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You MUST Sweat the Small Stuf

By Adrian W. Savage
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2005

First Impressions Make or Break a Small Business

If you make a poor impression in small things, why should customers trust you with larger ones like buying your product regularly or giving you a big order? In the last two days, I've seen this simple fact proved three times.

I ordered software from Company A. It came with a 30-day trial period, after which I was to be charged for the purchase if I hadn't returned the package. It's now 44 days later and I'm still waiting to be charged for my purchase and receive the code to convert to the full version. I'm having to chase them to take my money.

Company B took an order from me in person, then failed to deliver the goods. When I called them, they remembered the order, but said they had "mislaid" my credit card details, so hadn't shipped my order. No call to me to explain or get my credit card details. Just silence. Until I called to complain.

Now it may be only me, but in both cases I made a mental note not to do business with those companies again. Since they couldn't handle basic administration, I have little confidence in their ability to do anything else well.

Small businesses rarely have a stranglehold on the market so you have to buy from them because there's no one else. Typically, they're trying to make their way against flat-out competition, and you, the consumer, have all the choice in the world. If they screw up the basics, you have many other people to deal with.

Why does this happen? I guess many entrepreneurs aren't much drawn to admin. They're salespeople or inventors or marketers. The admin is an unpleasant chore they do when they must. But it matters. Lord, how it matters! They say every disgruntled customer tells around 15 other people about their bad experience. Can your business handle that much negative publicity? If you really hate admin, or you're more disorganized and memory-challenged than your Uncle Chaz who's been hospitalized for twenty years, hire someone efficient to do it for you. Until you do, you're wasting your hard work selling by losing customers as fast as you get them.

Here's how it should be done. I called a small nature tour company yesterday afternoon with a query about one of their upcoming tours. This morning I got an e-mail from their president. He explained he's presently leading a tour to one of the remoter parts of Mexico, answered my query and apologized for not being able to call me in person.

That's a first impression! Guess who I'll be doing business with in future.

About the Author
Adrian W. Savage writes for people who want help with the daily dilemmas they face at work. He has contributed more than 25 articles to leading British and American publications and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The Chicago Tribune. Through his web site, (, Adrian publishes "E-Mentor", a monthly e-zine for people interested in making their working lives happier and more effective.


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