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Coaches Diary: Beyond Expectation


In the latest from her casebook, Olivia Stefanino recounts the tale of a client who learnt to deliver more than he promised.

Over a celebratory lunch, Jim regaled me with his latest business exploits – and while we were both laughing at some of his experiences, I was struck by the innate sense of calm surrounding my former client.

I had last met with Jim more than a year ago – when his photographic business was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Clearly a lot had changed in 12 months – and I was looking forward to hearing all about it.

Cutting into his steak, Jim grew serious for a moment and said that without our coaching sessions he doubted that his fledgling business would have survived. “There was plenty that I was doing wrong,” he admitted.

“For a start, I had no proper systems or procedures in place – and to be honest, I have always hated those two words because I believed that any kind of structure would get in the way of my creativity.

“But I can now see that without proper systems any business is doomed to fail. While the quality of my photographs was never in question – I have to admit that my customer service was pretty poor.”

I asked Jim to elaborate further. In particular, I wanted to know the single key factor that he felt had helped turn his business around.

“Well,” he said, helping himself to some more salad, “I began to look at things from my customer’s perspective – and what I saw wasn’t pretty. “For a start, I realised that I was always promising more than I could deliver – which left my clients feeling let down and disappointed. I guess over time, they lost trust in me and of course in my line of business, my reputation is pretty important.”

Admitting that he had felt out of depth when he first started competing for photographic assignments, Jim had talked up his abilities. He had also not learned to say no – which meant that he often had more work than he could comfortably handle.

Also, Jim had focused on dealing with what had to be done photographically each day – and hadn’t taken any time to plan or run his business. Rather than face the growing pile of paperwork, Jim had simply hidden it away in a drawer. However, he was forced to find a solution after he was twice fined by the taxman for filing late income tax returns.

Employing the services of an administrator had bestowed immediate benefits – not least a reduction in Jim’s stress levels. Also, he encouraged the administrator to take on additional office management duties – which included regular contact with his customers.

By concentrating on what he was good at – and delegating the day-to-day management of the business to someone with the appropriate skills and temperament, Jim had created a photographic firm that was now capable of satisfying its clients.

Jim had learned the hard way – indeed it had nearly cost him his business – that managing customers’ expectations is the key to success. As we left the restaurant, Jim turned to me and smiled, saying “If I had to put it in a nutshell, what I learned is to deliver more than I promise.”

* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. Download your free e-booklet “128 ways to harness your personal power” at


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