How’s business? – Don’t fall into the easy trap when you reply

Aug 1, 2023 | Business messaging and branding, Networking, Referrals, Reputation, Sole practitioners

If you’re either a busy accountant and/or a regular at networking events, you probably get asked this question (How’s business?”) all of the time. You may also be asked by friends and family, ex-colleagues and prospective clients as well as by suppliers, associates and potential advocates.

How carefully have you thought about the way that you answer this question? Did you realise that, completely unwittingly, the person who asks the question is setting you a BIG TRAP?

And lots of accountants (indeed, all sorts of people) reply without thinking about what they’re saying, with the result that they fall into the trap and suffer the consequences of doing so.

What’s the trap?

Quite simply it’s either implying that you’ve no time for more work or that you’re not very good at what you do. Unless the former is the case you probably want to avoid saying anything that gives that impression!
It’s easiest to see the trap when someone else jumps in.

Let’s look at what might happen when we meet. I either know you’re an accountant or you would tell me that when I ask what you do. Equally you probably know that my main business is mentoring accountants and speaking on business development related topics.

After we say hello perhaps you will look me in the eye and ask, “So Mark, how’s business?”

How would you react if I gave you one of the following answers?

– It’s great thanks. I’m really busy; or
– Really good thanks – I’ve got loads on; or
– Fabulous. thanks for asking. I’m flat out.

If you’re like most people you might be pleased for me. But what would your reaction be as regards referring conference organisers and anyone else who might want a speaker for their event to me? What if a day or two later you met the managing partner of 20 partner firm of accountants who was frustrated by the lack of relevance or credibility most speakers have to his firm? Or you meet one of the team who are organising a conference intended to attract accountants? Would you think of suggesting that either of them contacted me? [I certainly hope that you’d do exactly that as I’d love to help them and to speak at their events.]

Or would you think something like – There’s no point in recommending Mark – he’s already got plenty of work? Even though you probably know that I would love you to recommend me in such situations, you might be hesitant. [Please don’t be as there’s plenty of room in my pipeline and I thrive on referrals].

Can you see the trap now?
If you tell people you’re busy you can discourage them from referring or passing work to you. It matters not that it’s your automatic response; that you weren’t thinking when you said it. The word ‘busy’ or any inference that you have plenty of work is often enough to put off people passing more work your way. They may well think to themselves: “Shame. I was going to refer some work to you, but now I’m not sure that you’d give my contact enough time and attention.”

The other way of falling into the trap is if your answer is something along the lines:

– Not so good at the moment; or
– Still plenty of space for new clients; or
– Thanks for asking – I could do with some more referrals please.

Again, if you’re like most people you might well wonder ‘why’ business is not that good and wonder how much of a risk you might be taking if you refer work to someone in such a situation? You might think: “How can he/she be any good if they don’t have much on at the moment?”

So…?
Years ago an entrepreneurial marketing guru, Chris Frederickson, suggested that a good answer to the question “How’s business?” was: “Business is great and we’re looking for more!”

I tried that for a while but it seemed a bit too ‘American’ for me. For some years, when I was still in practice, my reply was more along the lines “Everything seems to be going really well at the moment; I’ve plenty of work, largely from referrals, and still scope for more.”

That’s still, pretty much the case today!

Another more thoughtful reply is to reference an upcoming gap or space in your schedule. “I’ve been very busy recently but the pace has slowed down a little so I have some capacity for the right type of new clients” – Which is also true for me as I have yet to reach my capacity of ten 1-2-1 mentoring clients this year.

Ultimately, the key lies in striking the right balance between exuding confidence and remaining approachable. Your response should instil trust, indicating that you have the capacity to provide excellent service without being overwhelmed.

So, do think about how you will reply the next time someone asks you “How’s business?” And remember to craft your response honestly and strategically.

By the way, if business isn’t ‘great’ for you at the moment, if you have too many clients paying low fees or you would find it helpful to talk through what’s not going right in your practice, do get in touch now >>>

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