GROWING YOUR BUSINESS – This too will pass: will you be ready?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

I think that right now all of us are wondering if we will ever feel free to be around other people, to go out to dinner, or grocery shopping. We wonder if our customers will be comfortable having us come into their homes to put in that new kitchen or bathroom? We wonder when that guy is going to come back for a haircut, or that great customer of yours will be back for that once a month all day spa treatment that both you and she count on?

We have to wonder don’t we? They are saying it could be weeks or even months before we all get back to normal, whatever that means. But we can say with a clear vision of optimism that yes, we will get back to normal… or at least a normal with a slant based on what we are going through.

But of this we can be sure. Yes, your customers are going to want that new kitchen and bathroom, they are going to want that spa treatment and yes, believe it or not, that might even be looking forward to that teeth cleaning, or even that postponed root canal. People are going to need the same things that they needed before COVID-19 hit us. In fact, they are going to not only need them, but they are going to want them, and want them with a vengeance!

They are already salivating at the thought of that medium rare filet at their favorite steak house, they are unbelievably tired of that crummy old out of date kitchen they have had to live with four months longer than they’d planned. They are going to want that wonderful and relaxing day at your spa, especially now that everyone knows their true hair color. And yes, they are actually going to look forward to that once dreaded root canal.

But will you be ready for them? Some states, (not the very bright ones, unfortunately) are already opening up and in a few weeks more will follow including our own. Will you be ready? Really, well let me ask you what are you doing to be ready? If you’re a contractor I suggest you call those customers who postponed their projects with you to get them back on the calendar. Remind them there is going to be a rush for your time once this terrible nightmare is over, so they’d better get on your schedule now. The same with your Spa.

If you own a restaurant, you’d better be planning a welcome back menu that will make everyone who missed you delight in their return to your place.

Think about it. We will all be back on the road in a very short time, it might even be a shorter time than you think. So, if you want to start growing your business again, you’d better start planning right now for when things get back to normal.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Are you a craftsman?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

There is a show on cable called A Craftsman’s Legacy. On this show, host Eric Gorges visits various craftspeople who build everything from guitars to bows to saddles to well, just about anything cool you can produce by hand. It’s a fascinating show to watch because the people who are featured on the show are true craftsman. (PC police, please forgive my use of the term, it’s purely used generically, and the term craftsperson is too clumsy and does not convey the true sense of the word craftsman).

Okay enough of that. What I want to talk about today are the pure craftsmen that have worked at my house over the years doing things better than anyone I ever saw do them. People who are true artists at what they do. People who have such a love and passion for their crafts, regarding jobs that they are better than anyone else in their field…at least in my humble opinion.

This column’s shout out goes to Larry Costanzer, who has done painting in our house and our neighbor’s houses for years. In fact, I love that he worked on our house years before we got there. When he started working on our kitchen by removing the wallpaper, he knew exactly how to do it because he was the one who had put it up many years before. He could even show us his penciled markings on the bare walls.

Larry, like all true craftsmen, spends much more time on preparation than the actual painting or wallpapering. He’s explained to me a number of times how his work’s success relies completely on the preparation of the walls and woodwork, patching and sanding holes and irregularities on the surfaces, making sure that the walls will be “sized,” if necessary, so that the wallpaper will adhere perfectly once it is applied to the walls.

When Larry looks over a project he doesn’t just act as our painting contractor, no, he is much more invested than that, he acts more like our advisor, more like our expert consulting, sharing his year’s of experience and knowledge with us, advising us on the best way to go.

The most important thing about Larry is that he is always taking a long view of this projects, considering what they will look like in five years or ten years, or longer.

The pride he takes in his work and the respect he has for what he does is exactly proportional to the pride we take in our home. I feel like Larry’s approach to a project is to assume the responsibility to adding beauty and love to a home that is so already loved by the family that lives there.

And that’s precisely what makes Larry a craftsman and the most sought after painter in our area. And that’s why his business is always growing.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: This was their finest hour

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

“Do not let us speak of darker days, let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not darker days, these are great days, the greatest days our country has ever lived.” – Winston Churchill

The great orator was talking about the bombing of London when he said these words. A time, far more serious and scarier even than what we are going through at this time. But instead of talking of gloom and doom he was talking instead of greatness, the greatness it takes to not only endure but also strive to thrive in serious and dangerous days, like the ones we are experiencing right now.

Dangerous times do make great times. Perilous times tend to force people to find the greatness in themselves.

And then there is this quote from Churchill, “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”

Yes, we are in one of those times. Times when we are all facing challenges. The interesting thing is that this time the enemy is not some other guy, some other country, no this time we are all on the same playing field, globally we are all facing this challenge.

If you, at any time in your life wondered how you would have reacted in a dangerous situation. If you have read books, or watched movies, or heard stories of brave men and women doing great, and courageous deeds of heroism and wondered how you would have reacted in the same situation. If you would have literally risen to the occasion and faced that same danger the same way these people did, then this is your time to find out. Your time to learn what stuff you are made of. This is your time to rise above the fray and show your courage, your strength, your endurance in the eye of the storm and stand up to the challenge.

I know how hard things are for people with small businesses right now. Your restaurant is closed so you have been reduced to take-out service. If you are a contractor, jobs are being postponed or even cancelled as customers are in lock down and are not comfortable with you being in their homes. Retail business have reduced hours. Things look bleak right now, but we have to keep on keeping on if we are going to not only just survive but thrive doing these times.

So, during the next few weeks we will be addressing these issues and helping you to find ways to survive and maybe even grow your business during these trying times:

Here are three strategies to get your started:

Contractors: because many buildings are empty right now, municipal buildings, office buildings, public buildings this is a good time for you to go into these buildings and work on projects. Market your company as someone who could do some painting, or flooring, or wiring while these buildings are empty.

Retail stores: Offer special sales. Offer door pick-up or better yet delivery. If you have a website use that for communications, advertising and payment collection. If not, then take ten minutes and set up a Facebook account to do the same thing. Or there is always the USPS.

Landscapers: You have it better than most since you work outdoors. Offer special early bird specials. Early spring clean-up, anything that will help keep your team employed.

And finally, find a way to keep your spirits up. As I said earlier, this is our time, our generation will be judged by how we dealt with this situation. We will be remembered for what we did when the world was at a crisis point and how in the end, we came out of it better, better people, better companies, better countries and a better world.

I’ll leave you now with another quote from Sir Winston Churchill, “Let us therefore embrace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

Stay safe.

Note: I have put together a short plan of ideas on how to keep your business going through these hard times. If you want a copy email me at danbbeaulieu@aol.com or call me at 207-649-0879.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Building a great reputation

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

When you’re in business, especially a small business, the most important thing you have is your reputation. Its all about what people think of you, that will determine whether, you will be successful.

You need to have a spotless reputation based on not only the way you do your job but how reliable and credible you are in the long run.

You must be constantly working on having that great reputation. It makes no sense to be in business for yourself if you can’t deliver the goods. So just like any company, no matter what size it is, you must always make sure that you are delivering the best overall value possible to your customers.

People need to rely on you to be there on time, return phone calls, keep your promises, do the work perfectly, always tell the truth and finally deliver the best value possible. People want a good value for their dollars.

The old saying “your reputation precedes you” has never been truer than it is today. And to help you with that, here are five ways to make sure that “your good reputation precedes you.”

  • Know your stuff: Know all you can about your product or service. The more you know about the product you’re selling the more valuable you will be to your customers. The more capable you are of doing a fantastic job the better your reputation will be.
  • Keep abreast of new developments: Study, read, go to seminars, and webinars, do whatever you have to do to know what new developments are happening with your market’s products. If you can keep your customers aware of new developments in your market the more valuable you will be to them and the happier they will be to see you. Buy new equipment, learn the latest techniques. Make sure you’re the smartest person in your market space
  •  Write about it: Position yourself as an expert. No matter what your craft from woodworking, to landscaping to plumbing, write and publish a column or post a regular blog advising people on the best ways to do things in that field. This is the best way to position yourself as a leader in your field and your company a leading company in that field as well
  • Speak in public: Talk about your craft. Teach others what you have learned. There is no better way to capture knowledge than to teach it. Again, when you speak in public you position yourself as an expert, someone that people in your field, customers no less, want to meet and do business with.
  • Get creative: Task yourself with finding new and innovative ways of doing things. Figure out how to stay in front of your customers even when you are not there. Put out a newsletter or help bulletin. Do whatever it takes to be a constant reminder to your customers and potential customers that you are there for them and you are a true leader when it comes to what you do.

Being the best in your market is not enough, you must get that message out to your customers and potential customers as well. And that’s the way you will always be growing your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS – Contractors: grow your business in hard times

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

My mother used to say there is always a way. No matter what the challenge, no matter how hard the times, there is always a way to make it through. And my mother at 92 years old has seen depressions, wars, recession and all sorts of challenges and always she has survived.

And now we face this, this common enemy, this virus that is threatening not only our health but our economy and our businesses as well.

But as mom always said, there is always a way, there is always a plan that can be creatively conceived and implemented to get through just about anything, even these hard times.

As promised, here are some more ideas to help you grow your business in these very bleak times.

This time we’ll talk about what you can do if you are a contractor. I know contractors are having it hard right now. Jobs are being canceled, because people do not want strangers in their houses, (nor should they) But, you can work outdoors right?

This is a great time to be putting on new roofs or siding. These are projects that can be done with minimum human contact. How about adding decks or porches? How about putting up a new fence, or building a new shed or garage, or maybe even a gazebo? These are all great projects that are done in the spring and especially when the weather gets warmer and even better outdoors!

How about working in temporarily closed businesses. This is an excellent time for closed businesses to be remodeled. Dentist offices, Spas and Beauty Salons, even municipal office buildings, anywhere that are closed and people are working from home, are places where there has never been a better time to paint, or lay new flooring, or new wiring, or plumbing.

All of these are opportunities to not only stay busy, but actually grow your business during these hard times.

But you have to get the word out there. Often people, customers, don’t think of these things. You have to put these ideas in front of them through advertising, whether traditional print, or social media, or even the good old U.S Post Office. If you’re on a budget, write up a flyer and pass them around various neighborhoods. Use your eyes and your ears. Look around to see what people need. Drive through your local area and see which houses have peeling or faded paint, or sagging porches, or a collapsing fences, or need new roofs and leave appropriate flyers advertising your business’s capabilities and always include – this is vitally important – special offers.

And remember that advertising and marketing are numbers games. You can leave 50 flyers and only get two inquiries; and win only one job. Well, that’s a job you would not have had. The important thing is to be an outlier, to always think different. And if you do this, if you are ambitious and innovative and persistent, you, in the end, will grow your business in any circumstances, even these times.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Delighting your customers

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Delighting your customers is the surefire way to make your company successful. No matter what your company is, no matter what your services or products are, your job is to delight your customers. If you are serious, truly serious about your company being outstanding then you have to deliver outstanding services, services that will truly delight your customer, keep them coming back and most importantly telling others about you.

Here are five ways to make sure your customers are delighted:

  • Ask them: Once you have performed the service on their car, or finished that landscaping job, or built them that new gazebo, call them up and ask if they are happy with your work. If they are not then it’s a great opportunity for you to remedy the situation, if they are then ask them for a reference or testimonial.
  • Super Service: A friend of mine gets his Lexus serviced in Bellevue, Washington, where he lives. If the car is going to be in the shop for any length of time, they loan him a brand new Lexus, which is a great way to get him to try out the new model. And when he gets his car back it is washed and cleaned in and out. He tells everyone he meets about this service. And best of all he would never dream of buying anything but a Lexus the next time he needs a car.
  • “No Policies:” The only policy you should have no matter what your business is to make your customers happy. If you’re company is full of policies (which are usually rules that are good for you but not for the customer) get rid of them.
  • Make them love the wait: If your business is so successful that people have to wait, make it a delightful wait. If you own a restaurant, and your customers have to wait, make sure the waiting area is comfortable with plenty of seating. Pass around free samples of your excellent food. Think about it, no one is going to complain about the wait if they are being fed hot buttered rolls while they wait.
  • Deliver something extra: If you’re a landscaper, do something special that the customer did not request. Offer her to plant an extra plant. Sweep his driveway when you’re done. Take a photo of that special flower bed you just worked on and send them a framed copy of it.

The idea is pretty simple. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and imagine what would make you happy. These are only five ideas. There are hundreds of things you can do in your specific business to delight your customers. All you have to do is put your customers foremost in your mind.

How do you delight your customers? Think about it. feel free to steal some of these ideas…or think up your own, it’s a great way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What to do when things go wrong; and they will

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

In business, as in life, things go wrong. It can’t be helped; we are all human, and we all make mistakes. No matter how good we are, no matter how hard we try to be careful, every so often something will go wrong. The important thing is how we recover. The trick is to “Recover Boldly” as business writers Todd and Deb Duncan write in their excellent book: The 10 Golden Rules of Customer Service.

They go on to say that the faster you solve a problem, the faster you remedy the situation, the better your company will be viewed. Indeed, I know that my clients often tell me stories about great partnerships being forged with their customers by the way they handled a problem.

Here is what you should do when a problem occurs:

  • Deal with it quickly: forget about whose fault it is, solve the problem, there will be plenty of time to figure that out lately. The problem might even have been caused by the customer herself…so what? It doesn’t matter.
  • Apologies for the problem no matter what. No argument, no dispute, just face up to the problem, apologies and get to work solving it. Remember what you feel like when you have to call a company to tell them about a problem? You expect the worst, always. So, think how relieved you feel, when the person on the other end of the phone sympathizes with you, and gets to work fixing the problem.
  • Fix the problem quickly: faster than you even said you would. Get on it immediately and problem that goes unsolved for too long, will start to rot your customer relationship.
  • Deliver a solution that is more than your promised, and more than the customer expected. This is where you have the opportunity to shine. This is where you get to recover boldly. Give the customer the solution and more. Give them a discount on their next purchase. Give them a free meal if you own a restaurant. Do something that will literally turn the proverbial lemon into lemonade. Whatever the cost of what you give them, it will be worth it in all the free advertising they will give you in return, by telling everyone they know about how you solved their problem. And if you in the end, were not the one who actually caused the problem… that’s even better!

Remember the story about the Nordstrom’s employee who took back a customers tires and refunded his what he had paid for them….even though Nordstrom does not sell tires? We’ve all heard and read that story a hundred times… and that’s the point isn’t it?

One of the best ways to grow your business is based on the way you handle customer problems. The word of mouth publicity is priceless!

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Your products are your jewels

Respect what you sell

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

There is an old story I have heard many times, and I am old enough to have to admit that I have told and retold it many times myself.

Charles Wentworth III (name changed to protect the great salesperson) was the most successful salesperson in the history of the Acme Hardware Company (phony name, I have no idea who he worked for, but the rest of this story is true, I swear) His specialty was nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers, a true commodity sale if there ever was one. But Charles Wentworth III loved his products, he loved his nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers, so much that he treated them as respectfully as if they were the Queen’s jewels. Yes, he treated them like jewels.

He created a display case out of fine cherry wood, so beautifully crafted that it was more like a jewelry box than a display case for nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers. He compartmentalized the inside of the case into little sections to hold all of the various types of nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers. And then he lined the inside of the box with fine royal purple velvet cloth. It was a box worthy of holding Tiffany diamonds.

He then had all his sample nuts, and bolts. and screws. and washers, Nickle plated so that they shone like the chrome on the Queen’s Rolls Royce, and he placed them all perfectly, into his beautifully-lined display case.

Then he traveled around the countryside in a chauffeur driven limousine, visiting one hardware store chain president after another. (by late in his career, he had become so successful that he was only dealing with the top brass, who loved seeing him coming)

Once inside the big shot’s office he would take his time. Get comfortably situated in a chair on the other side of the desk, and take out his “jewelry box” and tip it towards the customer to let him see his magnificent nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers…his jewels

He would them place the box firmly on his side of the desk, pull out a pair of sparking white silk gloves and put them on before he would take out one of the nuts, or bolts, or screws, or washers, and show them, just show them to the head honcho, who most of the time was shaking in anticipation of actually holding one of these gems. But when El Capo, went to reach for one, Charles Wentworth III would quickly pull it away out of the president’s hand and wagging his finger at him, reach into his bag and pull out another pair of sparkling white silk gloves for the CEO to wear before he handled those precious wares!

You see, Charles Wentworth III, was not just selling nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers, he was selling solutions, beautiful plated representations of the products he was so proud to be selling. He was treating products that probably sold for ten cents a pound as if they were worth a proverbial king’s ransom. He treated his products with great respect. And that made Mr. Charles Wentworth III the most successful hardware salesman in the world!

How about you? Do you treat your products with respect? Do you deliver your services with the utmost professionalism? If not, then I would urge you to learn from Charles Wentworth III the greatest hardware salesman in the world, to heart and start doing so today, it’s a great way to separate your services and products from your competitors, and an even better way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What about your company image?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

You’re proud of your company. You’re proud of the company logo on the side of that shiny new white truck. On your employees’ shirts, on all of your equipment. Everything you own, everything you do is all about protecting your image. That company logo represents everything you have worked so hard for. You spent hours developing that logo; you spent years developing your image and your brand. So that when people see your logo, they recognize it as a symbol of the good service, the products and the good value, in short everything your company stands for.

That logo, that image, that brand and what it says about you, your company, and the people who work for you. And all of that company good will has to be protected at all costs…right?

Well, think about this for a minute. One of your good customers is driving to Augusta on I -95, when all of a sudden, they are cut off and almost hit by one of your employees, in your company truck, bearing your company’s logo and name, speeding down the highway, veering from lane to lane driving to endanger. What do you think your good customer is going to think about your company now? Or worse yet how about someone who is not yet a customer, but was thinking of calling you to perform a service for them. Do you think they are going to call you now?

Or, how about this? One of your customers is sitting in a local watering hole having a quiet drink when he spots one of your guys, wearing your company shirt, drunk as a skunk getting thrown out of the bar! How’s that going to affect your company image? Think about that.

Okay look, these are extreme examples for sure. But these kinds of things do happen. In fact, it happens far too often. And every time it does, it hurts the company that the person is wearing or driving.

So, what can you do? First of all, hire the right people. Then instruct them in your company’s culture. Teach them about your company and your brand and your logo. Make them as proud of the company they work for as you are. Show them that your company logo is the symbol of your company and everything you stand for. That logo, that brand, is your company’s flag and everyone who works for your company should be as proud to wave that flag as we all are as Americans to wave the stars and stripes.

By instilling so much pride in your associates that they would never even be doing anything that would soil your company’s logo, your company’s image. You will also be instilling in them your company value and that will go a long way to getting the very best out of your entire team and that will lead to you providing excellent service and products, and to growing your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: You gotta have a plan

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

No matter how big or how small your business is you have to have a plan. Whether you are mowing lawns, plowing snow or making computer chips you have to have a plan. You have to know why you are starting the business. Who your customers are. Why they need your products or services. Who your competitors are and what are you going to do to be better than them, you have to have a plan.

Over the years I have helped a number of businesses get started and during that time I have developed this list of questions that, if answered carefully, thoughtfully, and completely, you will have your strategic business plan.

So, I thought it might be helpful if I posted those questions right here and now. I would urge you to use them to develop your own strategic plan. Here then are those questions. Please remember that this is not a true and false test. This is not a short answer test, this is not a test at all, but rather a series of questions to think about carefully. If you do that…in the end you will have a complete strategic business plan off of which you can run your company. If yours is a one person company then answer the questions alone, but if you have other people involved in the company, then talk about and answer these questions as a team. You’ll see that it will pay off in the end, and it will be your company business plan…not just yours.

PART ONE: THE COMPANY

1. The Company: A description of the company as it appears today.

Answer the questions:

a. Who are we?
b. What does the business do?
c. What category of product does it sell?
d. Is it a service business?
e. What do we do and why do we do it?
f. Why was the business started?
g. What niche or gap in the market does it fill?
h. What is the business philosophy?
i. Mission Statement?
j. Who started the business?
k. Who is involved in the business?
l. What extra personnel will the business need?
m. Where is it located?
n. Where does it do business?
o. What is the technology level?
p. What is the price level?
q. How do we make our money?
r. What is the quality level?
s. How do we assure that we have good quality services or products?
t. What are our strengths?
u. What makes us standout from the competition?
v. Why are we offering this service in the marketplace?
w. Are we sure there is a need?
x. Is it an unmet need?
y. What exactly is the specific niche we fill?

2. The Customers:

a. What image or position do we want our company to have with the customers?
b. What is the marketplace?
c. Is it defined in geographical terms or technological terms?
d. Who are our customers?
e. What do we know about them?
f. What do we do to find out more about them?
g. Who are our best potential customers and what do we know about them?
i. Why will they need us?
j. Why will they want to do business with us?
k. What do we want them to think of us?
l. What will they think we can do for them?
m. Are there any holes in the marketplace?
n. Who will we be compared to?
o. How will we show that we can fill our customers’ needs?
p. How will we convince our potential customers of this?

3. The Competition:

a. Who is our head to head competition?
b. What are our competitors’ strengths relative to us?
c. Why will people do business with them instead of us?
d. How can we counteract their strengths?
e. How will we get them to convert to our services and products?

4. Selling:

a. How will we promote ourselves? Paid advertising?
b. How will people get to know about us?
c. How will our selling be different from our competition?
d. How can we force “word of mouth”? Encourage it?
e. Should we have references?
f. Do we need a website?
g. How will customers find us? Contact us

5. Goals

a. What are our goals as a business?
b. Revenue goals?
c. Customer satisfaction?
d. Sales?
e. Growth year to year?

And that’s it. Now I know it looks daunting, but it’s really not. And I can guarantee that if you take the time and effort to completely answer these questions your new business will not only be launch but start to grow.