Interview Transcript Draft
Mike Zipursky: Hi, everyone! It’s Michael Zipursky here from Consulting Success.
On today’s show, I’m excited to have Sylvie Fortin with us. Sylvie’s the owner of Workaholics4Hire.com and is also a partner in Success Doctor – a copywriting and consulting company, as well as Licorice Group which is an online marketing and training company.
Sylvie helps marketers and entrepreneurs manage the backend of their business and also handle customer support at her company, Workaholics4Hire.
So, Sylvie, welcome!
Sylvie Fortin: Thank you so much, Michael. I appreciate you having me on.
Mike Zipursky: Let’s start off by having you tell us where the name Workaholics4Hire came from.
Sylvie Fortin: It’s kind of self-named actually. I’ve realized early on I had a problem. When I was trying to think of a company name, I can’t really nail down what it is we’re going to do so it wasn’t going to be a web design company. We weren’t going to be a writing company. I wanted it generalized, but to really be specific and as punchy as possible. That kind of came about, I think, at 2 o’clock in the morning was when the name popped into my head. I started laughing and I said ‘Yup, that’s the name.’
Mike Zipursky: And now this is 2 o’clock in the morning not when you’re in bed waking up, but while you’re actually still working?
Sylvie Fortin: Exactly
Mike Zipursky: I like to have you tell us a little bit about what your current role at Workaholics4Hire is right now.
Sylvie Fortin: Well I’m kind of a Head Bottle-washer. I use that term kind of loosely.
I’m CEO and the Founder of the company. It means that I’m in the trenches every single day. I work with, as Lead Project Manager, with my Project Managers. I work with my Customer Support Managers. They, in turn, work with all of our freelancers.
I’m the bug stomper. I’m the one that comes up with the solutions when problems arise. I invent new marketing strategy systems that we’re going to put together. Constantly looking for improvement on the backend.
Mike Zipursky: You’re involved in a lot of different things, obviously. How many people are working at your company right now?
Sylvie Fortin: We have roughly, I think – I realize I should be able to answer this better, but I don’t actually write the paychecks to our freelancers. I have my management team that does that. They’re the ones who would know, at any given moment, how many people are under them.
But roughly 40 people are with us on a regular basis to handle the majority of projects. We have a large range of freelancers that we call on on an as-needed basis for projects. We have roughly 25,000 freelancers on our list that we can reach out to when we need to break outside of our core group.
Mike Zipursky: Okay, that’s great.
Let’s go back in time a little bit. You start off as a technical writer doing government contracts and working with large corporations. Why did you decide to leave that world to start your own business?
Sylvie Fortin: I’m all for efficiency, and I look for what is the fastest way to move from Point A to B and get things done quickly. If any of your listeners have ever worked for the government in any capacity, you’ll know and nod knowingly when I say they don’t get anything done quickly. Everything requires multiple layers of requisition forms, and meetings and nothing gets done. And that just drives me nuts.
Mike Zipursky: It sounds like you still have some memories of those days.
Sylvie Fortin: Horrible memories, yes.
Mike Zipursky: Was it a difficult decision for you to make that transition when you decided that you’re going to leave that world and start your own business? Were there challenges around – obviously, maybe your income took a hit or just the fear of what might happen? Do you have any kind of concerns or challenges around that?
Sylvie Fortin: No, not really because I didn’t do things in a leap, and then look back and wonder what I did wrong. I didn’t do that in that way. It was very much I set out to make a change, and attract entrepreneurs and small business people.
I started hanging out in forums where that type of person hung out – small business owners that were just in the process of starting up their business. That’s who I wanted to be around. I really like the energy behind what it takes to start from scratch – the bootstrapper’s mentality. So I started hanging out in forums and just put it out there that I was willing to take on new clients and that’s just kind of how things started.
Mike Zipursky: So you were doing this while you were still working within kind of the government corporate world?
Sylvie Fortin: Yeah, exactly.
Mike Zipursky: And how long were you doing that for?
Sylvie Fortin: The crossover period, you mean?
Mike Zipursky: Yeah, that’s exactly while you’re still in the government, and the corporate world, and starting to get your name out there in some forums, and building connections and so on.
Sylvie Fortin: Considering I didn’t really know what the heck I wanted to do for a living at first, I was so open to suggestion that I was just taking on any kind of client, any kind of contract, any kind of anything. If somebody said “I need a website designed.” I’d raise my hand and say “I can do that.” and had no idea what I was going to do. I just kind of took on every project because I really was sticking my foot in the water and figuring it out.
Mike Zipursky: Sorry, I just want to ask you here. You would take on projects where you didn’t even actually know if you could complete them or if you didn’t have any real experience in those projects, like let’s say, designing a website? You would say “Yeah, I can do that for you.” and then just go about figuring it out?
Sylvie Fortin: Exactly. I knew that I would finish it. I just had no idea how. I knew that I wanted to learn coding and the best way for me to learn it is if I had a deadline. I literally would take on projects and then figure it out.
And because of that, I didn’t – in the early couple of years – I didn’t charge nearly enough for what I did because I had zero confidence in billing. I couldn’t charge for my own services at all. I was terrible at it. And it was only later that I started to clue in that I had a lot of repeat clients because I wasn’t charging nearly enough. Took me a while before I started pricing myself correctly.
But in the meantime, starting to piece out parts of projects I realized I was saying ‘No’ because I was getting so busy and I didn’t like the idea of saying ‘No’ to new projects, so I started just continuing that trend of saying ‘yes’ and then figuring it out later.
I would say ‘yes’. I take on way too many projects, and then I’d start to piece it out amongst others. I’d say ‘Okay, well you take this part of it and I’ll let you take on this part of the project. Get back to me when you’re done and I’ll just keep going with what I’m doing over here.’ And that’s really when I started to get leverage and learned how to make money was by working with others; letting them be extremely skilled at doing what they did. And then I found I had to do less, and less, and less and just took on a more management role. It’s then that I really could break completely away from the government and corporate-y type of clients.
Mike Zipursky: Right. And so at the beginning, though, let’s say when you were putting your hand up and saying “I’ll take on that website project.” even though in the early days, were you actually doing the development and the design of the website or would you bring in a freelance, like a web designer or web developer to help you at that time?
Sylvie Fortin: The best way to describe what I did was very much like building a house. I would start doing the foundation all by myself, figure out what was involved with the process, and then as soon as it became repetitive, I’d call somebody over and say “Okay, take this part of it and I’ll start with the walls.” And that’s how the business grew. And that was like that for every project.
Mike Zipursky: It’s interesting. I really kind of applaud you for taking it because that approach, I should say, a lot of people when they don’t feel they have a level of expertise, their confidence isn’t high enough because they don’t have the experience, and so they wouldn’t raise their hand and they wouldn’t say that they could take on a project and it would wait until they’ve developed up their skills to do what you did in the early days without really having that level of experience. You took, obviously, risks but it sounds like you were very confident in yourself that, one way or another, you would get a good result for your client.
Sylvie Fortin: Well I knew that I was going to be very much __[08:47] about it that I wouldn’t let a project go unless it was perfect. I knew when I said “Yes, it’ll get it done and it’ll get done on time.” it didn’t matter how much sleep that I got in that process. I was going to fight it until it did what I told it to do. That was every project was going to work out that way. It wasn’t so much about confidence as it was about confidence that I was stubborn enough to make it happen.
Mike Zipursky: Now I can really see where the name ‘Workaholics4Hire’ came from.
Sylvie Fortin: See? Now you get it.
Mike Zipursky: Back to kind of your first clients. You’re still working in the corporate government world. You’re engaging in different communities and forums just looking for people that want to maybe get work done, and when you see an opportunity, you raise your hand and reach out, and say “I can help you with that.” Is that kind of how you went about getting your first clients?
Sylvie Fortin: Pretty much yeah. I went to where my market hung out. And in those days, it was the discussion boards was the primary way for communication to occur. I mean, keep in mind, this in 1999, 2000 and 2001 – the early days of making money on the internet. I started to hang out in these places.
One guy needed a transcriptionist. Well, that’s not my thing, but I knew there were people who will look for work in transcription. It was basically putting people together. And then he had a friend who had a friend who had a friend, and word of mouth marketing spread really, really quickly.
As soon as we started taking on customer support stuff, I knew that we’d found exactly what I loved because it combined everything that I love which was sales, it was marketing, it was support, it was customer advocacy. We got involved in so many different types of projects. There were many different types of websites we were supporting. This was the early days of how to make money online. So some of our clients were like Shawn Casey, Frank Kern way back in the early, early days. These were the guys that were out there making a lot of money overnight selling information products. We were supporting those guys. We were their customer support people.
I loved it because I didn’t want to go out and buy information products, but I wanted to learn this stuff. That became my primary focus because I really loved getting a hold of their products and we didn’t end up having to pay for it. So I really liked that.
Mike Zipursky: So Sylvie, let me ask you, because when we talked earlier about Workaholics4Hire and I asked you if it was a marketplace where you can find contractors, I thought initially that it was something maybe like Elance or oDesk or one of these other types of marketplaces, but maybe it’s a bit of a twist.
You told me that it’s quite different and you’re kind of alluding to it right now, but I think it would be a really good opportunity to for you to maybe share a little bit more about what Workaholics4Hire actually does and what it’s kind of key and secret sauce per se.
Sylvie Fortin: Interesting that you mentioned those two. One of which – and I can’t specify which one – but one of which offered to buy us out very, very early on because they thought that we were an up-and-coming competitor to them. And we, in fact, were not. Once they’ve realized that and I explained it to them “Listen, as much as I’d love your money, I don’t think you understand what we do.” Then they clued in ‘Ah, that’s not at all what we intend to do either.’
Here’s the thing: what we do is not software. These guys are primarily software. They’ve put up an application that attracts one side to connect directly with the other side. It is a variation on the classified ad, basically. What we do is actually get involved with each and every project, and each and every client. We’re in the trenches with the projects. We care about how it ends up.
Most of these guys are all about ‘If I connect you with you, you’re going to give me a piece of the action.’ And that’s where they end.
Mike Zipursky: Yeah, they take away 10% or something of the project total, right?
Sylvie Fortin: Well yeah, it varies based on what’s going on. I mean, they have dabbled in project management not as successfully as they’d like because they realized they didn’t really want to take on the responsibility for the quality at the end.
Mike Zipursky: Right. So you’re actually getting __[13:27] differences… Yeah, I think it does. I mean, you’re saying that Elance or oDesk or some of these other sites, they can be great for doing certain things. But really, it’s a way to find some other contractor or someone that can help you to get a specific job done where what Workaholics4Hire are doing – what you guys are doing is really getting much more involved in the overall management of the project.
But you also mentioned that you’re involved in kind of the customer support and really helping – it sounds like the kind of key area is helping to support to kind of the backend of people’s business. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Sylvie Fortin: Absolutely
Customer support is a disguised sales position, really, as far as we look at things. It’s what happens after the sale is made. Everything on the front end: the website, the sales copy, the advertising – all of that is happening on the front end before the sale is made.
What happens afterwards to us is just as important. It’s the part that makes or breaks a business in the long run. You can have beautiful product launches. You can advertise your faceoff. You can do everything it takes to attract customers. But if you don’t follow through on the other side of things, if you don’t make the backend seamless, if you don’t make it possible for people to connect with you on a personal level then you’re going to end up with the kinds of customers you don’t want.
And that’s what we are about: is creating the systems on that backend to retain customers, to reduce refund as much as possible, to make it possible for customers to love you; not just buy from you.
And in fact I’d love to share with you – I’ve actually narrowed it down. There are three basic types of customers that could ever possibly exist. And there’s two subspecies. But the three primaries are the ‘advocates’, the ‘apathetics’ and the ‘assassins’. Those are the three. Everything boils down to those three.
Mike Zipursky: Are we getting now into the action byte for today or is this something different?
Sylvie Fortin: Well sort of. It kind of leads to that. It has everything to do with your philosophy on how you run your customer support and it has to be customer-focused; not business-focused. It’s not about you. Customer support has nothing to do with you.
This is where a lot of people drop the ball; is they think ‘Well if I’m hiring a customer support rep then they are my employee.’ No, they’re not. They work for your customer. They are your customer’s advocate. They are nothing to do with you. They shouldn’t answer to you. They are your liaison between the world/the public and the way that you run your business because when you are in your business, it’s very often easy to ignore big signs that there’s a problem.
I’ll give you an example from something that everybody sees every day and that is like these – there’s so many of these shows now like the Gordon Ramsay, and Restaurant Makeover and these kinds of shows where they have professionals come in and kind of rewrite how you run your restaurant because, very often, a restaurant owner will completely ignore the door.
They don’t know what their customers see. They’re so busy in the back-office wondering why they’re not making money, that they’re not seeing what the customer sees. What these guys will do is walk them through it from the front to the back. Come through the front door. See what your customers see. Get down on the floor. See the dirt that your customers are looking at. And you have to be willing to do that with open eyes and an open heart.
And that’s what your customer support team needs to be doing for you is they are the voice of your customers. They are not the voice of your politics. They’re not there to appease customers. They are there to make sure the customers are getting what they want out of your business. That’s critical.
Mike Zipursky: I can definitely see how this applies to the business that is selling products especially online, but what about the independent consultant that doesn’t really do much in the online space; is working more clients kind of in the offline world? How does that relate?
Sylvie Fortin: Michael, one of the biggest barriers that I’ve had to deal with with clients is to get them to understand that there’s no difference between product and service. No difference. And it doesn’t matter if you aren’t selling anything at all. If your website is just a content site where you make your money just from ad space, you still are selling something. You have something to sell. Whether it’s service or product, I don’t care if it’s cups and mugs, or a downloadable e-book, or your consulting service, you’re selling something. And that means that if you want money to change hands, you have to maintain customer support. Period. Regardless of what it is that happens or how the transaction takes place. It doesn’t matter if your transactions come in the form of monthly fees that people pay for ongoing group coaching or if they send a purchase order and you supply service, and they pay their invoice. It doesn’t matter. There is a relationship that you have to maintain with those customers. And it always boils down to the three top types of customers.
If what you want is a long-term relationship with nothing but advocates in your business, then there are things you need to do to make that happen. Otherwise, you’re going to get stuck with what most business have: most businesses have apathetics. These are people who buy from you because they really are just kind of too lazy to go anywhere else. You’re the one that answers their needs for now, but they’ll leave if something better comes along. That’s the majority of businesses serve that customer and they keep doing it over, and over and over again without realizing this is why there’s no passion left in my business because all I have are these customers who are apathetic about me as well. That’s important.
What you absolutely don’t want – and what can kill your business – are the assassins. Those are the ones who will fall all over themselves to destroy you because you irritated them.
In this world now, because of the internet, the assassins are becoming louder, and louder and louder. They have a bigger voice. They’re able to reach out. It used to be that if you had a bad customer, you would maybe deal with that customer one or two times where they were yelling at you, and then you sent them out of your office, and then you never saw them again, and they never saw your future customers and that’s where it ended.
Now, because of the internet, what you’ve got is a situation where your assassins can literally stand in front of your door with a place card and tell everyone “Don’t shop here. This guy’s a jerk.” And they can kill you.
So you need to be attractive to the right customer and that is advocates. Knowing how to deal with the apathetics, reduce them and eliminate the assassins. That’s what proper customer support does. That’s not something that has anything to do with the way that you set up your storefront, or your website, or your brochures, or your advertising. All of those things will attract just about anybody.
You have some control there, but not a whole lot. It’s what you do on the backend with your customers that will determine who becomes your primary customer base in the long run. Does that make sense?
Mike Zipursky: Yeah, it does and I love the names that you’ve created there to represent the different types of clients.
This will maybe a good time to get a little bit deeper into today’s action byte which is along the same lines, but you kind of said it. We can call it ‘How to Attract the Right Type of Client’. In this case it would be ‘How to Attract More Advocates to Your Business’.
Are there some specific things that people can do to attract more of the right type of client?
Sylvie Fortin: Well absolutely. Before we get into that, I want to be clear of what an advocate is and why you love them.
Mike Zipursky: Sure. Great.
Sylvie Fortin: And there’s also a subspecies of advocates that I call the ‘heralds’. So let’s talk a little bit about the difference.
Advocates will be the lifeblood of your business. These are people who are willing to bypass or ignore even less expensive vendors in favor of you. In other words, these are the people that will take you from competing on price to competing on quality, which if you’re in a consulting business, if you’re a coach, if you are working one-on-one with clients then you don’t want to be the cheapest guy in the neighborhood. You do not want to be competing on price. So you want more advocates in your business.
You want those who, if someone else sends them a flyer, if someone else sends them a message or calls them up and tries to wrench them away from you, they will say ‘Thank you so much. I appreciate your call. But I’m happy with Joe Blow.’ They’re happy with you. That’s why they’re so critical. You need to develop that relationship with you because they will be loyal with you and your brand. They will stick with you no matter what happens.
They’ll also go out and tell others about you if they’re given even the slightest chance. If you open up the door to them to say what is on their mind about you, to give you a testimonial, to go out there and be a referral for you, they will do that but you need to ask them to do that. And a lot of people don’t do it. They’re too scared. I’ve been too scared to ask. It’s almost like you don’t want to be a bother. And a lot of us do that. We’ll try not to be a bother to our good clients because we want them to stay good clients. We don’t want to get on their nerves at all.
Mike Zipursky: Right
Sylvie Fortin: Well these are the guys that if you ask them, if you give them a chance, they’ll be “Oh, I’ll be so happy to write up a testimonial for you.” or give you a video of them talking about your business or whatever.
If they’re approached with any kind of negative about you, if somebody comes up to them and says “You know, I’m not so sure I like Joe Blow. What do you think?” They’ll come back and say “No, no. You don’t understand. Joe Blow’s awesome.” They’ll tell people how great you are, but they won’t deliberately go out and look for opportunities to talk you up. They’re going to respond well, but they’re not going to specifically make an effort. And if you closed your doors, they’d be upset that they had to go somewhere else. So those are your advocates.
Now the subspecies of them are like the far right. They are the ‘heralds’. These are people who will go out and bend over backwards to promote you never expecting compensation. They’ll even go out and take time out of their schedule. They might even spend money to go and promote you. They love you as much as that. They will specifically seek out opportunities to tell others about you. They will go out of their way to go on to forums, to go to any of these online reputation services. They’ll take that time to go do that.
If somebody complains about you, they will fiercely defend your honor. I’ve seen them do this for our business and I just sit back and go “Wow! I would never dare to say so many nice things about ourselves, but you just go right ahead.” I love that!
These are people that if you ask them for a favor, you will make them very happy. They actually want to please you. For whatever reason you’ve made them so happy with your service, with your product, with whatever it is you do for them, they think that they’ve made a friend out of you.
So these are people that if you are given the opportunity, take them out to dinner, buy them something nice, give them a nice glass of something that is special. Send them a card at Christmas. Get them a gift basket. Do something special for them to show them that they weren’t wrong to place their joy in you that they love you as much as they…
Mike Zipursky: So that’s one tactic. You’re saying that once you already have a herald in your business then to keep the relationship going, one way to do that is to send them some show of appreciation?
Sylvie Fortin: Yes. Exactly.
As soon as you recognize someone that is an advocate that could become a herald, that means turn up the charm a little bit. Show them that they are special to you; that you’re doing something for them you wouldn’t ordinarily do for other customers and make sure that they know that.
In other words, if you normally send out Christmas cards, don’t just send them a Christmas card. Send them a Christmas card and a special gift.
Mike Zipursky: Right. Okay, so I think everyone listening to this, the majority of our readers and listeners today here will be consultants. People either running kind of their independent consulting practice or in a small consulting firm, and I think everyone would agree that they want more heralds and advocates in their business.
You’ve given a great kind of tactic with regards to how to move someone from being an advocate to a herald, or if they’re a herald, how to keep them a happy herald. Love these names.
For everyone that’s listening, how can they go about bringing more people to create more advocates and to create more heralds? Or I guess, maybe first to be an advocate before you’re a herald. I don’t know if there’s a specific order that that needs to go in, but how do you go about actually getting those people?
Sylvie Fortin: Most people start out as apathetics. Most customers start off as apathetics. Meaning, they’re buying from you because you meet their current need, but only if your price is reasonable. They’re looking for another opportunity. They won’t bother sticking around. They’ll buy from you again, but only if nothing better comes along. If somebody else has a better deal – they’re basically your Walmart shoppers. They’re the ones that if somebody else comes along with a better deal than the one that they’ve currently got then they’ll switch. They’re not really loyal. You haven’t done anything to earn their loyalty. But your service or your product meets their needs at the moment.
These are also people that will rarely complain. They’re not the vocal majority. They’re not the ones that are going to shake their fist at you if you’ve done something wrong. You may never hear a word from them. So you need to be able to draw them out to make them into the advocate that you’re looking for.
See, they’re in the middle. They could go either way. If you do something wrong, they could easily become an assassin. If you do something right, they can easily become an advocate. They’re in the middle.
Mike Zipursky: Let me give you just a quick example. I like to hear your thoughts on this.
Someone’s a consultant. They have good clients. Their clients seem to be quite happy. They’re doing whatever they can to make sure that they stay happy. But they’re maybe not in an advocate stage yet where they wouldn’t necessarily go out of their way to refer this consultant. Maybe they’re just kind of on the __[29:00] becoming an advocate but they’re not there yet.
What could that consultant do, in your mind, to move that client over to the advocate side? Is there any specific tactics or approaches that you’ve seen that work quite well wherein the situation would be good?
Sylvie Fortin: Absolutely!
Mike Zipursky: I’d love to hear it from you.
Sylvie Fortin: In the case of a consultant, it’s a beautiful example. All it takes to transfer somebody from being an apathetic into being an advocate is to reach out and take their pulse.
Here’s what I mean: Find out what makes them tick. Find out what you can do for them. Ask. The majority of your competitors aren’t asking. They are just letting things slide. They’re letting things stay where they are. They’re delivering what they promised exactly the way they said they would. Not a thing more. They’re doing what the majority would expect of you.
If you just do a teensy tiny little bit more, if you actually – let me give you an example of this. In the case of someone having just bought a product from a website, here’s what’s expected: after I give you my money, I’m going to receive my product. Yawn. Nothing exciting. However, if the day after I buy from you I get a phone call, and that phone call comes from the Customer Support Department saying “We see by our records that you’ve received the product. I just wanted to make sure was everything okay? Was anything broken?” whatever the case is with the product. That little extra, it doesn’t take much. It doesn’t take much money to do that. But that tiny little extra can change the majority of your customers from apathetic, bored, yawning into ‘Wow! These guys really went above and beyond.’ Now all of a sudden, they’re in the advocate category and it was a tiny little switch. Anybody can do it and it doesn’t take much.
On the flipside, if you want to change your apathetics into someone who hates you then it’s really easy to do that. Do something unexpected. In other words, make the buying process difficult or have a ‘404 Page Not Found’ the moment somebody – credit card was given to you, now it’s a ‘Page Not Found’. Do something unexpected and then don’t answer them when they contact you.
So it’s really easy to turn people into assassins and it’s really easy to turn people into advocates. Just do something unexpected either way. One way or the other, do something unexpected. And it’s a shame that it takes a little to make people happy because it means that most businesses aren’t bothering when it’s so easy to do that. Just that little extra. Answer your emails faster than your competition does. Answer the phone when it rings. Return your voicemails within a reasonable timeframe. These are all things that can convert people from apathetic to advocate in a heartbeat.
Mike Zipursky: Right. Great examples.
I think everyone listening to this can really – regardless of their specific situation or business or size of the company, I mean, all of us can probably be doing more in this area. I know that we definitely can be.
And so I really appreciate, Sylvie, you sharing some specifics around how to think about this and not just the positive side, but also the danger in people not taking action on this.
I hope that everyone listening to this gives a little bit more thought to how can they take a better care of their own clients, and what can they do to kind of go that extra mile and do something unexpected in a positive way then they can see the benefits of that in their own business.
Sylvie Fortin: Absolutely.
And above all, be sincere. When you have a customer support system in place where you have rules that this is what you do when such a thing occurs; when someone asks for a refund, this is what you do and this is how you respond and this is how you deal with it – when you have these things in place, it can become really easy to just sound like a form letter when you’re responding because it becomes so standardized. It’s really important to maintain sincerity, and empathy and be proactive in creating solutions for your customers. Don’t let you or your team become apathetic yourself because the moment you do that, you’re going to have exactly that response from your customers.
Mike Zipursky: Right. Wonderful. Well, let’s leave it there.
Thanks so much, Sylvie. I really do appreciate you sharing so much insight from your experiences in this area. It’s been great speaking with you today again.
Sylvie Fortin: Well thank you so much, Michael. It’s been a lot of fun.
Mike Zipursky: All right. Take care.
Sylvie Fortin: All right, you too. Bye!