Developing a Reputation
Part V: Be Dependable
More of this Feature
• Part 1: Most Valuable Asset
• Part 2: Be Prolific
• Part 3: Be Ubiquitous
• Part 4: Be Generous
• Part 6: Be Credible
From Other Guides
• Dealing With Email Effectively (Small Business Canada)
• How To Stop Procrastinating (Depression)
• Say No To Responsibility Overload (Stress Management)
Elsewhere on the Web
• Do What You Say You'll Do
• Why People Don't Like Consultants
Being dependable is always an essential factor of reputation, whether it be a consultant or a car. It's impossible to have a good reputation without dependability. It doesn't matter how fast or flashy your car is if it's in the shop all the time. Being dependable is basically very simple and can be summed up in one sentence: "Say what you're going to do and then do it." Unfortunately, it's not always that simple. In fact, failure to follow through on what we say has become such a dominant pattern of modern life that most of us aren't even aware when we do it. I don't propose to offer a general solution for this, nor are we going to discuss dependability with existing customers, as that's really a part of the broader topic of customer service. What we're going to look at is some of the specific issues consultants face when starting out and some specific ideas on how to handle them.
You meet someone, you exchange business cards, and they say they'll contact you with some sort of relevant information or business contact. You don't hear from them. The next time they see you, of course, they're very apologetic and tell you they'll send it to you this time. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. I'd bet money this has happened to you. I'd even bet money you've done it yourself once or twice. This probably won't kill your reputation, since that's what everyone else is doing, too. But I promise you that if you overcome this problem, you'll do wonders for your reputation.
My solution to this is really simple, but it's the only one I've found that works. Quite simply, don't go to bed at night until you've handled all your follow-ups. That doesn't mean you have to actually deliver whatever it is you've said you're going to deliver. But you must do three things: 1) figure out what the next step is to deliver whatever you committed to, 2) put it on your schedule/calendar/to-do list for the appropriate date, and 3) contact the person, tell them what a pleasure it was to see/meet them, and either deliver what you promised or tell them when you plan to deliver it. Just watch how people respond to this—you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Just like with the business cards, there's really no excuse for an email or voice mail to go unanswered for more than 24 hours (48 at the most). The same rule applies for these follow-ups as for the business cards—figure out the next step, put it on your calendar, and contact the person. This should only take a couple of minutes. Set aside a half hour or so before you go to bed and just get it handled. You'll sleep better!
Finish What You Start
As we already mentioned, once you start volunteering your services, it's very easy to become over-committed very quickly. The other thing that happens is we start various projects that we tell our friends and family about—writing an article, putting up a web site, getting some certification, etc. All of this public unfinished business not only damages your reputation, it eats away at your psyche.
There are plenty of books out there to recommend on managing your tasks and juggling conflicting priorities. And while a total system for managing all this is way beyond the scope of this article, there's one bit of simple advice I can offer. Whenever a project nears seventy to eighty percent completion, push back everything else that can be pushed back and go ahead and finish the project. This will do wonders for both your reputation and your peace of mind.