Thinking about developing new work skills to equip you for whatever mad changes lie ahead?
The traditional approach is to go to a university, but they are expensive. And closed.
Here’s another option you can get started on now to help set you up for the post-virus wasteland. You won’t get a nice framed certificate, but it’s free, the lessons are much more up to date and, as a handy bonus, it’s the best sales tool there is.
Ask your clients about their business.
Get them talking about their products, their processes, their management style. They’re so up for it, because much of their life is talking to prospects, friends and family who just aren’t that interested.
Show some genuine curiosity and you’re instantly enrolled in free business school. Just say “how did you come up with that?” or “what works for you in that situation?” and it’s game on.
I’ve been doing it for decades, and it’s honestly the most useful thing I’ve done. Far more than the business qualification I have somewhere in the cupboard.
You always learn something. Not just for work, but for your life in general.
Here are five random handy things I’ve learned from clients that were useful or just interesting outside of work.
1. Coffee doesn’t really need sugar
A well-made milk coffee doesn’t really need sugar. Milk is about 5% lactose sugar. Proper foaming breaks down the long lactose chains into smaller, sweeter sugars. The product designers at an appliance client taught me the mystical arts of espresso coffee, and I’ve loved working on those skills ever since. It’s science you can drink.
Plus, your friends will be impressed by your barista moves. You can keep your skanky pods, George Clooney.
2. Dirty phone habits
After drunks leaving phones in cabs, the next most common phone insurance claim is people who dropped theirs into the toilet. The worst version of this — and I know some culprits here — involve music festival toilets.
Keep it in your pocket, you filthy animals. You’re pushing our premiums up.
3. The killer helicopter
From the same insurance client: the most common tourist joyride helicopter out there is a Code Red safety risk. I saw all the accident data, and the chopper in question was near uninsurable thanks to its off-the-dial kill rate.
The manufacturer claims it’s the pilots, but you be the judge. I wouldn’t get into one of those helicopters to escape a burning building.
All my readers are valuable to me, please do not go up in one.
4. Corona: Bad virus, worse beer
Beer is the opposite of wine. There is no nice ageing process. Beer is like milk, at its best the day it leaves the brewery, and it’s all downhill from there. Would you drink milk shipped from the tropics on the other side of the world? Heat and light are the natural enemies of beer. That’s why the hipsters all use cans now.
And it’s one reason why all beers in clear bottles taste like bin juice. Also I think those beers are literally brewed by the marketing department.
5. Spend less on tyres
Lower your cost of your car tyres a lot by saying “I want durability tyres, not performance tyres”. Because they love fast cars, tyre sales reps like to sell you tyres designed for ultimate high-speed cornering performance, as if that’s a thing you need for your trips to the shops and school.
Those qualities also make them wear out really fast. Thanks old tyre client for that secret knowledge.
Cheers clients! You’ve saved me money, helped me eat and drink better, and saved me from perishing in an avgas fireball. And that’s not even touching on the work skills they’ve taught me.
How to seem like a genius at work
There are two ways to seem like a genius in business:
- Be a genius (difficult).
- Take basic innovations from elsewhere and be the first to apply them in your industry.
As a non-genius, stolen ideas have helped my businesses a lot. Thinking up your own, all-new ideas is really time-consuming and they might not work anyway, because most customers are terrified of new things.
I prefer ideas road-tested with someone else’s money.
A friend has a thriving business resurfacing driveways. He conquers new suburbs block-by-block with a sales strategy lifted directly from a book he read while on holidays. Was it The Sales Secrets They Didn’t Tell You At Sales School?
No, it was American Gangster. Is it wrong to build a business on ideas from the notorious Frank Lucas, the leading heroin distributor of 1970s Harlem? I’d call it ingenious and a much more entertaining story.
I just joined the advisory board of a corporate law firm whose mission is to help major firms change how they work. I know nothing about law, though I’ve learned a lot lately and it’s heaps interesting. I’m basically there to suggest ideas I’ve nicked from elsewhere, to help make this firm different from others.
And selfishly, I’ll end up with tons of law info that will help in our own businesses.
Whether you call it learning or thieving, it works.
Make clients like you
It’s basic How To Win Friends And Influence People stuff: be interested in them and it’s much more charming than crapping on about yourself and your product.
The best way to be interesting is to be interested.
Personal charm aside, it does make you more valuable to them. Clients are immersed in their own industry, and their world view is limited to what their competitors are up to. If you can bring them news and ideas from outside their goldfish bowl, they’re interested. You can help them solve problems.
You’re operating on another level compared to competitors who just know their own product.
Note: there’s a difference between news and industry gossip. That’s a very different sales approach, one that will end with closed doors and a career as an eternal drifter.
Career tip: Don’t get locked in
If you’re in the early part of your career, and you haven’t quite found your niche yet, take a job that’s client-facing over one that isn’t. The information you can pick up just builds, layer by layer, until you’re a master of general business knowledge that you can apply in any situation.
You won’t get that if you’re trapped in a closed-off department, where your only teacher is Kent from IT.
And the beauty of client university is: you never graduate, it just keeps going. The more you learn, the better questions you ask. Your conversations go to a higher level. You learn the secret language of people who are really good at stuff.
It’s a lifelong practice that keeps paying off.
So out you go and learn. Fly, my pretties.
This article was first published on Motivation for Sceptics.
You can help us (and help yourself)
Small and medium businesses and startups have never needed credible, independent journalism and information more than now.
That’s our job at SmartCompany: to keep you informed with the news, interviews and analysis you need to manage your way through this unprecedented crisis.
Now, there’s a way you can help us keep doing this: by becoming a SmartCompany supporter.
Even a small contribution will help us to keep doing the journalism that keeps Australia’s entrepreneurs informed.