Business acumen...hmmm...what is this elusive concept?
As I understand it, business acumen is: keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a "business situation" in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome.
With business acumen, you deeply understand the business of being in business. You can decidedly lead and manage yourself and you also make good money in the process.
There are times when it’s not just enough to have business acumen though, you have to demonstrate that you really have it.
One of these times is when you meet with a person who is likely to give you their business.
As a consultant, I’ve had the pleasure of attending meetings with other consultants as part of a team. And, I was thoroughly impressed with the way they conducted themselves at those meetings.
They somehow managed to strike the desired blend of friendliness and professionalism that sent the message “we would be happy to get a contract but if we don’t...it's all good.
I’ve also had the displeasure of going to meetings with other consultants as part of a team and I was really distressed with the way those meetings went.
Some of the team members were practically groveling. They were talking too much trying to impress everyone that they had incredible knowledge. I could feel the resentment from the prospect.
So now, I don’t want you to make these amateur mistakes. I want you to be able to smoothly move a consulting process from a meeting, through a proposal, to a confirmed contract.
I want to show you how to demonstrate that you have business savvy, when you meet with a prospect.
So stick around for my 9 easy business acumen tips you will want to use, starting from your next prospect meeting.
1. Let the prospect determine how you will meet
Don’t insist on a Skype meeting, for example, when your potential client wants to meet you face2face.
You need to understand, that you are about to start a new relationship and some people want to “see” the person who will come and perhaps change their business and their lives forever.
Moreover, if you’re this inflexible so early in the process, it makes a potential client very wary of doing business with you.
2. Do your research before you go into the meeting
As a consultant, most of your business is by referral (I hope!)
This gives you the opportunity to ask the person referring you questions such as: how did you see me helping “Joan King” when you referred me?
Next, you can ask the person who you will be meeting with if they can give you some idea of their problem or issue. You can also ask who else will be attending the meeting.
This is the minimum amount of research you should conduct before a meeting with a prospect. Depending on the type of client and their reputation in the market, you might need to do even more research.
3. Present yourself in a way that show your business acumen
Do not present yourself as an interviewer. You know what I mean... “I’m here to collect some information in as short a time as possible then I will go back to my office and analyse it!”
Or worse, like bright girl or bright boy as in: okay idiots, bright girl is here, move over!
I hang my head in shame now to think I used to behave like that when I first started out. This is what happens when you have no business acumen!
So how do you present yourself?
Rely on your super networking skills and present yourself as a business owner looking for a potential partner.
Numbers 4 and 5 below will help you in this regard.
When you connect in this way, you soon find common ground from which to create something that both of you can benefit from, and which can also benefit others.
Isn’t that what you have in mind whenever you exchange business cards?
4. Never jump straight into a sales pitch
Yes...I know you’re looking for business. But to start selling yourself or your business from the outset is the surest way to guarantee you get NO business.
For the most part, people do business with people whom they know, like and trust.
During the course of the initial conversation with a potential client, here’s a great way to put your business acumen into full effect.
Try to find out a little bit about who they really are, why they do what they do, what is their passion and how it resonates with what you do and your passion.
Getting to know a little about the human side of your potential client and allowing them to know something about yours, goes a long way in building a relationship that helps to start what could be a long-term business relationship.
5. Facilitate meaningful conversation
Don’t do all the talking during the meeting.
You may be tempted to talk too much believing you’re adding value, straight out the blocks.
Actually, this overwhelms the prospect and creates a sense in their mind that you are not interested in their problem.
And don’t do all the listening either.
This may be your approach to gathering information but a potential client soon begins to feel uncomfortable, if they have to speak for a length of time without your input.
So, try to facilitate conversation.
Don’t overpower the situation but ask meaningful and relevant questions as part of your conversation. Then listen for the answers before you rush to add to the conversation.
6. Take notes during the meeting
I don’t care how good your memory is or what is your game plan – take notes during the meeting!
First of all, when you record the main points of the discussions, when you carefully capture the problem, it is easier to prepare a meaningful proposal.
Secondly, it establishes your business acumen and sets you apart as a serious business person who is actually engaged from the very beginning.
Thirdly, you remember at #4 above I said people do business with people whom they know, like and trust?
Well, one of the fastest ways to create mistrust is to sit during a meeting with a prospect and not take a single note.
7. Don’t book client meetings back to back
I was talking to my friend recently and he was “crazy busy”, rushing from one appointment to the other.
I thought he was just plain crazy.
Come on! You’re not a doctor or a dentist, so why are you rushing from one prospect to the other?
Rushing a prospect because you have another meeting with another prospect, sends a clear signal to the person that this consulting Joker “ain’t ready yet!”
I know some of you do this to create the impression that you are in demand and you are the right person for the job. But that’s not how it is interpreted by the prospect.
Furthermore, if you choose to work for yourself, you should design your life and your work so that you are not on the corporate conveyor belt, however much in demand you are.
8. Don’t charge for meetings...
if you work in the Caribbean.
Charging for meetings is not part of our culture. If you do, I guarantee you that this is all the money you will work for from that prospect.
I discovered how annoying people found this first hand.
I was referred to an off-shore company and I had an interesting meeting with them. At the end of the meeting, I got cool a contract. I was very pleased but I was also mildly surprised.
When I diplomatically asked them about it, they were keen to explained that “I had delivered more value in the hour and a half than the previous consultant and I had not charged!”
Yes, meetings cost you and yes they are time consuming but by the same token, so are proposals.
Listen, if you are worth your salt, you will soon establish a fee structure which will be a unique blend of your time and the value you add to clients. This should cover all your costs and make you a decent profit.
But if you must charge for a meeting, let the person know upfront. The only thing worse than being charged for a meeting, is feeling you've been duped into charging for a meeting.
9. Place a Deadline on the proposal upfront
If you’re requested to send a proposal, right at the meeting, let the prospect know when they can expect a proposal from you – and stick to that deadline.
Telling people that you are not sure when you can get a proposal back to them does not make you appear “in demand” at all!
And when your proposal arrives on time, make sure it’s a really awesome proposal.
Keep your content tight and relevant – I can’t stress this enough.
Remember you’re not writing a novel so you don’t have to set the scene.
Your client just wants enough information to be convinced that they were right to choose you and to make a decision on your proposal.
They are busy people, remember?
Your next “business acumen” steps
So here we are...9 cool business acumen tips later!
If you've stayed with me this far, you can’t wait for your next prospect meeting.
That’s because you know that implementing even one of these tips will improve your feelings about prospect meetings and your performance at these same meetings.
You might have been doing it wrong all along but all that’s about to change.
How do I know?
You’re not stupid and now you have help. You can now transform your initial client meetings into long-term relationships that will be beneficial to both of you.
If you choose not to, you will be quickly looking for the next prospect. Then the next...And the next... And the next...