Accessibility. It has its advantages and disadvantages for solopreneurs and small business owners. The numerous modes of communication available to us give us many opportunities to consistently interact with our clients, prospects, family and friends. But always being within reach can also exhaust and overwhelm us.
How can I contact you? Let me count the ways…
It’s exciting – and almost dizzying – to think about how many ways people can communicate with us. It wasn’t all that long ago when face to face, phone, and email were the only line items on the list of ways to ask questions, follow up on inquiries, and make deals.
Now, someone could ask you to bid on a project through any one of many possible channels of communication:
- Face to face
- Contact form on your website
- Your blog (in comments)
- Facebook (messages or in a post on your business page)
- Twitter (via a mention or a direct message)
- Text message on your phone
- Instant Message
All of these touch points open the door to opportunities – some are especially significant because they can impel people to act in the moment and contact you immediately. Provided you’re able to respond quickly, you can glean new business or gain referrals that way.
The downside to extreme accessibility…
The drawback to being highly accessible is you need to monitor all of your communication channels every day, several times each day so you’re aware of when important messages arrive. If you don’t, you could miss opportunities or fail to address urgent matters before they escalate into emergencies.
Accessiblity requires follow up and follow through! And the pressure is on. Especially when expectations of a fast response are high. Did you know that 42% of people expect brands to respond to questions and issues posted on social media within one hour (via a post by Jay Baer on Convince & Convert)? Yikes!
And you can never assume a channel isn’t worth paying attention to. I can attest to that…
Typically, my direct message inbox on Twitter consists of auto-responses from other Twitter users thanking me for following them. They’re annoying so I tune them out until I have a collection built up – at which point I delete every single one. Again, that’s typically the nature of DMs; but there are exceptions. Last year, I missed out on a project when I failed to check my Twitter DMs for 2 days. A writer, for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, had left a DM asking me if I’d be available to work on an assignment she was managing. I discovered the DM too late, and I missed the opportunity. Had I checked my DMs every day, I might have landed that work. Live and learn!
How to make sure accessibility works for you, not against you…
Put a plan in place for monitoring your communications channels.
Some channels require more attention than others because of how likely you are to receive messages through them and because of how quickly people expect you to respond. Consider setting some “rules of response” for each medium. For example, you might commit to responding to emails within 24 hours, non-emergency phone calls within 6 hours, social media mentions or messages within 3 hours, etc. Of course, you’ll need to set those standards according to your own capabilities and clients’ needs.
To make sure you’re covering all the bases every day, try reserving time on your calendar (as repeat appointments) daily for checking messages on your various channels. That will also help prevent you from feeling the need to constantly check social media and email when you should be working on billable projects.
Set the precedent for what methods of communications you prefer.
Let clients and colleagues know what channels of communication will work best when collaborating with you. For example, I prefer receiving requirements and information needed for writing projects via email or through a project management app. It’s clumsy and inefficient for me to receive info like that via text messages or through social media. And while I like to confirm and get clarification on details by phone, I don’t like to communicate that way to gather the bulk of what I need.
Of course, you’ll want to make things convenient for your clients as well. And you will by establishing a routine for working together. Your projects and working relationships will flow much more smoothly if you’re exchanging information and ideas in a uniform way rather than inconsistently using multiple networks to communicate. Setting a precedent will also help alleviate misunderstandings and prevent things from slipping through the cracks.
As important as it is to make yourself accessible to prospects and clients, you may also need to set limits around your availability. Unless your business is one that deals with anything as dire as life or death situations, do clients really need to call you at 11 p.m. (unless they’re across the globe in a different time zone)? Is it necessary for them to shoot you a text for a non-urgent question that could be effectively responded to via email?
Yes, you have an obligation to serve your customers, and it’s mutually beneficial to serve them exceptionally well. But you can excel at that without being at anyone’s beck and call 24/7. You’re a business owner, but you also have a life!
How has your heightened accessibility presented opportunities and challenges for you in your business? Are there any modes of communication that have proven most demanding or difficult to control?
By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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