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 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.

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.