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.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Are you a craftsman?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: This was their finest hour

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are three strategies to get your started:

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe.

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

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Building a great reputation

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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