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January 2022

The Power of Language

The Power of Language 150 150 Cypher

The Power of Language

Speaking, writing and reading are integral to everyday life, where language is the primary tool for expression and communication. Studying how people use language – what words and phrases they consciously and unconsciously choose and combine – can help us better understand ourselves and why we behave the way we do.

Language as a lens into behaviour
Linguists analyse how certain speech patterns correspond to particular behaviours, including how language can impact people’s buying decisions or influence their social media use.

In business and in life, perception is everything and our perception is based on language; what is said and what we hear. When it comes to how we behave, how we respond, the boldness of our actions, it is driven by our perception of the situation.  It’s important to know that there is also a definite correlation between our perception and our performance; the bolder we feel, often the greater our performance.

The impact of language is demonstrated by tweaking some of the smallest words we use. For example, if you ask someone how they are, do they answer that they are ‘not bad’ (double negative), or ‘very well’ (double positive). The two phrases might mean the same thing but the emotional response elicited -in both parties- by the different language used is massive.

Your inner monologue
The language you use internally, the way you tell yourself something will be, manifests powerfully in how you approach situations in the real world. How you create your perception of a situation has a massive impact on how you show up, how you behave, what you say and how you say it.

An example is difficult meetings – we all have them- but if you tell yourself that it is going to be difficult before the meeting even starts then it completely changes your focus and the language you use. You take up more defensive positions, you act differently and the chance of a positive outcome is almost 100% less likely.

What if you changed the description of the meeting in your head from ‘difficult’ to ‘a challenge’ or a ‘realignment meeting’ or even better a ‘growth meeting’. That change in language suggests a totally different set of possibilities for the meeting.

The power of polite language
How many times have you had a conversation that has become an argument that has spiralled out of control very quickly because people were speaking in haste and not taking the time to consider the impact of their words? Take a second, pause before speaking and you can change the direction of the conversation quickly to get it back on track.

Choosing your words carefully is important, but sticking to your guns and being clear on your point is just as important. Often you need to get past the fact that it might be difficult to say or hear and make sure that you are able to make a point, without any emotion attached to it and be sure it was heard loud and clear by the subject.

Body language
A fundamental change since we have adopted video meetings is now you don’t see people’s bodies as much, which means it is harder to pick up on those subtle hints and clues that a person’s body language can give. The key to body language is that it is largely unconscious; you can take time to pick your words but body language happens more naturally.

Communication starts with body language, then the words we use, then the way we deliver them.

So, even on a Zoom or Teams meeting, think about how your audience will perceive your engagement or interest in a meeting. Sit up, or stand up, lean in, be visible.

Never say can’t or unfortunately
Two words, you should never use, as a leader, ‘can’t’, and ‘unfortunately’, which is the ultimate sentence killer; no-one ever reads past, unfortunately in an email. ‘Thanks for your recent proposal but unfortunately…’no, we didn’t get it, move on. These words are perceived in a certain way; they are very disempowering and negative. Try to substitute them.

A big issue in accountancy- and probably across professional services- is the concept of scope creep, where you basically do extra stuff for your clients, but you don’t bill them for it. Scope creep starts when a client rings you and asks if you can deliver a new course on a given day, often the conversation starts ‘could you just…’.

Whether or not you are able to accommodate this new request, the biggest difference in the language you use in your response when you agree to this additional work, is whether you say it will come with additional budget or not.  If you are clear that doing ‘X’ will add ‘Y’ to the fee, then that prevents the need for an uncomfortable conversation down the line, because your client thought the work was included and it wasn’t.

Jargon Busting
We get told by a lot of clients that they value our ability to talk about something that’s fairly complex in a way makes it a lot simpler to understand. As you can appreciate, the tax laws and implications for many businesses can be tricky to navigate. One thing we don’t do is use industry jargon, and we certainly don’t try to demonstrate our ability or knowledge of a subject by baffling a client with abbreviations.

The language of Performance
Performance is a word that is used a lot throughout business and it carries a huge amount of power because if you can clarify, through the use of language, what performance means to you, and what improving performance would mean to your business then by strengthening every aspect of it, the impact could be massive.

There are three dictionary definitions; The activity of presenting a plea concert or other form of entertainment to entertain an audience, the action or process of performing a task or function, within the context of business related to your business and your role and finally when specifically used for define business performance, it is your progress against goals, finances and customer care.

If your perception of performance is just related to business goals, then that will be the focus, but the language used to define it is much more powerful than that. Think about how you show up as a business leader; what sort of performance do you give – are you entertaining and clear? When performing  a task do you create the optimal conditions for success?

The pen is mightier than the sword
The adage created by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, indicated that the written word is more effective than violence as a tool for communicating a point. I read an article recently about a person that came back from holiday to about 14,000 emails. My first thought was why this bottle neck was allowed to happen but interestingly the guy’s approach to clearing his inbox was to type as few words as possible in his responses.

By cutting out all the pleasantries, his emails were a simple ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘okay’ and ‘get it done’. If it was more complex than a binary yes or no, he would write ‘this sounds like a conversation’. And if he got a call subsequently, then he would deal with it and if he didn’t get a call then obviously it wasn’t important and he cleared his inbox.

But the feedback he got, mainly from his team was along the lines of what have we done wrong, why are you being so short with us? We all agonise and rightly so about how an email will sound to the recipient. I have taken to responding to WhatsApps via voice message. When they are read out by Siri in a monotone, emotionless voice with different punctuation it’s amazing how it changes the message and how people perceive the message.

Words are incredibly powerful. People perceive us in a certain way based on our language. Our products and services are differentiated based on our language, even our brand is language. There are opportunities to strengthen the language we use everywhere and as entrepreneurs; if we can master the use of language in different situations it is going to give us a great advantage.

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If your business could use the Cypher touch, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your options.

Vampire Clients

Vampire Clients 150 150 Cypher

Vampire Clients

As we all know, every business, at one time or another will have clients that don’t go so well – and consistently don’t go well. You will recognise them; Vampire clients are so called because they suck out all of your time, they suck all of the joy out of the room, they suck profit out of your business and they suck the energy out of your day. So what do we do about these Vampire Clients?

The problem is that business owners are fundamentally scared to say no. Moreover, they have a deep seated, pathological fear of firing a client, but if you have a client that is not working and is never going to work then please, get rid. Passing them on to someone else is the best decision you can make.

Don’t invite a Vampire into your house.
The first rule about vampires is they have to be invited in to your home.

Typically, when you start a new business, you pretty much take any client available- anyone with a pulse and a chequebook. But, once you have passed the first six months or so of trading you should start to look for red flags – they will appear as early as the prospecting meeting.

We know we aren’t the cheapest accountant out there; we offer a fixed price monthly fee and wrap all of our services into a bespoke package we think will suit a client. If the prospect is fixated on price, wants to get it five pounds cheaper or continues to question why we charge for this or that or says ‘my old accountant didn’t do that’, then these are red flags. If it doesn’t feel right on day one, chances are it won’t get any better. Avoid this type of client by not engaging with them in the first place.

Vampire Hunting
Before you can get rid of a Vampire, first you have to identify them.

Vampires – and Vampire Clients- are experts at hiding in plain sight. They can live among us mortal humans quite easily and apart from a few unsavoury proclivities around meal times, we could all get on very well. But before you can do something about a Vampire client, first you have to find them.

I know a lot of businesses have a grading system for clients. They segment their customer base and then rank it against their ideal client criteria. Using A’s, B’s, C’s and D’s or ones, twos, threes, etc, the objective is to see how many clients fit into your ideal client base and importantly which don’t.

Grading criteria could include customers paying the right price for your service, paying on time or buying more than one service. As well as quantifiable rules you can also add in some qualitative ones; do they get on with the team? Are they nice human beings? Do they return your calls promptly if you have a question?

Hopefully the vast majority are going to be in your top categories. But when you identify clients that aren’t, don’t fire them straight away, first try and understand what the issue is and see if you can fix it. Like in the movies, they may not even know they are Vampires yet!

Many clients don’t know they are doing anything wrong, especially if you haven’t told them. We found that a lot of the reasons our clients weren’t grade ‘A’ was in fact largely our fault. Ask yourself, were you clear at the start about your fees, what you charge for and ways of working? Are you doing lots of work that you aren’t getting paid for, or because you are so focused on client astonishment, are you bending over backwards to serve a client which is causing the friction.

Whatever the issue you’ve got three options; either re-write the rules of the game, fix the issue or fire the client – stakes are optional.

Vampires eat you from the inside out.
A Vampire Client can become cancerous. While they are sucking the time and profit out of your business, think of the damage they can do to your team. A Vampire Client can suck the energy out of a team member meaning they fall over, they go off sick and so your service levels to other clients drops and you start to lose those clients too. The situation becomes really imbalanced and if good clients leave you are even more at the mercy of your Vampire friends.

Have your team around you.
One of the most powerful things we did when grading our clients was to involve the whole team. We wanted them all on-board so it was a collaborative decision. It demonstrated to me that clients can act differently with different members of the team. Where I might get some great emails from clients or none at all because I generally speak to them on the phone, members of the team identified some awful correspondence they had received. And if I am not in the office, certain clients were known to just bring the mood down and suck the life out of the team. It’s a massive thing, but you need to back your team, let the clients go and destroy someone else’s work force.

Killing off the Vampires is like a stake through the heart
Once you identify your Vampire Clients, one of the hardest things to do is kill them off. Van Helsing doesn’t ride into town to do the dirty work, as the business owner the job is yours.  When the time comes, the shift in mindset you need is to stop thinking about this as a loss of revenue – the money, like the person they were before they became a vampire, is gone – instead think about the time you have saved, the energy you can put back into your other clients.

When it is time to let them go, firstly, be open, honest and transparent. Ideally, you should do it in person and explain that the relationship isn’t working – for either party- and that other firms would be better placed to offer what they need. You might find they are thinking the same thing and it can be perfectly straightforward and honest.

Remember no one has the right to buy from you. This is your business, your rules. And so, for any reason you want, you can say it’s not working. You can’t leave customers in the lurch, but you can terminate relationships, move on and let them be a Vampire to someone else.

Avoiding Vampires.
The benefits of avoiding Vampire Clients are enormous; you are free of negative energy and the time they take up, which allows you to focus more on clients that love what you do. It takes courage and it takes belief in your business, but you’re not losing the revenue, because you never had it in the first place. What you are losing or rather saving is the time and hassle that would come with this client.

Whether it’s your smallest or biggest client all a lot of business owners are going to see is the lost revenue as a result of firing them but if you put the new-found time and energy back into delighting clients the referrals can easily fill that void. We had to do it once but we filled the gap in six weeks.

Whether you diagnose that you have one or a colony of Vampire Clients, the key is to act fast to either turn them around or turn them out. This starts with understanding what makes a good client for your business and what doesn’t. Once you have categorised your clients you can identify the ones that are more Vampirish and deal with them in a way that makes them good ones – think Robert Pattinson’s character in Twilight. Once you understand all of this, you can take this knowledge, this power into every prospect meeting and once you see potential Vampire Client bare their fangs close the door and don’t invite them in.

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If your business could use the Cypher touch, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your options.

Strengthen or Grow

Strengthen or Grow 150 150 Cypher

Strengthen or Grow

Have you ever considered that strengthening your business is even more important than growing your business?

If the point of a business is to generate wealth for the business owners, then business growth is generally defined as an increase in sales or revenue either month on month, or year on year. We focus on the top line, because that’s how we’re taught to read a set of accounts. So unless revenue and sales have gone up, the business hasn’t grown and in fact it may be considered to be in decline.

We may tweak other elements, so even if revenues are flat, maybe costs have decreased so bottom line growth still occurs, profits are still up and business owners can still take more money out at the end of the financial year.

Whichever way you look at it, wealth plays a huge part in top or bottom line growth.  But, this need to grow, this need for more clients, to grow the pipeline in order to be more successful creates a lot of inherent pressure for business owners, whereas the concept of strengthening a business comes with a lot less anxiety.

Strength equals power
The concept of strengthening a business is far more empowering. It is a more internal focus that ultimately still leads to growth. For example, we talk about cash flow a lot on the podcast; making huge profits in month eight of a financial year is entirely useless if you don’t have cash in the bank in month four to pay suppliers, staff, or rent. So strengthening systems around cash flow; for example payment terms and conditions can sometimes be more important than sales.

And that is just one aspect worth strengthening. Business owners can focus on strengthening customer communications, they can strengthen service quality, strengthen their leadership or people development through training and knowledge share. Having a stronger, better version of any business is more attractive to customers, which will, in turn, lead to sustainable, organic growth, without all of the top line pressure.

Grow or Die
There is a school of thought, prevalent amongst many business coaches, that if a business isn’t growing, it’s dying. But I suggest that focusing on strengthening your business will still bring the growth and in fact just growing – for growth’s sake- can cause a business to die.

During a period of growth, lots of noise will appear in the business because as the business owner you haven’t had the time to do anything other than deal with the increased demand. You are building or delivering your product, on-boarding new customers, buying space, software or other tools to support your delivery which means you don’t get time to take stock because everything’s coming at you at a hundred miles an hour.

Now, we may be just splitting semantics here; I say strengthening, you say consolidating, but I think every business should, after a period of sustained growth, take their foot off the gas and strengthen (or consolidate) their position including their systems, their people and their operations.  You can still grow everything other than your top line through this process.

If you’re growing consistently for say six months, then in the following three months- or 50% of the growth period- I would argue that you need time to actually review your new systems and your new people to make sure they’re all bedded in, make sure you aren’t spending money on things you don’t need to. You have grown the top line; now focus on the bottom line.

This is the time to look at your margins, make sure you aren’t still offering discounted rates to attract customers, review your pricing strategy check you aren’t loss-leading throughout a client’s lifecycle. You may have taken on a new overhead – at pace- to deal with the growth; now is a time to look at the way you financed it or are using it. I’ve seen lots of businesses who just grow, grow, grow, thinking everything’s rosy and then bang, they run out of cash!

I always encourage clients to create the business they aspire to, not the one they have, so getting the right operations, the systems, the people, the brand, the marketing, the leadership in place for where you want to be in two-to-five years’ time. Spend time strengthening your ability, your attitudes and your behaviours to be better at what you do. Delight your clients and growth will come.

Death by growth
A client from a previous business was increasing his revenue by about sixty to seventy grand annually. He was approaching a million pound business but his margin –the amount he made per pound that he sold- was dropping every year by about five or six percent. His problem was that while he was taking on more and more work, he didn’t have the capacity or the machines  in house to deliver it so was subbing it all out and having filled up his regular sub-contractors, he was going further and further afield, using more and more expensive services to get the work done. All the new revenue was costing him more and bringing more stress.

We sat down and instead of focusing on growing, we asked him to think about strengthening. We said, ‘if we take out this £300,000 of extra sales you’ve made over the last three and a half years and start saying, no, what can this do for the business and importantly for you’? There were two outcomes; he jettisoned the more stressful work being outsourced to more expensive and less skilled contractors and raised the prices for the work he could deliver in house using his two best sub-contractors. The result was that yes we knocked £300,000 off his total revenue, but we gave him back about a day a week out of the office and actually created about 35,000 additional net profit.

The growth wasn’t making the business stronger, because it was becoming more and more dependent on an ever increasing pool of sub-standard, sub-contractors who were getting further away from delighting customers. In this example, growing was actually causing the business to die.

Growth by social media
Now, of course if you are a business owner that uses social media a lot, particularly to build your personal brand – showing how you are smashing it daily- you may not want to change your focus from telling people how well you are growing. Posting less can lead to a perception you aren’t doing well, but I think that in this scenario, transparency and honestly builds trust – and strength.

Change the rhetoric slightly, stop posting about how delighted you are to on-board a new client and maybe talk about how well you are serving those clients – or better still get them to do it for you.

Strong Service Brings Growth
If your business continually delivers the highest quality of service, you’re always going to have a business and arguably, one at the top end of your industry in terms of performance. To continually create a wonderful client experience your business needs to be strong. As soon as the client service delivery drops your business is becoming weaker. It may be because of rapid growth and there’s too much demand for the resource that you’ve got but it isn’t sustainable to not deliver good service.

My final point is this; take the time to review your business, look at all aspects and then ask yourself three questions:

Does this help grow my revenue?
Does it strengthen my bottom line?
Does it strengthen my personal wellbeing?

Looking at things through these lenses is a good starting point to strengthen the financial side of your business as well as the health of the person running it. If you answer no too many times, jettison that work or activity. You will be stronger – and grow better- for doing it.

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