The other day I rang a friend who had recently qualified as a solicitor. I asked him to witness the signing of a document (nothing particularly important) for me, as well as one for my fiancé. There was a snag. My fiancé couldn't make it, and so she signed in advance. But so what right? He knows her, surely he could just sign his name too as if she had done it there in person. What difference do these things really make? Most people in business would try and speed up such trivial paperwork.
He wouldn't do it. He was also mildly offended I would even ask.
Now perhaps it was my in-built distrust of forms and stamps and signatures, a cynical belief that when it comes to the crunch they don't really matter. Perhaps it developed through my time as an accountant or (more likely) dealing with the beurocratic madness that is Italy. I'm not sure. Either way I was annoyed.
In reality it was only the inconvenience of having to rearrange things, of the delay to the process I was trying to move forwards. But it got me thinking. The more I questioned what a jobsworth my friend had been, the more I questioned my own values.
I started to ask where else I had taken shortcuts, or when and where else I would be prepared to take them. Am I someone who does things properly or am I someone who looks to muddle through at the last minute? Hmmm.
To what extent do my shortcuts impact on my personal brand and therefore my ability to win and keep the customers or projects I want? To what extent do my customers walk away with the impression that their business was low down on my priority list?
I suddenly had a new take on my friend's professionalism. Why should he take a professional risk for me (small though it was) because I couldn't / didn't get organised enough to go through the correct process?
I extended my reflections into my business. Despite the pretty vineyards and romantic stories, the wine world is a cut throat business. Margins are small and costs are high. The market is saturated and most customers are price sensitive.
Small businesses operating in competitive markets have to work extra hard to win and keep customers. Being small or local is not enough. More often than not owners and staff must go the extra mile to help, to demonstrate how important their customer's business really is. It is quite often these shortcuts (in service, product, follow up etc) that ensures they stay small.
Next time I feel myself bodging something, I will be asking myself whether my approach is really worth creating that impression in others.