In advance of the session, try to gather the following data, where possible and appropriate:
- Industry research. You don’t need to be an expert, you simply need to show that you have an interest in what is happening in their business. This demonstrates your enthusiasm for their business and genuine care for them as clients.
- Intranet Knowledge bases.
- Benchmarking data. In some cases it won’t be possible or appropriate to benchmark your clients’ financial results. If you are conducting such an analysis, be very sure to select the right industry code.
- Profit Improvement Potential. Use the PIP workbook to enter the actual results for the past financial year.
In addition, make sure you have the following information on hand:
- Client accounting and tax file, with a minimum of the past three years’ financial results
- Management accounting file, with the latest monthly management reports and if possible, KPIs
You need to anticipate some of the questions your client might ask during the session. These might include:
- How come you’ve never mentioned this stuff to me before?
“It’s certainly been on my mind plenty of times to discuss with you. In the past I’ve been guilty of waiting for you to approach me and ask for help in these areas. But I’ve finally realised that it’s up to me to be pro-active and be the one to get things happening. In fact, I’ve decided to focus on business development and improvement services for my clients. To do that, I’ve needed to implement new systems and resources so that I can be sure I can deliver those services really well, and without disturbing the compliance side of my business. I’ve done all that now, so I’m ready to go.”
- I just don’t have the time to spend time working ‘on’ my business.
“That’s an understandable remark. In fact, I hear this comment often. I’m certainly not advocating that you work considerably longer hours, but what I am suggesting is that you spend more time working ON as opposed to IN the business. The best way for me to demonstrate the value in your doing this is for us to work on one business issue, and for you to gain confidence in this process as a consequence of the business benefiting from your actions.”
- I can’t afford to pay for Business Development Services.
“I understand your concern. The question really is, can you afford not to implement these ideas in your business?
The decision you’re facing here is simply one of whether you wish to invest in your business. That decision then becomes like any decision. You need to look at costs and benefits.
If you’ve motivated to improve your business and you have confidence in your abilities and my guidance, you’ll be comfortable with taking the next step.”
- How can I possibly know that this will work?
“The short answer is obviously that you can’t. Having said that, I wouldn’t have approached you (actually, selected you) unless I had confidence in your ability and mine, as well as being comfortable that there is further potential within your business. The best advice I can give you here is to suggest that we take a positive stance and apply as much attention to detail when implementing the ideas in your business, so that we almost guarantee success.
Timing of the Session
Morning sessions seem to work well. They don’t cut into your clients’ work day and people tend to be more receptive to new ideas first thing in the morning.
Make sure your client is very aware of the duration of the session, and that you stick to time. A two-hour planning session works well, however, if you sense that your client cannot devote two hours because of current work pressures, offer to shorten the session. For this to work you’ll have to be very well prepared and meticulous with your time management.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
First, some Don’ts
Don’t do all the talking. Business coaching is often described as 70% listening and 30% talking. Let your client tell their story, but keep an eye on the time.
- Unless you are using this planning session to launch your clients into a specific project (such as a pricing or costing project), don’t talk about specific initiatives
- Don’t make sweeping statements about your clients’ business unless you are very sure of yourself and can back your statement up with fact or valid research
- Don’t go over time unless you have specific permission from your client. If you’ve booked a two-hour session, fifteen minutes before the two hours are up, remind your client that you have 15 minutes of time left, and if the session seems to be at an important stage, ask the client if they would like to extend the session and then agree on a new finish time.
- Be yourself. Don’t suddenly start communicating to your clients in a manner that is foreign to them. This can be viewed with a great deal of scepticism
- Listen to your client like you’ve never listened before
- Be calm and collected. If you appear to be anxious to sell something to a client, they’ll pick up on this and more than likely back off
- Stay focused. Remember your purpose for holding the planning session and stick to your goal. Do not be sidetracked by irrelevant issues
Conducting the Session
Simply work through the agenda. Pay close attention to time, and remain focused on the agenda points.
It is a natural for your client to be sidetracked by irrelevant or insignificant issues, so be prepared to bring them back to the agenda, using time (or the lack of it) as your reason.
There are several possible outcomes to the meeting:
- Your client does not want your assistance with his/her Business Development. If you have selected your client carefully, this is an unlikely outcome, but nevertheless possible
- Your client wants to proceed with your involvement. You suggestion a full Planning Day and talk them through the process
- Your client want to proceed with a relatively informal monthly coaching programme
- Your client wants to proceed with a structured twelve-month development programme
- Your client wants you to work on a particular project only, perhaps as a ‘test’ of their ability to make business improvements, or even of your value as an advisor
Naturally you will need to articulate clearly the ways in which you and your client can work together and you will need to have a very good conversation about likely costs.
Wrapping up the Session
Proceed directly to the Action Plan. Write this up on the whiteboard, or type it straight into your laptop as you discuss the plan with your client.
Tell your client that you will email them the Action Plan within 24 hours and agree on a date for your next meeting or contact.