I am writing this from different perspectives: a client who has received bad news, a small business owner who has given bad news, a client who has given bad news, a client who has given bad news because a small business owner didn’t, a small business owner who didn’t know how to give bad news/didn’t want to.
So, if you get the gist I understand that this isn’t particularly easy but I have found a way to do it.
What is bad news to a small business owner?
Yes, we are all different and so are our businesses and this is why not all of us have issues with delivering the same types of bad news. In the end, we all have some level of discomfort around delivering what we believe is bad news (in our eyes).
I did a quick survey of some small business owners and the types of bad news they struggle with delivering are:
– price rises
– being unable to provide a requested product or service
– not providing a product/service in time
– cancelling a contract with a client
– chasing overdue bills
– saying no to work outside of scope/core business hours
– telling a client that there’s nothing that can be done to fix a problem.
The majority of people had an issue with price rises (over 25%). Almost 20% of people found it difficult to tell clients that they couldn’t provide a requested product or service at all or a requested product or service when they said they would. So there were some standouts. I’m also certain that there are things that I missed too.
Reasons why small business owners struggle to deliver bad news.
While it’s never an easy task to convey negative information, there are some reasons why small business owners might find it particularly challenging.
Firstly, small business owners often have personal relationships with their employees or customers. They may have known them for years, or even consider them friends. As a result, delivering bad news can be tough because it feels like letting down someone they care about. It’s natural to want to avoid causing harm or discomfort to people we care about, and that can make it hard to be the bearer of bad news. This is incredibly common and one of the most common reasons people tell me that they don’t want to deliver bad news, they don’t want to let people down or are people pleasers.
Following this, small business owners may struggle to separate their personal feelings from their professional responsibilities. They may feel guilty or upset about having to deliver bad news, even if it’s necessary for the business. This emotional attachment can make it difficult to approach the situation with objectivity and clarity.
Secondly, small business owners may fear the consequences of delivering bad news. They might worry about damaging relationships, damaging their reputation, worrying about the reaction, or facing legal action. These concerns can lead to avoidance or procrastination, which only makes the situation worse. In my experience, my clients worry most about people taking their business elsewhere. This means that they will put their needs second to others so that they keep the business (often costing them increased stress and decreased income).
Thirdly, small business owners may lack experience in delivering bad news effectively. They may not know the best way to communicate the information, or how to prepare themselves and their employees or customers for the news. Without the right tools or knowledge, delivering bad news can feel overwhelming or daunting.
How to make delivering bad news easier as a small business owner
I hope, by now, you can see that you may not be alone in avoiding delivering bad news. Now I want to investigate how you can start delivering the news you’ve been avoiding and even reduce some of the stress you might be feeling.
What is bad news for you may be normal/expected for others
A client of mine was negotiating terms with a client they were subcontracting to. My client was worried that they wouldn’t accept the changes and was anxious and nearly backed out of the tendering process. Thing is, the company they were tendering to came to the party, accepted the changes and have been incredibly supportive in negotiating new terms. It’s as if they expected and even respected my client negotiating terms. The company needed my client’s skills and were prepared to change some of their terms to allow the contract to proceed. They didn’t see the term changes as a barrier, whereas my client did.
I surveyed a group of business owners and almost 10% said that chasing overdue accounts was on their dreaded list of bad news they needed to deliver.
The thing is that most people will know that their bill is overdue, even if they don’t open the email/letter. We know it’s expected to pay for goods and services and hiding from the responsibility of paying (and the reality of seeing the bill) is fairly common. So you can expect that your client knows they are overdue.
While we may not like talking about money, if you’ve delivered the goods and they haven’t paid, it’s simple that you are owed money and that discomfort is costing you every time you avoid the conversation.
So don’t avoid it, automate it.
My accounting software will send reminders 3 days before an invoice is due and on the due date. In fact, most will have some sort of inbuilt reminder system. You may even be able to automate client statements so they know what is outstanding and how late they are with payment. (Guilt can cause some people to pay as much as others will avoid).
You can also pass debts off to debt collectors or even sell the debt so that you have the money and someone else does the chasing.
Automating a commonly cringe-worthy bad news task can actually save you the ick factor and help you make bank.
Automate emails and social media so that you can feel one step removed when the information is actually sent. Emails can be personalised with tags and social media doesn’t have to be serious.
Set expectations early
Just over 15% of people said that they didn’t like delivering bad news about doing work outside of scope or outside of hours. One simple way to avoid this is to set expectations early and even ask people to acknowledge that they agree to these things (and even fees if they occur).
The good thing is that once you understand what sort of news you don’t like to deliver, there is likely to be a way to develop a templated response (or two/more) to provide the news to the relevant party. Better still, pay for a template to be written for you!
Price rise predicament
I have given this task its own section because it’s a common bugbear, in fact over 25% of surveyed business owners found it cringeworthy.
While I don’t particularly like raising my prices, predominantly because I help business owners who are struggling with business, I still need to do it.
The ick associated with raising prices is multifaceted:
– can the market afford it
– will I price myself out of the market
– how does it align with my core value/marketing
– am I/what I do worth the higher price
– will I lose existing clients
Looking back across these, and I am sure there are others, there are some common themes and ways to address them.
Price rises are expected in business. Like the section with this title, you may be surprised by the result of advising your clients that you are raising prices. My clients often say, “it’s about time”, “I was expecting it”.
Set expectations early. Let people know ahead of time that prices will be increasing at a particular date, new financial year, new calendar year, or start of a month are common dates for price rises. Using these dates sets an expectation on when they can expect to pay more and it’s familiar to other businesses they work with. (Trade prices will often increase every month, why should you keep absorbing it) Letting people know early gives them time to organise their finances, including relevant payment options in your price rise correspondence can also help.
Automating emails and sending them in bulk is a good way to avoid the worry of advising one-by-one. You can also post on your social media to reinforce the information and avoid any confusion. Automated/bulk emails can be personalised, so don’t worry that they may seem impersonal.
Nearly 20% of people interviewed said that they didn’t like telling people that they couldn’t deliver the requested product/service or that the product or service wouldn’t be delivered in the requested timeframe.
We all understand that things happen, things are not always as they seem, and that things can be more difficult that first imagined. Keeping your clients up to date with a simple, “I’m sorry and this is what I’m doing to rectify the problem (refund, sourcing elsewhere, new delivery date)” is generally enough.
While clients can become disappointed, setting expectations early and keeping them up to date when things take a turn helps build relationships through trust. Ghosting people doesn’t avoid the issue, it compounds it.
While I will generally call a client in these circumstances, I have worked in many roles where I was required to deliver bad news, news that was incredibly personal and had major financial implications. What I recommend is keeping the information to the facts, no emotions and don’t over explain why (in fact, no explanation is the best). If you can not do this by phone, a text or an email is a good way to do this. Yes, you can even have templates developed for this too.
Behave in line with your core values
My clients know that their, their business’ and their clients’ core values. When we behave inline with them we avoid dissonance. Dissonance is when we feel uneasy when there is inconsistency between our beliefs, values and actions. For example, my core value is courage – so if I don’t use my courage to deliver bad news, I feel ill at ease.
When it comes to delivering bad news to staff or clients, understanding their core value can help make the delivery easier. You can appeal to their core value in your delivery. Remember that however you deliver the information, you are representing your company and that to maintain your relationship, you are best to uphold the values of your company. We all know of companies who say they value their clients but don’t deliver on customer service.
In conclusion, delivering bad news or overcoming people-pleasing tendencies can be a challenging task for small business owners. However, there are effective tactics and strategies that can help you navigate these difficult situations with more confidence and ease. Whether it’s automating your communication, setting clear expectations, or developing templated responses, there are solutions that can help you overcome your fears and successfully deliver bad news when needed. If you need support or guidance in this area, please don’t hesitate to contact me for assistance. Together, we can work towards a more confident and successful approach to delivering bad news in your business.