Please note: Names and details have been changed so that you have no idea who or what kind of business I am talking about. But all events are exactly as they happened.
So here’s how the story goes: I’ve been looking for someone to decorate my house. It’s a project I’m REALLY excited and passionate about – and so I search and search for the perfect house decorator until I finally find someone online who I know would be ABSOLUTELY PERFECT for the job.
Her name is Helen The House Decorator, seemingly new to the business. I read her “about me” page and we have a lot in common – and she even has a blog that I enjoy browsing! I really love her style and I want to hire her for the job. I think we would be a match made in heaven.
I immediately send her an overly excited email describing the kind of house decorator I am looking for, and tell her that I think she would be perfect for the job. I ask her for her opinion on the project, and for a list of her prices.
I am EXCITED, SO EXCITED!
I go out to dinner that night with some friends and everyone asks why I am bustling with energy. I share with everyone at the dinner table that I have found the perfect house decorator. My excitement to work with this woman shines through so strongly that everyone at the table is excited about it, too. So I write down her details and pass her name on to all of them. I can’t stop checking my email every five seconds waiting for that email in my inbox saying that she’d LOVE to work together and that her prices are $xyz. But I don’t get an email that evening.
Nor do I get one the next day.
NOR the next day.
A week goes by. My heart sinks and the excitement is gone. It is solely followed by embarrassment at my over-excited email to work with her, and disappointment that I have still not received a response.
Five weeks go by.
At this point I can’t help but think that maybe she didn’t receive my email at all. Maybe it went straight to her spam box – right? So I email her from a different address asking if she received my previous email. To which, a week later, I receive the response:
I am very sorry. I try to answer all my emails but my inbox is complicated at the moment. You should get a response from me next week.
Helen The House Decorator”
Wow. I am flabbergasted at this point. I am left feeling incredibly unimportant. How could my email not be near the top of her priority list? How could my project not be good enough? She couldn’t stay up ten minutes later that night to respond to me? I am knocking on her door, saying “I want to pay you for your services”, and not only did she NOT respond until I asked her to six weeks later, but she responded saying I should get an email next week… if I’m lucky.
Yes. Six weeks, my friends, and I have to wait another week until I am worthy of a proper response.
Can you ever imagine going to your favourite clothing store – standing there with your credit card in hand, ready to pay for a pair of jeans that you really love – and the people working at the store totally ignore you – saying they are “too busy” and that their system is “too complicated” and maybe you’ll be able to buy it if you come back next week?
Too busy for business? Too busy for the money I want to hand you for your product? Something is very wrong here!
Not only that, but remember my friends that I had dinner with all those weeks ago? They continually ask me how the project is going and how the “famous house decorator that had Alex bursting with excitement” is doing? Sadly I have to tell them that she never got back to me, and what a negative experience it has been…
So, how many potential clients did Helen The House Decorator lose when she decided to ignore my email? Not only did she lose me as a potential client, but she lost all of my friends who I had passed her name onto with high recommendations. A total of at least five potential customers lost. Not to mention that if she had handled the situation better, I would have been happy to recommend her to anyone I ever met asking if I knew of a good house decorator.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I know we are all busy. I know we all make mistakes, and that sometimes an email will slip through unanswered. This is not an attack on Helen. But this was a MAJOR business lesson for me. I finally know what it feels like to excitedly contact someone about their services – only to be ignored.
If someone emails you asking for your prices – it is because they are interested in your work. Take this as a HUGE compliment, and treat it as such. They will probably feel so excited for a response, and at the prospect of doing business with you. The longer you wait, the longer this feeling will wear off for them, and the less excited they will be about your business. The initial contact that you have with your potential clients is giving them a clear view of what working with you will be like. Responding to them within twenty four hours teaches them that they are your priority, and that you value their business. Responding to them weeks later teaches them that they are not your priority, and that you won’t be willing to drop everything to make them happy. Which one will you choose?
Let’s say that Helen the House Decorator was not really interested in my project at all. Cool. No problem. If she had responded saying,
“Alex, I am so sorry – my business schedule is so packed right now and I really can’t take on any new work at the moment. Why not try asking these other awesome house decorators: xyz. Hope you find what you are looking for! Kind Regards, Helen.”
I would have felt that she was in such high demand, and would have looked at her business in even higher regards as this must mean that the quality of her work is of a very high value. Her business still would have been in my good books.
If someone has the time to go out of their way to send you an email appreciating what you do – find the time to email them back. Remember that they did not have to send you an email at all, they made the conscious decision to do so – they felt you deserved it. These kinds of people, the people that email you to say “Good job!” just because? They are gems of the world. How many times do we see someone do a good job and never let them know? Too often. It is often those kind words from strangers that encourage people the most, and I wonder how many BRILLIANT PEOPLE kept going and believing in themselves because of the kind words of encouragement from others. These encouragers keep people going, they help make the world a better place. They are so important, so special, and deserve to be acknowledged for that. Do not take them for granted. They deserve at least a “thank you”.
At the end of the day, if you run a business – make the time. And if your email system is too “complicated” then UNCOMPLICATE IT! Educate yourself on how to have a better email system – this is what Kat of Rock n Roll Bride did for me. Read my post on this change here, and read her original post here.
As business owners, we aren’t perfect, we can’t be on top of everything all the time. But if there’s something that should be high on your priority list it is the way you treat existing and potential clients. And this includes emails. Do not mess this up. Invest some time to figuring out an effective and efficient way to tackle your inbox. Educate yourself. Experiment with various folders, colour coding, and templates. Figure it out. Because I’ll tell you one thing – the way Helen The House Decorator made me feel is totally unacceptable, and has been a horrible move for her business. Each and every single person you come into contact with matters. Each person has a huge network of people, and if you make them feel special and excited about your business – they will TALK! Just like I did. And if you make them feel unimportant, ignored, and disappointed – they will TALK! Just like I did.
We all make mistakes. As I said, this is not an attack on Helen - I know ignoring emails is something we have all been guilty of at one point or another. I know there have been times when I haven’t responded to people as quickly as I would have liked to. However, I know that after experiencing it myself it is something I will forever avoid at all costs.
Do not make the same mistake as Helen The House Decorator. Instead, I urge you to work on a system in which all emails get the response they deserve within twenty four hours. Work hard to make sure that the people who email you feel heard and appreciated. This will do wonders for your business, far more than you could even imagine.