GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Finding and hiring the right people, Part 1

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Part 1

One of the more pressing problems that small business owners have is finding, hiring, and most importantly keeping the right people. This has been an issue with small business for years, and it seems that it is an issue that never really gets solved. I have done some research on this and then talked to a number of people who seem to have good people around them and these are the suggestions I have come up with.

Read on, hopefully they will help you.

  • Promote the good aspects of working for your company: Make sure your company has a good reputation. Not only in terms of your market but in terms of being a good company for which to work. There are even websites now where employees can go and review what it’s like to work for your company. If you have employees who are content, ask them to post a review.
  • Offer a referral fee to your employees: Reward them for recommending a good candidate. Pay them a fee if the candidate works out
  • Don’t just offer them a job, offer them a career: This is critical. Let them know from the very beginning they can make a good living working in your business. Let them see the future and how bright it can be if they do a good job.
  • Offer flexibility: Yes, offer as much flexibility as you possibly can. Especially in these hard times. Try to meet your employees’ needs. People have kids, people have obligations. It’s part of our job as business owners to try to navigate these tricky schedule waters. If the candidate is someone you want on your team then try to make their schedule and your needs work. This one is not easy, but it can be a key to getting the best people on your team, especially right now.
  • Create a sense of mission: Show them the bigger picture. Share your vision of being the best company in your field, whether that be the best pizza restaurant, or the best landscaping company, show them a mission and vision of being the best. This is one of the best ways to get them not only motivated, but in for the long haul.

One certainty is that a company, any company, is only as good as its people. And its people are only going to be as good as you and your company motivate them to be. And in the end that’s the best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: You’re never too busy for your customers

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Well it’s happening again. Contractors are getting busy. Despite the pandemic, contractors who come to your house, plumbers, electricians, landscapers, carpenters, painters, you name them, they are all very busy right now. People have been taking advantage of the warm weather to get work around their homes done while they can.

As the pandemic continues some customers are having things done to the outside of their houses and properties since they are uncomfortable with having strangers in their houses.

This has a led to a shortage of good professional contractors. Right now, it is even difficult to get some of them to answer their phones or return your phone calls. Some of them are not even using their phones but rather insisting that you leave them an email! (which with Maine having the oldest per capita population in the country, cuts them out completely as few of them even have email).

To you busy contractors, here’s a bit of advice.

So, I get it contractors, you’re busy. You’re having a hard time keeping up. I know it’s hard in this feast or famine business world you live in. But always remember just that…it is a feast or famine world for you guys, so you need to be careful how you treat all of your customers and potential customers when you’re feasting. Keep in mind that you have to treat all your customers as if their business is valuable to you no matter how much business you already have.

This means business courtesy as usual. Answer the phone, return phone calls, try to fit customers in no matter what. Most of the time customers are calling you because they have a problem, and they feel you have the solution to that problem. So, give them that solution no matter what.

Treat all customers with respect and try to solve their problem no matter how busy your are. Always keep in mind how much of a privilege it is when a customer calls you with business.

Don’t brush them off. Don’t just say something like, “Sorry, I’m too busy right now,” and hang up. Or worse yet, not even bother to get back to them. Instead, either find a way to take their business, or provide them with an alternate solution.

No matter what, your job is to find a way to help your customers. The great business writer Peter Drucker once said that, “the purpose of a business is to accumulate customers.”

With that in mind no matter how busy you are you always have to find a way to keep and grow the customers you already have; as well as accumulating new customers. That in the end is the only way you are going to keep growing your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What kind of a leader are you?

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

What kind of leader are you? No matter if you have three employees or 30, or 300, your job is to not only lead them, but to be the best leader you can be.

How about you? Are you a great leader? Do you inspire your people?

Recently, I read a story about General Earl Hailston, the commanding general of Marine Forces Central Command. The general was interviewed while he and his troops were a few miles from the border of Iraq ready to go into battle.

At that time General Hailston was the only general in the armed forces who enlisted and came up through the ranks. This general was known for his humble and caring attitude.

The general was being interviewed by Charlie Gibson who was there with him near Iraq. When Gibson asked him if he had any hobbies outside of work. The general said. “Yes, I love photography, especially taking photos of my men.” He shared that while he had been waiting for the past few days , he would take photos of his men, and at night he would email the photos with a brief note to their mothers back in the United States.

Gibson asked if he could see a sample of a letter and the general walked into his tent and turned on his computer.

Here is the letter he showed Charlie Gibson:

Dear Mrs. Johnson,

I thought you might enjoy seeing this picture of your son.

He is doing great. I also wanted you to know that you did a wonderful job of raising him, you must be very proud.

I can certainly tell you that I’m honored to serve with him on the U.S. Marines.

General Earl Hailston.

Great story, right? You can bet that his troops were glad to follow the general onto the battlefield.

What kind of leader are you? Do you inspire your workers? Do you make sure that they will follow you no matter what?

No matter what business you’re in, big or small, you should always thrive to be a great leader. And to help you, here are five things that great leaders always do:

  • Leaders lead by example. They never expect their team members do anything they would not do themselves.
  • Great team leaders are encouragers. They encourage their team members to be the best they can be.
  • Leaders inspire. They are creatively inspiring, always finding new ways to get their teams inspired to go one more inch, one more foot, one more mile.
  • Leaders are secure enough to look for and hire people who are smarter, more skilled, more driven, more talented, and more passionate than they are. People who are just plain better than they are.
  • Leaders can see the entire team as one working unit. They choose people who might be mediocre on another team but have a certain ability that will make them shine as an integral part of their team.

And one more, always under promise and over deliver. Leaders believe in their team and its ability to succeed, and that they never quit. No matter what the odds they keep moving forward. They realize that people don’t fail. They just stop trying.

Remember, being a great leader is the best way to inspire your team to be the best they can be. And, of course, the better they are, the better they will perform and that’s the best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Be the best you can be

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

To grow your business, you have to not only be better than your competition, but you also have to be the best you can be.

No matter what your business is. Whether you are a landscaper, or a plumber, or a contractor, or you own a small business, you have to find ways to not only differentiate yourself from you competition but also be better than anyone else in your field. And yes, be better than you have ever been.

There is an old business term that I have lived by for years which is called continuous improvement. The Japanese have a term for it as well which is “Kaizen.” This is something that needs to be part of all businesses. This is the thing that is going to not only keep your customers loyal to you and your company, but also will make your customers want to brag to their family and friends about how smart they are for doing business with you.

The better way to do things can be different for every business. Well, at least there are some common things that everyone can do to be outstanding. Here are the ten things to make sure you have a good company delivering good products and services.

  • Deliver a great product or service;
  • Consistently deliver a great product or service;
  • Have great communications. Answer your phone. Return phone calls within hours if not minutes;
  • Show up when you say you are going show up;
  • Do what you say you are going to do and more;
  • Be consistent on your pricing;
  • Always be courteous;
  • In these times respect the Covid safety rules;
  • Present well. Clean uniforms, clean establishments, clean trucks, and tools. And leaving the work site clean when you’re finished.
  • Always follow up to make sure the customer was satisfied with your product or service.

But if you want to be a great company there’s more. Let’s assume that you have a good company. Good for you, congratulations. But now you want a great company. What do you do now?

This is where you have to be creative. Here is when you are going to have some fun.

You have to study your customers and decide what you think they will like. You have to be introspective and consider what you like when someone is providing you with a service or product. You have to ask the questions .

What will make my company memorable?”

What extra thing can I do that will get my customers talking about my company?

What can I do that will make my customers, customers for life”

Think about that for a long time. In fact, always be thinking about that. Always be looking out for a better way to do things. Come up with better ways to help your customers.

If you are a landscaper, it can be always offering an extra plant or shrub. If you are a restaurateur, it can be a special trademarked dessert that you surprise your customers with. If you are a plumber, always offer to check out all the faucets in the house to make sure they are running properly once the job you were hired for is done.

You get the picture. Do more, investing in delighting your customers, is the same as investing in your own company. It is the best self-promotion you can do for your company. And yes, the very best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Finding a way

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

My mother always says there is a way, no matter what the challenge, no matter how steep the hill you have to climb, there is always a way. And that is pretty much what we all face in these dark times of COVID-19. We have to find a way to not only survive, but to keep our businesses growing.

As a business strategist, companies pay me to find ways for them to grow. Companies call me when they are having a hard time, they are stuck in a rut and are not growing, or worse yet, call me when they are on the severe slide towards bankruptcy. It’s not an easy job, but it is a challenging one to say the least. And, I am happy to say that most of the time I do manage to find a way to stop the slide and get them back on track. I’m very fortunate because I win more than I lose.

That kind of strategic thinking for the past 25 years has allowed me to hone my skills when it comes to helping companies and people when they are going through hard times.

So, obviously, as I sit in my home office, communicating with my customers via phone calls, emails and video conferencing, I have had a lot of time to think about what small local businesses here in Maine can do to make sure they survive during these times.

Recently I considered the dilemma of those people who own restaurants, businesses, that are focused on feeding people. What can they do to make sure they stay in business during this pandemic? I know that some have turned to take-out service, people ordering by phone, or on-line and either coming to pick up their orders curbside or getting home delivery. That is a great idea for sure, But, then what can these restaurants do to be truly outstanding at this?

Here are several ideas for being outstanding at your restaurant’s take out service:

  • Design your menu to offer the best take out on the market. Upscale your take-out menu and offer your favorites…what your restaurant is known for. Exceed the offerings of traditional take out fare.
  • Offer detailed prep instructions. If you are known as a great steak house for example, tell people how to prepare the food once they get it home. How do they warm the meat and potatoes, so they are as good as when you are sitting in their restaurants?
  • Offer a complete family-style sit down dinner, for four, or five or six.
  • Create special offers. Do some merchandizing that will appeal to customers. A special Sunday night family pizza package at a great price. Or a make Friday night Mexican night! Or like in the old Prince commercials, make Wednesday spaghetti day. And make sure you offer these at a great price.
  • Get the word out. We have social media. Start a Facebook page, use Twitter and especially Instagram, or better yet place a weekly menu ad in this fine weekly newspaper. Or go old school and pass out flyers. Just make sure you get the word out to your market so that people will know where you are, what you are offering and what great savings it will be.

Look, these are just five simple ideas, and I am sure some of you are already doing some of these if not all of them. But the point is, if you think about you, you are the expert of your own restaurant and if you get creative and innovative you too can come up with even better ideas to make sure you keep growing your business even in these, the most difficult of times.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What makes your business special?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

You have to be better than anyone else right? Isn’t that what makes business great? That extra little thing, that special thing that makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd. Often it’s not just the product or service but what doing business with that certain company does for you; how doing business with that company makes you feel.

Apple is the perfect example of this. It has been proven they do not have the best phone on the market. When they introduced their MP3 player a few years ago. The IPod was certainly not the best player on the market, so what was it that made people and still make people for that matter camp out overnight in line to buy their latest new product? It’s the story, it’s the brand, it’s how cool it makes the buyer feel to have one of their products. That’s how Apple has become the most profitable company in the world.

Think Nike for another example. They sell sneakers that costs about six bucks to make and sell them for hundreds of dollars, and later, some of their more famous collectibles go for thousands of dollars. Heck people have been robbed and murdered over a pair of Nikes. Again, it’s all about the story, it’s all about how people feel when using their products.

The same thing goes from cars and beer and clothing and tools, and well, just about any product or service you can imagine. It’s all about the company’s story, the company’s brand and how the consumer becomes literally part of a cult when she buys into their story…she becomes part of that story, too.

This is why it is so important to develop your own story, your own brand, no matter what business you’re in.

Here are some differentiators that make companies stand out, things that make the consumer want to brag about using that company. Here are some things that drive people to buy your products and services.

• People want their friends to be impressed.
• They want to see review from past customers or users.
• They want to see success stories.
• When they see people, they respect using your products and services, and they want to join in.
• People want to know your story, neat stories worth repeating sell.
• People want to feel they are part of your company’s story.
• People are not afraid to pay more, even knowingly, too much because they so want to be part of your story.
• People want to seem unique; they want to buy something that makes them feel smart and discerning.
• And people want to be rewarded for their loyalty

So what is your company’s story? How do you stand out? What do you do that makes people want to tell their friends and family that they are so smart and discerning that they use your services or go to your restaurant or boutique? Think about it. It’s up to you if you really want to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What makes your business special?

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

You have to be better than anyone else right? Isn’t that what makes business great? That extra little thing, that special thing that makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd. Often it’s not just the product or service but what doing business with that certain company does for you; how doing business with that company makes you feel.

Apple is the perfect example of this. It has been proven they do not have the best phone on the market. When they introduced their MP3 player a few years ago. The IPod was certainly not the best player on the market, so what was it that made people and still make people for that matter camp out overnight in line to buy their latest new product? It’s the story, it’s the brand, it’s how cool it makes the buyer feel to have one of their products. That’s how Apple has become the most profitable company in the world.

Think Nike for another example. They sell sneakers that cost about six bucks to make and sell them for hundreds of dollars, and later, some of their more famous collectibles go for thousands of dollars. Heck, people have been robbed and murdered over a pair of Nikes. Again, it’s all about the story, it’s all about how people feel when using their products.

The same thing goes for cars and beer and clothing and tools, and well, just about any product or service you can imagine. It’s all about the company’s story, the company’s brand and how the consumer becomes literally part of a cult when she buys into their story…she becomes part of that story, too.

This is why it is so important to develop your own story, your own brand, no matter what business you’re in.

Here are some differentiators that make companies stand out, things that make the consumer want to brag about using that company. Here are some things that drive people to buy your products and services.

• People want their friends to be impressed.
• They want to see review from past customers or users.
• They want to see success stories.
• When they see people, they respect using your products and services, and they want to join in.
• People want to know your story, neat stories worth repeating sell.
• People want to feel they are part of your company’s story.
• People are not afraid to pay more, even knowingly, too much because they so want to be part of your story.
• People want to seem unique; they want to buy something that makes them feel smart and discerning.
• And people want to be rewarded for their loyalty

So what is your company’s story? How do you stand out? What do you do that makes people want to tell their friends and family that they are so smart and discerning that they use your services or go to your restaurant or boutique? Think about it. It’s up to you if you really want to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Know your customer’s name

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

No matter what business you’re in, the lifeblood of that business is your customer base. It’s pretty obvious that without customers you have no business. The reason you got in business in the first place was to serve your customers. This means that as a business owner you have to spend as much time as possible trying to know your customers. You can do this by studying their buying habits and thus learning why people buy from you. This is why you should work to get to know your customers.

This is important in all types of small businesses, but it is especially important in the service sector where you go to people’s houses to work on anything from their plumbing to their yards to their basement to their roof, always keeping in mind that the success of your business is reliant on how happy you make those customers. As any good businessperson knows, it’s not about that one-time event but rather developing a long-term relationship with your customer.

Supermarkets know this, and they work very hard at making their customers, customers for life. They don’t look at the $100 worth of groceries you bought this we, they look at $100 you will buy for 52 weeks for the next 20 years for the over $100,000 worth of groceries you will buy from them.

Whether you own a restaurant or a landscaping business, or a painting business your goal is to turn customers into customers for life. And the best way to do this is to develop a complete understanding of each of your customers including their likes and dislikes, the special things you do for them to keep them coming back.

Here are some of the questions you need to ask (and answer about your customers whether your selling groceries, or pizza or lawnmowers.

The questions should range from things like age, race, married, or single, etc., like the supermarkets use all the time…what do you think those wonderful loyalty cards are for? They are intended to develop an entire consumer profile on you, including and, most importantly, your buying habits.

But for those of us in small business the date we need to collect is more in line with how we can service our customers better. Here are some examples:

If you’re a landscaper, what kind of flowers do they like? What kind of stonework? How do they like their lawn mowed? All the time trying to find a way to make them a customer for life.

If you own a restaurant, get to know things like: How often to your customers come in? Where do they like to sit? What do they like to drink? And in the restaurant business, the most important fact of all, what are their names? Everybody, and I mean everybody, (unless they are in the witness protection plan) loves being greeted by somebody saying their name when they come in a restaurant!

Companies who are serious about growing their business will be smart to learn everything they can about their customers. It’s without a doubt the best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Out of adversity comes innovation

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

What do Hewlett Packard, Disney, Hyatt, MTV, CNN, Microsoft, Burger King and GE all have in common? They all started in periods of economic recessions. The ideas for these companies came from periods of great uncertainty, times when the world, especially the economic world seemed unsafe.

Does this sound familiar? Has there ever been a time of greater uncertainty than today? If so, not many. As strange as this is going to sound, and forgive me in advance for saying it, but those of us in business should never waste a good crisis. Right now, with the world upside down and people not really knowing what path to take, this is a time when those proverbial cooler heads will prevail. This is the perfect time, yes, right now to sit down and figure out in what direction to take your business.

Whatever that business might be from a Mexican restaurant, to a plumbing and heating business, to a landscaping business, this it the time to take a look at the world around you, your customers, your market and figure out first what they are going to need and, secondly, how can you and your company meet that need.

It has almost become a cliché to say that the world will never be the same, but it’s true isn’t it? We all know for a fact that after that sunny and clear Tuesday in 2001, September 11, the world has never been the same. If you don’t believe me you have not been to an airport since then. If you don’t believe me ask our service men and women who have been fighting in wars, still are fighting in wars almost 20 years later that resulted from that one day in 2001. Think of all the industries that sprang up in the aftermath of that one day. Everything from better security devices to small clear shampoo bottles, to a rise in the number of firearms, not to mention defense and aerospace equipment that has kept our military industrial community thriving since that one day.

So, what has this to you with you, small business owner in Kennebec County, Maine? It has everything to do with you and your business. It’s time you looked around and figured out how the world is changing and how you use those changes to expand your business.

Let’s take a peek at what we are watching change as we write this:

  • Germ Free Service Companies: Your customers are going to be more wary of people coming into their homes to do work. So, you’d better have a plan to assure them your company practices safe policies from now on.
  • Delivery services: Deliver services are booming, if you’re in the food industry, no matter what your cuisine, you should get even more creative at take-out meals, not only while this pandemic is happening but long after as well. Speaking of home delivery, services like Instacart are thriving. People don’t want to hang out in grocery stores anymore. So, what does that mean for you? Maybe people want to support a local delivery service rather than an expensive national service.
  • Medical safety products: Companies producing everything from disinfectants, to wipes, to gloves and mask and shields are thriving. This is not going to go away. Maybe you have the tools to produce some of these products.

Are you getting my point? And this is only the beginning. Look around and see what you can do to adapt to these changing times and come up with new and innovative ways to grow your business.

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.