GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: More salsa, please!

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

I love Mexican food. I love Mexican restaurants and I have been in many of them from El Paso, Texas, to Tucson, Arizona, to San Jose, California, to Bangor, Maine, to Portland, Maine, to Waterville, Maine, to Augusta, Maine. And get this, my favorite part of being in a Mexican restaurant is not necessarily the food. I like what I like (Carnitas Fajitas) but I am certainly no connoisseur of the food. Nope my favorite part of being in a Mexican restaurant is at the start of the experience (not even the meal yet) when we all sit there and have a drink ( and get this, I don’t even like Margaritas! But I do like a cold beer) and I like best of all the camaraderie. The sheer joy of being there.

And consider this, if you own one of these establishments. Most of your money is made with the beginning of the meal. That experience before the meal even starts is when you really make your money.

A good Margarita in a good restaurant will cost from $11 to $13 (which I think is a fair price value for what you are getting.) And if you have four people at the table, chances are they have already paid 50 bucks before they even order the meal.

And then they might order special queso and chips for another $10, and, or some special Guac for another $10 and before you know it the tab is now at $75 and no food yet. Man if I own that restaurant I am in 7th Heaven. And the best part for that owner or manager is that chances are the folks are going to order another round to go with the meal! Man you are getting into the five figure neighborhood already! Ole!

Now, let’s get to the dilemma, the thing I just cannot understand and that’s the salsa, the quality, the taste, and the amount. Look anyway you cut it salsa has to be pretty cheap to make. And it is probably even cheaper to buy. Heck, I have seen salsa, pretty good tasting national brand salsa in gallon jugs for ten bucks or so. I think that it can be said that salsa is a pretty cheap but very important part of any meal in any Mexican restaurant.

So, here’s my beef, and please remember I have been nice so far. I have been to two very good, in fact, outstanding Mexican restaurants in the past two months that serve salsa in those little plastic take out cups. You know the ones where you might get mayo or ketchup on the side in a takeout bag! All I ask is, why? Why would you possibly do that? It’s as though you are tacitly saying “okay, this is all the salsa you’re going to get so drink your drink, order your food, eat and get out, someone else wants this table!” Which, of course, is the exact opposite message you want to convey in any restaurant. Especially a Mexican restaurant where the bill/ tab is so front loaded.

If you serve great salsa and plenty of it, like a soup bowl full of it at a time, people are going to love it, they are going to eat it up and yes, the more important part they are going to extend this chip and salsa eating,

Margarita buying and drinking part of that entire meal experience! Without a doubt great chips and salsa and plenty of it will increase your drink sales by at least 50 percent and for little or no extra money! The least expensive part of this pre-meal experience (for you the restaurant owner) is the salsa.

So please, please, please, more salsa please. And that is a fantastic way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: So, you’re busy: not a time to lose customers

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

As most of you reading this know, it is more difficult than ever to find people, companies, contractors to work on your house or facility. Even my friends at libraries and churches are having a difficult time finding people to work on their projects.

We get it…your busy, you have a full slate of jobs until the rest of the year. But remember that things are going to slow down after a while, they always do. And then you’re going to start looking for projects again. This means you’d better treat the people trying to hire you right now with kid gloves. Sure, you cannot handle their work today but let them know when you will be able to, or at least refer them to someone who can handle their needs sooner than you can.

To just worry about the business at hand right now and not worry about your future is very short-sighted and frankly, bad for business.

Here are some things you can do to make sure that you stay in good graces with the people/customers that you cannot help at this time.

  • Answer your phone and your emails. I have on three occasion reached out to companies who did work at my house a number of times. They are not even returning my phone calls. In two cases I reached out to them on e-mail and they did answer their e-mails. Really? At least let me know that you are still in business, still alive. I thought we had a good relationship, and in most cases, we pay the minute the work is done. Why are you leaving me stranded out here? At least let me know if you are no longer in business, I’ll understand. The past two years have been hard on everyone.
  • Don’t be arrogant. You know what I mean. Con­tractors are in such demand these days, that when you do get a hold of one, they tend to be smug and inform you how long it is going to be before they get to you. Don’t use expressions like, “Yeah, you and everybody else.” or “Get in line, or “take a number.” You are going to need our business some day soon so don’t be a smart ass about how busy you are right now. Don’t, for heaven’s sake, burn my bridge.
  • Be helpful. It is understandable that your are busy. And I am happy for you. I want you to succeed. But please try to figure out how you can help me solve my problem. At least help me by suggesting someone who might be able to help me sooner than you can.

In the end, it is good business to preserve your good customers. It is also good business to gain new customers. You’ve been through the hard times. You remember what it’s like not to have enough business. What it’s like to have to send some of your precious crew home after only a three-day work week.

Try to remember that. Remember how precious customers are to the success of your business and treat them as such, find a way to at least politely placate them so they will be there when you need them. That’s the very best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Culture change will improve your hiring

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

The tide has changed when it comes to employers and employees. Certainly, there is a shortage of the latter which is causing significant problems for all businesses, especially smaller ones. We are seeing restaurants both large and small including take out places, closed on Monday and Tuesday for lack of people to work those days and also to give their very hard working employees a break from the many hours they are putting on the days they do work.

It is much more difficult to get people to work at our houses. There is a shortage of everyone from landscapers to roofers to plumbers to electricians to just about every business you can think of.

This is an obvious problem, but it also reflects a more longstanding problem and that is one of the traditionally imbalanced relationship between the worker and the boss.

For years hard working people considered a job a privilege. They were proud and happy they had a job. But in the last few years not so much. It is now an employees’ market and will be for a number of years to come. This means that the employers have to change their ways and change their company cultures in favor of the employees.

One of the companies with a multi-million dollars electronics company recently hired 13 people…now a few weeks later two are left, all the others left in a matter of days once they saw that although the pay was good, the work was hard.

Now as a solution we have gone to work on that company’s culture. We are implementing a program that will change the culture of the company focusing more on the engagement of the employees by making them feel a sense of ownership in the company. Among the initiatives we are instituting are:

  • Creating an orientation and training plan for every new employee teaching them about the company, and the industry, showing them a bigger picture than just their department.
  • Showing them a future. Creating a career path for them that demonstrates when they can go in a year, five years towards making a good and financially profession in our field.
  • Constant communications: Keeping all employees involved with the progress of the company by holding, among other things, monthly “all hands” meetings
  • Offering small bonuses from introducing a potential employee to the company, paying them if that person is hired.
  • Making the new employees, and all the employees for that matter, like they are important stake holders in the company and instituting profit sharing programs where, if the company does well, everyone will be rewarded.
  • And finally, honestly caring about each and every one who works at the company, making sure that everyone feels they matter.

When all is said and done, people want to feel they matter, that their brain is as important as their hands, that their opinion is listened to and values as well.

No matter what size business you have from a factory with 200 people to a pizza shop with ten people, to a landscaping business with four people, applying these principles changing your company’s culture in this direction will go a long way towards solving your man and woman power issues. And yes, it’s a great way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Do your customers know what you do?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

How well do your customers know you? Do they know every service that you offer? If you are a landscaping company, do all your customers know that you offer snow removal and roof clearing in the winter as well?

If you are a contractor, do your customers know that you also build things like sheds and picnic tables and gazebos as a side business using your team to work on these things when they cannot be outdoors due to weather?

If you own a small restaurant, do all your customers know that you do at-home catering as well?

If you own a beauty salon, do your customers realize that you offer in-home hair cutting for people who cannot easily leave their homes?

A friend of mine was disappointed recently to see a competitor’s truck and crew doing tree removal at the home of one of his best customers. When he bravely called that customer later asking him why he was not hired for that job. The customer was surprised and told him, “Of course, I would have called you…if I had any idea, you provided tree removal services as well.” Talk about a lost opportunity! Talk about a wake-up call!

As a business owner you have to always make sure that your customers have a good idea of everything you can do for them.

You have already done the hard work. They are already your customers and you have developed a good bond with them. Now what you have to do is make sure they have a good understanding of all you can do for them.

The frustrating thing about this is that you probably did tell them. And I will give you the benefit of the doubt and agree that you probably told them many times.

But alas, customer forget, or they don’t listen, or they don’t care, until they need that particular service. Then they start looking and they start paying attention.

You can see ten thousand commercials for that Ford F-150 truck, but you are not going to pay attention until you are looking for a new truck, then and only then will you notice those ads.

It’s the same with your customers, which is why you have to find ways to constantly remind them of everything you can do for them. They only notice what they are looking for.

Some ways to do this are to provide them with a brochure listing everything you do. Create a wall hanging calendar that is a constant reminder of everything you do. Send out a monthly newsletter that lists all that you do and more (these are great for offering monthly specials as well).

Your job is to never, ever stop your focused messaging. Your job is to say the same thing in all kinds of different ways, over, and over, and over again, ad nauseum. I don’t care how much you get sick of hearing or reading or saying your message you have to keep doing it and even then, you are still going to drive by your good customer’s house one day and see one of your competitors doing something that you thought your customer knew you did.

That is just the way it works, And that’s why you have to always be finding new and innovative ways to get your messages in front of all your customers. Doing that will help you grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: No better time than now to start a business

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

There is no better time to start a service business. Yes you read that right, this is a great time to start a small service business. I’ll add to that, if you are a skilled craftsperson there has never been a better time to go into business for yourself.

Let me explain, if you are an electrician, plumber, carpenter, landscaper, stone worker, or any type of skilled laborer, this is the time to hang your shingle.

Why now? Simple, there are not enough of your type to go around. All the bigger companies and yes, of course, even the smaller ones are booked out through next year. They can’t handle the work they have. Some of them are not even answering the phone when it comes to new business.

But the business is there. As people climb out of the pandemic they need things done to their homes. For over two years people have put off doing what has needed to be done in their homes and in their places of business. And now when they need someone to work on their projects from house painting to roofing to carpentry, to plumbing, they just cannot find anyone to do the work…at least right now.

Not being able to get satisfaction from their current services companies, people are not even able to get the companies and people who they once used to even acknowledge their calls. They are being forced to look for alternate sources.

They are looking for anyone who meets their needs, right now, not in a month, not in three months or five months or a year, they need someone right now.

If you have always dreamt of being your own boss, now is the perfect time to make that dream come true. People…customers are looking for you.

All you have to do is make people know that you are in business and you are available.

Here are some of the things you can do to get started:

  • Set up your company. You can even do this on line for a couple of hundred dollars.
  • Develop a business plan. This does not have to be complicated. Just some good strategic thinking, answering a few simple questions like:
  • The name of your company
  • What your company does
  • Who are your customers?
  • What needs do you fill? What services do you provide?
  • Get your name out there. Make it easy for people to find you.
  • Place an ad in a local newspaper like this one (The Town Line)
  • Put your ad on local bulletin boards
  • Put flyers in doors or on car windshields (In some communities you will need a permit to do this).
  • Anything that will let people know you are now in business and will provide them with the services they are looking for…right now!

If you do these things people will find you and get in touch with you (a small basic web site would be great as well)

Then answer your phone and get started.

Right now, it is as simple as that. And if you are skilled and if you are ambitious you can get started immediately. In a matter of days, you can be growing your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: These services are needed right now

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

No Job too small.

Even if you are technically now a “skilled laborer” you can offer your services and grow your business right now… Without any special tools, equipment, or skills. You just have to know how to work hard and let people know you are available.

I am talking about the so-called small stuff. The type of work that normally falls through the proverbial cracks of normal provided services.

The true essence of a business is to find a need and fill it.

Customers, home owners, small business owners, even other companies have those needs today. They need you right now if you can offer these services:

  • Small carpentry jobs from putting in a window to hanging shelves to, yes, even hanging things on the wall, to fixing a broken step or a broken window, people are looking for someone who can do this kind of work. The kind of work that the larger companies can’t be bothered to do. General handyman or woman services to do anything a home owner needs, just the small stuff like repairing a fence or a step.
  • Other small jobs of any kind. People need someone to paint their steps, paint their shed, or cut a few branches. All jobs that are too small to even call a larger company.
  • Cleaning out attics and basements and garages and sheds and other storage areas. People need someone who can show up, clean their attic, cart away things that are no longer needed and bring that space back to life. No special skills are required. All that you need is strong hand, back and ambitions. Even just hauling away and properly disposing of anything from old paint cans to old appliances. There are no easy ways to do this right now?
  • Detailing cars: the largest detailing companies are booked out for months. But the demand for this service remains high. People would be delighted if they could call someone to come to their house and detail their vehicles in their own driveway.
  • Taking in and storing window air conditioners in the fall and installing them in the spring.
  • Winterizing homes from taking in a storing outdoor furniture including properly storing that barbecue and grill.
  • Hanging Christmas decorations on the outsides of homes and businesses. And then taking down those decorations.
  • General house cleaning on a regular basis. There is a high demand for someone who can do this.
  • And there are dozens of other things you can do, other services you can provide.

Another thing to consider is that Maine has the largest per-capita senior population and many of these people can no longer do that kind of jobs that we’ve listed above. This particular demographic is looking for someone like you right now.

All you have to do is think about it. Consider what you would like to do and get started, you’ll be surprised how quickly you fill out your work schedule. There has never been a better time or a better way to grow your own business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS – 16 simple rules of business: and of life

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

No matter what anyone tells you, business is not hard, being a good business person is not hard. Being a person who is respected and sometimes even esteemed is not that difficult. Being someone that others turn to in their time of need is easy. Being that person that people respect, even if they don’t always agree with her/him is something that everyone can afford. It does not cost a lot of money to be a good guy.

And to show you how easy it is, here are 16 simple rules for being a good guy and also a good business person.

Are you ready? Don’t worry there is nothing here that you can’t handle:

1. Treat everyone you meet with the respect you feel you deserve. Treat them well.

2. Be polite, be courteous, say please and thank you, make room for others in this world space.

3. Don’t worry so much about who wins and loses, but rather find solutions where everyone wins, at least a little bit.

4. Return phone calls promptly. Or as promptly as you can. Everyone is guilty of messing this one up once in a while but try your best.

5. Try your best, speaking of which always try your best so that at the end of the day you can tell your self that you did the best, the very best you could do. As the athletes like to say, “At the end of the game make sure you left everything out there.”

6. Return emails promptly. I know, I know another one that is not that easy to do…but, yes, you’ve got it, do your best.

7. Listen to people when they are talking to you. Look them in the eye and focus on what they are telling you. This is for your own good as well as the person talking. It is amazing how much you miss when you are not really listening. Ask your spouse or partner.

8. When you decide you hate a certain group of people, whatever that group might be, there’s a lot to go around, think how you will react, be honest, when you meet one person from that group at a time. It is much harder to hate one individual at a time than it is to hate an entire group.

9. Find ways to help people, your customers, your suppliers, your bosses, the people you work with, the people who work for you. Whatever they are doing. Whatever their job is, try to help them do it better.

10. Along those same lines, always leave people better than when you found them. Look for ways to make their lives better for having met you, either for the first time or the first time that day.

11. Be inspirational. No, you don’t have to give them a Knute Rockne, “rah rah” pep talk, But you can inspire them to take that next step in whatever they are doing. To show them that what they are doing is important and they are the better for doing it.

12. Be generous. I like to say, “allow me to be generous” when I work with people. All I mean by that is if we work together and if we are not concerned about who does what because we are confident that together we will succeed, then we will succeed and have a true win/win partnership. Remember that old adage, “It’s amazing what we can do when we don’t care who gets the credit.”

13. Be honest. Always tell the truth no matter how much it hurts. If you are selling something and it is going to be late, then tell them as soon as you know. Remember those words of wisdom, “The Godfather insists on hearing bad news immediately. Deliver both bad news and good news, but deliver the bad news “more quickly”

14. Take the heat if you have done something wrong. Stand up and take it on the chin…and then start fixing it as quickly as possible.

15. Listen to other people’s ideas. Don’t be so stuck in your ways that you are not willing to hear other’s ideas, especially those people who are not from your own generation. It’s amazing how much you can learn when you open your mind up to other’s ideas.

16. And finally and my personal favorite. Always help out those who have done you wrong at one time or another. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s fun, and the best part is that… it freaks them out!

There you have it. I told you they weren’t hard. Follow these 16 simple rules of business and people will love working with you…and, of course, you’ll grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Be a little better

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

To be successful in business you have to find ways to be better. You have to get creative and find ways for your customers to prefer working with you rather than with your competition.

Finding new ways to delight your customers can be fun. Actually, being better than your competition is fun, not to mention profitable.

As a business owner you should always be thinking about your customers and yes, also about your competitors.

You need to study your customers to see what they like, what puts smiles on their faces? What keeps them coming back?

And you have to study your competitors to see what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong, and how you can be better.

Often, it’s the little things that can make you outstanding in the true sense of the word.

You can be the roofer who leaves the site spotless once the roof is complete. I was once wowed at the site of a member of the company that did my roof a few years ago, going over the driveway with some kind of magnetic rake to make sure no nails were left behind.

I once visited a restaurant, a very busy restaurant in Milwaukee that delighted people who were waiting for over an hour for a table by passing out hot buttered rolls.

Or how about that family-owned hardware store where the woman in the paint department spent a good 15 minutes with my mother talking about just the right paint to redo a lawn chair? Mom talked about that for years after.

None of these things were hard or expensive but they were valuable enough to make customers for life.

Think about your own business. What can you do to be outstanding? What can you do to be special.

Oh, here is an idea, ask your customers themselves. Go ahead ask them for their opinion?

If you own a restaurant, ask them to fill our a simple questionnaire. If you own a service business, sit down and honestly ask your customer what you could do differently and better?

When you finish that landscaping job and are showing the customer what you’ve done, ask her if there is anything else she would like. Ask her if she has any ideas of services you could offer or things you could do better.

Study your industry, always be learning about your job. You can even learn by watching the right TV shows. Just by sitting in a chair in your den with a notebook you get ideas on how to run a better restaurant, bar, diner – you know all those shows. Get ideas from watching HGTV and the Discovery channel. Always be learning and, yes, don’t be afraid to steal those ideas and use them for your own business

In the end it’s all about how dedicated you are to finding new and innovative ways to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: People… and people

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

If you have not figured this out yet, you’d better get on board and do it fast. If you have been known to treat your people poorly and get away with it, you are about to get a rude awakening, and I mean a really rude awakening.

It’s a new ball game out there. People have choices of whether or not they want to come to work for you like we have not seen probably in our lifetimes.

There are not enough people to fill all the job openings we have. And the good people who are out there. The ones you would love to have come work for your company are being very selective about who they tie their wagon to.

What bothers me is there are still companies in the 20th century, mind you, there are still companies who treat their employees very poorly

The rules are simple, if you treat your employees poorly, they are going to turn around and treat your customers as poorly, if not worse. That has always been the case.
If you want to WOW the customer, first, you must WOW the people who WOW the customer.”

And now with the labor shortages we are experiencing and will continue to experience for the next few years, we are going to have to up our game if we are serious about succeeding. And frankly, it is a game that has needed upping for years now.

And no, it’s not just about Covid, its not just about some people getting extra money: all that might be the latest factor, but in reality, if you choose to remember we were having a hard time manning (and womanning) our shops even before Covid. Except back then we were blaming it on our favorite target “the millennials” (don’t you love it when over the hill 60 and 70 year old starts explaining how millennial think?) Nope, it was more about our work not being that rewarding. It was all about the rest of us being so unexcited about what we were working to make it exciting for young people coming into our industry.

Be honest, how many of you have a full blown orientation package in your company where you talk about our industry from its rich history of building products that have changed the world?

Remember when we hire someone, we are not giving them a job, we are giving them a future. We have to show them they are entering an exciting career, one that we ourselves are excited about showing them.

And then we have to treat both new and current employees with the kind of loyalty and respect that we want them to give to our customers, not to mention, and this is important…to one another.

Here are a few tips for successfully hiring and most importantly keeping good people no matter what business, you are in.

• Show them a future;
• Get them to care about what they are doing;
• Lead by example;
• Build a culture in which individuals have the means to truly thrive, to succeed. To be happy in their work, to be fulfilled and growing.

Employees are our first customers, our most important customers.

Good employees are the most important asset you have. Invest in them and they will invest their time, and passion in your business in turn. And together you will grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Stay in touch with customers

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Sure, you see your customers all the time. You see them when you do their landscaping or when they come into your restaurant for a meal, or when they come in for their monthly spa treatment, or when they call you to set up the annual snow removal arrangements. I know that you see that at those times, but what about the rest of the time?

It is always important to stay in touch with your customers even when you are not actually providing them services or products.

Whether you own a hardware store, or a dry cleaning business, or a restaurant, it is important to stay in front of your customers, even when you are not in front of them.

Now, I am not suggesting anything as obnoxious as calling them up once in a while, nobody wants to make that call or especially, to receive that call.

But there are many other ways to stay in touch with your customers. What we call “soft touches”

First of all, there is always advertising in local newspapers like this one. The rates are very economical; and the readership is local enough so that if you are a local small business, you are advertising to your customer base. Advertising locally is a very good way to stay in front of your customers.

The monthly newsletter is one of the best ways to stay in front of your current customers, but even better, it is a way to reach out to new potential customers. By using inexpensive software like Constant Contact, you can easily compile a list of your customers, as well as some target customers.

Create an attractive template and then send one out once a month. It does not have to be long. In fact, it should not be too long. The newsletter can be made up of a message from you, the owner, some tips about your product or service.

If you are a landscaper you can provide some short seasonal tips on what has to be done to your lawn at this time of the year. If you own a restaurant, you can give out some recipes, or better yet, highlight some new tempting dishes you are offering this month.

The newsletter can also provide some special discount coupons to urge your customers to use your services during that month. You can also provide a little humor: a tasteful anecdote or joke and maybe even a quiz or trivia question. The key is to make the newsletter pleasant and attractive enough that people will look forward to receiving and opening in when it shows up in their email box.

One of the keys to s successful newsletter is to have an ever growing list of current and potential customers. With your current customers ask them to sign up for your newsletters. Offer them incentives like “Valuable Special Discounts” just for signing up. Don’t push, be subtle and friendly about it, make it fun and appealing. Put a sign up email address in your advertising if you advertise, put it on your flyers and your invoices.

The more people who consistently open and read your newsletter the more potential customers your will have. And that’s a perfect way to stay in touch and, yes, to grow your business.