No more cookie cutter solutions

By Stephanie Majeran / Guest Column

I have read many different entrepreneurial books over the last year. Most of them had a recurrent theme: establish standard systems of service, as opposed to individual experiences for each client. I am a big fan of efficiency, but I have felt a nagging unease about this idea of systematizing everything, especially communication and relationships. You can’t build rapport or trust with others if you don’t take the time to get to know them. Simply shoving everyone into the same cookie-cutter system devalues who they are as individuals.

At one point, I stopped reading a book called “The 4-Hour Workweek” because it felt as though the author was pushing for 100 percent automated communications with clients. For me, it’s something that doesn’t resonate if you are working to provide meaning and purpose in your life as well as the lives of others.

Another concept I struggled to accept was one outlined in “The Pumpkin Plan.” This concept urged entrepreneurs to focus on growing their “big pumpkin” and weeding out the little ones. This concept certainly makes sense because the little ones can suck your time and energy away from more profitable ventures.

But I kept wondering, what about the little ones? Who helps them? There are certainly great reasons to weed out some clients – they don’t pay, they complain about fees, they treat you poorly, etc. – but what about the clients who will never be big pumpkins and yet could still really use your help?

I just wrapped up my first tax season on my own, and while I did have several systems from the start, some worked great while others I quickly left behind. I tried to only use electronic documents, but that didn’t work for all clients. I tried sending all clients an electronic questionnaire to fill out, but many overlooked it. I could have forced everyone to do phone meetings or to meet when and where was convenient for me.

Instead, I decided to meet people where they were in their lives. I had several clients over to my house and met several others at their homes, most of whom I had never met before.
I don’t tell you this to sound like a hero or a doormat. I didn’t do it just to “win over” more clients. I did it because I cared. I don’t know any way to systemize thoughtfulness, and I don’t think we should want to. There is a balance point, though. If I do every task differently for every single client, then I will become a doormat and burn out very quickly. However, I am a huge believer in treating each person as an individual and adapting systems to work in a way that makes sense for them.

As a society, we are becoming increasingly isolated and lonely, perhaps because we are not taking the time to care about each other. A month ago, I read the book “People Over Profit: Break the System, Live With Purpose, Be More Successful” by Dale Partridge. It certainly is not as well-known as the previous two books I mentioned, but I stumbled upon it and thought it sounded worthwhile. In the book, Partridge emphasizes the idea that if we aim to serve people –both employees and clients/customers – then profit and success will follow.

For me, starting a business was never about money. There are clearly easier ways to get rich! To me, it always was about helping others because I believe that’s really the only thing that makes life worth living. I challenge you today: throw out the cookie cutter you’ve been using, and instead focus on what makes each person you meet unique.

This column first appeared in the Des Moines Business Record’s LIFT Iowa newsletter.

Stephanie Majeran is the owner of WellRun Results LLC, based in Des Moines.