Your first contact should be a welfare check on your clients’ wellbeing, not a search for a paycheck.
The truth is I am writing this in response to a LinkedIn Connection from Georgia who messaged me asking me to help her find paying work here, in Houston, in light of the storm. I still had five feet of water surrounding my house and was stranded. Power came and went. Rescues of my own neighbors and friends were being conducted by people who came in from all over the country. The death toll was slowly rising with the water. I was stunned at her insensitivity and ignorance. Then I realized I can only do something about the latter.
Start with What You Don’t Know. It’s about what people are facing.
You have never lost your house to a flood. You have never been rescued by a helicopter from your roof or been evacuated. You have never seen your house or office with feet of water in it and you have to clear it out now before more damage sets in. You have never had your company close either indefinitely or for over a week due to something your boss has no power over. The people you are calling are living this reality.
Businesses are all codependent. One may be up and ready to start work but stopped by raw materials or services they need not being accessible. Transportation will be hindered. Banks and other essential programs may be off line. Infrastructure may be damaged. There is a chorus of “No”, “You can’t” and “We don’t know when.” that we in Houston are hearing every day now.
When a business can open, they have to count on their employees. And they have to concern themselves with how these people fared from the flood. Can they get there? Did they lose their car in the flood? Are the streets on their route flooded? Can they get gas? Can they perform their tasks at work? Are they struggling emotionally in the turmoil? Are they preoccupied with losses at home? In Houston today, you cannot find anyone unscathed from Hurricane Harvey so Houstonians have little else on their minds.
That is what is on the minds of the people you contact. So read up on that kind of experience before you contact them.
Communicating in the new language “Houstonese”
We are all speaking a new language here and you should learn it before contacting your Houston clients. You start by asking whomever answers the phone with “How are you and your family?” And then you listen. Acknowledge tragedies with sympathy and losses with encouragement and support. Ask how their company is faring. Don’t even try to compete with your own close calls or extended comparison of an event unless you live in Houston or surrounding communities.
Don’t spend too much time on the phone. We all have five times the responsibilities today that we had two weeks ago.
Don’t ask what you can do. When tour clients answer the questions above, you will learn what they need and what you can do. Being familiar with their services means you are a step ahead and can see the gaps that you can fill.
Now for the sticky part. Offer help that is free. Volunteer your services. If these words sent a shockwave through you, you don’t speak “Houstonese”. I am practicing what I preach. I am interpreting for free all client contact being made by my client law firms who are reaching out to their Non English speaking clients.
Show Business Kindness. If you have a standing contract with a Houston company then offer to delay invoicing, or lower your fees for a period of time.
If you have contract labor in Houston, make advance or early payments on their services.
If you are a national agency please consider the Houston labor pool first. We are ready to work and as survivors we are going to give you peak performance.
Houston will come back stronger, more financially dominant and vibrant. We will be a prominent source of work and top paying jobs. You will be remembered for what you do and how you communicate now.