never keep them waiting.

However, I must disclose that prior to a couple of years ago, when I was maintaining a set of formal business offices in the larger city nearby, my work hours were quite different. The time to travel, even on the worst days of winter, consumed a good part of my availability to continue with my workload. I used to think that time was well spent… as a “creative break”, as a German music teacher I had at Bard College used to say. It’s time to reflect, plan the strategy, get an overview of the business as a whole. Now, however, since I was prescient enough to realize that closing that overhead-heavy office I had prided myself on during a 35-year career was an unaffordable luxury in today’s economy and moving home was the next best thing for many reasons, my time is much better suited.

First of all, now I have a life! How, you may ask, can I have a life if I work 24/7?! Well, because I love what I do for a living, I definitely enjoy working from home. Here are the main differences:

  • Instead of getting up at 4 am to dress perfectly, read several newspapers over breakfast, and drive an hour to work, I now wake up at 8:15 am and run up and down the stairs to exercise for 20 minutes (2500 steps in total!) My work day usually starts around 9 am, which is the norm for most office workers.

  • Instead of having to wear high heels while driving to and from the occasional client meeting that also killed a good chunk of my day (not to mention my feet!), I now stay home and avoid meeting anyone entirely. I am fully accessible by email and phone and seeing me in person is unnecessary in this age of internet access and video conferencing.

  • Instead of leaving the office late on a fast-paced drive home to make dinner after stopping at the grocery store, a gas station, and navigating through the occasional traffic jam and subsequent longer-than-usual detour, I now take a twenty-minute walk with my husband around 4:30 every day and after continuing to work until 6:30, start making dinner after a productive 9-hour day. I am lucky to have a retired husband/partner who now does all the shopping.

  • Instead of ending my day at 9:30 pm to try and get enough sleep to wake up at 4 and start over, I can now watch the end of the Yankees game most nights if they’re still playing around 10 pm, which is when I stop work after dinner to enjoy some TV exposure and eat an apple. Bedtime for the robot is now around midnight, giving me about 8 hours of sleep each night vs. 8 hours. my previous average of 5.5 hours. That in itself has given me back my life!

But a lot has changed in business since the economic downturn. It’s not a surprise to hear of people working from home. Having an office was wonderful for many years when people came for frequent conferences or to review tests. There was a time when I spent entire days taking high-quality photography at the site, sometimes from helicopters, using gyroscopes and expensive long-lens rentals as I flew through now-forbidden airspace over Manhattan. Times have changed and my industry with it. We have become an online culture with everything accessible through affordable high-quality digital photography and emailed PDF proofs. People are more conservative than ever about business expenses and the cost of gas and everything has reduced the way we all do business. And as a result, how much we charge has also become a sensitive issue.

Having reached a place in my life where money is no longer a matter of life and death, sink or swim, I am fortunate to have the freedom to negotiate agreeable rates with long-term clients I respect who have expressed anxiety over the loss of income due to the reduced business everyone has felt. Once you reach a certain age, you realize that life doesn’t last forever and it’s more important to live life for the pleasure it can bring than for some arbitrary dollar figure you once aspired to. Since my house and cars are all paid off and I am assured of some relatively satisfying investments, it is more important to me to have clients who seek my intelligence and skills, and to keep me busy with interesting work, than to try to amass a fortune doing it. I’m also lucky (and have been for most of my career) that I don’t have to look for a job. It just comes, as always, from clients I’ve been working with for most of my life. Those customers recommend others. And, there are always new clients who find me through my website. Yes, my office was a beautiful representation of my polished business image, my brand… but I’ve accomplished the same thing through my website, at a much reduced cost!

I have written this article, which is really more of a glimpse into my life, with the purpose of sharing the kind of things that bring success. Not so much for the specific information, but for the attitudinal and philosophical truths that shape a person’s life. Always putting the customer first; do the best job possible; respect for the client’s needs and time; be frugal with spending; and above all, being fair in every way; These are the ways I have found success in my life. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, thank goodness. Not being destitute, having a perfectly ripe avocado available, a good apple, my favorite balsamic vinegar, skim milk, oatmeal, nuts, my Taster’s Choice decaf. These are things that make me happy. And, a kind word from a happy customer every once in a while! Do I mind working full holiday weekends to meet client deadlines and work goals? You are welcome. I thrive on it. And this would define it as success in business.

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