GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Take care of your customers in need

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Years ago, one winter when I was out of town on business, enough snow had fallen – as it will tend to do here in Maine, – that my dear wife was concerned about the snow load on the roof. When she saw a crew working clearing a neighbor’s roof, she put on her boots and her winter coat to go talk to them. The fact being that she had been on the phone all morning trying to find someone to come over and clear our roof, so she was relieved when she saw the men across the street working on a roof.

When she approached them and found the man in charge, she asked him if he had time to clear our roof as well.

He looked at her, smiled and then told her they were all booked up, but he said, “I might be able to fit you in but it’s going to be expensive.” “How expensive?” she asked, knowing that be­cause we have a big house with a lot of roofs, what it should cost, and so she thought she was prepared to pay the price she normally paid, which yes, was not cheap but worth it.

But she was hit with sticker shock when this man quoted her a price that was well over twice as much as what she normally was used to paying.

“Are you sure?” She asked, “That’s much more than we normally pay the people who did it last year.”

“Sure, but they’re not here, now are they? Sorry, lady, but that’s the price, take it or leave it… and I could charge you even more if I wanted to. So, what’s it gonna be?” he said impatiently.

Not seeing any other way, and the snow falling heavily with signs of it keeping up for the rest of the day, she reluctantly agreed to pay the price he asked.

Now, as you can imagine after that, my wife would go out of her way never to use that man’s company again. In fact, although not a vindictive woman, she could not help but tell many people the story of what had happened. And yes, we never used that company again. In fact, it has been years since I have seen his truck around the neighborhood, so I suspect that he has gone out of business. Not a surprise, really.

If you want to run a successful business you have to always ask for a fair price for the services you perform. Sure, you can play that supply and demand game if you want. You can raise your prices when the demand is high, but in the end, you have to be fair and treat people fairly because if you don’t, if you take advantage of people, especially when they are in need, they will never forget and when things get back to normal, they will never buy from you again.

On the other hand, if you come to their aid when they are in trouble, when they really do need your help…and you help them, you’ll have a customer for life and that is the best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Always be asking for references, referrals, recommendations, and endorsements

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

The very best way to grow your business is to get other people talking about you in a good way. Your customers bragging about your products and services to their friends, neighbors and family is the very best way to gain new customers, without a doubt.

Think about that. What do you do when you are considering buying a new car? You’ll ask someone who already has one, right? I mean you won’t just ask people you know, you’ll stop, and ask complete strangers in the Hannaford parking lot what they think of their car, if it’s the same brand that you are thinking of buying. Why do you think so many car commercials feature real people talking about how much they love their new car?

What about choosing a contractor, or a painter, or a plumber? You always ask the people around you who they can recommend and why they recommend them? Most of the time, if people have had a great experience, they’ll be happy to talk about it and even try to convince you to use the same people they used to the point where it is almost like they want you to join the cult.
The same applies to restaurants. People love telling other people about a great meal they had at that new Italian restaurant down in Winthrop, right?

People love telling people about great products, and services, and yes, meals, they have experienced.

But you as a business owner cannot be satisfied to just sit back and wait for those endorsements to come your way. You have to find a way to get those referrals about your company to come to you on a regular basis.

Obviously, the best way to get great referrals is to be the best. The best car dealer, the best contractor, the best restaurant. That is a given. But many times, that is not enough. Sure, many people, your customers will be happy, even delighted with what you are selling, but that is not enough. You have to be intentional in your quests for referrals. You have to ask for those recommendations. And if you go about it the right way, your customers will be more than happy to provide them.

Here are a few suggestions to seek and get referrals from your customers:

  • Right after you have completed a service or sold a product, and the customer is delighted, ask him for written endorsement for your sales literature.
  • If you are a contractor, ask the happy customer if you can take photos of your work to show prospective customers and, yes, ask again for the customer to give you an endorsement and also a reference.
  • Offer your customers small incentives. A gift card to a coffee shop, for example, if they will refer you to the people in their own network.

Sales expert Jennifer Gluckow said it best in her book Sales in a New York Minute. In today’s social world, the repeat customer, the recommended customer, and the referred customer are the heart of business success.

Whatever you do always be asking for references, referrals, recommendations, and endorsements from your delighted customers. It is without a doubt the best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Finding a great strategic partner

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

No matter what your customers ask, always find a way to help them. If they ask for something that you don’t normally do, then find a way to do it. IF it is a service that you don’t or cannot possibly do then find someone who can provide that service and either partner with them to provide your customer what she needs or introduce them to the customers. Regardless, the role of any service company is to be helpful in any way that we can.

Here are a few examples:

You run a successful landscaping company and your customer’s fence is in need of repair or replacement. This is not something that you do, but you know someone who does. It’s in your best interest to make the introduction. Actually, you have a choice of either making the introduction or acting as the prime contractors and handle the fence repair company as your subcontractor. Thus, not only servicing your customer but expanding your business and your revenue as well.

You run a car repair shop specializing in revitalizing classic automobiles. Your company handles all the mechanical and electrical as well as the body work, but you don’t do interiors; upholstery and such. That’s when you find the best upholstery and interior rehab and you partner with them making you a full service provider. Your customer benefits, your new partner benefits, and your company benefits, it’s a win, win, win situation and it does not get any better than that.

These kinds of partnerships all start out with you trying to meet your customers’ needs in the best way you can.

The best result of these kinds of strategic thinking is that it will allow you to scale your business well beyond your own in house capabilities.

The second best part of this is that as you start partnering with more strategic partners, they in turn will provide you with some business opportunities, as well. This will be additional business that you don’t have to take the time to chase.

When you share with strategic complementary businesses you all grow and profit to the point where you all get much more stable and stronger.

But the key is to find the right partners. Here are a few suggestions for what to look for when looking for the right partners

  • Make sure they are the very best at what they do. They are going to be representing you, so you want to offer your customers the best in the business.
  • Make sure they have the same values, ethics, and morals. If not, this will not work.
  • Make sure there is the right chemistry between your companies. You can partner with the very best company in the world but if you don’t get along it will not work.
  • Make sure they “allow you to be generous”. You want a partner who is truly going to look out for you as much as you want to look out for him. If your partner is always measuring and comparing both of your contributions to combined business effort, that will not work.

Always remember that a true partnership is when entities come together and accomplish things far greater combined than they could individually.

Developing true synergistic cooperative partnership is one of the best ways to make your customers happy and, yes, of course, grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: How does your place look?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

The way your place of business looks is important. It is a visual indication of how your business is run. The way your business looks, in many ways let’s your customers know a great deal about you.

In my business, which is working with electronic companies all over the country, I’ve talked to officials who audit these companies to qualify them to be able to build high technology products for the military. These auditors tell me that one of their “secrets” is to not only check out the work areas but also the common areas like rest rooms and the cafeterias. They claim that the way these areas are kept is the true indicator of how the company runs.

Think about your place of business. Think about your store, is it well maintained? Is it clean? Are the shelves well-stocked? Are all the lightbulbs working?

How about your restaurant? Obviously, cleanliness is a requirement in a place where people come to eat, right? How does your restaurant fare? How does it look to your customers?

When we lived in Wisconsin years ago there was a restaurant that everyone went to for breakfast. The food was great, and inexpensive, and the place looked great. But then the owner sold it to another person and retired. It soon became obvious that the new owner did not have the passion for the business that the former owner had. We started noticing the differences immediately. The tables were seldom bussed so half of them had the remnants of half-eaten meals. The floor was not washed, and the place was just generally a mess. Actually, the food was just as good since they had kept the same kitchen crew, but the place was too messy for most of the regulars, and we started to leave. In fact, the last two times I went into the place I got syrup on my shirt sleeves since the table had not been wiped. That was it for me.

That restaurant closed after six months of new ownership. It closed after 35 years of being in business. And get this, when it closed the new owner, instead of realizing that he had not done a good job, blamed his failure on the fact that a new chain restaurant had opened up in town, taking away his customers. Interestingly enough the new restaurant was a Chilis and they didn’t even serve breakfast!

Take a look around your business. How does it look to you? Be careful now, because we all get so used to how our place of business looks that we tend to overlook that broken window, those burned out light bulbs, the cracked plaster, the torn booth leather, the weeds growing in the parking lot.

No, take a fresh look at your place of business, from your customers’ point of view. What impression does it make? What does it say about you and your business? Be honest now, because if your business does not look good it will reflect on everything for which your business stands. And that is no way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS – Purpose: what is your purpose?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

“Corporate purpose is at the confluence of strategy and values. It expresses the company’s fundamental – the raison d’etre or overriding reason for existing. It is the end to which strategy is directed.” – Richard Ellsworth, From the new book, Red Goldfish, by Stan Phelps. Here is what Mr. Phelps says about Purpose

“Purpose is becoming the new black. It is emerging as a guiding light that can help businesses navigate and thrive in the 21st century. Purpose is an aspirational reason for being, that is grounded in humanity, is at the core of how many companies are responding to the business and societal challenges of today.”

Okay, here is my take on this. When you talk about purpose you are talking about the reason why you are in business, why your company is in business. Think back to when you started your business and try to remember why the business was started way back then?

Every single company was started to fill a need. Somebody at some time saw a need to provide something that would fill a need, whatever that need was. That is and has always been the basic reason for any business to start…to fill a need.

Now think back, what was that need? Why did your company start in the first place and what need did it fill then? Is it still filling that basic need today? Is your company still doing what it was founded to do in the first place?

Focusing on your company’s true and basic purpose is the very best way to find your direction if you have lost it. It is the perfect way to re-align your company if it has come out of alignment or keep it in alignment at all times.

  • Purpose instills clarity.
  • Purpose guides both short-term decisions and long-term strategy at every level of an organization, encouraging leaders to think about systems holistically.
  • Purpose guides choices about what not to do as well as what to do.
  • Purpose channels innovation.
  • Purpose is a force for and a response to transformation.
  • Purpose motivates people through meaning, not fear. It clarifies the long-term outcome, so people understand the need for change rather than feeling it is imposed upon them.
  • Purpose is also a response to societal pressures on business to transform, to address global challenges, and to take a long-term, more comprehensive approach for growth and value.
  • Purpose taps a universal need to contribute, to feel a part of society.
  • Purpose recognizes differences and diversity. Purpose builds bridges.
  • Purpose helps individuals/teams work across silos to pursue a single compelling aim.

Now let’s talk a minute about the differences between an organization’s Mission and its purpose. Mission is always talking about where we want to go, it focuses on where we want to be someday.

If your company has a clear and well-defined purpose it will help you not only attract the best people with the same passion for the same purpose, but it will keep them passionate and engaged for years to come.

Now ask yourself, what is your company’s purpose? Why are you in business in the first place? And probably the most important question: is the purpose for your company the same today as it was when the company was started years ago.

And one more question: is your company’s purpose obvious? Does everyone in your company, and I mean everyone, know why you are in business? What is the purpose of your very existence? Having a strong and clear purpose is the best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Customer retention is everything

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Did you know that it cost 12 times more to get a new customer than it does to keep one? Here’s a story I came across the other day.

This man died and met with Saint Peter. To his surprise the first saint told him that it was his lucky day, he was going to get to choose whether he wanted to go to heaven or the other place. He first took a look at heaven and it was a very lovely place filled with people walking around with beautiful smiles on their faces, all in white robes playing small harps and looking contented. “Not bad, but not terribly exciting.” he thought. So, he asked to see the other place expecting to see what he’d always heard about it. But much to his surprise, it was beautiful. It was like the best resort in the world with a long sandy beach, blue water, wonderful climate and best of all a lot of beautiful people walking around in bathing suits while sipping exotic looking drinks.

“This is for me!” he thought excitedly. And he told St. Peter that he had chosen the other place. The old saint smiled and waved him in.

But once he got there the man saw that it was just as he had been told. There was fire and brimstone, and screaming, moaning and gnashing of teeth. He was, of course, disappointed, so he walked up to the devil to ask him what had happened.

And with that devilish grin the devil happily told him, “before you were a prospect, now you’re a customer.”

Now this is more than a funny little story, there is a serious message here. Most of us in business spend almost all of our time trying to acquire customers. We advertise, we offer first time offers, we give two for one deals and super introductory offers just about anything to win new customers.

But then what do we do once those prospects become customers? Think about it. It’s not much different for our customers than it is for that poor guy who chose the other place.

That is why we need to focus on giving our customers great service. We have to do everything we can to not only satisfy our customers, but also delight them into sticking around.

Here is what exceptional customer service can mean for your company:

  • First of all, happy customers will tell other people about how happy they are with you and thus, you will get new customers.
  • Increased retention means increased profits.
  • Happy customer will buy more from you.
  • You will have a happier business environment. Employees are much happier delivering great customer service.
  • And distinct competitive advantage.

And one more thing: Customers will focus on the service they received much longer than the price they paid. – Kelly Henry.

And that’s the best way to grow your business.

Note to reader: This column was influenced by Kelly Henry’s excellent book Define and Deliver Exceptional Customer Service

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Why do customers use your company?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

How often do you ask yourself that question? How often to you ask you customers that question? Think about that as a different approach to your messaging and your advertising strategy. The true purpose of any business is to find a need and fill it. No less but often a lot more.

Yes, they hire you because they have a need for what you offer.

People need to be fed; they need a restaurant.

People need to be fed pizza; they need a pizza parlor.

People need to have their house remodeled; they need a contractor.

People need a new bathroom; they need a plumber.

And… well, you get the picture.

Now the next step is to dig a little deeper. This mean finding out things like.

What do people consider a great restaurant? Or another way to look at it, what do people hate about restaurants?

What kind of pizza do they prefer? Or another way to look at it, what do people dislike about pizza parlors?

You see where this is going right? You will not have a business without customers. And you will not have a successful business with happy, contented and most importantly repeating and returning customers. And the best way to do this is to find out what they like and give it to them.

In the end it is all about not only giving customers what they need and want but it is also figuring out how to give them more. It is about something called the customer experience.

Customer service is one thing. Customer service is giving the customer what they asked for. It is about making sure that they are getting what they want when they want it. It means taking care of a customer when they come into your store. It is about mowing their lawn or plowing their driveway the way they asked you to do it. It is about giving them what they expect, what they pay for. That is customer service and that is a certainly a good thing.

Customer experience is taking it to another level. It is much more than giving the customers what they want it is delighting them as well.

It is the extra handful of fries that Five Guys throws into your bag of fries.

It is the car repair service department that also washes your car before they return it to you.

It is that special sample of new top shelf Tequila that your local Mexican restaurant asks you to try out.

It is that beautiful poinsettia that your landscape company leaves at your door at Christmas.

It as all of these special things that lead to great customer experience that goes beyond merely satisfying your customers but keeps them coming back for years and years and that is the very best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Finding and hiring the right people – part 2

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Hiring: It all starts with the right process.

“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not strategies.” – Lawrence Bossidy GE

“I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.” – Lee Iacocca

I have heard you loud and clear. The hardest thing about owning a small business is finding, hiring, and keeping good people. It has always been a problem, no matter the condition of our economy. The problem with so many small business owners is they don’t take the time to do it right. They are just too busy managing day by day affairs to lift their heads long enough to make the time to hire the best people. Often, they need a person, and they needed her yesterday so they are just appreciative when they can find someone, anyone. And this of course, leads to a great deal of frustration for both the owner and the people he hires.

Look, as Larry Bossidy said in the above quote, nothing is more important than hiring the right people.

With that in mind, here are six tips to make sure you hire the right people

  • Hiring is a process: have a plan: To be successful you have to plan ahead and that means having some kind of idea where your company is going and what your employee needs are going to be when you get there. These factors can be as straight forward as you, a contractor, need more people in the warmer months. You run an ice cream parlor or a ski resort, your hiring is based on your specific needs. Plan for those needs in advance. That will also give you the right amount of time to hire the right people.
  • Know exactly what you want. What is the job and what kind of person do you need to fill that job? No matter the job, full or part time, you need to have a well-thought out job description. Describing not only what the job is, but the description of the right person for the job.
  • Hire slowly and fire quickly: Take your time. Here, if the old adage applies, “you don’t have time to do it right, but you have time to do it over.” Take your time and hire carefully. It will save a lot of time in the long run.
  • Keep the application form simple: Make it very clear. Use the job description you developed in item three as the format for your job application.
  • Develop good interviewing skills: The interview is where you really get to know your candidate. You can tell much more from an interview than from what is written on the job application. Think hard about your interview process. Develop a set of questions that will help you discover exactly what you need to know about the candidate.
  • Show them the future: If you are serious about your company, then you have a vision for that company. Share it with the candidate. Get her excited about working for your company and most of all show her that this is not a job, it’s a career, it’s a future.

Probably the most important piece of advice here is to be thoughtful, take your time to do it right.

In the words of Jeff Bezos, “ I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone, than hire the wrong person.”

Hiring the right people is the best way to grow your business.

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.