By Marjorie Adams, President and CEO of Fourlane.
"Can you just answer this one question?" "I want to run something by you." "What do you think about this approach?" Many heads of small companies and, in fact, anyone who is good at their job, are plagued with these kinds of questions, day in and day out. Maybe we need to create a new position: Chief Question Answerer.
If this sounds familiar to you and others on your team, don't fear. I've come up with several strategies that may also work for you and alleviate the need to answer all the questions I get, while still upholding my responsibility to pass on my knowledge to staff, clients and others.
Knowledge Builds Strong Teams
Sharing the knowledge I've gleaned over the years was necessary to grow my business. If I wanted to grow, I needed to hire people to help me handle the workload. These hires need the same knowledge I have in order to provide top-notch client service. Consider these:
- Hire great people. Our HR manager's job is to find great hires who already have a base level of skills. We have specific requirements, including accreditation in the software we support, to ensure our team knows its stuff. We use personality tests and check references to make sure our team can provide the great service we pride ourselves on.
- Provide great training. Training involves our processes, procedures and tips for how to make projects simpler. We make continual learning part of our culture. Each week, during our team meeting, the staff shares something they've learned that week that will help their teammates. We also encourage and pay for external training through conferences, online training and even university courses.
- Document everything. Training alone won't cut it. People forget things. For that reason, we've developed a corporate Wiki that contains our processes, information on vendors, HR and other resources that our employees can access anytime, anywhere. For example, we do a lot of QuickBooks client file reviews: our Wiki contains a 27-step process, details how to document the findings, and even provides an agenda for how to structure the follow-up call.
Having internal processes helps me cut down on answering questions, while ensuring my team has the information it needs to do a great job. Having these systems in place means I'm only asked when there is a real challenge and our consultants need an extra brain to solve the problem.
Knowledge Brings in Clients
Providing quality content helps share your expertise and gives clients a sense of trust before they hire you. As a subject matter expert, I feel a responsibility to share the information I have with others. Yes, it builds my brand, but it also helps others create more efficient businesses. I use a variety of tactics:
- Write it. Our blog offers tips on using software, apps I like, how our services work as well as other information we hope is helpful. We also send out a newsletter and I write articles for various online and print publications.
- Record it. I recently finished recording nearly 200 training videos for our new online subscription training. According to Cisco, video traffic will comprise 82 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2020, up from 70 percent in 2015. While writing and filming these videos is time-consuming, I know I am providing viewers with a medium that allows me to best share my knowledge and improve their businesses.
- Speak publically. I share my expertise at conferences or via webinars.
These tactics enable me to reach a broad audience in one fell swoop. While they do take time to develop, it is much less time consuming than holding individual calls with clients or staff.
When Do I Answer Questions?
There is a time and place for answering questions one-on-one. As a busy CEO, I need to be as efficient as possible in sharing the knowledge I have with my staff and my clients. Yet, I learn from the questions I'm asked too, so I still participate in sales calls and with client work when I can.
My job as "Chief Question Answerer" has changed a lot since I started my business. Because of the systems I have in place for sharing information, I can pick and choose the questions I'm interested in answering.
Marjorie Adams is president/CEO of Fourlane, a firm that improves the efficiency of client accounting departments through bookkeeping, tax, software consulting and business process training.