What You’re Really Saying When You’re “Busy” (And 3 More Bad Business Habits)

Running your own business takes a level of communication that most new business owners learn as they go. A lot of this communication takes place online and digitally. For new business owners, the pressure of maintaining an online presence comes with hard lessons, not the least of which is learning how to respond to potential clients.

What You're Really Saying When You're "Busy" (And 3 More Bad Business Habits)

To save you the cost of losing a client as you grow in business, we’ve put together the top four responses to inquiries that business owners sometimes deliver that can actually hurt you. While your intentions may be good, the truth of the matter is conditioned or quick responses can cost you money and your reputation.

We don’t want that for you.

So let’s dive into what you’re really saying when you’re busy, and three other bad business habits that need to stop.

1. What You’re Really Saying When You’re Busy

What You Think You’re Saying: “I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you. I’ve been so busy.”

What You’re Really Saying (and What They’re Hearing): “There are other things I’m doing that are more important than you.”

Everyone is busy. Everyone.

Yet, as we attempt to balance our work days, personal life, family, and all the other projects that make up our to-do list, we find ourselves using this classic phrase as an excuse when we take days or even weeks to call a client back.

Or when we miss a meeting.

Or when we neglect to email a client who has sent us three messages this past week.

The truth is, telling someone you’re too busy to have a conversation with them is the same thing as saying, “There are other things that are more important to me than you.” Basically, you’re saying that your time is more valuable than theirs.

Perhaps you don’t like the scale of the project. Maybe you don’t connect with this person or business on a professional level. Or maybe you do want to work with this client, but another deadline took priority?

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No matter the reason, telling someone you’ve been busy is not a good way to start a working relationship. If things have really gotten in your way or you’re not interested in working with someone, honesty is the best policy. Try saying, “After careful consideration, I realize I’m not the best fit for this project right now. However, I appreciate you reaching out. And if you’re open to it, I can offer a few referrals.”

If another deadline took priority, be upfront and let the client know. The client may be open to waiting until your schedule clears to work with you. Save your reputation and lead the client in the right direction. Remember, everyone is busy, not just you.

2. What You’re Really Saying When You Spell a Name Wrong

What You Think You’re Saying: “Dear Business Owner…”

What You’re Really Saying (and What They’re Hearing): “I’m not taking the time to get to know you.”

Thanks to social media, emails, websites, and blogs, it is darn near impossible to spell someone’s name wrong. There are no two ways about it. Therefore, when someone sends you an email inquiry or messages you on a social media platform, there is zero excuse when you address a person or company by the wrong name.

Yet, it happens.

Maybe a Michelle has emailed you. You reply back with: “Thanks for reaching out, Michele.”
Or maybe a Geoffrey has sent you a message on Facebook. You reply back with: “So good to hear from you, Jeff!”

By spelling a name wrong, you’re essentially addressing the wrong person. And when you do that, you’re telling the recipients that it wasn’t worth your time to get to know who they really are. This is enough to cause them to look elsewhere to fill their needs.

What You're Really Saying When You're "Busy" (And 3 More Bad Business Habits)

To avoid giving the impression that you move too quickly or aren’t invested in who each potential client is, take a moment to really look at the spelling of all first and last names. Check other social media sites. Copy and paste people’s names from their original email, their website, or their social site, if you need to. Just take the additional moments necessary to spell each name, business, or product correctly. It will speak volumes to your integrity.

If you do happen to address someone with the wrong name/spelling, take a moment to apologize. Acknowledging your mistake can put you back on the right track.

3. What You’re Really Saying When You Don’t Return a Call

What You Think You’re Saying: “I’ve been meaning to get back to you…”

What You’re Really Saying (and What They’re Hearing): “Your business isn’t important to me.”

Have you ever left a voicemail or an email with a company, and never had that voicemail or email returned? What thoughts go through your head when that happens?

  • I must not be important to them.
  • This company or business isn’t very good at customer service.
  • They must be too busy to take on new clients.
  • I will never work with these people again.

Those are the same thoughts that go through a client’s head when you choose not to respond. Yes, you may be busy, but using “busy” as an excuse doesn’t remove uncertainty from a client’s mind. Again, we all struggle with being busy. How you navigate it can make a difference in your bottom line.

What You're Really Saying When You're "Busy" (And 3 More Bad Business Habits)Consider putting a system in place that can help you return calls or emails in a timely manner. How you respond to your clients creates a level of expectation as the relationships moves forward. For emails, use an automated response. For calls, block an hour at some point in the day to return them or reschedule future calls. Make the customer your priority.

If and when you realize you’ve forgotten to return a call, take the time to apologize for your mistake. Again, this acknowledgment can speak volumes to a potential client.

4. What You’re Really Saying When You Do Sloppy Work

What You Think You’re Saying: “I’ve got a lot on my plate, but here’s what I’ve got so far…”

What You’re Really Saying (and What They’re Hearing): “I have bigger projects in front of me that are more important.”

I had a friend (we’ll call her Sue) who wanted to implement a membership feature on her website. She hired a web designer to put it in place. Sue offered the designer branding elements, the font to be used, and the colors she wanted so the designer could build the feature in the same style as the rest of her site. She paid upfront.

Not only was the feature delivered late, but it was clunky and none of the branding elements or fonts were even used. What’s more, the designer didn’t take the time to troubleshoot her work, and the delivered product was actually unusable.

Needless to say, Sue had to go through the uncomfortable scenario of sharing her disappointment with the designer. The designer told Sue that she had been really busy moving her daughter into college and was bogged down with projects. Fortunately, the designer returned all Sue’s money.

What You're Really Saying When You're "Busy" (And 3 More Bad Business Habits)

If you find yourself in a situation where your plate is full and you don’t think you can handle more work, then don’t take the work on. Taking on too much compromises the quality of work you deliver and slows down the timeline of the client you are working with. Similarly, if you realize mid-project that your workload is too much and, therefore, a project may not be completed on time, being transparent with your client will take you miles.

We often think a client will be upset with us if we tell them we need more time. For the most part, people understand and will be open to extending your deadline. Just be sure to let your clients know as soon as you know so they can move things around on their end, if necessary.

Pro-Tip: Managing several projects at once can seem overwhelming. To cut out some of the overwhelm, try using an accountability system or checklist to keep yourself from taking on too many projects.

The Successful Path to Breaking Bad Business Habits

Keep this list handy so you can avoid the bad business habits that might cost you a client or your reputation. Always remember you are offering a service or product to help make the lives of your clients easier. Start off on the right foot by recognizing that their time is just as valuable as yours — and that delivering the very best of you can result in a successful and long-term business.

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Becca Borawski Jenkins
Becca is a bit like a cat — she’s gone through a few “lives” to get to her current one (with which she’s quite pleased). She earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor (if you’ve watched Scrubs, you’ve likely heard her work).

Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She began training in BJJ and muay Thai and started working with professional MMA fighters, building websites, working on fight promotions, and producing videos.

As a competitor in BJJ herself, Becca wanted to get stronger and fitter. In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program.

After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer. She and her husband are full-time RVers and have a first-hand comprehension of the pros and cons of remote work.

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