A month or two ago I gave a talk arranged by Rabbi David Masinter to a group of young adults. Rather than try explaining global markets to youngsters, who had only entered the work force and were probably more concerned with meeting their rental payments than discussing Abenomics, I chose to share some guidelines that I had followed over the past ten years to help me build up my customer base.
I had spent most of my career on the stock exchange servicing institutional investors, but when my employer at the time the giant French bank Société Générale elected to exit all emerging markets in 2002, I vowed that I would never put myself in a position where my livelihood was nothing more than a column on a spread sheet that could be dispensed with by simply hitting the delete button on a computer keyboard.
Long story short, I re-joined Sasfin Securities in 2005, at the age of 57, with the purpose of helping the brokerage firm build its profile in the market while at the same time developing my own private client business. Société Générale had sold its private client division (Frankel Pollak) to Sasfin Bank in 2000 in order to focus solely on the institutional market.
Apart from a few friends, I had no major clients, yet, 11 years later I have established a decent little business, profitable enough now to employ four assistants. It was hard work and there were no short cuts - customers were added one at a time.
I realise that every person has their own flair and what worked for me might not necessarily work for others. After all Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar have different touches on the ball, yet they are all great footballers.
So below I have listed 10 rules that I have tried to follow when meeting new and established clients, admitting upfront that it is not always possible to adhere to them dutifully:
Rule 1: Your service should be bought and not sold. Attract clients on your skills and knowledge. Golf days, cricket boxes, calendars and diaries give the marketing department something to do, but they never get you business. You don’t go to a doctor because of his golf swing or because your lawyer has a box at the Wanderers. And if you do get business that way, it shows how easily your client can be swayed, which puts ongoing pressure on you to embolden your offerings. So don’t woo clients with gifts, woo them with talent and expertise.
Rule 2: Leave your cell phone in your brief case when meeting a client. A cell phone is a major distraction. You need to maintain eye contact during a meeting. Glancing down at your phone sends a message that you are more interested in other matters. Answering a phone during a meeting is a strong signal that you are not really focused on the proceedings. Besides, it is just plain rude.
Rule 3: Leave your watch in your brief case, too. Never put discussions with a client under a time constraint. Always leave adequate time for a chat. Building a relationship is not speed-dating; it takes time to create trust. So leave enough time in a meeting to get to know what your client wants from you and for you to explain amply what services you provide.
Rule 4: Always dress neatly and appropriately. Don’t look like you’ve come to repair the air conditioner. Clients appreciate it if you dress smartly for them. It makes them feel valued. It’s also a reflection of your character. If you don’t know what’s fitting, ask your bobba.
Rule 5: Reputation is everything you have. Avoid the temptation to do something that you know is questionable, even if the rewards seem enticing. Time does not eradicate dubious dealings; the stigma follows you your whole life. Rather work hard at preserving your skills. Try learning something new every day. Go to bed smarter than when you woke up; read, read, read. Expand your competency beyond your work. Know what’s going on around you, understanding there is always someone wanting your job and your clients.
Rule 6: Know when to walk away. When pursuing business don’t let your ego get the better of you. Not everyone will like you or need you, no matter how noble or smart you think you are. And not all business is good. Especially avoid clients who “buy for a tickey, but give a shilling’s trouble.”
Rule 7: Do not reject smaller accounts. Treat every client with the same measure of respect. Most businesses are made up of an accumulation of marginal accounts. Clients also tend to test you by feeding you lesser amounts initially. Some of the largest portfolios I manage today were initially deemed inconsequential. Furthermore, a number of introductions and referrals have come from my “smaller” clients.
Rule 8: Avoid buzzwords or industry talk. Don’t show off. Stay away from fashionable phrases and acronyms. Address your clients as though you are speaking to your young brother or sister. If you can’t explain what you can do in simple, everyday language it means you don’t really know what you are talking about.
Rule 9: Get back to your clients as soon as possible. We all receive hundreds of mails and calls daily. It puts us under immense pressure to reply instantly. But, even if you are busy, let your client know you have received their mail or call and that you will revert to them as soon as you have a moment. Or ask if there is someone else who can help them in the meantime. Don’t leave them hanging.
Lastly, Rule 10: Make money for your clients and not from them. Clients want to know you’re working for them. Even if you are successful, don’t show off. Your indulgences might impress your neighbours, but not your clients. Their first thought is that they are probably paying for them. And don’t load your fees; there is nothing that angers a person more than paying excessive fees. Maintain your integrity, the money will come.