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.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Delighting your customers

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Delighting your customers is the surefire way to make your company successful. No matter what your company is, no matter what your services or products are, your job is to delight your customers. If you are serious, truly serious about your company being outstanding then you have to deliver outstanding services, services that will truly delight your customer, keep them coming back and most importantly telling others about you.

Here are five ways to make sure your customers are delighted:

  • Ask them: Once you have performed the service on their car, or finished that landscaping job, or built them that new gazebo, call them up and ask if they are happy with your work. If they are not then it’s a great opportunity for you to remedy the situation, if they are then ask them for a reference or testimonial.
  • Super Service: A friend of mine gets his Lexus serviced in Bellevue, Washington, where he lives. If the car is going to be in the shop for any length of time, they loan him a brand new Lexus, which is a great way to get him to try out the new model. And when he gets his car back it is washed and cleaned in and out. He tells everyone he meets about this service. And best of all he would never dream of buying anything but a Lexus the next time he needs a car.
  • “No Policies:” The only policy you should have no matter what your business is to make your customers happy. If you’re company is full of policies (which are usually rules that are good for you but not for the customer) get rid of them.
  • Make them love the wait: If your business is so successful that people have to wait, make it a delightful wait. If you own a restaurant, and your customers have to wait, make sure the waiting area is comfortable with plenty of seating. Pass around free samples of your excellent food. Think about it, no one is going to complain about the wait if they are being fed hot buttered rolls while they wait.
  • Deliver something extra: If you’re a landscaper, do something special that the customer did not request. Offer her to plant an extra plant. Sweep his driveway when you’re done. Take a photo of that special flower bed you just worked on and send them a framed copy of it.

The idea is pretty simple. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and imagine what would make you happy. These are only five ideas. There are hundreds of things you can do in your specific business to delight your customers. All you have to do is put your customers foremost in your mind.

How do you delight your customers? Think about it. feel free to steal some of these ideas…or think up your own, it’s a great way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What to do when things go wrong; and they will

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

In business, as in life, things go wrong. It can’t be helped; we are all human, and we all make mistakes. No matter how good we are, no matter how hard we try to be careful, every so often something will go wrong. The important thing is how we recover. The trick is to “Recover Boldly” as business writers Todd and Deb Duncan write in their excellent book: The 10 Golden Rules of Customer Service.

They go on to say that the faster you solve a problem, the faster you remedy the situation, the better your company will be viewed. Indeed, I know that my clients often tell me stories about great partnerships being forged with their customers by the way they handled a problem.

Here is what you should do when a problem occurs:

  • Deal with it quickly: forget about whose fault it is, solve the problem, there will be plenty of time to figure that out lately. The problem might even have been caused by the customer herself…so what? It doesn’t matter.
  • Apologies for the problem no matter what. No argument, no dispute, just face up to the problem, apologies and get to work solving it. Remember what you feel like when you have to call a company to tell them about a problem? You expect the worst, always. So, think how relieved you feel, when the person on the other end of the phone sympathizes with you, and gets to work fixing the problem.
  • Fix the problem quickly: faster than you even said you would. Get on it immediately and problem that goes unsolved for too long, will start to rot your customer relationship.
  • Deliver a solution that is more than your promised, and more than the customer expected. This is where you have the opportunity to shine. This is where you get to recover boldly. Give the customer the solution and more. Give them a discount on their next purchase. Give them a free meal if you own a restaurant. Do something that will literally turn the proverbial lemon into lemonade. Whatever the cost of what you give them, it will be worth it in all the free advertising they will give you in return, by telling everyone they know about how you solved their problem. And if you in the end, were not the one who actually caused the problem… that’s even better!

Remember the story about the Nordstrom’s employee who took back a customers tires and refunded his what he had paid for them….even though Nordstrom does not sell tires? We’ve all heard and read that story a hundred times… and that’s the point isn’t it?

One of the best ways to grow your business is based on the way you handle customer problems. The word of mouth publicity is priceless!

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Your products are your jewels

Respect what you sell

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

There is an old story I have heard many times, and I am old enough to have to admit that I have told and retold it many times myself.

Charles Wentworth III (name changed to protect the great salesperson) was the most successful salesperson in the history of the Acme Hardware Company (phony name, I have no idea who he worked for, but the rest of this story is true, I swear) His specialty was nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers, a true commodity sale if there ever was one. But Charles Wentworth III loved his products, he loved his nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers, so much that he treated them as respectfully as if they were the Queen’s jewels. Yes, he treated them like jewels.

He created a display case out of fine cherry wood, so beautifully crafted that it was more like a jewelry box than a display case for nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers. He compartmentalized the inside of the case into little sections to hold all of the various types of nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers. And then he lined the inside of the box with fine royal purple velvet cloth. It was a box worthy of holding Tiffany diamonds.

He then had all his sample nuts, and bolts. and screws. and washers, Nickle plated so that they shone like the chrome on the Queen’s Rolls Royce, and he placed them all perfectly, into his beautifully-lined display case.

Then he traveled around the countryside in a chauffeur driven limousine, visiting one hardware store chain president after another. (by late in his career, he had become so successful that he was only dealing with the top brass, who loved seeing him coming)

Once inside the big shot’s office he would take his time. Get comfortably situated in a chair on the other side of the desk, and take out his “jewelry box” and tip it towards the customer to let him see his magnificent nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers…his jewels

He would them place the box firmly on his side of the desk, pull out a pair of sparking white silk gloves and put them on before he would take out one of the nuts, or bolts, or screws, or washers, and show them, just show them to the head honcho, who most of the time was shaking in anticipation of actually holding one of these gems. But when El Capo, went to reach for one, Charles Wentworth III would quickly pull it away out of the president’s hand and wagging his finger at him, reach into his bag and pull out another pair of sparkling white silk gloves for the CEO to wear before he handled those precious wares!

You see, Charles Wentworth III, was not just selling nuts, and bolts, and screws, and washers, he was selling solutions, beautiful plated representations of the products he was so proud to be selling. He was treating products that probably sold for ten cents a pound as if they were worth a proverbial king’s ransom. He treated his products with great respect. And that made Mr. Charles Wentworth III the most successful hardware salesman in the world!

How about you? Do you treat your products with respect? Do you deliver your services with the utmost professionalism? If not, then I would urge you to learn from Charles Wentworth III the greatest hardware salesman in the world, to heart and start doing so today, it’s a great way to separate your services and products from your competitors, and an even better way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What about your company image?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

You’re proud of your company. You’re proud of the company logo on the side of that shiny new white truck. On your employees’ shirts, on all of your equipment. Everything you own, everything you do is all about protecting your image. That company logo represents everything you have worked so hard for. You spent hours developing that logo; you spent years developing your image and your brand. So that when people see your logo, they recognize it as a symbol of the good service, the products and the good value, in short everything your company stands for.

That logo, that image, that brand and what it says about you, your company, and the people who work for you. And all of that company good will has to be protected at all costs…right?

Well, think about this for a minute. One of your good customers is driving to Augusta on I -95, when all of a sudden, they are cut off and almost hit by one of your employees, in your company truck, bearing your company’s logo and name, speeding down the highway, veering from lane to lane driving to endanger. What do you think your good customer is going to think about your company now? Or worse yet how about someone who is not yet a customer, but was thinking of calling you to perform a service for them. Do you think they are going to call you now?

Or, how about this? One of your customers is sitting in a local watering hole having a quiet drink when he spots one of your guys, wearing your company shirt, drunk as a skunk getting thrown out of the bar! How’s that going to affect your company image? Think about that.

Okay look, these are extreme examples for sure. But these kinds of things do happen. In fact, it happens far too often. And every time it does, it hurts the company that the person is wearing or driving.

So, what can you do? First of all, hire the right people. Then instruct them in your company’s culture. Teach them about your company and your brand and your logo. Make them as proud of the company they work for as you are. Show them that your company logo is the symbol of your company and everything you stand for. That logo, that brand, is your company’s flag and everyone who works for your company should be as proud to wave that flag as we all are as Americans to wave the stars and stripes.

By instilling so much pride in your associates that they would never even be doing anything that would soil your company’s logo, your company’s image. You will also be instilling in them your company value and that will go a long way to getting the very best out of your entire team and that will lead to you providing excellent service and products, and to growing your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: You gotta have a plan

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

No matter how big or how small your business is you have to have a plan. Whether you are mowing lawns, plowing snow or making computer chips you have to have a plan. You have to know why you are starting the business. Who your customers are. Why they need your products or services. Who your competitors are and what are you going to do to be better than them, you have to have a plan.

Over the years I have helped a number of businesses get started and during that time I have developed this list of questions that, if answered carefully, thoughtfully, and completely, you will have your strategic business plan.

So, I thought it might be helpful if I posted those questions right here and now. I would urge you to use them to develop your own strategic plan. Here then are those questions. Please remember that this is not a true and false test. This is not a short answer test, this is not a test at all, but rather a series of questions to think about carefully. If you do that…in the end you will have a complete strategic business plan off of which you can run your company. If yours is a one person company then answer the questions alone, but if you have other people involved in the company, then talk about and answer these questions as a team. You’ll see that it will pay off in the end, and it will be your company business plan…not just yours.

PART ONE: THE COMPANY

1. The Company: A description of the company as it appears today.

Answer the questions:

a. Who are we?
b. What does the business do?
c. What category of product does it sell?
d. Is it a service business?
e. What do we do and why do we do it?
f. Why was the business started?
g. What niche or gap in the market does it fill?
h. What is the business philosophy?
i. Mission Statement?
j. Who started the business?
k. Who is involved in the business?
l. What extra personnel will the business need?
m. Where is it located?
n. Where does it do business?
o. What is the technology level?
p. What is the price level?
q. How do we make our money?
r. What is the quality level?
s. How do we assure that we have good quality services or products?
t. What are our strengths?
u. What makes us standout from the competition?
v. Why are we offering this service in the marketplace?
w. Are we sure there is a need?
x. Is it an unmet need?
y. What exactly is the specific niche we fill?

2. The Customers:

a. What image or position do we want our company to have with the customers?
b. What is the marketplace?
c. Is it defined in geographical terms or technological terms?
d. Who are our customers?
e. What do we know about them?
f. What do we do to find out more about them?
g. Who are our best potential customers and what do we know about them?
i. Why will they need us?
j. Why will they want to do business with us?
k. What do we want them to think of us?
l. What will they think we can do for them?
m. Are there any holes in the marketplace?
n. Who will we be compared to?
o. How will we show that we can fill our customers’ needs?
p. How will we convince our potential customers of this?

3. The Competition:

a. Who is our head to head competition?
b. What are our competitors’ strengths relative to us?
c. Why will people do business with them instead of us?
d. How can we counteract their strengths?
e. How will we get them to convert to our services and products?

4. Selling:

a. How will we promote ourselves? Paid advertising?
b. How will people get to know about us?
c. How will our selling be different from our competition?
d. How can we force “word of mouth”? Encourage it?
e. Should we have references?
f. Do we need a website?
g. How will customers find us? Contact us

5. Goals

a. What are our goals as a business?
b. Revenue goals?
c. Customer satisfaction?
d. Sales?
e. Growth year to year?

And that’s it. Now I know it looks daunting, but it’s really not. And I can guarantee that if you take the time and effort to completely answer these questions your new business will not only be launch but start to grow.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Embrace change; grow your business

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

“I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.” – Lily Tomlin

Oh, that dreaded word “CHANGE.” I have seen companies go out of business, rather than change. I have seen people suffer from all kinds of physical ailments, rather than change. I have seen companies fail because they don’t want to change.

People, by natural instinct hate change. They hate anything that takes them out of their comfort zone. They would rather stay in a deplorable situation, than make a change. It’s that proverbial frog in the water syndrome. Which isn’t at all true by the way. The fact is that even a frog will be smart enough to jump out of the water when it gets too hot!

In our own times, look at the people who have made fortunes by taking advantage of the changing social media platforms, as opposed to those who sat back and called Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook…passing fads.

Here from a neat little book titled: Change is Good…You Go First: 21 ways to inspire change, by Mac Anderson and Tom Feltenstein are six ways that you can inspire change in your own organization:

  • Change what needs changing – not what’s easy: Sometimes people will see easy things to change. That low hanging fruit. That’s a fine way to get started, but though the easy stuff can get you started, but in the end the real change that has to be done can be painful. Don’t be scared of it
  • Forget to success: Remember the 50 reasons why it won’t work? Forget everything you tried in the past. So many times, when change is introduced, members of your team will wrack their brains trying to find the few reasons why it might not work. What just might go wrong. Don’t let them do that. Think of the good change can do.
  • You’ve got to believe: You have to get the entire team to believe that change is the right thing to do, and that the changes you want to make are the right ones. It’s an all hands on deck situation. Everyone has to buy into it.
  • Remove barriers: The company leader’s main job is to remove all the barriers to change. Make sure the team’s path to change is as clear as possible and you’re the one who has to do the clearing.
  • Communicate/ simplify the message: “Peace and Bread,” the Russian revolution was started by the use of these two simple words. The people were hungry, and they were tired of war. So, when the Bolsheviks showed up and promised them, “Peace and Bread,” they converted the populace and the rest is history. In the end it’s all about simple communications.
  • Celebrate your successes: People love success. People love recognition. Start with small success and then build from them. Recognize those who are doing a good job not only adapting to but actually driving change. The more you recognize them for their achievements the more they will become your best “change mongers.”

And the more change mongers you have, the more everyone on your team is ready to embrace change, the more your business will grow.

Dan Beaulieu has owned his own business consulting firm since 1995, during that time he has helped hundreds of companies all over the world with their sales growth challenges and issues. Originally from Maine he returned a few years ago and is ready and willing to help his fellow Mainers start and grow their business. He can be reached at 207-649-0879 or at danbbeaulieu@aol.com.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Learning a lesson from an Apple Store

 

The new Apple Store at the Maine Mall.

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

The world has changed. “Amazon is taking over and killing retail stores.” Isn’t this what we hear and read about just about every day? When people want to buy something from a toothbrush, to a TV, to a book, they simply go to Amazon.com and buy it. Amazon, with its enormous warehouses all over the country can provide just about anything, at anytime, and send it overnight anywhere! How can you beat that? How can a small business even try to compete against that kind of availability and capability? Why don’t we just all give up and go home, some people think.

But wait, I’m here to tell you that you can compete with Amazon and the secret way to do it will surprise you. All you have to do is learn from another giant competitor, APPLE. Have you been in an APPLE store lately? Have you seen the way those folks handle customer service? Do you realize that APPLE stores are the most successful retail stores in the world? Did you know that APPLE stores make more in dollars per square foot than any other retail store in the world?

Every time I have been to the APPLE store at the Maine Mall, it’s been mobbed. In fact, the last time my wife and I went they had moved to a store space twice as large to accommodate all of their customers. When was the last time you saw a retail store do that?

Every customer was engaged with an APPLE “expert” asking questions, being instructed on how to get the best use of their products, advised on what the best APPLE model product they should buy to meet their needs. It was amazing and stunning to watch in an age deemed by the “experts” as the death of retail sales.

As a comparison, after we were done at the APPLE store, having spent $200 we did not plan on spending, we had to walk down the Mall hall to the other store that sells electronics among many other things including the office sized fridge we wanted to look at. And that store was virtually empty. We spent all the time we needed looking at the selection of models of the type of small fridge we were looking for. We spent a full 15 minutes in that store, and no one came up to ask if we needed any help. And we could see a number of blue-shirted associates in clusters talking and joking to one another, but none of them showing any interest in coming over to see what we wanted. None of them. And this is one of those chains that is consistently complaining that Amazon is driving them out of business. No, they I think they are driving themselves out of business.

Rather than driving my point home, dear reader, I’ll let you connect the dots. Picture my description on the APPLE store and then my description of that other store… and you’ll choose the right example on which to model on how to grow your own business.

Dan Beaulieu has owned his own business consulting firm since 1995, during that time he has helped hundreds of companies all over the world with their sales growth challenges and issues. Originally from Maine he returned a few years ago and is ready and willing to help his fellow Mainers start and grow their business. He can be reached at 07-649-0879 or at danbbeaulieu@aol.com.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Keep those customers coming back

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Going the extra mile will always pay off in the end

The facts are this. When people receive poor service, they love telling other people about it. Some statistics claim that if a person gets bad service from a business over 250 people will end up hearing about it. Yikes! How scary is that? All you need is one slip up; one bad day and you can destroy all the good will you have worked so hard to build up over the years.

It’s almost as if people feel that the one good thing about getting poor service is being able to talk about it to other people…and we all know that they do. Fact is, people love retelling horror stories.

And I have to admit that I fall victim to that as well. We all do.

But don’t get scared, or worse yet, discouraged, there are ways to prevent your company and your team from ever performing poorly and that is to create a company culture that instills good service into everything your company does.

But it starts at the top, it starts with the owners, the managers and most importantly it begins with the examples these people set.

If your employees hear you complain about a customer, they are tacitly being given permission to do the same. If on the other hand they watch the company owner, for example, treat every customer with the utmost respect, they will model that behavior as well. In the way business is like parenting. The children in a family are much more likely to model their parents’ behavior than they are to do what their parents tell them to do. Remember that old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Sorry, but that could be the dumbest thing any parent or any company leader ever told anyone.

We all know that the first rule of running a business is that the customer is always right. Second and third rules are, refer to the first rule. While that is the paradox of customer service there is another rule that I recommend and that is developing the customer for life.

It is much easier for better business to have customers for life than to consistently have a turnover in new customers Here is the thing to remember, most people will use your service once. The key is to get them to use your service forever.

That idea should always be at the front of your company thinking so that when someone comes into your hardware store for the first time, even if it’s only to buy a box of nails, you should treat that person with the same special service as you do the contractor who is buying thousands of dollars of materials from you every month.

In the end, this is a very simple idea. No matter what your business, from bookstore, to diner, to hardware store, if you treat every customer as a lifetime customer, and give them the special service that it takes to do that, you’ll always be growing your business.

Dan Beaulieu has owned his own business consulting firm since 1995, during that time he has helped hundreds of companies all over the world with their sales growth challenges and issues. Originally from Maine he returned a few years ago and is ready and willing to help his fellow Mainers start and grow their business. He can be reached at 207-649-0879 or at danbbeaulieu@aol.com.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: There are no small companies; Paul’s start up story

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

There is no such thing as having a company that is too small. No matter if you are the smallest of all, a one person operation, you can still handle yourself professionally. You can still do things the right way and poise your company to grow primarily because of great customer service.

Okay let’s go exploring…some ideas, that is. Here’s the scenario, you’re working at a job you don’t like, you’re not making much money and the boss is a jerk, but hey, it’s a job so you go in every day and you do what you have to do to get that paycheck. You gotta eat right?

Now, because the boss is such a jerk, he screws up the business and goes bankrupt. He’s done, the company is done, and you’re done, no job and no prospects. That’s about as bad as it gets. What are you going to do? Oh, did I forget to mention that unemployment is over seven percent…there are no jobs out there!

You don’t have much, but you do have, your health, your energy and your ambition. If you have those things and you are willing to work. Here is a sure fire, yes, I mean sure fire way, to not only make some money, but also work for yourself. You offer your services to homeowners you will simply do whatever they need you to do. No, this is not a made up pipe dream of an idea, not at all, I know two people who got started exactly that way.

Let’s take my friend Paul, for example. The scenario I started this column with was exactly his deal. This is what happened to him. And this is what he did when he found himself unemployed through no fault of his own. Keep in mind that old adage, “when a door closes, a window will open.”

He sat down and evaluated what he could do, what services he could offer. He knew he could provide unskilled labor to homeowners. He could provide all the services that the professionals could not or would not do. He decided to hire himself out as a handy man, he could clean out attics, and cellars and take the junk away. He could wash windows, he could clear brush and clean out yards, he could fix and paint fences, he could seal driveways, he could haul junk away. He could do minor repairs on a house, he could paint the house, he could do all the jobs that are too small to call the pros to do.

Then, once he had decided what he was going to do, he went to the library, used one of their computers, and created a neat flyer, made one hundred copies for just a few dollars and went to the various neighborhoods in town passing out his flyers. He made sure the flyers were well-written with a clear definition of his services and, of course. how to get in touch with him.

In a matter of days, his phone started ringing. Now remember, he had not even been unemployed long enough to get an employment check yet and, by the way, he also was looking for a job all this time, too. He was covering all the bases. But honestly, in a matter of two weeks, he was getting more orders than he could handle.

And he was in business!

Now I’m not saying he wasn’t a bit lucky, but remember the old saying… “the harder you work the luckier you get?” Well that was Paul’s deal, and he had, in a matter of days, started a small business with nothing more than optimism, ambition and some creativity.

But stay tuned, this is only the first chapter of Paul’s small business story. We’ll visit with Paul again soon and talk about how he grew his business.