Overcommunicate [SMB Consulting Best Practices book excerpt]

G’day folks – I am just wating for Sunday football to start and thought I better post up a book passage as a virtual book reading. As the author of ‘da book 🙂 it is my pleasure to share these words with the community — enjoy!!!



Harry Brelsford, CEO at smb nation www.smbnation.com

Microsoft Small Business Specialist SBSC, MBA, MCSE, MCT, MCP, CNE, CLSE, CNP

PS – did u know I host a technology conference in the New York City area each spring? Save the date for March 6-8, 2009 and watch “voice meet data” in the SMB space!

PPS – my SBS 2008 book will be out in mid-November 2008!

PPPS – my Microsoft Response Point Primer book is here NOW!


Good communication is vital to your doing well in your SMB role and keeping your clients happy, and in theory it appears so easy to do. And what I call over communicating is even better where you impress the client with your communication skills and ability to articulate technical concepts in business speak. Yet for some reason, technology consultants, including those in the SMB sector, have a hard time communicating well. My practice has grown by gaining many good clients who were frustrated with past consultants who just didn’t communicate enough. Sure warning signs of undercommunication include:

·        SMB consultant shyness — Many SMB consultants are introverted, a fact of life within the technology field as a whole. This introversion can often take the form of shyness in social interactions, such as talking to clients. It’s important to know that being a consultant is as much about communication as technical competency. The chroni­cally shy are likely to be severely challenged to make it big as an SMB consultant, because their communications skills can hold them back. On the other hand, these same individuals can be very success­ful as software developers, where communication isn’t as large a success factor as other skills (say mathematics).

·        SMB consultant arrogance — On the opposite end of the spectrum to the chronically shy is the arrogant SMB consultant. A consultant who acts like he knows everything by sharing nothing with others (including sharing important system information with clients) will not only anger the client, but will completely leave the client out of the communication loop. Please don’t be the type of technology consultant who marches in, completes the technical work, and leaves having barely uttered a word to anyone.

·        ESL — English as a second language — Many SMB clients are alarmed and frustrated by the communication problems that can result from working with SMB consultants who are unable to speak the English language well (assuming the client is English-speaking). In all fairness, I suspect those of us who speak English as a primary language would face the same communication challenge if we were to work overseas in a country where English was a secondary language.

·        Incompetence — Some SMB consultants either don’t know better about good communications, don’t care to communicate, or are incompetent. Whatever the reason, a lack of communication between the SMB consultant and client is a bad thing.

Here are a few pointers about communicating with your clients: Tell them in advance what you’re going to do; do what you said you would do; and then tell them what you did.

·                 Tell the client in advance what you’re going to do. Take a few moments to explain what your plan is to the client. You might use e­mail to communicate this if face-to-face communication isn’t possible.

·        Do the work you said you would do. Make sure you deliver the work you promised. If, for some reason, your game plan changes along the way, communicate this immediately to the client. How many times have you intended to add hardware to a machine only to find the device driver software doesn’t work? Have you ever had to ship a piece of hardware back to the reseller for this very reason? Whenever I’m caught by such a surprise, I communicate this infor­mation to the client immediately and seek advice. Clients can handle the truth; it just needs to come sooner rather than later.

·        Tell the client what you did. I typically leave a short “site report” on e-mail to the client explaining the work that was accomplished and how much I billed for it (say 2.5 hours at $125 per hour to accom­plish the six tasks). If possible, it’s even better to communicate this stuff face-to-face and then follow-up with an e-mail site report. However, I find my clients have typically left work by the time I complete my duties.

BEST PRACTICE: Hail to the babblers. When in doubt, overcommunicate with your client. While I’ve seen SMB consult­ants excused from a site for not being a communicator, I’ve not seen an SMB consultant terminated for being too talkative. This even includes the chatty chap I knew who, when asked what time it is, replied in great detail about how to build a watch. He was agony to work with, but I’d rather put up with such an overcommunicator than an undercommunicator. And if you are a babbler, kindly keep your eyes open for visual cues from your client that it’s time to shut up!

Last, I share with you the “roger” syndrome. In radio communications and some sports, like sailboat racing, a communication acknowledgement is issued. When speaking on a radio system, such as in a military operation, the recipient will typically answer “roger” to let the communicator know the message was received. In sailing, the crew always repeats the skipper’s command as a form of acknowledgement. For example, the skipper orders,

“Raise the sail,” and the crew repeats, “Raise the sail.” Both parties know the message was received and understood. I guess another example would be the TCP/IP three-way handshake, where there is an ACK packet that confirms receipt of the packet. The point is this: As an SMB consultant, when you receive a phone message or e-mail from a client, you should reply immediately, saying, “I received your message. Thanks.” This will put the client at ease and him know you are on top of the situation.


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