GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Enhance your customer experience

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Having happy and satisfied customers is the most rewarding aspect of owning a business. If you concentrate on your customers and focus on delighting them you will never run out of business. You can have all the sales you want, all the price gouging, all of the promotions and advertising and, yes, they will all work to a certain extent but the number one thing that will make your company grow and thrive is having a following of delighted customers.

But of course, that is easier said than done. Delighting your customers takes focus, knowledge and concentration, and most of all it takes looking at your company experience from the customer’s point of view. That’s right, to delight your customer you have to walk in his shoes. That means be aware of and enhancing the customer experience.

The best way to do this is to look at every aspect of your business through your customers’ eyes. Look at every aspect of the business experience that your customers see and evaluate it from that point of view.

• How do customers find you? If you’re advertising, what do your ads look like. Evaluate other means of customer acquisition from flyers, to your website, to your social media. How does it look to the customers?
• What happens when they try to reach you? Is it by phone? Does somebody answer the phone immediately and deal with the customer professionally? Or if it’s voice mail, is your message professional? And most importantly with voice mail, do you get back to them quickly? Calling your own company and seeing for yourself how the phone is answered or how the message sounds, could be a real eye opener.
• How does the company present to the customers? Signage, trucks, equipment? If you are in retail, how does you place of business look to the customer?
• If you are a contractor, say a builder, or a roofer, or a landscaper, what is your quote process like? Is it easy and friendly along with being transparent, clear and precise? Do you make sure your customers know exactly what they are getting for their money – exactly what it will cost them? Is the transaction experience pleasant for them?
• Are you always on time? Are you accurate when it comes to when your team will arrive on the premises and how long it will take to do the job?
• Do you keep the customer informed at all times as to how the job is coming along? Do you communicate with them immediately when something goes wrong, telling them why, what you can do about it and how much more it will cost, if it does cost more?
• How about the work site? Do you keep it clean and uncluttered? No loud music or smoking or raucous behavior. Are all your associates courteous to your customer?
• When the job is complete do you take the time to do a walk through with your customers to make sure they are satisfied with the work you have completed? They should be delighted enough for you to ask them for a reference or testimonial.
• And finally, do you follow up a week later to make sure they are still happy with your work? This is the time to ask them how you did and if they would use you again. This is the time to make them a customer for life.

Now that you’ve looked at all aspects of your business, the service you perform and how you performed it, are you happy? Is this the way you want people to see your company? If it’s not, then fix what needs fixing. If it is, then good for you. But don’t stop there. The best way to keep growing your company is to always be finding ways to make the customer experience better. That’s the right way to grow your company.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Please don’t do this!

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

A good customer is your most important asset!

One of the biggest complaints that people I know have about local contractors is that some of them, when they get busy, won’t give them the time of day. Not all of them mind you, but more than a few seem to act with a certain…dare we say smugness when their schedule gets filled up. If you are a contractor, whether a landscaper, a tree service, a builder, a plumber, or electrician and because of Covid-19 you now have a waiting list as long as you proverbial arm, please remember the lean times. Please remember what a privilege it is to have customers.

Look I know you are going to get very busy in the next few months. So many projects have been put on hold that, of course, you have a backlog of customers’ projects waiting to be attended to. And of course, you cannot get to them all at the same time. That is understandable and only makes sense. There are only 24 hours in a day and only seven days in a week, so there is only so much that you can do, and only so many projects that you can attack at one time.

I’m not asking that you take on more than you can handle, I’m not asking that you make promises you can’t keep, All I am asking is that you treat all your customers like you care. Let them know that their business and most importantly their loyalty is important to you and you are going to do the very best you can to get to them as quickly as you can.

Here are a few simple guidelines to make sure that you treat your customers right while they wait for you to get to their projects:

  • Return their calls as soon as possible. Making a customer wait for you to return their call is insulting and sends the message that you don’t care about their business.
  • If the customer has a project for you to get started on, politely explain that you are busy, that you will make time to visit the customer and take a look at the project within 24 or 48 hours.
  • And keep that appointment by all means. There is nothing more insulting to a customer than standing him up.
  • Quote the job as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  • With the quote include the time in your quote you are going to be able to get to their project and make sure you are accurate as possible with this timing.
  • And at all times, no matter how busy you are right now, make sure your customers realize how important they are to you.

These are just a few simple rules of business courtesy, but they are more important now than ever. Always remember the lean times and how much you appreciate your customers’ business in those times. And then consider these simple business courtesy guidelines as an investment in your future. An investment that will certainly help you grow your business.

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.